Utah Attorney General Moves to Intervene in Federal Judge’s Ruling Utah Foreclosure Trustee Law Inapplicable
(Salt Lake City, UT) – The Utah Attorney General has moved to intervene in a case filed by St. George attorney John Christian Barlow on behalf of Utah homeowner Garry Franklin Garrett in which senior Federal Judge David Sam ruled the Bank of America’s foreclosure arm, ReconTrust Company, N.A. (NYSE: “BAC”) is operating under the National Bank Act regulated by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), is a trustee under the Texas law where ReconTrust is located, rendering Utah Code 57-1-21(3) inapplicable.
The Attorney General’s Motion to Intervene and Memorandum of Support of Intervention written by Assistant Attorney General Jerrold Jensen said, “Utah is a non-judicial foreclosure State and that most real estate foreclosures in Utah never see the inside of a courtroom.” The pleading says that “in the last couple of years, as the number of foreclosures has escalated, there has been an increasing interest among homeowners who believe they have been wronged by their lender or mortgage servicer to challenge these foreclosure actions in court.”
“The State of Utah has, with one exception, taken a hands-off policy as to these court actions. But this court’s December 16, 2011 ruling in this case was the first court ruling to hold that Utah’s trustee statute, Utah Code § 57-1-21, was preempted by Texas law”. The State of Utah cannot sit idly by without objecting to such a holding”, Jensen said.
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From the letter…
Pursuant to 12 U.S.C. § 371, national banks may “make, arrange, purchase or sell loans or extensions of credit secured by liens on interests in real estate, subject to * * * such restrictions and requirements as the Comptroller of the Currency may prescribe by regulation or order.” The OCC’s real estate lending regulations provide that, “[e]xcept where made applicable by Federal law, state laws that obstruct, impair, or condition a national bank’s ability to fully exercise its Federally authorized real estate lending powers do not apply to national banks.” 12 C.F.R. § 34.4(a).
Section 34.4(a)(10) states that national banks “may make real estate loans under 12 U.S.C. § 371 without regard to state law limitations concerning * * * [p]rocessing, origination, servicing, sale or purchase of, or investment or participation in, mortgages.” 12 C.F.R.§ 34.4(a)(10) (emphasis added). However, in no sense, under the facts presented, can the Banks be viewed as making a real estate loan under 12 U.S.C. § 371 and 12 C.F.R. § 34.4. The Banks did not originate the loans. They did not fund the loans at inception. Nor did they “purchase” the loans as part of any real estate lending program comprehended by the regulation. Here, the Banks act as trustees for the benefit of investors in the trusts. The substance of the transaction is that the investors, not the Banks, are purchasing the loans that have been made by Delta. The investors own the beneficial interest in the loans held by the Banks as trustees. And the effect of any liability for violation of the CFA ultimately falls on the investors. Nowhere do the Banks allege that they themselves, as opposed to the trusts they represent, are exposed to liability for any violation of the CFA. For all these reasons, 12 U.S.C. § 371 and 12 C.F.R. § 34.4(a) simply do not apply to the transactions by which the Banks acquired legal title to the loans in the circumstances at issue here.
With respect to the activities of Wells Fargo and Bank One as trustees, the banks derive their power to act as trustees from 12 U.S.C. § 92a. When state law conflicts with national banks exercising powers granted to them by federal law, the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution requires that the state law yield to the paramount authority of federal law, with the result that application of the state law to national banks is preempted. The Supreme Court has explained this principle stating that it interprets “grants of both enumerated and incidental ‘powers’ to national banks as grants of authority not normally limited by, but rather ordinarily pre-empting, contrary state law.” Barnett Bank of Marion County v. Nelson, 517 U.S. 25, 32 (1996).
As the Supreme Court demonstrated in its review of preemption cases in the Barnett case, Supremacy Clause principles animating conflict preemption have been expressed in a wide variety of phrases that do not yield materially different meanings, including “stand as an obstacle to,” “impair the efficiency of,” “significantly interfere,” “interfere,” “infringe,” and “hamper.” See Barnett, 517 U.S. at 33. Thus, if application of the CFA to the loans held by the Banks as trustee were to obstruct, impair, condition, or otherwise interfere with the Banks’ exercise of fiduciary powers granted to them under federal law, the state statute would be preempted.
Based on the facts presented, we do not believe that to be the case. The Banks have not claimed that application of the CFA would impair their ability to act as trustee in these circumstances or that the state law otherwise interferes with the performance of their legal obligations as trustee. Nor could they claim that having to respond to state law defenses to recovery on assets held in trust obstructs or impairs their power to act as trustee absent some indication that the state law infringes their authority, conditions their actions, or imposes a burden in a way prohibited by federal law. In short, the Banks’ authority to act as trustees under federal law does not insulate the assets the Banks hold in trust for the benefit of investors from state law requirements otherwise applicable to those assets.
Copy of Letter below…