Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

July 25, 2013

Federal Government’s a Fairholme-weather Friend?

By David Reiss

Following up on my posts (here and here) about other suits against the federal government over its amendment of the terms of the distribution of dividends and other payments by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, I now look at Fairholme Funds, Inc. et al. v. FHFA et al., filed July 10, 2013.  The suit alleges very similar facts to those found in Fairholme Funds, Inc. v. United States, filed July 9, 2013, but the claims for relief are more similar to those found in Perry Capital, LLC v. Lew et al.

Here are some of the key claims made by the plaintiffs (owners of Fannie and Freddie preferred shares):

  • While the FHFA is the conservator of the two companies, it is acting acting like a receiver by “winding down” Fannie and Freddie’s “affairs and liquidating” their assets, while conservatorship should aim to return a company “to normal operation.” (15) The goal of the conservator, claim the plaintiffs, is to return the company “to a safe, sound and solvent condition.” (15, quoting Conservatorship and Receivership, 76 Fed. Reg. 35, 724, 35, 730(June 20, 2011)) As a result, plaintiffs argue that the Net Worth Sweep (which gives to the federal government substantially all of Fannie and Freddie’s profit) “is squarely contrary to FHFA’s statutory responsibilities as conservator of Fannie and Freddie” because it does not put them in “a sound and solvent condition” and it does not “conserve the assets and property” of the two companies. (25, quoting 12 U.S.C. section 4617(b)(2)(D))
  • “Neither Treasury nor FHFA made any public record of their decision-making processes in agreeing to the Net Worth Sweep.” (29) The plaintiffs argue that the FHFA’s “authority as conservator of” Fannie and Freddie “is strictly limited by statute.” (31, citing 12 U.S.C. section 4617(b)(2)(D)) As a result, the FHFA’s actions were “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.” (33, quoting the APA, 5 U.S.C. section 706(2)(A))
  • The plaintiffs’ relationship with Treasury as Fannie and Freddie’s controlling shareholders is governed by state corporate law and thus Treasury owes “fiduciary duties to minority shareholders.” (38)
  • “Implicit in every contract is a covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The implied covenant requires a party in a contractual relationship to refrain from arbitrary or unreasonable conduct which has the effect of preventing the other party to the contract from receiving the fruits of the bargain.” (41) Plaintiffs argue that their contractual rights pursuant to their preferred shares have been breached by FHFA’s consent to the Net Worth Sweep.

The validity of these claims should not be assessed superficially. The courts will need to read HERA in the context of the APA and the amendment to the terms of the government’s preferred shares in the context of the contractual obligations found in the private preferred shares. The court will also need to assess the extent to which state corporate law governs the actions of the federal government when it is acting in the multiple capacities of lender, investor, regulator and conservator.  Let the memoranda in support and in opposition to motions to dismiss come forth and enlighten us as to how it should all play out . . ..




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