Litigation

FHFA Sues Wells Fargo Regarding Underwriting of RMBS

 

On June 3, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), as conservator for the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac), filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against Wells Fargo Securities, LLC (Wells Fargo) (as successor to Wachovia Capital Markets, LLC (Wachovia)), alleging a violation of Section 11 of the Securities Act. FHFA’s lawsuit alleges losses resulting from Wachovia’s underwriting of two NovaStar securitizations purchased in 2006. FHFA alleges that Freddie Mac was misled about the quality of the loans in the bond deals, and that Wachovia, which Wells Fargo acquired in 2008, participated in drafting the registration statements at issue. These registration statements allegedly contained material misstatements and omissions. FHFA further alleges that its claims are timely because of various tolling agreements entered into between FHFA, Freddie Mac and Wells Fargo. The two deals at issue in FHFA’s Complaint are among six securitizations subject to a $165 million class-action settlement between investors and underwriters, including Wells Fargo, from 2017. FHFA has made multiple unsuccessful bids to be excluded from the settlement, including an appeal that the Second Circuit denied in January of this year, where it argued that the settlement would infringe on the agency’s statutorily-authorized conservatorship powers. FHFA has since filed another appeal, which the agency contends permits it to pursue the claims in this Complaint against Wells Fargo.

Third Circuit Finds Trustee Not Liable for $168 Million RMBS Loss – IKB Failed to Show Trustee Violated Contractual Obligations

 

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a trial’s court’s dismissal of IKB International SA’s claims against Wilmington Trust Co., holding that IKB had not demonstrated that Wilmington violated its contractual obligations. IKB’s breach of contract claim against Wilmington stemmed from a $168 million investment in RMBS issued by various trusts for which Wilmington served as trustee. Plaintiff’s suit against Wilmington sought money damages for breaches of contract and Wilmington’s implied “overarching duty to protect the trusts.” In affirming the dismissal, the Third Circuit held that Wilmington’s role was “primarily ministerial,” that it had only agreed to perform certain “modest functions” specifically enumerated in the Trust Agreements and that the agreements in fact shielded Wilmington from the liability asserted.

NY Intermediate Appellate Court Reverses Dismissal of HSBC RMBS Suit Against Deutsche Bank

 

HSBC, the trustee of two securitizations at issue, successfully appealed the 2018 dismissal of its complaint alleging that DB Structured Products Inc. (DBSP), the sponsor of the two securitizations at issue, breached Mortgage Loan Purchase Agreements and Pooling and Servicing Agreements by securitizing loans in breach of representations and warranties and subsequently failing to disclose its discovery of those breaches. The trial court granted a motion to dismiss without leave to amend because it interpreted the contract language as providing that DBSP had no obligation to inform HSBC when it discovered loan-level breaches due to language in the governing agreements that DBSP notify itself of breaches. A split panel of the New York Appellate Division, First Department, reversed the trial court decision, finding that the contract was ambiguous because of the nonsensical nature of the notice provision, which required DBSP to provide notice to itself and granted HSBC leave to amend its complaint.

SDNY Dismisses FDIC Claims for Lack of Standing Again

 

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) as receiver for Guaranty Bank brought claims against The Bank of New York Mellon, U.S. National Bank Association, and Citibank, N.A. alleging breach of contract, violation of the Streit Act, and violation of the Trust Indenture Act for allegedly failing to carry out their duties as trustees. Judge Carter dismissed the same claims in September of 2016 for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, holding that the FDIC lacked standing to sue because the FDIC had sold its ownership of the certificates at issue in 2010 to Wilmington Trust Co., as owner trustee, with Citibank acting in as indenture trustee. The Court had held that after that sale, the plaintiff’s claims had travelled with the securities to the resecuritized trust and thus the plaintiff no longer had standing to bring the claims it asserted. The Court had granted leave to amend the complaint to permit FDIC to resolve the standing issues by seeking ratification of the claims by the trust pursuant to FRCP 17(a)(3). After the 2016 dismissal, Wilmington Trust ratified the claims, but Citibank refused to ratify the claims without indemnity from FDIC. As a result, the standing issues remained unresolved, and the court dismissed the claims once again for lack of subject matter jurisdiction without prejudice. Decision.

SDNY Denies Class Certification in Royal Park Action Against Trustee Bank of New York

 

On February 15, Judge Gregory H. Woods in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York denied certificateholder Royal Park Investments SA/NV’s (“Royal Park“) renewed motion for class certification in its lawsuit against RMBS trustee Bank of New York Mellon. This was the second time Judge Woods denied Royal Park’s motion for class certification in this case, and it is consistent with other judges’ rulings on Royal Park’s class certification motions in its lawsuits against trustees. Judge Woods found that Royal Park failed to demonstrate that questions of law or fact common to class members predominated over individualized questions. Judge Woods held that liability must be determined individually on a loan-by-loan and trust-by-trust basis, and that none of the inquiries required to prove liability were susceptible to simple, class-wide proof. Further, each putative class member needed to demonstrate that it holds litigation rights, which requires the court to undertake a difficult, fact-dependent analysis of individualized legal issues. In addition, the Court found that each putative class member would present a different statute of limitations defense, and these defenses would apply different time periods under New York law because the trusts were non-residents. Finally, the Court held that the damage calculation in this case required hundreds of fact intensive inquiries that could not be answered on a class-wide basis.

