Ibanez

“[W]hat is surprising about these cases is … the utter carelessness with which the plaintiff banks documented the titles to their assets.” –Justice Robert Cordy, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

Foreclosure2-300x225.jpgToday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruled against foreclosing lenders and those who purchased foreclosed properties in Massachusetts in the controversial U.S. Bank v. Ibanez case. Here is the link for the decision. I’ve posted the decision below, and I’ve done a video blog embedded below.

Background

For those new to the case, the problem the Court dealt with in this case is the validity of foreclosures when the mortgages are part of securitized mortgage lending pools. When mortgages were bundled and packaged to Wall Street investors, the ownership of mortgage loans were divided and freely transferred numerous times on the lenders’ books. But the mortgage loan documentation actually on file at the Registry of Deeds often lagged far behind.

In the Ibanez case, the mortgage assignment, which was executed in blank, was not recorded until over a year after the foreclosure process had started. This was a fairly common practice in Massachusetts, and I suspect across the U.S. Mr. Ibanez, the distressed homeowner, challenged the validity of the foreclosure, arguing that U.S. Bank had no standing to foreclose because it lacked any evidence of ownership of the mortgage and the loan at the time it started the foreclosure.

Mr. Ibanez won his case in the lower court in 2009, and due to the importance of the issue, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court took the case on direct appeal.

The SJC Ruling: Lenders Must Prove Ownership When They Foreclose

The SJC’s ruling can be summed up by Justice Cordy’s concurring opinion:

“The type of sophisticated transactions leading up to the accumulation of the notes and mortgages in question in these cases and their securitization, and, ultimately the sale of mortgaged-backed securities, are not barred nor even burdened by the requirements of Massachusetts law. The plaintiff banks, who brought these cases to clear the titles that they acquired at their own foreclosure sales, have simply failed to prove that the underlying assignments of the mortgages that they allege (and would have) entitled them to foreclose ever existed in any legally cognizable form before they exercised the power of sale that accompanies those assignments. The court’s opinion clearly states that such assignments do not need to be in recordable form or recorded before the foreclosure, but they do have to have been effectuated.”

The Court’s ruling appears rather elementary: you need to own the mortgage before you can foreclose. But it’s become much more complicated with the proliferation of mortgage backed securities (MBS’s) –which constitute 60% or more of the entire U.S. mortgage market. The Court has held unequivocally that the common industry practice of assigning a mortgage “in blank” — meaning without specifying to whom the mortgage would be assigned until after the fact — does not constitute a proper assignment, at least in Massachusetts.

My Analysis

  • Winners: Distressed homeowners facing foreclosure
  • Losers: Foreclosing lenders, people who purchased foreclosed homes with this type of title defect, foreclosure attorneys, and title insurance companies.
  • Despite pleas from innocent buyers of foreclosed properties and my own predictions, the decision was applied retroactively, so this will hurt Massachusetts homeowners who bought defective foreclosure properties.
  • If you own a foreclosed home with an “Ibanez” title issue, I’m afraid to say that you do not own your home anymore. The previous owner who was foreclosed upon owns it again. This is a mess.
  • The opinion is a scathing indictment of the securitized mortgage lending system and its non-compliance with Massachusetts foreclosure law. Justice Cordy, a former big firm corporate lawyer, chastised lenders and their Wall Street lawyers for “the utter carelessness with which the plaintiff banks documented the titles to their assets.”
  • If you purchased a foreclosure property with an “Ibanez” title defect, and you do not have title insurance, you are in trouble. You may not be able to sell or refinance your home for quite a long time, if ever. Recourse would be against the foreclosing banks, the foreclosing attorneys. Or you could attempt to get a deed from the previous owner. Re-doing the original foreclosure is also an option but with complications.
  • If you purchased a foreclosure property and you have an owner’s title insurance policy, contact the title company right away.
  • The decision carved out some room so that mortgages with compliant securitization documents may be able to survive the ruling. This will shake out in the months to come. A major problem with this case was that the lenders weren’t able to produce the schedules of the securitization documents showing that the two mortgages in question were part of the securitization pool. Why, I have no idea.
  • The decision opens the door for foreclosing lenders to prove ownership with proper securitized documents. There will be further litigation on this. Furthermore, since the Land Court’s decision in 2009, many lenders have already re-done foreclosures and title insurance companies have taken other steps to cure the title defects.
  • We don’t know how other state court’s will react to this ruling. The SJC is one of the most well respected state supreme courts in the country. This decision was well-reasoned and I believe correct given that the lenders couldn’t even produce any admissible evidence they held the mortgages. The ruling will certainly be followed in states (such as California) operating under a non-judicial foreclosure system such as Massachusetts.
  • Watch for class actions against foreclosing lenders, the attorneys who drafted the securitization loan documents and foreclosing attorneys. Investors of mortgage backed securities (MBS) will also be exploring their legal options against the trusts and servicers of the mortgage pools.
  • The banking sector has already dropped some 5% today (1.7.11), showing that this ruling has sufficiently spooked investors.

