by David E. Peterson
Twenty-five years ago, a partner asked me to prepare an assignment of mortgage. The assignment itself was a simple fill-in-the-blanks form, which was executed and recorded. The assignee then took possession of the original mortgage and note, which was endorsed to its order or, using the statutory verbiage, “indorsed.”1 That simple form still works, but with the demands of high finance, it is often not the transactional form that is seen. Today, a mortgage originator might make hundreds of loans and assign them as collateral to borrow money from a bank in a “mortgage warehouse facility.” The borrowed money is used to originate more mortgages. A mortgage warehouse is often only temporary, so the mortgages might be transferred from one facility to another. When the mortgage originator has a sufficiently large pool of mortgages, it may permanently “securitize” them by assigning them to a newly formed company that issues securities that are then sold to investors. In the end, the company owns the mortgages, and the investors receive payments on the securities which are based on the collections from the mortgage pool. In this manner, mortgages are effectively packaged as securities, which can more easily be traded than individual mortgages — hence the name “securitization.”
The recorded form assignment I prepared as a young associate is not well-suited to use in these transactions. Because transactions involve the assignment of hundreds or even thousands of mortgages, there is a temptation to skip the step of recording an assignment in the public records, particularly when the assignment is only a temporary collateral assignment. Transactions sometimes take the form of nothing more than an unrecorded pledge of the mortgages in bulk to the bank, together with delivery of the original notes to the bank for perfection. In many instances, even the task of holding possession of the notes is outsourced to a bailee who holds the notes for the bank’s benefit. The mortgages might be transferred many times by unrecorded assignment in bulk without physically moving the notes, but with the bailee simply signing a receipt changing the name of the lender for whom it holds the notes.
The attorneys who pioneered these transactions were comforted that the structure would work by legal conclusions they drew from Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), the Official Comments to the UCC (Comments),2 and favorable case law.3 The law was clear enough that attorneys were able to give legal opinions concerning perfection, but as the amount of securitized mortgages reached into the trillions of dollars, the uniform law commissioners decided to revisit Article 9 and make it safe for securitizations by officially sanctioning these practices.
It is useful to observe the simplicity of a mortgage assignment in its purest form. F.S. §673.2031(1) (2010), governing negotiable instruments, states that “[a]n instrument is transferred when it is delivered by a person other than its issuer for the purpose of giving to the person receiving delivery the right to enforce the instrument.” Even before the UCC, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that a mortgage can be transferred without a written assignment simply by delivering the note with intent to assign it.4 So at its core, between the parties to the assignment, assigning a mortgage is very much like selling a used lawn mower. What makes it more complex in practice is the potential for disputes and the precautions that must be taken to protect the parties. There are a number of contexts in which mortgage assignments might be considered:
1) The rights of a mortgage assignor and assignee vis-a-vis each other;
2) The rights of a mortgage assignee relative to the rights of its creditors, including lien creditors and bankruptcy trustees;
3) The rights of a mortgage assignee relative to the rights of a subsequent assignee;
4) The obligation of a mortgagor to make payment to the mortgage holder;
5) The right of the mortgage holder to foreclose in the event of default; and
6) The rights of a person acquiring an interest in the real estate.
The drafters of Article 9 focused primarily on problems one through three because these related to the issues that most concerned securitization participants and their attorneys. The rules the drafters set up treated mortgages as personal property that could be transferred without regard to the real estate records.5 Article 9 extends to sales of promissory notes, as well as assignments for security purposes.6 Although Article 9 recognizes some differences between collateral assignments and sales of notes, the UCC does not provide rules to distinguish a collateral assignment from an absolute assignment.7 Thus, the term “secured party” includes a collateral assignee as well as a purchaser of promissory notes,8 and the term “debtor” includes both an assignor of promissory notes for security and a seller of promissory notes.9
Problem 1 — Attachment
Article 3 governs the transfer of negotiable instruments. Article 9 governs security interests in and sales of both negotiable and nonnegotiable promissory notes. Thus, there is some overlap. The principal effect of extending Article 9 to sales of promissory notes was to apply the perfection and priority rules to those transactions.
