SEPARATION OF DEED OF TRUST FROM NOTE: Bellistri Opinion

There is a lot of conflicting opinions about this. My opinion is that the confusion arises not from the law, not from application of the law and not from what is written on the note or deed of Trust. If you look at the Bellistri Missouri case the issue is well settled. And the problem is not what is written, it is what is assumed to be written. The Bellistri case, 284SW 3d 619, (Missouri Appeal, cert. reportedly denied) coupled with its quote from Restatement 3rd is simple: put one name on the note and another on the DOT as beneficiary (particularly when the beneficiary is MERS and therefore an undisclosed principal) and you have direct evidence that the intention of the parties was to separate the note from the mortgage. The burden of proof thus shifts to the alleged creditor.

Conflict comes not from the law or the wording on the instruments but from the inherent question of “why would anyone want to do that?” There are of course many answers to that question in a securitized mortgage context. But it is the existence of the question that causes people to lean toward the idea that no reasonable person would have intended that and to assume that the parties, including the borrower, would never have intended WHAT WAS WRITTEN.

I think the point of the Bellistri case is simple: factually, the note and DOT are split and according to the Restatement 3rd, they can never be put back together again. The note, while still enforceable as an instrument by itself, is no longer secured by an encumbrance on the property. The “mistake” is that of the drafter of the instruments. They want to say, much later in time, what we NOW mean is that the beneficiary is X, who is not the payee on the note,, but X has received an assignment of the note. Thus NOW the beneficiary and the payee are the same which means we can foreclose.

So the question put to the Judge is can a note and security instrument, initially made out to two different parties be LATER joined and if so, what does that mean for enforcement. My first comment is that once you have established that facially the note and DOT were split, your prima facie case is met and the burden goes to the “lender” to prove they are the creditor along with a whole bunch of other things that are not unlike the elements of proving up a lost or destroyed note. You can’t just say it happened. You must explain and prove HOW it happened.

But the simple answer to the question as per the Restatement 3rd, is “NO.” The reason why they cannot be joined later is not just because Restatement 3rd says so, it is the reason Restatement 3rd says that, to wit: if you allowed, particularly in a non-judicial setting, parties not named on the note and not named as beneficiary to later act because of a claim as being both, you are introducing uncertainty into the marketplace which is the precise reason we have the law of contracts, property records and such. The moral hazard is raised from possibility to near certainty when you KNOW from the beginning that the payee and the beneficiary are two different parties and the beneficiary is not the real party so the knowledge includes, from the beginning, that there is at least one additional undisclosed party.

Let’s take the simplest example we can given the complexity of securitized residential mortgages. ABC is named the Payee on the note. MERS is named the beneficiary. MERS obviously has some understanding with a third party DEF not to make a claim on the loan (according to their website). So we must presume that they have that understanding and that maybe it is in writing in some general type of contract which was neither disclosed nor revealed to exist at the time of the closing with the borrower. DEF defaults in its payment obligations to MERS. MERS now says we refuse to perform under our contract with DEF. Borrower knows nothing of DEF nor of DEF’s payment default to MERS. Borrower pays the note in full to ABC. ABC returns the note as paid in full. Borrower wants a release and reconveyance (satisfaction) so the title record is clear.

Now it MIGHT be that DEF=ABC. But we don’t know that. So for purposes of your case, you MUST assume that DEF is simply an undisclosed third party. Borrower asks MERS for the release and reconveyance.  MERS refuses because it wasn’t paid by DEF and because it has no idea whether you paid the right person. With MERS refusing to execute a document releasing the lien, Borrower now has a defect in title that is unmarketable.

Borrower files a quiet title suit against MERS. MERS says it was named as beneficiary but that the DOT clearly states it serves only as nominee and therefore has no power to do anything. Now you have, on record, that the beneficiary is not MERS but the undisclosed third party DEF. The court MIGHT grant the final judgment, but it would then be adjudicating the rights of other parties who are not present in court, thus leaving the title clouded and possibly still unmarketable.

Another possibility is that the Court would inquire or allow discovery to allow the identification of DEF. Assuming MERS wishes to comply, there is still a problem. Data entry is NOT performed by MERS employees. Data entry is performed by “members” with passwords and user ID’s. Thus all MERS can say is that at a particular point in time MERS computer records show DEF, which was assigned to ABC or perhaps yet another party. The assignment is executed by Jane Jones as “limited signing officer” for MERS. MERS can’t say they know Jane Jones or anything about her because she doesn’t work for MERS. Therefore the only competent evidence from MERS is the data in fields populated by unknown sources of data input, and references to documents that were never seen or kept by MERS. The evidence from MERS thus has little or no probative value.

