On May 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit granted two petitions seeking interlocutory appeal of key questions related to pending mortgage backed securities (MBS) cases. Retirement Board of the Policemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund of the City of Chicago v. The Bank of New York Mellon, Nos. 13-00661, 00664 (2nd Cir. May 7, 2013). Taking the two appeals in tandem, the court will address (i) a group of pension funds’ question of whether a named plaintiff purchasing a certificate issued by one MBS trust has standing to represent a class which includes purchasers of certificates issued by trusts from which that plaintiff did not purchase, where the action is against a common trustee and involves repurchase rights for purportedly defective loans issued by a common originator, and (ii) an MBS trustee’s question as to whether certificates evidencing beneficial ownership interests in trusts holding multiple mortgage loans are subject to the Trust Indenture Act.
This week, two New York trial court justices issued diverging opinions on when the statute of limitations begins to run on claims related to the repurchase obligations of securitizers under certain MBS pooling and servicing agreements. Both courts explained that under New York law a cause of action for a breach of contract accrues at the time of the breach, and that the statute of limitations for breach of contract is six years. But the courts diverged on the question of whether the clock for claims related to repurchase obligations begins to run from the date the representations for the allegedly faulty mortgages are made, or when the securitizer fails to meet its obligations to repurchase such loans. In one case, the court held that the clock on claims by trustees that the securitizer breached its contract by failing to repurchase began to run on the date the representations were made, i.e. the date the pooling and servicing agreement closed, and dismissed the trustee’s suit because it was filed more than six years after the closing date. Nomura Asset Acceptance Corp. Alt. Loan Trust, Series 2005-S4 v. Nomura Credit & Capital Inc., No. 653541/2011, slip op. (N.Y. Sup. Ct. May 10, 2013). In a second case, the court held the opposite: the statute of limitations did not begin to run until the securitizers improperly rejected the trustee’s repurchase demand, i.e. the breach is the failure to comply, not the date of the representation. Ace Securities Corp, Home Equity Loan Trust Series 2006-SL2 v. DB Structured Prods., Inc., No. 650980/2012, 2013 WL 1981345 (N.Y. Sup. Court, May 13, 2013). Based on that holding, the court found the complaint timely filed and denied the securitizer’s motion to dismiss.
On April 30, the FHFA published a progress report on the current design principles and functions on the common securitization platform for residential mortgage-backed securities that it is building. The report explains that Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the FHFA are working to (i) establish an initial ownership and governance structure, (ii) design dedicated resources and establish an independent location site for the platform team, (iii) develop the design, scope and functional requirements for the platform’s modules and develop the initial business operational process model, (iv) develop a multi-year plan for building, testing and deployment of the system, and (v) develop and begin testing the platform. The report also reviews the status of the alignment of Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s securitization contracts and standards, including ongoing efforts to align (i) solicitation of borrower refinances of loans in a pool, (ii) repurchases and substitutions of loans from a pool, (iii) representations and warranties, and (iv) pooling practices. According to the report, the FHFA also will continue to (i) identify and develop standards in data, disclosure and seller/servicer contracts, (ii) develop and execute work plans for alignment activities with regard to common standards and creation of legal/contractual documents to facilitate varied credit risk transfer transactions, and (iii) engage with the public in a variety of forums to seek feedback and incorporate revisions and support FHFA progress reports to the public. The report also discusses efforts to respond to concerns about non-guaranteed residential mortgage-backed securities.
