The ubiquitous Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, nominal holder of millions of mortgages, does not have the right to foreclose on a mortgage in default or assign that right to anyone else if it does not hold the underlying promissory note, the Appellate Division, Second Department, ruled Friday. “This Court is mindful of the impact that this decision may have on the mortgage industry in New York, and perhaps the nation,” Justice John M. Leventhal wrote for a unanimous panel in Bank of New York v. Silverberg, 17464/08. “Nonetheless, the law must not yield to expediency and the convenience of lending institutions. Proper procedures must be followed to ensure the reliability of the chain of ownership, to secure the dependable transfer of property, and to assure the enforcement of the rules that govern real property.” The opinion noted that MERS is involved in about 60 percent of the mortgages originated in the United States.
From the ruling…
(Emphasis added by 4F)
Decided on June 7, 2011
SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK
APPELLATE DIVISION : SECOND JUDICIAL DEPARTMENT
ANITA R. FLORIO, J.P.
THOMAS A. DICKERSON
JOHN M. LEVENTHAL
ARIEL E. BELEN, JJ.
(Index No. 17464-08)
[*1]Bank of New York, etc., respondent,
Stephen Silverberg, et al., appellants, et al., defendants.
LEVENTHAL, J.This matter involves the enforcement of the rules that govern real property and whether such rules should be bent to accommodate a system that has taken on a life of its own. The issue presented on this appeal is whether a party has standing to commence a foreclosure action when that party’s assignor—in this case, Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (hereinafter MERS) —was listed in the underlying mortgage instruments as a nominee and mortgagee for the purpose of recording, but was never the actual holder or assignee of the underlying notes. We answer this question in the negative.
On appeal, the defendants argue that the plaintiff lacks standing to sue because it did not own the notes and mortgages at the time it commenced the foreclosure action. Specifically, the defendants contend that neither MERS nor Countrywide ever transferred or endorsed the notes described in the consolidation agreement to the plaintiff, as required by the Uniform Commercial Code. Moreover, the defendants assert that the mortgages were never properly assigned to the plaintiff because MERS, as nominee for Countrywide, did not have the authority to effectuate an assignment of the mortgages. The defendants further assert that the mortgages and notes were bifurcated, rendering the mortgages unenforceable and foreclosure impossible, and that because of such bifurcation, MERS never had an assignable interest in the notes. The defendants also contend [*3]that the Supreme Court erred in considering the corrected assignment of mortgage because it was not authenticated by someone with personal knowledge of how and when it was created, and was improperly submitted in opposition to the motion.
Here, the consolidation agreement purported to merge the two prior notes and mortgages into one loan obligation. Countrywide, as noted above, was not a party to the consolidation agreement. ” Either a written assignment of the underlying note or the physical delivery of the note prior to the commencement of the foreclosure action is sufficient to transfer the obligation, and the mortgage passes with the debt as an inseparable incident'”
Therefore, assuming that the consolidation agreement transformed MERS into a mortgagee for the purpose of recording—even though it never loaned any money, never had a right to receive payment of the loan, and never had a right to foreclose on the property upon a default in payment—the consolidation agreement did not give MERS title to the note, nor does the record show that the note was physically delivered to MERS. Indeed, the consolidation agreement defines “Note Holder,” rather than the mortgagee, as the “Lender or anyone who succeeds to Lender’s right under the Agreement and who is entitled to receive the payments under the Agreement.” Hence, the plaintiff, which merely stepped into the shoes of MERS, its assignor, and gained only that to which its assignor was entitled (see Matter of International Ribbon Mills [Arjan Ribbons], 36 NY2d 121, 126; see also UCC 3-201 [“(t)ransfer of an instrument vests in the transferee such rights as the transferor has therein”]), did not acquire the power to foreclose by way of the corrected assignment.
In sum, because MERS was never the lawful holder or assignee of the notes described and identified in the consolidation agreement, the corrected assignment of mortgage is a nullity, and MERS was without authority to assign the power to foreclose to the plaintiff. Consequently, the plaintiff failed to show that it had standing to foreclose. MERS purportedly holds approximately 60 million mortgage loans (see Michael Powell & Gretchen Morgenson, MERS? It May Have Swallowed Your Loan, New York Times, March 5, 2011), and is involved in the origination of approximately 60% of all mortgage loans in the United States (see Peterson at 1362; Kate Berry, Foreclosures Turn Up Heat on MERS, Am. [*6]Banker, July 10, 2007, at 1). This Court is mindful of the impact that this decision may have on the mortgage industry in New York, and perhaps the nation. Nonetheless, the law must not yield to expediency and the convenience of lending institutions. Proper procedures must be followed to ensure the reliability of the chain of ownership, to secure the dependable transfer of property, and to assure the enforcement of the rules that govern real property. Accordingly, the Supreme Court should have granted the defendants’ motion pursuant to CPLR 3211(a) (3) to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against them for lack of standing. Thus, the order is reversed, on the law, and the motion of the defendants Stephen Silverberg and Fredrica Silverberg pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(3) to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against them for lack of standing is granted.
FLORIO, J.P., DICKERSON, and BELEN, JJ., concur.
ORDERED that the order is reversed, on the law, with costs, and the motion of the defendants Stephen Silverberg and Fredrica Silverberg pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(3) to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against them for lack of standing is granted.
Full opinion below…
It is well worth the read…