California Court of Appeal: State required to return $331 million to mortgage settlement fund
On July 10, the California Third District Court of Appeal reversed in part a Superior Court’s 2015 decision to abstain from issuing a writ directing the Legislature to appropriate funds to restore the money the state allegedly unlawfully took out of the National Mortgage Settlement Deposit Fund (the NMS Deposit Fund). The NMS Deposit Fund was created in 2012 to hold the state’s share of $2.5 billion allocated as part of a settlement agreement reached between the federal government, 49 states, and five of the largest U.S. mortgage servicers. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here on the 2012 settlement.) According to the opinion, three groups filed a lawsuit in 2014 against California Governor Jerry Brown and the state’s director of finance and controller alleging they unlawfully diverted money from the NMS Deposit Fund to make bond payments and offset general fund expenditures. The groups sought a writ of mandate compelling the state government to pay back approximately $350 million in diverted funds. While the Superior Court agreed that the money had been improperly diverted, the court asserted it lacked “constitutional authority” to restore the funds; however, the court ordered the state to restore the funds “as soon as there is a sufficient appropriation ‘reasonably’ and ‘generally’ available for such purpose.” Conversely, the Third District Court of Appeal disagreed, citing to case law supporting the groups’ position that the court could order the money back. Among other things, under the law, the money still belongs in the NMS Deposit Fund, and not in the state’s General Fund. Furthermore, the fact that the state’s director of finance unlawfully diverted the money in contravention of state law and the settlement’s terms only makes for a “more compelling case” that the Superior Court should have issued a writ.