Montgomery County could receive nearly $16 million – or more – from a federal ruling against the banking industry’s mortgage registry, and attorneys are now reaching out to other counties nationwide to get in on the action.
U.S. District Judge J. Curtis Joyner in Philadelphia ruled June 30 that Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems and its parent company, Merscorp Inc., collectively known as MERS, violated Pennsylvania law by using its members-only database to circumvent county recorder of deeds offices.
As a result, Joyner ruled, counties lost millions of dollars in fees, the accuracy of public records was compromised, and home loans were sold time and again without the knowledge of homeowners or county recorders.
“Over the past several years, a number of residents who were facing foreclosures didn’t know who owned their mortgage or to whom they should be making their mortgage payments,” Joyner wrote.
If the ruling stands, it would be a costly setback for MERS, which handles more than half of all home loans in the United States and was created for the purpose of avoiding the time and expense of county records.
Merscorp president Bill Beckmann said in a statement that he disagreed with Joyner’s interpretation and that the firm is “currently pursuing all options available to us in the legal process.”
Montgomery County Recorder of Deeds Nancy J. Becker brought the suit in 2011. This February, she was granted class-action status to sue on behalf of all 67 recorders in the commonwealth.
The suit claims that Montgomery County alone lost $15.7 million in recording fees from 2004 to 2011. But Becker said Tuesday that was “a very, very conservative estimate.”
“We took all the MERS mortgages between 2004 and 2011 and then multiplied them by two, assuming they were sold once,” Becker said. “But other recorders in other states … have found most of these mortgages were sold 10 to 12 times.”
If MERS’s holdings across the state are comparable to those in Montgomery County, that could translate to more than $1 billion just in lost recording fees. Becker’s suit also seeks reparations for unjust enrichment and other damages.