On April 9, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California dismissed claims brought by the FDIC as receiver for a failed bank against a financial institution related to 10 MBS certificates sold to the bank, holding that the FDIC’s claims were time-barred. Fed. Deposit Ins. Corp. v. Countrywide Secs. Corp., No. 12-6911, slip op. (C.D. Cal. Apr. 9, 2013). The court found that “a reasonably diligent plaintiff had enough information about false statements in the Offering Documents of [the firm’s] securities to file a well-pled complaint before” the statute of limitations expired on August 14, 2008. The court noted that deviations from stated underwriting guidelines and inflated appraisals had come to light prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations through “multiple lawsuits” and “numerous media sources.” The court found that it was irrelevant that the FDIC was named receiver for the bank because “[t]he FDIC [did] not have the power to revive expired claims.” Similarly, on April 8, the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas granted, in part, a motion to dismiss federal and state claims brought by the NCUA on behalf of three failed credit unions against a financial institution related to certain MBS certificates sold to the credit unions, holding that certain NCUA claims were time-barred. Nat’l Credit Union Admin. Bd. v. Credit Suisse Secs. (USA) LLC, No. 12 Civ. 2648, 2013 WL 1411769 (D. Kan. Apr. 8, 2013). The court found that the applicable federal and state law statutes of limitations required claims to be filed within one or two years of discovery of the alleged misstatement or omission, and within three or five years of sale or violation, respectively. The judge dismissed the federal and state claims for 12 of the MBS certificates as untimely, but preserved federal claims as to eight certificates, determining that the statutes of limitations were tolled on those claims. In addition, the court found that (i) venue was proper because defendant engaged in activity that would constitute the transaction of business in the district for purposes of the applicable venue statute and (ii) plaintiff set forth plausible claims for relief.
On April 5, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed a district court’s partial denial of a financial institution’s motion to dismiss on standing and timeliness grounds a suit brought by the FHFA. Fed. Hous. Fin. Agency v. UBS Americas, Inc., No. 12-3207, 2013 WL 1352457 (2d Cir. Apr. 5, 2013) The FHFA brought multiple suits against numerous institutions alleging that the offering documents provided to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in connection with the sale of $6.4 billion in residential MBS included materially false statements or omitted material information, resulting in massive losses. The institutions moved to dismiss, contending that (i) the securities claims were time-barred, (ii) FHFA had no standing to pursue the action, and (iii) a negligent misrepresentation claim failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The district court denied the motion to dismiss with respect to the statutory claims and granted it only with respect to the negligent misrepresentation claim. On appeal, the Second Circuit held that the action, filed within three years after the FHFA was appointed conservator of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, was timely under the relevant sections of Housing and Economic Recovery Act, and that the FHFA has standing to bring the action. The decision, on interlocutory appeal from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, holds implications for more than a dozen other similar actions the FHFA has filed.
On April 2, the NCUA announced that a financial institution agreed to settle allegations related to mortgage-backed securities issued to certain corporate credit unions. The NCUA has alleged on behalf of failed corporate credit unions that certain MBS issuers made numerous misrepresentations and omissions in MBS offering documents regarding adherence to the originators’ underwriting guidelines, which supposedly concealed the true risk associated with the securities and routinely overvalued them. When the allegedly risky securities lost value, the NCUA claims, the credit unions were forced into conservatorship and liquidated as a result of the losses sustained. In this settlement, the institution did not admit fault but agreed to pay $165 million to avoid threatened litigation. The settlement adds to the $170.75 million the NCUA already has obtained from four other institutions, and the agency continues to pursue additional institutions in 10 pending lawsuits.
New York Appellate Division Holds Bond Insurer Can Pursue Repurchase Obligations on Performing Loans
On April 2, the Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, held that loans underlying mortgage-backed securities need not be in default to trigger the lender’s repurchase obligations. MBIA Ins. Corp. v. Countrywide Home Loans Inc., No. 602825/2008, 2013 WL 1296525 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. App. Div. Apr. 2, 2013). The trial court granted partial summary judgment in favor of a bond insurer who alleges that a lender (i) fraudulently induced the insurer to insure securitized loans and (ii) breached representations and warranties in the transaction documents. On appeal, the court held that the contract at issue does not require a loan to be in default to trigger the defendant’s repurchase obligation. The court found that the relevant clause requires only that the inaccuracy underlying the repurchase request materially and adversely affect the interest of the insurer. If the insurer can prove that a loan which continues to perform materially and adversely affected its interests, it is entitled to have the lender repurchase the loan. The Appellate Division also (i) affirmed the trial court’s holding that causation is not required under New York insurance law to prevail on a fraud and breach of contract claim, and (ii) determined that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on the issue of rescissory damages, holding instead that rescission is not warranted in this case.