F.S. §679.2031 (2010) determines when an assignment “attaches” or in other words, when it becomes effective between the assignor and assignee. That section requires that a) value be given; b) the debtor has rights in the collateral; and c) either the debtor has “authenticated a security agreement” describing the collateral or the secured party is in possession of the collateral pursuant to the security agreement.10
In the case of an assignment of a promissory note, the promissory note is the “collateral”11 and the assignment is the “security agreement.”12 Thus, the assignment becomes enforceable between the assignor and assignee when value is given, the assignor has assignable rights in the promissory note, and the assignor has either executed a written assignment describing the promissory note or the assignee has taken possession pursuant to the agreement of the assignor to assign the promissory note. Attachment of the security interest to the promissory note also constitutes attachment of the security interest to the mortgage, effectively adopting the pre-Article 9 case law that the mortgage follows the promissory note.13
A written assignment of the promissory note will satisfy the “security agreement” requirement whether the assignment is made pursuant to a sale or for the purpose of collateral. Similarly, an indorsement pursuant to Article 3 should satisfy that requirement.14 However, the implication of F.S. §§673.2031 and 679.2031 (2010), and of Johns v. Gillian, 184 So. 140 (Fla. 1938), is that the security agreement need not be in writing, so long as there is intent to assign and the promissory note is delivered to the assignee.15
Problem 2 — Perfection
Third parties lacking notice are not bound merely because the assignor and assignee have agreed among themselves that the mortgage has been transferred to the assignee. To protect the assignee from claims of third parties dealing with the assignor, the assignment must be perfected. Perfection of the security interest in the promissory note operates to perfect a security interest in the mortgage.16 The assignee may perfect its rights against the conflicting rights of a lien creditor (including a judgment lien holder, bankruptcy trustee, or receiver)17 by taking possession of the original promissory note18 or by filing a financing statement in the applicable filing office19 (which for a debtor located in Florida is the Florida Secured Transactions Registry).20 Possession may be effected by means of a bailee, provided that the bailee authenticates a writing acknowledging that it holds possession for the benefit of the secured party.21 However, not all modes of perfection are equal. As discussed below in connection with priority, possession of the promissory note generally offers more protection than filing a financing statement. All modes of perfection, however, provide protection against the rights of a subsequent lien creditor.22
In the case of a sale of the promissory note (as opposed to a collateral assignment), perfection is automatic upon attachment.23 Thus, neither possession nor filing is needed to perfect against the rights of subsequent lien creditors, provided that the assignment is a true sale rather than a secured transaction. However, for several reasons, absolute assignees often perfect by possession of the promissory note and/or filing, even though perfection is automatic in the case of a sale.24
Problem 3 — Priority
The question of whether an assignee prevails over another assignee is one of priority. Pursuant to F.S. §679.322(1)(a) (2010), if both assignments are perfected, then priority is generally determined by the time of filing or perfection. Perfection is accomplished by filing automatically in the case of sales, or by possession of the promissory note. However, §679.322(3) refers to F.S. §679.330 (2010), which states in part: “[A] purchaser of an instrument has priority over a security interest in the instrument perfected by a method other than possession if the purchaser gives value and takes possession of the instrument in good faith and without knowledge that the purchase violates the rights of the secured party.”
Regardless of whether the assignee receives absolute ownership pursuant to a true sale or merely an assignment for the purpose of security, the assignee is considered a “purchaser.”25 If the second assignee takes possession for value in good faith and without knowledge that it violates the first assignee’s rights, then the second assignee takes priority over an assignment perfected without possession. Mere filing of a financing statement by the first assignee (and even actual knowledge by the second assignee of such a filing) is not enough to charge the second assignee with a lack of good faith or knowledge that the second assignment violated the first assignee’s rights.26 It is not clear precisely what facts might disqualify the assignee in possession from relying on §679.330(4) for its priority, but F.S. §671.201(20) (2010) provides a general definition of “good faith,” which requires honesty in fact (an actual knowledge standard), and observance of reasonable commercial standards of fair dealing. Given this nebulous standard, the party who perfects by filing or automatically should assume that it will not be protected against a subsequent assignee who takes possession.
The foregoing principles are demonstrated in American Bank of the South v. Rothenberg, 598 So. 2d 289 (Fla. 5th DCA 1992). In that case, the bank took a security interest in a note and mortgage, perfected by possession. The assignor then sold the same note to a second assignee. The second assignee recorded his assignment in the public records before the bank did, but received only a copy of the note. The court held that though he recorded first, the second assignee lost because the bank had possession. Although the case did not involve a UCC filing by the losing assignee, that would not have changed the result since possession generally trumps a UCC filing. In fact, because the mortgage was sold (rather than assigned as collateral), the second assignee’s interest was perfected automatically. However, like filing, automatic perfection does not generally protect the assignee from a conflicting assignment perfected by possession.
If the assignment is intended only as secondary collateral on unspecific assets, then possibly the assignee would be satisfied with such ethereal rights as are created by merely filing, but if the assignee is giving new value to acquire specific mortgages, then greater protection is usually required — namely, possession of the promissory note.
Problem 4 — Who Does the Mortgagor Pay?
Comment 6 to UCC §9-308 explains that Article 3 (not Article 9) dictates who the maker of a negotiable instrument must pay. F.S. §673.6021(1) (2010) states that with limited exceptions (knowledge of injunction or theft, etc.), the instrument is discharged upon payment to “a person entitled to enforce the instrument.”
F.S. §673.3011 (2010) states:
The term “person entitled to enforce” an instrument means:
(1) The holder of the instrument;
(2) A nonholder in possession of the instrument who has the rights of a holder; or
(3) A person not in possession of the instrument who is entitled to enforce the instrument pursuant to s. 673.3091 or s. 673.4181(4).
A person may be a person entitled to enforce the instrument even though the person is not the owner of the instrument or is in wrongful possession of the instrument.
