On June 23, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the long-standing “fraud-on-the-market” theory, on which securities class actions often are based. Halliburton v. Erica P. John Fund Inc., No. 13-317, 2014 WL 2807181 (Jun. 23, 2014). Halliburton petitioned the Court after an appeals court relied on the theory to affirm class certification in a securities suit against the company, even after the appeals court acknowledged that no company misrepresentation affected its stock price. The theory at issue derives from the Court’s holding in Basic Inc. v. Levinson, 485 U.S. 224 (1988) that a putative class of investors should not be required to prove that each individual actually relied in common on a misrepresentation in order to obtain class certification and prevail on the merits. The petitioner argued that empirical evidence no longer supports the economic theory underlying the Court’s holding in Basic allowing putative class members to invoke a classwide presumption of reliance based on the concept that all investors relied on the misrepresentations when they purchased stock at a price distorted by those misrepresentations. The Court declined to upset the precedent set in Basic, holding that the petitioner failed to show a “special justification” for overruling presumption of reliance because petitioner had failed to establish a fundamental shift in economic theory and that Basic’s presumption is not inconsistent with more recent rulings from the Court. The Court also declined to require plaintiffs to prove price impact directly at the class certification stage, but agreed with the petitioner that a defendant may rebut the presumption and prevent class certification by introducing evidence that the alleged misrepresentations did not distort the market price of its stock.
Supreme Court Holds President May Make Recess Appointments During Intra-Session Recesses Of Sufficient Length
On June 26, the Supreme Court rejected the federal government’s challenge to a January 2013 decision by the D.C. Circuit that appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) made by President Obama in January 2012 during a purported Senate recess were unconstitutional. NLRB V. Noel Canning, No. 12-1281, 2014 WL 2882090 (U.S. Jun. 26, 2014). A five-member majority of the Court held that Presidents are permitted to exercise authority under the Recess Appointments Clause to fill a vacancy during both intra-session and inter-session recesses of sufficient length, and that such appointments may fill vacancies that arose prior to or during the recess.
The Court determined that the phrase “recess of the Senate” is ambiguous, and that based on the functional definition derived from the historical practice of past presidents and the Senate, it is meant to cover both types of recesses. Further, the court held that although the Clause does not indicate how long a recess must be before a president may act, historical practice suggests that a recess less than 10 days is presumptively too short. The Court did not foreclose the possibility, however, that appointments during recesses of less than 10 days may be permissible in unusual circumstances. The Court also validated the Senate’s practice of using pro forma sessions to avoid recess appointments, holding the Senate is in session when it says it is, provided it retains capacity to conduct business. Because the Senate was in session during its periodic pro forma sessions, and because the recess appointments at issue were made during a three-day recess between such sessions, the appointments were invalid.
A minority of the Court concurred in the judgment, but endorsed a narrower reading of the President’s authority to make recess appointments and the Senate’s ability to avoid triggering the President’s recess-appointment power. Writing for that minority, Justice Scalia explained that the plain constitutional text limits the President’s recess appointment power to filling vacancies that first arise during the recess. The minority reading of the Clause also limits the President’s recess appointment power to recesses between legislative sessions, and not intra-session ones. CFPB Director Richard Cordray was appointed in the same manner and on the same day as the NLRB members whose appointments were at issue in this case, but was subsequently re-nominated and confirmed for the position. He later ratified CFPB actions taken during the period he served as a recess appointee.
On June 16, the U.S. Supreme Court consolidated and agreed to hear two related cases regarding the Department of Labor’s (DOL) 2010 interpretation of its regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act that mortgage loan officers are not exempt from minimum wage and overtime pay requirements. Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Assoc., No. 13-1041. In July 2013, the D.C. Circuit instructed the district court to vacate the DOL’s 2010 guidance, holding that the guidance significantly revised an earlier contrary agency interpretation of DOL regulations and, as such, required notice and comment rulemaking. The Supreme Court will address the question of “[w]hether a federal agency must engage in notice-and-comment rulemaking before it can significantly alter an interpretive rule that articulates an interpretation of an agency regulation.” The case will be argued and decided during the Court’s next term, which begins in October 2014 and ends June 2015.
