Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

June 18, 2014

S&P Must Face The Orchestra on Rating Failure

By David Reiss

After many state Attorneys General brought suit against S&P over the objectivity of their ratings, S&P sought to consolidate the cases in federal court. Judge Furman (SDNY) has issued an Opinion and Order in In Re:  Standard & Poor’s Rating Agency Litigation, 1:13-md-02446 (June 3, 2014) that remanded the cases back to state courts because “they arise solely under state law, not federal law.” (3) Explaining the issue in a bit greater depth, the Court stated,

there is no dispute that the States’ Complaints exclusively assert state-law causes of action — for fraud, deceptive business practices, violations of state consumer-protection statutes, and the like.The crux of those claims is that S&P made false representations, in its Code of  Conduct and otherwise, and that those representations harmed the citizens of the relevant State. (20, citation omitted)

The Court notes that in “the final analysis, the States assert in these cases that S&P failed to adhere to its own promises, not that S&P violated” federal law. (28) The Court concludes that it does not reach this result “lightly:”

Putting aside the natural “tempt[ation] to find federal jurisdiction every time a multi-billion dollar case with national  implications arrives at the doorstep of a federal court,” the federal courts undoubtedly have advantages over their state counterparts when it comes to managing a set of substantial cases filed in jurisdictions throughout the country. Through the MDL process, federal cases can be consolidated for pretrial purposes or more, promoting efficiency and minimizing the risks of inconsistent rulings and unnecessary duplication of efforts. (51, citation omitted)

S&P knew that it would have to face the music regarding the allegations that its ratings were flawed. But it hoped that it could face a soloist, one federal judge. That way, it could keep its litigation costs down, engage in one set of settlement talks and get an up or down result on its liability. The remand means that S&P will face many, many judges, a veritable judicial orchestra. In addition to all of the other problems this entails, it is also almost certain that S&P will face inconsistent verdicts if these cases were to go to trial. This is a significant tactical setback for S&P. From a policy perspective though, the remand means that we should get a better understanding of the issuer-pays model of rating agencies.

| Permalink