In general, it is the “holder” who is entitled to enforce the instrument. “The person in possession of a negotiable instrument that is payable either to bearer or to an identified person that is the person in possession” is a “holder.”27 In some instances, a nonholder may enforce the instrument. The comment to UCC §3-301 states that a “person who under applicable law is a successor to the holder or otherwise acquires the holder’s rights” can enforce the instrument under subsection (2), even though not a holder. This would include an assignee from the holder who for some reason did not become a holder, perhaps because it did not receive a proper indorsement.28 Subsection (3) would include an assignee who is not a holder because the instrument was lost.
One might wonder whether these provisions make any sense. The mortgagor cannot be expected to ascertain the holder by demanding exhibition of the promissory note whenever it makes a payment,29 nor would the lender likely accommodate such a demand, even if made. Usually, the note expressly waives presentment, so that the original need not be exhibited on demand for payment.30 In the real world, the mortgagor simply pays whomever the note says should be paid (often a servicer), until the mortgagor receives a notice to pay someone else. The law of contract and agency will often lead a court to give effect to payments made in this manner, despite Article 3.31 Nevertheless, unless the parties have expressly or impliedly agreed otherwise, Article 3 requires the mortgagor to ascertain the status of the payee as holder by demanding exhibition of the promissory note, and the holder must comply as a condition for demanding payment.
Article 3 does not control payment of nonnegotiable notes.32 The common law of contract generally applies. The common law rule is that payment of a nonnegotiable promissory note can be made to the payee without demanding delivery of the original promissory note, and will be effective so long as the maker does not have notice that the payee has transferred the promissory note to a third person.33 In other words, the result is not very different from the “real world” practice of making payment on a negotiable promissory note, as described above.
Problem 5 — Who Has Standing to Foreclose the Mortgage?
The provisions of Article 3 speak in terms of who is entitled to “enforce” an instrument. Thus, the solution to problem four must also be the solution to problem five. Unlike problem four, however, there are a number of reported cases concerning standing in foreclosures that must be considered. It should come as no surprise that the holder of the promissory note has standing to maintain a foreclosure action.34 Further, an agent for the holder can sue to foreclose.35 The holder of a collateral assignment has sufficient standing to foreclose.36
Failure to file the original promissory note or offer evidence of standing might preclude summary judgment.37 Even when the plaintiff files the original, it might be necessary to offer additional evidence to show that the plaintiff is the holder or has rights as a nonholder. In BAC Funding Consortium, Inc. v. Jean-Jacques, 28 So. 3d 936 (Fla. 2d DCA 2010), for example, the court reversed a summary judgment of foreclosure, saying the plaintiff had not proven it held the note. The written assignment was incomplete and unsigned. The plaintiff filed the original note, which showed an indorsement to another person, but no indorsement to the plaintiff. The court found that was insufficient. Clearly, a party in possession of a note indorsed to another is not a “holder,” but recall that Johns v. Gillian holds that a written assignment is not needed to show standing when the transferee receives delivery of the note. The court’s ruling in BAC Funding Consortium was based on the heavy burden required for summary judgment. The court said the plaintiff did not offer an affidavit or deposition proving it held the note and suggested that “proof of purchase of the debt, or evidence of an effective transfer” might substitute for an assignment.38
In Jeff-Ray Corp. v. Jacobson, 566 So. 2d 885 (Fla. 4th DCA 1990), the court held that an assignment executed after the filing of the foreclosure case was not sufficient to show the plaintiff had standing at the time the complaint was filed. In WM Specialty Mortgage, LLC v. Salomon, 874 So. 2d 680 (Fla. 4th DCA 2004), however, the court distinguished Jeff-Ray Corp., stating that the execution date of the written assignment was less significant when the plaintiff could show that it acquired the mortgage before filing the foreclosure without a written assignment, as permitted by Johns v. Gilliam.39
When the note is lost, a document trail showing ownership is important. The burden in BAC Funding Consortium might be discharged by an affidavit confirming that the note was sold to the plaintiff prior to foreclosure. Corroboratory evidence of sale documents or payment of consideration is icing on the cake, but probably not needed absent doubt over the plaintiff’s rights. If doubt remains, indemnity can be required if needed to protect the mortgagor.40
In the case of a defaulting mortgagor, someone presumably has a right to foreclose. Excessively strict standing requirements might result in a windfall to the mortgagor at the expense of the lender. At the same time, courts must ensure that the mortgagor is not subjected to double liability. A review of the cases shows that while there are a few cases in which mortgagors paid the wrong party and were later held liable to the true holder, there is a dearth of cases in Florida where a mortgagor was foreclosed by one putative mortgagee, and later found liable to another who was the true holder. The lack of such nightmare cases is a testament to the fine job courts have done in enforcing the standing requirements, but it also begs the question whether the risk of double liability may be overstated. Given the long foreclosure process in Florida, a defaulting borrower is unlikely to remain unaware of conflicting demands long enough to complete a foreclosure. It seems that in such an event, either the borrower must have ignored conflicting demands, or one of the putative mortgagees sat on its rights. While both are plausible scenarios, they each present clear equities that should assist a court in positioning the loss.
