Recent Court Decision Impacts Mortgage Release Distribution Requirement and Statutory Interpretation Process

In 2011, 33 M.R.S. § 551 was amended to require that mortgagees mail the recorded mortgage release to the mortgagor within 30 days of receipt from the registry of deeds. Many mortgagees assumed that mailing a copy of the recorded release was sufficient. In Sabina v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., 2016 ME 141, the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine held that the statute requires that a mortgagee mail the actual recorded release document received from the registry to the mortgagor, not a copy.

Failure to comply with this statute exposes mortgagees to a claim for $500.00 in damages, plus the claimant’s attorney’s fees and costs. To avoid this potential liability, all mortgagees should immediately review their procedures to ensure that they are sending the actual recorded release returned by the registry to the mortgagors, not a copy.

This opinion is also of interest to anyone required to comply with statutory requirements. The opinion in this case could be interpreted to mean that the use of unambiguous language in a statute is always intentional by the Legislature, and therefore the unambiguous meaning of that language must always be applied, regardless of whether or not the result appears to be illogical or absurd. Because the majority position is unclear as to the applicability of this analysis, the safest strategy for anyone that is responsible for ensuring statutory compliance is to follow the unambiguous meaning of unambiguous language in a statute at all times, unless the costs of doing so are greater than the risk of adverse litigation.

The real estate attorneys at Gosselin & Dubord, P.A. are experienced practitioners whose clients include credit unions, banks, finance companies, buyers and sellers from all over the country. If you have any questions regarding real estate transactions or need representation in connection with any real estate matter in Maine, please contact Gosselin & Dubord, P.A. at 207-783-5261 or jjandreau@gosselindubord.com.