We’re disappointed that the legal malpractice question takes the back seat in an Appellate Division decision, but in Weiss v Phillips  2017 NY Slip Op 08209  Decided on November 21, 2017
Appellate Division, First Department  Renwick, J. whether Phillips has a claim against his attorney is a question for the future.

“In this case, plaintiff Peter Weiss seeks, among other things, a foreclosure and sale based [*2]on a Mortgage and Note Extension and Modification Agreement (CEMA)[FN1] executed by defendant Edward Phillips. Plaintiff lent $500,000 to borrowers who purported to own the real estate property they sought to mortgage [FN2]. The borrowers signed a note, in which they promised to pay the loan, and a mortgage, in which they gave the plaintiff/lender a security interest in the property they purported to own. The borrowers, however, acquired the property by fraudulent means. After the rightful owner, Phillips, reacquired the property, he executed the CEMA with the individual lender, Weiss. Pursuant to the CEMA, Phillips acknowledged Weiss’s rights under the note and mortgage; and, Weiss agreed to forbear from foreclosing on the subject property for a year, presumably to permit Phillips to obtain refinancing.

We find that the motion court properly granted Weiss summary judgment. Unlike the dissent, under the circumstances of this case, we find that Weiss’s interest in the property as a mortgagee was not rendered null and void because his borrowers, the mortgagors, had acquired the property by fraudulent means. In addition, we find that Weiss met his burden for summary judgment, on his claim for foreclosure and sale, by submitting the Mortgage and CEMA, along with undisputed evidence establishing both the existence of the note, which obviated the need to submit the note as proof that Weiss had the right to foreclose, and the nonpayment.”

“In this case, the complaint seeks a foreclosure and sale based on the CEMA and the mortgage encumbering the subject property. As indicated, under the CEMA, as the “new owner,” Phillips ratified and affirmed all the terms of the note and mortgage and warranted that there were no deductions, counterclaims, defenses, and/or setoffs to any obligations under the note. When the CEMA’s extension period expired, without complete payment, Weiss commenced this action. Under these circumstances, Weiss established the allegations of the complaint by submitting the CEMA and the mortgage contract, along with unchallenged [*5]deposition testimony of the existence of the note and nonpayment.

Unlike the dissent, we do not view this action as a typical mortgage foreclosure action. In a typical mortgage foreclosure transaction, a prima facie case is based on production of the unpaid note and mortgage, which establishes that the plaintiff is entitled to foreclose on the unpaid note. A prima facie case is established here, however, by plaintiff’s submission of the mortgage and the CEMA, in which Phillips acknowledges the existence and validity of the unpaid note and mortgage, as well as the deposition testimony in which the existence of the note is unchallenged (see Seaway Capital Corp. v 500 Sterling Realty Corp., 94 AD3d 856 [2d Dept 2012]).

We are not persuaded by the dissent’s argument that UCC 3-804 mandates a different result. As fully explained below, the dissent takes UCC 3-804 out of context. UCC 3-804 allows one to maintain an action as a “holder” on a promissory note even though the instrument has been lost or destroyed. The section does not apply here where it is established that plaintiff has the right to sue on the note as the undisputed “holder” of the note.[FN5]

“To be clear, a deed may be cancelled because it is void or because it is voidable. The difference, however, between a void deed and a voidable deed is important under the law because it affects a party’s ability to defend against a future purchaser or encumbrancer for value. A void real estate transaction is one where the law deems that no transfer actually occurred (Faison v Lewis, 25 NY3d 220, 225 [2015]). Accordingly, if the deed is void, it does not pass title and cannot be enforced even if title is later acquired by a bona fide purchaser (id.; ABN AMRO Mtge. Group, Inc. v Stephens, 91 AD3d 801, 803 [2d Dept 2012]). Similarly, a lender who takes a mortgage to a property subject to a void deed does not have anything to mortgage, so the lender’s mortgage is invalid as well (Cruz v Cruz, 37 AD3d 754 [2d Dept 2007]; Yin Wu v Wu, 288 AD2d 104, 105 [1st Dept 2001]). In contrast, a voidable real estate transaction is one where a transfer is deemed to have occurred, but can be revoked. In that situation the deed is only voidable (Faison v Lewis, 25 NY3d at 225).

