WSJ: Foreclosures Hit Rich And Famous
Wells Fargo, Part III: Absence Of Loan Default Interferes With Appointment of Receiver

Unsigned Cross-Collateralization Agreement Unenforceable In Recent Case

This will supplement my April 5, 2010 post regarding Wells Fargo v. Midland.  If you’re a secured lender struggling with cross-defaulted and cross-collateralized loans, hopefully you have fully-signed agreements clearly capturing the intent of the deal.  Wells Fargo shows what might happen if you don’t. 

Cross-collateralization problems.  One of the two loans at issue in Wells Fargo was not in default.  The borrower thus fought the foreclosure action related to the loan that was current.  The question became whether a non-executed draft of a cross-guaranty, which contained cross-default and cross-collateralization provisions, should have been incorporated into the executed loan documents memorializing two loans.  The subject borrower never executed the cross-guaranty.  Despite that fact, the lender sought to establish that an executed mortgage incorporated the cross-guaranty so as to permit the lender to enforce defaults on both loans.   

Statute of Frauds.  If you have ever heard the term “Statute of Frauds” and wondered what it meant in the foreclosure context, Wells Fargo provides guidance.  The applicable statute in this case is I.C. § 32-21-1-1(b).  Generally, contracts subject to this statute “must be in writing and signed by the party against whom enforcement is sought.”  In Wells Fargo, the cross-guaranty in question was subject to the Statute of Frauds because it was “a promise to answer for the debt of another.” 

Exception to statute?  In Indiana, there are limited circumstances in which an unsigned document can satisfy the Statute of Frauds.  A memorandum satisfying the statute may consist of several writings even though only one writing is signed.  The test is:

The signed instrument must so clearly and definitely refer to the unsigned one that by force of the reference the unsigned one becomes a part of the signed instrument.

Thus the question in Wells Fargo was whether the signed mortgage “so clearly and definitely [referred] to the unsigned cross-guaranty that by force of that reference, the cross-guaranty became a part of the mortgage.”  The Court examined the loan documents and ultimately concluded that they did not satisfy the test. 

Lender Liability Act.  The lender in Wells Fargo got creative with a second theory around the Statute of Frauds that focused on Indiana’s Lender Liability Act, about which I wrote on July 11, 2008.  The lender argued that the conclusion not to enforce the cross-guaranty necessarily meant that the original mortgage had been amended.  Because the ILLA provides that a credit agreement may not be amended without a written agreement, the lender asserted that the signed mortgage must control all the material terms and conditions of the loan, including the alleged cross-collateralization term.  (See I.C. § 26-2-9-5).  But the Court rejected the premise that there was a change and/or revision to the mortgage, stating “that the cross-guaranty provision in the mortgage was, essentially, meaningless” from the start:

When the parties either failed to agree upon the terms of a cross-guaranty, or failed to ensure that the final version was executed, their own conduct resulted in a document that contained a provision referring to a document that did not exist.

Get signatures.  The Court stood firm that the unexecuted cross-guaranty did not survive the Statute of Frauds and that the result did not run afoul of the ILLA.  The obvious lesson here is to make sure all the relevant papers memorializing the terms and conditions of a loan are signed by the appropriate parties.  The absence in Wells Fargo of a signed cross-collateralization agreement, which may have been a simple oversight, prevented the lender from fully enforcing rights that even the borrower may have intended to be a part of the deal.

Next week’s post will explain how the lender’s cross-default/cross-collateralization problem complicated its efforts to have a receiver appointed.