FDIC's Latest Failed Bank Lawsuit Defendants Include Outside Directors and D&O Insurers; Also, Number of Problem Banks Declines

FDIC's Latest Failed Bank Lawsuit Defendants Include Outside Directors and D&O Insurers; Also, Number of Problem Banks Declines

On August 22, 2011, when the FDIC filed a lawsuit related to the collapse of Silverton Bank, which is Georgia's largest failed bank, the named defendants included not only bank officers that the regulators allege are responsible for the bank's failure, but also the bank's former outside directors and even the bank's D&O insurers. A copy of the FDIC's complaint, which was filed in the Northern District of Georgia, can be found here. Scott Trubey's August 22, 2011 Atlanta Journal Constitution article about the lawsuit can be found here.

In addition, and as discussed further below, on August 23, 2011, the FDIC separate filed an action in the District of Arizona against certain directors and officers of the failed First National Bank of Nevada.

When Silverton failed on May 1, 2009, it had assets of over $4 billion. Prior to its collapse, Silverton had done business as a "banker's bank" and had been chartered to do serve the needs of community financial institutions, by providing correspondent and clearinghouse services. The bank eventually expanded into residential and commercial real estate acquisition and development loans, which it accomplished through "participations" in which the Bank shared funding and risk with other banks.

The FDIC's complaint alleged that its case represents "a text book example of officer and directors of a financial institution being asleep at the wheel and robotically voting for approval of transactions without exercising any business judgment in doing go." The complaint, which seeks recovery of damages of $71 million, asserts claims against the individual defendants for negligence, gross negligence, breaches of fiduciary duty and waste.

The individual defendants named in the lawsuit include not only the bank's former President and CEO and two other former bank officers, but also 14 additional former outside board members. In naming the outside directors, the FDIC stressed that what makes this case "so unique and troubling" is that the bank's board was not composed of "ordinary businessmen" but, rather, in view of the bank's business as a banker's bank, of individuals who were all CEOs or presidents of other community banks. These outside board members "by virtue of their elevated positions within their own banks, were more skillful and possessed superior attributes in relation to fulfilling their duties" than "others who may serve in this capacity.

The complaint alleges that the individual defendants allowed the bank to pursue a strategy of rapid expansion, particularly with respect to commercial real estate lending, just as the economy started to head south, and allowed the bank to continue to pursue this strategy even after the signs of economic problems began to mount. The complaint alleges that the bank's "aggressive banking plan" was accompanied by weaknesses in loan underwriting, credit administration and a complete disregard of a declining economy, which "led to the failure of the Bank."

The complaint also alleged that the individual defendants "directed the Bank on a course of expansive and extravagant spending on unnecessary items for the Bank after the economy began to decline." The individual defendants are alleged to have "authorized the purchase of two new aircrafts, a new airplane hanger to house three large and expensive airplanes, and a large and lavish new office building."

In addition to naming the former officials of the failed bank as defendants, the complaint somewhat unconventionally also names as defendants the bank's two D&O insurers.

At the time the bank failed, it carried a total of $10 million of D&O insurance, arranged in two layers consisting of a primary layer of $5 million and an additional $5 million layer excess of the primary. The complaint relates that when the binder for the relevant primary policy was issued on March 3, 2009 (that is, less than two months before the bank failed), the binder listed ten endorsements, including an endorsement containing the so-called regulatory exclusion (for background about the regulatory exclusion, refer here). However, when the primary carrier issued the policy on April 1, 2009, only seven of the ten endorsements that had been listed on the binder were included on the D&O policy. Among the endorsements that were listed on the binder that were not included on the issued policy was the endorsement with the regulatory exclusion.

On the afternoon of May 1, 2009 (that is, the day Silverton was closed), a representative of the primary carrier sent an email message that he "had noticed that the Regulatory Endorsement was on the Binder but left off the policy in error," and attached to the email an endorsement with the Regulatory Endorsement dated May 1, 2009 but with an effective date of March 9, 2009. The complaint characterizes this as a "last minute attempt to unilaterally change the terms of the Policy." The complaint further alleges that policy issuance terminated the binder.

The FDIC's complaint seeks a judicial declaration that the regulatory exclusion is not a part of the primary or excess policy, and that the Insured vs. Insured exclusion, on which the carriers also purport to rely to deny coverage, does not preclude coverage for the claim. (Refer here for a discussion of the issues surrounding the applicability of the Insured vs. Insured exclusion in connection with a claim involving the FDIC as receiver.)


The FDIC's lawsuit against the former Silverton directors and officers is not the first lawsuit filed as part of the current round of bank failures in which the FDIC has included outside directors as defendants. For example, the lawsuit the FDIC recently filed in connection with the collapse of Haven Trust included the failed bank's former outside directors as defendants, as discussed here.  The FDIC seems to have particularly targeted the outside directors of this failed bank, owing to the unusual circumstance that former directors were all themselves also senior executives of other banking institutions. The FDIC clearly intends to try to bootstrap this fact in order to argue that these specific directors should be held to a higher standard of care. (My recent post on issues surrounding questions of bank director liability can be found here.)

