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Lender Moves For Default Judgment Only To See Its Foreclosure Case Dismissed

Lesson. Technical inconsistencies between the promissory note and the mortgage may not doom the enforcement of the loan.

Case cite. U.S. Bank Trust v. Spurgeon, 99 N.E.3d 671 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018)

Legal issue. Whether a mortgage still can be valid despite the document’s lack of clarity as to the names of the borrowers and the mortgagors.

Vital facts. Plaintiff Lender filed a mortgage foreclosure action seeking an in rem judgment against a Trust. Mr. Forrest Spurgeon, individually, executed the promissory note. He and Delphine Spurgeon, as trustees of the Trust, executed the mortgage to secure the note. The Trust owned the mortgaged real estate but did not sign the note. Only Forrest executed the note.

Procedural history. The Lender filed a motion for default judgment after the Trust failed to appear in the case. Remarkably, the trial judge not only denied the Lender’s motion but dismissed the Lender’s case altogether. The court had a problem with the fact that the mortgage defined the “borrower” as being the Trust, whereas the note defined the borrower as being Forrest. Since the Lender failed to file a note executed by the trustees on behalf of the Trust, but instead relied only on the note executed by Forrest, the trial court on its own volition found that the Lender failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The Lender appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals.

Key rules. The Spurgeon opinion has a nice summary of Indiana’s rules of contract construction and interpretation. (Notes and mortgages are both contracts.) The outcome of Spurgeon was driven by the Court of Appeals’ application of those rules, which largely are designed to harmonize the language and ascertain the intention of the parties – even in the face of inconsistencies in the wording.

One other important rule is that “one person may furnish collateral or grant a mortgage on the person’s real property to secure the loan of another.” This person is known as a surety. Thus, the name of the borrower in the note and the name of the mortgagor in the mortgage do not necessarily need to be the same for the mortgage to be valid.

Holding. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s dismissal of the Lender’s case and instructed the trial court to grant the Lender’s motion for default judgment.

Policy/rationale. The Court concluded that the misuse of the word “borrower” in the mortgage did not render the mortgage invalid or unenforceable. There were a number of factors in the Court’s decision, principal among them being: (1) the dates of the note and mortgage were the same, (2) the mortgage referred to a loan amount that mirrored that in the note, (3) the maturity dates in the contracts were identical, (4) the lender was the same in both documents, and (5) the Trust owned the subject real estate at the time of the loan. The Court said that it “is clear from the language of the Mortgage that the Trust, as mortgagor, has granted a security interest in the property held in its name to secure the payment of the debt owed by Forrest Spurgeon pursuant to the Note.” Also significant was that, despite being served with a summons and complaint, the Trust did not appear in the action to contest the Lender’s claims.

Related posts.

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My practice includes representing lenders and their loan servicers in contested mortgage foreclosure actions. If you need assistance with a similar matter, please call me at 317-639-6151 or email me at john.waller@woodenlawyers.com. 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.


Court of Appeals Reduces Appeal Bond In Indiana Foreclosure Case

Lesson. In Indiana, a defendant mortgagor generally will be required to post a bond in order to stay a sheriff’s sale during its appeal of an adverse foreclosure decree. Without a bond and a corresponding order of stay, the sheriff’s sale can occur, and the mortgagor (owner) can lose the real estate even if the mortgagor ultimately prevails on appeal. But the amount of the bond will not be the full value of the property, and trial courts have discretion when setting the bond amount.

Case cite. Brooks v. Bank of Geneva, 97 N.E.3d 647 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018); reaffirmed, 103 N.E.3d 197 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018).

Legal issue. Whether the amount of the appeal bond set by the trial court should have been reduced.

Vital facts. The Brooks case was the subject of my 3/6/19 post: Indiana Court Releases Mortgage On Parents' Farmland Based On Material Alteration Of Kids' Loan. Click for a summary of the facts. Importantly, the judgment against the parents/mortgagors was in rem only, meaning that they were not personally liable for the judgment amount. Only their farmland was at risk.

Procedural history. My prior post details the procedural history of the litigation. For today’s purposes, what is important is that the trial court compelled the parents, who lost at the trial court level and appealed, to post a bond of $285,000 in order to stay execution of the judgment during the appeal. The parents immediately requested the Court of Appeals to reduce the amount of the bond.

Key Rules.

Both the Indiana Rules of Trial Procedure and the Indiana Rules of Appellate Procedure speak to appeal bonds. See, Appellate Rule 18 and Trial Rule 62(D)(2). The appellate rule basically is that a bond is not required for an appeal but is required to stay execution during an appeal. Since a sheriff’s sale is a form of “execution,” the defendant/mortgagor generally must post some kind of bond to prevent the sale. The trial rule, on the other hand, provides the guidelines for setting the amount of the bond, and a key consideration in a foreclosure case is that the bond “secure the amount recovered for the use and detention of the property, the costs of the action, costs on appeal, interests and damages for delay.” 

