Hat tip to JimG for sending this along, from bloomberg.com:
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert E. Grossman in Central Islip, New York, in a decision he said he knew would have a “significant impact,” wrote that the membership rules of the company’s Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, or MERS, don’t make it an agent of the banks that own the mortgages.
“MERS’s theory that it can act as a ‘common agent’ for undisclosed principals is not supported by the law,” Grossman wrote in a Feb. 10 opinion. “MERS did not have authority, as ‘nominee’ or agent, to assign the mortgage absent a showing that it was given specific written directions by its principal.”
“An adverse ruling regarding MERS’s authority to assign mortgages or act on behalf of its member/lenders could have a significant impact on MERS and upon the lenders which do business with MERS throughout the United States,” Grossman wrote. “It is up to the legislative branch, if it chooses, to amend the current statutes to confer upon MERS the requisite authority to assign mortgages under its current business practices.”
“By MERS’s own account, the note in this case was transferred among its members, while the mortgage remained in MERS’s name,” Grossman wrote. “MERS admits that the very foundation of its business model as described herein requires that the note and mortgage travel on divergent paths.”
The judge said that the membership agreement wasn’t enough to assign the mortgage and that to do so the lender would have to give power of attorney or similar authority to MERS.
MERS’s membership rules don’t create “an agency or nominee relationship” and don’t clearly grant MERS authority to take any action with respect to mortgages, including transferring them, Grossman wrote. Because the interests at issue concern “real property” — land and buildings — under state law, any transfer has to be in writing, which isn’t done under the MERS system, he said.
“Without more, this court finds that MERS’s ‘nominee’ status and the rights bestowed upon MERS within the mortgage itself, are insufficient to empower MERS to effectuate a valid assignment of mortgage,” the judge wrote. “MERS’s position that it can be both the mortgagee and an agent of the mortgagee is absurd, at best.”
Grossman said parties coming to him to seek to lift the automatic ban on legal claims in cases involving MERS will have to show they own both the mortgage and the note.