The Other GSE Conservatorship Lawsuit

While there has been a lot of attention over Judge Lamberth’s ruling on the shareholders’ cases regarding Fannie and Freddie’s conservatorships, much less has been given to Judge Cooke’s dismissal of Samuels v. FHFA (No. 13-22399 S.D. Fla. ) (Sept. 29, 2014 ). The low-income and organizational plaintiffs in Samuels challenged the FHFA’s decision to suspend Fannie and Freddie’s obligation to fund the Housing Trust Fund after they entered into conservatorship. The Housing Trust Fund was to be funded by contributions by that were based on Fannie and Freddie’s annual purchases. The FHFA took the position that they GSEs need not pay into the fund while they themselves were in such a precarious financial position. Judge Cooke held that “The Individual and Organizational Plaintiffs lack Article III standing because their alleged injuries are too remote from and not fairly traceable to the Defendants’ allegedly unlawful conduct.” (13)

I found the dicta in the case to be the most interesting. The court found that the relevant provision from the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008

provides no meaningful standards for determining when “an enterprise” is financially instable, undercapitalized, or in jeopardy of unsuccessfully completing a capital restoration plan. Considering the history of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; the government’s placing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in conservatorship; the Treasury Department providing liquidity to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac through preferred stock purchase agreements, the mortgage backed securities purchase program, and an emergency credit facility; it is not for this Court to judicially review Defendants’ statutorily mandated suspension of payments into the Housing Trust Fund. (13)

My takeaway from this opinion is that we  now have another federal judge finding that the federal government is to be given great deference in its handling of the financial crisis. And this deference derives not just from the text of the relevant statute but also from the particular historical events that led to its adoption and that followed it. This seems like an important trend, as far as I am concerned.

Reiss on Fannie and Freddie Conservatorship Litigation

I have posted An Overview of the Fannie and Freddie Conservatorship Litigation to  SSRN (and to BePress as well). The abstract reads:

The fate of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are subject to the vagaries of politics, regulation, public opinion, the economy, and not least of all the numerous cases that have been filed in 2013 against various government entities arising from the placement of the two companies into conservatorship. This short article will provide an overview of the last of these. The litigation surrounding Fannie and Freddie’s conservatorship raises all sorts of issues about the federal government’s involvement in housing finance. These issues are worth setting forth as the proper role of these two companies in the housing finance system is still very much up in the air. The plaintiffs, in the main, argue that the federal government has breached its duties to preferred shareholders, common shareholders, and potential beneficiaries of a housing trust fund authorized by the same statute that authorized their conservatorships. At this early stage, it appears that the plaintiffs have a tough row to hoe.

Whither The Housing Trust Fund?

As part of my review of the litigation surrounding the newly-profitable Fannie And Freddie (here, here, here and here), I turn to the complaint filed by “extremely low income tenants in desperate need of affordable housing” and the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Right to the City Alliance, Samuels et al. v. FHFA et al., No. 1:13-cv-22399 (Jul. 9, 2009).

As the complaint notes, Congress created the Housing Trust Fund as part of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA).  The Housing Trust Fund was to be funded by contributions by Fannie and Freddie that were based on their annual purchases.   Those contributions could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

But here was the rub:  the Director of the FHFA could suspend  those contributions if the Director finds that they

(1) are contributing, or would contribute, to the financial instability of [Fannie or Freddie];

(2) are causing, or would cause, the [Fannie or Freddie] to be classified as undercapitalized; or

(3) are preventing, or would prevent, [Fannie or Freddie] from successfully completing a capital restoration plan under section 4622 of this title. (14, quoting 12 U.S.C. section 4567(b))

And that is just what happened in 2008:  the FHFA put them into conservatorship because of fears of their impending insolvency and their mounting losses. With the housing recovery, Fannie and Freddie have returned to profitability — massive profitability. But the federal government has redirected those profits to the Treasury, which had provided many billions of dollars to the two companies during the early years of the crisis without funding the Housing Trust Fund.

The plaintiffs allege that despite “the record profits of the Enterprises and despite the statutory requirement that any suspension of payments be temporary,  the Federal Defendants have failed and refused to review these findings and/or discontinue their suspension of the statutorily required payments by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into the Housing Trust Fund.” (17) The plaintiffs allege that this is “arbitrary and capricious in light of the changed and current financial condition of the Enterprise. The required statutory contribution is a small percentage of the Enterprise’s profits and thus would not contribute to the financial instability” of the two companies or to the other two bases for suspending the contributions pursuant to section 4567(b). (18, citations omitted) In sum, “the level of capitalization is solely a function of the policy decisions of the conservator not the cost of contributions to the Housing Trust Fund.” (22)

The big challenge that the plaintiffs face, as far as I can tell, is how they can convince the Court that the two companies are financially stable when they are still so deeply in debt to the federal government, notwithstanding the billions of dollars of profits that they two companies have remitted so far to the Treasury.