California Ferguson Court holds you got to tender if you want to challenge the lender or alleged lender or the foreclosure sale

This case involves another challenge to a non-judicial foreclosure sale in California.  The basic facts of this case are that a borrower initially took out a loan with New Century Mortgage which loan was accompanied by a MERS deed of Trust (MERS was the nominee of the lender and its successors and assigns under the deed of trust and also listed as the beneficiary).  The Trustee under the Deed of Trust was First American Title Compamy.

After a default of the $600,000 purchase loan taken out by borrower HYUNH in 2006, the following sequence of recorded documents occurred:

(1)  8/3/07a Notice of Default was recordedby Quality Loan Service Corporation (QLSC) – Note that the trustee under the Deed of Trust was First American Title;

(2) 8/30/07Assignment of Deed of Trustwas recorded (MERS assigned its beneficial interest to Avelo Mortgage) – Note the typical assignment of the Deed of Trust together with “notes therein” (The Fontenot case sees this as proper even though MERS does not, and has never held any note in its possession).

(3)  11/9/07Notice of Saleby QLSC.

(4) 11/9/07  (same day but after the Notice of Sale was recorded) Substitution of Trustee was recorded substituting QLSC for First American Title (note, apparently this document was executed on 8/2/07 prior to the notice of default being recorded by QLSC);

Thereafter, the property was sold at non-judicial foreclosure trustee sale on 7/08.  The purchaser at the foreclosure sale was Avelo Mortgage, allegedly paying 400k for the property.  Avelo recorded the Trustees Deed upon sale.

After the sale, HYUNH (the original borrower), Quitclaimed his interest to Ferguson (the Plaintiff in this action) on 6/27/09.  Ferguson recorded his Quitclaim deed on 7/1/09 and brought suit to Quiet Title against Avelo Mortgage arguing the foreclosure sale was illegal as Avelo received no valid interest from MERS in the Assignment of Deed of Trust since MERS had no note to assign, and thus Avelo had no authority to foreclose.  Under this theory, Ferguson argued there was no requirement to tender the full amount of the loan balance to try to set aside the foreclosure sale and claim the property as his own since he was challenging the foreclosure “sale” and not the foreclosure “procedure”.  In addition, Ferguson argued there can be no tender rule requirement where Avelo is not the true beneficiary (since they never got the note.  Ferguson also sued HYUNH for fraud.

The Court disagreed with the Plaintiff Ferguson, and held that the tender rule applies whether or not Avelo had any note.  Here is the relevant language of the case:

(3) The power of sale in a deed of trust allows a beneficiary recourse to the security without the necessity of a judicial action. (See Melendrez v. . . . Investment, Inc. (2005) 127 Cal.App.4th 1238, 1249 [26 Cal.Rptr.3d 413].) Absent any evidence to the contrary, a nonjudicial foreclosure sale is presumed to have been conducted regularly and fairly. (Civ. Code, § 2924.)However, irregularities in a nonjudicial trustee’s sale may be grounds for setting it aside if they are prejudicial to the party challenging the sale. (See Lo v. Jensen (2001) 88 Cal.App.4th 1093, 1097-1098 [106 Cal.Rptr.2d 443]; see also Angell v. Superior Court (1999) 73 Cal.App.4th 691, 700 [86 Cal.Rptr.2d 657] [“`In order to challenge the sale successfully there must be evidence of a failure to comply with the procedural requirements for the foreclosure sale that caused prejudice to the person attacking the sale.'”].) Setting aside a nonjudicial foreclosure sale is an equitable remedy. (Lo v. Jensen, supra, 88 Cal.App.4th at p. 1098 [“A debtor may apply to a court of equity to set aside a trust deed foreclosure on allegations of unfairness or irregularity that, coupled with the inadequacy of price obtained at the sale, mean that it is appropriate to invalidate the sale.”].) A court will not grant equitable relief to a plaintiff unless the plaintiff does equity. (See Arnolds Management Corp. v. Eischen (1984) 158 Cal.App.3d 575, 578-579 [205 Cal.Rptr. 15]; see also 13 Witkin, Summary of Cal. Law (10th ed. 2005) Equity, § 6, pp. 286-287.) Thus, “[i]t is settled that an action to set aside a trustee’s sale for irregularities in sale notice or procedure should be accompanied by an offer to pay the full amount of the debt for which the property was security.” (Arnolds Management Corp. v. Eischen, supra, 158 Cal.App.3d at p. 578; see also FPCI RE-HAB 01 v. E & G Investments, Ltd. (1989) 207 Cal.App.3d 1018, 1022 [255 Cal.Rptr. 157] [rationale behind tender rule is that irregularities in foreclosure sale do not damage plaintiff where plaintiff could not redeem property had sale procedures been proper].)

