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HB 67 Warrants of Attorney

Another attack on the use of warrants of attorney to confess judgment was recently introduced into the 132nd Ohio General Assembly.  H.B. 67 was introduced on February 16, 2017 by Representative Ron Young, a Republican of Leroy Township in Lake County.  The bill has not yet been assigned to a committee.

The bill seeks to amend R.C. §2323.13(A) to limit a confession of judgment to situations involving “the settlement of a dispute”. The bill does not further define that phrase.  Echoing the “dispute settlement” language, H.B. 67 would also amend R.C. §2323.12 to limit confessions of judgment to the “settlement of a dispute” under R.C. §2323.13 and makes a violation of the law a first degree misdemeanor.

The final amendment sought by H.B. 67 is to Ohio’s power of attorney statute, R.C. §1337.53 at subsections (F)(1), to prohibit the use of a general power of attorney with respect to claims and litigation to confess judgment. Echoing the changes to R.C. §§2323.12 and 2323.13, R.C. §1337.53(F)(2) would limit the use of a general power of attorney to confessing judgment “in connection with the settlement of a dispute.”

The absence of any explanation of the meaning of the phrase “in connection …

Location is Not Everything When Perfecting a Security Interest

Most of us are familiar with that old saw “location, location, location”. While location might enhance the value of real estate, including the location as part of the collateral description in the UCC financing statement can limit the protections provided to a secured creditor and may provide a strategy for attack by a bankruptcy trustee.  First Niagara Bank learned this valuable lesson but only after spending substantial legal fees to protect a security interest where perfection should have been routine.

In the case of Ring v. First Niagara Bank, NA (In Re: Sterling United, Inc.),____F.3d ____, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 23009 (2d Cir. Dec. 22, 2016) (No. 15-4131-bk.), the Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Trustee for Sterling United, Inc., (“Debtor”) sued First Niagara Bank (“First Niagara”) asserting that First Niagara’s security interests in Debtor’s assets were avoidable under 11 U.S.C. § 547.  Under U.S.C. § 547(b)(4)(A), a trustee may avoid any “transfer of an interest of the debtor in property … made … on or within 90 days before the date of the filing of the petition” for bankruptcy, provided that those interests are not perfected security interests pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 547(c)(3).…

Liquidated Damages Provisions Are Enforceable Despite As Applied Inequities

Bankers and other business persons should carefully consider a significant change this year to the state’s law regarding contractual default clauses. The change was made by a little-noticed Ohio Supreme Court decision that requires the fairness of such clauses to be assessed from the perspective of the relationship of the parties at the beginning of the contract.  In the case at issue this led to enforcement of an extreme damages claim.

These clauses are commonly called “liquidated damages clauses” because they impose a definite economic cost on the defaulting party when a contract is breached. Such clauses are ubiquitous.  They are most frequently found in construction contracts and in public construction contracts they are often required by the law applicable to governmental bodies.  The clauses are also found in other types of business contracts frequently encountered by bankers such as IT vendor contracts, consulting contracts, contracts for the supply and delivery of equipment, and other contracts for the sale of goods and services where time is of the essence.…

Ohio Revised Code §1301.401 – A Powerful Tool for Lenders with a Defective Mortgage

For years, it was generally accepted that mortgage creditors and bankruptcy trustees could assert the status of a bona fide purchaser and treat a defectively notarized mortgage as if that mortgage did not exist.  On February 16, 2016, our Supreme Court provided clarity regarding the legal effects of R.C. §1301.401 and provided protection to lenders regardless of whether their mortgages were defective.

In Re Messer, 2016-Ohio-510 was a referral to the Ohio Supreme Court from the Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Ohio.  Mr. and Mrs. Messer (the “Messers”) owned real property in Ohio.  In order to finance the purchase of the property, the Messers executed and delivered a mortgage to Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (“MERS”) as nominee for M/I Financial Corp.  The mortgage was later assigned to JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A. (“Chase”).  Although the mortgage was correctly signed by the Messers, the notary failed to certify the mortgage acknowledgment, although the notary did notarize other documents at the time of the closing.  The Franklin County Recorder accepted and recorded the mortgage on December 4, 2007.

On September 19, 2013, about six years after the defective mortgage was recorded, the Messers filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition. The …

Proposed Limitations On The Use Of Cognovit Notes

The Ohio General Assembly is currently considering a bill that would greatly restrict creditors’ ability to ask debtors to sign cognovit notes. A cognovit note allows a creditor, upon a debtor’s default, to enter judgment against the debtor without the usual notice or hearing.