More more extensive analysis, please read my new post: Apocalypse Now? Will The Massachusetts Ibanez Case Unravel Widespread Irregularities In The Residential Securitized Mortgage Market?

Additional Press Coverage

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I just finished watching the oral argument web-cast in the U.S. Bank v. Ibanez controversial foreclosure case before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. It was a bit anti-climatic, with the judges and attorneys spending an inordinate amount of time discussing the complex, mortgage securitization documents and process.

Here’s a recap of what caught my eye:

  • The justices had many questions about the Wells Fargo/Option One mortgage pooling and servicing agreement, private placement memo, and other mortgage securitization documents. If you’ve read the great book, The Big Short by Michael Lewis, you know how complex these agreements are. Some of the justices clearly weren’t following the complex securitization process and agreements. Justice Ganz characterized the securitization documents as “extraordinarily sloppy.” I wonder what Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brother’s $1,000/hour corporate attorneys would think of that comment.
  • The justices were searching for a document in the record evidencing that Option One Mortgage was holder of mortgage that was foreclosed, as the problem in this case was that Option One had an assignment executed “in blank.” That is, without the identity of a new lender who was purchasing the mortgage on the secondary market. They were really struggling with the problems in the documentation filed with the registry of deeds in this case, which was endemic as thousand of securitized mortgages were being foreclosed.
  • The attorney for the lenders spent most of his time attempting to explain the securitization process to the justices. I think that took away some of the impact of the public policy arguments he was expected to make.
  • Chief Justice Marshall referenced the friend of the court brief filed by the Real Estate Bar Association (REBA), asking an attorney for the foreclosed homeowner whether “the sky will fall if the Land Court’s ruling is upheld”? (Answer was n0). Likewise, Justice Ganz asked what are we to do about the seemingly innocent folks who bought these foreclosed homes unaware that the titles were defective. Justice Ganz and Marshall agreed that these purchasers could be “bona fide good faith purchasers” which under the law means they could be immune from claims challenging their title. That’s an encouraging line of reasoning for many people waiting on the outcome of this case.
  • There was also a discussion about changing the current common law which does not require recording of mortgage assignments, to require it. Justice Marshall asked how many states required recording of mortgage assignments, giving a hint of where’s she thinking on this.
  • Lastly, Justice Cordy, the former big firm attorney, was clearly on the side of the lenders, even going so far as to ask whether Mr. Ibanez waive his challenge to the foreclosure by not challenging it in lower court.

As with any appeal, the Court takes several months to decide the case and render a formal written opinion. But here’s how I think this could play out. The majority of justices were deeply troubled by the “extraordinarily sloppy” paperwork surrounding the securitized mortgage documents and assignments which is the root problem here. My guess is they probably think Land Court Judge Long is right about the lender’s compliance with the foreclosure laws. They also likely think that in the current foreclosure mess, the chain of ownership of these loans should be more transparent to the consumer and those searching titles. However, the justices don’t want to hurt thousands of innocent homeowners who bought properties out of foreclosure and fixed them up, etc. Chief Justice Marshal and Justice Ganz were clearly concerned about this, and their opinions typically carry substantial weight. So, to play this down the middle, the court could uphold Judge Long’s ruling, holding that all mortgage assignments must be recorded from now on. But the court would not make the ruling retroactive as is usual, so the innocent homeowners won’t be saddled with defective titles.

There are many folks waiting out this important decision, including several of my clients. I hope the SJC will strike the right balance.

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Click for Ibanez Foreclosure Case Oral Argument Recap

The oral argument in the much anticipated U.S. Bank v. Ibanez companion cases is Thursday October 7, 2010 at 9:00AM at the Supreme Judicial Court, John Adams Courthouse, One Pemberton Square, Boston, MA.

If you cannot make it into Boston, you can watch the live webcast here.

Here is a link to the Ibanez-borrower side brief.

