Several of the recipients of TARP funding have also been the targets of securities class action lawsuits and other litigation. In an April 29, 2009 post on the DealBook blog (here), Dan Slater, formerly of the WSJ.com Law Blog, raises the concern that TARP money could be used “to line the pockets of allegedly aggrieved shareholders and the lawyers who, wrapped in the flags of corporate governance, are in the process of making a billion-dollar cottage industry out of filing strike suits.”
As an example, Slater cites the case of Merrill Lynch, which, on the same day as its new corporate parent Bank of America announced that it was receiving an additional $20 billion in TARP money, announced that it would pay $550 million to settle a securities class action lawsuit and an ERISA lawsuit. (For further detail regarding the Merrill settlement, refer here.) Slater contends that as a result of the settlement either BofA will be less able to repay its TARP obligation or must cut its TARP allotment to settle up
Slater also notes that 19 of the 32 recipients of $1 billion or more of TARP money have since January 2008 been sued in securities class action lawsuits. “Put another way,” Slater states, “of the more than $300 billion that’s been paid out in TARP money, nearly $240 billion of it, or 78 percent, is subject to shareholder suits.”
Slater argues that while there has always been a circularity involved in the funding of securities lawsuit settlements, now, “in the world according to TARP,” the securities settlement money could be coming from taxpayers.
Slater raises an interesting point, and the example of Merrill Lynch is particularly telling. I think his analysis is incomplete, however, to the extent that it disregards the existence of D&O insurance, E&O insurance, and fiduciary liability insurance, which will be funding a very substantial amount for the defense and settlement of these lawsuits.
However, the Merrill Lynch settlement unquestionably raises the concern, given its sheer size, that the resolution of these cases could require funding that far exceeds that amount of insurance available. To that extent, at least, there arguably is a concern that TARP money could fund, or at least offset the cost of, securities class action settlements.
Slater’s points are, to that extent at least, well taken. I think it should be noted that plaintiffs’ lawyers are well aware of these concerns – many of the lawsuits to which Slater refers were filed before TARP was instituted, and since the TARP payments were first made, plaintiffs’ attorneys have had to take these kinds of concerns into account on deciding whether or not to file new cases.
These kinds of issues may also be part of the constellation of considerations that has been affecting courts’ reactions to the early motions to dismiss. As I have previously noted (most recently here), while it is still early, many of the subprime and credit crisis-related cases have not been faring particularly well in the courts at the motions to dismiss stage, and concerns like those that Slater has raised may be part of the reason.
An April 29, 2009 Am Law Litigation Daily post discussing Slater’s article can be found here.
Madoff Redemption Clawbacks?: One of the more interesting and complicated questions that has arisen lately is the extent to which Irving Picard, the trustee for the Bernard Madoff Investment Securities liquidation, wil be able to "clawback" amounts from BMIS investors who redeemed their investors who redeemed their investments prior to the firm’s collapse. An April 28, 2009 paper by NERA Economic Consulting entitled "Clawbacks from Madoff Investors: Questions of Economics, Equity and Law" (here) takes a detailed look at the issues surrounding the extent of the trustee’s ability to recover the amounts previously redeemed. As the paper reviews at length, there are a variety of competing considerations that will have to be balanced in determing the extent to which the trustee appropirately may clawback these amounts.