Current Ohio law, specifically Ohio Revised Code Section 2323.13, generally enforces cognovit notes, but Ohio courts will not enter judgment on a cognovit note unless the note contains specific disclaimer language clearly and conspicuously visible, warning the debtor that signing the cognovit note surrenders the debtor’s rights to notice and a court trial upon default.1  Additionally, cognovit notes are banned entirely in consumer transactions.2

Seriously Misleading UCC Searches

Determining whether a security interest is properly perfected by using a state’s online lien search may be leading you astray.

Perfecting a security interest in collateral establishes the priority of the secured party’s claim to such collateral, providing the perfected secured party with an interest in such collateral superior to the rights held by most subsequently perfected security creditors or judicial lien creditors.  For most types of collateral owned by an entity, a security interest may be perfected by filing a financing statement describing the security interest with the secretary of state’s office in the state where such entity is formed.  A financing statement is a form of public notice intended to inform others dealing with such borrower (referred to as a “debtor”) that the debtor has granted a security interest in its assets.

The Uniform Commercial Code (“UCC”) dictates that a financing statement covering property owned by an entity debtor (as opposed to an individual) must identify the debtor by its exact legal name.  Nonetheless, to alleviate the otherwise disastrous consequences of harmless errors or omissions in a financing statement, the law provides that financing statements are effective (even with errors) so long as they are not “seriously misleading.”…

The Modernization of Ohio’s Receivership Statute

I.  Introduction

Effective March 23, 2015, Ohio’s antiquated receivership statute (Ohio Rev. Code Chapter 2735) will be modernized, particularly as it relates to the appointment of a receiver in commercial mortgage foreclosures and the ability of a receiver to sell real estate free and clear of liens.

 II.  Appointment of a Receiver

Previously, commercial mortgagees were a bit hamstrung because only two of Ohio Rev. Code Section 2735.01’s provisions for appointment of a receiver typically potentially applied, Section 2735.01(B) (“In an action by a mortgagee, for the foreclosure of his mortgage and sale of the mortgaged property, when it appears that the mortgaged property is in danger of being lost, removed, materially injured, or that the condition of the mortgage has not been performed, and the property is probably insufficient to discharge the mortgage debt”) and Section 2735.01(F) (“In all other cases in which receivers have been appointed by the usages of equity”).  In situations where it was unclear whether the property was worth less than the unpaid mortgage balance, some courts struggled with the decision of whether to appoint a receiver, even in cases where the borrower agreed in the mortgage to appointment of a receiver upon the occurrence …

Tax Considerations in Settlement Agreements Regarding Cancellation of Debt

Although not every settlement agreement has to be reviewed by a tax lawyer if you are representing a creditor or a debtor and the subject matter of the settlement involves the compromise of a debt or a cancellation of an indebtedness, there are some basic tax matters which must be considered.

If you are representing the creditor, you should consider whether the cancellation or compromise of the debt will be deemed income for tax purposes.  This consideration will lead to a determination of whether the creditor must issue a Form 1099-C to the IRS and to the debtor.

If you are representing the debtor, you must consider whether the settlement qualifies as a contested liability dispute.  If the debtor-taxpayer, in good faith, disputes the liability of the obligation, then a subsequent settlement of the disputed debt may not result in income, and thus, the creditor would not have to issue a Form 1099-C.

The recent Sixth Circuit case of McClusky v. Century Bank, FSB, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 1419 (2015) concerns the consequences of failing to consider possible tax issues, and provides an excellent summary of the law applicable to the settlement of a dispute involving the cancellation or …

Constructively charged with having retroactive actual notice when challenging an improperly recorded defective mortgage…wait, what?

Great cases…make bad law” declared Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in his dissenting opinion in the Northern Securities antitrust case of 1904. One of the most oft-quoted phrases any aspiring lawyer will hear in law school, this maxim stands for the proposition that decisions in cases of great importance from a public or social perspective make a poor basis upon which to construct a general law. Although an otherwise innocuous adversary bankruptcy proceeding (Daren A. Messer, et al. v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, NA (In re Messer), Adv. Pro. No. 13-2448) can hardly be called a matter of high social importance, it did result in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Ohio certifying two novel questions of state law for consideration by the Ohio Supreme Court that “could potentially affect tens of thousands of [mortgages]” in Ohio. The Ohio Supreme Court has not yet ruled on this matter, but given the implications I felt it worth putting on people’s radar at this time.

