The State: New York
The Case: In re: Ferrel L. Agard, Debtor, Chapter 7
The Court: United States Bankruptcy Court, Eastern District of New York
The Judge: The Honorable Robert E. Grossman
The Set Up: U.S. Bank, as the trustee for one First Franklin Mortgage Loan Trust 2006-FF12, Mortgage Pass-Through Certificates, Series 2006-FF12… which all just means that we’re talking about a REMIC trust containing a securitized pool of mortgages… moves to obtain relief from the automatic stay created by a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing, in order to complete the foreclosure of Ferrel Agard’s home. New York State courts had already ruled and a foreclosure judgment was issued, so now U.S. Bank as trustee just needed to finish things out by obtaining relief from the automatic stay so they can proceed with selling the home.
Records show that the bankruptcy trustee expected a routine, no assets case… file report, collect fee, end of case. U.S. Bank, represented by its loan servicer, Select Portfolio Servicing (“SPS”), who was in turn represented by Buffalo’s most infamous foreclosure mill, Steven J. Baum PC, must have thought about the same… a straight forward foreclosure case, lets get rid of the deadbeats and be home by dinner.
But, in today’s fast changing world of Fraudclosuregate, things are not always as they appear, and crap that flew yesterday may not fly again tomorrow.
The Opposition: On October 27, 2010, the borrower’s attorney filed a single page document on which the type was double-spaced. It was a “partial opposition to the motion for relief from stay” that U.S. Bank had filed, and it suggested to the judge that perhaps there might be some sort of small problem with the MERS assignment. It also, in so many words, posited: Who the heck was Select Portfolio Services and why did they have any role in the case anyway?
After that, one might say… the fit hit the shan.
The Hearing: At a hearing held on November 15, 2010, the judge must have more than just hinted that he was going to look very carefully at this whole MERS thing, because he suggested that the parties might want to consider filing some real legal briefs on the subject, and he made it clear that he would be holding a real hearing on the issues on December 15, 2010, just one month down the road.
The Response: All of a sudden nothing was at it seemed just days before… SPS asks the court for more time and rushes out for reinforcements, bringing in a “tall building” law firm from New York City to replace the relative pikers at Baum’s Mill. The newly retained big city lawyers file a major brief in support of the U.S. Bank/SPS position on December 8th.
Then, on December 9th, MERS shows up, metaphorically at least with lights flashing and sirens blaring, to file an “emergency motion to intervene,” crying in sheer panic that their entire national business model is being attacked and that the result can be nothing less than the end of the world as we all know it.
They bring in a sworn declaration from MERS Treasurer and Corporate Secretary, William Hultman on December 10th, that explains what an entirely fabulous and utterly wonderful invention MERS actually is, and then… I suppose afraid that the one Hultman declaration just might not carry the day they show up with yet another declaration from MERS Treasurer and Corporate Secretary, William Hultman on December 23rd.
In an effort to keep things straight as related to the declarations, we’ll call that one: “Why Everyone Should Love MERS More Than Life Itself… The Sequel.”
The judge then begins to dig into the matter. Perhaps he was waiting for a case such as this one, or perhaps some other forces were in play, but regardless… for MERS… this was the wrong judge on the wrong day.
The Decision: Judge Grossman devotes the first half of his opinion to discussing whether he even has the legal authority to look into how U.S. Bank obtained this mortgage in the first place, since it already had obtained a foreclosure judgment in state court, and because there is an irritating (to Federal judges) and arcane Rooker-Feldman doctrine that prohibits federal courts from interfering with state court judgments.
Alas, our intrepid judge concludes on page 18 of his decision that Rooker-Feldman does in fact preclude him from looking further into the issues that underlie the U.S. Bank foreclosure judgment. And, as a result, Judge Grossman decides that he must grant U.S. Bank’s motion for relief from the bankruptcy automatic stay so that the trustee can complete the foreclosure.
Now, were we talking about most judges, that would represent the end of this proverbial road… the opinion would be dated and signed and I would not be writing about the case now. But we’re not talking about most judges… we’re talking about the Honorable Judge Robert E. Grossman of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, and he’s apparently not a judge with which one should trifle.
George, if you will read the rest of this you will understand why this is important: