Oops: MERS Gets Hit HARD In NY


From the “aw crap” file….

LEVENTHAL, J.This matter involves the enforcement of the rules that govern real property and whether such rules should be bent to accommodate a system that has taken on a life of its own. The issue presented on this appeal is whether a party has standing to commence a foreclosure action when that party’s assignor—in this case, Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (hereinafter MERS) —was listed in the underlying mortgage instruments as a nominee and mortgagee for the purpose of recording, but was never the actual holder or assignee of the underlying notes.

We answer this question in the negative.

This is far more important than it first appears.  It would appear that the bottom line is that MERS cannot prosecute foreclosures in its own name (it has stopped attempting this in several jurisdictions after losing a number of cases.)

This case, however, make an interesting point that may go well beyond that.

In October 2006 the defendants Stephen Silverberg and Fredrica Silverberg (hereinafter together the defendants) borrowed the sum of $450,000 from Countrywide Home Loans, Inc. (hereinafter Countrywide), to purchase residential real property in Greenlawn, New York (hereinafter the property). The loan was secured by a mortgage on the property (hereinafter the initial mortgage). The initial mortgage refers to MERS as the mortgagee for the purpose of recording, and provides that the underlying promissory note is in favor of Countrywide. Further, the initial mortgage provides that “MERS holds only legal title to the rights granted by the [defendants] . . . but, if necessary to comply with law or custom,” MERS purportedly has the right to foreclose and “to take any action required of [Countrywide].” On November 2, 2006, the initial mortgage was recorded in the office of the Suffolk County Clerk.

Ok, so the original loan was funded by Countrywide and MERS was named as the nominee.  So far we have the standard way that securitized junk, er, paper was originated during the go-go years.

Also in April 2007, the defendants executed a consolidation agreement in connection with the property in the sum of $479,000 in favor of MERS, as mortgagee and nominee of Countrywide . Countrywide was the named lender and note holder. The consolidation agreement purportedly merged the two prior notes and mortgages into one loan obligation. The consolidation agreement was recorded in the office of the Suffolk County Clerk on June 12, 2007. The consolidation agreement, as with the prior mortgages, recites that MERS was “acting solely as a nominee for [Countrywide] and [Countrywide’s] successors and assigns . . . For purposes of recording this agreement, MERS is the mortgagee of record.” Countrywide, however, was not a party to the consolidation agreement.

There was a second (which I’ve elided) and the borrowers consolidated both loans.  That consolidation was recorded.  The borrowers then (nine months later, roughly) defaulted.

In December 2007 the defendants defaulted on the consolidation agreement. Meanwhile, on April 30, 2008, by way of a “corrected assignment of mortgage,” MERS, as Countrywide’s nominee, assigned the consolidation agreement to the Bank of New York, as Trustee For the Benefit of the Certificate Holders, CWALT, Inc., Alternate Loan Trust 2007-14-T2, Mortgage Pass-Through Certificates Series 2007-14T2 (hereinafter the plaintiff). On May 6, 2008, the plaintiff commenced this mortgage foreclosure action against the defendants, among others.

In June 2008 the defendants moved pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(3) to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against them for lack of standing. In support of their motion, the defendants submitted, inter alia, the underlying mortgages, the summons and complaint, the second note, and an attorney’s affirmation. In the affirmation, the defendants argued, among other things, that the complaint failed to establish a chain of ownership of the notes and mortgages from Countrywide to the plaintiff. In opposition to the defendants’ motion, the plaintiff submitted, inter alia, the corrected assignment of mortgage dated April 30, 2008.

Oh oh.

Borrowers defaulted and it appears that there was an attempt to “fix” the loans by assigning them late to a trust that should have been closed in 2007.

On appeal, the defendants argue that the plaintiff lacks standing to sue because it did not own the notes and mortgages at the time it commenced the foreclosure action. Specifically, the defendants contend that neither MERS nor Countrywide ever transferred or endorsed the notes described in the consolidation agreement to the plaintiff, as required by the Uniform Commercial Code. Moreover, the defendants assert that the mortgages were never properly assigned to the plaintiff because MERS, as nominee for Countrywide, did not have the authority to effectuate an assignment of the mortgages. The defendants further assert that the mortgages and notes were bifurcated, rendering the mortgages unenforceable and foreclosure impossible, and that because of such bifurcation, MERS never had an assignable interest in the notes.

There it is; the assertion that the assignments never happened as required under the PSA and UCC.  The “assignment” couldn’t take place as MERS lacked the authority to do so.

The principal issue ripe for determination by this Court, and which was left unaddressed by the majority in Matter of MERSCORP (id.), is whether MERS, as nominee and mortgagee for purposes of recording, can assign the right to foreclose upon a mortgage to a plaintiff in a foreclosure action absent MERS’s right to, or possession of, the actual underlying promissory note.

“Can you assign something you never possesed?”  It is amusing that this is a novel issue, but apparently it is.

However, as “nominee,”MERS’s authority was limited to only those powers which were specifically conferred to it and authorized by the lender (see Black’s Law Dictionary 1076 [8th ed 2004] [defining a nominee as “(a) person designated to act in place of another, (usually) in a very limited way”]). Hence, although the consolidation agreement gave MERS the right to assign the mortgages themselves, it did not specifically give MERS the right to assign the underlying notes, and the assignment of the notes was thus beyond MERS’s authority as nominee or agent of the lender.


You can only execute on those powers as a nominee that you have had conferred to you via some means.  If the power you seek to use was never conferred to you, such as a beneficial interest in the note, you cannot assign that which you never had the power to act upon.

….Coakley indicates that this Court has determined that such broad provisions in mortgages, such as the initial mortgage and second mortgage here, standing alone, grant MERS, as nominee and mortgagee for the purpose of recording, the power to foreclose. On the contrary, the Coakley decision does not stand for that proposition. This Court’s holding in Coakley was dependent upon the fact that MERS held the note before commencing the foreclosure action.

Exactly.  You cannot bring a foreclosure unless you have acquired the interest in the indebtedness prior to filing the action.  Such a transfer can be by many means, but it must have taken place.  It did not in this case, ergo, what MERS attempted to execute upon was without standing.

MERS purportedly holds approximately 60 million mortgage loans (see Michael Powell & Gretchen Morgenson, MERS? It May Have Swallowed Your Loan, New York Times, March 5, 2011), and is involved in the origination of approximately 60% of all mortgage loans in the United States (see Peterson at 1362; Kate Berry, Foreclosures Turn Up Heat on MERS, Am. [*6]Banker, July 10,  2007, at 1). This Court is mindful of the impact that this decision may have on the mortgage industry in New York, and perhaps the nation. Nonetheless, the law must not yield to expediency and the convenience of lending institutions. Proper procedures must be followed to ensure the reliability of the chain of ownership, to secure the dependable transfer of property, and to assure the enforcement of the rules that govern real property.

Thank you New York Supreme Court.

Now, about those alleged Trusts that appear to not have anything actually in them……

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Bank of NY v Silverberg