Here is the lenders’ brief.

The friend of the court brief from the Real Estate Bar Association is here.

In addition to the merits of the Land Court’s ruling, watch for a discussion of whether the Land Court’s ruling will be applied retroactively, which will leave thousands of invalid foreclosure titles intact, or prospectively, which will minimize the damage of this decision. I’ve been predicting that the SJC will strike a balance by upholding the Land Court on the merits, but applying the ruling prospectively.

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The briefs in the US. Bank v. Ibanez foreclosure case in the Supreme Judicial Court have been filed.

Here is a link to the Ibanez side brief.

Here is the lenders’ brief.

The case is still set for oral argument in October, with a decision expected in late Fall, early Winter.

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Reporter Steven Altieri of the real estate trade journal Banker & Tradesman recently published an article on the Ibanez foreclosure case, Impending SJC Ibanez, Title Ruling May Invalidate Thousands Of Foreclosures, Why Real Estate Attorneys Expect The Worst, And What It Means To The Industry.

Since we’ve written about the case extensively here, Steve asked for my views about the impact of the case and recent matters I’ve handled with Ibanez title defects:

Framingham real estate attorney Richard Vetstein recently represented a family who had bought a house out of foreclosure about a year ago, then invested in excess of $100,000 in improvements to the property with the intention of selling it to their daughter. But before they could complete the sale, a title issue came up and put the transaction on hold.

In Vetstein’s client’s case, when the original owner was foreclosed upon, the mortgage company did not have a properly recorded assignment. To clear the title, Vetstein had to track down the original owner in Alabama, and persuade him to sign over the deed to the property.

“They can close now that the title issue is solved, but in a lot of cases that [is] not going to be able to be solved,” said Vetstein. “We were lucky, that’s what it came down to.”

Steve asked me how I would handicap the appeal of the case:

Vetstein, who has blogged on the Ibanez case at length, thinks the court might uphold the Ibanez decision.

“Given the current constitution of the court and their tendencies of recent years to be kind of moving towards some pro-consumer decisions, I wouldn’t be surprised if they upheld the land court probably by a slim margin,” Vetstein said. “And so for people who are stuck with an Ibanez issue, that is in essence the worst-case scenario.”

Indeed, it’s unlikely that a “pro-consumer” verdict upholding the Ibanez decision would actually help consumers on the whole. Home buyers or investors who thought they had gotten a good deal and a clean title on a foreclosed property will instead be saddled with hefty legal bills and an inability to sell their property.

Lastly, Steve asked if the Ibanez ruling has created an business development opportunties for real estate attorneys:

“I don’t know of any real estate attorney using Ibanez as a business development opportunity, mainly because solving these title defects, if at all, is incredibly difficult and in some cases impossible,” Vetstein said. “It’s a ‘lose-lose’ in many situations.”

One aspect of the case could potentially provide plenty of work for attorneys. Should the SJC uphold the Ibanez decision, Vetstein reasons that there will be many claims against the foreclosing lenders and the foreclosure attorney, for failing to convey good title.

“There will also be claims for rescission of these transactions,” he added. “There is a class action against lenders and foreclosing attorneys which could encompass many millions in potential damages.”

Banker & Tradesman is a great publication. If you don’t want a paid subscription, you can follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

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Update (July 27, 2010): Oral argument is scheduled for October 7, 2010.

Good news for those eagerly following the controversial U.S. Bank v. Ibanez case, which invalidated thousands of foreclosures across the state. On March 22, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (the highest appellate court in the state) agreed to take the case on direct appellate review (as I originally predicted). This sets the stage for one of the most important real estate decisions in recent years.

The SJC’s acceptance of the case now expedites what will be the final word in this case, good news for everyone affected by this ruling. A final decision, however, is still many months away. Both sides still have to file briefs, and the case will be scheduled for oral argument probably within 4-5 months, with a decision coming several months later. (Appeals take time).

Click here and here for my prior posts on this case. Here is Globe reporter Jenifer McKim’s story on the development.

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Update (3/24/10): SJC Accepts Ibanez Case
For those of you following the controversial U.S. Bank v. Ibanez case, which invalidated potentially thousands of foreclosures across the state, both sides last week asked the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to take the case — as I originally predicted. The SJC’s acceptance of the case would cut months to years off the normal appellate process. This would be great news for everyone eagerly awaiting a final decision.

Click here for Ibanez’s petition to the SJC. Click here for my post on the first ruling and here for my post on the second ruling in the Ibanez case.

