photo by Mike Cumpston

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed the District Court’s judgment (SDNY, Rakoff, J.) against Bank of America defendants for actions arising from Countrywide’s infamous “Hustle” mortgage origination program. The case has a lot of interesting aspects to it, not the least of which is that it does away with more than one billion dollar in civil penalties levied against the defendants.

The opinion itself answers the narrow question, when “can a breach of contract also support a claim for fraud?” (2) The Court concluded that “the trial evidence fails to demonstrate the contemporaneous fraudulent intent necessary to prove a scheme to defraud through contractual promises.” (3)

I think the most important aspect of the opinion is how it limits the reach of the Financial Institutions Reform, Recover, and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA). Courts have have been reading FIRREA very broadly to give the federal government immense power to go after financial institutions accused of wrongdoing.

FIRREA provides for civil penalties for violations of federal mail or wire fraud statutes, but the Court found that there was no fraud at all. It made its point with a hypothetical:

Imagine that two parties—A and B—execute a contract, in which A agrees to provide widgets periodically to B during the five-year term of the agreement. A represents that each delivery of widgets, “as of” the date of delivery, complies with a set of standards identified as “widget specifications” in the contract. At the time of contracting, A intends to fulfill the bargain and provide conforming widgets. Later, after several successful and conforming deliveries to B, A’s production process experiences difficulties, and the quality of A’s widgets falls below the specified standards. Despite knowing the widgets are subpar, A decides to ship these nonconforming widgets to B without saying anything about their quality. When these widgets begin to break down, B complains, alleging that A has not only breached its agreement but also has committed a fraud. B’s fraud theory is that A knowingly and intentionally provided substandard widgets in violation of the contractual promise—a promise A made at the time of contract execution about the quality of widgets at the time of future delivery. Is A’s willful but silent noncompliance a fraud—a knowingly false statement, made with intent to defraud—or is it simply an intentional breach of contract? (10)

This case emphasizes that “a representation is fraudulent only if made with the contemporaneous intent to defraud . . .” (14) While this is not really new law, it is a clear statement as to the limits of FIRREA. This will act as a limit on how the government can deploy this powerful tool as new cases crop up. Unless, of course, the Supreme Court were to reverse it on appeal.

Monday’s Adjudication Roundup

  • Shareholders of Deutsche Bank petitioned for cert to the U.S. Supreme Court to clarify the standard for a claim for pleading a fraudulent claim under Section 11 of the Securities Act of 1933 following the Second Circuit tossing their suit in July 2014.
  • 10th Circuit revives National Credit Union Administration’s $550 million suit against Barclays for misrepresentation of the quality of over $555 million in RMBS.
  • First wave of Hurricane Sandy cases settle with FEMA and insurers over the improper cutting of the homeowners’ payouts following the storm.

Wednesday’s Academic Roundup

Georgia Court Dismisses RESPA, TILA, and HOEPA Claims

The court in deciding Mitchell v. Deutsche Bank Nat’l Trust Co., 2013 U.S. Dist. (N.D. Ga., 2013) granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss.

Plaintiffs Reginald and Jamela Mitchell claimed that the defendants Deutsche Bank National Trust Co. and MERS violated the Truth-in-Lending Act (“TILA”), the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (“RESPA”), the Home Ownership Equity Protection Act (“HOEPA”) and state law by commencing foreclosure proceedings against Plaintiffs’ home.

After consideration of the plaintiff’s assertions, the court concluded that the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

Georgia Court Dismisses TILA and RESPA Claims Brought by Plaintiff

The court in deciding Mitchell v. Deutsche Bank Nat’l Trust Co., 2013 U.S. Dist. (N.D. Ga. Sept. 25, 2013) granted the motion to dismiss proffered by the defendant.

The first enumerated cause of action in Plaintiffs’ complaint was a claim for fraud. Plaintiffs argued that their original mortgage lender, Accredited, engaged in a practice of filing false prospectus supplements with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Plaintiffs’ complaint also included a claim for wrongful foreclosure.

Next, the plaintiffs asserted that Deutsche Bank and MERS had “unclean hands” as they failed to make certain disclosures required by TILA. Plaintiffs also asserted that the defendants or their predecessors in interest violated RESPA in a number of ways. Plaintiffs’ complaint also included a claim for fraud in the inducement. Moreover, the plaintiffs’ complaint raised a claim for quiet title under O.C.G.A. § 23-3-40 and O.C.G.A. § 23-3-60 et seq. Lastly, the plaintiffs’ complaint raised a claim for fraudulent assignment.

Ultimately the court concluded that the plaintiffs’ complaint failed to state a viable claim for relief. Accordingly, this court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ complaint.

Texas Court Rejects Break-in-the-Chain Claim

The court in deciding Martinez v. Wilmington Trust Co., 2013 U.S. Dist., (W.D. Tex. 2013) found that plaintiffs’ petition failed to state a claim to which relief could be granted and dismissed the action.

Plaintiffs argued that the 2005 assignment was “fraudulent and forged,” “manufactured,” and “void and invalid,” constituting a “break in the chain.” Plaintiffs also claimed that defendant had no standing to foreclose on the instrument.

Plaintiffs alleged the 2005 assignment from Washington Mutual to Wells Fargo was “suspicious” due to the five year delay in recordation and because “Washington Mutual was bankrupt in August of 2010 and no longer existed in 2010.” According to plaintiffs, the 2005 assignment was flawed because it was recorded “some twelve years after the original transaction.”

Defendant argued that the plaintiffs’ claims should be dismissed because plaintiffs lacked standing to complain of any alleged defects in the assignments, and, standing aside, plaintiffs’ claims lack viability. Plaintiffs argued that defendant’s motion was moot. This court ultimately found that the defendant’s motion to dismiss had merit and granted it.