Saturday, January 13, 2007

Flack v. McClure, 206 Ill. App. 3d 976, 565 N.E.2d 131, 151 Ill. Dec. 860 (Ill. App. Ct. 1990)

The following is an unofficial copy of the non-copyrightable portion of the actual case cited above which is provided for the convenience of the readers of The Home Equity Theft Reporter. It is intended solely to provide a potential starting point for additional research regarding the issues involved in this case. It is intended for lawyers and law students only. If you find this case to be of some value to you in researching an issue, I urge you to obtain the official copy of this case from the usual sources of case law information.


PRESIDING JUSTICE LaPORTA delivered the opinion of the court:

Plaintiff brought suit July 3, 1985, against defendants for specific performance on a house sale. On September 10, 1985, the trial court granted plaintiff's motion to amend her complaint to include an additional claim for an equitable mortgage alleging the defendants had recorded a quitclaim deed given only as security for a $ 9,000 loan from defendants. A second amended complaint was filed by agreed order October 22, 1985. On February 21, 1986, the court granted defendant's motion to strike the equitable mortgage claim from the second amended complaint. On March 21, 1986, plaintiff filed a third amended complaint in compliance with the earlier order.

Defendant John McClure died March 2, 1987, and his death was spread of record December 4, 1987, four days before the trial began. The trial court appointed his wife and codefendant, Loretta McClure, special administrator for purpose of the trial. At the close of plaintiff's case, the trial court permitted plaintiff to amend her complaint to add an equitable mortgage claim to conform with the evidence presented. Following trial, the court ordered defendant to reconvey the property to plaintiff and imposed an equitable mortgage payable from plaintiff to defendant in the amount of $ 45,757.64.

Defendant appeals, citing as error by the trial judge (1) the admission at trial of the deposition testimony of John McClure, (2) the amendment of the complaint during trial to add an equitable mortgage claim, and (3) the manifest weight of the evidence was insufficient to support a finding that an equitable mortgage should be imposed.

On September 11, 1984, plaintiff signed a contract to sell her southside building to the defendants for $ 80,000. The defendants also signed the contract, and the closing was scheduled for October 16, 1984. We note that the real estate contract attached as an exhibit to the complaint recites, in pertinent part, "Purchaser has paid $ 1,000 * * * as earnest money to be applied on the purchase price * * *." The sale was never completed because the defendants were unable to secure the required $ 60,000 financing.

On the day the sales contract was signed, September 11, 1984, plaintiff asked the defendants for $ 9,000, saying she needed money to pay off a college tuition payment for her son. The defendants, represented by counsel, loaned plaintiff the money in exchange for a quitclaim deed. Plaintiff argues that the deed was given as security, but the defendant argues the deed was an absolute conveyance of the property.

The defendants were unable to get financing to proceed with the scheduled closing on October 16, 1984. The holder of the first mortgage foreclosed on the property, and in December 1984 the property was offered for sale by the Cook County sheriff. Ivory Bennett, a nonlitigant here, bought the property at the sheriff's sale for $ 35,000. In an effort to prevent the Bennett sale from being finalized, the defendants recorded the quitclaim deed and subsequently redeemed the property in June 1985, on the final day of the redemption period, by paying the sheriff's office $ 36,757.64.

In July 1985 plaintiff sued defendants seeking specific performance on the original sales contract. The pretrial judge granted plaintiff leave to amend her complaint to include a claim for an equitable mortgage. The same judge later granted defendant's motion to strike the equitable mortgage claim.

At trial before a different judge, plaintiff testified on direct examination and her cross-examination was begun on the first day of trial, December 8, 1987. At the end of the first day's testimony, defense counsel indicated that he would continue his cross-examination of plaintiff the following day. The court reporter's notes were lost for the second day of trial, December 9, 1987, and for that reason the balance of plaintiff's cross-examination testimony is not part of the record before us.

On May 10, 1988, before the trial resumed for a third day, the trial judge permitted plaintiff to amend her complaint again to include a claim for equitable mortgage. The trial resumed for a third day, July 22, 1988, and defendant Loretta McClure testified on direct examination. The trial was recessed thereafter to afford plaintiff an opportunity for further discovery. The trial resumed on September 5, 1989, the final day of trial. At that time, Loretta McClure was too ill to testify on cross-examination and was never cross-examined.

