BECU v. Burns: Banks Can Sue First, Foreclose Later.

Does entry of a judgment on a promissory note extinguish the lien of a security interest in real property that secures that note?  No, says Division 1 of the Washington Court of Appeals.

In BECU v. Burns, Boeing Employees’ Credit Union won judgment on a second position promissory note.  When the first position lender foreclosed, there were surplus funds available after the trustee’s sale.  The Superior Court said those funds belonged to the Burns.  BECU appealed.

The issue in Burns was whether BECU received the surplus funds as a second position lienholder, or whether the homestead exemption allowed Burns to take the homestead amount, $125,000, ahead of BECU.  In other words, by opting to sue on the note, and get judgment, did BECU give up its status as a consensual lienholder (who would be superior to the owner’s homestead exemption), and become an ordinary judgment lienholder (who is inferior to the homestead exemption)?  No, says the Court of Appeals.

Burns also answers a different question, that TEP thinks is far more important.  The question is this:  May I obtain judgment on a promissory note, levy upon other non-secured assets (to satisfy the judgment), and then later foreclose on the deed of trust, nonjudicially?  The answer is Yes!

In American Federal Savings & Loan v. McCaffrey,  107 Wn.2d 181, 728 P.2d 155 (1986), the Washington Supreme Court said:

“In transactions involving both notes and mortgages, the notes represent the debts, the mortgages security for payment of the debts. Either may be the basis of an action. The mortgagee may sue and obtain a judgment upon the notes and enforce it by levy upon any property of the debtor. If the judgment is not satisfied in this manner, the mortgagee still can foreclose on the mortgaged property to collect the balance.” (Emphasis added.)

Absent in the McCaffrey opinion is any explanation as to whether the “still can foreclose” language is limited to judicial foreclosures (a judgment holder can always judicially foreclose on his lien) or whether one can later nonjudicially foreclose on the mortgage lien.

Burns answers that question, albeit in dicta.  According to the Burns case, a noteholder can sue, win judgment, levy on other assets, and then nonjudicially foreclose on the collateral.

It will be interesting to see how many banks take this route – sue first, foreclose later.  If they do, we may see a lot of borrowers who can afford their mortgage thinking twice about simply letting the property go to foreclosure.

King County Probate Gone Wild!

When a court opinion begins, “…. what should have been a simple estate and trust matter became protracted and contentious,” you know you’re in touble.

The Court of Appeals recently published Estates of Foster, 165 Wn. App. 33 (2011).  In this case the Executor and his brother teamed up to distribute from their parents’ estates disproportionately to themselves rather than to the parents’ grandchildren trust beneficiaries as set forth in the parents’ trust documents.

The case is significant for a couple reasons.  First, the court confirms that the Executor was not entitled to a jury trial because, while his fiduciary breach was the gravamen of the case, it was still a probate/trust matter, and restoration of the stolen funds, as opposed to general damages were sought.  The former types of cases don’t get juries; the latter do.

The case is also significant becuase of how the court treats the statute of limitations.  The grandchildren brought their claim more than three-years after the alleged breach.  The statute of limitations for fiduciary breach claims is three-years.  The court allowed the claim, applying the “discovery rule” without much analysis other than finding that the breach could not have been discovered earlier because of the Executor’s failure to cooperate when the grandchildrens’ early information requests.