However, a tender may not be required where it would be inequitable to do so. (See Onofrio v. Rice (1997) 55 Cal.App.4th 413, 424 [64 Cal.Rptr.2d 74]; see also Dimock v. Emerald Properties (2000) 81 Cal.App.4th 868, 876-878 [97 Cal.Rptr.2d 255] [when new trustee has been substituted, subsequent sale by former trustee is void, not merely voidable, and no tender needed to set aside sale].) Specifically, “`if the [plaintiff’s] action attacks the validity of the underlying debt, a tender is not required since it would constitute an affirmative of the debt.’” (Onofrio v. Rice, supra, 55 Cal.App.4th at p. 424.)

Appellants contend they are not challenging irregularities in the foreclosure proceeding. Rather, they argue that respondent is not the holder of the underlying promissory note and therefore cannot invoke the tender rule against them. In their complaint, appellants alleged that New Century remains in possession of the promissory note and that appellants owe no obligation to respondent. On appeal, appellants contend that whether respondent holds the promissory note is a factual dispute, and sustaining respondent’s demurrer presupposes that respondent has authority to enforce the loan obligation. They assert that while MERS had the authority to transfer its beneficial interest under the deed of trust, there is no evidence that MERS, which was acting as a nominee of New Century, held the promissory noteand was authorized to assign the note itself to respondent.

The role of MERS is central to the issues in this appeal. “`MERS is a private corporation that administers the MERS System, a national electronic registry that tracks the transfer of ownership interests and servicing rights in mortgage loans. Through the MERS System, MERS becomes the mortgagee of record for participating members through assignment of the members’ interests to MERS. MERS is listed as the grantee in the official records maintained at county register of deeds offices. The lenders retain the promissory notes, as well as the servicing rights to the mortgages. The lenders can then sell these interests to investors without having to record the transaction in the public record. MERS is compensated for its services through fees charged to participating MERS members.’” (Gomes v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc. (2011) 192 Cal.App.4th 1149, 1151 [121 Cal.Rptr.3d 819] (Gomes v. Countrywide), quoting Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. v. Nebraska Dept. of Banking & Finance (2005) 270 Neb. 529 [704 N.W.2d 784, 785].)

(4) Appellants cite two federal cases for the proposition that MERS, as the nominee of the lender under a deed of trust, does not possess the underlying promissory note and cannot assign it, absent evidence of an explicit authorization from the original lender. (See Saxon Mortgage Services, Inc. v. Hillery (N.D.Cal., Dec. 9, 2008, No. C-08-4357) 2008 U.S.Dist. Lexis 100056; see also In re Agard (Bankr. E.D.N.Y. 2011) 444 B.R. 231.) Not all courts agree on this issue and appellants do not distinguish nor address other cases that have upheld MERS’s ability to assign a mortgage. (See US Bank, N.A. v. Flynn(N.Y.Sup. 2010) 27 Misc.3d 802 [897 N.Y.S.2d 855, 859] [assignee of MERS has standing to initiate foreclosure proceeding because where “an entity such as MERS is identified in the mortgage indenture as the nominee of the lender and as the mortgagee of record and the mortgage indenture confers upon such nominee all of the powers of such lender, its successors and assigns, a written assignment of the note and mortgage by MERS, in its capacity as nominee, confers good title to the assignee and is not defective for lack of an ownership interest in the note at the time of the assignment”]; see also Crum v. LaSalle Bank, N.A. (Ala.Civ.App. 2009) 55 So.3d 266, 269.) We are not bound by federal district and bankruptcy court decisions, and the cases cited by appellants are in direct conflict with persuasive California case law.

