This action was filed by plaintiff HSBC Bank USA, N.A., as trustee of Ace Securities Corp., Home Equity Loan Trust, Series 2005-HE4 ("HSBC"), against defendant Jodi Matt pursuant to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, 50 U.S.C. App. 501, et seq. ("the Act"). Such an action, as a matter of law, is confined to determination of a single question; is the defendant (alleged to be in breach of her mortgage obligations) entitled to the benefits of the Act? [Note 1] Beaton v. Land Court, 367 Mass. 385 , 390-91 (1975). The answer to that question is "yes" only if (1) the defendant is currently in active military service, and (2) the obligation at issue was incurred before that service began. [Note 2] There is also, however, a threshold issue, present in all judicial proceedings, which must be satisfied before the inquiry into the defendant's military status can even be reached. Does the plaintiff have standing to bring the lawsuit? [Note 3] Ms. Matt contends that HSBC does not have standing, and moves to dismiss this action on that basis.
For the reasons set forth below, I find that HSBC has sufficient standing to obtain a determination of Ms. Matt's status under the Act. The motion to dismiss is thus DENIED. Since Ms. Matt does not claim to be a servicemember, judgment that she is not entitled to the benefits of the Act shall also enter.
This is a Servicemember's action. It does not seek, and by law cannot give, a determination that Ms. Matt is in breach of her loan or mortgage obligations, or that HSBC may validly foreclose on Ms. Matt's property. Indeed, it is not clear from the record that HSBC is the current holder of either the note or the mortgage - questions I need not and do not decide in this proceeding but which certainly will arise in the context of foreclosure. [Note 4] See G.L. c. 244, § 14; US. Bank N. A. v. Ibanez, 17 LCR 202 (2009), 17 LCR 679 (2009). But a plaintiff need not be the current holder of the note or the mortgage to have standing in a Servicemember's case. It is sufficient if the plaintiff satisfies the general requirements of standing.
"Whether a party has a sufficient stake in an otherwise justiciable controversy to obtain judicial resolution of that controversy is what has traditionally been referred to as the question of standing to sue." Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727, 731-32 (1972). "To have standing in any capacity, a litigant must show that the challenged action has caused the litigant injury." Sullivan, 448 Mass. at 21 (internal citations and quotations omitted). "Injuries that are speculative, remote and indirect are insufficient to confer standing. Not every person whose interests might conceivably be adversely affected is entitled to judicial review. The complained-of injury must be a direct and ascertainable consequence of the challenged action." Id. "In addition, for the plaintiff to have standing, the injury alleged must fall within the area of concern of the statute or regulatory scheme under which the injurious action has occurred." [Note 5] Id. at 21-22 (internal citations and quotations omitted). Where, as here, a declaration is sought, the controversy must be "real, not hypothetical" since "the declaration issued is intended to have an immediate impact on the rights of the parties." Mass. Assoc. of Ind. Ins. Agents and Brokers, Inc. v. Commr. Of Ins., 373 Mass. 290 , 292 (1977).
While HSBC may or may not be the current holder of Ms. Matt's note and mortgage (a requirement - at least with respect to the mortgage -to commence G.L. c. 244, s. 14 foreclosure proceedings, see Ibanez, supra), the record clearly shows that HSBC has a contractual right to become that holder, conferred by the ACE Securities Corp. Home Equity Loan Trust, Series 2005-HE4 Asset Backed Pass-Through Certificates Pooling and Servicing Agreement (Jun. 1, 2005). See Section 2.01 (Conveyance of the Mortgage Loans to Ace Securities Corp. Home Equity Loan Trust, Series 2005-HE4) and the associated loan schedules (which include the Matt loan and mortgage). In the absence of a showing that HSBC no longer has that right (e.g. that the right has been abandoned or lost in the bankruptcy proceedings, or assigned to another entity), this is sufficient to give it standing to bring a Servicemember's case since whether or not Ms. Matt is entitled to the benefits of the Act affects the present collectibility of that loan (or, more precisely, the ability to conduct a foreclosure sale of the collateral securing it) and thus the present value of the loan. Any lessening of that value directly affects HSBC's rights. This is both a "legally cognizable injury" to HSBC and one with "immediate impact" on HSBC's rights, sufficient to grant it standing.
For the foregoing reasons, the defendant's motion to dismiss the plaintiff's Servicemember's complaint for lack of standing is DENIED. Since Ms. Matt concedes that she is not entitled to the benefits of the Act, such a judgment shall enter.
[Note 1] The Act "contains special rules regarding debts secured by a mortgage, trust deed, or similar security interest in real or personal property owned by a servicemember. Generally, the act prohibits the sale, foreclosure, or seizure of property, based on a breach of such a secured obligation, during the period of military service or within 90 days thereafter. The prohibition applies only to obligations that originated prior to the servicemember's military service, and for which the servicemember is still obligated." Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Administrator of National Banks, Advisory Letter No. AL 2004-8 Re: Servicemembers Civil Relief Act at 2 (2004).
[Note 2] See n. 1.
[Note 3] Standing is a matter of subject matter jurisdiction. If the plaintiff does not have standing, the court has no jurisdiction to hear the dispute. Sullivan v. Chief Justice for Admin. and Mgmt. of the Trial Court, 448 Mass. 15 , 21 (2006).
[Note 4] The record contains a document entitled "assignment of mortgage," recorded at the Norfolk County Registry of Deeds at Book 25302, Page 102 (Nov. 16, 2007), which purports to be an assignment of Ms. Matt's "mortgage and the note and claim secured thereby" from New Century Mortgage Corportation to HSBC. This "assignment," however, is dated November 6, 2007, at a time when New Century was in bankruptcy (it filed on April 2, 2007), and there is nothing in the record to indicate what authority, if any, the bankruptcy court granted either New Century or its purported agent, Kimberly Dawson, to make such an assignment. There is also nothing in the record to indicate that Ms. Dawson either (a) held the office at New Century she purported to hold, or (b) even if she held such an office, that she had New Century's authority to assign its assets to third parties.
[Note 5] This is sometimes phrased as the requirement for "a legally cognizable injury." Mass. Assoc. of Ind. Ins. Agents and Brokers, Inc. v. Commr. of Ins., 373 Mass. 290 , 293 (1977).