Lesson. To set aside a loan document based upon the defense of mutual mistake, there first must be a mistake concerning a vital fact upon which the parties based the loan. Second, the mistake must be on the part of both parties.
Legal issue. Whether a loan modification agreement should have been reformed or rescinded based upon an alleged mistake of fact.
Vital facts. In 2008, borrower defaulted under a promissory note and mortgage, and in 2009 lender obtained a default judgment against him. The day before the scheduled sheriff’s sale, lender notified the sheriff that the sale should be cancelled due to ongoing settlement negotiations. Nevertheless, the sheriff inadvertently held the sale, and the lender’s pre-sale written bid prevailed. The sheriff’s processed and recorded the sheriff’s deed. About three months later, lender discovered the mistake and ultimately got a court order vacating the deed. In 2010, borrower and lender executed a loan modification agreement that amended the note and mortgage, and set up a new payment plan. For three years, borrower made the payments under the loan mod. At some point, borrower discovered information leading him to believe that he was not on the deed to the property. He also had been denied his homestead exemption multiple times. About the same time, lender notified borrower that he needed to make an additional payment into escrow to cover real estate taxes. In response, borrower told lender he would not pay anything further until lender assured borrower “his name was back on the deed….” Lender then filed an affidavit with the county assessor reaffirming that the court had vacated lender’s title to the property and that the assessor’s records should reflect that title was with borrower. Despite lender’s action, borrower made no further mortgage payments.
Procedural history. Lender initiated a foreclosure lawsuit and filed a motion for summary judgment. In response, borrower filed an affidavit stating that he did not know that his name had been taken off the deed to the property when he signed the loan mod. Borrower argued that he would not have entered into the loan mod knowing his name had been taken off the deed. He essentially asserted that the loan mod was not enforceable against him. The trial court rejected borrower’s position and granted lender summary judgment.
Key rules. A contract may be reformed on grounds of mistake upon clear and convincing evidence of both the mistake and the original intent of the parties. Stated differently, “where both parties to a contract share a common assumption about a vital fact upon which they based their bargain, and that assumption is false, the transaction may be avoided if, because of the mistake, a quite different exchange of value occurs from the exchange of values contemplated by the parties.”
Ind. Code 32-30-10-3 provides that “if a mortgagor defaults in the performance of any condition contained in a mortgage, the mortgagee … may proceed in the circuit court of the county where the real estate is located to foreclose the equity of redemption….” If a lender produces evidence of a demand note and mortgage, it establishes the prima facie evidence supporting foreclosure. That shifts the burden to the borrower to prove payment of the note or any affirmative defense to foreclosure.
Holding. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary judgment in favor of lender.
Policy/rationale. Borrower contended that he should not have been held to the terms of the loan mod, and thus his mortgage should not have been foreclosed, because the parties mistakenly believed his name was on the deed when they executed the loan mod. But the alleged mistake of fact did not exist upon execution of the loan mod. Borrower did in fact have a valid deed at the time. Although borrower was temporarily divested of ownership through the sheriff’s sale, the trial court later set the sale aside and vacated the deed. That happened in December of 2009. The loan mod didn’t occur until December of 2010. Since borrower’s name was on the deed upon execution of the loan mod, “there was no basis to reform or rescind the agreement.”
This seemed to be a fairly straightforward decision, but I suspect there may have been more to the story. (It’s common for appellate court opinions to distill the facts to their essence.) In any event, despite borrower’s obvious frustrations arising out of the 2009 sheriff’s sale and the resulting confusion with the county’s records, the loan mod had to be enforced.
- Reformation: How A Mortgage With An Erroneous Legal Description Can Be Foreclosed
- Borrowers Sue Lender Over Alleged Wrongs From Loan Modification Agreement
- Recording Deeds In Indiana: Don't Forget The Sales Disclosure Form
I frequently represent lenders, as well as their mortgage loan servicers, in connection with contested mortgage foreclosure actions. If you need assistance with a similar matter, please call me at 317-639-6151 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, don’t forget that you can follow me on Twitter @JohnDWaller or on LinkedIn, or you can subscribe to posts via RSS or email as noted on my home page.