Unusual Deed In Lieu Of Foreclosure Agreement Failed To Guarantee Sale Proceeds to Borrower/Mortgagor

Lesson. Creativity with settlement agreements is fine so long as the language clearly and unambiguously articulates the terms of the intended deal.

Case cite. Bobick’s Pro Shop v. 1st Source Bank, 84 N.E.3d 1238 (Ind. Ct. App. 2017)

Legal issue. Whether a deed in lieu of foreclosure agreement compelled a lender/mortgagee to dispose of the mortgaged property in a fashion that paid money back to the borrower/mortgagor.

Vital facts. Borrower and Bank entered into an Agreement for Deed In Lieu of Foreclosure (Agreement). The Bobick’s opinion sets out verbatim the pertinent portions of the Agreement, which by its nature was a settlement arrangement between the parties related to a $2.5MM debt. A unique element of the Agreement surrounded how the proceeds from the Bank’s sale of the mortgaged property would be applied, including a scenario whereby the Borrower itself could recover a portion of the proceeds. After a lengthy time on the market, the Bank ultimately sold the property back to itself at a price that did not net any money to the Borrower.

Procedural history. The Borrower filed a lawsuit against the Bank claiming that the Bank’s sale of the property to itself was a breach of the Agreement. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and the trial court ruled in favor of the Bank. The Borrower appealed.

Key rules. A contract may be construed on summary judgment if it is not ambiguous or uncertain.

Holding. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary judgment in favor of the Bank.

Policy/rationale. The Borrower asserted that the language in the Agreement gave the Bank limited discretion to sell the property and that the “fundamental purpose of the Agreement … was to provide a mechanism for the parties to share excess value…” in the property. The problem was that the Agreement’s wording did not support the Borrower’s theory. The Court rejected the Borrower’s position as being “wholly without merit” and pointed to a clause in the Agreement that authorized the Bank to “dispose of the property in such manner … and at such time as [Bank] determines in its sole and absolute discretion.” The Court also noted that, as is the case with any standard deed in lieu agreement, the Agreement resulted in the Bank acquiring unrestricted title to (ownership of) the property. “The plain language of the Agreement demonstrates that the parties contemplated that [the Bank] might dispose of the property in such a manner and time that there would be no funds to distribute to [Borrower).”

Related posts.

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I represent lenders, as well as their mortgage loan servicers, entangled in contested foreclosures. 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.


Hybrid Tax Sale/Mortgage Foreclosure Case Goes Off The Rails For Lender

Lesson. If a mortgagee acquires title to the mortgaged property via tax deed, the mortgage lien will be extinguished. For lenders and their servicers, be careful when making deals with tax sale purchasers while also negotiating loan modifications with borrowers. Best to include everyone in a global negotiation.

Case cite. Bayview v. Golden Foods, 59 N.E.3d 1056 (Ind. Ct. App. 2016).

Legal issues. Whether the lender’s mortgage merged with a tax deed, which the lender acquired from the tax sale purchaser. Also, whether the lender committed conversion of the mortgaged property.

Vital facts. The Bayview facts and procedural history are quite involved and unique. The borrower and the lender had a commercial mortgage loan secured by the borrower’s restaurant property. The borrower became delinquent in the real estate taxes, and the property later was sold at a tax sale. The lender sought to capitalize the delinquent taxes and enter into a loan modification with the borrower. Under the terms of the deal with the borrower, the lender agreed to redeem the property from the tax sale. However, the lender failed to do so and never told the borrower. When the tax sale purchaser petitioned for the issuance for a tax deed, the lender contested the proceeding on the basis that the purchaser failed to give certain required notices. The lender and the tax sale purchaser then entered their own settlement negotiations, without involving the borrower, that ultimately resulted in an agreed order. The Bayview opinion is a little unclear as to whether the lender got the tax deed directly from the auditor or from the tax sale purchaser through a quitclaim deed. Either way, the lender settled with the purchaser and got title. The lender then filed an action to quiet title to the property, which included a count to foreclose the mortgage, alleging that its interest in and title to the property was “superior to all persons who have an interest therein.” Adding to the confusion was the fact that the borrower made a series of loan mod payments to the lender after the lender became the owner of the property. Whew.