On the final day of trial, over defense objection, the court granted plaintiff's motion to admit the entire deposition testimony of the deceased, John McClure. The parties stipulated at trial that the defendants were unable to obtain a mortgage for the property and therefore did not complete the sales contract.

In her ruling at the conclusion of the trial, the trial judge found the equities were with the plaintiff, ordered defendant to reconvey the property to plaintiff and declared an equitable mortgage in the defendant's favor in the amount of $ 45,757.64 -- the cost of the redemption together with the $ 9,000 "loan." Defendant appeals from that order, citing three errors by the trial judge as issues here. Defendant contends the trial court improperly admitted John McClure's deposition into evidence, improperly permitted plaintiff to amend her complaint to include an equitable mortgage count, and erred when it found sufficient evidence to impose an equitable mortgage.

We first consider whether the trial judge erred in admitting the deposition testimony of deceased defendant John McClure. Supreme Court Rule 202 (107 Ill. 2d R. 202) distinguishes between discovery and evidence depositions. Rule 202 states: "The notice, order, or stipulation to take a deposition shall specify whether the deposition is to be a discovery deposition or an evidence deposition. In the absence of specification a deposition is a discovery deposition only. If both discovery and evidence depositions are desired of the same witness they shall be taken separately, unless the parties stipulate otherwise or the court orders otherwise upon notice and motion." 107 Ill. 2d R. 202.

Defendant contends McClure's deposition testimony was inadmissible, because (1) it was taken for discovery purposes only and (2) it was not signed by McClure. Plaintiff argues, however, that the deposition was admissible because notice to the defendants indicated that it would be for both discovery and evidentiary purposes. Plaintiff argues also that the defendant's attorney, through her conduct, agreed to the dual purpose when she remained silent when the plaintiff's attorney stated on the record the dual purpose of the deposition.

Defendant argues that conduct by an attorney is not enough to create a "stipulation" under the law. While a stipulation need not follow any particular form, it must be clear, certain and definite in its material provisions. ( Village of Schaumburg v. Franberg (1981), 99 Ill. App. 3d 1, 4, 424 N.E.2d 1239, 1242.) Defendant argues that if the decision is allowed to stand, any party would be able to take simultaneous discovery and evidence depositions on their own notice -- in essence rewriting Supreme Court Rule 202.

Plaintiff notes that notice to the defendants indicated the dual purpose of the deposition and that the dual purpose was repeated at the beginning of the deposition. A stipulation is like a contract, and the court will look to the actual intention of the parties. ( Scott v. Dreis & Krump Manufacturing Co. (1975), 26 Ill. App. 3d 971, 989, 326 N.E.2d 74, 86.) The agreement need not require a meeting of the minds. A subjective understanding is not requisite. Conduct can indicate the terms of the agreement. Steinberg v. Chicago Medical School (1977), 69 Ill. 2d 320, 330-31, 371 N.E.2d 634, 638-40.

Plaintiff relies on a case where a discovery deposition was allowed as an evidence deposition because the deponent lived in another State and was not expected to or able to travel for the trial. There the court found the opposing party had actual notice because the parties discussed in court the witness's inability to travel. ( In re Estate of Ragen (1981), 96 Ill. App. 3d 1035, 1046, 422 N.E.2d 179, 187.) Defendant distinguished Ragen by noting the fact there that the witness had always been unable to travel, whereas the parties in this case could not have known ahead of time that John McClure would not be available for trial.

Here, in admitting the deposition testimony, the trial judge stated that the comments published with the rules show the purpose behind Rule 202. The comments state in pertinent part: "[T]he federal practice of combining evidence and discovery depositions tends to impair and restrict discovery, encourage objections and motions and other disruptions of orderly procedure, and to afford a means of entrapment of the unwary and inexperienced." Ill. Ann. Stat., ch. 110A, par. 202, Historical & Practice Notes, at 261 (Smith-Hurd 1985).

