On January 2, the FHFA announced that it has obtained nearly $8 billion in connection with its RMBS litigation initiative. In 2011, the FHFA filed lawsuits against 18 financial institutions involving allegations of securities law violations and, in some instances, fraud in the sale of private label securities to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The total recovered to date includes a recently announced $1.9 billion settlement, the FHFA’s sixth RMBS settlement thus far.
On February 10, Better Markets, a public interest non-profit organization, announced the filing of a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia challenging a November 2012 settlement obtained by the DOJ and several state attorneys general, which resolved allegations that a large bank and certain institutions it acquired misled investors in connection with the packaging, marketing, sale, and issuance of certain RMBS. The suit claims, in short, that by resolving the allegations through a civil settlement without seeking any judicial review and approval, the DOJ violated the Constitution’s separation of powers doctrine. In addition, the suit claims, the DOJ’s failure to commence a civil action (i) violated the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989, and (ii) constituted an arbitrary and capricious action in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act. The complaint asks the court to declare the agreement unlawful and invalid and to issue an injunction that would prevent the DOJ from enforcing the agreement until the agreement is reviewed and approved by a court.
On December 30, Massachusetts Attorney General (AG) Martha Coakley announced the state’s sixth settlement related to allegedly unlawful RMBS practices, which resulted from the AG’s ongoing review of subprime mortgage securitization practices in Massachusetts. The most recent agreement requires an underwriting firm to pay a total of $17.3 million, which includes $11.3 million to be dedicated to compensate government entities that had invested with the Massachusetts Pension Reserve Investment Management Board and $6 million to be paid to the state.
On December 18, New Jersey’s Acting Attorney General John Hoffman announced a lawsuit against a mortgage securitizer and related firms for allegedly violating state securities law by making fraudulent misrepresentations and omissions to promote the sale of RMBS to private investors. Specifically, the suit alleges that the firms misrepresented in the offering documents that mortgages underlying certain securities offered over a 12-month period in 2006-7: (i) were in substantial compliance with the underwriting standards of the originators of the loans; (ii) were originated “in accordance with accepted practices and prudent guidelines;” and (iii) did not have a negative equity. The suit alleges that the firms’ traders warned about the high risks of certain types of loans being securitized. The state claims that after the securities were issued, delinquency rates in the underlying pools increased substantially, and resulted in significantly reduced distributions to investors and write downs in the principal of underlying loans. The New Jersey AG is at least the second state attorney general to file such a suit as part of the federal-state RMBS)Working Group. New York Attorney General Schneiderman filed similar suits under New York law last year.
New York Appellate Court Resolves Trial Court Split Over Statute Of Limitations For Repurchase Suits
On December 19, the Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, held that the statute of limitations on claims related to mortgage repurchase obligations begins to run as of the date of closing of the loan purchase agreement. Ace Securities Corp v. DB Structured Prods., Inc., No. 650980/12, 2013 WL 6670379 (N.Y. App. Div. Dec. 19, 2013). The decision resolves a split at the trial court level that resulted from diverging opinions issued earlier this year, in which one court held that the clock on claims by trustees that a 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), while another court held that the statute 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. On appeal of the latter holding, the court rejected the trustee’s and investors’ argument that the statute does not begin to run until the lender refused to cure or repurchase the defective loans, and held that the claims accrued on the closing date of the pooling and servicing agreement, at which time any alleged breach of the representations and warranties contained therein occurred.
On December 10, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York held that the SEC’s promulgation of Rule 430B in 2005—which, among other things, broadened the category of disclosures that can be made in prospectus supplements rather than post-effective amendments to registration statements—did not alter the “liability date” for Section 11 liability for individuals who sign registration statements in the context of the shelf registration process. Fed.Hous. Fin. Agency v. HSBC N. Am. Holdings Inc., No. 1:11-cv-06201 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 10, 2013). The ruling comes in the consolidated federal cases brought by the FHFA alleging numerous institutions misled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in connection with the packaging, marketing, sale and issuance of certain RMBS. The FHFA suits also named numerous individuals as a “control person[s]” under Section 15 of the Securities Act of 1933, or as directors or signing officers under Section 11 of the Securities Act. In response to a motion filed by more than 90 directors who signed the original registration statements but not the subsequent prospectus supplements, the court explained that Rule 430B deems newly disclosed information to be included in the registration statement, and Section 11 creates liability for signers whenever “any part of the registration statement, when such part became effective, contained an untrue statement of material fact or [omission].” The court interpreted the rule to mean that a prospectus supplement containing information representing a fundamental change in the information provided in the registration statement creates Section 11 liability for directors based on that new information. The court held that, as such, where there is a fundamental change in the information provided to the marketplace through the filing of a prospectus supplement, the new trigger dates for Section 11 liability will apply to those persons.
