Monday, October 3, 2011

Insufficiently Authenticated Mortgage Assignment Sinks Foreclosure Judgment, Says Wisconsin Appeals Court In Reversing Lower Court Ruling

Another trial judge screw-up in granting a bankster a judgment against a homeowner in foreclosure was recently reversed, this time by a three-judge Wisconsin appeals court panel.

The focus of the case was the bankster's failure to make a prima facie case that it was in fact the current holder of the promissory note as a result of failing to propery authenticate the assignment of mortgage.(1)

For the ruling, see BAC Home Loan Servicing, L.P. v. Williams, No. 2010AP2334 (Wis. App., District IV, September 29, 2011).

(1) From the ruling:

  • ¶ 10 A records custodian seeking to authenticate a record must be qualified to testify both that the record at issue was made by a person with knowledge or from information transmitted by a person with knowledge, and that this was done in the course of a regularly conducted activity. Palisades Collection LLC v. Kalal, 2010 WI App 38, ¶20, 324 Wis.2d 180, 781 N.W.2d 503.

    Being qualified means that the custodian possesses sufficient personal knowledge to testify about such things as who recorded or transmitted the information and the contemporaneousness of the record in relation to the events it purports to document. See id., ¶16.

    ¶ 11 We first note that the copy of the mortgage assignment form included in the summary judgment materials here was not certified, and therefore would not be admissible as a self-authenticated public record, even if it were recorded. Next, we question whether a form assigning a mortgage or promissory note from one party to another based upon consideration, constitutes "a memorandum, report, record, or data compilation" so as to qualify as a record of regularly conducted activity, subject to the self-authentication rule.

    ¶ 12 Even assuming for the sake of argument only that such a signed, notarized, and recorded instrument could be considered a "record" of regularly conducted activity, we are not persuaded that the BAC employee's affidavit established that she was qualified to authenticate the assignment form here. The employee's affidavit makes conclusory assertions parroting the statutory language that she has personal knowledge that the records in her custody are prepared in the ordinary course of business at or near the time of the transaction or event by a person with knowledge of the underlying transactions.

    However, it does not include any specific assertions to explain where the copy of the assignment form attached to her affidavit came from—for instance, whether it was made from the original, and if so, by whom. The fact that the employee may have been in a position to know how BAC prepared its account statements, which we would agree qualify as ordinary business records, does not mean that she was in a position to authenticate an uncertified copy of an instrument that she did not see executed.

    ¶ 13 Because the copy of the document purportedly assigning to BAC Williams' mortgage—and by reference, the promissory note—was not properly authenticated, it did not meet the standard of admissible evidence required for summary judgment materials under Wis. Stat. § 802.08(3).

    Therefore, BAC failed to make a prima facie case that it had standing to foreclose based upon Williams' failure to pay according to the terms of the promissory note. In light of BAC's failure, we do not need to address whether any of the affirmative defenses asserted in Williams' answer would also have created material disputes for the circuit court.

    Accordingly, we reverse the circuit court's summary judgment decision and remand with directions that the matter proceed with discovery and trial on BAC's foreclosure claim.

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