MERS explained (New York Times excerpt, reposted on The Big Picture financial blog):
For centuries, when a property changed hands, the transaction was submitted to county clerks who recorded it and filed it away. These records ensured that the history of a property’s ownership was complete and that the priority of multiple liens placed on the property — a mortgage and a home equity loan, for example — was accurate.
During the mortgage lending spree, however, home loans changed hands constantly. Those that ended up packaged inside of mortgage pools, for instance, were often involved in a dizzying series of transactions.
To avoid the costs and complexity of tracking all these exchanges, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the mortgage industry set up MERS to record loan assignments electronically. This company didn’t own the mortgages it registered, but it was listed in public records either as a nominee for the actual owner of the note or as the original mortgage holder . . .
As long as real estate prices rose, this system ran smoothly. When that trajectory stopped, however, foreclosures brought against delinquent borrowers began flooding the nation’s courts. MERS filed many of them . . .
As cases filed by MERS grew, lawyers representing troubled borrowers began questioning how an electronic registry with no ownership claims had the right to evict people. April Charney, a consumer lawyer at Jacksonville Area Legal Aid in Florida, was among the first to argue that MERS, which didn’t own the note or the mortgage, could not move against a borrower. Initially, judges rejected those arguments and allowed MERS foreclosures to proceed. Recently, however, MERS has begun losing some cases, and the Kansas ruling is a pivotal loss, experts say. While the matter before the Kansas Supreme Court didn’t involve an action that MERS took against a borrower, the registry’s legal standing is still central to the ruling.
Earlier post from The Big Picture (Barry Ritholtz) (Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Loses Legal Shield):
I don’t quite agree with Ellen Brown, who in an extensive legal analysis of the decision, writes: “The significance of the holding is that if MERS has no standing to foreclose, then nobody has standing to foreclose.” It may be possible for trustees for the securitized loans to somehow perfect standing, i.e., develop the ability to claim loan ownership (perhaps via a purchase) and then move to foreclose...
But Brown is correct when she states this is a very significant legal development, one that might dramatically impact foreclosure litigation.
This ruling could send the lenders who work with MERS scurrying to resolve this in their favor. Look for a lobbying effort to get some favored congresscritter to pass legislation granting them standing to sue on behalf of loan holders (Congress may be able legislate that legal right, although there are state laws to be contended with).