In Gomes v. Countrywide, supra, 192 Cal.App.4th 1149, plaintiff Gomes obtained a loan from KB Home Mortgage Company (KB Home) to finance a real estate purchase. He executed a promissory note secured by a deed of trust naming KB Home as the lender and MERS as KB Home’s nominee and beneficiary under the deed of trust. (Gomes v. Countrywide, supra, 192 Cal.App.4th at p. 1151.) The deed of trust contained a provision granting MERS the power to foreclose and sell the property in the event of a default. (Ibid.) Gomes defaulted on his payments and was mailed a notice of default by ReconTrust, which identified itself as an agent for MERS. Attached was a declaration signed by Countrywide Home Loans, acting as the loan servicer. (Ibid.) Gomes filed suit against Countrywide Home Loans, ReconTrust and MERS for wrongful initiation of foreclosure, alleging MERS did not have authority to initiate the foreclosure because it did not possess the note and was not authorized by its current owner to proceed with foreclosure. (Id. at p. 1152.) Defendants demurred, arguing, among other things, that Gomes was required to plead tender to maintain a cause of action for wrongful foreclosure and that the terms of the deed of trust authorized MERS to initiate a foreclosure proceeding. The trial court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend. (Ibid.)

On appeal, the court affirmed the order, finding that Gomes could not seek judicial intervention in a nonjudicial foreclosure before the foreclosure has been completed. (Gomes v. Countrywide, supra, 192 Cal.App.4th at p. 1154.) Nonetheless, the appellate court reached the merits of Gomes’s claim as an independent ground for affirming the order sustaining the demurrer. The court rejected Gomes’s argument that MERS lacked authority to initiate the foreclosure procedure because the deed of trust explicitly provided MERS with the authority to do so. The court found that the “deed of trust contains no suggestion that the lender or its successors and assigns must provide Gomes with assurances that MERS is authorized to proceed with a foreclosure at the time it is initiated.” (Id. at p. 1157.) Thus, Gomes acknowledged MERS’s authority to foreclose by entering into the deed of trust. (Ibid.)

Just as in Gomes v. Countrywide, the deed of trust in this case specifically states: “Borrower understands and agrees that MERS holds only legal title to the interests granted by Borrower in this Security Instrument, but, if necessary to comply with law or custom, MERS (as nominee for Lender and Lender’s successors and assigns) has the right: to exercise any or all of those interests, including, but not limited to, the right to foreclose and sell the Property; and to take any action required of Lender including, but not limited to, releasing and canceling this Security Instrument.”

(5) Appellants concede that MERS had the authority to assign its beneficial interest to respondent.Accordingly, respondent had the same authority to initiate foreclosure proceedings. And while Gomes v. Countrywide did not address the tender issue, it does not follow that a beneficiary may initiate nonjudicial foreclosure proceedings under a deed of trust without the original promissory note, but cannot seek tender from a defaulting borrower attempting to set aside the foreclosure. Although California courts have not resolved this issue (see Miller & Starr, Cal. Real Estate (3d ed. 2010-2011 Supp.) Deeds of Trust and Mortgages, § 10:39:10, p. 4), several federal district courts in this state have upheld a beneficiary’s authority to initiate foreclosure proceedings and invoke the tender rule against a defaulting borrower, even when the beneficiary is not the holder of the original promissory note. Those courts have noted that “California law `does not require possession of the note as a precondition to [nonjudicial] foreclosure under a Deed of Trust.’” (Jensen v. Quality Loan Service Corp. (E.D.Cal. 2010) 702 F.Supp.2d 1183, 1189; see also Odinma v. Aurora Loan Services (N.D.Cal., Mar. 23, 2010, No. C-09-4674 EDL) 2010 U.S. Dist. Lexis 28347; see also Morgera v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc.(E.D.Cal., Jan. 11, 2010, No. 2:09-cv-01476-MCE-GGH) 2010 U.S.Dist. Lexis 2037, p. *21 [MERS, as nominee of lender, has authority to initiate nonjudicial foreclosure without underlying promissory note].) Moreover, in cases involving an assignment of a deed of trust from MERS to a third party, courts have invoked the tender rule despite arguments that MERS did not have the authority to assign its interest under the deed of trust without the promissory note.(See Lai v. Quality Loan Service Corp.(C.D. Cal., Aug. 26, 2010, No. CV 10-2308 PSG (PLAx)) 2010 U.S. Dist. Lexis 97121.) Appellants offer no authority, state or federal, to support the legal loophole they claim for defaulting borrowers and their successors.

Appellants also argue that respondent was not authorized to substitute Quality as the trustee prior to becoming the beneficiary under the deed of trust. Quality initiated the foreclosure proceedings when it was not the trustee and therefore had no legal right to do so. Under a deed of trust, the trustee may be substituted by a “substitution executed and acknowledged by: (A) all of the beneficiaries under the trust deed, or their successors in interest. . .; or (B) the holders of more than 50 percent of the record beneficial interest of a series of notes secured by the same real property or of undivided interests in a note secured by real property equivalent to a series transaction, exclusive of any notes or interests of a licensed real estate broker that is the issuer or servicer of the notes or interests or of any affiliate of that licensed real estate broker.” (Civ. Code, § 2934a, subd. (a)(1).)

