In recent posts discussing year-end trends, my observations included predictions that credit crisis related lawsuits would continue in 2009 and that increased levels of bank failures could lead to further "dead bank" litigation. As it turns out, 2009’s first-filed securities class action lawsuit appears to reflect both of these projected trends.
According to the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ January 6, 2009 press release (here), they have filed a securities class action lawsuit in the Central District of California alleging that PFF Bancorp and certain of its directors and officers issued false and misleading statements about the company’s financial condition and business practices in violation of the federal securities laws. Until the bank’s closure, PFF operated a community bank located in Pomona, California.
As the FDIC reported (here), on November 21, 2008, banking regulators closed PFF and its assets were transferred to U.S. Bankcorp. PFF is one of the twenty-five U.S. banks that failed during 2008. (The FDIC’s complete list of the failed banks can be found here.)
The only defendants named in the complaint (which can be found here) are the company’s former CEO and former CFO. According to the press release, the Complaint alleges that the defendants "concealed" the bank’s "improper lending to borrowers with little ability to repay the amount loaned and failed to inform investors of the impact of changes in the real estate market in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties."
Specifically, and according to the press release, the Complaint alleges that the defendants concealed that:
(a) PFF's assets contained hundreds of millions of dollars worth of impaired and risky securities, many of which were backed by real estate that was rapidly dropping in value; (b) prior to and during the Class Period, PFF had been extremely aggressive in generating loans, including being heavily involved in offering Home Equity Lines of Credit ("HELOCs"), which would be enormously problematic if the value of residential real estate did not continue to increase; (c) defendants failed to properly account for PFF's real estate loans, failing to reflect impairment in the loans; (d) PFF's business prospects were much worse than represented due to problems in the Inland Empire market, which was a key focus of PFF's business; and (e) PFF had not adequately reserved for loan losses on HELOCs and on other real estate-related assets.
In prior posts, I have speculated (most recently here) that the growing number of failed banks could lead to a wave of failed bank litigation. I also recently projected (here) the likelihood that credit crisis related litigation wave will continue in 2009. One case is obviously no basis from which to generalize, but it does at least indicate that the forces on which I based my speculations are at least at work.
The likely operation of these factors, as well as the Madoff litigation and the general turbulent conditions in the financial marketplace, are among the reasons that that 2009 could be a very active year for securities litigation.
The year has barely begun and the horizon is still wide open, but from my perspective we seemed to have picked up right where we left off.
In any event, I have added the PFF Bancorp case to my running tally of the subprime and credit crisis-related lawsuits, which can be accessed here. With the addition of the first-filed case of 2009 to the list, the number of subprime and credit crisis-related lawsuit filed during the period 2007 through 2009 now stands at 142.