A borrower goes to a mortgage lender. The lender finances the purchase of real estate. The borrower signs a note and mortgage or deed of trust. The original lender sells the note and assigns the mortgage to an entity that securitizes the note by combining the note with hundreds or thousands of similar obligation to create a package of mortgage backed securities, which are then sold to investors.
Unfortunately, unless you represent borrowers, the vast flow of notes into the maw of the securitization industry meant that a lot of mistakes were made. When the borrower defaults, the party seeking to enforce the obligation and foreclose on the underlying collateral sometimes cannot find the note.
A lawyer sophisticated in this area has speculated to one of the authors that perhaps a third of the notes “securitized” have been lost or destroyed. The cases we are going to look at reflect the stark fact that the unnamed source’s speculation may be well-founded. UCC SECTION 3-309
If the issue were as simple as a missing note, UCC §3-309 would provide a simple solution. A person entitled to enforce an instrument which has been lost, destroyed or stolen may enforce the instrument. If the court is concerned that some third party may show up and attempt to enforce the instrument against the payee, it may order adequate protection. But, and however, a person seeking to enforce a missing instrument must be a person entitled to enforce the instrument, and that person must prove the instrument’s terms and that person’s right to enforce the instrument. §3-309 (a)(1) & (b). WHO’S THE HOLDER
Enforcement of a note always requires that the person seeking to collect show that it is the holder. A holder is an entity that has acquired the note either as the original pay or or transfer by endorsement of order paper or physical possession of bearer paper. These requirements are set out in Article 3 of the Uniform Commercial Code, which has been adopted in every state, including Louisiana, and in the District of Columbia. Even in bankruptcy proceedings, State substantive law controls the rights of note and lien holders, as the Supreme Court pointed out almost forty (40) years ago in United States v. Butner, 440 U.S. 48, 54-55 (1979).
However, as Judge Bufford has recently illustrated,20in one of the cases discussed below, in the bankruptcy and other federal courts, procedure is governed by the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy and Civil Procedure. And, procedure may just have an impact on the issue of “who,” because, if the holder is unknown, pleading and standing issues arise. BRIEF REVIEW OF UCC PROVISIONS
Article 3 governs negotiable instruments – it defines what a negotiable instrument is and defines how ownership of those pieces of paper is transferred. For the precise definition, see § 3-104(a) (“an unconditional promise or order to pay a fixed amount of money, with or without interest . . . .”) The instrument may be either payable to order or bearer and payable on demand or at a definite time, with or without interest. Ordinary negotiable instruments include notes and drafts (a check is a draft drawn on a bank). See § 3-104(e).
Negotiable paper is transferred from the original payor by negotiation. §3-301. “Order paper” must be endorsed; bearer paper need only be delivered. §3-305. However, in either case, for the note to be enforced, the person who asserts the status of the holder must be in possession of the instrument. See UCC § 1-201 (20) and comments.
The original and subsequent transferees are referred to as holders. Holders who take with no notice of defect or default are called “holders in due course,” and take free of many defenses. See §§ 3-305(b).
The UCC says that a payment to a party “entitled to enforce the instrument” is sufficient to extinguish the obligation of the person obligated on the instrument. Clearly, then, only a holder – a person in possession of a note endorsed to it or a holder of bearer paper – may seek satisfaction or enforce rights in collateral such as real estate. NOTE:
Those of us who went through the bank and savings and loan collapse of the 1980’s are familiar with these problems. The FDIC/FSLIC/RTC sold millions of notes secured and unsecured, in bulk transactions. Some notes could not be found and enforcement sometimes became a problem. Of course, sometimes we are forced to repeat history. For a recent FDIC case, see Liberty Savings Bank v. Redus, 2009 WL 41857 (Ohio App. 8 Dist.), January 8, 2009. THE RULES
Judge Bufford addressed the rules issue this past year. See In re Hwang, 396 B.R. 757 (Bankr. C. D. Cal. 2008). First, there are the pleading problems that arise when the holder of the note is unknown. Typically, the issue will arise in a motion for relief from stay in a bankruptcy proceeding.
According F.R.Civ. Pro. 17, “[a]n action must be prosecuted in the name of the real party in interest.” This rule is incorporated into the rules governing bankruptcy procedure in several ways. As Judge Bufford has pointed out, for example, in a motion for relief from stay, filed under F.R.Bankr.Pro. 4001 is a contested matter, governed by F. R. Bankr. P. 9014, which makes F.R. Bankr. Pro. 7017 applicable to such motions. F.R. Bankr. P. 7017 is, of course, a restatement of F. R. Civ. P. 17. In re Hwang, 396 B.R. at 766. The real party in interest in a federal action to enforce a note, whether in bankruptcy court or federal district court, is the owner of a note. (In securitization transactions, this would be the trustee for the “certificate holders.”) When the actual holder of the note is unknown, it is impossible – not difficult but impossible – to plead a cause of action in a federal court (unless the movant simply lies about the ownership of the note). Unless the name of the actual note holder can be stated, the very pleadings are defective. STANDING
Often, the servicing agent for the loan will appear to enforce the note. Assume that the servicing agent states that it is the authorized agent of the note holder, which is “Trust Number 99.” The servicing agent is certainly a party in interest, since a party in interest in a bankruptcy court is a very broad term or concept. See, e.g., Greer v. O’Dell, 305 F.3d 1297, 1302-03 (11th Cir. 2002). However, the servicing agent may not have standing: “Federal Courts have only the power authorized by Article III of the Constitutions and the statutes enacted by Congress pursuant thereto. … [A] plaintiff must have Constitutional standing in order for a federal court to have jurisdiction.” In re Foreclosure Cases, 521 F.Supp. 3d 650, 653 (S.D. Ohio, 2007) (citations omitted).
But, the servicing agent does not have standing, for only a person who is the holder of the note has standing to enforce the note. See, e.g., In re Hwang, 2008 WL 4899273 at 8.
The servicing agent may have standing if acting as an agent for the holder, assuming that the agent can both show agency status and that the principle is the holder. See, e.g., In re Vargas, 396 B.R. 511 (Bankr. C.D. Cal. 2008) at 520.