On October 5, the Utah Supreme Court revisited a 2013 decision in which it held that federal law does not preempt Utah state law that limits the ability of national banks to foreclose on real property in the state. In a unanimous opinion, the court wrote that it was overruling its “clearly erroneous” decision in a case stemming from a borrower’s challenge to the validity of a nonjudicial foreclosure sale of her Utah home by a Texas-based national bank. According to the opinion, the borrower argued that the sale of her home at auction was invalid because Utah state law “does not permit a bank to act as a trustee on a trust need.” Fannie Mae, which won the auction, secured an eviction order and argued that under the National Bank Act (NBA), the bank had the authority to conduct the sale. The court, however, reversed the eviction order after deciding that the bank did not have the authority under Utah law to act as a trustee under a deed of trust.
In overruling its 2013 decision, the court held that whether a national bank has the authority to act as a trustee to foreclose on property in Utah depends on the OCC’s regulation implementing the NBA, not on Utah state law. According to the OCC’s interpretation of Section 92a of the NBA, a bank is located in the state where it “accepts the fiduciary appointment, executes the documents that create the fiduciary relationship, and makes discretionary decisions regarding the investment or distribution of fiduciary assets.” Previously, the court had found this interpretation to be unreasonable and not entitled to Chevron deference. However, when reconsidering the issue, the court determined that the OCC had the authority to implement the NBA and that the agency’s interpretation of the word “located” was reasonable. “Whatever located means, Congress has instructed that a state has to permit a national bank to act as a fiduciary if institutions that compete with the national bank in the state where it is located can act as a fiduciary,” the court wrote. “This expresses a federal intent to clomp into an area of traditional state concern.” The question, however, remained whether the bank performed its actions in a fiduciary capacity in Texas—a point on which the two parties to the litigation disagreed. “Because the district court has not had the opportunity to address this issue and because of the potential need for factual findings, we remand for the district court to consider this argument,” the opinion stated.