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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals Dismisses Failed Bank Shareholder Derivative Suit under FIRREA

FDIC False Claims Act / FIRREA

Consumer Finance

On April 21, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit upheld the dismissal of a bank shareholders’ suit against a bank holding company – and its officers and directors – for breach of fiduciary duty. Barnes v. Harris, No. 14-4002 WL 1786861 (10th Cir. Apr. 24, 2015) The shareholders had filed a derivative suit in 2012 against the officers and directors of the bank holding company after the bank failed in 2010 and was placed into FDIC receivership.  The FDIC filed a motion to intervene in the suit, which was granted.  Upon a bank’s failure, the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 (“FIRREA”) states the FDIC owns “all rights, titles, powers, and privileges of the [bank], and any stockholder … of such [bank] with respect to the [bank] and the assets of the [bank].” The applicability of FIRREA to a derivative suit against a failed bank’s holding company in this court was a question of first impression and the Tenth Circuit agreed with the Fourth, Seventh, and Eleventh Circuits who have all concluded FIRREA gives the FDIC sole ownership of shareholder derivative claims and state law must be used to determine if the claims are derivative.  In this case, though the shareholders were alleging harm to the holding company, all of that harm was due to the failure of the bank, which was the holding company’s only asset.  The claims were found to be derivative, with the exception of a poorly pleaded fraud complaint that belonged solely to the holding company, and the district court’s dismissal of all claims was affirmed.

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