The SJC should decide whether to take the case within 30 days or so, and I predict they will take it on. However, I still think the SJC will ultimately affirm Judge Long’s ruling against foreclosing lenders, a bad decision from a title and conveyancing standpoint in my view.

Meanwhile, in the aftermath of Ibanez, some lenders are re-doing foreclosures and some are just waiting it out. Most title insurance companies are unwilling to touch an Ibanez afflicted property with a ten foot pole.

I recently assisted a buyer of a foreclosed property who was initially rejected by two title insurers. We fortunately convinced one title company to insure over an Ibanez issue, so the client could close. But I have another client who is stuck, and we’re trying to track down the original owner of the property to obtain a deed. It’s a tough situation all around.

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Update (2/25/10)Mass. High Court May Take Ibanez Case

I’ve been asked several times recently for an update on the status of Land Court judge Keith Long’s controversial ruling in U.S. Bank v. Ibanez, which invalidated thousands of foreclosures across Massachusetts. Click here for my prior post on the case.

Unfortunately for those affected by the decision, not much is going on. Lenders have reportedly appealed the decision. Word has it that the lenders have hired mega-firm K&L Gates to handle the appeal. (Interestingly, K&L Gates is the same firm which secured a major ruling against the Massachusetts Real Estate Bar Association over non-attorneys handling real estate closings in Massachusetts).

The record in the Land Court is currently being assembled. The Massachusetts Appellate Court database doesn’t even list the case as yet up on appeal. Accordingly, this appeal is many, many months away from being decided.

Also, watch for the lenders to ask the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to take the case on direct appeal. While this will delay the appeal some in the short term, the SJC is the final stop on the appellate railway, and its decision is the final word on the matter. Given the pro-consumer decisions recently issued by the high court and its current makeup of somewhat liberal justices, my money is still on an unfavorable decision for lenders in this case.

In the meantime, I’m hearing that lenders are simply re-doing their foreclosures with the correct loan paperwork (i.e., the mortgage assignments) brought up to date. For buyers who had an agreement to purchase a foreclosed home, this most likely means you will have to wait in line again and re-bid on the second foreclosure.

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Banker and Tradesman is reporting that Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank will appeal the controversial U.S. Bank v. Ibanez Massachusetts Land Court decision that stung the lenders earlier this year by invalidating two foreclosures in Springfield because of improperly recorded mortgage assignments.Massachusetts Foreclosure Ibanez decision

Lenders filed the appeal on Oct. 29, according to Lawrence Scofield, a senior real estate attorney at Ablitt Law Offices of Woburn, who represented the lenders in the Land Court case. Scofield said Ablitt Law Office would not handle the appeal, but would work with an unnamed “downtown law office” that will be retained to argue in Appeals Court. Scofield said the lenders, lawyers, and parties that filed amicus briefs in the Land Court will meet this week to discuss the more substantive details of the appeal. The disputed decision has raised questions in the mortgage industry regarding potentially thousands of clouded titles, as the practice of back-dating mortgage assignments had been widely used in recent years. “This is a big deal,” Scofield said. “I hope in the worst case situation, the court will recognize the public policy impact this would have, and make this prospective decision and not a retroactive decision, which could really mitigate some of the collateral damage.”

My prior posts on this very important and far-reaching decision can be found here.

If the appeal takes the typical course in the Appeals Court, a decision may not come for up to one year. Given the importance of the decision, I had originally predicted that the lenders would file a direct appeal to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the highest appellate court in the state. There’s no indication that the case is going up to the Supreme Judicial Court.

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Breaking News (1.7.11): Mass. Supreme Court Upholds Ibanez Ruling, Thousands of Foreclosures Affected

Click Here For Our Entire Series Of Post On the Ibanez Case

Update (2/25/10)Mass. High Court May Take Ibanez Case

Today, Massachusetts Land Court Judge Keith Long reaffirmed his controversial ruling made back in March 2009 that invalidated foreclosure proceedings involving two Springfield homes because the lenders did not hold clear titles to the properties at the time of sale. A copy of the decision can be found here.

As I outlined in my prior post on this case, the problem the Land Court dealt with in this case is what happens when modern securitized mortgage lending practices meets outdated foreclosure laws. When mortgages are packaged to Wall Street investors, the ownership of a mortgage loan may be divided and freely transferred numerous times on the lenders’ books. But the mortgage loan documentation actually on file at the Registry of Deeds often lags far behind.