The trial court found proper notice was given and that the dual purpose of the deposition was stated on the record, giving opposing counsel the opportunity to object. "Certainly counsel is aware of the evidentiary portion of this and could have taken whatever measures were necessary to protect her client in the event the deposition would be used as evidence, so I don't think under these circumstances that the reasons for Rule 202 have been disregarded." The trial court also found the deposition could be entered without a signature because the signature requirement was impossible to meet when McClure died before the deposition was transcribed. We find the court did not err in admitting the deposition testimony of John McClure.

We next consider whether the trial court erred in permitting plaintiff to amend her complaint to add a claim for equitable mortgage. The pretrial judge assigned to the case permitted an equitable mortgage claim to be added to the complaint but subsequently struck that claim from the complaint upon defendant's motion. At trial before a different judge, plaintiff was given leave to amend her complaint to add a claim for an equitable mortgage to conform to the proof plaintiff presented at trial.

Defendant cites Towns v. Yellow Cab Co. (1978), 73 Ill. 2d 113, 121, 382 N.E.2d 1217, for the proposition that a prior court order cannot be overturned unless there is a showing that the original order was incorrect or erroneous. However, in Towns, the supreme court urged the trial court to vacate or amend prior orders only after careful consideration, but went on to state that the trial judge is not bound by the order of a previous judge and can correct orders "which it considers to be erroneous." ( Towns, 73 Ill. 2d at 121.) In Towns, as in this case, the litigation went to a second judge for trial as a matter of procedure.

A 1980 appellate court case that gave extensive consideration to amending pleadings stated that courts should permit liberal amendments in the interest of justice. ( Pickett v. First American Savings & Loan Association (1980), 90 Ill. App. 3d 245, 249-50, 412 N.E.2d 1113, 1117-18.) The materiality of an amendment to conform to the evidence must be apparent, so that defendant is not prejudiced. Pickett, 90 Ill. App. 3d at 250.

Plaintiff relies on Pickett and argues that no prejudice has been done to defendant here since throughout the trial sufficient evidence was adduced to establish a basis for the imposition of an equitable mortgage. The amendment was allowed at the close of plaintiff's case to conform to the trial evidence. The first two days of trial occurred in December 1987. The amendment was permitted May 10, 1988. From May 10, 1988, to July 22, 1988, the third day of trial, the defendant had adequate time to prepare a defense to the equitable mortgage claim. In addition, trial was recessed the afternoon of July 22, 1988, to permit plaintiff additional time for discovery, and the final day of trial took place on September 5, 1989, 16 months after plaintiff was allowed to amend her complaint to include the equitable mortgage claim. Clearly the defendant had adequate time to prepare a defense to the equitable mortgage claim. She was not prejudiced when the amendment was permitted. Consistent with the holdings in Towns and Pickett, we find the trial court did not err in permitting plaintiff to amend her complaint.

Finally, we consider whether the evidence was sufficient to support the imposition of an equitable mortgage. "Every deed conveying real estate, which shall appear to have been intended only as a security in the nature of a mortgage, though it be an absolute conveyance in terms, shall be considered as a mortgage." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 95, par. 55.) Whether a deed is to be taken as a mortgage depends on the intentions of the parties. ( Beelman v. Beelman (1984), 121 Ill. App. 3d 684, 690, 460 N.E.2d 55, 59.) In order to convert a deed absolute on its face into a mortgage, the proof must be clear, satisfactory and convincing and can come from almost every conceivable fact that could legitimately aid that determination. ( McGill v. Biggs (1982), 105 Ill. App. 3d 706, 708, 434 N.E.2d 772, 773.) The burden of proof rests upon the party asserting a mortgage where a deed absolute was conveyed. Havana National Bank v. Wiemer (1975), 32 Ill. App. 3d 578, 585, 335 N.E.2d 506, 512.

Since the question of whether to impose an equitable mortgage is based on fact, consideration of the trial testimony is essential. Deeds have been set aside where evidence showed a preexisting debt and the grantee retained a promissory note or other evidence of the debt where an agreement to reconvey was entered into at the same time or where the price paid was far below the fair value of the property. Wilkinson v. Johnson (1963), 29 Ill. 2d 392, 404, 194 N.E.2d 328, 335.

At trial, plaintiff testified that she intended the $ 9,000 to be an advance on their $ 80,000 contract. She testified that defendant John McClure assured her the quitclaim deed would not be recorded but would be held as security. She testified she relinquished the quitclaim deed "to show that I was an honest person. I really appreciated him giving me an advance of the $ 9,000 so that my kid could go to school."

