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Is a Neg-AM Note a Negotiable Instrument?

Posted by Neil Garfield | July 9, 2018

The UCC is not ambivalent about protecting both the maker of a negotiable instrument and the party seeking to enforce it. The maker does not assume the risk of double liability except for instances where the note is purchased for value in good faith and without knowledge of the borrower’s defenses. In all other circumstances the object is to prevent the maker from being exposed to double liability.

The fact that a note is not a negotiable instrument does not mean that it cannot be enforced, or that it is void or whatever else people are saying on the internet. If the note does not meet the definition of a negotiable instrument then it is simply not entitled to the legal presumptions that are given to a negotiable instrument to ease its trading and enforcement. Any other approach would be equivalent to propelling parties who seek to enforce a note being vaulted into the elevated class of holder in due course.

In other words, if the note is not a negotiable instrument then enforcement can only be achieved by pleading and proving the facts needed to enforce without the benefit of legal presumptions that each State adopted as a a statute when the Uniform Commercial Code was made law.

In cases where a negative amortization is involved, the courts have blurred the issues. Such a loan has many extrinsic factors that should disqualify the note from being treated as a negotiable instrument.

We must always remember that the purpose of the UCC is not to provide a vehicle for tricking anyone. The purpose is to allow for free flow of commerce and enabling the passing of paper instruments is essential to that function. Like many statutes creating legal presumptions, perhaps all of them, the point is simply to take what is almost always true in fact and simply create a legal presumption that the matter asserted is in fact true, until proven otherwise. Lest the use of such presumptions tip the due process scales, the definitions and rules regarding the use of legal presumptions must be strictly construed.

The issue of negative amortization is highly relevant on many levels including the one frequently mentioned — negotiability. The courts are probably confusing the ability to negotiate an instrument with BEING a negotiable instrument. The words of art are important. A marketable instrument is not the same as a negotiable one. The fact that someone is willing to buy a note does not make the note negotiable. A note featuring negative amortization should not be considered a negotiable instrument even though it might be marketable.

One of the problems with consumer loans is that they are subject to TILA Rescission. That means that they are potentially enforceable if no notice of rescission has been mailed. Certainty is gone from that scenario. You cannot determine whether the note is an asset or a liability. It is practically the opposite of a negotiable instrument since it might well be worthless, and the even the purchaser of the note might suffer a total loss unless the purchaser had paid value for the debt in a transaction in which the seller owned the debt.

Most Neg-AM loans allow the borrower (or can’t stop the borrower) from switching from one payment plan to another, e.g. paying full amortization none of which changes are reflected on the face of the note. This creates relevant events that occur off the face of the note, making the actual amount of principal due (and interest on the changing principal) at any time subject to calculation, not just from the face of the note but from the face of extrinsic or parole records.

An interesting characteristic of most Neg-AM notes is that they contain provisions that require conversion or reset when the accrued interest is added to principal in such amount as to require the reset — i.e., usually at 115% of the original loan amount. But none of these features necessarily extrinsically change the terms on the face of the note. Modifications do that, but not Neg-AM loans. It is in the calculation of the principal and interest thereon that one must go to “business records.”

If Neg-AM notes can be negotiable instruments then buyers of the notes are expected to rely upon the legal presumptions that the note is what it appears to be. Such buyers, much like the borrowers, are in for a surprise when the loan resets, based upon an extrinsic calculation of when 115% of principal has been exceeded, and if exceeded, by how much. Certainty is gone. If certainty is gone then facts are necessary. No legal presumptions should apply.

There are very simple elements required in order to gain the legal presumptions that would apply to a negotiable instrument.

The main one is that the instrument must be payable in an amount that can be computed based upon the information on the face of the note. On the face of a Neg-AM note, there are terms and conditions that can easily be used to compute the total indebtedness, assuming that extrinsic factors have not come into play. All notes change every day in terms of the amount of interest due and, in the case of Neg-AM notes, the amount of principal, which goes up automatically by underpayment of interest.

It is generally agreed that a note on which there is a known or declared default is NOT a negotiable instrument for purposes of Article 3. You can’t know with certainty the amount due because you don’t know when the borrower defaulted. A DOT or Mortgage is not a negotiable instrument, and to enforce a DOT/Mortgage you must have paid value for the mortgage (Article 9), regardless of whether the note that is secured is a negotiable instrument or not. These are protections to be sure, but they are also insurance that the legal presumptions lead correctly to the truth of the matter.

A second element is that the payment must be due as of a date certain. A mortgage/DOT can’t be a negotiable instrument and cannot invoke the presumptions that a “holder” of a note can invoke, based upon possession and endorsement.

