With 124 failed banks so far in 2009, and more likely to come in the weeks and months ahead, one recurring question has been whether the FDIC will be as aggressive in pursuing claims against directors and officers of failed lenders as it was during the S&L crisis. While we are awaiting the arrival of the seemingly inevitable regulator lawsuits, it is worth reviewing what the FDIC’s receivership litigation rights look like.
A recent decision out of the Northern District of Georgia arising from the 2008 failure of Integrity Bank and citing the body of case law the FDIC developed during the last failed bank era examines the FDIC’s litigation rights and also strongly reinforces the impression that the FDIC has D&O claims on its agenda.
Integrity Bancshares is the parent holding company of Integrity Bank of Alpharetta, Georgia. On August 29, 2008, Georgia banking regulators closed Integrity Bank and the FDIC was appointed as receiver. On October 13, 2008, the holding company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
In February 2009, the bankruptcy trustee filed a damages action against four individual directors and officers for breach of fiduciary duties and negligence. Though some of the individual defendants were directors and officers of both the holding company and of the bank, the trustee’s claims are based solely on the individual defendants’ capacities as officers of the holding company and the bank. The trustee also filed an action against the bank’s D&O insurer seeking a judicial declaration of coverage for the damages action.
The trustee’s damages action alleges that the individual defendants harmed the now-bankrupt holding company and imperiled the capital that the holding company raised for and provided to the bank, by negligently managing the bank’s operations. Among other things, the trustee alleges that the bank’s lending practices, for which the individual defendants were responsible, were deeply flawed and were characterized by loans to speculative developments made at substantial variance to the bank’s putative lending requirements.
The FDIC intervened in the trustee’s damages action to assert that the trustee lacks standing to bring the damages claims, because the essentially derivative claims the trustee has brought belong to the FDIC as receiver of Integrity Bank. The individual defendants and their D&O insurer also moved to dismiss the declaratory judgment action based on the absence of an actual case or controversy.
The Court’s Opinion
In a November 30, 2009 opinion (here), Judge Richard W. Story granted the FDIC’s motion to dismiss, holding that under the Financial Institution Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA) all derivative claims against the officers and directors of Integrity Bank belong to the FDIC.
Judge Story observed that to have standing, the trustee would have to allege that the defendants caused direct and unique harm to the bankrupt holding company. But, Judge Story found, all of the alleged misconduct took place at the bank level. The allegations relate "only to actions taken in the Defendants’ roles as Bank officers." The harm to the holding company alleged is in its capacity "as a shareholder to the Bank," and the alleged harm is "secondary and predicated upon injury to the Bank."
Judge Story found that
Once the FDIC-R became the receiver of the Bank, the Debtor [i.e, the bank’s parent holding company] no longer had the ability to bring derivative claims against the officers of the Bank, because the FDIC-R succeeded to those claims. The fact that the Debtor subsequently declared bankruptcy did not create in the Trustee any standing that the Debtor did not already possess. Therefore, the Trustee does not have standing to bring the derivative claims alleged in the Damages Complaint.
Judge Story also found that though the complaint stated that the Trustee alleged "direct and unique harm," these allegations represent mere conclusory allegations insufficient to satisfy threshold pleading requirements under Iqbal.
Finally, Judge Story granted the motion to dismiss the declaratory judgment action as moot, essentially ruling that the court cannot rule on coverage issues until the underlying claims have been addressed.
I literally have not had occasion to write or type the acronym "FIRREA" for over 15 years. Reading Judge Story’s opinion really is like déjà vu all over again. All of the key cases Judge Story cites are over 15 years old. This all has an uncannily familiar feel.
But there’s no nostalgia here.
No one should miss the obvious implication from the FDIC’s intervention in the Integrity case that if anybody is going to sue the directors and officers, it is going to be the FDIC. The FDIC’s assertion of its successor rights to derivative claims is not a mere academic exercise. The FDIC’s intervention looks like a blocking tactic calculated to preserve its ability to pursue its own claims as receiver.
All of this makes me feel like Harry Potter revealing the awful truth to his fellow students at Hogwarts – Voldemort is back, after a 14 year absence. (We still bear the scars from our last encounter, which quite nearly killed us, too.)
So it may be time to retrieve all those old files out of storage, because it looks like its dead bank litigation time again. Indeed, with the return of the regulatory exclusion on many financial institutions D&O policies, this may well and truly be déjà vu all over again.
To end where I began, with 124 failed banks this year, I think it is only a matter of time before we see the FDIC pursuing many claims against the directors and officers of failed financial institutions. As the Integrity Bank case makes clear, the FDIC as receiver has rights under FIRREA to pursue derivative claims against the Ds and Os of the failed banks.
Strap on your helmets.
More About Iqbal: Judge Story’s reference to Iqbal reminds me to advise readers that the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing today on Senator Specter’s bill to set aside Iqbal. The Witness Testimony and Members’ Statements can be found on the Committee’s Hearings page, here. The Blog of the Legal Times has a short summary of the hearings, here. The short version is that the Democrat members ot the Committee think Iqbal is bad.
Those readers interested in the intellectual debate over the merits of Iqbal will want to refer to the Drug and Device Law blog, where the authors have agreed to engage in a point/counterpoint on the Iqbal decision with Univesity of Pennsylvania Law Professor Stephen Burbank. The first volley in the exchage can be found here.
Vanity Fair on Goldman: If you have not yet seen it, you will want to take a look at the article about Goldman Sachs by Bethany McLean in the January 2010 issue of Vanity Fair, entitled "The Bank Job" (here). The article reviews Goldman’s perspective on the its role in the global financial crisis and its aftermath. It also does a good job capturing the widespread outrage regarding Goldman’s compensation, as well as the conspiracy theories about Goldman’s various connections to official Washington. Basic theme: storied but aggressive bunch of capitalists has managed to draw a huge target on its own back.
Bethany McLean is an old hand at reporting on arrogant corporations, having co-authored Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.
Speakers’ Corner: On Thursday December 3, 2009, I will be presenting at Skadden’s Annual Securities Litigation and Enforcement Seminar.