The subprime litigation wave is growing in amplitude and volume, as four companies have found themselves the targets of a total of five new subprime-related securities class action lawsuits, joining the now quite lengthy list of companies that have been swept up in the wave. With the addition of these five new securities lawsuits, as well as the numeous other suits filed in just the last few days, it appears that the subprime litigation wave is building dangerous momentum
Wachovia: The first of these new lawsuits was actually filed back on January 31, 2008, against Wachovia Corporation , certain of its officers and directors, a related Wachovia unit that issued certain securities involved in the lawsuit, and the offering underwriters that underwrote Wachovia’s May 2007 preferred securities offering. (As noted further below, Wachovia was also named in a separate securities lawsuit relating to auction rate securities).
The Wachovia lawsuit flew under the radar screen at the time that it was filed because the plaintiffs’ lawyers chose to file the lawsuit in New York Supreme Court (Nassau County), though the defendants have removed the action under the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act (SLUSA) and the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA). A copy of the removal petition, to which the initial complaint is attached, can be found here.
The complaint assert claims based on allegedly false and misleading statements in the registration and prospectus issued in connection with Wachovia’s $750 million May 2007 offering of preferred securities. The complaint alleges that the registration statement failed to disclose that Wachovia’s "portfolio of collateralized debt obligations ("CDOs") contained billions of dollars worth of impaired and risky securities, many of which were backed by subprime mortgage loans." The complaint also alleges that the defendants failed to "properly account for highly leveraged loans such as mortgage securities." Finally, the complaint alleges that the complaint failed to disclose that Wachovia was "heavily involved in option adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs)…that would become toxic (for both Wachovia and the borrowers) once house prices stopped increasing at a rapid rate."
The complaint alleges claims only under the ’33 Act, and expressly asserts that the state court has concurrent jurisdiction under Section 22 of the ’33 Act in connection with plaintiff’s claims. The plaintiff in the Wachovia law suit seems to be pursuing the same state court strategy that I discussed at length in my prior post (here) analyzing the class action securities lawsuits that investors have filed against the securitizers who created mortgage backed assets. Significantly, the Coughlin Stoia firm is involved in both those cases and the Wachovia case. Given the sophistication of the firm involved, one must assume that these state court filings are part of a conscious strategy on the firm’s part.
Though defendants have removed the Wachovia case to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, it remains to be seen whether or not the plaintiffs will be able to have the case remanded to state court. As I noted here, the plaintiffs in the Luther v. Countrywide case, a ’33 Act class action lawsuit filed against mortgage backed asset securitizers, succeeded in having their case remanded back to state court. The court in Luther case concluded that concurrent jurisdiction provisions in the ’33 Act prohibit the state court’s case’s removal to federal court.
My theory on these state court lawsuits has been that the plaintiffs intend to argue that the provisions of the PSLRA to not apply to their state court ’33 Act lawsuits. The fact that the plaintiffs’ lawyers issued no press release at the time they filed the complaint tends to reinforce this impression. But regardless of their theory they seem to be making a comprehensive effort to bring these cases in state court. The involvement of state courts in these lawsuits will be very interesting to watch.
Lehman Brothers: On February 22, 2008, a Lehman Brothers shareholder filed a purported securities class action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, alleging that Lehman Brothers made certain misrepresentations or omissions about its exposure to subprime mortgages during the class period from September 13, 2006 through July 30, 2007. A copy of the complaint can be found here.
There are a variety of very odd things about this lawsuit, and almost all of these odd features repeat the same odd attributes of the subprime-related securities class action lawsuit was previously filed against Morgan Stanley, as I discussed in my prior post here.
The first odd feature about this lawsuit is that it does not name the company, its directors or its senior managers as defendants in the lawsuit. The sole named defendant is the company’s Chief Financial Officer, yet no misrepresentations or omissions are attributed directly to him. The allegations against the CFO are attributed solely to his position within the company. There are no allegations that the CFO sold shares of stock. It is not particularly clear why the CFO should be named as defendant while other officials are not.
The allegations regarding the alleged misrepresentations are sparse, and are essentially limited to a few occasions when the company supposedly downplayed its exposure to subprime mortgages. The class period ends at an odd time, too; the class period end is not in January 2008, when the company said that it has lost $5.9 billion on its mortgage related positions, but on July 30, 2007, when an equity analyst downgraded the company.
The named plaintiff is also an odd representative for the purported class. Though the class period purports to run from September 13, 2006 to July 30, 2007, the named plaintiff did not even buy his shares until July 15, 2007, making him an unlikely representative for a class of that duration. Moreover, the complaint itself refers to events and statements at or about the same time that the plaintiff bought his stock which surely raised questions about subprime-related exposures in general and subprime exposures at Lehman brothers in particular.
The plaintiff also chose to file his complaint in the Northern District of Illinois, though Lehman’s headquarters are in Manhattan.
But regardless of the complaint’s numerous anomalies, the complaint does represent a subprime-related securities class action lawsuit, and so, as noted further below, I have added it to my running tally of subprime-related securities lawsuits.