On June 16, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated a Tenth Circuit holding that RMBS claims filed by the NCUA were timely and instructed the circuit court to reconsider that holding in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in an environmental case. National Credit Union Admin. Bd. v. Nomura Home Equity Loan, Inc., No. 13-576, 2014 WL 2675836 (U.S. Jun. 16, 2014). On June 9, the Court delivered its opinion in CTS Corp. v. Waldburger, an environmental case that addressed the difference between statutes of limitations and statutes of repose, which are both used to limit the temporal extent or duration of tort liability. In Waldburger, the Supreme Court held that under the environmental statute at issue, Congress intended to preempt state statutes of limitations but not statutes of repose. In light of that decision, the Court asked the Tenth Circuit to reconsider its holding that the federal extender statute supplants all other limitations frameworks, including both the one-year statute of limitations and the three-year statute of repose, included in the limitations provision of the Securities Act of 1933 and the similar state laws at issue in the case.
On April 28, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in Jesinoski v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., No. 13-684, an appeal of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit’s September 2013 holding that a borrower seeking to rescind a loan transaction under TILA must file suit within three years of consummating the loan, and that written notice within the three-year rescission period is insufficient to preserve a borrower’s right of rescission.
TILA Section 1635 grants borrowers the right to rescind a transaction “by notifying the creditor” and provides that a borrower’s “right of rescission shall expire three years after the date of consummation of the transaction” even if the “disclosures required . . . have not been delivered.” In Jesinoski, the Eighth Circuit cited its July 2013 holding in Keiran v. Home Capital, Inc., 720 F.3d 721 (8th Cir. Jul. 12, 2013), in which the court reasoned that the text of the statute, as explicated by the Supreme Court in Beach v. Ocwen Federal Bank, 523 U.S. 410 (1998), established a strict limit on the time for filing suits for rescission. The Eighth Circuit expressly rejected an argument presented in an amicus brief filed by the CFPB that the lender, rather than the obligor, should be required to file suit to prevent rescission. To adopt the CFPB’s position, the court explained, “would create a situation wherein rescission is complete, in effect, simply upon notice from the borrower, whether or not the borrower had a valid basis for such a remedy. Under this scenario, the bank’s security interest would be unilaterally impaired, casting a cloud on the property’s title, an approach envisioned and rejected by Beach.”
In holding in favor of the lender, the Eighth Circuit joined the majority of the circuit courts that have addressed the issue—the First, Sixth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits all previously have held that a borrower must file suit within the three-year rescission period, while the Third, Fourth, and Eleventh Circuits have held that written notice is sufficient to preserve a borrower’s statutory right of rescission. BuckleySandler filed an amicus brief in Keiran on behalf of a group of industry trade groups, as it has done in three other circuit court cases on this issue.
The Supreme Court now may resolve this circuit split. Like the prior circuit court cases, the Supreme Court’s review of the issue likely will draw attention and briefs from lenders, the CFPB, and consumer groups.
On March 31, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition for a writ of certiorari in an Eleventh Circuit case that raises the issue of whether, under section 506(d) of the Bankruptcy Code, a chapter 7 debtor can “strip off” a junior-lien mortgage when the outstanding debt owed to a senior lienholder exceeds the current value of the collateral. Bank of America v. Sinkfield, 13-700, 2014 WL 1271326 (U.S. Mar. 31, 2014). Here, the debtor’s property was subject to two mortgage liens, with the outstanding amount of the first-priority mortgage exceeding the fair market value of the property. In the bankruptcy court, the debtor filed a motion to strip off the junior lien under section 506(d). Controlling Eleventh Circuit precedent allowed the junior-lien mortgage to be stripped off or voided because it was wholly unsupported by the collateral. The parties stipulated to the facts and the applicability of the precedent, but the holder of the junior lien disputed the correctness of the Eleventh Circuit precedent and reserved the right to appeal its continued viability. In its eventual petition to the Supreme Court, the holder of the junior lien argued that the Eleventh Circuit’s precedent is out of step with every other federal appeals court that has addressed the issue. The junior lien holder explained that, relying on a prior Supreme Court holding that section 506(d) does not permit a chapter 7 debtor to “strip down” a mortgage lien to the current value of the collateral, the Fourth, Sixth, and Seventh Circuits held that section 506(d) similarly does not permit a “strip off.” The Court declined to address the apparent circuit split.
