by Brian Mahany
We have been saying for several months that the tide is beginning to turn against big banks and mortgage lenders. Many courts are beginning to get fed up with the abusive practices of lenders. Recently several state supreme courts have been weighing in on a wide variety issues including missing paperwork, forged affidavits, questionable title and abusive foreclosure or loan modification practices.
When a state supreme court decides a case, the decision takes on considerable weight. As the highest court in the land, a state supreme court decision is generally binding on all trial courts in that state. We were happy to learn that the Oklahoma Supreme Court decided 7 cases this month in favor of homeowners.
The facts in each of the cases were similar. In each case, the court ruled that in order to bring a foreclosure action, the plaintiff must prove that it has the right to enforce the promissory note. No note means no standing to bring the complaint.
It’s in the details that the Oklahoma cases become important.
Many lenders have problems producing the note and mortgage. In recent years, most lenders sell the mortgage shortly after the closing. Banks rarely hold their own paper any more. The mortgages are often packaged, securitized and sold several times. In that process, paperworks frequently is lost. The lost or incomplete paperwork issue was addressed by the court.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court opinion is helpful to homeowners in several ways.
First, the court reaffirmed that the plaintiff must prove it has the right to enforce the note. Courts shouldn’t simply rely on an affidavit from a lawyer saying the bank or servicer has the right to enforce the note. They must prove it.
Next, the court said that the foreclosing party needs to have the note. Just having an assignment of mortgage is not enough. (Often the servicing bank will draft an assignment of mortgage. That requires the lender’s signature. The note, obviously, contains the borrowers signature. If documents are missing it is much easier for a lender to forge a mortgage assignment than to forge a homeowners signature.)
FInally, the court said that the lack of standing (missing note) can be raised at any time. That can be extremely important in foreclosure cases. Often borrowers seek legal counsel after a judgment of foreclosure has issued. Many folks don’t seek legal help until well into the foreclosure process. By the time a lawyer gets the case, discovery periods have elapsed and often there is already a judgment of foreclosure. The Oklahoma court said as long as the case isn’t closed, its not too late to challenge jurisdiction.
Postscript- There are tens of millions of homeowners under water. Many are facing foreclosure. Unfortunately, there are few lawyers that truly understand how to fight big lenders and even fewer actually willing to do so. If you are facing foreclosure, seek professional assistance as soon as possible. Don’t settle for a bankruptcy lawyer or a fly by night foreclosure “rescue” consultant. Foreclosures can be won but it’s not easy.
The average cost for a lawyer to file an answer and defend a foreclosure action is between $2500 and $5000. While there are some highly qualified lawyers that do this work, we think the only thing big banks understand is a counterclaim and aggressive lawyer.
Everyday we receive calls from homeowners across the U.S. Although we write about foreclosure defense, we rarely take such cases. Our primary purpose in writing is to provide general information and offer hope. The cases we do take are lawsuits against banks and lenders for illegal lending, loan modification and foreclosure practices. If you sufered a particularly bad experience, we certainly want to listen.
Our mortgage fraud team is currently co-counsel in the largest federal false claims act case in the nation, the $2.4 billion action on behalf of HUD against Allied Home Mortgage. Large or small, suing banks and getting justice for victims of predatory lending and foreclosure practices is what we enjoy.
Mahany & Ertl, America’s Fraud Lawyers. Offices in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Detroit, Michigan; Portland, Maine & Minneapolis, Minnesota. Services available in many jurisdictions.