Problem 6 — Real Estate Transactions
The UCC deals with problems one through five, but the Article 9 Comments expressly disclaim intent to deal with problem six because it is an issue of real estate law beyond Article 9’s scope.41 In Florida, a mortgage is not an interest in real estate, but rather personal property.42 On the other hand, the statutes permit persons taking an interest in real estate to rely on the real estate records to determine ownership of a mortgage without regard to the UCC. F.S. §701.02 (2010) says in part:
701.02. Assignment not effectual against creditors unless recorded and indicated in title of document; applicability
(1) An assignment of a mortgage upon real property or of any interest therein, is not good or effectual in law or equity, against creditors or subsequent purchasers, for a valuable consideration, and without notice, unless the assignment is contained in a document that, in its title, indicates an assignment of mortgage and is recorded according to law.
(2) This section also applies to assignments of mortgages resulting from transfers of all or any part or parts of the debt, note or notes secured by mortgage, and none of same is effectual in law or in equity against creditors or subsequent purchasers for a valuable consideration without notice, unless a duly executed assignment be recorded according to law.
(4) Notwithstanding subsections (1), (2), and (3) governing the assignment of mortgages, chapters 670-680 of the Uniform Commercial Code of this state govern the attachment and perfection of a security interest in a mortgage upon real property and in a promissory note or other right to payment or performance secured by that mortgage. The assignment of such a mortgage need not be recorded under this section for purposes of attachment or perfection of a security interest in the mortgage under the Uniform Commercial Code.
(5) Notwithstanding subsection (4), a creditor or subsequent purchaser of real property or any interest therein, for valuable consideration and without notice, is entitled to rely on a full or partial release, discharge, consent, joinder, subordination, satisfaction, or assignment of a mortgage upon such property made by the mortgagee of record, without regard to the filing of any Uniform Commercial Code financing statement that purports to perfect a security interest in the mortgage or in a promissory note or other right to payment or performance secured by the mortgage, and the filing of any such financing statement does not constitute notice for the purposes of this section. For the purposes of this subsection, the term “mortgagee of record” means the person named as the mortgagee in the recorded mortgage or, if an assignment of the mortgage has been recorded in accordance with this section, the term “mortgagee of record” means the assignee named in the recorded assignment.
One can accept that a person taking an interest in real estate should be charged with notice only of what appears from the real estate records. However, the statute seems overly broad in that it says an assignment must be recorded to be effectual against creditors and purchasers. Subsections (1) and (2) seem to contradict the rules of Article 9, which permit perfection against lien creditors merely by taking possession of the note or filing a financing statement. Also, under Article 9, a good faith purchaser with possession takes free of a prior assignment, even if recorded. Although subsection (4) says the statute does not alter the perfection requirements of Article 9, what does the statute mean if not that an unrecorded assignment of mortgage is not enforceable against creditors of the assignor?
One might argue that §701.02 means that an absolute assignment must be recorded in the real estate records, while a collateral assignment need not be recorded.43 Subsection (4) discusses perfection of a “security interest,” but it does not specifically mention a sale of the mortgage. However, the term “security interest” in the UCC includes an assignment pursuant to a sale,44 and the term “assignment” in subsections (1) and (2) is not, on its face or in the case law, limited to absolute assignments.45 Such a limitation would undercut the §701.02 protections given to real estate purchasers (particularly considering the case law holding that a collateral assignee in possession may enforce the mortgage). Likewise, requiring a sale to be recorded in the real estate records for validity against subsequent purchasers from the mortgagee would undermine the protections for purchasers of mortgages under the UCC. Clearly, the statute says that an assignment need not be recorded to be perfected under the UCC, but that does not necessarily mean that an unrecorded assignment will be effective against a person taking an interest in the realty in reliance on the real estate records.
Perhaps the term “creditors” refers only to creditors of the fee title owner of the land — not to creditors of the mortgage assignor. There is no need to protect creditors of a mortgage assignor with this statute. The priority of a lien creditor of the assignor is adequately addressed by Article 9. By contrast, creditors of the fee title owner are not protected by Article 9 and might rely on the real estate records in acquiring an interest in or lien on the real estate.46 Also, the subsection (5) phrase “purchaser of real property” supports that interpretation. There is no mention of purchasers of the mortgage.
