Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

December 27, 2013

Individual Liability for RMBS Misrepresentations

By David Reiss

Judge Cote (SDNY) issued an Opinion and Order in Federal Housing Finance Agency v. HSBC North America Holdings Inc, et al., 11-cv-06201 (Dec. 10, 2013).  The opinion relates to the potential liability of individuals who signed various documents containing alleged misrepresentations that were filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. These misrepresentations, if true, may violate the Securities Act of 1933. Individuals who signed off on the alleged misrepresentations could be liable as “control persons” or other key individuals under the Act. The alleged misrepresentations were contained in offering materials for RMBS purchased by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The issue in the case is a pretty technical one: “the motion requires the Court to decide whether the SEC radically altered Section 11 liability for individuals who sign registration statements in the context of the shelf registration process when the SEC promulgated Rule 430B in 2005.” (5) Less technically, the motion requires that the Court decide the scope of potential liability for individuals for misrepresentations made in documents that they DID NOT sign that were supplemental to documents that they DID sign. The Court found that individuals could be held liable for such misrepresentations as had been the case before Rule430B had been promulgated.

I am not a securities law expert, so I assume that Judge Cote is right in stating that the defendants were arguing for a radical change to  the Securities Act of 1933 liability regime. I am also on the record in support of liability for individuals who are responsible for material aspects of the financial crisis. But I have also expressed concern about incredibly broad liability provisions. As a non-expert in this area, I was surprised that individuals could be held liable for misrepresentations that were made after they signed off on the preliminary documentation for securitizations.

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