Prima Facie Case and Burden of Proof

In Court, a prima facie case is, in plain English, the completion of a party’s burden of proof. That means if you are seeking AFFIRMATIVE relief from the Court, then you have the burden of proving your case. In order to prove your case you must present evidence. Your evidence must conform to the legal requirements or elements of your lawsuit. So for example if you want to prove a case for damages, you must prove a duty, breach of duty and damages related to the breach of that duty. If you want to prove a case for breach of contract, then you must prove up the contract, the breach of the contract and the damages from that breach. If you are seeking to have the court make the other party do something, like pay you damages, then you are seeking affirmative relief.

In judicial states, there is no issue of who has the burden of establishing a prima facie case. In non-judicial states the issue is muddled because the borrower is required to file a lawsuit even  though it is the “lender” or “creditor” who is seeking affirmative relief. For reasons expressed below, it is my opinion that the prima facie burden in ALL states lies with the the party presuming to be the “lender” or “creditor.” So in all situations in all courts, federal or state, bankruptcy or civil, the burden is on the party seeking to enforce the note or foreclose on the property because when all is said and done, the party actually seeking affirmative relief is the party seeking to recover money or property or both.

Legally, tactically and strategically, it is a mistake and perhaps malpractice to ignore this point because it is at the threshold of the courtroom that the case might be won or lost. If you ignore the point or lose the argument, you are stuck with going beyond the simple position of the homeowner — denial of the claim of the opposing party. Even the petition for temporary restraining order should be translated as the homeowner’s denial of the claim of of the “creditor” and a demand that the creditor prove up its claim.

In other words, once a homeowner denies the claim, the case automatically becomes judicial simply because the parties are in court. At that point the court must adjust the orientation of the parties such that the party claiming affirmative relief becomes the plaintiff and the homeowner becomes the defendant notwithstanding the initial pleading that brought them into court.

The essential legal question is first, what is the prima facie case, and who has the burden of proof? The party seeking affirmative relief is the party seeking to enforce the note and deed of trust (mortgage). That would be the beneficiary under the deed of trust and the party to whom the note is payable. The note is payable legally and equitably to the investors if the securitization of the note was successful. The beneficiary is also the investors, making the same presumption. The party seeking negative relief (i.e., seeking to avoid the enforcement) is the homeowner who may or may not be considered a “borrower” or “debtor” depending upon the outcome of a presentation of facts that include an accounting of ALL receipts and disbursements related to or allocable to the specific loan in question.

It is obvious that in plain language, the party initiating a non-judicial sale is seeking affirmative relief and that in cases where there is an adversary judicial proceeding, the homeowner wishes to deny the claim of the creditor. In non-judicial states where the sale is essentially a private sale NOT based upon judicial proceedings, the mistake made by judges and lawyers alike is that they become confused by the fact that homeowner brought the suit to stop the sale.

That homeowner lawsuit is actually in substance no more than a denial of the claim by the alleged beneficiary under the deed of trust. In practice, the error is compounded by making the homeowner prove a “case” based upon the homeowner’s denial. In effect, this practice presumes the existence of a prima facie case by the alleged creditor or beneficiary, which is a denial of due process. Due process means that first you make a claim, second you prove it and ONLY AFTER the claim and the proof does the opposing party have ANY obligation to offer ANY proof.

Further compounding this error in process, many such states have rules that prevent the homeowner from contesting an eviction (unlawful detainer, writ of possession) even though that is the FIRST TIME the case has been in court. In effect, the Court is making the presumption that legal process has been completed, and giving the Private Sale the status of a judicial order — and then inappropriately and without realizing it, applying the doctrine of res judicata or collateral estoppel in a case where there was no other proceeding, order, adversary hearing or any hearing on law or fact.

Therefore, in my opinion, the party who must establish a prima facie case is the party assuming the position of “creditor” or substitute lender, notwithstanding the apparent orientation of parties in the pleadings. Or, the prima facie case of the homeowner would consist of a denial that the opposing party is a creditor or that any money is due or that a default has occurred. Thus the burden would shift to the party actually seeking affirmative relief anyway. The prima facie case for the party seeking affirmative relief would require the following elements:

  • Establishment of the originating transaction
  • Establishment of chain of title as to homeowner
  • Establishment of chain of title as to obligation
  • Establishment of chain of title as to note
  • Establishment of chain of title as to deed of trust or mortgage
  • Establishment of chain of securitization documents
  • Establishment of acceptance of subject loan into each successive loan pool
  • Establishment of true party in interest and standing
  • Establishment of 1st party payments
  • Chain of 1st party payments step by step to the true party in interest
  • Chain of 3rd party payments step by step to the true party in interest
  • Establishment of allocation of 3rd party payments and receipts to subject loan
  • Accounting for all receipts and disbursements from all sources
  • Establishment of default date
  • Establishment of current status of the loan
  • Establishment of balance due
  • Establishment of encumbrance and status
  • Allocation of encumbrance to the property (if encumbrance covers future payments other than principal and interest — like taxes and insurance payable to 3rd parties, then the court must allocate a monetary value to the encumbrance for the benefit of the beneficiary)

The above elements would only be satisfied by the Court’s acceptance of testimony and documents with adequate foundation to be admitted into evidence. It would require actual persons with actual knowledge based upon personal observation, participation or experience with whatever aspect of the transaction is within the scope of their direct examination proffered by the party seeking affirmative relief. By virtue of the confusing panoply of documents, events and facts applicable to a securitized loan, it is my opinion that no legal presumptions would apply with respect to the obligation, note, encumbrance or default.