Appeals Court Affirms BNYM Defense Verdict in Trustee Litigation

 

On February 9, the Court of Appeals of Ohio issued an order affirming a 2017 bench trial defense verdict for The Bank of New Mellon (“BNYM“) in a lawsuit filed by certain RMBS investors alleging that BNYM had breached its duties as trustee under certain pooling and service agreements.

The appellate court, in a lengthy opinion, affirmed findings by the trial court that (i) the pooling and service agreements imposed only limited pre-default obligations on BNYM as Trustee; and (ii) that those duties remained limited in this case, and were never heightened by law because plaintiffs failed to prove that BNYM had actual knowledge of specific breaches of representations and warranties on any particular loans and/or had received a notice of an event of default. The Court also affirmed the trial court’s finding that under the law, plaintiffs had to prove the existence and materiality of loan breaches on a case-by-case basis, rendering loan sampling an inappropriate method to calculate damages.

Banks Sue NCUA for Breach of 2013 MBS Settlement Agreement

 

On February 11, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, and Countrywide (together, “the Banks“) filed suit against the National Credit Union Administration Board (“NCUA“) in its capacity as liquidating agent or conservator to six credit unions who purchased MBS issued by the Plaintiffs. The suit arises from a 2013 settlement agreement between NCUA and the Banks after the six credit unions’ failure and subsequent liquidation or conservatorship. In the settlement agreement, NCUA agreed to use “good faith” and “best efforts” to obtain releases for the Banks in any actions that NCUA later pursued against third-parties involving the Banks’ MBS. Plaintiffs specifically allege that because NCUA failed to seek a release of the third-party entity’s indemnification claims against the Banks with respect to three settlements with two entities, the Banks were forced to pay to settle subsequent third-party indemnification demands. Plaintiffs also allege unjust enrichment, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and violations of the Administrative Procedure Act., 5 U.S.C. §§ 702 and 706(2), due to the breaches.

Royal Park and Wells Fargo Reach Settlement in RMBS Litigation

 

On January 14, U.S. District Judge Katherine Polk Failla of the Southern District of New York granted a joint request from plaintiff certificateholder Royal Park Investments SA/NV and defendant trustee Wells Fargo Bank NA to dismiss Royal Park’s remaining claims against Wells Fargo. The dismissal follows a settlement that resolves the litigation brought by Royal Park accusing Wells Fargo of breaching its contractual duties as trustee of two RMBS trusts, including the alleged failure to notify and enforce repurchase obligations of mortgage loan sellers for purported breaches of representations and warranties. The settlement also resolves a separate suit brought by Royal Park, which accused Wells Fargo of improperly financing its defense using money from two RMBS trusts. Wells Fargo maintained that it was entitled to reimbursement pursuant to the trusts’ governing agreements. Details of the settlement agreement were not disclosed as a stipulation of the voluntary dismissal.

Deutsche Bank Settles Two BlackRock RMBS Suits

 

Deutsche Bank settled with BlackRock and other RMBS investors in New York federal (BlackRock Balanced Capital Portfolio (Fi) v. Deutsche Bank National Trust Company, S.D.N.Y., No. 1:14-cv-09367) and California state (BlackRock Balanced Capital Portfolio (Fi) v. Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas, Orange County Superior Court, No. 2016-00843062) suits that argued Deutsche Bank failed to fulfill its obligations as trustee of over 500 RMBS trusts valued at more than $570 billion. The settlement comes after the investors repeatedly failed to certify the cases as class actions. The settlement amount was not disclosed.

Judge Grants Stay in U.S. Bank Fee Suit

 

S.D.N.Y. Judge Victor Marrero granted a stay in a proposed class action that alleges that U.S. Bank as trustee improperly used money from trusts to fund its defense in an RMBS suit. Royal Park Investments filed the underlying RMBS trustee suit in 2014 (Royal Park Investments SA/NV v. U.S. Bank National Association, No. 1:14-cv-02590), alleging that U.S. Bank breached its duties as trustee. While the suit was pending, Royal Park Investments filed another suit against U.S. Bank in 2017 (Royal Park Investments SA/NV v. U.S. Bank National Association, No. 1:17-cv-06778) for misuse of trust funds to fund the underlying suit. U.S. Bank contends that indemnification clauses in the trusts’ governing documents allow it to reimburse itself for these legal expenses. Royal Park counters that legal fees are not recoverable if the relevant litigation is the result of U.S. Bank’s gross negligence. Because this gross negligence is a “central factual question” in both suits, Judge Marrero granted the stay to resolve the claim first in the underlying RMBS suit.