As the number of failed banks has surged over the past couple of years, one anticipated byproduct has been a corresponding wave of litigation against the failed institutions’ former directors and officers. The thing is, the anticipated wave really has not yet materialized. But nevertheless some suits are coming in, as demonstrated most recently in a new lawsuit filed this past week against certain former directors and officers of a failed Georgia bank.
On February 18, 2010, seventeen individual plaintiffs (including one trust) filed a Verified Complaint (here) in Cobb County (Ga.) Superior Court against three former directors of Alpha Bank and Trust, an Alpharetta, Ga. bank that failed on October 24, 2008. A February 18, 2010 Atlanta Journal-Constitution article about the filing can be found here.
The bank, according to press reports, was "one of the quickest bank failures in the nation in recent years, losing almost half of its assets after only 29 months in business."
The plaintiffs’ complaint seeks recovery for negligent misrepresentation and alleges that the three defendants had possession of material information about the bank that they failed to disclose to the plaintiffs, who owned shares in the bank.
There are a number of interesting things about this complaint. The first is that in paragraph 10, the complaint expressly purports to "exclude and disclaim any allegations whatsoever that could be construed as alleging or sounding in" the federal securities laws; common law fraud; intentional, knowing or reckless misconduct; breach of fiduciary duty, or mismanagement.
Clearly, the plaintiffs are not only aiming to avert procedural hurdles and potential defenses, but, as discussed below, they are also trying to circumvent the FDIC’s priority rights under FIRREA to claims the FDIC acquired as the bank’s receiver.
Second, the specific misrepresentations alleged – that the bank experienced undisclosed regulatory difficulties almost from its very beginning, that the bank submitted an undisclosed revised business plan to regulators, that the bank’s board dismissed the bank’s CEO for undisclosed reasons, among other things – all took place after the bank was launched and apparently after the plaintiffs’ acquired their shares.
As a result, plaintiffs’ claim is not that the they were misled into investing in the bank in the first place, but rather that as a result of a series of allegedly wrongful omissions, they "continued to hold their substantial respective investments," as the complaint puts it. A "continued to hold" assertion is a more challenging claim that an "induced to buy" argument.
Third, as suggested above, the plaintiffs clearly tried to shape their allegations in order to avert the FDIC’s rights as receiver to priority over all of the failed institution’s claims. (Refer here for my prior post discussing the FDIC’s right under FIRREA.) The plaintiffs have very carefully alleged that they seek to "recover individualized damages," as well as explicitly asserting that they are not alleging breach of fiduciary duty or mismanagement, which are claims to which the FDIC’s priorities would be clearest.
The FDIC may yet of course attempt to assert its right to priority over the claims the plaintiffs have asserted, and even assert its own claims, based on its status as the bank’s receiver. A recent memo from the Alston & Bird firm (here), citing the FDIC’s own statistics, reports that "of the financial institutions that failed in the period between 1985 and 1992, the FDIC initiated claims against the former directors and officers of 24 percent of those institutions."
There is absolutely no reason to expect that the FDIC will prove to be less litigious now than it was during the S&L crisis. So there would seem to be a considerable possibility the FDIC could yet assert its own claims, as receiver, against the former Alpha Bank officials.
Whether the existing investor claim or any future FDIC claim might succeed remains to be seen. However, were the FDIC to pursue a claim as receiver, and if it were unable to assert its priority under FIRREA over the investors’ claim, there could be a race to capture assets from which to recover – the most obvious asset being the D&O policy. A potential barrier under the D&O policy to any recovery by the FDIC would arise if the applicable policy has a regulatory exclusion.
Whether any successful claimant would be able to recover under the D&O policy will depend further on whether or not anything is remaining when the time arrives. If there were to be litigation free-for-all, defense costs alone could substantially erode the available insurance.
Finally, in terms of the anticiapted litigation wave, it is worth noting that approximately 16 months elapsed between the time Alpha Bank failed and the date the investors filed their suit against the former bank officials. Most of the closures of the most of the banks that have failed as part of the current banking crisis have failed more recently than Alpha Bank. The litigation may yet arrive, it may just follow more slowly than might have been anticiapted.
Special thanks to the several loyal readers who forwarded copies of the Alpha Bank complaint to me.
Belated Securities Suit Filings (Extreme Edition): In a number of recent posts (most recently here), I have noted the curious phenomenon of securities class action lawsuits that are filed well after the proposed class period cut off date. In some cases, the filing has come well over a year after the alleged stock price drop. However, a recent filing seems to set some kind of a belatedness record, as the complaint was filed nearly four and a half years after the proposed class period cutoff date.
In a complaint filed on February 18, 2010 against certain former directors and officers of the bankrupt Dana Corporation (here), the proposed class period runs from February 23, 2005 to October 7, 2005. The class period starting date is just short of five years, which is represents the period of the statute of repose for ’34 Act claims.
A great deal of context is necessary just to try to start to make sense of what might be going on here. First, there already is an existing securities class action lawsuit pending against other former directors and officers of Dana. The prior case, about which refer here, was first filed in the Northern District of Ohio in October 2005 and was dismissed with prejudice in August 2009 (here). The appeal of the dismissal is currently pending in the Sixth Circuit.
A knowledgeable observer suggested to me that the plaintiffs’ lawyers may think they have uncovered new facts implicating the four lower level defendants that are named in the new case. The speculation is that the plaintiffs’ lawyers filed the new case against the four new defendants to preserve the statute of limitations while the "main case" is on appeal. Because of the prior dismissal, the plaintiffs’ lawyers couldn’t just amend the previously existing complaint.
Where all of this might lead remains to be seen, but in the meantime the new complaint sets a new standard in superannuated securities lawsuit filings.
Special thanks to a loyal reader for sending along a copy of the new Dana complaint.