Indiana case law holds that, in a foreclosure case, the bond can include amounts for the “use” of the real estate during the appeal and “damages for delay.” “Use” generally is measured by the fair rental value. “Damages for delay” has included “things such as waste or depreciation.”   

All that being said, trial courts have discretion in determing the amount of the bond and will not be reversed absent abuse of that discretion.   

Holding. The Indiana Court of Appeals reduced the bond amount to $25,000.

Policy/rationale. The trial court set the bond at $285,000 based upon the value of the mortgaged property of $250,000, plus attorney fees and interest. The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court did not follow the rules and guidelines above. The Court found that the bank offered no evidence of rental value, while the parents asserted that the farmland could not generate any rental income during the winter months when the appeal was pending. Further, apparently there was no information in the record indicating that either depreciation or waste would occur. The Court based its determination of the bond on (1) the bank’s $15,000 estimate of appellate attorney fees and (2) $10,000 in potential interest during the length of the appeal [8% on the $250,000 property value].

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My practice includes representing lenders, borrowers and guarantors in contested commercial mortgage foreclosure cases. If you need assistance with a similar matter, please call me at 317-639-6151 or email me at john.waller@woodenlawyers.com. 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.


Indiana Court Releases Mortgage On Parents' Farmland Based On Material Alteration Of Kids' Loan

Lesson. Sometimes a lender will loan money to a borrower that is secured with collateral, such as a mortgage, pledged by a third party. These third parties are known as sureties. If a lender materially changes the terms of the original loan without the knowledge or consent of the surety, then the surety’s collateral will be released.

Case cite. Brooks v. Bank of Geneva, 97 N.E.3d 647 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018); reaffirmed, 103 N.E.3d 197 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018)

Legal issue. Whether a mortgage pledged by third parties was released when the terms of the borrower’s loan were altered.

Vital facts. A bank granted a loan to a married couple (borrowers) for their dairy farm.  The couple gave the bank a mortgage on real estate they owned.  For the purpose of partially securing the couple’s debt, the wife’s parents also granted a mortgage to the bank on farmland they owned. Importantly, the parents were not personally liable for the underlying debt. 

Over the next year or so, the bank issued four other loans to the borrowers that were secured by their own real estate. The parents were unaware of these additional loans. About a year after that, the bank, again without the parents’ knowledge, agreed to change the terms of the original promissory note to permit semi-annual payments instead of monthly payments. Over the following couple of years, the borrowers began selling off their mortgaged real estate, as well as their farm equipment and cattle, to pay off the four loans that were not secured by the parents’ real estate. The sale proceeds “greatly exceeded” the amount of the original note secured in part by the parents’ farmland. Subsequently, the borrowers defaulted under the original note.

Procedural history. The bank filed a collection lawsuit against both the borrowers and the parents and specifically sought to foreclose on the parents’ farmland. The bank filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. The court decreed that the parents’ property should be sold to satisfy the borrowers’ debt. The parents appealed.

Key rules. One who mortgages his land to secure the debt of another is a “surety” to the debtor (the borrower). Indiana law is well settled that a surety’s collateral “is released by any action of the creditor [the lender] which would release a surety, such as the extension of the time of the payment of the debt, the acceptance of a renewal note, or the release of other security.”

A surety is similar to a guarantor. In Indiana, if a borrower and lender “make a material alteration in the underlying obligation without the consent of the guarantor, the guarantor is discharged from further liability.” The test for “material alternation” is “one that changes the legal identity of the debtor’s contract, substantially increases the risk of loss to the guarantor, or places the guarantor in a different position.”

The nature of the “alteration” is irrelevant and can even benefit the surety. If the alteration entails “either a change in the physical document or a change in the terms of the contract between the debtor and creditor that creates a different duty of performance on the part of the debtor,” then such change will be deemed material and will discharge the surety from liability.

Holding. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s summary judgment for the bank and, in doing so, found that the parents’ mortgage had been released. The Court reaffirmed its opinion on rehearing.

Policy/rationale. The Court reasoned that the bank materially altered the subject promissory note two ways and did so without the parents’ knowledge or consent:

    First, the payment terms went from monthly to semi-annually. Even though the accommodation may have helped the borrowers’ cash flow and did not change the amount of the debt, the parents were entitled to know about it and protect themselves accordingly.

    Second, and perhaps more importantly, the bank had released the borrowers’ mortgage on four other parcels of land. By doing so, the bank placed the parents “in a much more perilous position” as the holders of the only remaining real estate to secure the loan.

Related posts.

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My practice includes representing lenders, borrowers and guarantors in contested commercial mortgage foreclosure cases. If you need assistance with a similar matter, please call me at 317-639-6151 or email me at john.waller@woodenlawyers.com. 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.