(6) We agree with appellants that respondent did not have the authority to execute a substitution of trustee until MERS assigned the deed of trust to it. Thus, Quality’s August 3, 2007 notice of default was defective. Nonetheless, Huynh had more than three months to satisfy his obligation before Quality executed a notice of sale. The substitution of trustee was effective when respondent became the beneficiary under the deed of trust and when the substitution was recorded on November 9, 2007. (Civ. Code, § 2934a, subd. (a)(4) [“From the time the substitution is filed for record, the new trustee shall succeed to all the powers, duties, authority, and title granted and delegated to the trustee named in the deed of trust.”].) Thus, the notice of sale was valid.Quality then completed the foreclosure in July 2008, long after its substitution as trustee took effect.This situation is distinct from other cases that have voided a nonjudicial foreclosure sale when a party other than the trustee initiated the proceeding and completed the sale without having been substituted in as the trustee. (See Pro Value Properties, Inc. v. Quality Loan Service Corp. (2009) 170 Cal.App.4th 579, 583 [88 Cal.Rptr.3d 381]; see also Dimock v. Emerald Properties, supra, 81 Cal.App.4th at pp. 876-878 [foreclosure sale void where original trustee completed foreclosure sale after being replaced by new trustee].)Appellants offer no authority for the proposition that the defective nature of the initial notice of default corrupted all subsequent steps in the nonjudicial foreclosure proceeding such that the sale was void, not merely voidable.

Thus, this ruling seems to leave open a tiny door for situations where the wrong trustee sells the property at foreclosure sale.  In those situations, the sale may be VOID with no obligation to tender.  So, looking for grounds to challenge the Substitution of Trustee may be one of the few  remaining challenges in California to either enjoin or set aside a wrongful foreclosure sale despite courts recognizing the the foreclosure procedure must be valid.

The Court cited Tender statute in California:

(8) A tender is an offer of performance made with the intent to extinguish the obligation. (Civ. Code, § 1485.) It must be unconditional (Civ. Code, § 1494) and offer full performance to be valid (Civ. Code, § 1486). Civil Code section 1512 provides: “If the performance of an obligation be prevented by the creditor, the debtor is entitled to all the benefits which he would have obtained if it had been performed by both parties.”

NOTE:  I do not believe the “tender rule” is a hard and fast rule.  You have to look at what your facts are.  Some cases have held that a tender may not be required where it would beinequitableto do so. (See Onofrio v. Rice(1997) 55 Cal.App.4th 413, 424; see alsoDimock v. Emerald Properties (which was actually cited by the Ferguson court)(2000) 81 Cal.App.4th 868, 876-878 [which held that there was no requirement to tender when the wrong trustee sells the property, in these instances, the sale is VOID, not merely VOIDABLE, and no tender was needed to challenge the VOID sale].)  There are other cases that talk about VOID vs. VOIDABLE.  However, you need to be aware of the rule, and there will be tender challenges raised in almost every case of wrongful foreclosure so there has to be a strategy, and cases to deal with that.  Also, where the Plaintiff’s lawsuit challenges the validity of an alleged underlying debt, tender is not required since it would constitute an affirmation of the debt.” See Onofrio v. Rice, supra, 55 Cal.App.4th at p. 424.

NOTE2:  This case also discussed the requirements of a Quiet Title lawsuit in California:

(2) Here, appellants sought to quiet title against respondents and set aside the trustee sale at which respondents purchased the property. In order to state a viable cause of action for quiet title, a complaint must include: “(a) A description of the property that is the subject of the action. . . . [¶] (b) The title of the plaintiff as to which a determination under this chapter is sought and the basis of the title. . . . [¶] (c) The adverse claims to the title of the plaintiff against which a determination is sought. [¶] (d) The date as of which the determination is sought. . . . [¶] (e) A prayer for the determination of the title of the plaintiff against the adverse claims.” (Code Civ. Proc., § 761.020.) To bring an action to quiet title a plaintiff must allege he or she has paid any debt owed on the property. Shimpones v. Stickney(1934) 219 Cal. 637, 649 [“[A] mortgagor cannot quiet his title against the mortgagee without paying the debt secured.”].)  The complaint must also be verified (sworn under oath).

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