On November 19, the DOJ, other federal authorities, and state authorities in California, Delaware, Illinois, and Massachusetts, announced a $13 billion settlement of federal and state RMBS civil claims, which were being pursued as part of the state-federal RMBS Working Group, part of the Obama Administration’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. The DOJ described the settlement as the largest it has ever entered with a single entity. Federal and state law enforcement authorities and financial regulators alleged that the bank and certain institutions it acquired mislead investors in connection with the packaging, marketing, sale and issuance of certain RMBS. They claimed the institutions’ employees knew that loans backing certain RMBS did not comply with underwriting guidelines and were not otherwise appropriate for securitization, yet allowed the loans to be securitized and sold without disclosing the alleged underwriting failures to investors.The agreement includes $9 billion in civil penalties and $4 billion in consumer relief. Of the civil penalty amount, $2 billion resolves DOJ’s claims under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act (FIRREA), $1.4 billion resolves federal and state securities claims by the NCUA, $515.4 million resolves federal and state securities claims by the FDIC, $4 billion settles federal and state claims by the FHFA, while the remaining amount resolves claims brought by California ($298.9 million), Delaware ($19.7 million) Illinois ($100.0 million), Massachusetts ($34.4 million), and New York ($613.0 million). The bank also was required to acknowledge it made “serious misrepresentations.” The agreement does not prevent authorities from continuing to pursue any possible related criminal charges.
Florida Appeals Court Affirms Dismissal Of State Qui Tam FCA Lawsuit Alleging Failure To Pay Stamp Tax Upon Assignment
On November 21, the Florida First District Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a qui tam false claims act lawsuit against a lender, securitization trust, and MERS for the recovery of allegedly unpaid documentary stamp taxes associated with certain assignments of mortgage notes. Stevens v. State of Florida, No. 1D13-1206, 2013 WL 6097312 (Fl. Ct. App. Nov. 20, 2013). Appellants, two Florida residents, sought to recover the alleged unpaid taxes on behalf of the State of Florida as relators under the Florida False Claims Act (FFCA), as well as a cut of the recovered proceeds. But the First District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s determination that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction under the FFCA to address Appellants’ claims. Specifically, the First District found that Florida’s Tax Act—not the FFCA—governed private actions like Appellants’ where a plaintiff sought recovery for a failure to pay taxes. Analyzing the Tax Act and FFCA under well-settled principles of statutory construction, including that specific statutes trump general statutes and that legislatures are presumed to be aware of existing laws when they pass new ones, the court of appeals determined that the Tax Act, which vests the Florida Department of Revenue with the power to compensate tax whistleblowers, precluded Appellants’ FFCA claim. BuckleySandler attorneys Matthew Previn, Andrew Louis, and Bradley Marcus represented the lender, GE Money Bank, which is now known as GE Capital Retail Bank, in the successful lower court action and subsequent successful appeal.
On November 11, a U.S. Magistrate Judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut recommended that the District Court grant the U.S. Attorney’s motion, filed on behalf of the federal-state RMBS Working Group, to enforce a subpoena seeking information and documents from a firm that performed due-diligence work on mortgage loans and loan pools for numerous financial institutions. U.S. v. Clayton Holdings, No. 3:13mc116 (D. Conn. Nov. 11, 2013). In its opposition, the diligence firm objected to the subpoena as a “fishing expedition” that would require it to produce information for all 193 of its clients, even after it has cooperated as a third-party witness in connection with 16 companies the Working Group has identified as subjects of its RMBS investigations. Generally, the magistrate determined that the government’s request was not overly broad and burdensome, and recommended that the court order the firm to produce, for the period 2005 through 2007, (i) its entire database and all data used, maintained, or accessed in connection with due diligence services on mortgage loans and mortgage loan pools, and (ii) all communications, including e-mails, instant messages, or Bloomberg messages, concerning the provision of due diligence services on mortgage loans and mortgage loan pools. The recommended ruling does restrict the response to information and documents related to work performed for specific financial institution clients. The parties have until November 25 to object to the recommendation.
