Indiana case may provide guidance
South Carolina has no reported opinions concerning mortgage foreclosures involving eNotes, and little authority exists elsewhere on what a holder must prove to successfully foreclose a mortgage secured by an electronic note in a judicial state. Until we see opinions closer to home, an Indiana case may provide the best guidance. Solid evidence of control of the note seems to be the key factor, according to this case.
In Good v. Wells Fargo Bank, 18 N.E.3d 618 (Ind. App. 2014), Wells Fargo acted as servicer for Fannie Mae, the owner of an eNote that was registered with MERS. The original lender had been Synergy Mortgage Group, Inc. MERS, as nominee for Synergy, had assigned the mortgage to Wells Fargo.
An officer of Wells Fargo executed an affidavit in support of summary judgment stating that Wells was the servicer, that it maintained a copy of the note, that its systems provided controls to assure that each note was maintained accurately and protected against alteration, and that the paper copy of the note attached to the affidavit was a true and correct copy.
The affidavit was bolstered by testimony at the bench trial that Wells Fargo controlled the note and was entitled to enforce it as the holder pursuant to 15 U.S.C §7021 (a section of the eSign legislation). Wells’ underlying position appeared to be that the normal requirements of the UCC-3 governing negotiable instruments (delivery, possession and an endorsement), were not required in the case of an electronic note.
15 U.S.C. §7021 creates the concept of a note as a “transferable record”, a single authoritative copy, which is unique, identifiable, and unalterable. The legislation establishes that the holder must have control of the note in the sense that the system for tracking it must reliably establish that the person seeking to enforce it is the person to whom the record was transferred. Also, the authoritative copy of the record itself must indicate the identity of the most recent transferee.
The Indiana appellate court found Wells’ affidavit insufficient to support a grant of summary judgment on the issue of Wells’ holder status and its evidence on the matter at trial “conclusory”.
The court said it was unclear from the affidavit whether Wells was claiming to have possession of an endorsed paper copy or the electronic note itself. The affidavit was also found lacking because it did not assert that Wells had control of the record (the eNote), either by maintaining the single authoritative copy in its own system, or by being identified as having control of the single authoritative copy in the MERS system.
The court indicated the eSign statutes require the party enforcing the note to provide reasonable proof of its control of the note through detailed evidence, not merely “conclusory statement”. The court specifically pointed to the lack of evidence in the Wells’ affidavit as it related to a transfer or assignment to Wells Fargo or Fannie Mae of the note from the original lender.
We are likely to see similar cases from other jurisdictions, including South Carolina, with the increasing use of eNotes. Stay tuned!