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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

Fifth Circuit affirms dismissal of Fannie, Freddie shareholders’ claims related to FHFA removal restriction and funding

Courts Fifth Circuit Appellate FHFA Fannie Mae Freddie Mac Shareholders Constitution U.S. Supreme Court

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On October 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed dismissal of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac shareholders’ claims that the FHFA’s unconstitutional removal restriction caused them harm and that the FHFA’s funding mechanism is inconsistent with the Appropriations Clause. After the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) placed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into conservatorship, it entered into several preferred stock purchase agreements with the U.S. Treasury. As a result of these agreements, any value the companies generated would go to the Treasury and not to junior preferred and common stockholders such as plaintiffs.

The plaintiff shareholders sued in 2016, arguing that the “for cause” removal protection for the director of the FHFA was unconstitutional. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of FHFA, but a panel of the 5th Circuit reversed. Sitting en banc, the 5th Circuit then determined that the removal provision violated the separation of powers, and held that the proper remedy was to sever the removal restriction from the rest of the authorizing statute. On further appeal, the Supreme Court held that for-cause restriction on the President’s removal authority violates the separation of powers, but it refused to hold that the relevant preferred stock purchase agreement must be undone.

The Supreme Court remanded the case for lower courts to resolve whether the unconstitutional removal provision caused harm to plaintiffs as shareholders, and the 5th Circuit, again sitting en banc, remanded that question to the district court. Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on remand, bringing claims under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) and directly under the Constitution. The amended complaint also alleged, for the first time, that the FHFA’s financing structure violates the Appropriations Clause. Defendants moved to dismiss, and the district court granted the motion in its entirety and dismissed all claims with prejudice.

The 5th Circuit determined that the removal claims were within the scope of the remand order, contrary to the district court’s conclusion, but that the plaintiff’s APA claim was barred by an anti-injunction clause in the authorizing statute. Turning to the Constitutional claim, the 5th Circuit concluded that judicial review was not precluded and proceeded to the merits of the claim.

To show compensable harm from the unconstitutional removal provision, plaintiffs had to allege, among other things, a “nexus between the desire to remove and the challenged actions taken by the insulated actor.” More specifically, they had to allege a connection between the Trump Administration’s desire to remove the director of the FHFA and the Administration’s failure to have FHFA exit the conservatorships and return Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to private control. The amended complaint, however, failed to plead facts demonstrating that the Trump Administration’s purported plan for re-privatization would have been completed if President Trump had been able to remove the existing FHFA director. Those allegations, the Fifth Circuit held, were insufficient.

The 5th Circuit agreed with the district court that the plaintiffs’ Appropriations Clause argument was outside the mandate of the earlier remand order. The appeals court reasoned that the remand order “[left] no opening for plaintiffs to bring a challenge under a completely different constitutional theory for the first time on remand,” nor was there an intervening change in the law such that the mandate rule would not apply.