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State courts have disagreed about whether MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems) has standing to foreclose on property or to assign whatever interest it has in the mortgage to the bank that holds the mortgage currently so that that bank can bring foreclosure proceedings. Some courts have held that MERS has no property interest in the mortgage but is a mere agent for the mortgage owner so it cannot bring foreclosure proceedings itself or assign the mortgage to anyone else. Bain v. Metropolitan Mortgage Group, Inc., 285 P.3d 34, 36–37 (Wash. 2012) (because MERS does not hold the note, it can neither initiate nonjudicial foreclosure proceedings not assign an interest in the note to a trustee who can do so). But others have held that MERS may initiate foreclosure proceedings in its own name and/or assign the mortgage to someone else. Gomes v. Countrywide Home Loans Inc., 121 Cal. Rptr. 3d 819, 826–827 (2011) (MERS may initiate nonjudicial foreclosure under deed of trust); Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. v. Revoredo, 955 So. 2d 33, 34 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2007) (MERS may foreclose as agent of the note holder); Residential Funding Co., LLC v. Saurman, 805 N.W.2d 183 (Mich. 2011) (MERS had sufficient “interest in the debt” to initiate nonjudicial foreclosure proceedings); Jackson v. Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc., 770 N.W.2d 487, 494–495, 501 (Minn. 2009)(applying Minn. Stat. §507.413 allowing MERS to initiate foreclosure proceedings).
In Culhane v. Aurora Loan Servs. of Neb., — F.3d —, 2013 WL 563374 (1st Cir. 2013), the First Circuit, applying Massachusetts law, has now held that MERS may assign mortgages because it does own a legal interest in the mortgage. In an opinion by Judge Selya, the court held that MERS has the “legal interest” in the mortgage because it is named as the mortgagee but that the bank that actually issued the note and has the right to enforce the mortgage to secure the loan has the “beneficial interest” in the mortgage. The court reasoned that the party that owns the note or is entitled to enforce it (not necessarily the same party) has the equitable right to the protection of the mortgage giving it a right to foreclose and that MERS is merely holding title to the mortgage for the benefit of that party. At the same time, MERS has a sufficient interest to hold the mortgage title for the benefit of the owner of the “beneficial interest” in the mortgage. It is not clear if that would mean that MERS could bring foreclosure proceedings in its own name or that means that the right to foreclose cannot be separated from rights in the note.