Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
On January 22, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) sent a letter to federal regulators responsible for finalizing the Dodd-Frank Act mandated “qualified residential mortgage” (QRM) standard, urging that the final QRM definition mirror the “qualified mortgage” (QM) definition recently promulgated by the CFPB. The QRM rule will define those loans exempt from the Act’s risk retention requirements for mortgage securitizers, a requirement that also will be set by the rule though it cannot be less than the statutory floor of five percent of the credit risk for any asset that is not a QRM. The Act also prohibits the QRM standard from being broader than the QM definition. Senator Corker maintains that, because the QRM rule will exempt loans sold to federal government sponsored enterprises and government agencies, “if the QRM rule is written differently than the QM rule, most financial institutions will only originate loans intended for sale to” those entities and as a result the return of private capital to the secondary market will be limited.
On January 4, the NCUA announced another major mortgage-backed securities lawsuit. Similar to prior suits, the NCUA alleges on behalf of three insolvent corporate credit unions that a mortgage securitizer violated federal and state securities laws in the sale of $2.2 billion in mortgage-backed securities to the credit unions. In this case, the NCUA is suing a securities firm for alleged wrongdoing by companies the defendant later acquired. The NCUA complaint alleges the acquired firms made numerous misrepresentations and omissions of material facts in the offering of the securities sold to the failed corporate credit unions, and that underwriting guidelines in the offering documents were “systematically abandoned.” The NCUA argues that these actions caused the credit unions to believe the risk of loss was low, when, in fact, the opposite was true. When the securities lost value, the NCUA claims, the credit unions were harmed and forced into insolvency.
On December 3, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of claims brought by Ohio public employee pension funds against major credit-rating agencies related to the sale of mortgage-backed securities. Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund v. Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC, No. 11-4203, 2012 WL 5990337 (6th Cir. Dec. 3, 2012). The pension funds claim to have suffered estimated losses of $457 million from investments in MBS made between 2005 and 2008 allegedly caused by their reasonable reliance on the agencies’ false and misleading MBS ratings. The court affirmed the district court’s dismissal and held that the funds’ allegations lacked the requisite specificity to establish either a violation of Ohio’s “blue sky” laws or common-law negligent misrepresentation. Because the agencies’ fees were fixed rather than contingent on the success or proceeds of the sale, the court held that the agencies did not profit from the sale of MBS under the plain language of the statute. The court also rejected the claim that the Agencies either aided or participated in securities fraud because (i) the pension funds offered no facts from which it was possible to conclude that an entity other than the Agencies engaged in securities fraud, and (ii) the pension funds did not adequately plead that the Agencies themselves made affirmative misrepresentations as to the MBS. In addition, the court affirmed the dismissal of the funds’ common-law negligent misrepresentation claims, determining that under both New York and Ohio law the agencies did not have a relationship with the funds that would establish a duty of care. Finally, the court found that the agencies’ MBS ratings were predictive opinions rather than affirmative false statements, and that the funds failed to adequately allege, beyond general criticism of their business practices, that the agencies did not believe the correctness of their ratings.
On November 20, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, one of the Co-Chairs of the federal-state Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities (RMBS) Working Group, announced a new case filed in the New York State Supreme Court alleging Martin Act violations by a securities firm and several of its affiliates in connection with the offering of RMBS. The complaint charges that the firms made fraudulent misrepresentations and omissions to promote the sale of RMBS to private investors and deceived investors regarding the care with which the firms evaluated the quality of loans included in certain RMBS offerings. The suit claims that investors suffered cumulative losses over $11 billion on RMBS sponsored and underwritten in 2006 and 2007. The DOJ’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, of which the RMBS Working Group is a part, noted the significant federal-state coordination that led to the filing, including the “significant” contributions of the FHFA’s Inspector General, as well as assistance from the SEC and Assistant U.S. Attorneys from across the country.
