- New York state appeals court affirmed denying dismissal of claims against Morgan Stanley for fraud. Plaintiff bought $17 million in high-risk notes tied to residential mortgage-backed securities in a $500 million collateralized debt obligation that eventually were wiped out.
- Quicken Loans’ suit was dismissed against the U.S. government for its use of the False Claims Act for failure to state a claim. This suit was brought to prevent a costly enforcement action.
- JP Morgan has settled to pay $48 million fine for shoddy mortgage servicing practices in response to allegations from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). (Consent Order; Termination).
- Credit Suisse AG has settled for $110 million in class action alleging the use of misleading financial disclosure documents that caused the plaintiffs to purchase $1.6 billion in bad mortgage-backed securities.
Jenner & Block has issued the Citi Monitorship First Report. By way of background,
The Settlement Agreement resolved potential federal and state legal claims for violations of law in connection with the packaging, marketing, sale, structuring, arrangement, and issuance of residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) and collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) between 2006 and 2007. As explained below, in the Settlement Agreement, Citi agreed to pay $4.5 billion to the settling governmental entities, acknowledged a statement of facts attached as Annex 1, and agreed to provide consumer relief that would be valued at $2.5 billion under the valuation principles set forth in Annex 2.2 As part of the Settlement Agreement, [Jenner partner] Thomas J. Perrelli was appointed as independent monitor (Monitor) to determine Citi’s compliance with the consumer relief and corresponding requirements of the Settlement Agreement. This is the first report assessing Citi’s progress toward completion of those obligations. (3, footnote omitted)
Because this is the first report, much of it sets the stage for what is to come. I was, however, struck by the section titled “Impact of Relief Provided:”
To evaluate fully the impact of the relief that is the subject of this report and authorized under the Settlement Agreement would require a variety of activities not contemplated by the settlement and not easily achievable (e.g., interviews with individual homeowners). Isolating the effect of this settlement, the National Mortgage Settlement, and other RMBS settlements from the broader housing market is also difficult.
One question frequently asked is whether the relief provided to borrowers and for which Citi has received credit would have been provided in any event (e.g., is this really additional?) On this question, the answer is mixed. Given ordinary accounting practices, loans for which foreclosure does not make economic sense are frequently written-off by financial institutions. In that circumstance, however, the banks may not release liens as a matter of routine, leaving borrowers with an ongoing burden and impeding potential efforts to redevelop the property. To get credit under the Settlement Agreement, Citi was required to release the lien, thus giving an additional benefit to the homeowner to allow him or her to make a fresh start and to remove any legal obstacles from the transfer of the property. (17, footnote omitted)
As I have noted before, it is hard to truly assess the restorative and retributive impacts of the ten and eleven digit settlements of litigation arising from the financial crisis. Are individuals appropriately helped? Are wrongdoers appropriately punished? Are current actors appropriately deterred? I find it bizarre that it is so hard to tell even when settlements are measured in the billions of dollars.
Bloomberg quoted me in S&P Faces Squeeze After $1.3 Billion Countrywide Fine. It opens,
Standard & Poor’s (MHFI)’ chances of settling the government’s lawsuit over mortgage-bond ratings for less than $1 billion may have slipped away after Bank of America Corp.’s Countrywide unit was socked with a $1.3 billion fine.
The Countrywide ruling was the first to lay out what penalties financial institutions could face under a 1989 bank-fraud law the Obama administration is using against alleged culprits of the subprime mortgage crisis. It has boosted the government’s hand against McGraw Hill Financial Inc.’s S&P, said Peter Henning, a law professor at Wayne State University.
“If the starting negotiation point for the Justice Department to settle was $1 billion before, that number has just gone up,” Henning said in a phone interview.
The U.S. sued S&P and Countrywide under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act, a law passed by Congress in the wake of the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s. The administration, which seeks as much as $5 billion from S&P, is using the law to punish alleged misconduct in the creation and sale of residential mortgage-backed securities blamed for the financial crisis two decades later.
For the Justice Department, the case against S&P goes to the heart of the financial crisis, attacking the company’s claims that its ratings — relied on by investors worldwide — were honest and neutral. S&P has countered that the case is really retribution for it downgrading the U.S. government’s own debt and it has subpoenaed officials including former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in an effort to prove that.
A hearing on the company’s request to force Geithner and the government to turn over records is scheduled for today in federal court in Santa Ana, California.
Countrywide was found liable by a federal jury in Manhattan for lying about the quality of the almost $3 billion in mortgages it sold to Fannie Mae (FNMA) and Freddie Mac (FMCC) in 2007 and 2008. U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff in Manhattan agreed with the Justice Department that the penalty should be based on how much money the mortgage lender fraudulently induced the companies to pay for the loans.
“The civil penalty provisions of FIRREA are designed to serve punitive and deterrent purposes and should be construed in accordance with those purposes,” the judge said in his July 30 ruling.
S&P is accused of defrauding institutions that relied on its credit ratings for residential mortgage-based securities and collateralized debt obligations that included those securities. The government claims S&P lied to investors about its ratings on trillions of dollars in securities being objective and free of conflicts of interest.
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The judge’s analysis, using the nominal value of the transactions as a starting point to determine the penalty, was “out of whack” and will probably be appealed by Bank of America to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York, said David Reiss, a professor at the Brooklyn Law School.
“The Second Circuit has no problem reversing Rakoff,” Reiss said in in a phone interview. “The ruling pushes the balance of power in favor of the government by expanding the definition of a civil penalty.”
While other judges aren’t obliged to follow Rakoff’s reasoning, they will pay close attention to the decision because the federal court in Manhattan is the leading business law jurisdiction in the country and the ruling was clearly explained, Reiss said.