Funds v. United States

Decision Date06 December 2019
Docket NumberNo. 13-465C,13-465C
PartiesFAIRHOLME FUNDS, INC. et al., Plaintiffs, v. THE UNITED STATES, Defendant.
CourtU.S. Claims Court

Motion to Dismiss; RCFC 12(b)(1); RCFC 12(b)(6); Jurisdiction; Standing; Derivative Claim; Direct Claims; Instrumentalities; Coercion; Agent; Collateral Estoppel; Issue Preclusion; Conservators; Conflict of Interest; Third-Party Beneficiaries; Stock; Shareholders; Fannie; Freddie; FHFA

Charles J. Cooper, Washington, DC, for plaintiffs.

Kenneth M. Dintzer, United States Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for defendant.


SWEENEY, Chief Judge

Plaintiffs in this case challenge the actions of the United States during the conservatorships of the Federal National Mortgage Association ("Fannie") and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation ("Freddie"). Specifically, plaintiffs take issue with the conservator for Fannie and Freddie (collectively, the "Enterprises") amending a funding agreement between the Enterprises and the United States Department of the Treasury ("Treasury"). Based on the revisions to that agreement, plaintiffs seek the return of money illegally exacted, damages for breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty, and compensation for a taking pursuant to the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution ("Constitution"). Defendant moves to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint, arguing that the court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over plaintiffs' claims, plaintiffs lack standing to pursue certain claims, and plaintiffs fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. For the reasons stated below, the court grants in part and denies in part defendant's motion to dismiss.

A. The Enterprises are private companies that are under the control of a conservator.
1. The Enterprises operated independently before the financial crisis.

Congress created the Enterprises to help the housing market; the Enterprises purchase and guarantee mortgages originated by private banks before bundling those mortgages into securities that are sold to investors. 2d Am. Compl. ¶ 36. Congress chartered Fannie in 1938 and established Freddie in 1980. Id. ¶ 37. Both Enterprises were initially part of the federal government before Congress reorganized them into for-profit companies owned by private shareholders. Id. Freddie is organized under Virginia law, and Fannie is organized under Delaware law. Id. ¶¶ 33-34. The Enterprises, consistent with the applicable state laws, issued their own common and preferred stock. Id. ¶ 38. Common shareholders obtained the right to receive dividends, collect any residual value, and vote on various corporate matters. Id. ¶ 42. Those owning preferred stock acquired the right to receive dividends and a liquidation preference. Id. ¶ 41.

The Enterprises, up until the financial crisis in the late 2000s, were consistently profitable; Fannie had not reported a full-year loss since 1985, and Freddie had not reported such a loss since becoming privately owned. Id. ¶ 43. Although the Enterprises recorded losses in 2007 and the first two quarters of 2008, the Enterprises continued to generate sufficient cash to pay their debts and retained sufficient capital to operate. Id. ¶ 44. Otherwise stated, the Enterprises were not in financial distress or otherwise at risk of insolvency. Id. ¶¶ 45, 64.

2. Congress created the Federal Housing Finance Agency to regulate the Enterprises and

authorized the agency to serve as a conservator for each Enterprise.

In the midst of the financial crisis during the summer of 2008, Congress enacted the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 ("HERA"), Pub. L. No. 110-289, 122 Stat. 2654 (codified as amended in scattered sections of 12 U.S.C.). In that statute, Congress created the Federal Housing Finance Agency ("FHFA") and provided it with supervisory and regulatory authority over the Enterprises. See 12 U.S.C. § 4511(a)-(b) (2018).1 Congress further authorized the FHFA Director to, in limited circumstances, appoint the FHFA as the conservator ("FHFA-C") for each Enterprise to reorganize, rehabilitate, or wind up its affairs.2 Id. § 4617(a)(2). Specifically, the Director is authorized to appoint a conservator if, among other things, an Enterprise consents, is undercapitalized, or lacks sufficient assets to pay itsobligations. Id. § 4617(a)(3).3 The conservator, once appointed, functions independently; it is not "subject to the direction or supervision of any other agency of the United States or any State in the exercise of [its] rights, powers, and privileges . . . ." Id. § 4617(a)(7).