Procedural history. The trial court held a bench trial that included the lender’s mortgage foreclosure claim and the borrower’s counterclaim for conversion. The court ruled in favor of the borrower.

Key rules.

• A mortgage involves two entities: (1) the mortgagee, which holds the mortgage that serves as a lien on the property and (2) the mortgagor, who holds title to the property with the right of redemption.

• When one of the parties to a mortgage acquires both the mortgage lien and the legal title to the property, “the two interests are said to merge.” This means that the mortgage lien is extinguished.

• The key factor in deciding whether a merger has occurred is “determining what the parties, primarily the mortgagee, intended.” For more on Indiana’s anti-merger rule, click on the posts below, which discuss the key cases in detail.

Ind. Code 35-43-4-3 states that a “person who knowingly or intentionally exerts unauthorized control over the property of another commits criminal conversion.”

Holding. The Indiana Court of Appeals held that the evidence supported the trial court’s conclusions. As such, the Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling that the mortgage had been extinguished and that the lender committed conversion.

Policy/rationale.

The lender in Bayview asserted that it did not intend to merge its mortgage with the tax deed. The borrower responded that the lender “clearly intended to take title and extinguish the underlying mortgage and note when it surreptitiously acquired title.” The Court of Appeals pointed to evidence at the trial showing that the lender viewed the transaction similar to a deed in lieu of foreclosure “with no residual obligation for the borrower.”

The Bayview opinion also addressed in detail the borrower’s conversion claims against the lender. In a nutshell, the trial court found that the lender converted (stole) the subject real estate from the borrower. The court awarded the borrower treble damages for criminal conversion based on the amount of equity in the property, plus reimbursement for the loan mod payments made by the borrower.

Although not expressly spelled out in the opinion, the practical outcome of the case seemed to be that, on the one hand, the lender (holding a tax deed) remained the owner of the property while, on the other hand, the borrower’s debt was extinguished. On top of that, the lender had to pay the borrower substantial damages.

Related posts.

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I frequently represent lenders, as well as their mortgage loan servicers, entangled in loan-related litigation, including disputes arising out of tax sales. If you need assistance with such a matter, please call me at 317-639-6151 or email me at john.waller@woodenmclaughlin.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 to your left.


Does A Deed-In-Lieu Of Foreclosure Automatically Release A Borrower From Personal Liability?

A deed-in-lieu of foreclosure (DIL) is one of many alternatives to foreclosure.  For background, review my post Deeds In Lieu Of Foreclosure: Who, What, When, Where, Why And How.  Today I discuss the Indiana Court of Appeals’ opinion in GMAC Mortgage v. Dyer, 965 N.E.2d 762 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012), which explored whether a DIL in a residential mortgage foreclosure case released the defendant borrower from personal liability. 

Deficiency.  In GMAC Mortgage, the borrower sought to be released from any deficiency.  The term “deficiency” typically refers to the difference between the fair market value of the mortgaged real estate and the debt, assuming a negative equity situation.  Exposure to personal liability arises out of the potential for a “deficiency judgment,” which refers to the money still owed by the borrower following a sheriff’s sale.  The amount is the result of subtracting the price paid at the sheriff’s sale from the judgment amount.  (For more on this topic, please review my August 1, 2008, June 29, 2009 and March 9, 2012 posts.) 

DIL, explained.  GMAC Mortgage includes really good background information on the nature of a DIL, particularly in the context of residential/consumer mortgages.  According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a DIL “allows a mortgagor in default, who does not qualify for any other HUD Loss Mitigation option, to sign the house back over to the mortgage company.”  A letter issued by HUD in 2000 further provides:

[d]eed-in-lieu of foreclosure (DIL) is a disposition option in which a borrower voluntarily deeds collateral property to HUD in exchange for a release from all obligations under the mortgage.  Though this option results in the borrower losing the property, it is usually preferable to foreclosure because the borrower mitigates the cost and emotional trauma of foreclosure . . ..  Also, a DIL is generally less damaging than foreclosure to a borrower’s ability to obtain credit in the future.  DIL is preferred by HUD because it avoids the time and expense of a legal foreclosure action, and due to the cooperative nature of the transaction, the property is generally in better physical condition at acquisition.

