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District Court Says Bank/RMBS Trustee Must Face Suit Filed by Institutional Investors Claiming Breach of Trust Agreement
On March 30, a federal court in the Southern District of New York denied in part a bank’s motion to dismiss claims brought in five consolidated actions by institutional investors alleging breach of contract and conflict of interest in connection with billions of dollars of alleged losses stemming from the bank’s role as a trustee of 53 residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS). The RMBS investors alleged, among other things, that the trustee took “virtually no action” to require lenders to repurchase or cure defaulted or improperly underwritten loans that backed the securities, despite having knowledge of “systemic violations.” The investors further alleged that the trustee’s failure to take corrective action was due to concerns that it might expose its own “misconduct” in other RMBS trusts and/or jeopardize its business dealings with lenders and servicers.
Ultimately, the Court granted in part and denied in part the bank-trustee’s motion to dismiss, finding that the plaintiffs may pursue breach of contract and conflict of interest claims related to the trusts, as well as certain claims alleging breaches of fiduciary duty and due care. In reaching its conclusion, the Court explained that, having identified internal bank documents that raise legitimate questions about whether bank officials knew about lenders’ “alleged breaches of the trusts’ governing agreements” and failed to address the problems, the plaintiffs’ allegations “go far beyond many other RMBS trustee complaints, which themselves have been found sufficient to state a claim.” The Court did, however, dismiss the investors’ claims that alleged negligence and those alleging a breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing and negligence because, among other reasons, “[a] tort claim cannot be sustained if it ‘do[es] no more than assert violations of a duty which is identical to and indivisible from the contract obligations which have allegedly been breached.’” The Court also nixed several claims asserting violations of certain provisions of the New York law governing mortgage trusts for which no private right of action exists.
Federal Court in New York Dismisses State-Law Claims Against National Bank and Service Provider on Preemption Grounds
On March 9, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York upheld the preemption of state-law claims brought against a national bank and its non-bank servicer provider. Edwards v. Macy’s Inc., No. 14-cv-8616 (S.D.N.Y. March 9, 2016). The plaintiff alleged that, without her consent, she had been enrolled in and charged for a payment-protection program in connection with her private-label, department store credit card. She sued the issuing bank – a national bank based in South Dakota – and the department store, asserting (among other things) that both had violated the South Dakota Consumer Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The court held that the plaintiff’s claims were preempted by the National Bank Act and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) regulations.
The court held that the plaintiff’s state law claims against the bank were expressly preempted by OCC regulations, which provide that “[n]ational banks’ debt cancellation contracts and debt suspension agreements are governed by this part and applicable Federal law and regulations, and not by State law.” Opinion at 7 (citing 12 C.F.R. § 37.1). In addition, the court held that the state law claims were impliedly preempted because the OCC regulations are “sufficiently comprehensive as to crowd out state law,” and requiring the bank “to comply with state law that reaches the same subject matter would impermissibly ‘prevent or significantly interfere with the national bank’s exercise of its powers.’” Id. at 9 (citing Barnett Bank, N.A. v. Nelson, 517 U.S. 33 (1996)).
Significantly, the court held that claims brought against the non-bank department store also were preempted. The court agreed with the plaintiff that the Second Circuit’s recent holding in Madden v. Midland Funding means that “OCC preemption extends to an entity that is not a national bank only where that entity is an agent or subsidiary of a national bank or is otherwise acting on behalf of the national bank in carrying out the bank’s business.” Id. at 13 (citing Madden v. Midland Funding, LLC, 786 F.3d 246, 249 (2d Cir. 2015)). However, it held that the plaintiff’s complaint clearly alleged that the department store did act on behalf of the bank in carrying out the bank’s powers. Specifically, the complaint alleged that the department store provided marketing services, credit processing, collections, and customer service to the bank with respect to the private-label credit cards and ancillary products such as the payment protection program. The court therefore concluded that “[t]he federal preemption that cloaks [the bank] extends to [the department store] in connection with the activities in suit,” and it dismissed the complaint. Id. at 14.
It should be noted that the opinion is silent on the Dodd-Frank Act’s express rejection of federal preemption for agents (and subsidiaries) of national banks. In its preemption analysis, the court stated that it was unclear whether “Dodd–Frank even applies to Plaintiff’s claims, because Dodd–Frank’s preemption amendments regarding national banks did not go into effect until July 21, 2011, months after Plaintiff enrolled in Payment Protection.” Id. at 8. As such, the case can be viewed (and distinguished by other courts) as applying pre-Dodd-Frank Act preemption standards in analyzing the specific question of whether federal preemption extends to non-banks that provide services to banks in connection with loans or other extensions of credit.
