Massachusetts Land Court foreclosure ruling

Ibanez Ruling Foreclosure Update: Nothing Much To Report

by Rich Vetstein on December 23, 2009

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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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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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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