Release of liability in FHA/HUD residential cases.  The borrower in GMAC Mortgage had defaulted on an FHA-insured loan.  The parties tentatively settled the case and entered into a DIL agreement providing language required by HUD that neither the lender nor HUD would pursue a deficiency judgment.  The borrower wanted a stronger resolution stating that he was released from all personal liability.  The issue in GMAC Mortgage was whether the executed DIL agreement precluded personal liability of the borrower under federal law and HUD regulations.  The Court discussed various federal protections afforded to defaulting borrowers with FHA-insured loans, including DILs.  In the final analysis, the Court held that HUD’s regulations are clear:  “A [DIL] releases the borrower from all obligations under the mortgage, and the [DIL agreement] must contain an acknowledgement that the borrower shall not be pursued for deficiency judgments.”  In short, the Court concluded that a DIL releases a borrower from personal liability as a matter of law. 

Commercial cases.  In commercial mortgage foreclosure cases, however, a lender/mortgagee may preserve the right to pursue a deficiency, because the federal rules and regulations outlined in GMAC Mortgage do not apply to business loans or commercial property.  The parties to the DIL agreement can agree to virtually any terms, including whether, or to what extent, personal liability for any deficiency is being released.  The point is that the issue of a full release (versus the right to pursue a deficiency) should be negotiated in advance and then clearly articulated in any settlement documents.  A release is not automatic. 

GMAC Mortgage is a residential, not a commercial, case.  The opinion does not provide that all DILs release a borrower from personal liability, and the precedent does not directly apply to an Indiana commercial mortgage foreclosure case. 

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I represent parties in loan-related litigation.  If you need assistance with such a matter, please call me at 317-639-6151 or email me at john.waller@woodenmclaughlin.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.


Does A Deed-In-Lieu Of Foreclosure Automatically Release A Borrower From Personal Liability?

A deed-in-lieu of foreclosure (DIL) is one of many alternatives to foreclosure.  For background, review my post Deeds In Lieu Of Foreclosure: Who, What, When, Where, Why And How.  Today I discuss the Indiana Court of Appeals’ opinion in GMAC Mortgage v. Dyer, 965 N.E.2d 762 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012), which explored whether a DIL in a residential mortgage foreclosure case released the defendant borrower from personal liability. 

Deficiency.  In GMAC Mortgage, the borrower sought to be released from any deficiency.  The term “deficiency” typically refers to the difference between the fair market value of the mortgaged real estate and the debt, assuming a negative equity situation.  Exposure to personal liability arises out of the potential for a “deficiency judgment,” which refers to the money still owed by the borrower following a sheriff’s sale.  The amount is the result of subtracting the price paid at the sheriff’s sale from the judgment amount.  (For more on this topic, please review my August 1, 2008, June 29, 2009 and March 9, 2012 posts.) 

DIL, explained.  GMAC Mortgage includes really good background information on the nature of a DIL, particularly in the context of residential/consumer mortgages.  According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a DIL “allows a mortgagor in default, who does not qualify for any other HUD Loss Mitigation option, to sign the house back over to the mortgage company.”  A letter issued by HUD in 2000 further provides:

[d]eed-in-lieu of foreclosure (DIL) is a disposition option in which a borrower voluntarily deeds collateral property to HUD in exchange for a release from all obligations under the mortgage.  Though this option results in the borrower losing the property, it is usually preferable to foreclosure because the borrower mitigates the cost and emotional trauma of foreclosure . . ..  Also, a DIL is generally less damaging than foreclosure to a borrower’s ability to obtain credit in the future.  DIL is preferred by HUD because it avoids the time and expense of a legal foreclosure action, and due to the cooperative nature of the transaction, the property is generally in better physical condition at acquisition.

