The Massachusetts Appeals Court recently denied a mortgagee's attempt to invoke the doctrine of equitable subrogation to hold the surviving spouse of a mortgagor liable for a second mortgage on their residence--owned by the married couple as tenants in the entirety--that had been procured and signed only by the deceased spouse.
While the American economy has shown tentative signs of stabilization and recovery, the nation's courts continue to grapple with legal questions that emanate from the Great Recession and the bursting of the so-called "housing bubble." In one notable development, the United States Supreme Court has recently agreed to decide an important question regarding the treatment of home mortgages in Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases (i.e., cases in which the bankruptcy trustee gathers and sells the debtor's non-exempt assets and uses the proceeds of such assets to pay creditors in accordance with the Bankruptcy Code.) Having granted certiorari in two substantially similar cases, Bank of America, N.A. v. Caulkett and Bank of America, N.A. v. Toledo-Cardona, the Supreme Court will decide whether section 506(d) of the Bankruptcy Code permits a Chapter 7 debtor to void a junior mortgage lien in its entirety when the outstanding debt owed to a senior lien holder exceeds the current value of the home in question. In more colloquial terms, the Supreme Court will determine whether a debtor may "strip off" a junior mortgage lien that is "under water."
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has held that borrowers are not assured of conditions that would allow them to rescind a home mortgage loan pursuant to the federal Truth in Lending Act ("TILA"), 15 U.S.C. 1601 et seq., and that a court can condition rescission of the loan on the borrowers' tender of the full principal balance of the loan. The Court in Iroanyah v. Bank of America, et al., 2014 WL 2198562 (7th Cir. May 28, 2014) affirmed the determination of the district court that conditioned the borrowers' rescission, and the attendant release of the banks' security interests in the home, on the borrowers' tender of the remaining principal balances within 90-days.
The Massachusetts Appeals Court has joined the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in upholding the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. ("MERS") business model under Massachusetts law. Explicitly referencing the First Circuit's decision in Culhane v. Aurora Loan Services of Nebraska, 708 F.3d 282 (1st Cir. 2013), the Appeals Court in Sullivan v. Kondaur Capital Corp., 85 Mass.App.Ct. 202 (2014), held that mortgagors have standing to challenge an assignment of their mortgages, but only to the extent that such assignment is void, not merely voidable. Further, the Appeals Court found that the MERS system of mortgage assignments fully comports with Massachusetts law.
The United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit has held that government land recording offices cannot state a claim under the federal RICO statutes for loss of revenue due to fewer filing fee revenues or for allegedly inaccurate records. Welborn v. Bank of N.Y. Mellon Corp., No. 13-30103, 2014 WL 843262 (5th Cir. March 5, 2014).
The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has reaffirmed its prior holdings in Culhane v Aurora Loan Services of Nebraska, 708 F.3d 282 (1st Cir. 2013) and Woods v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 733 F.3d 349 (1st Cir. 2013) regarding Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc.'s ("MERS") assignments of mortgages. The Court in Wilson v. HSBC Mortgage Services, Inc., 2014 WL 563457 (1st Cir. Feb. 14, 2014) found that while a plaintiff has standing to challenge a void assignment, they lack standing to challenge allegedly voidable assignments, and the MERS system for assignments comports with Massachusetts law.
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently dismissed a borrower's putative class action lawsuit under the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, alleging that a lender and insurer fraudulently insured the borrower's property after the borrower's homeowner's policy expired. In Cohen v. American Security Insurance Co., 735 F.3d 601 (7th Cir. 2013), the homeowner held a secured loan with Wachovia Mortgage, FSB, which required her to maintain homeowner's insurance on the residence as a condition of her loan agreement. When the homeowner's policy lapsed, Wachovia purchased replacement coverage at a rate more than twice as expensive as she had previously paid. Id. at 603. Wachovia charged the homeowner for the cost of the replacement coverage. Id. The coverage procured by Wachovia also included a commission to Wachovia's insurance agent affiliate, a feature allowed under the loan agreement. Id.
