It’s way too early to assume that Manhattan federal judge William Pauley III will end up deciding the fate of Bank of America’s proposed $8.5 billion settlement with investors in Countrywide mortgage-backed securities. But that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start wondering what will happen to the proposed deal if he does.
The key paragraph in Manhattan federal judge William Pauley III‘s 21-page ruling Wednesday in Bank of America’s proposed $8.5 billion settlement with Countrywide mortgage-backed-securities investors is the last one.
The most dramatic moment at the Sept. 21 hearing on Bank of America’s proposed $8.5 billion settlement with Countrywide mortgage-backed securities investors came near the end, when Gibbs & Bruns partner Robert Madden stood up to address Manhattan federal judge William Pauley’s concerns about how the settlement came to be. Tall and clear-spoken, Madden captured the judge’s attention as he explained that his clients, a group of 22 large institutional investors, hadn’t entered a sweetheart deal with BofA, but had banded together to force the bank to pony up billions to investors for claims BofA thought it would never have to deal with.
When New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman sued Bank of New York Mellon in August, the AG asserted that the Countrywide mortgage-backed securitization trustee had breached its duty to MBS investors. “As trustee, BNYM owed and owes a fiduciary duty of undivided loyalty,” said the AG’s suit, which was filed as a counterclaim in BNY Mellon’s case seeking approval of the proposed $8.5 billion Bank of America settlement with MBS investors. “[BNYM] breached that duty to [investors'] detriment and disadvantage, by failing to notify them of issues regarding the quality of loans underlying their securities.”
On Wednesday night, Grais & Ellsworth filed a 29-page brief laying out its arguments for why Bank of America’s proposed $8.5 billion settlement with Countrywide mortgage-backed securities investors belongs in federal court, not in New York state court, where Bank of New York Mellon, as Countrywide MBS trustee, filed it. I’ll talk about Grais’s assertions in a moment, but first I want to explain why the jurisdictional question is so crucial to the ultimate fate of BofA’s proposed deal. Two transcripts tell that tale.
There is never a dull moment in Bank of America’s attempt to resolve its Countrywide mortgage-backed securities liability. In a stunning move Friday, the law firm leading the fight against BofA’s proposed $8.5 billion settlement with Countrywide MBS noteholders removed the case from New York state supreme court to federal court. “The purpose of removal is to make sure that this proceeding is adjudicated in the proper forum,” Grais & Ellsworth wrote in a letter to lawyers for Bank of New York Mellon (the Countrywide MBS trustee) and for the big institutional investors who crafted the proposed settlement. “We believe in good faith that this proceeding is subject to federal jurisdiction as a mass action under the Class Action Fairness Act.” (Here’s the Grais & Ellsworth letter with the removal petition attached.)
As expected, the Delaware attorney general’s office moved Tuesday night to intervene in Bank of America’s proposed $8.5 billion settlement with Countrywide mortgage-backed noteholders. The Delaware petition to intervene and supporting brief are notable for their moderate tone, in contrast to last week’s fiery objection and counterclaims by the New York attorney general. Tuesday’s filings, signed by Delaware deputy AG Jeremy Eicher, said that Delaware is concerned about BofA’s indemnification of the MBS trustee, Bank of New York Mellon — the same conflict-of-interest allegation raised by just about every intervenor who so far has surfaced in the case. Delaware, which noted that two of the Countrywide MBS trusts are Delaware vehicles, argued that it needs more information about the proposed settlement in order to protect investors.
Before Thursday night, opposition to Bank of America’s proposed $8.5 billion settlement with Countrywide mortgage-backed securities investors consisted of a handful of investor groups represented by a handful of law firms. Even if you counted the six Federal Home Loan Banks that have moved to intervene but haven’t yet gone on record opposing the deal, intervenors represented less than 7 percent of all Countrywide MBS noteholders. The 22 gargantuan institutional investors that negotiated the settlement were a much more potent force.
Faced with a barrage of investor criticism (see here, here, and here) of its proposed $8.5 billion mortgage-backed securities settlement with Bank of America, Bank of New York Mellon, the MBS trustee, has released the expert reports underlying the agreement. The reports—in particular the valuation report by Brian Lin, the managing director of RRMS Advisors—provide an extraordinary window into how this deal got done. They may not change anyone’s mind about the fairness of the settlement proposal, but they answer a lot of the questions that challengers of the deal have raised.