So now the Court or borrower goes to DEF and says “Who is Jane Jones?” DEF replies they don’t know because the assignment document was prepared by a foreclosure processing firm in Jacksonville, Florida named DOCX. DOCX has no contract with ABC or DEF or MERS. They were just following orders from yet a fourth party who is unidentified, and whose instructions were relayed through a fifth firm that serves as the correspondent or document manager once the loan goes into foreclosure (perhaps ordered by the servicer, BAC).

Thus the reason that a note and DOT can never be joined at any time other than the creation of those documents and executed contemporaneously with the funding of the obligation is that the contract and its performance is not based upon a condition subsequent (because such a condition would render the contract inchoate until the condition subsequent arrived or which would extinguish the obligation, note and mortgage). For there to be enforceability there must be certainty in the contract. Certainty can only be achieved if the terms and parties who are expected to perform are identified with sufficient clarity that any reasonable person would say they are known.

A borrower who signs papers without having a known party who is required by law to execute a satisfaction (release and reconveyance) has in effect executed documentation without a counterparty. The document is therefore void. Since the document (note, DOT, etc.) is only evidence of the obligation that arose because the borrower did in fact receive a benefit from the funding of the loan, the obligation survives while the note and/or DOT do not. However, in order to achieve certainty in the marketplace, the obligation is not secured unless and until some party identifies itself as the creditor and establishes a subsequent encumbrance through judgment lien, equitable or constructive trust or some other means.

Such a creditor action would be subject to rigorous requirements of pleading and proof. In the context of a securitized residential mortgage, the creditor can only be the party(ies) who advanced actual money, from which money the borrower’s loan was funded. In the context of mortgage-backed securities, a creditor who pleads that he expected a secured loan, must also plead all the documents and transactions that gave rise to advancing the money. This would mean that the creditor would be required to disclose and account for credit enhancements, insurance, credit default swaps, over-collateralization, cross-collateralization, and payments received from all sources pursuant to the terms under which the creditor advanced said funds.

Those terms are included in the prospectus and bond indenture which incorporate the pooling and service agreement, Depositor Agreement, Assignment and Assumption Agreements etc. In other words, the actual terms upon which the creditor advanced money were different from the actual terms accepted by the borrower. A court in equity would thus be required to allocate equity and liability for the various unpaid and paid obligations of multiple parties whose existence was unknown to borrower at the time of the loan closing, and whose existence even now would be at best dimly understood by the borrower or any other person who was not extremely well-versed in the securitization of credit.

New MERS Standing Case Splits Note and Mortgage: Bellistri v Ocwen Loan Servicing, Mo App.20100309

From Max Gardner – QUIET TITLE GRANTED

Bellistri v Ocwen Loan Servicing, Mo App.20100309

Mortgage Declared Unenforceable in DOT Case: NOTE DECLARED UNSECURED

“When MERS assigned the note to Ocwen, the note became unsecured and the deed of trust became worthless”

Editor’s Note:

We know that MERS is named as nominee as beneficiary. We know that MERS is NOT named on the note. This appellate case from Missouri, quoting the Restatement 3rd, simply says that the note was split from the security instrument, and that there is no enforcement mechanism available under the Deed of Trust. Hence, the court concludes, quiet title was entirely appropriate and the only remedy to the situation because once the DOT and note are split they is no way to get them back together.

NOTE: THIS DOES NOT MEAN THE NOTE WAS INVALIDATED. BUT IT DOES MEAN THAT IN ORDER TO PROVE A CLAIM UNDER THE NOTE OR TO VERIFY THE DEBT, THE HOLDER MUST EXPLAIN HOW IT ACQUIRED ANY RIGHTS UNDER THE NOTE AND WHETHER IT IS ACTING IN ITS OWN RIGHT OR AS AGENT FOR ANOTHER.

The deed of trust, …did not name BNC [AN AURORA/LEHMAN FRONT ORGANIZATION TO ORIGINATE LOANS] as the beneficiary, but instead names Mortgage Electronic Registration System (MERS), solely as BNC’s nominee. The promissory note does not make any reference to MERS. The note and the deed of trust both require payments to be made to the lender, not MERS.

a party “must have some actual, justiciable interest.” Id. They must have a recognizable stake. Wahl v. Braun, 980 S.W.2d 322 (Mo. App. E.D. 1998). Lack of standing cannot be waived and may be considered by the court sua sponte. Brock v. City of St. Louis, 724 S.W.2d 721 (Mo. App. E.D. 1987). If a party seeking relief lacks standing, the trial court does not have jurisdiction to grant the requested relief. Shannon, 21 S.W.3d at 842.

