On October 30, the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California dismissed, without prejudice, claims brought by two borrowers alleging that their mortgage lender engaged in fraudulent loan practices which violated RICO. The court held that the claims were time-barred and that the complaint failed to allege facts about predicate acts and a pattern of activity necessary to sustain a civil RICO claim. Cabrera v. Countrywide Fin., No. 11-4869, 2012 WL 5372116 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 30, 2012). The court rejected the borrowers’ arguments that (i) the statute of limitations began to run not from the date they entered into their adjustable rate mortgage, but from the date the rate adjusted, and (ii) equitable tolling should apply because the borrowers’ could not have discovered their adjusted rate absent a forensic loan audit they obtained years into the contract. With regard to equitable tolling, the court held that the plain terms of the mortgage provide information about the rate at issue, which could have been uncovered by “a reasonably diligent investigation of the loan documents.” The court similarly dismissed the borrowers’ claims that the lender discriminated against minority borrowers in violation of the ECOA, as time-barred. It also held that the borrowers, who are Hispanic, failed to state a claim under ECOA in that, although they offered statistical evidence that Hispanics were given less favorable loans than white borrowers with the same risk characteristics, they failed to allege that they themselves qualified for better loans. The borrowers’ claim of unfair business practices under the state’s unfair competition law survived. The court held that the borrowers pled facts sufficient to support their claim that the lender’s effort to initiate a foreclosure while a loan modification was pending violated public policy reflected in the California Homeowner Bill of Rights, even though the specific provision of that statute that prohibits such practices was not codified until after the foreclosure occurred.
On March 21, the Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth Appellate District, affirmed a trial court’s dismissal of a suit by the city of Cleveland, which sought damages from several financial institutions involved in the creation of mortgage-backed securities using subprime mortgages from Cleveland, Ohio, real estate. Cleveland v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A., No. 98656, 2013 WL 1183332 (Oh. Ct. App. Mar. 21, 2013). The City alleged that the institutions engaged in a practice of encouraging subprime lending in order to package mortgages together and sell the MBS to investors, and that these practices caused a foreclosure crisis in Cleveland that damaged the City and created a public nuisance. The City also brought an Ohio Corrupt Practices Act (OCPA) cause of action alleging that one institution systematically filed false or misleading paperwork in foreclosure cases. On appeal, the court held that the causal connection between the securitizing institutions and the foreclosure crisis is too far removed, and, even under the most lenient of pleading requirements, the City’s complaint fails to state a valid claim under public nuisance or the OCPA.
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…
Federal Court Dismisses Fannie Mae Shareholders’ Subprime Suit Against Underwriters, Allows Claims to Proceed Against Fannie Mae, Officers
On August 30, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled on multiple motions to dismiss filed in four consolidated cases pending against Fannie Mae, certain former officers, and several banks, related to Fannie Mae’s exposure to certain risky mortgages. In re Fannie Mae 2008 Secs. Litig., No. 09-2013, 2012 WL 3758537 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 30, 2012). The main class of shareholders alleges that Fannie Mae and certain of its former officers violated federal securities laws by failing to adequately disclose the company’s exposure to subprime and Alt-A mortgages. Separately, institutional investors brought their own federal securities claims, as well as state statutory and common law fraud and negligence claims against Fannie Mae, certain officers, and certain of its underwriters related to the same alleged misrepresentations. Many of the same allegations are contained in SEC enforcement actions pending against a number of the same individual defendants. In a single opinion, the court dismissed certain of the claims but allowed others to proceed. The court allowed to proceed the federal securities claims brought by the main class and two other plaintiffs against Fannie Mae and certain of its officers with regard to Fannie Mae’s subprime mortgage disclosures and risk management controls, but dismissed all state law claims, including those against Fannie Mae, certain officers, and certain underwriters. The court also dismissed in full a suit that one underwriter faced alone because the plaintiffs failed to present evidence sufficient to show the underwriter intentionally provided investors allegedly false information it received from Fannie Mae.
On April 24, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced that it filed and simultaneously settled a suit alleging that an H&R Block subsidiary engaged in the fraudulent sale of subprime residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS). The complaint alleges that during a short period at the beginning of 2007, Option One Mortgage, now known as Sand Canyon Corporation, sponsored over $4 billion of RMBS and represented to investors that it would repurchase or replace any pooled mortgage for which there was a breach of a representation or warranty. The SEC alleges that at the time it sponsored the RMBS at issue, Option One was experiencing financial difficulties related to the broader decline of the subprime mortgage market and faced substantial margin calls from its creditors. As such, Option One’s condition would have prevented the company from meeting its obligations to repurchase faulty loans. Further, according to the SEC, (i) Option One failed to disclosure that it was reliant on a line of credit from its parent, (ii) H&R Block was under no obligation to provide that funding, and (iii) Option One’s losses threatened H&R Block’s credit rating at a time when the parent was negotiating the sale of Option One.