On February 26, the Supreme Court held that the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998 (Securities Litigation Act) does not preclude four state-law based class actions against firms and individuals who allegedly helped Allen Stanford conceal a multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme because Stanford’s alleged misrepresentations were not material to the plaintiffs’ decisions to buy or sell a covered security and thus were not made “in connection with” the purchase or sale of a covered security. Chadbourne & Parke LLP v. Troice, No. 12-79, 2014 WL 714697 (2014). The Court explained that the Securities Litigation Act specifically forbids plaintiffs from bringing state-law based class actions if the plaintiffs allege “a misrepresentation or omission of a material fact in connection with the purchase or sale of a covered security.” In this case, the plaintiffs were investors who purchased uncovered securities (certificates of deposit in Stanford International Bank) with the expectation that Stanford would use the proceeds to purchase covered securities (securities traded on a national exchange). Stanford instead used the proceeds to finance his Ponzi scheme and invest in speculative real estate ventures. The Court, by a 7-2 margin, concluded that Stanford’s misrepresentations were not made “in connection with” the purchase or sale of a covered security because the misrepresentations did not lead anyone to buy, sell, or maintain positions in covered securities. Rather, Stanford’s misrepresentations induced the plaintiffs to take positions in uncovered securities (the certificates of deposit). The court reasoned that the “in connection with” phrase suggests a connection that matters, and a connection only matters “where the misrepresentation makes a significant difference to someone’s decision to purchase or to sell a covered security, not to purchase or sell an uncovered security.” Thus, the Court determined that the Securities Litigation Act’s prohibition on state law-based class actions did not apply to the plaintiffs in this case, and affirmed the Fifth Circuit’s order reversing the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ claims.
On January 14, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that an action filed by a state attorney general seeking restitution on behalf of hundreds of the state’s citizens who are not themselves parties to the action is not a “mass action” within the meaning of the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), and that such a suit cannot be removed to or filed in federal court under that Act. Mississippi ex rel. Hood v. AU Optronics Corp., No. 12-1036, 2014 WL 113485 (Jan. 14, 2013). In this case, defendants in a civil suit brought by the Mississippi Attorney General on behalf of allegedly harmed state citizens sought to invoke CAFA’s provision allowing the removal of “mass actions,” those “in which monetary relief claims of 100 or more persons are proposed to be tried jointly on the ground that the plaintiffs’ claims involve common questions of law or fact.” The district court and Fifth Circuit looked to the “real parties in interest”—the more than 100 allegedly harmed state citizens—and determined that the case qualified as a mass action. The Court disagreed and held that under a plain reading of CAFA, “100 or more persons” refers to named plaintiffs, not unnamed parties in interest. The Court explained that (i) CAFA uses “persons” and “plaintiffs” the same way they are used in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20, i.e. as individuals who are proposing to join as “plaintiffs” in a single action; and (ii) “claims of 100 or more” unnamed individuals cannot be “proposed to be tried jointly on the ground that the. . . claims” of some completely different group of named plaintiffs “involve common questions of law or fact.” Further, the Court determined that (i) the CAFA provision that a “mass action” removed to federal court may not be transferred unless a majority of plaintiffs so request would be unworkable if “plaintiffs” included unnamed real parties in interest; and (ii) Congress did not intend that courts conduct an inquiry into the real parties in interest. The Court declined to reach the issue of whether other state attorney general cases could be deemed class actions under different facts. In the rulings below, both the district and appeals courts rejected defendants’ argument that the suit was a class action. The Court also did not reach the issue present in the underlying decisions of whether the suit fell within the “general public” exemption to CAFA mass actions.