Upon reflection of the unique circumstances by which these directors came to be on the Silverton board, it occurs to me that the FDIC may have certain additional motivations in pursuing claims against the former outside directors of the bank. The parrticular circumstance I have in mind is the fact that each of these outside directors of Silverton was also an officer of another banking institution. To the extent these individuals were serving on the Silverton board at the direction of the sponsoring institution, these individuals potentially could have coverge for claims in connection with their Silverton board service under the outside director liability provisions of their sponsoring bank's D&O insurance policies. I am expressing no views on whether or to what extent such coverage actually would be available, nor could I without further information about their sponsoring banks' D&O insurance policies and about the circustances by which they came to be on the Silverton board. My purpose in noting the observations here is simply to suggest this possible additional motivation that the FDIC might have in pursuing claims against these particular outside directors. In any event, the outside director liability coverage, if any, under the sponsoring company's D&O insurance may be limited to outside director service on nonprofit boards.

The FDIC's inclusion of the D&O insurers as parties defendant in the liability lawsuit is unorthodox to say the least. One the one hand, as the complaint recites, the D&O insurers have denied liability for the FDIC's claim, which might set the predicate for a more conventional (and separate) declaratory judgment action against the carrier. From reading the complaint, it seems that the primary carrier's belated attempt to correct the omission of the regulatory exclusion from primary policy may explain the FDIC's more aggressive approach here.

Whatever else may be said about the FDIC's inclusion of the insurers as defendants in this lawsuit, the alleged facts provide a veritable parable about the importance of making sure that the issued policy matches the terms of the binder. It will be interested to see how the Court addresses what allegedly appears to be a policy issuance error, as the insurance arrangement to which the parties had agreed unquestionably was intended at the time of contract formation to include a regulatory exclusion.  For that matter, it will be interested to see whether the Court permits the coverage action to remain joined with the underlying liability action, and whether or not the Court will permit the two related actions to go forward at the same time.

FDIC Also Files Lawsuit Against Former Officials of First National Bank of Arizona: In addition to its new lawsuit against the Silverton officials, the FDIC also filed a separate lawsuit in August 23, 2011 in the District of Arizona  against two former directors and officers of First National Bank of Arizona,  which had been one of the sister banks of First National Bank of  Nevada until they merged shortly before FNB Nevada failed. FNB Nevada was among the first banks to fail as part of the current round of bank falures when it failed on July 25, 2008. A copy of the FDIC's complaint in the case can be found here.  

The complaint alleges breach of fiduciary duty, negligence and gross negligence against the former officers, asserting that they cause the bank to sustain "losses from the unsustainable business model they promoted for FNB Arizona's loan portfolio -- a model that depended on real estate values rising indefinitely and low defaule rate." The complaint alleges that "when the real estate market collapsed and default rates skyrocketed, FNB Arizona was left holding millions of dollars of bad loans it could not sell." The FDIC alleges that as a result of the defendants' conduct, the FDIC has sustained losses in excess of $193 million.

The Current FDIC Failed Bank Lawsuit Count: These complaints represent the tenth and eleventh that the FDIC has filed against former directors and officers of a failed bank as part of the current round of bank failures. The Silverton lawsuit represents the third so far in Georgia. There undoubtedly will be more lawsuits to come, as the FDIC has indicated on its website that as of August 4, 2011, it has authorized suits in connection with 30 failed institutions against 266 individuals for D&O liability with damage claims of at least $6.8 billion. With the Silverton Bank and FNB Nevada lawsuits, the FDIC has now filed suits in connection with eleven failed institutions against 77 individuals. Even just taking account of the lawsuits that have already been authorized, there are many more suits to come, and undoubtedly even more lawsuits will be authorized.

But with the back to back arrival of these two lawsuits in the space of two days, both involving banks the failed early on the the bank failure wave, there is a sense that the long lagtime associated with the FDIC's lawsuit filings may be over. For what it is worth, both of these new complaints both involve the same lawfirm on behalf of the FDIC, the Mullin Hoard & Brown law firm of Amarillo, Texas.

It is probably worth noting that the FDIC's lawsuit is not the first to be filed against the former directors and officers of Silverton. As reflected here, the bank's defunct parent company earlier this year filed suit against the bank's former CEO and its former accountant and accounting firm, seeking about $65 million in damages.

Special thanks to the several readers who sent me copies of the Silverton complaint and related links. Special thanks also to the loyal reader who sent me a copy of the FNB Nevada lawsuit as well.

Number of Problem Banks Declines: According to the FDIC's latest Quarterly Banking Profile, released on August 23, 2011 (refer here), the number of problem institutions during the second quarter of 2011 declined to 865, from 888 at the end of the first quarter of 2011. This reduction represents the first quarterly decline in the number of problem institutions in 19 quarters. (The FDIC identifies banks as problem institutions as those that are graded a 4 or a 5 on a 1-to-5 scale as a result of "financial, operational, or managerial weaknesses that threat their continued financial viability." The FDIC does not release the names of the individual problem institutions.)

While the quarterly decline in the number of problem institutions is good news, the latest quarterly figure still represents a significant number and percentage of all banks. The 865 problem institutions represents about 11.5% of the 7513 of all reporting institutions. This is slightly lower than the 11.7% of all banks that were rated as problem institutions at the end of the first quarter.

With the continued weakness in the sector, the number of failed and troubled banks will continue to remain a concern for some time to come.

The FDIC's August 23, 2011 press release regarding the latest Quarterly Banking Profile can be found here.

Read other items of interest from the world of directors & officers liability, with occasional commentary, at the D&O Diary, a blog by Kevin LaCroix.

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