Schwab: On March 18, 2008, plaintiffs filed a securities class action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California against the Schwab Corporation, certain of its directors and officers, and as well as the underwriter and investement adviser associated with two Schwab YieldPlus Funds. The lawsuit is filed on behalf of investors who purchased Schwab YieldPlus Investor Funds Investor Shares and Schwab YieldPlus Funds Select Shares during the period March 17, 2005 through March 18, 2008. A copy of the plaintiffs’ counsel’s press release can be found here.
The complaint alleges that the defendants issued untrue statements regarding the lack of diversification of the funds and the extent of the funds’ exposure to subprime-backed securities. The complaint alleges that while the funds advertised themselves as a safe alternative to money market funds, they were in fact critically exposed because more than 50 percent of the funds assets were invested in the mortgage industry. The plaintiffs allege that the funds have lost over 18 percent of their value since mid-2007 and 11 percent since January 2, 2008. The plaintiffs allege that the defendants violated Section 11 of the ’33 Act based in misrepresentations in the funds’ offering documents.
The Schwab funds are actually the second mutual funds to be sued in connection with the subprime crisis; as discussed here, the earlier lawsuit involved Morgan Keegan.
Special thanks to a loyal reader for copies of the Wachovia and Lehman Brothers complaints.
More Auction Rate Securities Litigation: As readers may recall, in an earlier post (here), I speculated that lawsuits related to auction rate securities may represent the next wave in subprime securities litigation. Last week, I noted (here) the securities class action lawsuit that had been brought against Deutsche Bank on behalf of auction rate securities investors. Auction rate securities investors have now filed two additional securities class action lawsuits, one involving Wachovia, and the other involving TD Ameritrade.
With respect to TD Ameritrade, the plaintiffs filed a securities class action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on behalf of persons who purchased auction rate securities from TD Ameritrade and an affiliate between March 19 2003 and February 13, 2008 and who continued to hold the securities. A copy of the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ March 19, 2008 press release can be found here, and a copy of the complaint can be found here
The complaint alleges that the defendants failed to disclose:
(1) the auction rate securities were not cash alternatives, like money market funds, but were instead, complex, long-term financial instruments with 30 year maturity dates, or longer; (2) the auction rate securities were only liquid at the time of sale because TD Ameritrade and other broker-dealers were artificially supporting and manipulating the auction rate market to maintain the appearance of liquidity and stability; (3) TD Ameritrade and other broker-dealers routinely intervened in auctions for their own benefit, to set rates and prevent all-hold auctions and failed auctions; and (4) TD Ameritrade continued to market auction rate securities as liquid investments after it had determined that it and other broker dealers were likely to withdraw their support for the periodic auctions and that a "freeze" of the market for auction rate securities would result.
With respect to Wachovia, the plaintiffs filed a securities class action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on behalf of all investors who purchased auction rate securities from Wachovia and an affiliate between March 19, 2003 and February 13, 2008 and who continue to hold the securities. A copy of the plaintiffs’ counsel’s March 19, 2008 press release can be found here and a copy of the complaint can be found here. The allegations against Wachovia are substantially similar to the allegations against TD Ameritrade.
An additional lawsuit has been brought on behalf of an investor in auction rate securities, although in this case it is an individual action rather than a class action. On March 18, 2008, plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Western Disrict of Texas against Wells Fargo and Wells Fargo Investments, alleging that the defendants violated the securities laws and breached their fiduciary duties in connection with the plaintiffs’ purchase of $2 million of auction rate market preferred shares. A copy of the complaint can be found here. (Hat tip to Courthouse News Service for a copy of the complaint.)
The plaintiffs contend that the Wells Fargo investment adviser referred to the securities as "bonds" that were "represented to be without risk." The plaintiffs claim that the defendants said that the securities could be redeemed on 7 days notice, but that when the plaintiffs sought to redeem the securities on March 11, 2008, they were told that no market exists for the securities. The complaint seeks recovery of $2 million plus punitive damages.
Some Observations and Tallies: Even for those that have been paying only intermittent attention, it is pretty clear that the pace of subprime-related litigation activity has picked up significantly over the last few days. Even without regard to these five new securities class action suits listed above, we had already seen a notable number of new subprime securities suits just in the last week, including for example, new lawsuits against SocGen, PMI Group, Deutsche Bank, and, most significantly, Bear Stearns. Adding these five new subprime-related securities class action lawsuits listed above to the list reinforces the impression that the litigation wave is gathering dangerous momentum, with the likelihood that even greater activity is yet to come.
With the addition of these new lawsuits to my running tally of subprime- related securities class action litigation, which can be accessed here, the current total of subprime securities lawsuits now stands at 56, of which 18 have been filed in 2008. Two of these 56 represent lawsuits by investors against mortgage backed asset securitizers, three are class action on behalf of investors in auction rate securities, and two relate to mutual funds, as noted above. The remaining 50 lawsuits were brought by shareholders of publicly traded companies.
More About Credit Default Swaps: In yet another prior post (here), I noted that problems arising from credit default swaps could be another source of litigation arising from the credit crisis. The March 20, 2008 Wall Street Journal is reporting (here) that Merrill Lynch has sued a unit of Security Capital Assurance, seeking to prevent SCA from avoiding its financial obligations to insure as much as $3.1 billion on seven credit default swaps.