With Neg-AM notes the problem comes into high relief — when the “lender” knows that the reset will be in excess of the entire household income thus creating a virtual guarantee that the alleged loan contract will terminate in 3 years rather than 30 years. Hence the supposed indorsee of such a note is buying into a foreclosure situation, if he/she/it has done due diligence. If not, then here is a second situation where the note might be worthless and the buyer loses, unless the buyer bought the debt from a seller who owned the debt.

A third element is that the original note must either be made out to bearer or to a defined party. But it is possible for a note made payable to a non-lender or a fictitious party might be construed as bearer paper — if there was an actual transaction in which someone gave the borrower money, even if the identity of the funding source was concealed. The obviously violations of disclosure requirements are separate matters.

In all the elements the point is that in order for an instrument to be called “Negotiable” under Article 3 you must not need to inquire into parol or extrinsic evidence. All presumptions arise when the note is facially valid and there are no circumstances that the indorsee knows about that would undermine enforcement. With a DOT/mortgage, by definition on the face of the instrument, you must go to extrinsic evidence as to the presumed default on another instrument (the note) and you can only enforce upon proof of value paid for the mortgage/DOT.

A note might be facially valid and enforceable, which means that a party who pleads and proves they are entitled to enforce is entitled to a money judgment but not foreclosure unless they plead and prove they are a holder in due course, which by definition means that value was paid and hence the mortgage or DOT is also enforceable by them.

Other than an HDC, all the other categories of potential enforcement by a party should enable them only to enforce the note. Of course if the owner of the debt shows up, there would be no problems with enforcement of either the note or the mortgage because the owner of the debt is entitled to enforce the obligation to pay the debt.

Under securitization schemes in practice it is possible to own the mortgage but not be able to enforce it without having paid value. Courts that decide cases based upon the “mortgage follows the note” are missing the point of LAW that resides in their State’s adoption of the UCC, to wit: under no circumstances may a party force the sale of homestead property without being the owner of the debt. That is not a proposal. It is the law in all 50 states.

While the encumbrance may not be enforced, this does not invalidate the mortgage or deed of trust. When it comes time to sell or refi the property you will learn that you still must deal with the holder of the mortgage. An action in equity might be decided in your favor or you might have to pay a sum of money to the owner of the mortgage encumbrance even though they paid nothing for it.

People forget that there are three items here, not two. In addition to the note and mortgage, which serve only as evidence as the debt, there is the actual debt. Back before claims of securitization, all three were used interchangeably. Now it is different. If the funding source is not the payee on the note, then the doctrine of merger does not apply, to wit: the note becomes separate from the debt that arises to the person or party who advanced the money. If the Payee is in privity with the funding source then merger does apply. But most Payees were not in privity with the source of funds. The banks boast of how they created remote vehicles and relationships.

The very fact that there are terms allowing the payment to be less than PI for the month suggests that the borrower might very well have made some payments more than the minimum due. In other words, inquiry must be made to determine the debt balance with certainty. There is certainly an argument here that reference is to the payment history rather than just the note. If that is true then the face of the note is inadequate to determine the “certain sum” currently due. This can become an issue in any installment note.

A finding that all these questions are irrelevant would have dire consequences in the marketplace where certain types of predefined paper can be received in the free flow of commerce without uncertainty as to whether the paper can be enforced. This is a two edged sword. Opening the door beyond the strict definitions of the UCC is opening the door for more mischief involving fabrication of documents, forgery and robosigning.

The UCC is not ambivalent about protecting both the maker of a negotiable instrument and the party seeking to enforce it. The maker does not assume the risk of double liability except for instances where the note is purchased for value in good faith and without knowledge of the borrower’s defenses. And the purchaser should not bear the risk of a total loss immediately upon paying for the note — unless the purchaser knew there were problems and was willing to take his chances.

The final point I would make is that the question should be asked: Given the fact that so-called REMIC Trusts are supposedly buying the loan pools aggregated by the likes of Countrywide and its progeny, why do lawyers firmly announce that their clients are “holders” and not “holders in due course”.

The latter designation (HDC) would allow the possessor of the note to enforce both note and mortgage despite lending violations when the alleged loan was “originated.” Being an HDC might also avoid defenses that current abound — that there are breaks in the chain of title. If the would-be enforcers simply included the allegation (and proof) that they were the owners of the debt or a holder in due course it would be game over for borrowers. That they don’t assert that position is a tacit admission that the reason why they don’t is that they can’t.

Thus we continue to be mired in litigation with phantoms, ghosts, smoke and mirrors.

 

 

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