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Wilmington Savings Fund Society, FSB v. Needham

Supreme Court of Maine

March 14, 2019

WILMINGTON SAVINGS FUND SOCIETY, FSB
v.
MATTHEW J. NEEDHAM et al.

          Argued: March 4, 2019

          Catherine R. Connors, Esq., and John J. Aromando, Esq., Pierce Atwood LLP, Portland, and Nicholas A. Danella, Esq. (orally), Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP, Birmingham, Alabama, for appellant Wilmington Savings Fund Society, FSB

          John D. Clifford, IV, Esq. (orally), Clifford & Golden, P.A., Lisbon Falls, for appellee Matthew J. Needham

          Ryan P. Dumais, Esq., Eaton Peabody, Brunswick, for amicus curiae Maine Bankers Association

          Brett R. Leland, Esq., and Jonathan M. Dunitz, Esq., Verrill Dana, Portland, for amicus curiae Maine Association of Mortgage Professionals

          Panel: ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          PER CURIAM

         [¶1] Wilmington Savings Fund Society, FSB, d/b/a Christiana Trust, not individually but as Trustee for Hilldale Trust, appeals from a judgment in favor of Matthew J. Needham[1] entered in the Superior Court (Androscoggin County, MG Kennedy, J.) after a bench trial on Wilmington's foreclosure complaint. For the reasons discussed below, we vacate the judgment and remand the matter for entry of judgment for Wilmington.

         I. CASE HISTORY

         [¶2] The following facts are undisputed. In August 2005, Needham signed a promissory note in favor of EquiFirst Corporation that was secured by a mortgage on his real property situated in Auburn. Needham defaulted on that loan in August 2014 when he stopped making the required payments. In September 2016, loan servicer BSI Financial Services sent Needham a notice of the right to cure on behalf of Ventures Trust[2]-the then-holder of the note and mortgage by virtue of assignment-as required by 14 M.R.S. § 6111(1) (2018). Ventures Trust thereafter filed a foreclosure complaint in January 2017.

         [¶3] In December 2017, Ventures Trust filed a motion seeking to substitute Wilmington Savings Fund, FSB, as plaintiff because it had transferred the mortgage and note by assignment to Wilmington, as trustee for Hilldale Trust, in October 2017. The motion was granted in January 2018.

         [¶4] A short bench trial was held in April 2018, after which Needham stipulated that Wilmington's complaint and filings were proper, its various exhibits were admissible, and he had in fact defaulted under the terms of the note and mortgage. The parties agreed that the only issue to be decided by the court was whether 14 M.R.S. § 6111(1) requires a mortgagee itself-and not its loan servicer acting as its agent-to send the notice of the right to cure. Resolution of that question would be dispositive of the case. In lieu of presenting their arguments at trial, the parties agreed to submit written arguments.

         [¶5] The court entered judgment for Needham on July 10, 2018. In its judgment, the court explained:

The clearest guidance available to this [c]ourt in deciding this issue is the oft-repeated mandate that a plaintiff seeking a judgment of foreclosure must strictly comply with statutory requirements. See, e.g., [Bank of Am., N.A. v.] Greenleaf,2014 ME 89, ¶ 18, 96 A.3d 700; [Chase Home Fin. LLC v.] Higgins,2009 ME 136, ¶ 11, 985 A.2d 508; Camden Nat'l Bank v. Peterson,2008 ME 85, ¶ 21, 948 A.2d 1251. Section 6111 plainly requires notice to be "given by the mortgagee." 14 M.R.S.A. § 6111(1). The term "mortgage servicer" appears elsewhere in section 6111, e.g., id. ยง 6111(1-A)(D), (E), indicating the Legislature recognizes that a servicer is a distinct ...

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