Plaintiff testified that later defendant Loretta McClure assured her the closing would occur prior to the sheriff's sale. Plaintiff stated: "She told me not to worry, that God would help me, and that everything would be taken care of." Evidence admitted at trial included the sales contract and a letter signed by plaintiff dated September 12, 1984, that acknowledged receipt of a $ 9,000 cashier's check from defendant John McClure. The letter did not indicate the purpose of the $ 9,000 payment but it did identify plaintiff as the owner of the four-flat building.

Plaintiff also testified that before the redemption period ended, the McClures indicated they were no longer interested in purchasing the property and she subsequently located a second buyer who was willing to pay $ 75,000. Plaintiff testified that she asked for a return of the quitclaim deed from the defendants, promising to give them $ 9,000 after the June 7, 1985, closing. Plaintiff testified that the defendants told her they would not give her the deed until she repaid them $ 9,000. The second sale was never consummated.

John McClure's deposition testimony was admitted over defendants' objection. In his deposition, he testified he gave plaintiff $ 9,000 in exchange for the quitclaim deed. The deposition includes the following questions and answers between plaintiff's counsel and John McClure: "At the time Miss Flack-Bargyh gave you the deed, did you feel you owned the property?" "Yes, I think so." "Did you feel that if Miss Flack-Bargyh gave you $ 9,000 in return, paid you the $ 9,000 back, that you would be legally obligated to return her deed?" "Sure."

Later in the deposition he testified: "At the time we found we could not get the mortgage, if she gave me that $ 9,000 back, I would give her the quitclaim deed back." Still later in the same deposition, the following colloquy took place between plaintiff's attorney and John McClure: "It was your intention for you to give the quitclaim deed back if she gave you your $ 9,000?" "That's correct." "At all times?" "That's correct."

John McClure testified in his deposition that he knew of the impending sheriff's sale and told plaintiff that he believed they could close on the deal before the sheriff's sale. He also testified that his attorney sent someone to the sheriff's sale to bid on the property.

Defendant Loretta McClure testified at trial that the quitclaim deed is what plaintiff offered for the $ 9,000 given to her on the mortgage. She further testified that she and her husband chose to redeem the property on the final day of the redemption period because "that's the only hope we had of receiving the money that was given -- that she had asked for for the mortgage." (Emphasis added.)

The trial court in its findings at the close of trial made reference to John McClure's testimony only, noting that he conceded that the quitclaim deed was taken as security. Defendant argues that plaintiff's entire case is premised on John McClure's testimony and therefore has no support without its admission. Plaintiff argues that John McClure's testimony simply corroborates Loretta McClure's testimony. We find that Loretta McClure's testimony showed evidence that the deed was not given as an absolute conveyance but rather as a security interest for the $ 9,000. She specifically identified the transaction as money given "for the mortgage."

In a bench trial it is within the province of the trial court to determine the credibility and weight of testimony, to resolve inconsistencies and conflicts and to render its decision accordingly. ( Silas v. Robinson (1985), 131 Ill. App. 3d 1058, 1061, 477 N.E.2d 4, 6-7.) Though conflicts in evidence exist, a court can still find an equitable mortgage. Burroughs v. Burroughs (1973), 11 Ill. App. 3d 176, 177, 296 N.E.2d 350, 351.

Six factors are to be considered by the trial judge to determine whether an equitable mortgage exists. Those factors include whether a debt exists, the relationship of the parties, whether legal assistance was available, the sophistication and circumstances of each party, the adequacy of the consideration and who retained possession of the property. McGill, 105 Ill. App. 3d at 708; Beelman, 121 Ill. App. 3d at 689.

The existence of a debt is the essential element to establish an equitable mortgage. ( Metcalf v. Altenritter (1977), 53 Ill. App. 3d 904, 909, 369 N.E.2d 498, 502.) But the fact that the mortgage was made for a future debt or that there was no fixed time for repayment does not affect the status of an instrument as a mortgage. Davidson v. Iwanowski (1950), 341 Ill. App. 152, 166, 93 N.E.2d 139, 145-46.

