Richard Epstein has posted a draft of The Government Takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: Upending Capital Markets with Lax Business and Constitutional Standards. The paper addresses “the various claims of the private shareholders, both preferred and common, of Fannie and Freddie.” (2) He notes that those claims have
now given rise to seventeen separate lawsuits against the Government, most of which deal with the Government’s actions in August, 2012. One suit also calls into question the earlier Government actions to stabilize the home mortgage market between July and September 2008, challenging the constitutionality of the decision to cast Fannie and Freddie into conservatorship in September 2008, which committed the Government to operating the companies until they became stabilized. What these suits have in common is that they probe, in overlapping ways, the extent to which the United States shed any alleged obligations owed to the junior preferred and common shareholders of both Fannie and Freddie. At present, the United States has submitted a motion to dismiss in the Washington Federal case that gives some clear indication as to the tack that it will take in seeking to derail all of these lawsuits regardless of the particular legal theory on which they arise. Indeed, the brief goes so far to say that not a single one of the plaintiffs is entitled to recover anything in these cases, be it on their individual or derivative claims, in light of the extensive powers that HERA vests in FHFA in its capacity as conservator to the funds. (2-3, citations omitted)
Epstein acknowledges that his “work on this project has been supported by several hedge funds that have hired me as a legal consultant, analyst, and commentator on issues pertaining to litigation and legislation over Fannie and Freddie discussed in this article.”(1, author footnote) Nonetheless, as a leading scholar, particularly of Takings jurisprudence, his views must be taken very seriously.
Epstein states that “major question of both corporate and constitutional law is whether the actions taken unilaterally by these key government officials could be attacked on the grounds that they confiscated the wealth of the Fannie and Freddie shareholders and thus required compensation from the Government under the Takings Clause. In addition, there are various complaints both at common law and under the Administrative Procedure Act.” (4)
Like Jonathan Macey, Epstein forcefully argues that the federal government has greatly overreached in its treatment of Fannie and Freddie. I tend in the other direction. But I do agree with Epstein that it “is little exaggeration to say that the entire range of private, administrative, and constitutional principles will be called into question in this litigation.” (4) Because of that, I am far from certain how the courts should and will decide the immensely complicated claims at issue in these cases.
In any event, Epstein’s article should be read as a road map to the narrative that the plaintiffs will attempt to convey to the judges hearing these cases as they slowly wend their way through the federal court system.