FDIC Wins $168.8 Million Jury Verdict Against Former IndyMac Officers

FDIC Wins $168.8 Million Jury Verdict Against Former IndyMac Officers

On December 7, 2012, in a comprehensive victory for the FDIC in its capacity as receiver of the failed IndyMac bank, a jury in the Central District of California entered a verdict of $168.8 million in the FDIC's lawsuit against three former officers of the bank. As reflected in the verdict form (a copy of which can be found here), the jury found that the defendants had been negligent and had breached their fiduciary duties with respect to each of the 23 loans at issue in this phase of the FDIC's case against the three individuals

At the time its July 11, 2008 closure, IndyMac had assets of about $32 billion, making its failure the fifth largest bank failure in U.S. history. But though there have been a few larger bank failures, none have been costlier to the FDIC's deposit fund. IndyMac's collapse has cost the fund nearly $13 billion.

In June 2010, the FDIC filed against a lawsuit several former officers of the bank's homebuilder division, in what was the first D&O lawsuit the agency filed during the current bank failure wave, as discussed here. The FDIC's lawsuit sought to recover damages from the individual defendants for "negligence and breach of fiduciary duties" and alleged "significant departures from safe and sound banking practices." As discussed here, in July 2011, the FDIC filed a separate lawsuit against IndyMac's former CEO, Michael Perry.

As discussed here, trial in the FDIC's case against the former homebuilder division officers began on November 6, 2012. The three individual defendants in the case that went to trial are: Scott Van Dellen, the former President and CEO of IndyMac's Homebuilders Division (HBD), who was alleged to have approved all of the loans that are the subject of the FDIC's suit; Richard Koon, who was HBD's Chief Lending Officer until mid-2006 and who was alleged to have approved a number of the loans at issue; Kenneth Shellem, who served as HBD's Chief Compliance Officer until late 2006, and who is also alleged to have approved many of the loans. (The FDIC's original complaint had named a fourth individual, William Rothman, as a defendant as well. According to pleadings filed in the case, Rothman settled with the FDIC in exchange for Rothman's assignment to the FDIC of Rothman's rights against IndyMac's D&O insurers.)

According to news reports, the jury reached its verdict after 16 days of trial. During the trial, the defendants attempted to argue that they and the bank were victims of an unanticipated downturn in the housing market. The FDIC in turn argued that the bank officials disregarded danger signals about the housing market and continued to approve loans in order to meet production goals and obtain bonus compensation.

The jury verdict form reflects separate verdicts as to each of the 23 loans that were at issue in this phase of the trial of the case. With respect to each of the loans, the jury separately found that the specific defendants who were named as to each of the loans had been negligent and had breached their fiduciary duties. The jury assigned separate damages as to each of the loans as well. The separate damage awards total $168.8 million. However, each of the three defendants was held liable for differing amounts. All three of the defendants were named only with respect to 14 of the 23 loans. With respect to five of the 23 loans, only Van Dellen and Shellem were named, and as to four of the loans, Van Dellen alone was named. Thus the jury found Van Dellen liable as to all 23 of the loans, but found Shellem liable only as to 18 of the loams and found Koon liable only as to 14 of the loans.

The just completed trial apparently represents only the first trial phase of this matter. There apparently will be a separate trial phase that will address the FDIC's allegations as to scores of other loans as well as allegations with respect to the bank's loan portfolio as a whole. The FDIC apparently is seeking total damages of more than $350 million. In addition, the FDIC's separate case against Perry, the bank's former CEO, will continue to go forward as well.

Given the magnitude of the jury's verdict, there undoubtedly will be post-trial motions and, after the conclusion of all remaining trial phases, appeals as well. One issue that likely will be subject of an appeal will be Central District of California Judge Dale Fischer's October 2012 determination under California law that the three defendants, as former officers (but not former directors), could not rely on the business judgment rule and therefore could be held liable for mere negligence. (The potential appeal value of this issue for the defendants may be diminished somewhat due to the fact that the jury specifically found that the defendants had not only been negligent, but had also violated their fiduciary duty, suggesting that the defendants would still have been found liable even if they couldn't be held liable for negligence).

While the jury verdict unquestionably represents a victory for the FDIC, the FDIC may face considerable challenges attempting to collect on the verdict. There may be little or no remaining D&O insurance out of which the FDIC might try to recover. As discussed at length here, in July 2012, Central District of California Judge Gary Klausner held in a related D&O insurance coverage case that all of the various lawsuits related to Indy Mac's collapse (including the case that in which the jury verdict was just entered) were interrelated to the first-filed lawsuit, and thus triggered only the D&O insurance that was in force when the first suit was filed. Because all of the later-filed lawsuits related back to the first lawsuit, the later lawsuits - including the lawsuit in which the jury verdict was entered -- did not trigger a second $80 million insurance program that was in force when the later suits were filed. (The FDIC has filed an appeal of Judge Klausner's ruling.)

