In an opinion that provides an interesting glimpse of a complex D&O insurance program, on August 24, 2011, Central District of California Judge R. Gary Klausner granted the motions to dismiss of the insurance company defendants in an action that had been brought by a subsidiary of IndyMac bank, which was trying to establish its rights to coverage under the failed bank’s D&O insurance policies. A copy of the August 24 opinion can be found here.
IndyMac failed on July 11, 2008. The bank’s closure represented the second largest bank failure during the current banking crisis, behind only the massive WaMu failure. (IndyMac has assets of about $32 billion at the time of its closure).
As I detailed in a prior post (here), the bank’s collapse triggered a wave of litigation. The lawsuits include a securities class action lawsuit against certain former directors and officers of the bank; lawsuits brought by the FDIC and by the SEC against the bank’s former President; and a separate FDIC lawsuit against four former officers of Indy Mac’s homebuilders division. According to Judge Klausner’s August 24 opinion, there are a total of twelve separate lawsuits pending (referred to in the opinion as the “underlying actions”). Judge Klausner describes the litigation generally as alleging “various improprieties, mostly centering around mortgage backed securities.”
IndyMac MBS was a subsidiary of IndyMac Bank, and is now wholly owned by the IndyMac federal receivership. IndyMac MBS is a defendant in a number of the lawsuits that have been filed in the wake of the bank’s collapse. Earlier this year, IndyMac MBS filed an action seeking a judicial declaration of coverage on its behalf under the bank’s D&O insurance policies.
The insurance policies at issue represent a total of $160 million of insurance coverage spread across two policy years. (Judge Klausner’s opinion does not explain why two policy year’s policies are potentially implicated, rather than only one.) The coverage in the 2007-2008 policy year, providing coverage during the year from March 1, 2007 to March 1, 2008, consists of eight layers of insurance. Each layer has a $10 million limit of liability. The eight layers consist of a primary policy providing traditional ABC coverage, with three layers of excess insurance providing follow form ABC coverage, followed by four layers of Excess Side A insurance.
The coverage for the policy year March 1, 2008 to March 1, 2009 is arranged similarly, except that the lineup of insurer involved changed slightly in the 2008-2009 program. Judge Klausner’s opinion names all of the carriers involved and their respective roles in the two programs.
In its declaratory judgment action, IndyMac MBS sought to have the court determine that each of the underlying actions is covered under one or the other of the two insurance coverage towers. Moreover, because the two programs are each subject to a “priority of payments” provision giving the individual defendants in the underlying actions priority to coverage under the policies, IndyMac MBS sought to have the court make a determination of coverage for the individual defendants in the underlying actions, so as to allow the court to ascertain whether IndyMac MBS may be eligible to receive coverage under the policies. The defendant insurance companies moved to dismiss.
In his August 24 order, Judge Klausner granted the insurance companies’ motions to dismiss, holding that IndyMac MBS’s request for declaratory relief is “too remote to constitute a case or controversy” because any insurance coverage that may ultimately be owed “can only be determined after the underlying actions involving the Individual Defendants have been concluded.” Accordingly, IndyMac MBS “does not yet have an adequate injury that would make this case justiciable.”
In addition, Judge Klausner found with respect to the excess layers of insurance had not even been triggered because the underlying insurance has not yet been exhausted, and whether the excess layers “will ever be triggered in the underlying action is too speculative to give rise to a valid request for standing in the current case.” Indeed, even under the primary policy, IndyMac’s alleged injury is “too speculative” as IndyMac MBS has not yet met the $2.5 million deductible.
Finally, Judge Klausner separately granted the Excess Side A insurers’ motion to dismiss. Because the insurance coverage under the Excess Side A policies is only available, if at all, for the benefit of the individual defendants, IndyMac “lacks standing to request declaratory relief” because it “cannot adequately allege that it has a legal interest” in the Excess Side A policies, given that the Excess Side A policies “provide coverage only for the Individual Insured Defendants.”
There is nothing surprising about the outcome of this ruling. It clearly is too early for the court or anyone else to try to sort out who is going to be entitled to what under the various policies. Nevertheless, it certainly is understandable that IndyMac MBS would want to know how much insurance it is going to have as it faces the various lawsuits in which it is involved.
This is a classic situation of too many claims, too many defendants and possibly not enough insurance. Even though IndyMac carried annual limits of liability of $80 million (and I note as an aside, there is nothing that says that both of the two $80 million towers of insurance will actually be available; it is entirely possible that all claims will relate back to the date of the initial filing of the first claim, in which case only a single $80 million tower would actually be available to pay the various insured persons’ losses), that may prove to be an insufficient amount to pay the defense fees and to pay settlements and judgments in order to resolve all of the various underlying actions.