Congress also delineated the scope of the FHFA-C's powers in HERA. See generally id. § 4617. As soon as it is appointed, the FHFA-C "immediately succeed[s] to . . . all rights, titles, powers, and privileges of the [Enterprise], and of any stockholder, officer, or director of such [Enterprise] with respect to the [Enterprise] and the assets of the [Enterprise] . . . ." Id. § 4617(b)(2)(A). Congress also conferred the conservator with the power to "[o]perate the [Enterprise]." Id. § 4617(b)(2)(B). Pursuant to that power, the conservator "may," among other things, "perform all functions of the [Enterprise]," "preserve and conserve the assets and property of the [Enterprise]," and "provide by contract for assistance in fulfilling any function . . . of the [conservator]." Id. The conservator "may" also "take such action as may be . . . necessary to put the [Enterprise] in a sound and solvent condition; . . . and appropriate to carry on the business of the [Enterprise] and preserve and conserve the assets and property of the [Enterprise]." Id. § 4617(b)(2)(D). Rounding out the panoply of powers, Congress also provided that the conservator "may . . . exercise . . . such incidental powers as shall be necessary to carry out [its enumerated powers]" and "take any action authorized by [12 U.S.C. § 4617(b)], which [it] determines is in the best interest of the [Enterprise] or the [FHFA]." Id. § 4617(b)(2)(J). By describing the FHFA-C's role primarily in terms of what powers it "may" exercise, see generally id. § 4617, Congress provided the FHFA-C with significant discretion on when or how it uses its powers, see United States v. Rodgers, 461 U.S. 677, 706 (1983) ("The word 'may,' when used in a statute, usually implies some degree of discretion."). Simply stated, the FHFA has "extraordinarily broad flexibility to carry out its role as conservator." Perry Capital LLC v. Mnuchin, 864 F.3d 591, 606 (D.C. Cir. 2017) ("Perry II"), cert. denied, 138 S. Ct. 978 (2018).

3. Congress authorized Treasury to purchase securities issued by the Enterprises.

At the same time that it established the FHFA, Congress authorized the Treasury Secretary to buy securities issued by the Enterprises in limited circumstances. 12 U.S.C. §§ 1455(l) (Freddie), 1719(g) (Fannie). Congress included a sunset clause on this power; the Secretary could not purchase securities after December 31, 2009. Id. §§ 1455(l)(4), 1719(g)(4). Until that date, the Secretary was permitted to purchase the securities if he determined that doing so was necessary to provide stability to the financial markets, prevent disruptions in the availability of mortgage finance, and protect taxpayers. Id. §§ 1455(l)(1)(B), 1719(g)(1)(B). As part of his obligation to protect taxpayers, the Secretary could only purchase securities after considering:

(i) The need for preferences or priorities regarding payments to the Government.
(ii) Limits on maturity or disposition of obligations or securities to be purchased.
(iii) The [Enterprise's] plan for the orderly resumption of private market funding or capital market access.
(iv) The probability of the [Enterprise] fulfilling the terms of any such obligation or other security, including repayment.
(v) The need to maintain the [Enterprise's] status as a private shareholder-owned company.
(vi) Restrictions on the use of [Enterprise] resources, including limitations on the payment of dividends and executive compensation and any such other terms and conditions as appropriate for those purposes.

Id. §§ 1455(l)(1)(C), 1719(g)(1)(C).

4. The FHFA became the conservator for each Enterprise.

After Congress enacted HERA, Treasury "urg[ed]" the FHFA to place each Enterprise into conservatorship. 2d Am. Compl. ¶ 4. The FHFA and Treasury subsequently sought to persuade each Enterprise's board of directors to consent to conservatorship. Id. ¶ 64. The FHFA and Treasury told each Enterprise's board that the FHFA would seize the Enterprises if the board did not consent to the conservatorship. Id. Around the same time, the FHFA made an offer to each board: consent to a conservatorship in exchange for the FHFA-C aiming to preserve and conserve the Enterprises' assets, attempting to restore the Enterprises to sound and solvent condition, and terminating the conservatorships when those goals were achieved. Id. ¶ 260. Each Enterprise's board accepted that offer and consented to a conservatorship on September 6, 2008, with an understanding that the FHFA-C would operate in the aforementioned limited ways. Id. ¶¶ 64, 67; see also id. ¶¶ 259-63 (discussing the purported offer and acceptance). The FHFA, soon thereafter, issued statements echoing each board's understanding. Id. ¶¶ 66, 261.

The conservatorships became effective on September 6, 2008, upon each Enterprise's board's consent. See id. ¶¶ 64 (discussing the timing of the Enterprises' consent), 259 (alleging that, prior to becoming conservator, the FHFA had not made any of the findings under 12 U.S.C. § 4617(a)(3) that would permit conservatorships without the Enterprises' consent); see also 12 U.S.C. § 4617(a)(3)(I) (permitting the FHFA Director to appoint a conservator when "[t]he [Enterprise], by resolution of its board of directors or its shareholders or members, consents to the appointment").

5. The FHFA-C contracted with Treasury to obtain funding for the Enterprises.

On September...

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