Hence, non-payment by the payor shown on the note would not give rise to the presumption of a default because of the explicit reference to third party payments, insurance and credit enhancements in the securitization documents. The party seeking affirmative relief would be required to proffer the testimony of a competent witness (probably someone from the investment banker that created the securitization chain and/or someone from the trading desk of the investment bank) that would provide a record and status of third party payments, receipts and disbursements allocable to the loan pool in which the subject loan was securitized. Failure to do so would lead to the conclusion of a failure of proof, or, in the court’s discretion, requiring the homeowner to cross examine each witness offered by the party seeking affirmative relief with the following question: “So you don’t know whether any third party made payments that would offset losses or principal in the loan pool, is that right?”

The Importance of Discovery and Motion Practice

Practically all the questions I get relate to how to prove the case that the loan was securitized. This is the wrong question. While it is good to have as much information about the pool a loan MIGHT BE INCLUDED, that doesn’t really answer the real question.

The real question is what is the identity of the creditor(s). The secondary question is what is owed on my obligation — not how much did I pay the servicer.

It might seem like a subtle distinction but it runs to the heart of the burden of proof. You can do all the research in the world and come up with the exact pool name that lists your property in the assets as a secured loan supporting the mortgage backed security that was issued and sold for real money to real investors.  But that will not tell you whether the loan was ever really accepted into the pool, whether it is still in the pool, or whether it is paid in whole or in part by third parties through various credit enhancement (insurance) contracts or federal bailout.

You must assume that everything is untrue. That includes the filings with the SEC. They may claim the loan is in the pool and even show an assignment. But as any first year law student will tell you there is no contract unless you have an offer AND an acceptance. If the terms of the pooling and service agreement say that the cutoff date is April 30 and the assignment is dated June 10, then by definition the loan is not in the pool unless there is some other documentation that overrides that very clear provision of the pooling and service agreement.

Even if it made it into the pool there are questions about the authenticity of the assignment, forgery and whether the pool structure was broken up (trust dissolved, or LLC dissolved) only to be broken up further into one or more new resecuritized pools. And even if that didn’t happen, someone related to this transaction most probably received payments from third parties. Were those allocated to your loan yet? Probably not. I haven’t heard about any borrower getting a letter with a new amortization schedule showing credits from insurance allocated to the principal originally due on the loan.

The pretender lenders want to direct the court’s attention to whether YOU paid your monthly payments, ignoring the fact that others have most likely made payments on your obligation. Remember every one of these isntruments derives its value from your loan. Therefore every payment on it needs to be credited to your loan whether the payment came from you or someone else. [You know all that talk about $20 billion from AIG going to Goldman Sachs? They are talking about YOUR LOAN!]

The error common to pro se litigants, lawyers and judges is that this is not a matter of proof from the borrower. The party sitting there at the other table in the courtroom with a file full of this information is the one who has it — and the burden of proof. Your case is all about the fact that the information was withheld and you want it now. That is called discovery. And it is in motion practice that you’ll either win the point or lose it. If you win the point about proceeding with discovery you have won the case.

You still need as much information as possible about the probability of securitization and the meaning it has in the context of the subject mortgage. But just because you don’t have it doesn’t mean the pretender lender has proved anything. What they have done, if they prevailed, is they blocked you from getting the information.

By rights you shouldn’t have to prove a thing about securitization where there is a foreclosure in process. By rights you should be able to demand proof they are the right people with the full accounting of all payments including receipts from insurance and credit default swaps. The confusion here emanating from Judges is that particularly in non-judicial states, since the borrower must bring the case to court in the first instance, the assumption is made that the borrower must prove a prima facie case that they don’t owe the money or that the foreclosing pretender lender is an impostor. That’s what you get when you convert a judicial issue into a non-judicial one on the basis of “judicial economy.”

In reality, the ONLY way that non-judicial statutes can be constitutionally applied is that if the borrower goes to the trouble of raising an objection by bringing the matter to court, the burden of proof MUST shift immediately to the pretender lender to show that in a judicial proceeding they can establish a prima facie case to enforce the obligation, the note and the mortgage (deed of trust). ANY OTHER INTERPRETATION WOULD UNCONSTITUTIONALLY DENY THE BORROWER THE RIGHT TO A HEARING ON THE MERITS WHEREIN THE PARTY SEEKING AFFIRMATIVE RELIEF (THAT IS THE FORECLOSING PARTY, NOT THE BORROWER) MUST PROVE THEIR CASE.

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