On May 28, 2015, three Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the “Companies”) shareholders filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa against the Federal Housing Finance Agency (“FHFA”), its director, and the U.S. Treasury Department in connection with FHFA’s agreement to pay all of the Companies’ profits to the Treasury on a quarterly basis (the “Net Worth Sweep”). According to plaintiffs, the Net Worth Sweep would be all encompassing depriving the private shareholders of their profits forever.
Can shareholders of a government-sponsored enterprise successfully challenge the constitutionality of a government takeover of the entity? Shareholders of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will try to do so in a $41 billion class action filed against the United States in the Court of Federal Claims on June 10, 2013. Plaintiffs allege that even though the Federal Housing Finance Authority’s 2008 takeover of the mortgage giants benefited the nation as a whole, it harmed the companies’ shareholders and violated their constitutionally protected private ownership rights.
Congress established Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to expand the nation’s secondary mortgage market by increasing the availability of funds to finance mortgages and home ownership. The government operated Fannie and Freddie until 1968 and 1989, respectively, when the companies were reorganized as “government-sponsored enterprises,” or federally chartered private corporations. Since then, both companies have operated as shareholder-owned, publicly traded corporations. But in 2008, in the midst of the financial crisis, both companies were placed under the conservatorship of FHFA, pursuant to the Housing and Economic Recovery Act (HERA).
Plaintiffs allege that prior to the 2008 takeover, the government adjusted the companies’ lending standards and capital restraints to encourage the companies to purchase a greater number of risky subprime securities. While this ultimately led to significant weaknesses in the companies’ portfolios, Plaintiffs contend that the companies nonetheless remained adequately capitalized and financially sound, and did not need the conservatorships. According to Plaintiffs, the government improperly bullied the companies’ boards into acquiescing in the takeover. READ MORE
Few can ignite a legal firestorm like U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff of the Southern District of New York. Last week, in a mortgage fraud suit against Bank of America and Countrywide, Judge Rakoff refused to dismiss a novel claim for civil penalties under the obscure Financial Institutions Reform Recovery Enforcement Act (“FIRREA”). The ruling will surely encourage civil prosecutors to make wider use of FIRREA, which provides a generous ten-year statute of limitations and low burden of proof, in pursuing financial fraud cases.
FIRREA was enacted in response to the Savings and Loan debacle of the 1980s, as well as the fraud scandals that emerged during that era. The statute includes a clause imposing a civil penalty for mail and wire fraud and other violations “affecting a federally insured financial institution.” Until recently the civil penalty provision has been ignored by prosecutors, leaving courts without occasion to decide what exactly the statute means by “affecting” a financial institution. READ MORE