On March 18, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition seeking review of a Second Circuit decision that reinstated a class action against an underwriter and an issuer of mortgage-backed securities. Goldman Sachs & Co. v. NECA-IBEW, No. 12-528, 2013 WL 1091772 (2013). An institutional purchaser of certain MBS filed suit on behalf of a putative class alleging that the offering documents contained material misstatements regarding the mortgage loan originators’ underwriting guidelines, the property appraisals of the loans, and the risks associated with the certificates. After the district court dismissed the case, the Second Circuit reinstated and held that the plaintiff had standing to assert the claims of the class, even when the securities were purchased from different trusts, because the named plaintiff raised a “sufficiently similar set of concerns” to allow it to seek to represent proposed class members who purchased securities backed by loans made by common originators. With regard to the plaintiff’s ability to plead a cognizable injury, the court reasoned that while it may be difficult to value illiquid assets, “the value of a security is not unascertainable simply because it trades in an illiquid market.”
On March 1, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that an investor plaintiff may be able to assert claims on behalf of a class for securities in which it had not invested, and additionally found that the investor had alleged sufficient facts of abandoned mortgage underwriting standards to survive defendants’ motion to dismiss. N.J. Carpenters Health Fund v. The Royal Bank of Scot. Grp., PLC, No. 12-1701, 2013 WL 765178 (2d Cir. Mar. 1, 2013). An investor claimed on behalf of a putative class that the offering documents for six mortgage-backed securities (MBS) materially misrepresented the standards used to underwrite the loans. The district court initially dismissed the case as to five of the trusts, holding that the investor could not bring claims on securities in which it had not invested. The investor amended its complaint and focused on the one trust in which it had invested. The district court then held that the allegations were not specific enough to the loans at issue, and that the risks were sufficiently disclosed and known at the time of the transaction. After the district court’s rulings, the Second Circuit held in another case, NECA-IBEW Health & Welfare Fund v. Goldman Sachs & Co., 693 F.3d 145 (2d Cir. 2012), that where an issuer had issued multiple securities under the same shelf registration statement, an investor who invested in at least some of those securities could, on behalf of a putative class, bring claims on securities in which it had not invested so long as all of the relevant claims involved “the same set of concerns.” On appeal in the instant case, the Second Circuit held that in light of its decision in NECA-IBEW, the investor had standing to bring its claims as to all six of the original MBS. The court also held that the “allegations in the complaint-principally, that a disproportionately high number of the mortgages in a security defaulted, that rating agencies downgraded the security’s ratings after changing their methodologies to account for lax underwriting, and that prior employees of the relevant underwriter had attested to systematic disregard of underwriting standards-state a plausible claim that the offering documents” violated the 1933 Securities Act. The court remanded the case for further proceedings.
On January 23, the FHFA settled and voluntarily dismissed one of the lawsuits it initiated in 2011 as conservator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, alleging against many parties that billions of dollars of MBS purchased by the GSEs were based on offering documents that contained materially false statements and omissions. FHFA v. Gen. Elec. Co., No. 11-7048, Notice of Dismissal (Jan. 23, 2013). This is the first settlement to be announced in connection with this series of cases; the lead case currently is on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Although the FHFA did not release any details related to the settlement, in reports the FHFA’s general counsel described the resolution as “consistent with FHFA’s responsibilities as conservator.”
On January 4, the NCUA announced another major mortgage-backed securities lawsuit. Similar to prior suits, the NCUA alleges on behalf of three insolvent corporate credit unions that a mortgage securitizer violated federal and state securities laws in the sale of $2.2 billion in mortgage-backed securities to the credit unions. In this case, the NCUA is suing a securities firm for alleged wrongdoing by companies the defendant later acquired. The NCUA complaint alleges the acquired firms made numerous misrepresentations and omissions of material facts in the offering of the securities sold to the failed corporate credit unions, and that underwriting guidelines in the offering documents were “systematically abandoned.” The NCUA argues that these actions caused the credit unions to believe the risk of loss was low, when, in fact, the opposite was true. When the securities lost value, the NCUA claims, the credit unions were harmed and forced into insolvency.