If that is the intent of the statute, then the unqualified use of the term “creditors” is unfortunate. The statute should say the protection extends to creditors, purchasers, or other persons acquiring an interest in the real property, but not to persons acquiring a mortgage from the mortgagee (whose rights are determined instead by the UCC). Even though it could be clearer, the foregoing interpretation is not plainly refuted by the statutory language. Moreover, there is case law support. In American Bank of the South v. Rothenberg, 598 So. 2d 289 (Fla. 5th DCA 1992), also discussed above, the bank received a collateral assignment and took possession of the note. However, the note was sold to a second assignee who recorded first in the real estate records and argued that §701.02 gave him better title. The court disagreed, stating:
The confusion in this case arises from the failure of both parties to recognize that section 701.02…is inapplicable. This case, involving as it does the competing interests of successive assignees of a note and mortgage, is governed by negotiable instruments law, not the recording statute. Section 701.02 was enacted to protect a creditor or subsequent purchaser of land who has relied on the record satisfaction of a prior mortgage, which satisfaction was executed by the mortgagee after he made an unrecorded assignment of the same mortgage. Manufacturers’ Trust Co. v. People’s Holding Co., 110 Fla. 451, 149 So. 5 (Fla. 1933).47
The court’s reading is unduly narrow in that §701.02 protects more than just persons relying on mortgage satisfactions, but the idea that it governs only real estate transactions seems correct.48
However, some courts have confused the rules applicable to problem six with those applicable to problems one through five. In JP Morgan Chase v. New Millennial, LC, 6 So. 3d 681 (Fla. 2d DCA 2009), rev. dism., 10 So. 3d 632 (Fla. 2009), for example, the closing agent in a real estate transaction telephoned AmSouth Bank concerning two mortgages that it appeared to own of record and was told they had been paid. AmSouth Bank faxed a printout to the closing agent showing a balance of $0 and stating “PD OFF.” In fact, AmSouth Bank had merely sold the loans to JP Morgan, which failed to record an assignment. The transaction closed in reliance on the fax. Later, JP Morgan sought to foreclose, and the purchaser argued that JP Morgan’s unrecorded assignment was ineffective under §701.02. JP Morgan argued that §701.02 protected only assignees of the mortgagee, not grantees of the land owner, and the court agreed.49 In other words, the court’s interpretation was exactly opposite that in American Bank of the South. Yet, the idea that persons acquiring the land may rely on §701.02 seems required by the statute and the case law.50
Although JP Morgan Chase’s interpretation of §701.02 seems wrong, one might argue the case was correct for another reason. The court said the closing agent never received a satisfaction, but simply relied on the fax. Although F.S. §701.04 (2010) permits the purchaser to rely on an estoppel letter, the court said the fax did not qualify for that protection. Arguably, the true holding of JP Morgan Chase is that the party relying on the real estate records must obtain a satisfaction, and informal assurances are inadequate. Nevertheless, JP Morgan Chase will add to the confusion until the Florida Supreme Court rules decisively on the meaning of §701.02.
Even if one accepts the interpretation in American Bank of the South, one must admit there is inherent tension between §701.02 and Article 9. The tension is demonstrated in Rucker v. State Exchange Bank, 355 So. 2d 171 (Fla. 1st DCA 1978). In that case, South 41 Corp. gave a mortgage to Harrell and deeded the land to Rucker. Harrell assigned the mortgage to the bank as collateral, which recorded the assignment, but did not notify Rucker. Rucker then paid the mortgage to Harrell. After not receiving payment, the bank foreclosed on Rucker. On appeal, Rucker argued the collateral assignment was not perfected under Article 9. The court erroneously said that Article 9 does not govern a collateral assignment, but came to an arguably correct result, affirming the judgment of foreclosure.
A threshold issue not discussed was whether Rucker, having acquired the real estate from South 41 Corp., was entitled to rely on the real estate records, or whether she simply paid the mortgage pursuant to the UCC. Clearly, Rucker did acquire the real estate, but that was months earlier, so perhaps by the time of payment, the real estate records were no longer relevant.
The Rucker court seemed to rely on both problems one through five and problem six rules. The court said that Rucker did not demand surrender of the mortgage,51 which is irrelevant under §701.02. However, the court also relied on the assignment recorded in the real estate records, which is not important to problems one through five, but is important to problem six. Even though the court did not clearly state which rules applied, it came to the correct result. Rucker lost because she did not comply with either set of rules. She would have become aware of the assignment to the bank if she had checked the real estate records, and she would have (presumably) discovered that Harrell did not have the note, if she had demanded surrender of the note. The court did not discuss when it is that a person acquiring an interest in the land (entitled to rely on the real estate records) ceases to be such a person and becomes instead a person acquiring or paying the promissory note who must follow the UCC, but the case shows the issue will inevitably arise, creating tension between §701.02 and the UCC.
Summarizing, the UCC attempts to solve problems one through five and §701.02 attempts to solve problem six. There is some overlap and potential for conflict, causing confusion in the cases. Courts should interpret those statutes so that they are consistent, limiting the protection of §701.02 to persons taking an interest in the real estate, and the protection of the UCC to persons taking an interest in the promissory note and mortgage.
Ironically, while the drafters of Article 9 sought to make mortgage assignments as simple and foolproof as possible, the handling of mortgage assignments is now at the center of the foreclosure crisis that has gripped the nation’s financial system. To be fair, the changes to Article 9 did not really cause the problem. In fact, the changes mostly codified existing case law and served to lessen the chaos by eliminating uncertainty. However, the revisions to Article 9 fostered confidence that the “simple, foolproof” rules intended to protect parties’ rights in mortgages would in fact do so. The false sense of certainty led to an increase in the number of transactions accomplished with minimal documentation designed to meet the attachment and perfection requirements of Article 9, but not the standing requirements in foreclosures. Moreover, missing or irregular indorsements or lost instruments compounded the problem by leaving gaps even in this minimal documentation. The result was a deluge of disputed cases fortuitously stopping or delaying foreclosures while the mortgagees struggled to reconstruct a document trail proving ownership.