Here is a diagram of the securitized mortgage process (click to enlarge):

The Ruling

Judge Long ruled that foreclosures were invalid when the lender failed to bring  the ownership documentation (known as an assignment) up-to-date until after the foreclosure sale had already taken place. An assignment is a legal document confirming that a mortgage loan has been transferred from one lender to another. Assignments must be recorded with a registry of deeds so anyone researching a property’s title can track the loan’s origin and ownership. Oftentimes, as in the Ibanez case, lenders will sell bundles of loan and record backdated assignments with an effective date before the first foreclosure notice. Judge Long effectively prohibited this practice.

Despite the lender’s attempt to convince him otherwise, Judge Long came out (again) in favor of consumers:

The issues in this case are not merely problems with paperwork or a matter of dotting i’s and crossing t’s. Instead, they lie at the heart of the protections given to homeowners and borrowers by the Massachusetts legislature. To accept the plaintiffs’ arguments is to allow them to take someone’s home without any demonstrable right to do so, based upon the assumption that they ultimately will be able to show that they have that right and the further assumption that potential bidders will be undeterred by the lack of a demonstrable legal foundation for the sale and will nonetheless bid full value in the expectation that that foundation will ultimately be produced, even if it takes a year or more. The law recognizes the troubling nature of these assumptions, the harm caused if those assumptions prove erroneous, and commands otherwise.

Judge Long also had some choice words for lenders:

[T]he problem the [lenders] face (the present title defect) is entirely of their own making as a result of their failure to comply with the statute and the directives in their own securitization documents… What the plaintiffs truly seek is a change in the foreclosure sale statute (G.L. c. 244, § 14), which can only come from the legislature.

What Now?

That’s a good question and one not readily answerable. To be sure, the current state of flux and confusion surrounding foreclosure titles affected by an Ibanez issue will remain intact until an appellate court considers the case or some action by the Legislature (which may be unlikely). Given the importance of the decision, I predict that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will take the unusual step of taking the case directly from the Land Court.

As for what happens in the year or so the case may be in appellate limbo, I asked an in house counsel for a leading title insurance company, and his response was essentially that it’s going to take a fair amount of time and research to figure this one out. If there’s an existing title insurance policy on the property, some but not all of the title companies may be willing to insure over the problem. If there’s no title policy in place, affected parties are going to have to ride this one out for awhile.

Once title insurance companies offer some further guidance, I will post it here.

My Two Cents

While I see both sides of the argument, the decision is troubling to me because Judge Long gave short shrift to the fundamental legal principle that the mortgage follows the note. A valid mortgage is security for some type of underlying obligation, whether it’s a loan or the promise to do something in the future. There’s no question that the millions (or billions) of dollars in loans secured by all these mortgages were validly transferred from one bank/lender to securitized lenders. The money was lent and it didn’t just evaporate into the ether. If the lenders can ultimately demonstrate ownership of the underlying loan which follows the mortgage and produce a valid assignment (albeit late), why isn’t this enough? The borrowers owe the money, and now after this ruling they are immunized from foreclosure by what many folks in the real estate industry view as elevating form over substance.

“For many years, real estate attorneys in Massachusetts have understood that the assignment of a mortgage can be recorded at any time and be effective,” Christopher S. Pitt, chairman of the Title Standards Committee of the Real Estate Bar Association tells Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.

Now that doesn’t mean lenders don’t need to get their act together. They do. The net effect of this decision will be that lenders must get loan documentation up to date and recorded promptly. Indeed, the Ibanez loan changed ownership at least four times prior to foreclosure — without any of this appearing on the public record.  Two of those entities (Lehman Brothers and its subsidiary) are currently in bankruptcy and a third (Option One) has ceased operations. This is a huge wake up call to the securitized lending industry.

But the question remains, what about all the foreclosures that have already been conducted? And the new homeowners who own these properties and are now saddled with unresolvable title defects? What about these “innocent victims” and the neighborhoods blighted by foreclosed properties which cannot be sold? I guess we can all blame Wall Street once again…

The Consumer Advocate’s Point of View

Attorney Meyer Potashman of Greater Boston Legal Services which filed a brief in the Ibanez case offers this analysis:

This case has the potential to do a lot of damage (or rather reveal the damage that foreclosing lenders did over the past few years), but I think Judge Long was completely right about the law.  Both the statute and all of the securitization documents were clear, and these foreclosures violated both of them. These banks had sophisticated lawyers who knew real estate law when they planned to securitize these loans, but they never bothered to consult their own agreements when the time came to actually securitize, or foreclose, on the loans.  As a result, mortgages were never properly transferred, and the foreclosing lenders never had the right to foreclose.