On November 15, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to the long-standing “fraud-on-the-market” theory, on which securities class actions often are based. Halliburton v. Erica P. John Fund Inc., No. 13-317, 2013 WL 4858670 (Nov. 15, 2013). Halliburton petitioned the Court after an appeals court relied on the theory to affirm class certification in a securities suit against the company, even after the appeals court acknowledged that no company misrepresentation affected its stock process. As explained in the petition, the theory at issue derives from the Court’s holding in Basic Inc. v. Levinson, 485 U.S. 224 (1988) that a putative class of investors should not be required to prove that they actually relied in common on a misrepresentation in order to obtain class certification and prevail on the merits. The petitioner argues that Basic instead allows putative class members to invoke a classwide presumption of reliance based on the concept that all investors relied on the misrepresentations when they purchased stock at a price distorted by those misrepresentations. Halliburton has asked the Court to determine (i) whether the Court should overrule or substantially modify the holding of Basic, to the extent that it recognizes a presumption of classwide reliance derived from the fraud-on-the-market theory; and (ii) whether, in a case where the plaintiff invokes the presumption of reliance to seek class certification, the defendant may rebut the presumption and prevent class certification by introducing evidence that the alleged misrepresentations did not distort the market price of its stock.
Special Alert: Settlement In Key Fair Housing Case Moves Forward, Supreme Court Unlikely To Hear Appeal
Last night, the Mount Holly, New Jersey Township Council voted to approve a settlement agreement that will resolve the underlying claims at issue in a closely watched Fair Housing Act (FHA) appeal pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, Township of Mount Holly v. Mt. Holly Gardens Citizens in Action, Inc., No. 11-1507. The agreement is subject to approval by the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, after which we expect that the Supreme Court appeal will be withdrawn.
The Court had agreed to address one of two disparate impact-related questions presented in the appeal—specifically, the threshold question of whether disparate impact claims are cognizable under the FHA. Under current interpretation by several agencies and some Circuit Courts of Appeal, disparate impact theory allows government and private plaintiffs to establish “discrimination” based solely on the results of a neutral policy without having to show any intent to discriminate (or even in the demonstrated absence of intent to discriminate). Though not a lending case, the appeal could have offered the Supreme Court its first opportunity to rule on the issue of whether the FHA permits plaintiffs to bring claims under a disparate impact theory.
Instead, for the second time in two years, it appears likely that opportunity has been eliminated by a settlement entered shortly before the Court could decide the matter. Last year, the parties in Gallagher v. Magner, 619 F.3d 823 (8th Cir. 2010) similarly settled and withdrew their Supreme Court appeal before the Court had an opportunity to decide the case. The Magner parties’ decision to settle and withdrawal the appeal was followed by numerous congressional inquiries into whether federal authorities intervened to assist the parties in reaching a settlement in order to avoid Supreme Court review of a prized legal theory. One member of Congress has already initiated a similar inquiry with regard to the resolution of Mt. Holly. Read more…
On November 6, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that a final settlement to resolve the underlying claims at issue in Township of Mount Holly v. Mt. Holly Gardens Citizens in Action, Inc., No. 11-1507—an appeal currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court that could provide the Court an opportunity to rule on whether a disparate impact theory of liability is cognizable under the Fair Housing Act—has been delayed. Last week, the parties reportedly reached a tentative agreement, with the terms of such agreement subject to review and approval by the Mount Holly Township Council. The Council decided to table consideration of the settlement as the parties reportedly work to finalize the agreement.