Despite the sloppy practices of the mortgage industry, attorneys practicing in this area should not find themselves on the losing end of a court decision holding that their client does not have standing to foreclose. The question of whether the client has standing should be addressed before filing the case. If the documentation is inadequate, then missing documents should be located, or if necessary, re-executed before filing suit. An attorney unavoidably faced with ambiguous documentation might take comfort that, as shown by Johns v. Gillian and the UCC, Florida law concerning standing is not very demanding. Nevertheless, the requirements for standing must be proved, and the attorney should determine before filing that these requirements can be met.
1 See Fla. Stat. §673.2041 (2010).
2 See National Bank of Sarasota v. Dugger, 335 So. 2d 859, 860-861 (Fla. 2d D.C.A. 1976), cert. den., 342 So. 2d 1101 (Fla. 1976) (citing Comments as interpretive guide).
3 Florida has long held an assignment of a note includes an assignment of the mortgage. See Taylor v. American Nat. Bank, 57 So. 678, 685 (Fla. 1912); First Nat. Bank of Quincy v. Guyton, 72 So. 460 (Fla. 1916); Collins v. W.C. Briggs, Inc., 123 So. 833 (Fla. 1929); Miami Mortgage & Guaranty Co. v. Drawdy, 127 So. 323 (Fla. 1930); and Warren v. Seminole Bond & Mortgage Co., 172 So. 696, 697 (Fla. 1937). Thus, a recorded assignment seemed surplusage. By contrast, a mortgage assignment without the note has been held ineffectual. Sobel v. Mutual Development, Inc., 313 So. 2d 77, 78 (Fla. 1st D.C.A. 1975).
4 Johns v. Gillian, 184 So. 140, 143 (Fla. 1938).
5 Fla. Stat. §679.1091(4)(k)(1) (2010) (Article 9 extends to a transfer of a lien in real property).
6 Fla. Stat. §679.1091(1) (2010).
7 See UCC §9-109, Comment 5.
8 Fla. Stat. §679.1021(1)(sss) (2010).
9 Fla. Stat. §679.1021(1)(bb) (2010).
10 Fla. Stat. §679.2031(2) (2010).
11 Fla. Stat. §679.1021(1)(l) (2010).
12 Fla. Stat. §679.1021(1)(ttt) (2010) and §671.201(38) (2010) (“security interest” includes the interest of a buyer of a promissory note).
13 Fla. Stat. §679.2031(7) (2010).
14 Fla. Stat. §673.2041(1) (2010), defining “indorsement.” Fla. Stat. §673.2011 (2010) requires an indorsement for a transferee to become a “holder,” if the instrument is payable to a specific person, but even a nonholder transferee may often enforce the instrument. See Fla. Stat. §673.2031(2) (2010).
15 The delivery requirement has also been weakened by some cases. See Beaty v. Inlet Beach, 9 So. 2d 735 (Fla. 1942); Harmony Homes, Inc. v. United States, 936 F. Supp. 907, 913 (M.D. Fla. 1996), aff’d, 124 F.3d 1299 (11th Cir. 1997).
16 Fla. Stat. §679.3081(5) (2010).
17 Fla. Stat. §679.1021(1)(zz) (2010).
18 Fla. Stat. §679.3131(1) (2010). Florida law applies to a security interest perfected by possession if the promissory note is located in Florida. See Fla. Stat. §679.3011(2) (2010).
19 Fla. Stat. §679.3121(1) (2010) (perfection by filing where the collateral is instruments). The term “instrument” under Article 9 includes non-negotiable promissory notes, unlike the same term defined in Article 3. Compare Fla. Stat. §679.1021(1)(uu) (2010) with Fla. Stat. §673.1041(2) (2010), and see Comment 5(c) to UCC §9-102.
20 Fla. Stat. §679.5011(1)(b) (2010). A registered organization organized in Florida is deemed “located” in Florida. See Fla. Stat. §679.3071(5) (2010).
21 Fla. Stat. §679.3131(3) (2010).
22 Fla. Stat. §679.3171(1)(b) (2010) (security interest is junior to the rights of a person who became a lien creditor prior to perfection).
23 Fla. Stat. §679.3091(4) (2010). This is one of the few areas wherein collateral assignments and sales are different. Purchasers of promissory notes had not in the past been required to file financing statements, and the drafters of Article 9 wanted to continue that practice. See Comment 4 to UCC §9-309.
