Courts have read the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA) very broadly, giving the federal government a powerful weapon in its lawsuits against financial institutions regarding events relating to the financial crisis. Judge Swain (SDNY) has issued a rare Opinion and Order limiting the reach of FIRREA, FDIC v. Bear Stearns Asset Backed Securities I LCC et al. (No. 12CV4000, Mar. 24, 2015), a suit over allegedly rotten residential mortgage-backed securities.
The limitation derives from a pretty technical Supreme Court opinion, CTS Corp. v. Waldburger. In CTS, the Supreme Court held that statutes of repose were not preempted by a statute that has identical language as the FDIC Extender Provision found in FIRREA and at issue in FDIC v. Bear Stearns.
I warned you that this is technical, so here is what is at issue:
Claims brought under Section 11 of the 1933 Act are subject to the two-pronged timing provision of Section 13 of that Act, which is codified as 15 U.S.C. § 77m. The first prong of Section 13 is a statute of limitations, which provides that Section 11 claims must be brought within one year of “the discovery of the untrue statement or the omission, or after such discovery should have been made by the exercise of reasonable diligence.” 15 U.S.C.S. § 77m (LexisNexis 2012). The statute of limitations may be tolled based on equitable considerations, but not beyond three years from the date of the relevant offering, at which point a plaintiff’s claim is extinguished by Section 13’s second prong – a statute of repose – which provides that “[i]n no event shall any such action be brought . . . more than three years after the security was bona fide offered to the public.” Id.
The FDIC asserts that its claims are timely, notwithstanding the three-year Section 13 statute of repose, because the statute of repose is preempted by the FDIC Extender Provision . . .. (6)
Relying on CTS Corp. v. Wadburger, the Judge Swain concludes that “the FDIC Extender Provision does not preempt the statute of repose set forth in Section 13 of the 1933 Act.” (14-15)
The reasoning in FDIC v. Bear Stearns does not apply to all FIRREA claims, but it would apply to some meaningful subset of them. One of the most powerful things about FIRREA is its very long statute of limitations. If other courts follow FDIC v. Stearns, it could have a meaningful impact on the reach of FIRREA.