In other words, unless Judge Klausner's insurance coverage ruling is reversed on appeal, the only insurance available out of which the FDIC might be able to try to realize the amount of the jury verdict is whatever is left under the first tower of insurance. However, as I noted in a prior post, in pleadings that they filed in July 2012, the defendants represented to the court that defense fees incurred in all of the various IndyMac-related lawsuits, as well as settlements that had been reached in some of the suits, had exhausted or would soon exhaust the first tower of insurance.

Pleadings that the three individuals filed in the case state that "the FDIC specifically structured this lawsuit in order to reach the Tower 2 Policy." Judge Klausner's ruling in the insurance coverage case obviously upset the FDIC's strategy in this case. The outcome of the appeal in the insurance coverage case may well determine whether or not the massive verdict the FDIC just won results in any significant monetary benefits for the agency.

This case was not only the first case the FDIC filed against the former directors and officers of a failed bank as part of the current bank failure wave, but it is also the first case to go to trial. Since the FDIC filed this suit back in July 2010, the agency has filed forty more cases against the directors and officers of failed banks. There undoubtedly will be more lawsuits yet to come. Many of the individual defendants named in these cases vigorously dispute the FDIC's allegations. However, the jury verdict in the IndyMac case may communicate a sobering message about what it might mean to force a case all the way to trial. Given this verdict, it may now be even more unlikely that one of these cases would go to trial.

Scott Recard's December 8, 2012 Los Angeles Times article about the jury verdict can be found here.

Special thanks to Thomas Long of the Nossaman law firm for sending me the jury verdict form. The Nossaman firm represented the FDIC at the IndyMac trial.

D&O Insurer, FDIC Settle Claims Against Former BankUnited Officials: The FDIC's efforts to try to recover under failed banks' D&O insurance do not always involve a lawsuit. Sometimes the FDIC asserts its claims in a demand letter that it presents to the former directors and officers of a failed bank, with a copy of the letter also send to the failed bank's D&O insurers. Sometimes these kinds of letter demands result in a settlement without a lawsuit ever being filed. That apparently is what has happened in connection with the FDIC's claims against former directors and officers of BankUnited, a Coral Gables, Florida bank that failed in May 2009, at least according to a December 6, 2012 article in the South Florida Business Journal.

As reflected here, on November 5, 2009, the FDIC, in its capacity as BankUnited's receiver, sent a letter to fifteen former directors and officers of the bank, in which the FDIC presented its "demand for civil damages arising out of losses suffered as a result of wrongful acts and omissions committed by the named Directors and Officers." The letter, a copy of which can be found here, explains that the demand for civil damages is "based on the breach of duty, failure to supervise, negligence, and/or gross negligence of the named Directors and Officers." Though the letter is nominally addressed to the fifteen individuals, copies of the letters also were sent directly to the bank's primary and first level excess D&O insurers.

In addition to the FDIC's claims against former directors and officers of the failed bank, shareholders of the failed bank's holding company (which is now bankrupt) filed a lawsuit against certain former bank directors and officers. The bankruptcy trustee asserted claims against the individuals as well.

According to the newspaper article, these various parties have reached a settlement agreement, subject to bankruptcy court approval, to divide the bank's $10 million primary D&O insurance policy four ways: $3.5 million to the class action plaintiff; $2.5 million to the FDIC; $1.65 to the bankruptcy trustee; and the balance going to pay legal defense fees and other costs. The settlement agreement also allows the FDIC to attempt to pursue a recovery from the carrier that issued the bank's $10 million first level excess D&O insurance carrier, which has refused to pay under its policy.

This settlement is interesting because it reflects the tensions that can arise when multiple claims have been asserted against the former directors and officers of a failed bank. When there are multiple claims and only limited insurance, the various claimants are put in competition with each other, as they each race to try to capture as much of the insurance as they can while at the same time accumulating defense fees erodes what little insurance there may be. The division here of the $10 million primary D&O policy reflects an effort between and among the various claimants to try to work out a split of the insurance  so that each of the various sets of claimants at least gets a part of the policy proceeds. The challenge for other claimants trying to work out similar deals in other cases is to try and get a deal done before defense fees exhaust the insurance fund.

Special thanks to a loyal reader for sending me a link to the article about the BankUnited settlement.

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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