The larger concern for IndyMac MBS is that owing to the priority of payments provision in the traditional ABC policies, and owing to the limitation of coverage in the Excess Side A policies to the individuals only, it is entirely possible that payment of the individual insureds’ defense expenses and settlement amounts will entirely exhaust all insurance. The Excess Side A insurance of course is not available at all for IndyMac MBS. IndyMac’s declaratory judgment action seems like an attempt to try to do something before all of the insurance is gone.
Of course, I am assuming for the sake of argument that there actually is coverage available under these policies for the benefit of the individual insured persons. Whether or to what extent there are policy terms and conditions that preclude coverage in whole or in part for the individual insureds is another question. That is of course one of the questions that IndyMac MBS wanted answered in the declaratory judgment action, because knowing the answer to the question of how much insurance is available to the individuals is a necessary predicate to knowing the answer to how much insurance might be available to IndyMac MBS.
The structure of IndyMac’s insurance was somewhat unusual, as it is not common for companies to carry equal amounts of traditional ABC insurance and of Excess Side A insurance, or to carry $40 million of Excess Side A, as IndyMac did here. However, from the perspective of the individuals, the unusually large amount of Excess Side A insurance that the bank carried is turning out to be a good thing from there perspective, as it is looking like they are going to need it, and it is only going to be available to them and for their benefit, without having to share with other entities.
Anyway, while I don’t think the outcome of this decision is particularly surprising, it is still an interesting situation. The circumstances provide insight into the ways that the various parts of a D&O insurance program operate, particularly the priority of payments provision and the Excess Side A insurance structure.
One final observation has to do with the fact that a lot of insureds, like IndyMac MBS, become frustrated when they are unable to find out with clarity at the outset of a claim how much insurance is going to be available. The problem is, as this case demonstrates, until the underlying litigation has played itself out, it is not possible to know how all of the various rights and interests under the policy are going to be addressed. When this type of frustration arises in the course of a claim, the insured persons often translate their frustration into anger at the carriers involved. But as this case also shows, even taking as active a step as suing the carriers to try to force a determination of coverage cannot eliminate the unavoidable constraint that requires the underlying claim to be resolved (or at least sufficiently advanced) before coverage can finally be determined.
I do wonder sometimes whether it is a sad commentary that I find all of this interesting.
Special thanks to a dedicated reader for sending me a copy of the IndyMac order.
Las Vegas Sands Credit Crisis-Related Securities Suit Survives Dismissal Motion: Like a lot of companies during the economic turmoil in late 2008, the Las Vegas Sands Corp. experienced serious liquidity problems that put it in breach of various covenants it has with its lenders. These disruptions affected the company’s ability to proceed with expansion plans in Las Vegas and Macao. As these events unfolded the company’s share price lost much of its value.
As I discussed in an earlier post, somewhat belatedly, in May 2010, a plaintiff shareholder filed a securities class action lawsuit in the District of Nevada, alleging that the company and certain of its directors and officers had made misleading statements about the company, its development plans, its liquidity and its financial condition. The defendants moved to dismiss.
In an August 24, 2011 order (here), District of Nevada Judge Kent Dawson denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss. He concluded that the plaintiffs “have adequately pled facts asserting that investors were misled by statements that liquidity was not an issue and that development was steadily progressing.” He also concluded that the plaintiffs have “adequately pled that Defendants knew that the statements they were making were false.” He also found that the allegations in the complaint “show a series of public statements on material issues that were inconsistent with what was known internally.” He did conclude that certain forward-looking statements were not actionable, because they came within the safe harbor for forward looking statements.
I have added the Las Vegas Sands case to my running tally of credit crisis-related dismissal motion rulings, which can be accessed here.
Here’s A Real Shocker: Merger Objection Lawsuits Are Worthless: If the hurricane blew away your Saturday newspapers, you may not have seen the August 27, 2011 article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Why Merger Lawsuits Don’t Pay” (here). According to the article, “legal experts” warn prospective claimants with respect to merger objection lawsuits that “the chances that you will succeed in stopping a deal or receiving a payday are minimal.”
The article reports data from Advisen that in 2010, there were 353 merger objection lawsuits, which represents a 58% increase from 2009. There have already been 352 merger objection lawsuits so far this year. The number of these lawsuits keeps increasing even though these suits “rarely result in a tangible award,” and the best outcomes are usually limited to “a delay in the merger or slightly improved disclosures about the deal’s terms.”
The answer to the question about why these cases are filed if they produce so little is that they make money for the lawyers. As the article puts it, “in many cases the biggest beneficiaries are the law firms,” which collect fees “from roughly $400,000 for typical cases to several million for bigger cases.” The article quotes a statement from Delaware Chancellor J. Travis Laster that the specific merger objection case before him was “a bunch of movement for nothing.”
Yes, it’s a great country, isn’t it?
Video Tribute: As a parting salute to Irene as she heads north and back out to sea, here's a video tribute -- The Scorpions "Rock You Like A Hurricane." (sorry about the commercial at the beginning, it is short).