Big Decision in GSE Litigation

Regular readers of this blog know that I have written a lot about the shareholder suits arising from the conservatorships of Fannie and Freddie. One of the main cases is being presided over by Judge Lamberth in the District Court for the District of Columbia. This case raises a range of challenges to the government’s action: violations of the Administrative Procedures Act, violations of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 and more. Judge Lamberth has issued an opinion that dismissed all of the plaintiffs’ claims, dealing a severe (but not fatal) blow to their cause. His conclusion captures the tenor of the whole opinion:

It is understandable for the Third Amendment, which sweeps nearly all GSE profits to Treasury, to raise eyebrows, or even engender a feeling of discomfort. But any sense of unease over the defendants’ conduct is not enough to overcome the plain meaning of HERA’s text. Here, the plaintiffs’ true gripe is with the language of a statute that enabled FHFA and, consequently, Treasury, to take unprecedented steps to salvage the largest players in the mortgage finance industry before their looming collapse triggered a systemic panic. Indeed, the plaintiffs’ grievance is really with Congress itself. It was Congress, after all, that parted the legal seas so that FHFA and Treasury could effectively do whatever they thought was needed to stabilize and, if necessary, liquidate, the GSEs. Recognizing its role in the constitutional system, this Court does not seek to evaluate the merits of whether the Third Amendment is sound financial — or even moral — policy. The Court does, however, find that HERA’s unambiguous statutory provisions, coupled with the unequivocal language of the plaintiffs’ original GSE stock certificates, compels the dismissal of all of the plaintiffs’ claims. (52)
Not one to typically say “I told you so” (or at least not on the blog), I will say that I had predicted that deference to the Executive during a time of national crisis was going to be hard for the plaintiffs to overcome. That being said, this is an extraordinarily complex cases both legally and factually so we can expect appeals up to the Supreme Court (and perhaps a return to the District Court), so it is premature to say that the plaintiffs’ claims are DOA just yet.

Reiss on Fannie/Freddie Suits

Bloomberg BNA quoted me in No Basis for Discovery by GSE Investors, Treasury Department, FHFA Memos Say. It reads

[Reproduced with permission from BNA’s Banking Report, 102 BBR 417, 3/11/14. Copyright  2014 by The Bureau
of National Affairs, Inc. (800-372-1033) http://www.bna.com]

The Treasury Department and the Federal Housing Finance Agency March 4 said a federal judge should deny a motion for discovery in lawsuits by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac investors, citing an agreed-upon schedule and saying the motion would do nothing to address legal questions at the core of the case (Fairholme Funds v. Federal Housing Finance Agency, D.D.C., No. 13-cv-01053, 3/4/14).

In its memo filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Treasury said Fairholme’s Feb. 12 motion for discovery (31 DER EE-6, 2/14/14) would be “improper” under a November scheduling order, and urged the court to dismiss the Fairholme suit and related cases.

“These cases should proceed on the agreed briefing schedule, which already provided ample time to the plaintiffs to file their substantive briefs, and the Court, upon review of a completed set of briefing with respect to the defendants’ dispositive motions, should dismiss these cases,” Treasury said March 4.

In its March 4 filing, the FHFA memo said “no discovery is necessary to assess the purely legal arguments” before the court, adding the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA) bars second-guessing of the FHFA’s actions as conservator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Litigation Ongoing

The suit is one of several in at least two district courts and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims that challenge Treasury and FHFA action in August 2012 that restructured contracts governing preferred stock issued by the two government-sponsored enterprises.

Fairholme and other investors say the August 2012 amendment amounted to an expropriation of their assets and have variously sought damages and compensation in response.

The government has sought to dismiss the Fairholme case and others, but in its Feb. 12 motion, Fairholme said the government’s motion to dismiss was too expansive and raised questions that require access to government documents, e-mails and other materials.

Arrowood Indemnity Co., the plaintiff in a related case in the district court and a separate case in the Claims Court, Feb. 20 sought to link its own bid for discovery to Fairholme’s (36 DER EE-8, 2/24/14).

Fairholme has already prevailed on its discovery motion in the Claims Court. In a Feb. 26 order, Judge Margaret M. Sweeney granted Fairholme’s motion for a continuance to pursue discovery in that case.

March Reply Scheduled

In the district court, Fairholme is scheduled to respond to the government’s March 4 memos by mid-March.

“We are reviewing the opposition briefs filed by the defendants just yesterday, and we will respond to them in our reply brief, due on March 14,” a spokesman for Fairholme told Bloomberg BNA March 5.

High Stakes Seen

Professor David Reiss of Brooklyn Law School in New York March 5 said discovery usually occurs after motions to dismiss have been decided.

In this case, he said, “the stakes are so high and the quality of lawyering so high that there is litigation over the scheduling order itself.”

“This is a hard-fought battle and the issues are incredibly complex,” Reiss told Bloomberg BNA. “Each side characterizes their arguments as relatively straightforward, but I think the judge will have a hard time parsing out the issues, because there are different statutory regimes, policy issues and the like that must be rationalized with each other. I think this is just the beginning of a long slog,” he said.