On November 16 the SEC announced that it had obtained more than $400 million from two firms alleged to have misled investors in RMBS. In cases coordinated with the RMBS Working Group, the SEC charged that both firms failed to fully disclose their bulk settlement practices, which involved retaining cash from the settlement of claims against mortgage loan originators for problem loans that the firms had sold into RMBS trusts, and which they no longer actually owned. The SEC also claimed, among other things, that one of the firms misstated information concerning the delinquency status of loans that served as collateral for an RMBS offering it had underwritten, while the second firm allegedly applied different quality review procedures for loans that it sought to put back to originators and instituted a practice of not repurchasing such loans from trusts unless the originators had agreed to repurchase them.
On November 19, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York held that the FHFA’s state-law claims against a financial institution with regard to the offering of certain residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) could not survive because, unlike federal law, the state law does not apply to the “offering” of securities. Fed. Housing Fin. Agency v. Barclays Bank PLC, No. 11-6190, slip op. (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 19, 2012). The case is one of sixteen in which the FHFA alleges as conservator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that billions of dollars of RMBS purchased by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were based on offering documents that contained materially false statements and omissions. In prior rulings in this series of cases the court generally has denied the financial institutions’ motions to dismiss, with the lead case currently pending on appeal to the Second Circuit. The instant case, however, presented a unique issue with regard to the FHFA’s state law claims. As the court explained, the federal Securities Act’s private liability provisions apply to any person who “offers or sells” a security and broadly defines “offer,” while the Virginia Securities Act “omits the term ‘offer’ from its otherwise identical private liability provision.” The court determined that through inaction, Virginia “has purposefully sought to ensure that the scope of private liability under its statutes is more limited than that under federal law” and its law does not apply to the offering of securities, only the sale. The court dismissed the FHFA’s state law claims but allowed all other claims to proceed based on the reasoning presented in prior decisions.
ACLU Fair Lending Case Against Mortgage Securitizer Highlights New Fair Lending Litigation Risk; Fair Lending Litigation Against Lenders Continues
On October 15, the ACLU filed a putative class action suit on behalf of a group of private citizens against a financial institution alleged to have financed and purchased subprime mortgage loans to be included in mortgage backed securities. The complaint alleges that the institution implemented policies and procedures that supported the market for subprime loans in the Detroit area so that it could purchase, pool, and securitize those loans. The plaintiffs claim those policies violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) because they disproportionately impacted minority borrowers who were more likely to receive subprime loans, putting those borrowers at higher risk of default and foreclosure. The suit seeks injunctive relief, including a court appointed monitor to ensure compliance with any court order or decree, as well as unspecified monetary damages. The National Consumer Law Center, which developed the case with the ACLU, reportedly is investigating similar activity by other mortgage securitizers, suggesting additional suits could be filed. The ACLU also released a report on the fair lending aspects of mortgage securitization and called for, among other things, DOJ and HUD to expand their Fair Housing Testing Program, and for Congress to increase penalties for FHA and ECOA violations and provide additional funding for DOJ/HUD fair lending enforcement.
On October 18, three Georgia counties filed suit on behalf of their communities and certain residents against a financial institution the counties allege targets FHA-protected minority borrowers with “predatory high cost, subprime, ALT-A and conforming mortgages without considering the borrowers’ ability to repay such loans.” The complaint claims that the lender’s practices caused and continue to cause minority borrowers to be more at risk of default and foreclosure than similarly situated white borrowers, and, as such, constitute a pattern or practice of discriminatory lending and reverse redlining in violation of the FHA. The counties are seeking injunctive relief and unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
BuckleySandler’s Fair and Responsible Financial Services Team has extensive experience litigating fair lending cases and assisting financial institutions seeking to manage fair lending risk. For a review of fair lending red flags for banks and strategies for addressing them, see our recent article.