On December 3, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of claims brought by Ohio public employee pension funds against major credit-rating agencies related to the sale of mortgage-backed securities. Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund v. Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC, No. 11-4203, 2012 WL 5990337 (6th Cir. Dec. 3, 2012). The pension funds claim to have suffered estimated losses of $457 million from investments in MBS made between 2005 and 2008 allegedly caused by their reasonable reliance on the agencies’ false and misleading MBS ratings. The court affirmed the district court’s dismissal and held that the funds’ allegations lacked the requisite specificity to establish either a violation of Ohio’s “blue sky” laws or common-law negligent misrepresentation. Because the agencies’ fees were fixed rather than contingent on the success or proceeds of the sale, the court held that the agencies did not profit from the sale of MBS under the plain language of the statute. The court also rejected the claim that the Agencies either aided or participated in securities fraud because (i) the pension funds offered no facts from which it was possible to conclude that an entity other than the Agencies engaged in securities fraud, and (ii) the pension funds did not adequately plead that the Agencies themselves made affirmative misrepresentations as to the MBS. In addition, the court affirmed the dismissal of the funds’ common-law negligent misrepresentation claims, determining that under both New York and Ohio law the agencies did not have a relationship with the funds that would establish a duty of care. Finally, the court found that the agencies’ MBS ratings were predictive opinions rather than affirmative false statements, and that the funds failed to adequately allege, beyond general criticism of their business practices, that the agencies did not believe the correctness of their ratings.
ACLU Fair Lending Case Against Mortgage Securitizer Highlights New Fair Lending Litigation Risk; Fair Lending Litigation Against Lenders Continues
On October 15, the ACLU filed a putative class action suit on behalf of a group of private citizens against a financial institution alleged to have financed and purchased subprime mortgage loans to be included in mortgage backed securities. The complaint alleges that the institution implemented policies and procedures that supported the market for subprime loans in the Detroit area so that it could purchase, pool, and securitize those loans. The plaintiffs claim those policies violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) because they disproportionately impacted minority borrowers who were more likely to receive subprime loans, putting those borrowers at higher risk of default and foreclosure. The suit seeks injunctive relief, including a court appointed monitor to ensure compliance with any court order or decree, as well as unspecified monetary damages. The National Consumer Law Center, which developed the case with the ACLU, reportedly is investigating similar activity by other mortgage securitizers, suggesting additional suits could be filed. The ACLU also released a report on the fair lending aspects of mortgage securitization and called for, among other things, DOJ and HUD to expand their Fair Housing Testing Program, and for Congress to increase penalties for FHA and ECOA violations and provide additional funding for DOJ/HUD fair lending enforcement. Read more…
On October 24, Nevada Attorney General (AG) Catherine Cortez Masto announced the resolution of an investigation into a financial institution’s purchasing and securitization of subprime and payment option adjustable rate mortgages. The Nevada AG’s investigation concerned potential misrepresentations by lenders with regard to loans with such terms as adjustable rates, stated income, 100 percent financed, extended amortization periods, prepayment penalties, and/or initial teaser rate. The Nevada AG was examining whether the securitizer knowingly purchased such loans and substantially assisted the lenders by financing and purchasing their potentially deceptive loans. To resolve the investigation, the securitizer agreed to pay $42 million and to abstain from financing, purchasing, or securitizing Nevada subprime mortgage loans in the future unless it has engaged in a “reasonable review” of such loans and determined that the loans comply with the Nevada Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
On October 4, the FHFA released a white paper describing the framework for a new mortgage securitization platform and a model Pooling and Servicing Agreement. The proposed changes are part of a larger program to align and improve Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s (the Enterprises) business practices. Consistent with that program, the new platform would replace the proprietary structures used by the Enterprises with a more efficient common platform. Additionally, it would include certain enhancements and new capabilities. The proposed securitization platform would (i) facilitate broader sharing of credit risk, (ii) perform services related to the issuance and administration of mortgage-backed securities, (iii) be adaptable to policy changes and emerging technologies, and (iv) have an open architecture to drive interoperability. The model Pooling and Servicing Agreement would leverage the existing structures used by the Enterprises and, in doing so, would establish basic contractual requirements for pooling and selling and for the MBS/PC Trust. The FHFA seeks industry comment on the proposed framework, including responses to specific questions posed in the white paper. Comments must be submitted by December 3, 2012 and will be posted for public review.