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Justices tackle home foreclosure issue involving MERS

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Indiana Justice Mark Massa, writing for the court Thursday, delved into the history of the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc. and its role in today’s mortgage industry in a case involving a foreclosed home in Madison County.

The opinion, Citimortgage, Inc. v. Shannon S. Barabas a/k/a Shannon Sheets Barabas, ReCasa Financial Group, LLC, and Rick A. Sanders, 48S04-1204-CC-00213, provides background on how the mortgage industry has changed from involving just a borrower and lender to now include a lender, loan servicer, title company, and a whole host of other parties. Massa explains the creation in the 1990s of MERS, which maintains a computer database that tracks servicing and ownership rights of mortgage loans in the U.S. MERS member banks list MERS as “nominee” for lender and as “mortgagee” on their mortgage documents.

Shannon Barabas obtained a mortgage through Irwin Mortgage Corp. in 2005, to which the agreement said that the security instrument is given to MERS “(solely as nominee for Lender, as hereinafter defined, and Lender’s successors and assigns), as mortgagee.”

Two years later, she took a second mortgage out with ReCasa Financial Group. But she couldn’t keep up on payments with ReCasa, and it filed suit for foreclosure of the mortgage and for a sheriff’s sale. Irwin disclaimed any interest in the real estate in 2008. The sheriff’s sale occurred in January 2009.

In April 2009, MERS assigned the Irwin mortgage to Citimortgage. Citmortgage then filed a motion pursuant to Ind. Trial Rules 24(A) and 60(B) seeking to intervene in the foreclosure suit and asking that the judgment granted to ReCasa be subject to the mortgage now held by Citimortgage. The trial judge ultimately denied the motion.

The justices unanimously held that Citimortgage has the right to intervene. They found the mortgage contract Irwin had with MERS to be ambiguous and that the parties intended to designate MERS as the lender’s agent.

“This agency relationship conferred various rights upon MERS, including rights that constitute protected property interests sufficient to entitle MERS—and Citimortgage standing in the shoes of MERS—to meet the first requirement for intervention of right,” Massa wrote. MERS’ interest in the mortgage survived through its other principals, including Citimortgage.

The high court also found that disposition of the foreclosure case may impair Citimortgage’s interest and that no other party is adequately representing that interest. Citimortgage’s motion to intervene was timely, as well as its motion for relief, because ReCasa failed to provide Citimortgage or its agent MERS with notice of the foreclosure suit.

Massa pointed out that this case highlights issues with using laws established in 1877 to deal with a modern mortgage industry. The drafters of the original version of I.C. 32-29-8-1 couldn’t have imagined more than two or three actors involved, Massa wrote. The General Assembly may soon have to modernize the law to accommodate “this new and larger cast of characters,” he wrote.

The case is sent back to the trial court with instructions to grant the motion to intervene and amend the default judgment to provide that ReCasa took Barabas’ property subject to Citimortgage’s lien.  

 

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

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  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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