February 13, 2015
Westlaw Journal Derivatives quoted me in S&P Settles Fraud Suits for $1.5 Billion. The story reads in part,
Standard & Poor’s has agreed to pay $1.5 billion to settle lawsuits filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, 19 states and a pension fund that accused the ratings agency of damaging the economy by inflating credit ratings in the years leading up to the 2008 financial crisis.
According to a statement issued Feb. 3 by S&P, a subsidiary of McGraw-Hill Cos, the ratings agency will pay $687.5 million each to the DOJ and the states. It also will pay $125 million to settle a lawsuit filed by California Public Employees’ Retirement System. Cal. Pub. Employees’ Ret. Sys. Moody’s Corp. et al., No. CGC-09-490241, complaint filed (Cal. Super. Ct., S.F. County July 9, 2009).
The parties filed a joint stipulation of dismissal with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on Feb. 4.
“After careful consideration, the company determined that entering into the settlement agreement is in the best interests of the company and its shareholders and is pleased to resolve these matters,” McGraw-Hill said in the statement.
S&P did not admit to any wrongdoing in agreeing to settle.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the settlement for the Justice Department and states.
“On more than one occasion, the company’s leadership ignored senior analysts who warned that the company had given top ratings to financial products that were failing to perform as advertised,” he said in a statement.
* * *
David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School, also said the settlement closes an important chapter of the crisis.
“S&P would have faced a lot of unquantifiable risk if it had to admit wrongdoing in the settlement,” he said. “It is unclear that the Justice Department would have wanted to expose one of the three major rating agencies to such a risk because it could have destabilized the rating agency industry.”
Reiss added that the $1.5 billion settlement should have a deterrent effect.
”[It] likely gives ratings analysts some firm ground to stand on if they are pressured to lower their standards by others in their organizations,” he said. (1, 18-19)
The article also has a sidebar that reads,
Ratings agencies had avoided liability for their actions for quite some time based on the theory that they were First Amendment actors who dealt in opinions.
Recent cases have held that the rating agencies can be held liable for some of their ratings notwithstanding the First Amendment. United States v. McGraw-Hill Cos. et al., No. 13-CV-0779, 2013 WL 3762259 (C.D. Cal. July 16, 2013) and Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston v. Ally Financial Inc. et al., No. 11-10952, 2013 WL 5466631 (D. Mass. Sept. 30, 2013).
For instance, if the rating agency did not follow its own rating procedures, it could be held liable for fraud.
—David Reiss, Brooklyn Law School (18)| Permalink