As I have previously noted (most recently here), the pace of filing of FDIC actions against directors and officers of failed banks has slowed considerably as 2012 has progressed. Indeed, there have only been two new FDIC failed bank lawsuits filed since May, and none at all since mid-July (even though the FDIC has each month continued to increase the number of authorized lawsuits, as reflected on the agency’s website, here).
While the FDIC has not filed any new failed bank lawsuits recently, that is not to say that the regulatory authorities have not been active. Specifically, on September 25, 2011, the SEC filed enforcement actions in the District of Nebraska against three former officers of the failed TierOne Bank of Lincoln, Nebraska, as well as against the son of one of the three officers. The SEC’s September 25, 2012 press release regarding the enforcement actions can be found here, and the SEC’s two complaints can be found here and here.
Banking regulators closed TierOne Bank on June 4, 2012 (refer here). The SEC alleges that prior to the closure, TierOne understated its loan losses and misstated the value real estate the bank had repossessed. The SEC alleges that as a result of the bank’s expansion into “riskier types” of lending in Las Vegas and other high growth areas, and the resulting increase in problems loans, the Office of Thrift Supervision directed the bank to maintain higher capital ratios. The SEC alleges that in order to comply with these requirements, three TierOne officials – Gilbert Lundstrom, the bank’s Chairman and CEO; James Laphen, the bank’s President and COO; and Don Langford, the bank’s chief credit officer – disregarded information that collateral securing the bank’s loans and real estate the bank had repossessed were significantly overvalued. The SEC alleges that as a result the bank’s losses were understated by millions of dollars in multiple SEC filings.
The SEC further alleges that after the OTS required the bank to obtain new appraisals for the collateral and repossessed real estate, the bank disclosed more than $130 million in loan losses. The SEC alleges that had these losses been booked in the appropriate quarters, the bank would have missed the required capital ratios several quarters earlier. Following the announcement of the loan losses, its stock price dropped more than 70%
The SEC alleges that Lundstrom communicated inside information to his son about the bank’s intention to sell certain assets. With the benefit of this information, Lundstrom’s son was able to purchase TierOne stock and then later sell it at a profit.
The SEC has reached settlements with Lundstrom and with his son, and with Laphen. Lundstrom has agreed to pay a $500,921 penalty. Laphen has agreed to pay a $225,000 penalty. Lundstrom’s son has agreed to pay a $225,921 disgorgement plus a $225,921 penalty. The sole remaining defendant, Langfor, has not settled the charges and the case against him remains pending.
The SEC’s press release quotes SEC Enforcement Director Robert Khuzami as saying that the bank’s understatement of its loan losses had the effect of “concealing the bank’s deterioration from shareholders and regulators alike.” The SEC’s press release also expressly acknowledges the “cooperation” of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
The SEC enforcement actions relating to TierOne Bank are not the first that the SEC has brought against in the wake of a bank closure as part of the current wave of bank failures. As noted here, in April 2012, the SEC filed a civil enforcement action against two former officers of the publicly traded holding company of the failed Franklin Bank. In addition, as noted previously (here, scroll down), in an October 11, 2011 complaint (here), the SEC filed a civil enforcement action against four former officers of UCBH Holdings, Inc., the holding company for United Commercial Bank, which failed in November 2009.
The SEC action against the former TierOne officials serve as a reminder that the former directors and officers of a failed bank face significant additional litigation threats beyond just the possibility of a civil action by the FDIC in its role as receiver of the failed bank. Where, as here, the failed institution or its holding company were publicly traded, the potential liability exposures include the possibility of an SEC enforcement action or even a securities class action lawsuit. Even though the penalty amounts the SEC sought in the enforcement actions would not be covered under a D&O policy, the costs associated with defending this type of enforcement action would likely be covered (assuming that D&O insurance coverage is in fact available). These costs erode the limits of liability of any applicable insurance, reducing the amount of insurance available for any other pending claims. All of which is a reminder of the strains that post-failure litigation can put on the D&O insurance resources of a failed bank.
Summary Judgment Denied in Failed Bank Coverage Suit: Readers may recall that in a prior post (here), I described an action that a D&O insurer had filed in the Eastern District of Michigan, seeking a judicial declaration that the policy the insurer had issued to the failed Michigan Heritage Bank did not provide coverage for the claims that the FDIC, as receiver for the failed bank, had filed against a former officer of the bank. The defendants in the insurer’s declaratory judgment action include both the FDIC and the former bank official that the FDIC has separately sued.