On October 30, the CFPB filed an amicus brief in Edwards v. First American, a long-running case concerning the anti-kickback provisions of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) that is currently pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The case revolves around allegations that the defendant-title insurer purchased interests in title insurance agencies in order to secure referrals of insurance business from those agencies. The consumer-plaintiffs alleged that these arrangements constituted illegal kickback agreements under Section 8 of RESPA, even though they did not suffer any actual damages. Read more…
On October 31, the Philadelphia Inquirer and national media outlets reported that a tentative agreement has been reached to resolve the underlying claims at issue in Township of Mount Holly, New Jersey, et al. v. Mt. Holly Gardens Citizens in Action, Inc., et al., No. 11-1507, an appeal currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court that could provide the Court an opportunity to rule on whether a disparate impact theory of liability is cognizable under the Fair Housing Act. Briefing before the Supreme Court has been ongoing—over the past week respondents filed their brief, as did numerous supporting parties, including a group of state attorneys general—and argument is scheduled for December 4. If the settlement holds, this will be the second time in recent years that a case involving these issues pending before the Court has settled before the Court had an opportunity to hear the case. Attention likely now will turn to litigation pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia over a HUD rule finalized earlier this year. That rule specifically authorized disparate impact or “effects test” claims under the Fair Housing Act. The case has been stayed by agreement of the parties pending the outcome in Mt. Holly.
On July 15, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) preempts Montana’s public policy invalidating adhesive agreements running contrary to the reasonable expectations of a party. Mortensen v. Bresnan Comms. LLC, No. 11-35823, 2013 WL 3491415 (9th Cir. Jul. 15, 2013). In this case, the plaintiffs filed a putative class action against an internet service provider (ISP) that participated in a trial program in which the ISP’s customer’s personal information allegedly was passed on to an advertising company in violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and state privacy and property laws. The ISP moved to compel arbitration, arguing that the welcome kit’s its service technicians delivered included mandatory arbitration provisions that required application of New York law to any disputes. The court vacated a trial court’s order declining to enforce arbitration, holding that AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 131 S. Ct. 1740 (2011), requires that the FAA preempt Montana’s reasonable expectations/fundamental rights rule, despite the state’s interest in protecting its consumers from unfair agreements, because that rule has a disproportionate impact on arbitration agreements. As a result, the court also held that the district court erred in not applying New York law because a state’s preempted public policy was an impermissible basis on which to reject the parties’ choice-of-law selection. The court vacated the district court’s order declining to enforce the arbitration clause and choice-of-law clause and remanded with instructions to apply New York law to the arbitration agreement.
This evening, the U.S. Senate voted 66 to 34 to confirm Richard Cordray as CFPB Director, for a five year term. As is well known, Mr. Corday had been serving in that position as a recess appointee and his recess appointment was set to expire at the end of this year. Moreover, his recess appointment has been the subject of a litigation challenge, and the issue of the validity of recess appointments such as his may have been resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court in the next term. The Senate vote on Mr. Cordray’s nomination came after several days of Senate debate over the Senate’s confirmation process and filibuster rules that resulted in a path forward on up or down votes on several presidential nominations. It ended a two-year stalemate between Republicans and Democrats over the Mr. Cordray’s nomination, based on a fundamental disagreement regarding the structure and oversight of the CFPB. For example, Republican members of both the Senate and the House have called for the CFPB’s director-led structure to be replaced by a commission, and for the CFPB’s budget to be subject to the annual congressional appropriations process.
There may be movement on one potential change to oversight of the CFPB. Concurrent with the agreement to vote on Mr. Cordray’s nomination, Senator Portman (R-OH) announced a bill that would establish an office of inspector general for the CFPB. Currently the Bureau shares an inspector general with the Federal Reserve Board. Also, following the confirmation vote, the Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee immediately dropped his objection to Mr. Cordray testifying before that committee and stated that the committee will call him to testify on the CFPB’s annual report as soon as practicable.
The confirmation of Mr. Cordray, and the expected confirmation of new presidential nominees to the National Labor Relations Board, may impact the Supreme Court’s pending review of presidential recess appointment power, a case we have written about on several other occasions, including most recently when the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.
Other nominations of interest remain pending. For example, the President has nominated Representative Mel Watt (D-NC) to serve as FHFA Director. The Senate Banking Committee was set to vote on that nomination this morning, but postponed the vote until Thursday.