When Is Possession Not Really Possession? (And By “Possession” I Mean In The “Mortgagee In Possession” Sense Of The Word)

by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

Lenders are often faced with a dilemma when dealing with property that is in foreclosure and has been abandoned by the borrower. A lender must, under New Jersey law, maintain the property "to such standard or specification as may be required by state law or municipal ordinance." Also, the lender has an obvious interest in protecting the value of its collateral. But the lender does not want to take "possession" of the property and be deemed a "mortgagee in possession," because that would impose upon the lender the duty of a "provident owner," which includes the duty to manage and preserve the property, and which subjects the lender to liability for damages to the property and damages arising out of torts that occur on the property. Unfortunately, the point at which a lender takes "possession" of property is not entirely clear. I have written about this before, and the Appellate Division's recent opinion in Woodlands Community Association, Inc. v. Mitchell provides some additional guidance, which should be helpful to lenders.

In Woodlands, defendant was the assignee of a note and mortgage related to a unit in plaintiff's condominium development. The unit owner defaulted on the loan and vacated the unit. At the time, the unit owner was not only delinquent on his loan payments, but also owed "substantial sums" to the association for "unpaid monthly fees and other condominium assessments." After the unit owner vacated the unit, defendant changed the locks and winterized the property. (As the Appellate Division noted, "[w]interizing entails draining the  pipes, turning off the water and setting the thermostat for heat to protect the pipes.") After the unite owner vacated the unit, plaintiff sued him to recover the delinquent fees. It later amended its complaint to include the lender, "alleging that [[the lender] was responsible for the association fees as it was in possession of the property."

Both parties moved for summary judgment. The trial court granted plaintiff's motion, holding that defendant was a mortgagee in possession and therefore was liable for the maintenance fees. On the key of issue of what it meant to be in "possession" of the unit, the trial court held as follows: "[D]efendant held the keys, and no one else [could] gain possession of the property without [defendant's] consent. This constitutes exclusive control, which indicates the status of mortgagee in possession." Defendant appealed. 

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Appellate Division Vindicates Counsel Who Was Punished By Trial Court For Being Ready For Trial

by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

Angry judge (pd)Yes, you read that headline right. In Acevedo v. Masih, defense counsel was ready for trial on the trial date but the trial court nonetheless entered judgment against defendant because defendant's counsel (and plaintiff's counsel) "did not show up for trial." Let me explain.

Acevedo was a personal injury lawsuit arising out of a car accident. After discovery, the parties engaged in non-binding arbitration, which resulted in an award in plaintiffs' favor for $86,250. Defendants rejected this award by filing a timely demand for trial de novo and the case was scheduled for trial in Sussex County. This is where the case went, temporarily, off the rails.

Prior to the scheduled trial date, defense counsel notified the appropriate judges in both Sussex County and Morris County that he had two older cases scheduled for trial in Morris County on the same day that Acevedo was set for trial in Sussex County. He advised the judges that he was ready to proceed in all three cases but sought to have Acevedo marked "ready, subject to" the older Morris County cases. He further advised the judges that he would appear for the trial call in the oldest Morris County case on the trial date.

At the same time, plaintiff's counsel in Acevedo requested, with defense counsel's consent, an adjournment of the trial because, among other reasons, plaintiffs' expert witness was not available on the scheduled trial date.

 

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No, You Cannot Enforce A Mortgage That Has Already Been Paid In Full

by: Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher)

The Appellate Division recently dealt with an unusual situation involving a borrower trying to enforce a mortgage, which had been satisfied years earlier, against a lender that was foreclosing on a different loan. While disputes occasionally arise between lenders regarding which loans have priority over others for the purpose of foreclosure, it is highly unusual for a borrower to attempt to enforce a mortgage, much less one that had been fully satisfied. Nonetheless, this was precisely what the Appellate Division faced in Valley National Bank v. Meier.

The facts of Meier were not disputed. In 1999, the Meiers obtained a loan from Community Bank of Bergen County for $168,000, which was secured by a purchase money mortgage. At the time, Mr. Meier was the president, CEO, and chairman of the board of Community Bank, which later merged with Valley. Six years later, the Meiers obtained a home equity loan from Community Bank that was also secured by a mortgage on the same property. Two years after that, Mr. Meier paid off the original mortgage, allegedly using pre-martial assets to do so. At some point prior to paying off the mortgage, the Meiers divorced. Instead of getting a discharge of the mortgage after paying off the note, Mr. Meier received a written assignment of the mortgage which he subsequently recorded.

 

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Unless You Have Won The Lottery You Don’t Need To Read This Post

by: Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher)

The Appellate Division handed down a decision today that will never have any impact on my life. The case — In re. Petition of BofI Federal Bank to Assign Lottery Prize Payment Rights — was a consolidated appeal of four Law Division cases that denied BofI Federal Bank's request to assign certain lottery payments from four separate prize winners.

The appeal involved four winners of the Win for Life scratch off game. (As an aside, I have loyally played this game for years in both New York and New Jersey and never even come close to winning, unless scratching off two "LIFE" symbols seemingly every time means I am getting close.) Under the rules of the game, winners receive a guaranteed prize of $1 million payable in quarterly installments for 18 years and then quarterly payments for the rest of the winner's lifetime. For reasons not disclosed in the opinion, BofI (Bank of the Internet if you are curious) filed petitions seeking approval of the assignment of the last two years of the guaranteed quarterly payments.

 

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Not A Holder In Due Course? Not Necessarily A Standing Problem

by:  Peter J. Gallagher

By now, all lenders have likely been faced with at least one situation where a borrower alleges that the lender lacked standing to sue on a note because the lender was not the holder of the note. While New Jersey courts have largely eliminated this defense, at least in the post-judgment context (see here), a recent decision from the Appellate Division reminds us that a lender can have standing to sue even when it is not a holder in due course.

In Lynx Asset Services, LLC v. Simon Zarour, National City Bank loaned defendant $190,000, and defendant executed a mortgage as security for the note. Thereafter, National City merged with PNC Bank. Sometime later, PNC Bank delivered the original note to Lynx Asset Services, LLC and issued an assignment of the note and mortgage, but did not indorse the assignment. Defendant eventually defaulted on the note and Lynx sued. Defendant admitted that he signed the note and mortgage and that he had stopped paying on the note. He nonetheless argued that Lynx lacked standing to sue because it did not have a signed assignment. The trial court rejected this claim, and the Appellate Division affirmed, holding that, although Lynx was not a holder in due course, it nonetheless had standing to sue on the note because it was a non-holder with the rights of a holder.

 

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