The existence of a debt here does not appear to be in doubt. The court in McGill found an indication of a debt relationship in a defendant's attempt to collect and held that an agreement to reconvey has long been considered a significant factor in distinguishing a sale from a mortgage. ( McGill, 105 Ill. App. 3d at 709-10.) Both defendants testified they tried to get the $ 9,000 back. John McClure said more than once that he would have returned the deed had plaintiff returned the 9,000. In addition, plaintiff signed a note which the defendants retained. Where the grantor is indebted to the grantee at the time of the conveyance, and the grantee retains the note evidencing the indebtedness, then the indebtedness was not satisfied by the conveyance, and, until the contrary is shown, it will be presumed that a mortgage is intended. Havana National Bank, 32 Ill. App. 3d at 584.

Beelman and McGill also hold that a court could consider the prior relationship of the parties, if any. The record does not indicate that the parties had any prior relationship, business or otherwise. The court should also consider whether or not the parties had the benefit of legal assistance at the time of the occurrence. The record indicates that plaintiff did not have advice of counsel when she accepted the $ 9,000, signed the note and relinquished the quitclaim deed to the defendants whereas the defendants were represented by counsel.

Beelman and McGill also considered the sophistication and circumstances of each party. Here, we do not know the defendants' financial situation except that they were unable to obtain the necessary financing to close the real estate purchase on the scheduled closing date, October 16, 1984. The record shows plaintiff had a school tuition payment due and was behind on her mortgage payments to the point that her property was about to be foreclosed by the mortgage holder. The record discloses nothing about the sophistication of plaintiff or defendants.

Beelman and McGill identify a fifth factor: the adequacy of consideration. Where consideration is grossly inadequate, a mortgage is strongly indicated. ( McGill, 105 Ill. App. 3d at 708.) Here, the defendants signed an $ 80,000 contract on the home at the same time they gave plaintiff $ 9,000. Defendants argue that, in light of the building's poor condition, "it is clear the actual value of the property was significantly less." However, in his deposition testimony, John McClure acknowledged that he still would have gone through with the $ 80,000 contract if he could have obtained a mortgage. Clearly, the $ 80,000 price was the agreement of the parties, and the defendant may not now argue that the value of the property was "significantly less."

The final factor the McGill court considered is whether the grantor of the deed remained in possession of the property. ( McGill, 105 Ill. App. 3d at 709-10.) In her analysis, the trial judge noted that plaintiff stayed in the home for a year after she gave the defendants the quitclaim deed. Plaintiff remained in the home until the defendants successfully obtained a court order requiring plaintiff to vacate the premises, and this occurred after the defendants had recorded the quitclaim deed and redeemed the property from the foreclosure sale. We find that the trial evidence clearly supports the finding of an equitable mortgage and that the trial court's decision was consistent with the manifest weight of the evidence. We find no error.

For all of the foregoing reasons, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.
Judgment affirmed.

McNAMARA and EGAN, JJ., concur.

This case has been provided as a service to the readers of The Home Equity Theft Reporter.

Click here for other blog posts on the equitable mortgage doctrine at The Home Equity Theft Reporter. Illinois equitable mortgage beta

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Swenson v. Mills, 198 Ore. App. 236, 108 P.3d 77, (Or. Ct. App. 2005) Highlights

In a 2005 case, the Oregon Court of Appeals, in Swenson v. Mills, 198 Ore. App. 236, 108 P.3d 77, (Or. Ct. of App. 2005), invoked the "equitable mortgage" doctrine in a case involving a title transfer of realty from a property owner to an investor, coupled with a simultaneous execution of a "leaseback" agreement. The court refused to respect the form of the transaction as a true sale and, instead, looked to the substance of the transaction in reaching its determination that the transaction was nothing more than a secured loan.

Some of the points & observations made by the court regarding the state of Oregon's equitable mortgage doctrine, in the context of "a deed, absolute in form, given as security for a debt", follow:

  • "There is a presumption that a deed absolute on its face is "what it purports to be unless and until proved otherwise by clear and convincing evidence.""

  • "The same rule is applicable to a sale and leaseback transaction."

  • "If, however, it appears that the parties' intent was to convey and receive the property as security for the fulfillment of an obligation, then the form of the instrument becomes immaterial and the true nature of the transaction may be shown by parol evidence."

