The only thing surprising about this ruling is that it took so long to be made. This is black letter law, folks, the logical extension of the Court's Ibanez decision.
Without a promissory note, a foreclosing plaintiff cannot show a legal injury, i.e., does not have standing to sue. Without standing, the action before the court does not qualify as a "case or controversy" under Article III of the constitution. Courts can only make rulings on "cases or controversies;" advisory opinions are a legal nullity. Consequently, a court that purports to enter a "judgment" where it has no subject matter jurisdiction has in fact entered a legal nullity on its docket; that "judgment" is void as a matter of law.
As such, any such "judgment" entered where the plaintiff had no standing is open to collateral attack in any subsequent proceeding. What is more, subject matter jurisdiction cannot be waived; were that the case, parties could falsely induce courts to make binding rulings--obviously non-sensical.
The procedural posture of this particular case is unusually serpentine, no doubt. In any event, there is nothing controversial--as a legal proposition--about this case. I'm sure the banks, who are now shitting their pants over the implications of this case, see it differently, but they're just wrong.
On Oct. 18th, 2011 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court handed down their decision in the FRANCIS J. BEVILACQUA, THIRD vs. PABLO RODRIGUEZ – and in a moment, essentially made foreclosure sales in the commonwealth over the last five years wholly void. However, some of the more polite headlines, undoubtedly in the interest of not causing wide spread panic simply put it "SJC puts foreclosure sales in doubt" or "Buyer Can't Sue After Bad Foreclosure Sale."
In essence, the ruling upheld that those who had purchased foreclosure properties that had been illegally foreclosed upon (which is virtually all foreclosure sales in the last five years), did not in fact have title to those properties. Given the fact that more than two-thirds of all real estate transactions in the last five years have also been foreclosed properties, this creates a small problem.
The Massachusetts SJC is one of the most respected high courts in the country, other supreme courts look to these decisions for guidance, and would find it difficult to rule any other way in their own states. It is a precedent. It's an important precedent.
Here are the key components of the Bevilacqua case:
1. In holding that Bevilacqua could not make "something from nothing" (bring an action or even have standing to bring an action, when he had a title worth nothing) the lower land court applied and upheld long-standing principles of conveyance.
2. A foreclosure conducted by a non-mortgagee (which includes basically all of them over the last five years, including the landmark Ibanez case) is wholly void and passes no title to a subsequent transferee (purchasers of foreclosures will be especially pleased to learn of this)
3. Where (as in Bevilacqua) a non-mortgagee records a post-foreclosure assignment, any subsequent transferee has record notice that the foreclosure is simply void.
4. A wholly void foreclosure deed passes no title even to a supposed "bona fide purchaser"
5. The Grantee of an invalid (wholly void) foreclosure deed does not have record title, nor does any person claiming under a wholly void deed, and the decision of the lower land court properly dismissed Bevilacqua's petition.
6. The land court correctly reasoned that the remedy available to Bevilacqua was not against the wrongly foreclosed homeowner but rather against the wrongly foreclosing bank and/or perhaps the servicer (depending on who actually conducted the foreclosure)
When thinking about the implications of Bevilacqua – the importance of point six cannot be overstated.
The re-foreclosure suggestion is not valid
Re-foreclosing on these properties in not likely as has been suggested by bank layers in light of the Bevilacqua ruling. We aren't talking about Donald Trump here and we have a funny feeling he won't be affected either. Mostly it's guys like Bevilacqua who bought single or multi units, in the "hundreds of thousands" range. It seem unlikely that the majority of these folks would have the capital to eat their existing loses, re-foreclose at great expense, and on top of all of that come out as the highest bidder on the very property they formerly thought was their own. In many cases, as was the case in Bevilacqua, the original purchaser of the foreclosure may have already resold the property and moved on, thus leaving in their wake an even more serious problem; the likelihood of a property owner, who had nothing directly to do with a foreclosure, but is left with all the fallout of a post-Bevilacqua world.
Re-bidding on these properties in a re-foreclosure scenario would be done in what is soon to be a new inflationary environment (most originally bid in a deflationary environment for housing), thus making the "re-foreclosure" blank threat all the more unconvincing and unlikely.
However, it should be easy enough for investors similarly situated to Bevilacqua to simply hire fee contingent attorneys who can sue the banks and servicers for conveying fraudulent deeds – that seems like a much easier and logical proposition. When the potentially millions of lawsuits are added to the complaints filed by investors in MBS, we think the banks will finally be revealed as wholly insolvent. The only other way it could happen faster, is if the average American home owner, realizing he may never obtain clear title to his home (short of an indemnity from his bank), finally stops making his monthly payments on his invalid note (which completely lacks a valid security instrument). In this way, the existing insolvency of banks would be recognized in a matter of days rather than months or years.