On October 25, the FHFA announced that a large bank agreed to pay $4 billion to avoid further litigation over allegations that the offering documents it provided to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in connection with the sale of billions of dollars in RMBS included materially false statements or material omissions, resulting in massive losses to the enterprises. The FHFA has now resolved four of the 18 RMBS suits it filed in 2011. The FHFA announcement also noted that the bank had reached separate settlements with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac totaling $1.1 billion to resolve disputes over representation and warranties in whole loans purchased by those entities.
On October 17, Nevada Attorney General (AG) Catherine Cortez Masto announced that she had finalized an agreement with a financial institution that requires the financial institution to pay $11.5 million, without admitting fault, to resolve the AG’s investigation into the financial institution’s role in purchasing and securitization of subprime, Alt-A, and payment option adjustable rate mortgages. The investigation focused on whether certain lenders had deceived borrowers about the actual interest rate and payments on their loans, and had originated loans with multiple risk features that led to approval of loans without proper consideration of the borrowers’ ability to repay. The investigation also examined the extent to which the financial institution was aware of the lenders’ allegedly deceptive practices when it bought the loans, and whether the financial institution facilitated these lending practices by financing and purchasing such loans. In addition to the monetary penalty, the agreement stipulates that the financial institution will: (i) only finance, purchase, or securitize subprime mortgage loans in Nevada if it has engaged in a review of such loans and determined that the loans comply with the Nevada Deceptive Trade Practices Act and (ii) not securitize loans where upon review it has reason to believe that the lender has not adequately disclosed to the borrowers the existence of an initial teaser rate, the potential for negative amortization on a loan, the maximum adjusted interest rate or payments, and the potential for payment shock if payments increase after a loan reset or recast.
On October 7, the FHFA announced steps to formally establish the common securitization platform for mortgages sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The FHFA stated that it has filed a Certificate of Formation with the Delaware Secretary of State to establish Common Securitization Solutions, LLC (CSS)—a limited liability company and equally-owned subsidiary of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The company will be based in Bethesda, MD, and the search for its CEO and Chairman has been initiated.
On September 23, the NCUA announced that it filed separate lawsuits against nine financial institutions on behalf of five insolvent credit unions for alleged violations of federal and state securities laws in the sale of $2.4 billion in mortgage-backed securities. The complaints, which the NCUA filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas, claim that the securitizer made numerous misrepresentations and omissions in the offering documents regarding adherence to the originators’ underwriting guidelines, which concealed the true risk associated with the securities and routinely overvalued them. The NCUA claims that when the allegedly risky securities lost value, the credit unions were forced into conservatorship and liquidated as a result of the losses sustained. The NCUA has filed numerous similar suits, and it has previously settled similar claims for more than $335 million with four financial institutions.
On September 24, a firm that handles due-diligence matters for financial institutions filed its opposition to a motion filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut, on behalf of the federal-state RMBS Working Group, to compel production of documents and information the group sought in a July subpoena. In its brief, the firm reviews its cooperation to respond to “six years of subpoenas, investigatory demands, and formal and informal requests for information,” and summarizes the volume and types of information it has provided to the DOJ and the Working Group to date as a third-party witness in connection with the 16 companies the Working Group has identified as subjects of its RMBS investigations. The firm notes the “substantial expense” it has incurred “to educate an ever-growing, and often-changing, number government attorneys and investigators.” The firm argues that the Working Group’s most recent subpoena, which seeks “every document and communication for all 193 clients and for almost 5,000 e-mail custodians,” constitutes a “fishing expedition” and violates the firm’s rights under the Fourth Amendment.
On September 9, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (AG) announced the state’s fourth mortgage-securitization related enforcement action. The AG alleged that during 2006 and 2007 a U.K. bank financed, purchased, and securitized residential loans that were presumptively unfair under Massachusetts law. Under an Assurance of Discontinuance, the bank, without admitting the allegations, agreed to pay $36 million to resolve the state’s claims. Under the terms of the agreement over $25 million will be dedicated to principal reduction and related relief for more than 450 subprime borrowers, while approximately $2 million will compensate municipalities that claim to be impacted by foreclosures resulting from the allegedly faulty loans.