Add corporate debt to the type of lending caught up in the current credit crisis, and add both commercial real estate financing companies and private equity firms (or at least one that recently completed a high profile public offering) to the kinds of companies now ensnared in the current wave of lawsuits. The latest round of lawsuits suggests just how far afield these cases may spread before all is said and done.  

The iStar Lawsuit: The lawsuit filed on April 14, 2008 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against iStar Financial and certain of its directors and officers represents these latest variants in the evolving course credit crisis litigation wave. A copy of the plaintiffs’ lawyers’ press release about the iStar lawsuit can be found here, and the complaint can be found here.

The iStar lawsuit is brought on behalf of shareholders of the company who bought their shares in the company’s December 13, 2007 secondary offering, in which the company raised more that $227 million. According to the complaint, the offering documents failed to disclose that the company was at the time of the offering experiencing negative effects from the credit market turmoil and failed to recognize more that $200 million of losses on its “corporate loan and debt portfolio.”

On February 28, 2008, the company reported (here) a fourth quarter 2007 loss of 478.7 million, due in part to $134.9 million in charges associated with the “the impairment of two credits that are accounted for as held-to-maturity debt securities in its Corporate Loan and Debt portfolio.” and due to the fact that the company had increased its loan loss provisions by $113 million.

The Blackstone Lawsuit: In another example of the far flung effects from the current market turmoil, investors who bought shares of The Blackstone Group, L.P in the firm’s June 25, 2007 IPO have filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against the company and certain of its directors and officers.

According to the plaintiffs’ lawyers’ April 15, 2007 press release (here), the complaint alleges that the offering documents failed to disclose that Blackstone’s “portfolio companies were not performing well and were of declining value and, as a result, Blackstone’s equity investment was impaired and the Company would not generate anticipated performance fees on those investments or would have fees ‘clawed-back’ by limited partners in its funds.”

The complaint (which can be found here) alleges that in the company’s March 10, 2008 announcement (here)of fourth quarter and year end financial results, the company announced “announced that it was writing down its investment in Financial Guaranty Insurance Company by $122 million.”

Financial Guaranty Insurance Company is a bond insurer that has been struggling due to downgrades of its own credit rating. FGIC’s travails have already resulted in a prior securities class action lawsuit against the company’s other significant investor, The PMI Group. My prior discussion of The PMI Group securities litigation can be found here.

These events and ensuing lawsuits represent the latest extension of the circumstances that originated with the subprime lending meltdown but now are increasingly widespread. I recently highlighted (here) the turmoil (and ensuing litigation) that had affected the student lending sector. The extension of the effects and of the litigation, first to the commercial lending sector and to a commercial real estate financing company, and next to a private equity firm that went public only a short while ago amidst great hoopla and now has been sued for it, are merely the latest developments in what clearly promises to be an increasingly encompassing phenomenon.

As I have noted before, observers who persist in viewing the credit crisis and ensuing litigation as an exclusively “subprime”-related problem will not only fail to comprehend what has already occurred, but will likely underestimate what may lie ahead.

Another Auction Rate Securities Lawsuit: Another related recent development in this area is the lawsuit filed on April 14, 2008 on behalf of auction rate securities investors against Wells Fargo & Co. The plaintiffs’ attorneys’ press release can be found here and a copy of the complaint can be found here.

With the addition of the iStar, Blackstone and Wells Fargo lawsuits, my current tally of credit crisis-related securities lawsuits, which can be accessed here, now stands at 73, 33 of which have been filed in 2008. Thirteen of 73 lawsuits are brought on behalf of auction rate securities investors.

More Suits Against Securitzers: In earlier posts (here and here), I noted the emergence of securities class action lawsuits brought on behalf of investors against the investment banks and related entities that securitized mortgages and other types of debt into financial instruments in which the investors invested and in which they lost money.

The latest of these lawsuits was brought on March 19, 2008 in New York Supreme Court by the City of Ann Arbor Employees’ Retirement System on behalf of investors who purchased Mortgage Pass-Through Certificates as part of a December 12, 2006 offering of the instruments. Named as defendants are Citigroup Mortgage Loan Trust, which organized the offering of certificates backed by pools of mortgages, and 18 mortgage loan trusts, in which the mortgages were held. The defendants have removed the lawsuit to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Background regarding the lawsuit can be found here. A copy of the removal petition, to which the complaint is attached, can be found here.

The complaint alleges that the offering documents misrepresented the underwriting standards used in connection with the mortgage origination, and also misrepresented the various criteria used to qualify loans and properties. As a result, the complaint alleges, the offering documents misrepresented the risk profile of both the secured assets and the certificates.

The Citigroup lawsuit is substantially similar to the lawsuits previously brought against affiliates of Nomura (about which refer here), Countrywide (refer here) and Wachovia (refer here). This latest complaint is also similar to those prior complaints in that the plaintiffs (who in each case are represented by the Coughlin Stoia firm) sought to initiate each lawsuit in state court. My detailed analysis of the jurisdictional issues involved can be found in the post linked above regarding the Nomura lawsuit.  

Though the defendants have uniformly sought to remove these cases to federal court, in the Countrywide case, the earliest of these cases to be filed, the federal court granted the plaintiffs’ motion to remand the cases to state court. As noted in my discussion of the Countywide remand decision here, the federal court’s remand of the case to state court was based on the grant of concurrent jurisdiction to state courts for ’33 Act liability cases, a jurisdictional grant the federal court found has not been eliminated by subsequent legislation.

I have previously speculated that the plaintiffs’ strategy for pursuing these cases in state court is to avoid the requirements of the PSLRA, an impression that is reinforced by the fact that the plaintiffs’ lawyers did not issue a press release at the time they filed these state court complaints. Whether other defendants’ attempts to remove these lawsuits to federal court will ultimately prove to be successful remains to be seen, but the prospect of significant nationwide securities litigation going forward in state court seems fraught with the potential for uncertainty, opacity and complexity.

You’re Such a Lovely Audience, We’d Like to Take You Home With Us: As your reward for reading this far, I am going to share a wonderful little secret with you. Stanford Law School, which has long maintained its excellent Securities Class Action Clearinghouse (here) has now started the Stanford Global Class Action Clearinghouse (here). The new site is devoted to tracking the development of class action litigation throughout the world. While the site is new and is only just getting started, it already has very interesting materials and shows great promise. We can only hope its sponsors and guardians develop and maintain this new site as well as the predecessor.

Hat Tip to my good friends at the Drug and Device Law Blog (here) for the link to the new site.