The question becomes whether the deed by which Welch-Ford and Smith acquired the subject real estate was a void deed or a voidable deed. Forged deeds and/or encumbrances are those executed under false pretenses, and are void ab initio (see Marden v Dorthy, 160 NY 39 [1899]; GMAC Mtge. Corp. v Chan, 56 AD3d 521, 522 [2d Dept 2008]; Cruz v Cruz, 37 AD3d 754). The interests of subsequent bona fide purchasers or encumbrancers for value are thus not protected under Real Property Law § 266 [FN7] when their title is derived from a forged deed or one that is the product of false pretenses (see Ameriquest Mtge. Co. v Gaffney, 41 AD3d 750 [2d Dept 2007]; LaSalle Bank Natl. Assn. v Ally, 39 AD3d 597, 599-600 [2d Dept 2007]). In contrast, a fraudulently induced deed is merely voidable, not void (see Marden v Dorthy, 160 NY at 150; Dalessio v Kressler, 6 AD3d 57, 61 [2d Dept 2004]; Yin Wu v Wu, 288 AD2d at 105).”

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Andrew Lavoott Bluestone

Andrew Lavoott Bluestone has been an attorney for 40 years, with a career that spans criminal prosecution, civil litigation and appellate litigation. Mr. Bluestone became an Assistant District Attorney in Kings County in 1978, entered private practice in 1984 and in 1989 opened…

Andrew Lavoott Bluestone has been an attorney for 40 years, with a career that spans criminal prosecution, civil litigation and appellate litigation. Mr. Bluestone became an Assistant District Attorney in Kings County in 1978, entered private practice in 1984 and in 1989 opened his private law office and took his first legal malpractice case.

Since 1989, Bluestone has become a leader in the New York Plaintiff’s Legal Malpractice bar, handling a wide array of plaintiff’s legal malpractice cases arising from catastrophic personal injury, contracts, patents, commercial litigation, securities, matrimonial and custody issues, medical malpractice, insurance, product liability, real estate, landlord-tenant, foreclosures and has defended attorneys in a limited number of legal malpractice cases.

Bluestone also took an academic role in field, publishing the New York Attorney Malpractice Report from 2002-2004.  He started the “New York Attorney Malpractice Blog” in 2004, where he has published more than 4500 entries.

Mr. Bluestone has written 38 scholarly peer-reviewed articles concerning legal malpractice, many in the Outside Counsel column of the New York Law Journal. He has appeared as an Expert witness in multiple legal malpractice litigations.

Mr. Bluestone is an adjunct professor of law at St. John’s University College of Law, teaching Legal Malpractice.  Mr. Bluestone has argued legal malpractice cases in the Second Circuit, in the New York State Court of Appeals, each of the four New York Appellate Divisions, in all four of  the U.S. District Courts of New York and in Supreme Courts all over the state.  He has also been admitted pro haec vice in the states of Connecticut, New Jersey and Florida and was formally admitted to the US District Court of Connecticut and to its Bankruptcy Court all for legal malpractice matters. He has been retained by U.S. Trustees in legal malpractice cases from Bankruptcy Courts, and has represented municipalities, insurance companies, hedge funds, communications companies and international manufacturing firms. Mr. Bluestone regularly lectures in CLEs on legal malpractice.

Based upon his professional experience Bluestone was named a Diplomate and was Board Certified by the American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys in 2008 in Legal Malpractice. He remains Board Certified.  He was admitted to The Best Lawyers in America from 2012-2019.  He has been featured in Who’s Who in Law since 1993.

In the last years, Mr. Bluestone has been featured for two particularly noteworthy legal malpractice cases.  The first was a settlement of an $11.9 million dollar default legal malpractice case of Yeo v. Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman which was reported in the NYLJ on August 15, 2016. Most recently, Mr. Bluestone obtained a rare plaintiff’s verdict in a legal malpractice case on behalf of the City of White Plains v. Joseph Maria, reported in the NYLJ on February 14, 2017. It was the sole legal malpractice jury verdict in the State of New York for 2017.

Bluestone has been at the forefront of the development of legal malpractice principles and has contributed case law decisions, writing and lecturing which have been recognized by his peers.  He is regularly mentioned in academic writing, and his past cases are often cited in current legal malpractice decisions. He is recognized for his ample writings on Judiciary Law § 487, a 850 year old statute deriving from England which relates to attorney deceit.