A Missouri appellate court, without trying, may have drawn a map to a defense to foreclosures-if borrowers can figure it out before the Missouri Supreme Court overturns the decision in Bellistri v Ocwen. The opinion shows how an assignment of a loan to a servicing company for collection can actually make the loan uncollectible from the mortgaged property.

This case concerns the procedures of MERS, which is short for Mortgage Electronic Registration Service, created to solve problems created during the foreclosure epidemic of the 1980s, when it was sometimes impossible to track the ownership of mortgages after several layers of savings and loans and banks had failed without recording assignments of the mortgages. The MERS website contains this explanation:

MERS is an innovative process that simplifies the way mortgage ownership and servicing rights are originated, sold and tracked. Created by the real estate finance industry, MERS eliminates the need to prepare and record assignments when trading residential and commercial mortgage loans.

MERS is the named mortgage holder in transactions having an aggregate dollar value in the hundreds of billions, and its service of providing a way to trace ownership of mortgages has played a large role in the securitization of mortgages and the marketability of derivative mortgage-backed securities, because it seemed to eliminate the necessity of recording assignments of mortgages in county records each time the ownership of a mortgage changed, allowing mortgage securities (packages of many mortgages) to be traded in the secondary market, with less risk.

This case began as a routine quiet title case on a collector’s deed, also known as a tax deed. Following the procedure by which people can pay delinquent property taxes and obtain the ownership of the delinquent property if the owner or lien holder fails after notice to redeem, Bellistri obtained a deed from the Jefferson County (Mo.) collector.

Because of the possibility of defects in the procedures of the county collectors and in the giving of proper notices, the quality of title conferred by a collector’s deed is not insurable.

A suit to cure the potential defects (called a “quiet title suit”) is required to make title good, so that the property can be conveyed by warranty deed and title insurance issued to new lenders and owners. The plaintiff in a quiet title suit is required to give notice of the suit to all parties who had an interest in the property identified in the collector’s deed.

A borrower named Crouther had obtained a loan from BCN Mortgage. The mortgage document (called a deed of trust) named MERS as the holder of the deed of trust as BCN’s nominee, though the promissory note secured by the deed of trust was payable to BCN Mortgage and didn’t mention MERS.

Crouther failed to pay property taxes on the mortgaged property.

Bellistri paid the taxes for three years, then sent notice to Crouther and  BNC that he was applying for a collector’s deed. After BNC failed to redeem (which means “pay the taxes with interest and penalties,” so that Bellistri could be reimbursed), the county collector issued a collector’s deed to Bellistri, in 2006.

Meanwhile, MERS assigned the promissory note and deed of trust to Ocwen Servicing, probably because nobody was making mortgage payments, so that Ocwen would be in a position to attempt to (a) get Crouther to bring the loan payments up to date or (b) to foreclose, if necessary. But this assignment, as explained below, eliminated Ocwen’s right to foreclose and any right to the property.

Bellistri filed a suit for quiet title and to terminate any right of Crouther to possess the property. After discovering the assignment of the deed of trust to Ocwen, Bellistri added Ocwen as a party to the quiet title suit, so that Ocwen could have an opportunity to prove that it had an interest in the property, or be forever silenced.

Bellistri’s attorney Phillip Gebhardt argued that Ocwen had no interest in the property, because the deed of trust that it got from MERS could not be foreclosed. As a matter of law, the right to foreclose goes away when the promissory note is “split”  from the deed of trust that it is supposed to secure. The note that Crouther signed and gave to BNC didn’t mention MERS, so MERS had no right to assign the note to Ocwen. The assignment that MERS made to Ocwen conveyed only the deed of trust, splitting it from the note.

When MERS assigned the note to Ocwen, the note became unsecured and the deed of trust became worthless. Ironically, the use of MERS to make ownership of the note and mortgage easier to trace also made the deed of trust unenforceable. Who knows how many promissory notes are out there that don’t mention MERS, even though MERS is the beneficiary of the deed of trust securing such notes?

O. Max Gardner III

Gardner & Gardner PLLC

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Shelby NC 28151-1000

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