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Does the Debt Need to Transfer with the Mortgage?

by Neil Garfield | September 18, 2018

The answer is yes but the movement of the debt is often, all too often, presumed to have occurred. After more than a decade of research and analysis I find no support for the informal “doctrine” that the debt, note and mortgage can be used interchangeably. But the human inclination is to treat them the same. In foreclosure defense it is the job of the advocate to establish the separate nature of each of them.

The debt is what arises, regardless of whether it is in writing or not, by virtue of money being paid to the recipient or paid on his/her/their behalf. The only way the debt is extinguished is by payment or a court order (e.g. bankruptcy) declaring that the debt no longer exists. The recipient of the money is the obligor. The party who paid the money is the obligee under the debt. The transaction itself gives rise to the duty to repay the loan. A writing (e.g. note or mortgage or deed of trust) that purports to relate to or memorialize the debt, is separate from the debt.

If the written instrument (note) is made payable to the obligee under the debt, then they both are saying the same thing. That causes the debt and the written instrument (note) to merge. That way the obligor does not subject himself to an additional liability (double liability) when he executes the note. The note is incident to the debt but not the debt itself. The mortgage is incident to the debt and is neither the note nor the debt itself.

The debt is a demand loan if there is no written instrument. The note, where merger has occurred, sets forth the plan of repayment. The mortgage (if merger occurred on the note) sets forth the plan for enforcement of the debt. The mortgage does not set forth the terms of enforcement of the note since the note already contains its own enforcement provisions.

If the debt and the note don’t say the same thing (i.e., if the obligee and the payee are different), the doctrine of merger does not apply. The obligation to repay still exists but not under the terms and conditions of any note nor is it subject to enforcement of the mortgage. The debt (obligation to repay), the note and the mortgage (or deed of trust) can each be transferred; but the transfer of one does not mean the transfer of all three. Transfer of a note or mortgage does not move the debt unless merger has occurred. And transfer of a mortgage without the debt is a nullity.

Common sense is not necessarily the law or policy. Any number of people can enforce a note even if they don’t own the debt and even if they don’t actually have physical possession of the note (although there is a lot of explaining to do).

BUT nobody can enforce a mortgage unless they are the owner of the debt and the owner of the mortgage or the owner of the beneficial interest under a deed of trust. The assignment of a mortgage or DOT cannot, under any circumstances CREATE an interest in the debt by either party. The assignor must own the debt for the assignment to transfer the debt. All states agree that an assignment means nothing if the assignor had nothing to assign. Such an assignment confers no rights on the assignor and the assignee gets nothing even though the “assignment” document physically exists.

BUT a facially valid note is given many presumptions as to enforcement of the note and those presumptions have led courts to erroneously conclude and presume that the enforcer of the note is the owner of the debt.

The only party who is entitled to claim ownership of the debt (obligation) is the one who paid for it. Any party claiming to represent the owner of the debt must show the agency connection between themselves and the owner of the debt. All other “transfer” documents are fabrications.

The only way the “agent” can prove the “agency” is by disclosing the identity of the owner of the debt, who can corroborate the claim of agency — if the party identified can prove ownership of the debt. Self serving statements are not without some value but if the party proffering self serving statements is unable or unwilling to proffer corroborating evidence at trial or in response to discovery, their self serving statements must be given scant weight.

So in the above link the Court summarized the law in the same way that the courts in all states — when pushed — understand the law. Note the huge difference between alleging standing and proving standing. The allegation makes it through a motion to dismiss. Failure of proof of standing results in denial of summary judgment or any judgment.

“A plaintiff in a mortgage foreclosure action establishes its prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law by producing the mortgage, the unpaid note, and evidence of the defendant’s default (see Loancare v Firshing, 130 AD3d 787, 788 [2015]; Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v Erobobo, 127 AD3d 1176, 1177 [2015]; Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v DeSouza, 126 AD3d 965 [2015]; Citimortgage, Inc. v Chow Ming Tung, 126 AD3d 841, 842 [2015]; US Bank N.A. v Weinman, 123 AD3d 1108, 1109 [2014]). Where, as here, a defendant challenges the plaintiff’s standing to maintain the action, the plaintiff must also prove its standing as part of its prima facie showing (e.s.)(see HSBC Bank USA, N.A. v Roumiantseva, 130 AD3d 983 [2015]; HSBC Bank USA, N.A. v Baptiste, 128 AD3d 773, 774 [2015]; Plaza Equities, LLC v Lamberti, 118 AD3d 688, 689 [2014]).” LNV Corp. v Francois, 134 AD3d 1071, 1071—72 [2d Dept 2015].

“[A] plaintiff has standing where it is both the holder or assignee of the subject mortgage and the holder or assignee of the underlying note at the time the action is commenced. (Bank of NY v. Silverberg, 86 AD3d 274, 279 [2nd Dept. 2011], U.S. Bank N.A. v. Cange, 96 AD3d 825, [*3]826[2d Dept. 2012]; U.S. Bank, N.A. v. Collymore, 68 AD3d 752-754 [2d 2009]; Countrywide Home Loans, Inc. v. Gress, 68 AD3d 709[2d Dpt. 2009].) Either a written assignment of the underlying note or the physical delivery of the note prior to the commencement of the foreclosure action is sufficient to transfer the obligation, and the mortgage passes with the debt as an inseparable incident (citations omitted). However, a transfer or assignment of only the mortgage without the debt is a nullity and no interest is acquired by it, since a mortgage is merely security for a debt and cannot exist independently of it (citations omitted). Where…the issue of standing is raised by a defendant, a plaintiff must prove its standing in order to be entitled to relief (citations omitted).” (e.s.)Homecomings Fin., LLC v Guldi, 108 AD3d 506-508[2d Dept. 2013].

 

 

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