October 7, 2021
Common Sense for the Shareholders of Fannie and Freddie
The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit issued a mixed decision for Fannie & Freddie shareholders in Bhatti v. Federal Housing Finance Agency, No. 18-2506 (8th Cir. Oct. 6, 2021). While the Court ruled (consistent with the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Collins v. Yellin, 141 S. Ct. 1761 (2021)) that the shareholders could sue for retrospective relief (damages), it otherwise ruled against the shareholders. The court ends on what I found to be a very commonsensical note in its discussion of the nondelegation claim:
Congress’s delegation of authority directs the FHFA to act as a “conservator,” with clear and recognizable instructions. 12 U.S.C. § 4617(a). “[T]he Agency is authorized to take control of a regulated entity’s assets and operations, conduct business on its behalf, and transfer or sell any of its assets or liabilities.” Collins, 141 S. Ct. at 1776, citing 12 U.S.C. §§ 4617(b)(2)(B)-(C), (G). “When the FHFA exercises these powers, its actions must be ‘necessary to put the regulated entity in a sound and solvent condition’ and must be ‘appropriate to carry on the business of the regulated entity and preserve and conserve [its] assets and property.’” Id. (alteration in original), quoting 12 U.S.C. § 4617(b)(2)(D). “Thus, when the FHFA acts as a conservator, its mission is rehabilitation, and to that extent, an FHFA conservatorship is like any other.” Id. There is one difference: “when the FHFA acts as a conservator, it may aim to rehabilitate the regulated entity in a way that, while not in the best interests of the regulated entity, is beneficial to the Agency and, by extension, the public it serves.” Id. But this difference clarifies that serving the public is one goal of the FHFA’s conservatorship; it does not render the delegation unintelligible. See id. (explaining how the FHFA works to rehabilitate housing in the public interest under the statute). In light of the Court’s identification of the principles guiding the FHFA, it is clear those principles are intelligible. See Saxton v. Fed. Hous. Fin. Agency, 901 F.3d 954, 960 (8th Cir. 2018) (Stras, J., concurring) (“The provision is broad but not boundless.”). Congress’s delegation in the Recovery Act was permissible. Id. at 963 (“Picking among different ways of preserving and conserving assets, deciding whose interests to pursue while doing so,
and determining the best way to do so are all choices that the Housing and Economic Recovery Act clearly assigns to the FHFA, not the courts.”). This court affirms dismissal of the nondelegation claim. Page 6.
The plain reading of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act gave the FHFA broad authority to act on the public’s behalf. The FHFA acted within that broad authority. The court therefore rightly defers to the FHFA’s response to the financial crisis. Case closed?