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Reinagel v. Deutsche Bank National Trust Co.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

July 11, 2013

JOSEPH A. REINAGEL, JR.; DIA J. REINAGEL, Plaintiffs - Appellants

Revised October 29, 2013

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas

Before HIGGINBOTHAM, OWEN, and GRAVES, Circuit Judges.


In this case, mortgagors who defaulted on their note seek to enjoin a bank from foreclosing, contending that the assignments by which the bank obtained the note and corresponding deed of trust were "robo-signed" and therefore invalid. The district court granted the bank's motion to dismiss. We affirm.


In February 2004, Dia and Joseph Reinagel, the appellants, purchased a property in Helotes, Texas for $307, 840, obtaining the necessary financing from a mortgage lender not party to this appeal. In May 2006, the Reinagels refinanced, obtaining a $360, 000 home-equity loan from Argent Mortage Company, LLC ("Argent") in exchange for a promissory note as well as a deed of trust securing the note.[1] Argent apparently sold the Reinagels' loan to Deutsche Bank National Trust Company ("Deutsche Bank"), the appellee, shortly after origination, at which point Deutsche Bank pooled it with other mortgage loans in a securitization transaction and sold the resulting mortgage-backed securities to investors. As alleged in the amended complaint, the Pooling and Servicing Agreement ("PSA") that governed the trust in which Deutsche Bank, as trustee, held the mortgage loans provided that no loans could be transferred into the trust after October 1, 2006.

Notwithstanding the PSA's closing date, neither Argent nor Deutsche Bank formally documented the sale of the Reinagels' loan until January 23, 2008, a date that roughly coincides with the zenith of the subprime mortgage crisis.[2] On that date, a Ms. Dawn L. Reynolds, purporting to act as the "authorized agent" of "Citi Residential Lending, Inc. . . ., [a]ttorney-in-[f]act for Argent, " executed an instrument assigning the deed of trust "to Deutsche Bank . . ., as Trustee, in trust for the registered Holders of Argent Securities Inc., Asset-Backed Pass-Through Certificates, Series 2006-M1." Ms. Reynolds acknowledged her signature before a California notary and the instrument was filed and recorded in Bexar County on January 30, 2008. The instrument does not reference the promissory note secured by the deed of trust.

On February 13, 2009, more than a year after the initial assignment, a Mr. Brian Bly executed a second instrument assigning the deed of trust to Deutsche Bank, purporting to act in his capacity as "Vice President" of "Citi Residential Lending, Inc., . . . attorney-in-fact for Argent." Unlike the first assignment, however, the second instrument also expressly transferred "the certain note(s) described [in the deed of trust] together with all interest secured thereby, all liens, and any rights due or to become due thereon." Mr. Bly acknowledged his signature before a Florida notary and the instrument was e-filed and e-recorded in Bexar County on February 17, 2009.

At some point in 2009 or early 2010, the Reinagels defaulted on the note, and in April 2010, Deutsche Bank sought a judicial order authorizing foreclosure. Deutsche Bank asserted that it was a "mortgagee" under Texas Property Code § 51.0001(4) and therefore had the right to foreclose on the Reinagel's property. Under § 51.0001(4), a mortgagee can be (1) "the grantee, beneficiary, owner, or holder of a [deed of trust], " or (2) "if the [deed of trust] has been assigned of record, the last person to whom the [deed of trust] has been assigned of record."[3] Deutsche Bank claimed that it qualified as a mortgagee on either wing, as the 2008 and 2009 assignments rendered it owner and holder, as well as assignee of record, of the deed of trust. The state court apparently agreed, granting the order.

In October 2011, the Reinagels filed suit in Texas state court to temporarily enjoin the foreclosure and obtain a declaratory judgment that Deutsche Bank lacked standing to foreclose. The Reinagels claimed that the 2008 and 2009 assignments were both "robo-signed" and therefore void. "Robo-signing" is the colloquial term the media, politicians, and consumer advocates have used to describe an array of questionable practices banks deployed to perfect their right to foreclose in the wake of the subprime mortgage crisis, practices that included having bank employees or third-party contractors: (1) execute and acknowledge transfer documents in large quantities within a short period of time, often without the purported assignor's authorization and outside of the presence of the notary certifying the acknowledgment, [4] and (2) swear out affidavits confirming the existence of missing pieces of loan documentation, without personal knowledge and often outside of the presence of the notary.[5]

The state court granted the Reinagels' request for a temporary injunction, setting trial for June 4, 2012. On November 21, 2011, Deutsche Bank removed the Reinagels' suit to the Western District of Texas, invoking diversity. In their amended complaint, the Reinagels elaborated on their allegations of "robo-signing, " claiming that the January 2008 assignment was void because Ms. Reynolds "appears to be an employee of Citi Residential Lending[, ] [Inc.] and not Argent, " and that the February 2009 assignment was void because Mr. Bly purported to execute it as "Vice President of Citi . . . as attorney in fact for Argent" when he in fact worked for a third-party contractor, Nationwide Title Clearing. The Reinagels also asserted that the second assignment was void as a forgery, as "Mr. Bly's own deposition testimony taken in another case indicates that his signature was simply 'scanned' onto documents and then notarized as an original and recorded." Finally, the Reinagels claimed, both assignments were void as violating the PSA, which specified that no mortgage could be transferred into Deutsche Bank's pooling trust after October 1, 2006.

Deutsche Bank moved to dismiss the Reinagels' amended complaint, urging that the Reinagels lacked standing to challenge the validity of the 2008 and 2009 assignments because they were not parties to those agreements. In the alternative, Deutsche Bank argued that "'robo-signing' claims are not applicable to assignments, " because "an assignment is a contract, and is distinguishable from an affidavit, which is the document typically challenged in connection with 'robo-signing' allegations." Finally, though Deutsche Bank did not dispute that the assignments violated the PSA, it argued that the Reinagels lacked standing to enforce that agreement.

The district court granted Deutsche Bank's motion. Though the court "disagree[d] with [Deutsche Bank's] argument that the invalidity of the assignments would have no impact on its ability to foreclose, " it concluded that "[the Reinagels'] allegations of invalidity fail as a matter of law." First, the court reasoned, the Reinagels pointed to "no case that has invalidated an assignment because it was robo-signed." Second, the court observed, "[the Reinagels] cite no authority for the proposition that the violations of the PSA make the assignment invalid, and due to ...

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