In a December 4, 2009 order (here), Southern District of Ohio Judge Michael H. Watson granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the consolidated subprime-related securities class action lawsuit against Huntington Bancshares. Judge Watson granted the motion based on his findings that plaintiffs had failed to adequately allege both falsity and scienter. The dismissal is with prejudice.
In December 2006, Huntington and Sky Financial announced their plans to merge. In July 2007, Huntington’s $3.3 billion acquisition of Sky closed. For many years, one of Sky’s clients had been Franklin Credit Mortgage Corporation. Franklin originated subprime mortgage loans, some of which it sold in the secondary mortgage market. For seventeen years, Sky made loans to Franklin that Franklin used to finance its mortgages. In July 2007, Sky had $1.5 billion exposure to Franklin.
On November 16, 2997, Huntington alerted its investors that Franklin recently announced the deterioration of its mortgage portfolio. Huntington announced that because of Franklin’s announcement, it (Huntington) would be taking a fourth quarter after-tax charge of $300 million to build up its allowance for loan losses. Huntington also stated that it expected to report a fourth quarter loss. On this news, Huntington’s share price declined from $16.08 to $14.75.
Plaintiffs filed a securities class action lawsuit on behalf of investors who purchased Huntington shares between the date of the merger and November 16, 2007. Plaintiffs allege that Huntington’s acquisition of Sky subjected Huntington to significant subprime exposure because of Sky’s relationship with Franklin. The plaintiffs allege that Huntington misled investors regarding its ability to weather the deteriorating real estate and subprime mortgage market. The defendants moved to dismiss.
The December 4 Order
In his December 4, Judge Watson granted the defendants motion to dismiss, on the grounds that the plaintiffs had failed to adequately allege falsity and scienter.
In reaching the conclusion that the defendant had not adequately alleged falsity, Judge Watson noted that:
The Complaint does not allege any specific facts that Huntington’s disclosures were incompatible with any reports, data, or signs that Franklin would be unable to pay its loans to Huntington, nor does the Complaint do anything more that allege Defendants should have known the continuing erosion of the real estate market would render the loan portfolio precarious. Significantly, Huntington’s public statements all address the faltering real estate market, … increases in delinquencies in the industry, and the prospect of increases of allowances for loan and lease losses. No information suggests Huntington knew of Franklin’s situation prior to Franklin’s own announcement that it was having problems.
Even though Judge Watson concluded that the plaintiffs’ failure to allege falsity was a sufficient basis on which to dismiss the complaint, he separate analyzed the scienter issue as "an alternative basis" for his ruling.
After reviewing the plaintiffs’ allegations, Judge Watson found that the Plaintiffs "fail to establish a strong inference of scienter." He noted that:
Viewed in their aggregate, Plaintiffs’ allegations do not give rise to a "cogent" inference that Defendants possessed the requisite knowing or reckless intent to manipulate, deceived or defraud. The allegations concerning Huntington’s alleged knowledge after the due diligence period during the acquisition, the self-interested motives of Defendants, and the closeness in time of the supposed fraudulent statements and later disclosures, all lack the factual particularity that would support an inference of fraudulent intent that is "at least as compelling as any opposing inference."
Judge Watson’s dismissal ruling was with prejudice.
I have added the Huntington Bancshares dismissal to my register of subprime and credit crisis-related lawsuit dismissal motion rulings, which can be accessed here.
Special thanks to Adam Savett of the Securities Litigation Watch blog for providing me with a copy of the Huntington Bancshares ruling.
Amended Complaint Survives Former IndyMac’s CEO’s Dismissal Motion: In a contrary development in a high profile west coast subprime-related lawsuit, on December 11, 2009, Central District of California Judge George Wu’s denied the motion of former IndyMac CEO Michael Perry to dismiss the plaintiffs’ Fifth Amended Complaint. Judge Wu’s minute order entry of his ruling can be found here.
The tortured procedural history of the IndyMac case, which among things led up to the filing of five amended complaints, can be found here. As a result of this twisted procedural path and Judge Wu’s December 11 ruling, this IndyMac suit will now go forward solely as to Perry.
Judge Wu’s December 11 ruling adds the IndyMac case to the now growing list of subprime lawsuits that were initially dismissed but that following amended pleading survived renewed motions to dismiss, including, for example, the WaMu case (here) and the PMI Group case (here).
I have in any event also added the December 11 ruling in the IndyMac case to my tally of dismissal motion rulings, linked above.
Apology: I sincerely apologize for the faulty link to the transcript of the hearing in the Broadcom case in yesterday’s blog post. Readers who were frustrated because they could not access the transcript can find a correct link to the transcript here. I have also corrected the link on the blog post.
Again, I apologize for the error, which is just one of those things that can happen with late-night blogging.
Sometimes I really wish I had a fact-checker or editor following along behind me to protect against blogging boo-boos like that.