As it has been doing on a monthly basis during the current banking crisis, the FDIC has once again updated the page on its website describing the failed bank litigation that the agency has initiated. According to the latest update, as of April 12, 2013, the agency has now filed a total of 54 failed bank lawsuits during the current bank failure wave. But though the new suits continue to come in, the agency’s filing pace appears to have slowed, at least for now. In the month since its last web update, the agency has only filed one additional lawsuit, and only four overall since February 1, 2013, even though the significant numbers of institutions reached the third anniversary of their closure during that period (Due to statute of limitations concerns, the agency typically files its failed banks suits shortly before the a failed bank’s third anniversary.)
Since its last update last month, the FDIC did initiate one lawsuit in its capacity as receiver for New Century Bank of Chicago, Illinois, which failed April 23, 2010. On March 26, 2013 (that is, just a few weeks before the third anniversary of the bank’s failure), the agency filed a complaint in the Northern District of Illinois alleging that the six former directors and officers named as defendants “acted negligently and grossly negligently and breached their fiduciary duties by disregarding the Bank’s loan policy, prudent lending practices, and regulatory warnings in connection with numerous commercial real estate and other loans during the period April 2005 through July 2008.” The FDIC seeks to recover “more than $33 million in losses.”
With the addition of just this one lawsuit, the FDIC has filed only two new complaints against former directors and officers of failed banks since March 1, 2013 and only four new complaints since February 1, 2013. By contrast, during January 2013, the FDIC filed five new complaints, just in that one month alone. In the two month period including December 2012 and January 2013, the FDIC filed a total of nine new lawsuits.
This relative slowdown since February 1, 2013 is all the more noteworthy given the number of banks that failed during the corresponding period three years ago. During the period February-April 2010, there were a total of 49 bank closures. By way of comparison, there were only 51 bank closures during all of calendar year 2012, and there have only been five so far during 2013. Early 2010 was a very active period for bank closures, and so given that the FDIC tends to file its suits, if at all, as the third anniversary approaches, it seemed that 2013 was going to be an active period of new lawsuit filing.
In addition, each month the agency updates its website to show the increased numbers of lawsuits that have been authorized. At its most recent update, the agency indicated that the number of lawsuits authorized has once again increased during the past month. As of April 12, 2013, the FDIC has now authorized suits in connection with 109 failed institutions against 888 individuals for D&O liability. This figure of 109 authorized lawsuits is inclusive of the 54 filed D&O lawsuits naming 407 former directors and officers that have already been filed. These figures suggest that there is a backlog of 55 cases that have been approved and not yet filed. The backlog seems to be growing. Given the monthly increase in the number of authorized lawsuits, you would really expect to see the agency’s new lawsuit pace moving along an active clip, not as seems to be the case, entering some sort of a lull.
There are a number of possible reasons for the apparent slowdown in the number of failed bank lawsuit filings. The first is just timing. I mentioned above that during the period February to April 2010, 49 banks closed, but of those 49 bank failures, 23 occurred in April 2010 alone (a very busy month for bank failures). Of the 23 bank closures in April 2010, 22 took place on or after April 16, 2010. In other words a very large percentage of the banks that failed during this period failed in late April 2010, and thus still have not yet reached the third anniversary of their closure. The third anniversary is coming up, but we are not quite there yet. There could be a flurry of new failed bank lawsuit filings in the next few days.
Another possible explanation for the apparent lull of new failed bank lawsuit filings over the last few weeks is that the agency may have entered tolling agreements with the failed banks directors and officers to see if they agency can reach a negotiated settlement with the directors and officers and with their bank’s D&O insurer. If the parties have entered tolling agreements, lawsuits involving some of the banks still could be filed later.
Finally, there are a number of cases in which the agency has reached a negotiated settlement with the directors and officers and with the D&O insurer without the agency actually filing the lawsuit. If the agency was able to reach a settlement agreement of this type in a number of cases, that too might account for the apparent filing slowdown over the past several weeks. (The agency has posted the settlement agreements in a number of these kinds of settlements on its website.)