24 First, the priority rules determine if the assignee prevails over another assignee, and possession is more protective than automatic perfection. Second, courts may find what appears to be a sale is actually security that cannot be perfected automatically. See, e.g., Torreyson v. Dutton, 198 So. 796 (Fla. 1940); Hulet v. Denison, 1 So. 2d 467 (Fla. 1941); Howard v. Goodspeed, 135 So. 294 (Fla. 1931). Also, the assignee usually wants possession to ensure standing to foreclose. See Abbott v. Penrith, 693 So. 2d 67 (Fla. 5th D.C.A. 1997); Pastore-Borroto Development, Inc. v. Marevista Apartments, M.B., Inc., 596 So. 2d 526 (Fla. 3d D.C.A. 1992); Figueredo v. Bank Espirito Santo, 537 So. 2d 1113 (Fla. 3d D.C.A. 1989).
25 See definitions of “purchase” and “purchaser” at Fla. Stat. §§671.201(32) and (33) (2010).
26 See Comment 7 to UCC §9-330 (“a purchaser who takes even with knowledge of the security interest qualifies for priority under subsection (d) if it takes without knowledge that the purchase violates the rights of the holder of the security interest”). Fla. Stat. §679.3171(2) (2010) seems to adopt a different rule, saying that a “buyer, other than a secured party” takes free of a security interest if the buyer gives value and takes delivery “without knowledge of the security interest” and before it is perfected. However, a “buyer, other than a secured party” under Fla. Stat. §679.3171(2) (2010) is not a “purchaser” under Fla. Stat. §679.330(4) (2010). Comment 6 to UCC §9-317 says that unless the sale is excluded from Article 9, the buyer is a “secured party,” and §679.3171(2) does not apply, adding “[r]ather, the priority rules generally applicable to competing security interests apply.”
27 Fla. Stat. §671.201(21)(a) (2010).
28 C.f., Ederer v. Fisher, 183 So. 2d 39, 42 (Fla. 2d D.C.A. 1965) (unauthorized indorsement deprived plaintiff of holder in due course status, thus, permitting defense on instrument). As in Ederer, inability to prove holder status does not necessarily mean the plaintiff lacks standing under Fla. Stat. §673.3011 (2010), but may expose the plaintiff to additional defenses.
29 See Fla. Stat. §673.5011(2)(b)(1) (2010), permitting the maker to make such demand.
30 See Fla. Stat. §673.5041(1) (2010), giving effect to such waivers.
31 See, e.g., Scott v. Taylor, 58 So. 30 (Fla. 1912) (payment effective if made to authorized agent); McChesney v. Herman, 176 So. 565 (Fla. 1937); Posey v. Hunt Furniture Co., Inc., 43 So. 2d 343 (Fla. 1949); Fla. Stat. §671.103 (2010) (UCC does not displace law of agency).
32 Fla. Stat. §673.1041 (2010) determines negotiability. See, e.g., Locke v. Aetna Acceptance Corp., 309 So. 2d 43 (Fla. 1st D.C.A. 1975) (note stating “pay to seller” not negotiable because not payable to order of seller); City Bank, N.A. v. Erickson, 18 FLW Supp. 283 (Fla. Cir. Ct. 2011) (home equity agreement not negotiable where amount not fixed); Holly Hill Acres, Ltd. v. Charter Bank, 314 So. 2d 209 (Fla. 2d D.C.A. 1975) (note incorporating terms of mortgage not negotiable).
33 Johnston v. Allen, 22 Fla. 224 (Fla. 1886).
34 Philogene v. ABN AMRO Mortgage Group, Inc., 948 So. 2d 45 (Fla. 4th D.C.A. 2006); Fla. Stat. §673.3011(1) (2010).
35 Juega v. Davidson, 8 So. 3d 488 (Fla. 3d D.C.A. 2009); Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. v. Revoredo, 955 So. 2d 33, 34, fn. 2 (Fla. 3d D.C.A. 2007) (stating that MERS was holder, but not owner and “We simply don’t think that this makes any difference. See Fla. R.Civ. P. 1.210(a) (action may be prosecuted in name of authorized person without joining party for whose benefit action is brought)”).
36 Laing v. Gainey Builders, Inc., 184 So. 2d 897 (Fla. 5th D.C.A. 1966) (collateral assignee was a holder); Cullison v. Dees, 90 So. 2d 620 (Fla. 1956) (same, except involving validity of payments rather than standing to foreclose).
37 See Fla. Stat. §673.3091(2) (2010); Servedio v. US Bank Nat. Ass’n, 46 So. 3d 1105 (Fla. 4th D.C.A. 2010).
38 BAC Funding Consortium, Inc. v. Jean-Jacques, 28 So. 3d at 938-939 (Fla. 2d D.C.A. 2010). See also Verizzo v. Bank of New York, 28 So. 3d 976 (Fla. 2d D.C.A. 2010) (Bank filed original note, but indorsement was to a different bank). But see Lizio v. McCullom, 36 So. 3d 927 (Fla. 4th D.C.A. 2010) (possession of note is prima facie evidence of ownership).
39 See also Glynn v. First Union Nat. Bank, 912 So. 2d 357 (Fla. 4th D.C.A. 2005), rev. den., 933 So. 2d 521 (Fla. 2006) (note transferred before lawsuit, even though assignment was after).