Second Circuit Upholds District Court Decision to Dismiss Arbitration Case
On November 19, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the Southern District of New York’s decision to dismiss a case alleging that two leading credit card issuing banks schemed to require that disputes be settled in arbitration, as opposed to class action lawsuits. The plaintiffs challenged the District Court’s decision on the grounds that language in United States v. General Motors Corp. should be used “to adopt a rule that the existence of conspiracy is a legal conclusion subject to review de novo.” Ross v. Citigroup, Inc., No. 14-1610 (2nd Cir. Nov. 19, 2015). Plaintiffs further argued that the District Court’s conclusion that the defendants’ actions did not constitute as conspiracy in violation of the Sherman Act should not be shielded by the “clearly erroneous” test. The District Court analyzed various “plus factors,” including motive, the quantity and nature of inter-firm communications, and whether the arbitration clauses were “artificially standardized” because of an illegal agreement, to determine whether or not conspiracy existed among the credit card issuing banks. The District Court concluded that the credit card issuing banks’ final decision to implement class-action-barring clauses was reached “individually and internally.” Stating that General Motors has never been applied as generously as the plaintiffs argued for it to be, the Second Circuit’s review of the record found the District Court’s conclusion plausible and not “clearly erroneous.”
Second Circuit Upholds District Court Decision, Applies New York's Six-Year Limitations Period on Contractual Claims
On November 16, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the Southern District of New York’s decision to dismiss a leading global bank’s complaint against a nonbank mortgage lender alleging breach of contractual obligations to repurchase mortgage loans that violated representations and warranties. Deutsche Bank Nat’l Trust Co. v. Quicken Loans Inc., No. 14-3373 (2nd Cir. Nov. 16, 2015). The bank, under its right as Trustee of the loans, alleged that the lender breached aspects of representations and warranties contained in a 2006 Purchase Agreement, including those related to (i) borrower income; (ii) debt-to-income ratios; (iii) loan-to-value and combined loan-to-value ratios; and (iv) owner occupancy. The bank’s complaint also alleged that it sent the lender a series of notification letters between August 2013 and October 2013 demanding cure or repurchase of the loans, which the lender allegedly failed to do without justification. The bank challenged the District Court’s decision by arguing that New York’s six-year statute of limitations on contractual claims did not apply because the terms of the representations and warranties contained an “Accrual Clause” placing future obligations on the lender. However, the Second Circuit upheld the District Court’s ruling, concluding that the bank’s Accrual Clause only constituted a procedural demand and did not delay the accrual of the cause of action. Specifically, the Second Circuit found that the representations and warranties guaranteed the characteristics and quality of the loans at the time the loans were sold in 2006. As such, the six-year statute of limitations “began to run on the date the [representations and warranties] became effective and were either true or false at that time.” The Second Circuit also found that the Housing and Economic Recovery Act (HERA), which in part delays accrual of claims brought by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), did not apply. Because FHFA only filed the summons in state court, and the Trustee filed the federal complaint and prosecuted the action, the Second Circuit found the case was not “brought” by FHFA and thus HERA did not apply.
New Jersey Resident Charged with Securities and Wire Fraud
On October 1, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York filed a complaint against New Jersey fund manager William J. Wells charging him with running a “Ponzi” scheme which raised over $1.5 million from investors. According to the complaint, Wells “engaged in a fraudulent scheme to obtain investments by falsely representing that he had achieved consistently positive trading returns in the U.S. equity markets, including through the successful use of options to hedge risk.” Wells allegedly misled investors by claiming that (i) his trading was generating positive returns when it was not; (ii) investors held investments in certain stocks when, in fact, neither Wells nor his firm did; and (iii) sub-accounts had been created for clients, but no such sub-accounts were ever funded. Wells was charged with one count of securities fraud and one count of wire fraud, each carrying a maximum prison sentence of 20 years and a maximum fine of $5 million, or two times the gross gain or loss from the offense.
In a parallel action, the SEC filed a complaint charging Wells with violations of the Securities Act, the Securities Exchange Act, and the Investment Advisers Act.