Nevertheless, given the number of banks that failed in the first half of 2010 and given the growing number of lawsuits the agency has filed, it seems as if the failed bank lawsuit filing pace should be picking up again soon. As I have previously noted, there have previously been lulls in the FDIC’s failed bank lawsuit filing activity (refer here, for example, wiht respect to the two month lull during mid-year 2012). But the prior lulls have in most instances been quicly followed by a period of quickened filing actiivity (as discussed, for example, here).. Circumstances may be poised for the same filing pattern again now.
Another FCPA Civil Lawsuit: There is no private right of action in the FCPA. Nevertheless, civil litigation has followed in the wake of the proliferation in the number of governmental enforcement actions alleging violations of the FCPA, as investors allege that company management have violated their corporate duties in allowing the bribery to take place or that, by failing to disclose the briber, management has misrepresented the company’s internal controls or financial condition.
The latest example of these kinds of civil suits is interesting because at least so far there is no formal enforcement action against the company involved or its senior officials, although the bribery allegations have been the subject of very high-profile publicity.
According to their April 12, 2013 press release, plaintiffs’ lawyers have filed a securities class action lawsuit in the Southern District of New York against Wal-Mart de Mexico SAB (“Walmex”) and Ernesto Vega, the Chairman of Walmex’s board of directors and Chairman of the Board’s audit and corporate practices committee. The complaint, a copy of which can be found here, purports to be filed on behalf of investors who purchased ADRs of Walmex between February 21, 2012 and April 22, 2012. The complaint alleges seeks damages under the ’34 Act.
The investors’ complaint alleges that during the class period the defendants made false and misleading statements about Walmex’s business practices with respect to unlawful or unethical bribery conduct. Specifically, according to the plaintiffs’ lawyers press release, the complaint alleges that Walmex “failed to disclose that it had been involved in a bribery scheme,” and that as a result of the defendants’ misleading statements the company’s ADRs traded at inflated prices during the class period.
Unlike many of these kinds of civil actions, the plaintiffs do not base their assertions on allegations derived from a prior regulatory enforcement action; so far, there has been no formal regulatory enforcement action taken against the company. Rather, the plaintiffs’ allegations rely heavily on information in an April 22, 2012 New York Times article entitled “Wal-Mart Hushed Up a Vast Mexican Bribery Case” (here). The lengthy article detailed the extensive payment program that executives at Walmex allegedly had pursued in order to obtain Mexican zoning approvals, reductions in environmental impact fees and the allegiance of neighborhood leaders. According to the article, an internal Wal-Mart investigation not only found evidence of the payments, but also that Walmex executives knew about the payments and took steps to conceal the payments from Wal-Mart’s headquarters. The lead investigator recommended that Wal-Mart expand the investigation, but instead, according to the article, Wal-Mart’s leaders shut it down.
The new compliant quotes extensively from the New York Times article; parts of the complaint are nothing more than lengthy block quotes from the article. Among other things, the Times article notes that in December 2011, after learning of the Times’s reporting in Mexico, Wal-Mart informed the Justice department that it had begun an internal investigation into possible FCPA violations. In subsequent regulatory filings, the company has stated that it is investigating possible improper payments in other countries. To date, there have been (so far as I am aware) no formal regulatory actions taken against Wal-Mart or its officials.
Nevertheless, though there had to date been no enforcement action, the Walmex investors have initiated a securities class action lawsuit based on the information provided in the Times article. The case is not the first civil action seeking damages in connection with alleged FCPA violations in the absence of a formal regulatory action. However, it does provide a high-profile example of the way in which FCPA allegations can lead to private civil litigation.
One other interesting feature of the Walmex situation is that the alleged bribery allegations first came to light in September 2005 when a whistleblower contacted a senior Wal-Mart lawyer. It is an interesting question of what might happen in similar circumstances today, given the potentially rich whistleblower bounty payments potentially available under the Dodd-Frank whistleblower provisions. The bounty provisions provide a significant incentive for a whistleblower of the kind involved here to go straight to the SEC. These circumstances provide a powerful illustration of the kinds of circumstances that could make the Dodd-Frank whistleblower provisions so significant and could lead to increased regulatory and enforcement activity.