  • "That question is determined based on a consideration of the whole transaction, by "the mutual intention of the parties at the time the transaction was consummated.""

  • "Factors that may be considered in determining the intent of the parties include:

(1) the situation of the parties including their business and social relationship, (2) price fixed in relation to the actual value of the property conveyed, (3) surrender of possession by grantor, (4) payment of taxes, (5) payment of rent, (6) liability by grantor to pay interest, (7) financial circumstances of the grantor, and (8) conduct of the parties before and after the transaction."

  • "When a deed absolute in form is accompanied by an option to repurchase, the option does not of itself convert the transaction into a mortgage but weighs in favor of the existence of a mortgage."

In applying the above recited Oregon case law to the specific fact of this case, the Oregon court made the following observations:

  • "[The buyer and the property owner both] testified that they intended to structure the transaction as an outright sale, and the trial court found them both to be credible. As we have noted, however, the parties' intent as to the structure of the transaction is not determinative if, despite its outward appearance, factors indicate that the transaction should have the effect of an equitable mortgage."

  • "[T]hese are the factors that weigh in favor of our conclusion that the transaction was, in fact, a security agreement:

(1) "At the relevant time, [the property owners] were experiencing serious financial difficulty."

(2) "[The buyer and the property owner] were close personal friends, and [buyer] was strongly motivated to help [property owner] through the financial crisis and to help [property owner] succeed."

(3) "The purchase price for the subject property was only half the property's market value."

(4) "The general terms of the agreement were reached in a single telephone conversation between [buyer] and [property owner] and without the benefit of an appraisal."

(5) "The broker listing the property received no commission for the sale."

(6) "[Property owner] retained possession of the property and continued in operation and had an obligation under the lease agreement to pay taxes and make lease payments of $ 6,000 per month."

(7) "The lease amount was below the property's actual market lease value and was determined based on a 12 percent rate of return on [buyer's] investment."

(8) "The sale was conditioned on [property owner's] option to repurchase the property during the lease on terms favorable to [property owner], including a repurchase price the same as plaintiff's purchase price of $ 600,000, substantially below the property's market value."

(9) "The parties contemplated that [property owner] would continue to list the subject property for sale and that the proceeds of any sale in excess of $ 600,000 would be shared between [property owner] and [buyer]."

(Editor's Note: For ease of reading, citations to court precedents and some internal quotations have been omitted.)

The foregoing points are presented by The Home Equity Theft Reporter solely to give the reader a "quick look" at some points that were considered when the court reached its decision. If there is anything contained herein that is of any value to you, I urge you to obtain and read the entire case; link to the full text of the case is available by clicking below:

Swenson v. Mills, 198 Ore. App. 236, 108 P.3d 77 (Or. Ct. of App. 2005). Oregon equitable mortgage doctrine theta

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

The Equitable Mortgage Doctrine (in the Context of Deeds Absolute Given As Security For A Loan)
The "Equitable Mortgage" doctrine is a doctrine that has application in several contexts. This presentation is limited to the context in which "a deed absolute is given as security for a loan" by a property owner to a money lender (i.e. foreclosure rescue operator).

The earliest case in the United States that I could find involving an individual attempting to have a "deed absolute" declared to be a mortgage is the case of Conway's Executors v. Alexander, 11 U.S. 218 (1812), decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1812 (and available here, courtesy of Justia - U.S. Supreme Court Center). In reading through this case, the Supreme Court cites old English cases involving facts dating back to the late 1600's. The reason I mention this fact is simply to establish the fact that the "equitable mortgage" doctrine and the doctrine of “deeds absolute given as security for a loan” have been a part of the real estate common law for a minimum of three centuries. Stated another way, there is absolutely nothing new or novel about invoking this doctrine in the context of a property owner who signs over his/her property title as security for a loan to a money lender.

