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Peters v. Bank of New York Mellon

Florida Court of Appeals, Second District

May 26, 2017

HAZEL N. PETERS a/k/a HAZEL N. JOHNSON; and UNKNOWN TENANT 1 n/k/a DAVE PETERS, Appellants,
v.
THE BANK OF NEW YORK MELLON, f/k/a THE BANK OF NEW YORK, AS TRUSTEE FOR BEAR STEARNS ASSET BACKED SECURITIES TRUST 2006-4, ASSET BACKED CERTIFICATES, SERIES 2006-4, and LEO JOHNSON, Appellees.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF FILED, DETERMINED

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Lee County; James H. Seals, Senior Judge.

          Mark P. Stopa of Stopa Law Firm, Tampa, for Appellant Hazel N. Peters a/k/a Hazel N. Johnson.

          Kristen M. Crescenti, Christopher C. O'Brien and Ronnie J. Bitman of Pearson Bitman LLP, Maitland, for Appellee The Bank of New York Mellon.

          No appearance for Appellee Leo Johnson.

          WALLACE, Judge.

         Hazel N. Peters, a/k/a Hazel N. Johnson (Ms. Peters), challenges a final judgment of foreclosure in favor of The Bank of New York Mellon (the Bank) entered after a bench trial. Because the Bank failed to prove its ownership of the lost note that it attempted to reestablish and enforce, we reverse.

         I. THE FACTS AND THE PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On March 13, 1998, Ms. Peters and Leo Johnson executed a note in favor of ContiMortgage Corporation as the Lender. The note was secured by a standard residential mortgage on real property in Lee County, Florida. The mortgage also named ContiMortgage Corporation as the Lender.

         On January 28, 2013, the Bank filed the underlying action to foreclose the mortgage and for the reestablishment of the note, which the Bank alleged had been lost. The Bank's complaint alleged September 18, 2008, as the date that the note went into default. The Bank filed a lost note affidavit dated on October 31, 2006, and executed on behalf of EMC Mortgage Corporation (EMC), a prior holder of the mortgage. In the affidavit, the affiant merely asserted that the note "was lost and has not been paid, satisfied, assigned, pledged, transferred or hypothecated in any way." The affidavit did not provide any details regarding the date or circumstances of the asserted loss of the note. A copy of the note was attached to the affidavit. The copy of the note did not reflect any indorsements or allonges. The Bank subsequently filed another lost note affidavit executed on behalf of Select Portfolio Servicing, Inc. (SPS), the current servicer for the loan. The copy of the note attached to the SPS affidavit was identical to the copy attached to the EMC affidavit.

         Ms. Peters filed an answer and affirmative defenses to the complaint. In her answer, Ms. Peters denied the material allegations of the complaint and asserted numerous affirmative defenses. In pertinent part, Ms. Peters denied that the Bank had standing to enforce the note and mortgage, asserted that the Bank's action to reestablish the lost note was barred by the applicable statute of limitations, and claimed that the Bank had failed to comply with a condition precedent to foreclosure because it had not notified the borrower of the claimed assignment of the loan within thirty days of the assignment in accordance with section 559.715, Florida Statutes (2012).

         The lost note was payable to ContiMortgage Corporation; it had not been indorsed in blank or payable to the order of the Bank. At trial, the Bank sought to establish its ownership of the lost note with a series of four assignments of mortgage. The first assignment, dated April 8, 1998, was from ContiMortgage Corporation to ContiWest Corporation. The second assignment, dated April 7, 1998, was from ContiWest Corporation to Manufacturers and Traders Trust Company. Although the second assignment was dated one day before the first one, it was recorded after the recording of the first one. The third assignment, dated June 28, 2010, was from Manufacturers and Traders Trust Company to EMC. Each of the first three assignments expressly assigned both the mortgage and the note that was secured by it.

         The fourth assignment, dated December 7, 2012, was from EMC to the Bank. In pertinent part, the fourth assignment assigned "all of Assignor's right, title and interest all beneficial interest under a certain Mortgage, dated March 13, 1998, made and executed by Leo Johnson and Hazel N. Johnson fka Hazel N. Peters to ContiMortgage Corporation . . . ."[1] At trial, Ms. Peters argued that the fourth assignment was insufficient to establish the Bank's ownership of the lost note because it assigned only the mortgage, not the note. The trial court ruled that the fourth assignment was sufficient to assign the note as well as the mortgage and rejected Ms. Peters' argument. The trial court admitted the certified copies of the four assignments into evidence over Ms. Peters' objection.

         Counsel for the Bank conceded that the note and mortgage at issue had been the subject of two prior foreclosure actions filed in the Lee County Circuit Court. The first action was filed in 2001; the second was filed in 2004. Notably, both actions, which were subsequently dismissed, included a count for the reestablishment of a lost note. Based on the filing of the prior actions and the first lost note affidavit executed in 2006, Ms. Peters argued that the Bank's action to reestablish the lost note was barred because it had not been brought within the bar of the ...


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