Southern District of New York Again Endorses DOJ Mortgage Fraud Theory
On September 24, U.S. District Court Judge Jesse Furman largely denied a bank’s motion to dismiss a complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) in which the government alleges that the bank falsely certified loans under the FHA’s Direct Endorsement Lender Program in violation of the False Claims Act (FCA) and the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act (FIRREA). U.S. v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., No. 12-7527, 2013 WL 5312564 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 24, 2013). Addressing four primary arguments raised by the bank, the court held that the government sufficiently pleaded (i) that the bank falsely certified compliance with FHA regulations upon which payment was conditioned, (ii) that the bank fraudulently induced the government to insure loans it otherwise would not have, and (iii) that this alleged misconduct caused the FHA to pay insurance claims it otherwise would not have. It also held that the government’s claims were pleaded with sufficient particularity. Citing two recent decisions from other Southern District of New York courts, the court held that FIRREA allows the government to pursue claims against an institution for engaging in alleged fraud that “affects” itself. Further, relying in part on a recent holding by the Fourth Circuit, the court held that the government’s claims were timely because they were tolled by the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act. Finally, relying on an order issued earlier this year by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the court rejected the bank’s argument that the release it executed as part of the National Mortgage Servicing Settlement specifically released liability arising under the FCA and FIRREA for the government’s claims. The court dismissed as untimely certain of the government’s common law and quasi-contract claims, but preserved the government’s breach of fiduciary duty claim, reasoning that whether such a duty existed is a question of fact.