Commercial Banks: Closures, Lawsuits Continue to Mount

As has now become a familiar routine, this past Friday night the FDIC took control of several more commercial banks. The seven additional banks seized on Friday bring the year to date total number of failed banks to 139, and the total since January 1, 2008 to 304. At the same time, lawsuits involving failed and troubled banks are also accumulating, and on Friday, investors filed two more banking-related securities class action lawsuits. And as noted below, the jury trial in another banking related-securities class action lawsuit continues to go forward in federal court in Florida.

Recent Banking-Related Securities Suits

The first of the new lawsuits was filed on October 22, 2010 in the Northern District of Illinois against PrivateBancorp and certain of its directors and officers. As reflected in the plaintiffs' lawyers' October 22 press release (here), the Complaint alleges material misrepresentations in connection with the company's June 4, 2008 and May 11, 2009 securities offerings. The complaint (which can be found here) alleges that the company's share price fell over 37% in October 2009 after it announced that it held nearly $400 million in nonperforming loans.

The other recently filed banking-related suit was filed on October 22, 2010 in the Northern District of Iowa against Meta Financial Group and certain of its directors and offices. According to their October 22, 2010 press release (here), the Complaint (which can be found here) relates to the company's October 12, 2010 announcement that the Office of Thrift Supervision was investigating the company in connection with its iAdvance credit origination program. The complaint alleges that the company's shares declined over 40% on the news.

Statistical Review of Recent Banking-Related Litigation

Securities class action activity involving commercial banks represents a significant part of 2010 securities class action lawsuit filings. By my count, there have been at least ten securities class action lawsuits so far this year involving banking institutions, representing about seven percent of the approximately 143 securities suits filed year to date.

As noted in NERA's August 2010 report on failed bank litigation, investor lawsuits involving failed and troubled banks have been a significant accompaniment of the current round of banking problems. According to the NERA report, private investor litigation "was not a notable feature of the S&L crisis litigation," but this time around "private litigation against D&Os has been widespread."

Among other statistics, the NERA report notes that of the 240 securities class action lawsuits filed against financial sector firms in 2008 and 2009, there were 45 against depositary firms. The report further notes that of the 20 largest failed banks prior to 2010, 13 involved publicly traded institutions, and eight were involved in securities class action litigation through the end of 2009.

Updated Overview of Bank Failures

Meanwhile the number of failed banks continues to mount. The 139 banks closed in 2010 through October 22 is nearly equal to the 140 banks closed in all of 2009. The seven banks closed this past Friday night includes two more failed banks in Georgia and Florida, respectively, as well as one more in Illinois. There three states - Georgia, Florida and Illinois - are the states with the highest numbers of failed banks, both this year and since January 1, 2008.

So far this year, Florida has the highest number of failed banks, with 27, followed by Georgia (16), Illinois (16) and California (10). These four states alone have combined for 69 bank failures this year, or just under 50% of all 2010 bank failures.

Though 39 states and Puerto Rico have each had at least on bank failure since January 1, 2010, the bank failures have predominately been concentrated in just a handful of states, again led by the same four states - with Georgia leading the way with 46 failed banks, followed by Florida (43), Illinois (38) and California (32). These four states together have had 159 bank failures, or about 52% of all failed banks since January 1, 2008. Other states with high numbers of failed banks during that period include Minnesota (14), Washington (13), Missouri (11) and Nevada (10).

The 2010 bank failures have largely been concentrated among smaller banks. 116 of the 139 bank failures, or about 83%, have involved institutions with less than $1 billion in assets. 32 (or about 29%) of the 2010 bank failures have involved banks with less than $100 million in assets. Of course, given that there are many more smaller banking institutions in the U.S. than there are larger banks, it may be unsurprising that there are so many bank closures involving smaller banks.

Discussion

While the bank closure statistics are striking, it is worth noting that the lawsuits described above, as well as much of the banking-related securities litigation, involves banks that remain in operation. In other words, the current level of banking-related securities litigation represents more than just the direct fallout from the high level of bank failures. Rather the litigation reflects the pressures and stresses more widely distributed throughout the entire U.S. banking industry in the wake of the credit crisis.

Even though we are well past the depths of the financial crisis (at least temporally), many banks remain under pressure, as reflected in the FDIC's most recent quarterly banking profile (about which refer here). In many instances, this pressure has, among other things, led to litigation.

So while we continue to wait and see the extent to which the FDIC will, as a result of the current round of bank failures, become an active claimant against former directors and officers of failed bank, investors have pressed ahead with their own claims. Many of these investor claims have come in the form of securities class action lawsuits, the targets of which include a range of banking-related defendants, beyond just the failed institutions. The most recent filings suggest that we may continue to see more commercial banking-related securities litigation in the months ahead.

Meanwhile, BankAtlantic Securities Trial Continues: Among the banking-related securities cases filed in recent years is the securities class action lawsuit filed against BankAtlantic Bancorp and certain of its directors and officers, which recently became one of the very rare securities class action lawsuits to actually go to trial (about which refer here). The jury trial in the case is going forward in federal court in Miami, and as reflected in the October 22, 2010 post in the Southern Florida Business Journal Blog (here), the trial has among other things involved the plaintiffs' introduction of inflammatory internal emails highly critical of the bank's lending practices and processes.

According to informed sources, the plaintiffs are likely to conclude the presentation of their case some time during the upcoming week, and it will then be the defendants' turn to present evidence and to introduce testimony.

Plaintiffs in the case are represented by Matthew Mustokoff and Andrew Zivitz of the Barroway Topaz firm and Mark Arisohn of Labaton Sucharow. The defendants are represented by Eugene Stearns of the Stearns Weaver Miller law firm.

Anatomy of a Failure: Those readers wondering how in the world we got into this current banking mess may want to take a look at the article entitled "Death of a Small Town Bank" in November 1, 2010 issue of Time Magazine (link currently unavailable) The article tells the story of Community Bank & Trust (CBT) of Cornelia, Georgia, which the FDIC closed on January 29, 2010.

Though CBT is just one of the 139 banks that have failed this year, its tale encompasses so many of the problems underlying the current crisis. All of the usual details are present, as a small town institution got caught up in the speculative fever caused by rapidly escalating real estate prices, compounded by administrative and procedural shortcomings (and possibly worse) that led to faulty and some improper loans. The sudden collapse of prices that accompanied the financial crisis left lenders unable to repay and the bank saddled with a portfolio of bad loans that ultimately caused the bank's failure and left the town with a challenging future. The article makes for interesting, if sobering, reading.

For Those Looking for Something to Feel Good About: Those readers who have had just about enough of depressing stories about failed banks may want to take a look at the cover article from the October 24, 2010 issue of The New York Times Magazine entitled "The D.I.Y. Foreign-Aid Revolution." The article reports the stories of several individuals who have made it their personal responsibility to try to make the world a better place, and who actually have each found a way to actually do things that can make a difference. A really inspirational article about some really interesting and impressive people.

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.