In the past week, plaintiffs’ lawyers filed a raft of new subprime and credit crisis related securities lawsuits. The cases involve a wide variety of claimants and defendants, and a diverse array of legal theories. But while the lawsuits themselves are diverse, they do all evidence a common theme, which is that the subprime and credit-crisis related litigation wave continues to surge on.
American International Group: The most prominent lawsuit filed in the past week is the securities class action lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against American International Group, its CEO Martin Sullivan, its CFO Steven Bensinger, and two other officials. A press release describing the lawsuit, which was filed by the Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann firm on behalf of the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund, can be found here. A copy of the complaint can be found here.
According to the press release, “Defendants repeatedly reassured investors that AIG had successfully insulated itself from the recent turmoil in the housing and credit markets due to its superior risk management. In particular, defendants touted the security of [American International Group Financial Products] ‘super senior’ credit default swap portfolio, making numerous statements that this portfolio was secure and that AIG’s method for accounting for this portfolio accurately reflected its value.” The press release goes on to state that:
Investors began to learn the truth regarding AIG’s financial condition and the Company’s exposure to the mortgage market when, on February 11, 2008, the Company disclosed that its outside auditor had determined that there was “material weakness in its internal control” over the financial reporting and oversight relating specifically to its accounting for the CDS portfolio, and that the Company was revising the loss valuations it previously reported. Under the new valuations, losses on the CDS portfolio more than quadrupled – from the $1.4 billion reported on the CDS portfolio just weeks before to over $4.5 billion. Two weeks later, on February 28, 2008, AIG disclosed that the market valuations on the CDS portfolio would increase to $11.5 billion and revealed for the first time that the Company had notional exposure of $6.5 billion in liquidity puts written on collateralized debt obligations (“CDOs”) linked to the sub-prime mortgage market.
Finally, on May 8, 2008, the Company disclosed that market valuation losses on the CDS portfolio for the quarter climbed an additional $9.1 billion, for a cumulative loss of $20.6 billion, and that the Company was expecting actual losses on the portfolio to be about $2.4 billion. As a result of these disclosures, the price of AIG stock plunged from a Class Period high of $75.24 per share on June 5, 2008, to $38.37 per share on May 12, 2008, wiping out tens of billions of dollars in shareholder value and causing damage to the class.
Falcon Strategies/Citigroup: Another prominent lawsuit filed during the last week involved a hedge fund affiliated with Citigroup, which is also a defendant in the lawsuit. The lawsuit is filed on behalf of all persons “who have tendered or been asked to tender their shares” in Falcon Strategies Two LLC. According to the plaintiffs’ lawyers’ press release (here), Falcon was established as a “multi-strategy fixed income alternative seeking to provide investors with absolute returns, current income and portfolio diversification.” However, the complaint (which can be found here) alleges that Falcon was “not conservative” but “employed bond arbitrage, carried commercial debt obligations, and held asset-backed mortgage investments” that declined in value when the markets failed.
The complaint is somewhat unusual in that, which it alleges affirmative violations of the federal securities laws, it does not expressly seek damages, but rather seeks a preliminary injunction to enjoin the tender offer until the defendants correct the “allegedly false and misleading” tender memorandum.
A separate lawsuit against a Falcon Strategies fund seeking damages and filed on behalf of Fifth Third Bank is detailed in a May 20, 2008 Wall Street Journal article (here). The Falcon Strategies fund had previously been the target of a separate securities class action lawsuit, but that lawsuit was voluntarily dismissed (refer here concerning this prior dismissed lawsuit).
The Falcon Strategies lawsuit is the second subprime or credit crisis-related securities class action lawsuit brought against a Citigroup-affiliated hedge fund. In early May 2008, investors brought a securities lawsuit against MAT Five LLC, Citigroup and other defendants alleging misrepresentations in MAT Five’s placement memorandum (Refer here for further background regarding the MAT Five lawsuit.)
Bank of America: In addition to these two lawsuits, investors also brought a securities class action lawsuit against Bank of America and related entities on behalf of all persons who purchased auction rate securities from the defendants during the period May 22, 2003 and February 23, 2008. A copy of the plaintiffs’ lawyers’ press release can be found here and a copy of the complaint can be found here.
I have written extensively about the auction rate securities lawsuits in prior posts, most recently here.
National City/Harbor Bank: Finally, in the fourth of last week’s flotilla of new subprime lawsuits, on May 20, 2008, the defendants removed to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio a lawsuit that had been filed in the Court of Common Pleas of Cuyahoga County Ohio on behalf of all persons who acquired shares of National City Corporation in connection with National City’s December 1, 2006 acquisition of Harbor Bank. A copy of the complaint and removal petition can be found here.
The plaintiffs allege that the Registration Statement issued in connection with the merger contained material misrepresentations and omissions concerning National City’s lending practices, financial results and liquidity. In particular, the complaint alleges among other things that the Registration Statement failed to disclose that National City was “dangerously overexposed” to “risky and impaired CDOs” and that the company had “failed to properly account for its highly leveraged loans and mortgage securities.”
National City previously has been sued in a securities class action lawsuit (as I discussed in a prior post, here) filed on behalf of its shareholders. But this new lawsuit is filed on behalf of a distinct set of claimants and is based on a different set of alleged misrepresentations, and therefore in my view it represents a separate new lawsuit. As discussed below, I have accounted for it separately in my running tally of subprime-related securities lawsuits.
The lawsuits against National City on behalf of the former Harbor Bank shareholders alleges violations of Section 11 of the ’33 Act, but was filed initially in state court under the ’33 Act’s concurrent jurisdiction provisions. I have previously noted (refer here) the plaintiffs’ lawyers’ recent interest in attempting to pursue ’33 Act claims in state court. While defendants routinely remove these cases to federal court, the plaintiffs’ lawyers’ have has some success in having the cases remanded to state court (refer here). While one can only speculate on the plaintiffs’ interest in pursuing these cases in state court, it is nonetheless a very interesting development that possible represents a new trend in securities litigation prosecution.
One other interesting thing about the National City/Harbor Bank lawsuit is that in addition to National City itself and its current and former directors and officers, the complaint names as a defendant, National City’s auditors, Ernst & Young. There have been some lawsuits where the target company’s outside auditors have been named as defendants (for example, refer here regarding the amended complaint in the Countrywide subprime litigation where the companies’ auditors have been named). The bankruptcy examiner in the New Century case also suggested that there may be claims against the company’s auditors (refer here for a discussion of this report). However, so far, the auditors have been an infrequent target, likely because of the Stoneridge decision. The cases involving outside auditors have tended to be bases where an offering of securities is involved, and the auditors potentially have their own primary liability in connection with the offering.
Special thanks to Adam Savett of the Securities Litigation Watch blog (here) for a copy of the National City/Harbor Bank complaint.
Run the Numbers: With the addition of last week’s four new subprime and credit-related securities lawsuits, the current tally (refer here) of the subprime related securities lawsuits now stands at 85, of which 45 have been filed in 2008. With the addition of the new Bank of America lawsuit, the total number of auction rate securities lawsuits now stands at 17.
While the numerical specifics are important, the more important point is that the subprime and credit crisis-related litigation wave continues to churn on, the passage of time apparently doing nothing to diminish its intensity.
Speakers’ Corner: On Thursday May 29, 2008, I will be in New York speaking on a panel at IQPC’s 4th Securities Litigation Conference (brochure here). The panel on which I am participating is entitled “Discussing Recent Trends in Director & Officer Liability (D&O) Liability,” and includes as co-panelists Ray DeCarlo of AIG and Adam Savett of RiskMetrics.