In its declaratory judgment action, the insurer contends that there is no coverage under its policy for the FDIC’s claim against the former bank officer, arguing that coverage is barred by the “insured vs. insured” exclusion” and that the financial loss alleged in the underling claim does not constitute loss under the policy. The insurer moved for summary judgment.
In a September 24, 2012 opinion and order (here), Eastern District of Michigan Judge Bernard Freidman denied without prejudice the insurer’s summary judgment motion. In opposing the summary judgment motion, the FDIC has argued that the motion was premature because the terms on which the carrier seeks to rely are ambiguous and because discovery is required to determine the meaning of the terms.
In denying the insurer’s motion, Judge Friedman said that “the FDIC has shown that some ambiguity exists in the insured vs. insured exemption [sic] due to the ‘security holder exception,’ the omission of a regulatory exclusion, and statements by plaintiff that regulatory suits, which might include the instant action are covered.”
Judge Friedman also found “the FDIC has shown that some ambiguity exists in the definition of ‘loss’ because the so-called ‘loan loss carve out’ does not clearly exemption tortious conduct.” Judge Friedman also cited the insurer’s marketing materials “which indicated that charged-off loan losses are covered not excluded.” Judge Friedman denied the summary judgment motion to permit discovery on specified issues.
Judge Friedman’s ruling in this case does not represent a determination on the merits. It does not represent a determination that the Insured vs. Insured exclusion does not apply to a claim by the FDIC as receiver of a failed bank against the former officials of the bank.
However, there may still be some significance to the fact that Judge Friedman did find “some ambiguity” in the provisions on which the insurer sought to rely to contest coverage. His determination in the regard depended in part on specific factual issues, pertaining in particular to the insurer’s marketing materials. Nevertheless, the ruling does represent to some extent a determination that the question of whether or not the Insured vs. Insured exclusion applies to an FDIC failed bank lawsuit may not be a strictly legal issue but could involve factual issues on which discovery is required. If this coverage question is a factual issue – if there is “some ambiguity” regarding the insured vs. insured exclusion -- it could complicate insurer’s efforts to rely on the exclusion in order to contest coverage for FDIC failed bank claims.
To be sure, there will likely be another round on the issue of the exclusion’s applicability following discovery. But having to go on to that later round at a minimum could mean that obtaining the coverage determination might turn out to be more involved than might have initially seemed like it would be.
FDIC, Bank Officials Settle Failed Bank Lawsuit: According to press reports, the FDIC and certain former directors and officers of Heritage Community Bank of Glenwood, Illinois have reached a settlement of the failed bank litigation that the FDIC, as receiver for the bank, had filed against the former bank officials. Background regarding the FDIC's 2012 lawsuit can be found here. The press reports do not disclose the amount or terms of the settlement. The September 10, 2012 settlement stipulation that the parties filed with the court (a copy of which can be found here) does not disclose the terms or amount of the settlement.
A March 2012 memo by the Jones Day law firm discussing the Heritage Community Bank case (among other things) can be found here.
FDIC Settles Failed Bank Insurance Coverage Action: A week after the parties to the Heritage Community Bank case filed their settlement stipulation, the parties tothe D&O insurance lawsuit pending in the DIstirct of Puerto Rico involving the failed Westernbank. also filed a stipulation of settlement. As discussed here (refer to the "Update" section in the body of the blog post), in January 2012, the FDIC intervened in an action that the holding company for Westernbank had filed against the bank's D&O insurance carriers. According to the parties' September 17, 2012 stipulation (here), the FDIC and the carriers have reached a settlement. The terms of the settlement are not disclosed in the stipulation. UPDATE: A knowledgeable reader who wishes to remain anonymous advises as follow with respect to the Westerbank settlement: "That action actually hasn't settled. The parties to a parallel proceeding involving fidelity bonds issues by [two insurers] (who also are parties to the Westernbank/FDIC D&O coverage action) did apparently settle, and was confirmed by the motion to dismiss referenced in your blog post. Very similiar parties, and they involve some of the same underlying loans that assertedly led to the failure of the bank. But the fight goes on in the D&O coverage litigation."