SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A lawsuit accusing several mortgage lenders of fraud over home loans maintained within the industry’s private electronic database cannot proceed, according to a U.S. appeals court ruling.
MERS, a unit of Merscorp Inc of Reston, Virginia, owns the computerized registry which tracks the transfer of the beneficial interest in home loans, as well as any changes in loan servicers. It was also a defendant.
Mortgage loan giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and several of the largest U.S. banks established MERS in 1995 to circumvent the costly and cumbersome process of transferring ownership of mortgages and recording the changes with county clerks.
However, MERS’s role in foreclosure cases has made it a lightning rod in recent months in other court decisions which have held that loan servicers’ use of the registry violates basic real estate and mortgage laws.
Merscorp spokeswoman Janis Smith said the company is “quite pleased” by the latest ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, especially since it didn’t give the plaintiffs a chance to refashion their allegations.
“There’s some finality to it in that sense,” Smith said.
A proposed class action in an Arizona federal court alleged a conspiracy among MERS members to commit fraud and facilitate predatory lending practices.
The MERS system made it impossible for borrowers or regulators to track changes in lenders, according to a court filing.
A lower court judge dismissed the lawsuit, and on Wednesday the 9th Circuit upheld that decision.
“Although the plaintiffs allege that aspects of the MERS system are fraudulent, they cannot establish that they were misinformed about the MERS system,” wrote Judge Consuelo Callahan for the unanimous three judge 9th Circuit panel.
A lawyer for the plaintiffs was not immediately available to comment.
Representatives for Bank of America and Wells Fargo did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A JPMorgan Chase spokesman declined to comment.
Besides Arizona, the 9th Circuit covers other states in the Western United States hard hit by the housing crisis, including California and Nevada.
The case in the 9th Circuit is Olga Cervantes, Carlos Almendarez and Arturo Maximo, individually and on behalf of a class of similarly situated individuals v. Countrywide Home Loans Inc. et al., 09-17364.
Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Bernard Orr