Wednesday, May 27, 2015

ON FORGED DEEDS AND MORTGAGES

Faison v Lewis 2015 NY Slip Op 04026 Decided on May 12, 2015

This case came to my attention:

Plaintiff filed a complaint against Bank of America and related entities seeking to set aside and cancel, as null and void, the Bank’s mortgage interest in real property conveyed on the authority of an allegedly forged deed. The Court of Appeals held that the statute of limitations did not foreclose Plaintiff’s claim against Defendant because, under prior case law, a forged deed is void ab initio, and as such, any encumbrance upon real property based on a forged deed is null and void:

"For over a century, since this Court's decision in Marden, a forged deed has been treated in New York as void ab initio. As the Court recognized in Riverside, a statute of limitations cannot validate what is void at its inception. Therefore, a void deed is not subject to a statutory time bar. The defendant's arguments are in contravention of Marden and Riverside, and would subject a claim of deed forgery to a six-year statute of limitations under CPLR 213 (8), with the result that a forged deed may be relied upon to convey title and for purposes of encumbering real property. However, under well-established real property principles, because only a holder of legal title may convey an interest in real property, no property interest can be conveyed by a forged deed, and no person may be a bona fide purchaser of real estate on the force of such deed. Moreover, our recording statute does not apply to a forged deed, with the consequence that recording a forged deed cannot transfer title. We, thus, decline the defendant's invitation to unsettle this established doctrine to the detriment of our state's real property recording system.

To adopt defendant's position is to permit a forged deed to accomplish, by the mere passage of time, what has always been forbidden — the encumbrance and transfer of title. Neither law nor public policy nor common sense dictates such outcome. Defendant fails to present a compelling reason to overturn or ignore our prior case law in the area of real property because as we have recognized, "parties in business transactions depend on the certainty of settled rules, `in real property more than any other area of the law, where established precedents are not lightly to be set aside'" (172 Van Duzer Realty Corp. v Globe Alumni Student Assistance Ass'n, Inc., 24 NY3d 528, 535 [2014], citing Holy Properties Ltd., L.P. v Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc., 87 NY2d 130, 134 [1995]). No less so with respect to forged deeds, because landowners, banks, mortgagees, insurers, and a myriad of others depend on the simple rule that a forged deed is a legal nullity that cannot divest ownership or serve to encumber real property."

Judge Lippman dissented.

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