The act of denial does not actually alter reality
Ostriches are said to have discovered this the hard way. On November 12th, 2010 in our article "Tattoos, Pyramid Schemes and Social Justice" we advocated that home owners, with securitized mortgages, regardless of their ability to pay, consider suspending their mortgage payments, and place those funds into a private escrow account instead. We wrote:
"Radical though it may seem, we believe the only way to stop the chaos of fraud and the breakdown of the rule of law in our courts, and most importantly to ensure that we ourselves are not participants in the fraud, is for homeowners who can afford their mortgage to stop paying it..."
The article goes on to say:
"For example, what is easier; to scorn those who are being foreclosed on because they can no longer afford their mortgage or to accept the possibility that our entire financial, and maybe justice system might be badly corrupted? Across all spectrums of crime, victims are often blamed, just ask attorneys who represent rape victims. This phenomenon is by no means unique to mortgage fraud, or those who have been raped by the institutions who carry out this trade. It has been made to appear as if those who have fallen on hard times are a matter of "incidental" inequalities in an otherwise procedurally just system. However, it is precisely the opposite which is true. Our financial institutions have created deliberate inequalities, through the use of procedurally unjust systems."
We pointed out that suspending such payment might be done for the following reasons, which in light of the recent Bevilacqua decision, and the pending Eaton Decision, are increasingly being proven correct:
"1. They are not sure where or if their payments are going to the true note holder.
2. They no longer know who the true note holder is.
3. They have a legitimate concern that they may not be able to ever obtain clear title and/or title insurance (in the event of a sale) given what we now know about improperly conveyed titles and the illegitimacy of "MERS".
4. They do not want to be an unwitting or passive participant in fraud.
5. They care about America, want our culture to be healed and recognize the dignity of every human being."
Long before the Ibanez decision was handed down we wrote the following (taken from the same article):
"If these legitimate reasons are the cause to suspend mortgage payments, then what attack on these "non-co-operators" character can be levelled? In these cases, Judge's will have to allow for proper civil procedure to take place in order for the legitimate inquiries of concerned Americans to come to light. Since banks virtually never produce adequate documentation (which appears to be by design), chances are things will escalate."
We went on to discuss the unique risks of apathy and denial in the following:
"...Americans have a duty to ask critical questions about the operations of their financial institutions, and if evidence has been presented that a deal was made, but not everyone was playing by the rules, than those deals need to be looked at again. It is not good enough any longer to say, if it doesn't affect "me" than, I'm not getting involved. We have a duty to one another as Americans, and more importantly as human beings, to care about truth and justice. What's more, apathy, so long as we are not affected, is a short lived consolation. Ultimately, this crisis will affect everyone sooner or later."
Certainly when the SJC handed down their opinion affirming Bevilacqua, perhaps hundreds of thousands, and ultimately millions of people who previously thought they were not affected, were suddenly well, affected. That is because there has been about six million foreclosures since the current economic crisis began, and those foreclosures may have resulted in many more interested parties, as was the case in Bevilacqua, who sold the subject property to four new owners, thus multiplying the number of parties involved, and ultimately the number of legal actions which could be brought. It is not hard to see where six million voided foreclosures might well result in new lawsuits in excess of that number – and if the courts advice is taken, these complaints would be directed, and properly so, at banks and servicers.
We expanded greatly on the themes of fraud, denial, and the likely economic consequences in our articles "Ibanez – Denying the Antecedent, Suppressing the Evidence and one big fat Red Herring" and "Eaton – Dividing the Mortgage Loan and Affirming the Consequent" which covered the other two recent landmark SJC cases - these may be worth reading in tandem with the present article in order to understand the full breadth of the problem.
In the Ibanez article, which was written in January of this year we wrote the following:
"If you live in Massachusetts and your mortgage has been securitized, or if you have purchased a foreclosure property, we think it would be wise to consider suspending your mortgage payments if you haven't already."
We believe these particular words have become incredibly relevant given the implications of Bevilacqua.
Finally, In our article "On the ethics of mortgage loan default" we tried to cover any outstanding inhibitions homeowners might have about the advice we were giving.
A few phone calls opens a whole new world
We decided to call a few title insurance companies to get their "take" on it all. We made the mistake of identifying ourselves as "bloggers" in the first phone call – that call may well have set a new land speed record for the fastest time from answering to hanging up. Thinking there might be a smarter approach, we decided to identify ourselves as homeowners (equally true) on the next call – the results were a little better, but only slightly.
The underwriters and title examiners we spoke to kept asking if we were attorneys, or if we represented the home owner as "council". We thought this was curious because we kept pointing out that we were ourselves just homeowners. Then it hit us, they have never actually spoken to a real, live, breathing customer on the policy origination side, they had only ever spoken to lawyer-brokers. We thought; what an interesting confluence of incentives this must create, and why is the buyer of the policy necessarily so far removed from the seller?
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