Clear Arbitration Provision, Negotiated By Sophisticated Party While Represented By Counsel Deemed Enforceable

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

Arbitration def (pd)The headline of this post is a little like "Dog bites man." But, given the recent trend in New Jersey of "man bites dog" type cases where courts have invalidated arbitration provisions that once seemed unambiguous (look here, here, and here for examples), the headline should make more sense.

In Columbus Circle NJ LLC v. Island Construction Co., LLC, the Appellate Division enforced an arbitration provision contained in a construction contract. Plaintiff was a single-member LLC that retained defendant to build a $1.9 million home on the bay in Avalon, New Jersey. Plaintiff's representative circulated an initial draft contract for the project that used the standard American Institute of Architects (AIA) forms. These forms contain a provision entitled "BINDING DISPUTE RESOLUTION," which, as the name suggests, requires the parties to choose "the method of binding dispute resolution" for any claims between them that are not resolved by mediation. In the draft it circulated, plaintiff's representative checked off "Arbitration pursuant to Section 15.4 of AIA Document A201-2007," rather than "Litigation in a court of competent jurisdiction." Before it was signed, the attorney for the LLC's sole member reviewed the draft and proposed changes, as did defendant, but none of these changes appear to have altered the dispute resolution provision.

During construction, disagreements arose between the parties regarding the cost of the project, leading both parties to terminate the contract. When mediation apparently failed, defendant filed a demand for arbitration. Three months later, plaintiff sued in state court. Defendant successfully moved to dismiss plaintiff's complaint and compel arbitration, and Plaintiff appealed.

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Another Lesson From A New Jersey Court On The UCC And Standing To Foreclose

by: Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher)

The running battle between lenders and borrowers over standing to foreclose continues in the Garden State. A recent decision from the Appellate Division — Bank of New York v. Ukpe — is the latest in an ever-growing body of case law addressing this issue from seemingly every conceivable angle. 

The facts in Ukpe will be familiar to anyone who has followed the wave of residential foreclosures in recent years. Defendants applied for a mortgage from Countrywide Home Loans, Inc. (“CHL”). They claimed that they told the broker that they could not afford a monthly payment over $1,000 and were assured by the broker that the monthly payment would not exceed this amount. However, at the closing, they learned that the monthly payment would be almost $1,500 per month. They alleged that the broker told them not to worry because they could refinance the loan a few months after closing. Nonetheless, two years later, after several unsuccessful attempts to refinance the loan, Defendants defaulted. 

Defendants’ note was made "payable to lender," and the mortgage, after it was recorded, was held by Mortgage Electric Recording System ("MERS") as nominee for the lender. Shortly after being recorded, the mortgage was securitized along with other mortgages. As part of this process, several entities entered into a "Pooling and Servicing Agreement" ("PSA"). Under the PSA, CHL was identified as a "seller," CWABS, Inc. was identified as the "depositor" and "master servicer," and the Bank of New York ("BNY") was identified as the "trustee." Under the PSA, the CHL and the other “sellers” transferred the mortgages to CWABS, Inc., which then transferred them to BNY, which held the mortgages for the benefit of the investors in the newly-created security. The PSA also required the original mortgage notes to be endorsed in blank and delivered to BNY.

After Defendants defaulted, BNY filed a foreclosure complaint. In response, Defendants claimed, among other things, that BNY lacked standing to foreclose because it was not a holder in due course. The trial court rejected this claim and the Appellate Division affirmed. In doing so, the Appellate Division provided a crash course in what it means to be a holder in due course.

 

 

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Municipality Need Not Negotiate With Mortgage Holder Before Condemning Property

By: Peter J. Gallagher

Last year, we told you about a decision from the Appellate Division holding that a condemning authority does not have to engage in bona fide negotiations with a mortgage holder that has obtained final judgment on the property that the authority is seeking to condemn. Click here for the prior post. The Supreme Court has now affirmed the Appellate Division’s decision.

Under New Jersey law, before condemning real property, a condemning authority must, among other things, engage in bona fide pre-litigation negotiations with the party that "owns title of record to the property."  N.J.S.A. 20:3-6. Prior case law had made clear that this limitation meant that a condemning authority was not required to negotiate with a leaseholder or some other party that might have an "interest" in the property, but was instead required to negotiate only with the record title owner. In Borough of Merchantville v. Malik & Son, LLC, however the Supreme Court was faced with a slightly different question — whether a municipality needs to negotiate with an entity that held the mortgage on the underlying property, had obtained final judgment of foreclosure against the title owner, and was on the verge of taking the property to sheriff’s sale. The Supreme Court ruled that it does not.

 

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Condemning Authority Not Required To Negotiate With Mortgagee

by:  Peter J. Gallagher

 In a recent opinion, Borough of Merchantville v. Malik & Son, LLC, the New Jersey Appellate Division held that a condemning municipality was not required to negotiate with a party that had obtained a final judgment of foreclosure on the property that the municipality was looking to condemn.  Under New Jersey law, before condemning real property, a condemning authority must, among other things, engage in bona fide pre-litigation negotiations with the party that "owns title of record to the property."  Prior case law had made clear that this limitation meant that a condemning authority was not required to negotiate with a leaseholder or some other party that might have an "interest" in the property, but was instead required to negotiate only with the record title owner. 

In Malik & Son, a lienholder argued that, by virtue of it having obtained final judgment of foreclosure on the property, it stepped into the shoes of the record title holder, and the municipality should have been negotiating with it instead of the record title holder.  Specifically, the lienholder argued that it was not like a leasholder or even a "mere mortgage holder," but was instead the true "stakeholder and only party with a genuine interest in negotiating the sale of the property" because it had possession of the property, the right to sell it, a final judgment of foreclosure, and had scheduled a sheriff's sale by the date of the taking .  Relying on the plain language of the relevant statutes, the trial court rejected this argument, and the Appllate Division affirmed its decision.  The Appellate Division further explained that the municipality did not preclude the record title holder from discussing the negotiations with the lien holder, and that the lienholder — as a "condemnee with a compensable interest," albeit not the record title holder — could participate in subsequent valuation and allocation eminent domain proceedings.