In a nutshell, the questions can be summarized as follows: O.R.C. §5301.01 requires that all mortgages be acknowledged in the presence of a notary, and further provides that …

Conflict of Interest and Cognovit Judgment

Does a conflict of interest arise under the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct (“Rules”) when an attorney confesses judgment on a cognovit note? No, according to a recent opinion (Opinion 2014-3, August 8, 2014) issued by The Supreme Court of Ohio’s Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline (“Board”), so long as the cognovit note contains a warrant of attorney that expressly waives a conflict and permits a creditor’s attorney to confess judgment pursuant to R.C. §2323.13. In issuing the Opinion, the Board reaffirmed and updated Advisory Opinion 93-3, which found no conflict existed under Ohio’s former Code of Professional Responsibility, which the current Rules replaced in 2007.

R.C. §2323.13 permits an attorney hired by a creditor to obtain cognovit judgment without notice or hearing in certain commercial transactions (typically loans and guaranties of loans) by producing in court a valid warrant of attorney that also contains a specific warning to the debtor of the rights being surrendered and otherwise complies with law. Ohio courts grant such cognovit judgments because the debtor consented in advance to the creditor obtaining a judgment upon the debtor’s default.

The Opinion specifically finds that confessing judgment does not create a conflict of interest under …

Ohio Law on Cognovit Judgments and Relief Under Civ R. 60(B)

In K One Limited Partnership v. Salh Khan, et al., 10th Dist. No. 13AP-830, 2014 Ohio 2079, the Tenth District Court of Appeals for Franklin County, Ohio reexamined the limited meritorious defenses available to obtain relief from a cognovit judgment under Civ. R. 60(B) and held that such defenses are restricted “to the integrity and validity of the creation of the debt or note, the state of the underlying debt at the time of confession of judgment, or the procedure utilized in the confession of judgment on the note.”

Defendants-Appellants executed a cognovit guaranty containing warrant of attorney language (“Guaranty”) to guarantee payment of a related-company’s revolving cognovit promissory note (“Note”) in favor of Plaintiff-Appellee. The parties and others were involved in numerous business ventures when they entered into the Guaranty and Note. When the Note subsequently went unpaid, Plaintiff-Appellee brought a cognovit action to confess judgment against Defendants-Appellants on the Guaranty, and the trial court entered cognovit judgment in favor of Plaintiff-Appellee. Defendants-Appellants timely filed a motion for relief from judgment under Civ. R. 60(B) admitting they executed the Guaranty but alleging as defenses that Plaintiff-Appellee and related individuals and entities had acted fraudulently toward them in this …

Ohio Supreme Court Resolves Certified Conflict Regarding Oral Forbearance Agreements

Last Spring, we discussed on this blog a trifecta of noteworthy lending cases pending before the Ohio Supreme Court. Today, the Court resolved one of them, and in doing so also resolved a certified conflict among Ohio’s appellate districts regarding whether Ohio’s Statute of Frauds bars a party from relying on an oral forbearance agreement to defeat a judgment that was entered pursuant to a written contract. The court’s unanimous opinion in FirstMerit Bank, N.A. v. Inks, Slip Opinion No. 2014-Ohio-789, is available here.

Daniel Inks, Deborah Inks, David Slyman, and Jacqueline Slyman guaranteed that Ashland Lakes, LLC would repay a $3.5 million loan from FirstMerit Bank. When the LLC defaulted, FirstMerit sued the guarantors, and the trial court awarded judgment to FirstMerit based on confessions of judgment entered by the defendants under warrants of attorney. The Slymans and Inkses then appealed to Ohio’s Ninth District Court of Appeals on the basis that the confessing lawyer did not produce the original warrants of attorney. After filing that (ultimately unsuccessful) appeal, the Slymans and Inkses also moved the trial court for relief from judgment, arguing that FirstMerit was not entitled to recover because it had entered into an oral forbearance …

What Happens When You Lose: The Downside of Binding Arbitration

A recent decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit demonstrates binding arbitration may not be the best way to limit rising litigation costs. It also serves as a warning – if you needed one — that “binding” arbitration awards are not subject to appeal for legal error.

Here are the facts, in a brief form: Two individuals (Schafer and Block) founded a company. As part of a series of corporate transactions, two employee stock ownership plans (“ESOPs”) were formed. Schafer and Block were appointed as trustees of the ESOPs, and entered into indemnification agreements with mandatory arbitration clauses. While the Department of Labor (“DOL”) was investigating its suspicion that the ESOPs had purchased stock at inflated prices, and with knowledge of this investigation, Multiband entered into a purchase agreement to buy the holding company. As part of the transaction, Multiband entered into indemnification agreements that contained essentially the same provisions as the prior indemnification agreements. Subsequently, the DOL informed Schafer and Block that it believed they had breached their fiduciary duties by allowing the ESOPs to purchase stock at inflated prices and offered to settle. Schafer and Block asked Multiband to indemnify them in accordance …

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