The 2007 settlement of an Ontario securities class action may suggest the eventual direction of many of the lawsuits in the current subprime and credit crisis-related litigation wave. Even though the lawsuit was filed in a Canadian court and involved a company (FMF Capital Group Ltd.) whose shares traded only on a Canadian exchange, the lawsuit did arise from the early stages of the subprime mortgage meltdown in the U.S. And although the lawsuit preceded the current litigation wave, many of the allegations raised in the lawsuit have also arisen in the more recent U.S. subprime lawsuits.
Through an affiliate, FMF offered residential mortgages to subprime borrowers. According to the company (here), FMF originated mortgage loans throughout in 39 of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia. FMF resold packages of these mortgages to institutional buyers.
As summarized in a recent memorandum (here) written by NERA Economic Consulting, which served as the Ontario court’s damages expert and settlement consultant, in March 2005, FMF conducted a $197.5 million IPO. Following the offering, the securities issued in the IPO traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange. According to later news reports (here and here), the company apparently sought the Canadian listing as a way to obtain favorable treatment as a Canadian income trust.
In November 2005, just eight months after its IPO, FMF announced that it was suspending the monthly distributions due to investors in connection with its publicly traded securities. Within two trading days of the announcement, the company’s securities had declined 76.8% from their preannouncement price.
In January 2006, plaintiffs initiated a securities class action in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice against FMF and certain of its directors and officers, the offering underwriters, and FMF’s auditors. Background regarding the lawsuit can be found here.
As described in NERA’s memorandum, the plaintiffs alleged that the company "dismantled" its underwriting standards in order to maintain growth in its loan originations, and that the defendants concealed the company’s degraded underwriting standards and poor loan quality. FMF contended that its woes were due to industry-wide factors including interest rates and increased defaults, which undermined its ability to conduct securitizations and finance distributions.
According to co-counsel for the class (here), the class action ultimately was settled for over CAN$28 million. US$21 million of the settlement was funded by FMF’s insurers and by FMF’s privately-held affiliate. The remaining CAN$4.55 million of the settlement was to be paid by the IPO offering underwriters and FMF’s auditors.
According to NERA, the settlement, which the Court approved on April 11, 2007, is "the largest settlement in a class action securities case in Canadian history."
In addition to its status as the largest Canadian securities settlement ever, the settlement may be significant in a number of other respects as well, due to the circumstances surrounding the lawsuit.
That is, even though the lawsuit was filed in a Canadian court and involved a Canadian listed company, the lawsuit arose out of the meltdown in the U.S. subprime mortgage market. The claimants’ allegations about the lender’s deteriorating loan underwriting standards and poor loan quality, and the alleged failure to disclose these factors, are substantially similar to the allegations raised in class actions now pending in U.S courts against numerous other mortgage lenders. The company’s attempt to blame macroeconomic factors for its demise also mirrors the response of many defendants in the U.S subprime lawsuits.
Indeed, given these similarities, NERA described the FMF case as "the proverbial ‘canary in the coal mine’ for the current credit crisis." The similarities between the FMF case and many of the cases in the current subprime litigation wave suggest that the outcome of the FMF case could be a harbinger of things to come in the current subprime cases.
None of the securities lawsuits that have been filed in the current litigation wave have yet been settled, which makes the FMF lawsuit and its settlement at least potentially significant, for what it might indicate about the outcomes of the lawsuits in the current wave.
By my analysis at least, the FMF litigation settled for a fairly significant percentage of the company’s market capitalization loss. The company’s IPO raised $197.5 million at $10/share. The company’s share price declined by $5.21/share in the two days following the company’s announcement that it was terminating the income distributions. There undoubtedly are a number of ways the investors’ losses might be quantified, but by any measure, the eventual settlement of more than CAN$28 million appears to represent a significant percentage of alleged investor loss.
Because of the FMF lawsuit’s Canadian connection, litigants in the current U.S.-based subprime related litigation wave may or may not consider the case a relevant reference point. But to the extent it is relevant, the magnitude of the settlement as an apparent percentage of investor loss may point toward some very large settlements in the current U.S. subprime lawsuits, where the dollars involved are in many instances significantly greater than in the FMF case. Whether or not the FMF case does have significance for the eventual outcome of the current U.S cases, it is nonetheless interesting because the case has settled and been concluded while most of the recent U.S. cases are only in their earliest stages.
A prior post in which I discussed subprime related securities litigation in Canada, including a brief mention of the FMF lawsuit, can be found here.
More About Defense Expense and Limits Adequacy: In a prior post (here), I discussed the limits adequacy and program structure implications arising from the threatened depletion — solely as a result of accumulating defense expense — of the Collins & Aikman D&O Insurance program. As noted on the Race to the Bottom blog (here), counsel for one of the individual defendants has now advised the court that the remaining limits in the company’s $50 million D&O insurance program have been completely exhausted.
In his blog post, Professor Jay Brown of the University of Denver Law School, spells out what the depletion of the policy’s limits means for one of the minor defendants. The individual, Paul Barnaba, has now petitioned the court for the appointment of a legal aid attorney. Fortunately for Barnaba, it appears that his own counsel, whose fees previously had been paid by the now depleted insurance, is willing to accept the derisory legal aid fee rate. The other defendants may not be so fortunate.
The complete exhaustion of $50 million of D&O insurance solely through the accumulation of defense expense is a nightmare scenario for any director or officer. The individual defendants in the Collins & Aikman case, or at least those that are not independently wealthy, must now face serious criminal charges in a complex financial with only legal aid counsel to protect them. In addition, they continue to face significant civil litigation as well, again without any insurance remaining to fund a settlement.
As I noted in my prior post about the Collins & Aikman case, these developments may have important implications for traditional notions of limits adequacy. In addition, it is also clear that in order to make sure that individuals are not left to face serious litigation or even criminal charges without insurance, the consideration of alternative insurance structures should be an important part of every D&O insurance transaction.
They Stab it With Their Steely Knives, But They Just Can’t Kill the Beast: The D.C. Circuit rejected an attack on the constitutionality of SOX (here). OK, now everybody get back to work.