Massachusetts foreclosure ruling

Huge Sigh of Relief For Mortgage and Foreclosure Industry

The much awaited opinion by the SJC in Eaton v. Fannie Mae has just been released, and it is a huge Maalox for the banking and real estate community. Case embedded below. I have written a more detailed analysis here but here are the highlights:

  • Although the Court adopted some of the Eaton side’s arguments, I believe that lenders and MERS ultimately came out as the winners, as initial reports indicate. The Court basically gave lenders a pass on prior defective foreclosures and created new “rules of the road” for foreclosures going forward. There will definitely be more litigation after this case to sort out what foreclosing lenders and servicers need to prove in order to foreclose.
  • Agreeing with the Eaton/homeowner side, the Court ruled that going forward, lenders will have establish that they “hold” both the mortgage and promissory note, in order to foreclose. However, the court endorsed several methods in which lenders will be able to satisfy this requirement, thereby potentially creating several exceptions which will swallow the general rule.
  • Agreeing with lenders and Fannie Mae, the Court took the rare step of declining to apply the the key holding retroactively. The ruling will apply prospectively and will have no impact on previously completed or in process foreclosures. Those foreclosures will likely be immune from challenge along the lines Eaton asserted. This saved the lender and title insurance industry millions of dollars in claims.
  • Critically for the lending and title community, the Court ruled that lenders do not need to physically hold both note and mortgage at time of foreclosure, striking a huge blow to the “produce the note” defense:  The court acknowledged that the Massachusetts foreclosure statute, enacted well before the proliferation of securitization and MERS, was unclear in the modern era of securitizing mortgages.
  • The court essentially blesses the current MERS and current servicer system where mortgage servicers can show that they have legal authority to act on behalf of mortgage holder/lender to foreclose. The SJC overturned the injunction against the lender and the case was remanded below where the servicer, Green Tree, will have the opportunity to establish they have the legal authority and agency to foreclose on behalf of the mortgage holder.
  • We will see new attorney and custodian of records affidavits being filed and used to establish the chain of ownership the court said would comply with the foreclosure laws.
  • More Coverage:  Banker & Tradesman, BusinessWeek, Wall St. Journal, Credit Slips (Prof. Adam Levitin)

Eaton v. Fannie Mae SJC Ruling

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Harold Clarke, Esq., Senior Underwriter for Westcor Title Insurance Company–New England say the U.S. Bank v. Ibanez decision could be one of the most important real estate decisions in recent memory. He explains how it will impact the Massachusetts real estate market, and what may happen in the future. Also check out Westcor New England’s new YouTube channel.

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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. High Court Affirms Ibanez Ruling

Boston Globe reporter Jenifer McKim today is reporting that Massachusetts Land Court Judge Keith Long’s much anticipated ruling in the Ibanez v. U.S. Bank case, which invalidated thousands of foreclosures across the state, could come as early as today.HomeForeclosure-main_Full

Previously, in late March of this year Judge Long issued one of the most controversial rulings in recent years which has called into question hundreds if not thousands of foreclosure titles because lenders failed to show proof they held titles to the properties through valid assignments. Click here for my prior post on the case. A copy of the case can be found here.

The Globe reports that the decision is “imminent” and could come as early as today. The Globe also has interesting commentary from a number of affected sources:

Among those watching the case are Boston city officials, who say they hope Long will clarify title issues for homes that have already gone into foreclosure. In the meantime, the judge’s actions have stymied the city’s effort to buy as many as 20 bank-owned properties, hurting much-needed redevelopment efforts in neighborhoods plagued by foreclosure, officials said.

“There are thousands and thousands of titles that have gone through foreclosures with these late filed’’ ownership records, said Lawrence Scofield, an attorney with Ablitt Law Offices in Woburn, who represented plaintiffs in three consolidated Springfield cases ruled on by Long. “Judge Long is saying you don’t really own it. That is the real, overwhelming, economic effect.’’

Locally, the Massachusetts decision has pitted advocates trying to revive neighborhoods against others trying to help homeowners stave off foreclosures. Gary Klein, a consumer law attorney who filed a friend of the court brief in the case, said the real estate system placed “expedience and convenience’’ before the law. Providing home buyers with a “full set of procedural protections,’’ he said, is more important than comforting lenders who ignored the law.

Indeed, since March, the number of foreclosure deeds has slowed, according to Warren Group, a Boston company that provides real estate data. “There are probably at least a thousand families who are getting at least some period of temporary delay while lenders go back and get a proper paper trail,’’ said Klein, an attorney with the Boston-based law firm Roddy, Klein and Ryan. “Slowing foreclosures down allows people to get loan modifications and other relief.’’

Once the decision is released I will post it here with my analysis and commentary.

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