On October 24, Nevada Attorney General (AG) Catherine Cortez Masto announced the resolution of an investigation into a financial institution’s purchasing and securitization of subprime and payment option adjustable rate mortgages. The Nevada AG’s investigation concerned potential misrepresentations by lenders with regard to loans with such terms as adjustable rates, stated income, 100 percent financed, extended amortization periods, prepayment penalties, and/or initial teaser rate. The Nevada AG was examining whether the securitizer knowingly purchased such loans and substantially assisted the lenders by financing and purchasing their potentially deceptive loans. To resolve the investigation, the securitizer agreed to pay $42 million and to abstain from financing, purchasing, or securitizing Nevada subprime mortgage loans in the future unless it has engaged in a “reasonable review” of such loans and determined that the loans comply with the Nevada Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
On October 4, the FHFA released a white paper describing the framework for a new mortgage securitization platform and a model Pooling and Servicing Agreement. The proposed changes are part of a larger program to align and improve Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s (the Enterprises) business practices. Consistent with that program, the new platform would replace the proprietary structures used by the Enterprises with a more efficient common platform. Additionally, it would include certain enhancements and new capabilities. The proposed securitization platform would (i) facilitate broader sharing of credit risk, (ii) perform services related to the issuance and administration of mortgage-backed securities, (iii) be adaptable to policy changes and emerging technologies, and (iv) have an open architecture to drive interoperability. The model Pooling and Servicing Agreement would leverage the existing structures used by the Enterprises and, in doing so, would establish basic contractual requirements for pooling and selling and for the MBS/PC Trust. The FHFA seeks industry comment on the proposed framework, including responses to specific questions posed in the white paper. Comments must be submitted by December 3, 2012 and will be posted for public review.
Federal District Court Holds Foreclosures Negate Trust's Ability to Enforce Representations and Warranties
On October 1, the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota granted a lender’s motion for partial summary judgment finding that a trustee’s foreclosure on properties securing mortgage loans extinguished the loans and rendered them unavailable for repurchase by a lender. MASTR Asset Backed Securities Trust 2006-HE3 v. WMC Mortgage Corporation, No. 11-2542, 2012 WL 4511065 (D. Minn. Oct. 1, 2012). The trustee filed the action to compel the lender to repurchase certain loans the lender sold to the trust, alleging that the lender breached representations and warranties made in connection with the sale. The lender moved for partial summary judgment on the grounds that (i) the loans at issue no longer existed to be repurchased after the trust foreclosed on the properties securing the mortgages, and (ii) the trust failed to provide the lender with “prompt notice” of the alleged breaches on which its repurchase demands were based as was required by the relevant agreement between the parties. In opposition to the lender’s motion, the trustee argued that, notwithstanding its foreclosure on the properties securing the loans, the loans remained available for repurchase given that the relevant agreement between the parties defined “mortgage loans” to include proceeds from any foreclosure sale. The court rejected the trustee’s argument and granted the lender’s motion for partial summary judgment, concluding that the loans no longer existed for repurchase. With respect to the lender’s “prompt notice,” that court said that while it found notice was not “prompt” under the circumstances presented, it could not grant summary judgment on that basis prior to discovery.
On October 2, the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities (RMBS) Working Group announced its first legal action. The civil complaint, filed against a major bank by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on behalf of the people of that state, alleges that an underwriter acquired by the bank made fraudulent misrepresentations and omissions in the sale of RMBS to investors. The suit claims that losses resulting from the allegedly fraudulent sales total approximately $22.5 billion to date, but the complaint does not specify the damages sought. In announcing the suit, Attorney General Schneiderman, as well as Acting U.S. Associate Attorney General Tony West and other federal Working Group members, described the coordinated efforts that culminated in this filing. Specifically, Working Group members stressed the assistance provided by the SEC and the FHFA. Indeed, the allegations in the New York Attorney General’s complaint are similar to allegations previously made by the FHFA on behalf of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac against numerous financial institutions. The allegations also parallel those made by private plaintiffs. On behalf of the RMBS Working Group, which was first announced by President Obama during his 2012 State of the Union address, Mr. Schneiderman has promised more civil, and potentially criminal, enforcement activity against other financial institutions.