Release of liability in FHA/HUD residential cases.  The borrower in GMAC Mortgage had defaulted on an FHA-insured loan.  The parties tentatively settled the case and entered into a DIL agreement providing language required by HUD that neither the lender nor HUD would pursue a deficiency judgment.  The borrower wanted a stronger resolution stating that he was released from all personal liability.  The issue in GMAC Mortgage was whether the executed DIL agreement precluded personal liability of the borrower under federal law and HUD regulations.  The Court discussed various federal protections afforded to defaulting borrowers with FHA-insured loans, including DILs.  In the final analysis, the Court held that HUD’s regulations are clear:  “A [DIL] releases the borrower from all obligations under the mortgage, and the [DIL agreement] must contain an acknowledgement that the borrower shall not be pursued for deficiency judgments.”  In short, the Court concluded that a DIL releases a borrower from personal liability as a matter of law. 

Commercial cases.  In commercial mortgage foreclosure cases, however, a lender/mortgagee may preserve the right to pursue a deficiency, because the federal rules and regulations outlined in GMAC Mortgage do not apply to business loans or commercial property.  The parties to the DIL agreement can agree to virtually any terms, including whether, or to what extent, personal liability for any deficiency is being released.  The point is that the issue of a full release (versus the right to pursue a deficiency) should be negotiated in advance and then clearly articulated in any settlement documents.  A release is not automatic. 

GMAC Mortgage is a residential, not a commercial, case.  The opinion does not provide that all DILs release a borrower from personal liability, and the precedent does not directly apply to an Indiana commercial mortgage foreclosure case. 


DEEDS IN LIEU OF FORECLOSURE: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How

In the event a loan becomes non-performing, commercial lending institutions that hold mortgages in Indiana need to be familiar with deeds in lieu of foreclosure.

Who.  The parties to a deed in lieu are the mortgagor (generally, the borrower) and the mortgagee (usually, the lender).  Both sides must consent.  Most lawyers will say that it isn't advisable to accept a deed in lieu if there are multiple lien holders.  Lenders will have to negotiate releases of those liens in order to secure clear title.  The better approach may be to proceed with foreclosure, which will wipe out such liens.   

What.  A deed in lieu of foreclosure is a document that conveys title to real estate.  What is unique about this particular deed is that the mortgagor surrenders its interests in the real estate to the mortgagee in consideration for a complete release from liabilities under the loan documents.  The release, among other things, usually is articulated in a separate settlement agreement.

When.  Lenders normally pursue deeds in lieu when there is no chance of collecting a deficiency judgment - the mortgagor is judgment proof.  For example, this option makes sense with non-recourse loans.  Another consideration is when the value of the property unquestionably exceeds the amount of the debt.  If the lender thinks it may be able to liquidate the real estate for more than the borrower owes, pursuing a money judgment may be superfluous.

The parties typically will explore a deed in lieu of foreclosure early on in the dispute - once a determination is made by the lender to foreclose.  Although this is the point in which deeds in lieu are best utilized, in Indiana it's possible to execute the deed right up until the time the property is sold at a sheriff's sale.

Where.  Deeds in lieu are the product of out-of-court settlements.  The process of the securing of a deed in lieu is non-judicial. 

Why.  The fundamental reasons why a lender may want to take a deed in lieu of foreclosure involve time and money.  A deed in lieu grants to the lender immediate possession of the real estate.  Several months, conceivably years, can be saved.  Just as importantly, spending thousands of dollars, primarily in attorney's fees, could be avoided by cutting to the chase with a deed in lieu.  Expediency and expense are the primary factors that motivate lenders to accept a deed in lieu of foreclosure. 

How.  Other than the obvious - executing a deed - there are certain steps a lender should consider taking before it enters into a deed in lieu.  The lender should know whether it is acquiring clear title.  A title insurance policy commitment should be ordered to examine the status of any liens, taxes and other potential clouds on title.  Work also may need to be done to get a handle on the value of the property.  This may include an appraisal, an inspection or an environmental assessment.  These things generally are recommended when evaluating how to proceed with any distressed loan.

One potential land mine must be specifically highlighted here.  Without getting too technical, in Indiana there needs to be language in the deed protecting against a merger of the mortgagor's fee simple title and the mortgagee's lien interest, which merger could extinguish the mortgagee's rights under the mortgage.  Without the appropriate language expressing the intent of the parties in the deed, the lender's interest in the property could become subject to junior liens without the right to foreclose.  So, be sure that you or your lawyer inserts an anti-merger clause into the deed.  Please contact me if you want to see an anti-merger clause our firm has used.