The FDIC in its status as receiver of a failed bank may not avoid rescission of a fidelity bond procured by material misrepresentation, notwithstanding the FDIC’s statutory receiver rights, according to a June 7, 2010 Second Circuit decision. This decision represents an important interpretation of the FDIC’s statutory rights as receiver, and could prove to be an important precedent in future insurance-related litigation arising out to the current round of failed banks. The Second Circuit’s June 7 opinion can be found here.
In 1999, Connecticut Bank of Commerce (CBC) entered an agreement to acquire MTB Bank. The transaction closed March 30, 2000. Prior to the deal’s closing, two things happened of relevance to the subsequent insurance dispute.
First, MTB discovered that its agents had advanced $950,000 based on fraudulent invoices in connection a business deal involving Harmony Designs. MTB noticed its fidelity bond carrier regarding the Harmony Designs matter, although MTB ultimately reduced its loss below the amount of the deductible.
Second, in March 2000, before the CBC deal closed, MTB’s president and other officers were indicted in an alleged conspiracy involving the imposition of Argentinean minerals. MTB also noticed its fidelity bond insurer regarding the indictments.
After the CBC deal closed, CBC was added to MTB’s fidelity bond. As the bond’s June 30, 2000 expiration approached, CBC sought to renew it. The insurer declined to renew unless CBC came to London to provide additional information in connection with the renewal. The insurer also refused to extend the bond period 30 days.
CBC declined to visit London as the fidelity bond insurer had requested. Instead, CBC obtained replacement fidelity bond coverage from a different insurer. In order to secure this replacement coverage, CBC completed and submitted a policy application that required CBC, among other things, to disclose losses sustained during the preceding three years; whether there were additional circumstances relevant to the application; and whether insurance had been declined or canceled during the past three years. Post-binding, CBC completed the replacement insurer’s separate application form, which also asked questions related to past losses and whether CBC had had insurance declined or canceled.
CBC answered "None" or "No" to these application questions. CBC did not disclose or identify the Harmony Designs loss, the indictments, or the predecessor insurer’s actions in connection with the fidelity bond insurance renewal application.
CBC went into receivership in June 2002. In 2006, the FDIC as receiver sued CBC’s fidelity bond insurer alleging breach of contract for dishonoring claims under the bond for CBC’s losses related to a loan scheme used to fund MTB’s acquisition.
The district court granted the fidelity bond insurer’s motion for summary judgment on the ground that it properly rescinded the bond based on CBC’s application misrepresentations and omissions. The FDIC appealed.
The June 7, 2010 Opinion
In a June 7, 2010 opinion by Southern District of New York Judge John Keenan (sitting by designation on the Second Circuit), the Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s entry of summary judgment on behalf of the fidelity bond insurer.
In seeking to overturn the district court’s opinion, the FDIC had sought to rely on its rights under 12 U.S.C. Section 1823(e), which protects the FDIC from defenses not apparent on the face of an asset it acquires as a receiver of a failed bank. The FDIC argued that this provision bars the fidelity bond insurer’s misrepresentation defense.
The Second Circuit held (contrary to a prior holding in the Sixth Circuit) that a fidelity bond is in fact an "asset" to which this provision applies. However, the Second Circuit rejected the FDIC’s argument that this provision bars the fidelity bond insurer’s policy defenses.
The Second Circuit said that the provision is intended to "bar ‘secret’ defenses which would diminish the FDIC’s interests in a failed bank’s assets," but that "defenses raised by the bond itself may prevent recovery by the FDIC."
The Second Circuit found that "as the grounds for rescission were plainly stated on the face of the bond, there is nothing secret about [the fidelity bond insurer’s] misrepresentation defense." To recognize the FDIC’s position, the Second Circuit said, would be to "strike the rescission clause from the bond."
In the final portion of its opinion, the Second Circuit went on to hold that each of the three alleged misrepresentations separately provided sufficient ground to support rescission. The Second Circuit found that the omission of the information about the Harmony Designs loss, about the indictments, and about the prior insurer’s refusal to renew or extend each separately representing sufficient grounds for rescission.
The Second Circuit’s holdings about the sufficiency of the fidelity bond insurer’s basis for rescission are quite broad. Among other things, the Second Circuit said that "information about previous losses is presumptively material," and "the determination of risk is one properly left to the insurer, not the insured, and the insurer cannot make an accurate risk assessment without full disclosure from the applicant."
It seems probable that in connection with the current wave of bank failures that the FDIC as receiver to the failed banks will attempt to recover under the failed banks’ insurance policies. The Second Circuit’s holding in the CBC case underscores the fact that notwithstanding the FDIC’s receivership status, and the statutory rights that status may entail, the FDIC’s ability to enforce the failed bank’s insurance coverage is subject to the defenses the insurer may have that appear in the relevant policies.
To that extent, at least, the Second Circuit’s opinion could be relevant to may arise in the wake of the FDIC’s attempt as receiver to recover under the failed banks’ insurance policies.
The CBC opinion is relevant for another reason that arguably is completely independent of the FDIC’s involvement in this dispute. That is, the opinion starkly demonstrates the critical importance of the policy application process and the extent of the insurer’s rights, under certain circumstances, to seek rescission. The Second Circuit’s view of the applicant’s obligation to provide responsive information is broad and encompassing.
The Second Circuit’s rescission holding seems to reflect a perception that CBC knew that if it disclosed the prior losses it would be unable to secure replacement fidelity bond coverage. To that extent, the rescission holding may reflect the somewhat distinct circumstances of the case. However, the Second Circuit’s rhetoric is broad and is not delimited to the referenced circumstances. The breadth of the ruling rescission ruling could well prove helpful to insurers in other rescission cases, even those lacking the distinctive characteristics of this case.
Financial Reform Impact on the Insurance Industry: In a prior post (here), I noted that the Senate’s version of the financial reform bill includes a number of specific reforms that particularly impact the insurance industry.
In a June 7, 2010 memo entitled "The Impact on the Insurance Industry of the Financial Regulatory Reform Bills: A Legislative Update" (here), the Simpson Thacher law firm examines and compares the various insurance industry reforms proposed in the House and Senate versions of the reform legislation.
The memo details the numerous insurance industry measures that are substantially similar in the two bills, suggesting that the provisions are likely to survive the current conference process. Among other things, the provisions intended to streamline the regulation of reinsurance and nonadmitted insurance are "substantially identical in both bills, and are therefore likely be enacted into law, as are a number of other measures.