40 Fla. Stat. §673.3091(2) (2010); Fla. Stat. §69.061 (2010).
41 See Comment 6 to UCC §9-308.
42 Shavers v. Duval County, 73 So. 2d 684 (Fla. 1954); City of Gainesville v. Charter Leasing Corp., 483 So. 2d 465 (Fla. 1st D.C.A. 1986); Southern Colonial Mortgage Company, Inc. v. Medeiros, 347 So. 2d 736 (Fla. 4th D.C.A. 1977).
43 See, e.g., Thomas E. Baynes, Jr., Florida Mortgages (Harrison Co. 1999), §7-2 (West pocket part for 2009), stating “[s]ection 4 was added to establish that perfection of a security interest in a mortgage…would be governed by the Florida Uniform Commercial Code…. This type of assignment of mortgage, sometimes characterized as a ‘collateral assignment,’ does not need to be recorded under F.S. §701.02.”
44 Fla. Stat. §671.201(38) (2010).
45 See, e.g., Gardner v. McPherson, 151 So. 390 (Fla. 1933) (dismissing foreclosure by unrecorded collateral assignee where mortgage had been satisfied by record mortgagee); Williams, Salomon, Kanner & Damian, as Trustee v. American Bankers Life Assurance Co., 379 So. 2d 119 (Fla. 3d D.C.A. 1979) (subordination unenforceable where recorded collateral assignee had not agreed). However, these cases predated subsection (4).
46 See, e.g., Manufacturers’ Trust Co. v. People’s Holding Co., 149 So. 5 (Fla. 1933).
47 American Bank of the South v. Rothenberg, 598 So. 2d at 290 (Fla. 5th D.C.A. 1992).
48 See also Chandler v. Davis, 190 So. 873 (Fla. 1939) (assignee from record mortgagee took subject to holder in possession of note); Karn v. Munroe, 6 So. 2d 529 (Fla. 1942) (subsequent assignee with possession prevailed over first); Vance v. Fields, 172 So. 2d 613 (Fla. 1st D.C.A. 1965) (first assignee recorded first, but took possession of wrong note; court correctly ruled for the second assignee with possession without discussing distinction between a real estate transaction and note sale). Compare Tamiami Abstract & Title Co. v. Berman, 324 So. 2d 137 (Fla. 3d D.C.A. 1976), cert. den., 336 So. 2d 604 (Fla. 1976) (purchaser of original mortgagee’s assets did not own mortgage assigned of record to another by collateral assignment that later became absolute upon default). Because the buyer purchased the mortgage (not the real estate), the court should have applied rules regarding transfer of the mortgage as personal property, but focused instead on the land records. Yet the court said the defendant “claimed outright possession of said mortgage,” which left the possibility that his claim also arose from possession. Otherwise, it seems at odds with Cullison, cited in fn. 36.
49 The court cited Kapila v. Atlantic Mortgage & Investment Corp. (In re Halabi), 184 F.3d 1335 (11th Cir. 1999), and Bradley v. Forbs, 156 So. 716 (Fla. 1934). In Kapila, 184 F.3d at 1338, the court held the assignee’s failure to record did not render the mortgage unperfected in the mortgagor’s bankruptcy. The court said §701.02 protects only an assignee of the mortgagee, not a person acquiring the real estate. However, the question of who owns a mortgage is distinct from whether it is perfected against grantees of the real estate owner. Bradley includes some ambiguous language, but stands primarily for the proposition that a purchaser cannot rely on informal assurances by the record mortgagee, but must obtain a satisfaction. See Bradley, 156 So. at 717. The Kapila court also said the Florida Supreme Court may have implicitly receded from Bradley in Hulet v. Denison, 1 So. 2d 467, 468-469 (Fla. 1941), presumably because it discussed the statute as though it applied to persons acquiring the land, even though its decision was on other grounds, i.e., actual notice. The purchasers relied on a satisfaction by the mortgage assignee of record. However, the original mortgagee’s surviving widow claimed the assignment was for collateral and had been discharged. The court said the purchasers had “actual notice,” but cited the failure of the purchaser to demand surrender of the note as the basis. If that is what is meant by “actual notice,” then what is the point of the recording statute?
50 In addition to American Bank of the South v. Rothenberg, Gardner v. McPherson, Bradley v. Forbs, and Manufacturers’ Trust Co. v. People’s Holding Co., see Housing Authority v. Macho, 181 So. 2d 680 (Fla. 3d D.C.A. 1966).
51 Rucker v. State Exchange Bank, 355 So. 2d at 172 (Fla. 1st D.C.A. 1978). The court spoke of surrender of the mortgage, but it is surrender of the promissory note that is important under the UCC. See also Perry v. Fairbanks Capital Corp., 888 So. 2d 725, 726 (Fla. 5th D.C.A. 2004).
David E. Peterson is of counsel at Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor & Reed, P.A., in Orlando, and practices primarily in the area of foreclosures, bankruptcies, and creditors’ rights, generally. He earned his J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School in 1983.