Michigan Courts Increase Requirements of Proof of Assignment in Debt Buyer Cases

August 02, 2011      |      Jeffrey K. Bearss, Esq.   

On May 31, 2011 the Michigan Court of Appeals released a decision that will have immediate impact upon our clients, particularly our debt buyer clients. The case describes the level of proof needed to prove the assignment in debt buyer cases. The case is Brownbark II LP v. Bay Area Floorcovering & Design Inc. et al, Michigan Court of Appeals Case No. 296660, Decided May 31, 2011. Plaintiff debt buyer appealed the trial court’s denial of judgment. The trial court determined that the debt buyer failed to establish both the existence of a valid assignment of the defaulted loan at issue and its damages with reasonable certainty. The Court of Appeals concluded that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to establish a valid assignment of the defaulted loan, and affirmed the dismissal of the case.

This action centers around a small business loan obtained by defendant Bay Area Floorcovering & Design from a bank.  In December 2007, plaintiff Brown Bark II, L.C. purchased a block of loans from the bank, including the loan at issue here.

Plaintiff commenced suit, alleging that it was entitled to recover the money owed on the loan as the assignee of the loan. To prove its assignee status, plaintiff relied on a half-page document, an allonge, which was a general assignment of a block of loans, without any specific reference to any specific account number or specific sum owed. Nor was it signed or notarized.

The Court of Appeals stated that Michigan's statute of frauds still requires that an assignment of debt be in writing and signed with an authorized signature by the party to be charged with the agreement, contract, or promise.[1]

The Michigan Court of Appeals also stated that while the allonge was presented as evidence at trial, it was not attached to the note; nor did plaintiff introduce the agreement referenced in the allonge as evidence, citing privilege as its reason for failing to do so. Because the trial court did not have an opportunity to review the referenced agreement, and consequently could not determine what limitations might exist, the trial court could not conclude that the half-page general assignment constituted documentation of the bank’s intent to transfer all of its rights related to the specific defaulted loan without any power of revocation.  In addition, plaintiff's representative conceded that the person who purportedly signed the allonge on behalf of the bank was actually an employee of the debt buyer’s affiliate.  The appellate court held that the Plaintiff presented no evidence, either of an actual signed power of attorney or testimony by a representative of the bank, to support the assertion that plaintiff’s representative had been authorized to act as an attorney-in-fact on the bank’s behalf. In light of the foregoing facts, the Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the case due to failure to prove the existence of a valid assignment at the trial.

For our debt buyer clients, there is now an increased level of proof of the assignment. The general contract, or batch assignment agreement, is no longer sufficient.   A specific assignment, or affidavit supporting a specific assignment, should be supplied that refers to the specific account number. It should also be signed and notarized by the original creditor. 

[1]MCL 566.132(f).