What follows here is an excerpt from the textbook, Real Estate Law (eighth edition, copyright 1983), by Robert Kravotil and Raymond J. Werner, that explains in an academic, “textbook” manner, what generally is meant by a "deed absolute given as security for a loan." The purpose of presenting the following is simply to give the reader some perspective as to what is meant by the phrases “equitable mortgages” and “deeds absolute given as a security for a loan.” The reader must check the laws of his or her home state to determine how the following applies in their states.
15.09(d) Deeds absolute given as a security
Often when a landowner borrows money he gives as security an absolute deed to the land. By "absolute deed" is meant a quitclaim deed or warranty deed such as is used in an ordinary land sale. On its face, the transaction looks like a sale of land. Nevertheless, the courts treat such a deed as a mortgage where the evidence shows that the deed was really intended only as security for a debt.
  • EXAMPLE: Owner owns a home, which is already mortgaged to a bank. He needs money for medical expenses and goes to his brother, Lender, for a loan of $1,000. Lender loans Owner the money but insists that Owner sign a simple promissory note and give a quitclaim deed to the home. It is agreed orally that if the debt is paid when due, Lender will quitclaim the property back to the Owner. Owner fails to pay the debt. Lender is not the owner of the land. He merely holds a mortgage on it, which he must foreclose. And remember that all the world has notice of the true nature of his deed, for undoubtedly Owner will remain in possession, and possession imparts constructive notice.
A deed such as that described in the above example is regarded by the courts as an attempt to "waive the equitable right of redemption." The courts often use the maxim, "Once a mortgage, always a mortgage." It cannot be converted into a conveyance of absolute ownership by mere default. Hence, it becomes necessary for the courts to go back to the very beginning of the transaction. The task is a simple one. Either the deed was then intended as an absolute transfer of ownership (as in a land sale), or it was then intended merely to provide security to a lender. So the court listens to all the testimony regarding the beginnings of the transaction. Oral testimony is received as to what was said and done. And the court hears testimony as to what occurred thereafter. Usually it is child's play to distinguish between a deed intended to transfer absolute ownership and one that was merely intended to provide a lender with security.

The following circumstances are usually considered:

  • 1. Adequacy of consideration. If Owner conveys land worth $10,000 and receives only $5,000, the indication is that the transaction is a mortgage. Normally land will sell for its full value.

    2. Prior negotiations between the parties. When Owner applies to Lender for a loan and the transaction is consummated by Owner giving Lender a deed to the land, this tends to show that the transaction is a mortgage. It is as if Lender had said: "I will lend you the money, but give me a deed as security." Of course, if it appears that Lender rejected the application for a loan, this tends to show that the transaction is a sale. It is as if Lender had said: "I will not loan you any money, but I am willing to buy your land."

    3. Subsequent conduct of the parties. If Owner receives money from the Lender and gives Lender a deed to Owner's land, but Owner thereafter remains in possession, paying taxes, insurance premiums, and so on, this tends to show that the transaction is a mortgage, for in a normal land sale the buyer takes possession.

    4. Possession. If the transaction is merely a security transaction, almost invariably the borrower retains possession of the land, and his possession gives the whole world notice of the fact that the deed was merely a security deed and that foreclosure must take place.

If the court construes the transaction to be a deed given as security for a debt, the mask of the sale transaction is stripped away and the mortgage aspects of the transaction are exposed. This means that the grantor/borrower has redemption rights according to state law. He may repay the debt and demand reconveyance of the property just as in the case of an ordinary mortgage. If the debt is not paid, the grantee/lender must foreclose just as if a regular mortgage had been made.

The return going to the lender/grantee is also measured against the usury laws to determine whether the charges assessed against the borrower resulted in a greater return than authorized by law. Schulte v. Franklin, 633 P2d 1151 (Kans. 1981). A return greater than the usury laws permit tends to stamp the transaction as a disguised loan.

Another result of a deed being held to be a security device lies in the fact that truth-in-lending requirements may be applicable. If the proper disclosures were not made, the truth-in-lending penalty provisions may be invoked against the lender. Long v. Storms, 622 P2d 731 (Oreg. App. 1981).
REFERENCE: Cunningham & Tischler, Disguised Real Estate Security Transaction as Mortgages in Substance, 26 Rutgers L. Rev. 1 1972)