As with any controversial legal decision, there’s always compelling arguments for both points of view.

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Breaking News (1.7.11): Mass. Supreme Court Upholds Ibanez Ruling, Thousands of Foreclosures Affected

Update (2/25/10)Mass. High Court May Take Ibanez Case

Breaking News (10/14/09)–Land Court Reaffirms Ruling Invalidating Thousands of Foreclosures. Click here for the updated post.

In late March of this year in the case of U.S. Bank v. Ibanez, Massachusetts Land Court Judge Keith C. Long issued one of the most controversial rulings in recent years which has called into question hundreds if not thousands of foreclosure titles across Massachusetts. The Ibanez decision is what happens when you mix equal parts of a deteriorating real estate market with Wall Street’s insatiable demand for mortgage back securities with sloppy lending practices and outdated state foreclosure statutes.

The Facts

In the Ibanez case, the Land Court invalidated two foreclosure sales because the lenders failed to show proof they held titles to the properties through valid assignments. In modern securitized mortgage lending practices, the ownership of a mortgage loan may be divided and freely transferred numerous times on the lenders’ books, but the documentation (i.e., the assignments) actually on file at the Registry of Deeds often lags far behind. The Land Court ruled that foreclosures were invalid when the lender failed to bring  the ownership documentation (the assignments) up-to-date until after the foreclosure sale had already taken place. This was true even if the lender possessed an assignment with an effective date (i.e., backdated) before the first foreclosure notice.

The net effect of the Ibanez decision is to call into serious question the validity of any foreclosure where the lender did not physically hold the proper paperwork at the time it conducted its auction. This has already caused significant uncertainty in the ownership of many properties that have already been foreclosed and are awaiting foreclosure.

In deciding the case, Judge Long took a very pro-consumer approach to the foreclosure law, persuaded that the apparent title defect would chill a foreclosure sale and harm debtors:

None of this is the fault of the [debtor], yet the [debtor] suffers due to fewer (or no) bids in competition with the foreclosing institution. Only the foreclosing party is advantaged by the clouded title at the time of auction. It can bid a lower price, hold the property in inventory, and put together the proper documents any time it chooses. And who can say that problems won’t be encountered during this process?

Also of significance was that Judge Long rejected a customary Massachusetts conveyancing standard which provides that recording out of order assignment documents does not create a title defect. I think Judge Long got it wrong as he elevated form over substance and didn’t give enough credence to the legal principle that the note follows the mortgage, but hey, I’m just a lowly attorney.

What now?

The Ibanez ruling is not final as the lenders have filed a motion to reconsider with the Land Court. And now the heavy hitters have gotten involved. The Real Estate Bar Association of Massachusetts has taken the unusual step of filing a friend of the court brief, urging the Land Court to reconsider its decision.

On the consumer side, the National Consumer Law Center and well known consumer class action attorney Gary Klein have joined the fray and filed a brief. Attorney Klein has also filed a class action in federal court to challenge completed foreclosures and future foreclosures on the same facts as the two foreclosures voided in Ibanez.

As of now, Judge Long of the Land Court has not made a final decision which should come in a matter of weeks. I will update you when the ruling comes down. Either way, in my opinion, given the widespread impact of this case, it is destined for the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. It’s hard to say how the SJC will come down on this.

What can you if you are affected by the Ibanez ruling?

Well, if you are a homeowner facing foreclosure, consider Ibanez an early Christmas present. You now have a powerful tool to argue for the invalidation of the foreclosure sale. (I won’t comment on the fact that you still owe the lender money).

If you are contemplating purchasing a property out of foreclosure or are selling a previously foreclosed property, pray that there’s an existing title insurance policy on the property, and ask the title company to insure over the issue. Some are willing to do this. Others are not. The other option (albeit expensive) is to hire an attorney to file a Land Court “quiet title” action to validate the proper assignment of the mortgage loan, assuming you can track the documents down and they were not backdated. In Ibanez, the lender couldn’t produce the assignment until 14 months after the auction. The last option, and unfortunately probably the safest bet, is to sit, wait and see how the Land Court and appellate courts will rule ultimately. Not the answer you probably want to hear, but it’s reality.

Please contact Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. for more information.

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