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Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen Sues MERS, Banks, Wants Them to “Fix Their Mess”

While Eric Schneiderman’s MERS lawsuit mostly crashed and burned, another suit against the electronic registry, filed just yesterday, appears to have more determination behind it. Jeff Thigpen, the register of deeds for Guilford County, North Carolina, sued MERS, the document processing company Lender Processing Services and several banks and loan servicers, using as evidence the contents of his register of deeds’ office. Here’s an excerpt from the press release:

“Our office uncovered an abundance of falsified, forged, and fraudulently executed mortgage documents,” said Thigpen. “But our investigation only found the tip of the iceberg. We need the banks to clean up their mess.”

The suit cites as evidence, Thigpen’s identification of over 6,100 mortgage documents (4,519 of those by DocX) which were filed with the Register of Deeds and signed in the names of known robo-signer aliases: “Linda Green,” “Christie Baldwin,” “Pat Kingston,” “Korell Harp,” “Jessica Ohde,” “Rita Knowles,” “Linda Thoresen,” and “Brent Bagley.”

“How can we maintain accurate records of title with fraudulent documents? The banks are also maintaining their own private registry called ‘MERS’ that prevents the public from discovering who owns what loans. Because there is no accountability for MERS, its records are also a mess,” said Thigpen. “The system is broken and it needs to be fixed. We’re telling MERS and the banks: you broke it, you fix it.”

Here’s the complaint, and there’s additional information at this mini-site. A couple things are interesting about the suit. First of all, Thigpen is getting assistance from Talcott Franklin, the law firm which has been rounding up investors to pursue repurchase cases against the banks. So he’s accessing a great deal of knowledge there. Second, among the penalties sought in the suit, Thigpen wants a special master to oversee an audit of mortgage documents at his office and to correct them.

The suit dates the recording of land titles at a public office in North Carolina all the way back to 1664. So we’re talking about banks overturning over 300 years of precedent in the furtherance of avoiding recording fees by creating their own database, which they summarily screwed up. Here’s a list of all the problems with maintaining an inaccurate registry, from the complaint:

a. Without available, orderly, and accurate records, landowners can lose their property as a result of illegal foreclosures.
b. Without available, orderly, and accurate records, landowners can be deprived of the ability to discover and remedy title defects.
c. Without available, orderly, and accurate records, landowners can be deprived of the ability to buy and sell property.
d. Without available, orderly, and accurate records, mortgage holders’ interests in property can be jeopardized.
e. Without available, orderly, and accurate records, potential purchasers cannot obtain financing to purchase property and/or risk loss of any property purchased.

So this is about more than just vengeance or justice, it’s about fixing a broken property system in the United States that puts the entire economy at risk. And the MERS system, which is inherently unreliable and which rests on novel and in many cases unproven legal theories, has broken that system, make no mistake.

Thigpen puts the evidence in his office to good use here, and he seeks not just a payout but a remedy. He says in the suit that he cannot perform his duties as register of deeds under the current circumstances. Furthermore, “The cost to Guilford County to identify impaired chains of title and repair those impaired chains of title – even if it were possible without the Defendants’ cooperation – would vastly exceed the budget for the Register of Deeds.” Basically, he wants the banks to create and pay for a Special Master to look through every document in his office, and cure all defects. There would be other damages incurred as well, but that’s his main goal.

Be sure to check pages 46-47 of the complaint for all the wildly different signatures of “Linda Green” and “Christine Baldwin.”

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David Dayen

David Dayen