15.10(a) Sale and Leaseback - consequences of transaction being set aside

The sale and leaseback transaction is indeed very complex and is a financing vehicle. It must be distinguished from a deed absolute to secure a debt. Matter of Kassuba, 562 F2d 511 (7 Cir. 1977). Merely labeling a transaction a sale and leaseback will not make it immune from attack and when the transaction is attacked, the courts will carefully analyze the relationship between the seller-lessee and the buyer-lessor to determine whether a sale really occurred or whether the transaction is really a mortgage. Burton v. Smith, 357 So. 2nd 324 (Ala. 1978). If the transaction is found to be a mortgage, consequences befall both the seller-lessee and the buyer-lessor. The relationship of mortgagor-mortgagee with its requirement of foreclosure and redemption rights replaces the relationship of landlord and tenant with its quick possessory remedy of forcible entry and detainer. Usury law may come into play as a standard for evaluating the fairness of the return to the buyer-lessor who has unexpectedly found itself in the role of lender. The income tax treatment that both parties had used and anticipated will not be available, and, indeed, past years'tax returns will have to be amended.

As can be seen, the transaction is quite complex and should only be entered into after careful consultation with an experienced counsel and tax advisor. The consequences of a mistake can be awesome.

(Editor's Note: All emphasis in the original)

The foregoing is presented as a service to the readers of The Home Equity Theft Reporter.

Revised 1/9/07

Monday, January 8, 2007

South Dakota Supremes Say "No Sale" In Equitable Mortgage Cases

The South Dakota Supreme Court recently held that a title transfer of realty from a property owner to an investor, coupled with a simultaneous execution of a "buy back" agreement constituted an "equitable mortgage", thereby refusing to respect the form of the transaction as a true sale and, instead, looking to the substance of the transaction in reaching its determination.

A few of the points made by the high court in Myers v. Eich that I found notable were:

  • "A purported absolute conveyance may be recharacterized as a mortgage, depending on the surrounding circumstances and the parties' intent."
  • "whether a deed, absolute in form, is in fact a mortgage, the question whether the price is adequate is entitled to great weight"
  • "[w]here there is a deed, and contract to re-convey, and oral evidence has been introduced tending to show that the transaction was one of security, and leaving upon the mind a well-founded doubt as to the nature of the transaction, then courts of equity incline to construe the transaction as a mortgage."
  • "The fact that the conveyance and contract for deed were executed on the same day creates a strong doubt on whether this transaction was intended to be a sale."
  • "retaining possession of transferred property is "inconsistent with theory of absolute conveyance""
  • "the [properties involved] were valued at approximately $ 200,000. It defies logic to conclude that the Eichs sold both properties for $ 125,000, and then also agreed to pay an additional $ 10,000 as a fee. Pittwood, 251 P at 286 ("where the disparity between the amount of the indebtedness and the value of the property is so great as to necessarily lead to the conclusion that the deed was intended as security, the courts will, without hesitation, so declare")
  • "It has long ago been recognized in South Dakota that "[p]arties seeking to take an undue advantage of mortgagors situated as the plaintiff was in this case almost invariably seek to cover up the transaction by inducing the party to whom the loan was really made to take a lease of the property; hence the mere fact of leasing should have but little weight with a court of equity, which seeks to discover the real transaction.""

  • "The fact that the conveyance and contract for deed were executed on the same day creates a strong doubt on whether this transaction was intended to be a sale."

  • "When an equitable mortgage exists, "nothing short of the actual payment of the debt, or an express release will operate as a discharge of the mortgage."This right cannot be restrained or barred except by methods prescribed in law. A mortgagor's right to redeem is inseparable to a mortgage relationship. A release "will not be inferred from equivocal circumstances and loose expressions.""

  • The force of the doctrine of equitable mortgage cannot be avoided in this case merely because a lease agreement existed or the 2003 warranty deeds were executed by the Eichs (one "cannot by changing the form of the transaction cause a forfeiture of the [party's] right of redemption"); ("[t]he relation of a mortgagor and mortgagee continued to exist notwithstanding the various changes in the legal title"); ("New York has long prevented parties to a real estate transaction from avoiding the protections due a mortgagor by disguising the nature of the transaction").

(Editor's Note: For ease of reading, citations and some internal quotations have been omitted.)

The foregoing points are presented by The Home Equity Theft Reporter solely to give the reader a "quick peek" of what was involved in this case. If there is anything contained herein that is of any value to you, I urge you to obtain and read the entire case. South Dakota equitable mortgage kappa