The First Circuit has affirmed a holding finding that no private right of action exists for homeowner-borrowers under the Home Affordable Modification Program ("HAMP"), bringing clarity on this issue to courts within the Circuit. In the underlying mater, Mackenzie v. Flagstar Bank, FSB, 2013 WL 139738 (D. Mass. Jan. 9, 2013) aff'd, 2013 WL 6840611 (1st Cir. Dec. 30, 2013), Magistrate Judge Bowler of the United States District Court had held a borrower is not an intended third-party beneficiary of the Servicer Participation Agreement ("SPA") among the banks and the federal government relating to HAMP. The District Court further held that absent an independent duty to modify the mortgage, neither the existence of a mortgagor-mortgagee relationship nor HAMP itself created any duty enforceable by the borrower.
The federal Circuit Courts of Appeal are split on the important question of what is required of a consumer who claims not to have received the proper disclosures from a lender and who wishes to rescind the loan within the three-year period following the closing.
The United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts has held that failure to respond to a purported Qualified Written Request, sent to a loan servicer pursuant to the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, 12 U.S.C. 2605 et seq. ("RESPA"), cannot serve as a defense to collection of a promissory note where a defendant suffered no actual damages as a result of any purported RESPA violation. Santander Bank v. Sturgis, et al., (C.A. No. 11-10601-DPW) (D. Mass. Nov. 13, 2013).
The United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts has denied class certification to a group of individual borrowers alleging that Bank of America mishandled their loan modification requests pursuant to the Home Affordable Modification Program.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has held that a title insurer has no duty to defend a bank against a third-party suit challenging the validity of the underlying debt, absent a specific provision in the title insurance policy envisioning such a claim. Deutsche Bank National Association v. First American Title Insurance Company, 465 Mass. 741 (2013).
The United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Massachusetts has held that the holder of a mortgage is not a "debt collector" within the meaning of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), 15 U.S.C. §1692 et seq. In Re: Gill, Stephen D., et al., Chapter 7 Case No. 09-15976-JNF; Adv. P. No. 13-1111.
The First Circuit has affirmed a holding finding that the system under which mortgages are held in the name of Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc., commonly known as MERS, comports with Massachusetts law relating to mortgage transactions. In the underlying matter, Culhane v. Aurora Loan Services of Nebraska, 826 F.Supp.2d 352 (D.Mass. 2011), Judge Young of the United States District Court had held that a mortgagor possesses standing to challenge the chain of assignment of his or her mortgage in defense to a foreclosure action, but further held that the MERS system of registration and transfer of mortgages is lawful.
Massachusetts' implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing does not apply to negotiations and contract preparations for a mortgage and accompanying promissory note, the First Circuit has held. In Latson v. Plaza Home Mortgage, Inc., the plaintiffs filed suit against their lender alleging, among other claims, violation of the implied covenant based on the lender's alleged failure to provide a proper commitment letter, good faith estimate, or other documents required by law, and gave them insufficient opportunity to review the terms in the loan documents. The United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts dismissed the case for failure to state a claim, and the borrowers appealed.
Even technical errors in mortgage and foreclosure documents can invalidate the foreclosure and subsequent sale of a condominium unit, according to the Massachusetts Housing Court. Following foreclosure, and purchase at the foreclosure sale by the foreclosing bank, the former owner asserted that erroneous references in the foreclosure documentation for the unit invalidated the foreclosure and left her with the superior right of possession. The Housing Court, J. Muirhead, agreed and invalidated the foreclosure. East West Bank v. Chung, Lawyers Weekly No. 17-001-13.
A mortgagor who is not personally liable for payment of the note securing a property loan cannot rescind the loan transaction or mortgage, the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Massachusetts has held. In re Smith-Pena v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.In re Smith-Pena v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 2013 WL 28696 (Bankr. D. Mass. Jan. 2, 2013).