Former Bank Executive Sentenced to 30 Months in Prison for Role in TARP Fraud Scheme
On August 20, former bank executive Charles Antonucci was sentenced to 30 months in prison for his role in organizing a scheme involving self-dealing, bank bribery, embezzlement of bank funds, attempting to fraudulently obtain more than $11 million from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), and participating in a $37.5 million fraud scheme that left an Oklahoma insurance company in receivership. Antonucci pled guilty to the charges in 2010 pursuant to a cooperation agreement with the government. He was the first defendant convicted of fraud of TARP funds, which was a program established in 2008 to provide liquidity to troubled financial institutions during the financial crisis. The judge also ordered Antonucci to forfeit $11.2 million to the United States and to provide $54.6 million in restitution to the victims of his crimes, including, among others, the bank’s shareholders and the FDIC. Antonucci’s plea and sentencing was before U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buckwald of the Southern District of New York. The case was handled by the Southern District of New York’s Office of Complex Frauds and Asset Forfeiture Units, with investigative assistance from the Office of the Special Inspector General for TARP.
District Court Invalidates NYC Ordinance Making Banks Service Under-Served Areas as Requirement to Receive Municipal Deposits
On August 7, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted summary judgment for the New York Bankers Association (NYBA) in a case challenging the City of New York’s Local Law 38, entitled the Responsible Banking Act (RBA). New York Bankers Ass’n, Inc. v. City of New York, No. 15-CV- 4001, 2015 WL 4726880 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 7, 2015). Passed in 2012, the RBA imposes various requirements on banks operating within New York City, including, as a prerequisite to receiving certain municipal deposits, requirements to document efforts to provide affordable housing, access to credit for small businesses, and other services. The court held that the RBA was preempted both by (i) federal law (including the National Bank Act, the Community Reinvestment Act, and OCC regulations) because, among other reasons, the RBA “stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress”; and (ii) New York state law, because the New York Banking Law “evinces an intent to preempt the field of regulating state-chartered banks.” Thus, the RBA was “void in its entirety.”
Buckley Sandler Secures Second Circuit Victory in Lender-Placed Insurance Rate Case
On July 22, BuckleySandler secured a substantial victory before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Representing a global insurance company in a nationwide lender-placed insurance (“LPI”) class action brought by mortgage borrowers, the Firm argued on interlocutory appeal that the Second Circuit should reverse the district court’s denial of its motion to dismiss on the basis of the “filed-rate” doctrine. Ordinarily, the filed-rate doctrine provides that rates approved by the applicable regulatory agency – including LPI rates – are per se reasonable and unassailable in judicial proceedings brought by ratepayers. The district court, however, held that the plaintiffs’ claims were not barred by the doctrine because, rather than directly billing the plaintiffs for the LPI premiums, the insurance company initially charged the premiums to the plaintiffs’ mortgage servicer who, in turn, charged the borrowers. The Second Circuit reversed the Southern District of New York’s decision, holding that the filed-rate doctrine applied notwithstanding the fact that the mortgage servicer served as an intermediary to pass on the LPI rates to borrowers. Because the plaintiffs’ claims ultimately rested on the premise that the LPI rates approved by the regulators were too high and included impermissible costs, the Second Circuit held that the claims were barred by the filed-rate doctrine.
FIFA Investigation Updates: Plea Agreement with American FIFA Official Unsealed
On June 15, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York unsealed a 2013 plea agreement under which American FIFA Executive Committee Member Chuck Blazer secretly pleaded guilty to ten charges related to corruption in the soccer organization. Mr. Blazer agreed to forfeit more than $1.9 million, and to pay back-taxes and penalties on more than $11 million in unreported income.
According to the plea agreement, Mr. Blazer began cooperating with the DOJ’s investigation in December of 2011, even agreeing to work undercover making secret recordings. The unsealing of the plea agreement is the latest development in the ongoing fallout from the racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering indictments announced three weeks ago by the DOJ against soccer executives at FIFA and others tied to the organization. Mr. Blazer’s testimony at his plea hearing in November 2013 was unsealed two weeks ago.
Southern District of New York Denies Class Certification in Fair Lending Suit Against Global Investment Bank
On May 14, the District Court for the Southern District of New York denied class certification status in a fair lending suit brought by the ACLU and NCLC against a global investment bank. Adkins v. Morgan Stanley, No. 12-CV-7667 (VEC) (S.D.N.Y. May 14, 2015). The Plaintiffs had alleged that the bank, as a significant purchaser of subprime residential mortgage loans, had caused a disparate impact on African-American borrowers in Detroit in violation of the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. In an exhaustive 50-page opinion, the court denied class certification on multiple grounds, including the variation in loan types and the role of broker discretion. BuckleySandler anticipates the ruling will be widely cited in future fair lending class actions.