Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

July 24, 2013

Fairholme or Foul? Investor Complaint Over Fannie and Freddie Preferred

By David Reiss

I recently reviewed the complaint filed by former Solicitor General Olson in Perry Capital LLC v. Lew and today I review the complaint in a similar lawsuit, Fairholme Funds, Inc. v. United States, filed July 9, 2013.  Fairholme filed another lawsuit the next day, Fairholme Funds, Inc. et al. v. FHFA et al., which I will review tomorrow. Whereas the Perry case alleged violations of the Administrative Procedures Act and the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA), the July 9th Fairholme case alleges that the United States must pay just compensations pursuant to the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution for taking the plaintiffs’ property, by gutting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac preferred shares of all of their worth.

As with the Perry case, the Fairholme complaint turns on whether an amendment to the government’s preferred stock documents which gave to the government all of Fannie and Freddie’s profits created a new security in violation of HERA.  In particular, the complaint alleges that by “changing the dividend on its Government Stock in this manner, FHFA actually created, and Treasury purchased, an entirely new security.” (5) This, it appears to me, is a highly contested claim.

Evoking a famous Supreme Court case, the complaint also states that just “as the Federal Government cannot seize the assets of corporations (for example, the nation’s steel mills) for a public purpose without paying just compensation, so too it cannot seize the shares of stock in corporations to accomplish the same end.” (23) This implicit comparison to the Youngstown Steel case does not work as far as I am concerned.  In Youngstown Steel, the Supreme Court struck down President Truman’s exercise of his inherent authority to seize steel mills in order to support the Korean War mobilization.  Here, we have the federal government already knee deep in the affected companies.  Fannie and Freddie are government-sponsored enterprises; were placed in conservatorship; and have the federal government as their majority shareholders.

While the issues here are complex, my first read of the complaint is that the plaintiffs have a tough row to hoe even though the federal government may have upended preferred shareholders’ settled expectations.

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