The Maine legislature has made a number of changes to Maine law in response to constituent’s complaints about unresponsive creditors who fail to terminate their liens timely. Maine law has for some time required that a mortgage holder must discharge a mortgage within 60 days after “full performance of the conditions of the mortgage.” 33 MRSA § 551. A mortgage holder that fails to do so is subject to specified monetary damages. Section 551 was further tightened in 2011, when the legislature added a requirement that the mortgage holder mail the original registry-stamped discharge to the mortgagee by first class U.S. mail within 30 days after the mortgagor’s receipt.

A recent Law Court case reaffirmed this requirement, and found that a photocopy of the discharge was not sufficient. In Sabina v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., 2016 ME 141, the Law Court reviewed an appeal from the decision of the Business and Consumer Court, which had held that the bank’s use of a copy of the discharge was sufficient and dismissed the customer’s claim. In a split decision, the Law Court found that the statutory requirement was “not ambiguous” and vacated the lower court’s dismissal of the customer’s claim.

Maine mortgage holders have for some time been subject to penalties for failing to discharge a mortgage timely, and for the last several years have also been subject to penalties for failure to send an original of the discharge timely. This case is a reminder of those very strict statutory requirements.