Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

February 6, 2013

Massachusetts Superior Court Holds that Assignee of Residential Mortgage Backed Securities has Standing to Seek Statutory Damages

By Michael Liptrot

In Cambridge Place Inv. Mgmt., Inc. v. Morgan Stanley & Co., No. 10-2741-BLS1, 2012 WL 5351233, at *20 (Mass. Super. Ct. Suffolk Co. Sept. 28, 2012), the Superior Court of Massachusetts held that Cambridge Place Investment Management, Inc. (CPIM), as assignee of residential mortgage backed securities, had standing to seek damages under the Massachusetts Uniform Securities Act (MUSA) that resulted from alleged false and/or misleading statements made by the “underwriters, dealers, and depositors of the securities at issue.” In this case, the assignor of the securities was a group of nine hedge funds that had received advice from CPIM to purchase the securities at issue. The securities turned out to produce “substantial losses” for the hedge funds. In order to recoup their losses, CPIM further advised the hedge funds to assign the securities to it, so that it could bring an action in Massachusetts state court.

The underwriters, dealers, and depositors of the securities (Morgan Stanley) argued that CPIM lacked standing for three reasons: “First, [Morgan Stanley] contend[s] that the assignments of claims were done for an “improper purpose”—to collusively destroy federal diversity jurisdiction. . . . Second, [Morgan Stanely] argue[s] that the remedies under MUSA are only available to the direct purchaser of the securities, and, as assignee, CPIM lacks privity with [Morgan Stanely]. . . . Third, [Morgan Stanley] assert[s] that CPIM lacks standing to seek the rescission of the securities because rescission is a personal right that is not assignable.” The court addressed these arguments, rejecting each in turn.

The court held that the first argument must be rejected because “[e]ven if the assignments were made collusively to destroy federal diversity jurisdiction, that, in itself, does not invalidate them. . . . [T]hat the assignments were improperly made to CPIM only affects their validity under federal jurisdictional law, and do not affect their validity under state law.” The court found that for this argument to be accepted, Morgan Stanley needed to show “additional facts to invalidate the assignments under state law.”

The court then rejected Morgan Stanley’s second argument. In doing so, it characterized CPIM as an investment advisor, and applied a functional test “based on the decision-making authority that the investment advisor possessed.” Quoting a Massachusetts district court case, the court stated the test as follows: “as long as the investment advisor has discretion in determining what securities to buy and sell, it qualifies as a purchaser with standing to bring a securities fraud action.” The court then found that CPIM sufficiently alleged that it had discretion in determining what securities to buy and sell.

The court finally rejected Morgan Stanley’s final argument, stating, “The court is unwilling to conclude that CPIM’s claim is ‘personal’ and not subject to assignment. . . . Accordingly, CPIM is entitled to assert all available statutory remedies, including rescission.”

| Permalink