Harmsen v. Smith

Decision Date13 November 1978
Docket NumberNo. 76-2006,76-2006
Citation586 F.2d 156
PartiesFred H. HARMSEN et al., Plaintiffs, v. C. Arnholt SMITH et al., Defendants. FEDERAL DEPOSIT INSURANCE CORPORATION, etc., Plaintiff in Intervention, v. C. Arnholt SMITH et al., Defendants. Ernest W. HAHN et al., Third-Party Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. UNITED STATES of America, Third-Party Defendant-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit

Donald J. Hoffman, Los Angeles, Cal. (argued), for Ryan.

Thomas J. Ready, Los Angeles, Cal. (argued), for Hahn.

Robert E. Noel, Asst. U. S. Atty. (argued), Dept. of Justice, Washington, D. C., for defendants.

Arthur G. Spence, Los Angeles, Cal. (argued), Michael J. Weaver, San Diego, Cal. (argued), for Kaplan.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of California.

Before HUFSTEDLER and TANG, Circuit Judges, and TAKASUGI, * District Judge.

HUFSTEDLER, Circuit Judge:

The novel question presented on this appeal is whether directors of a defunct national bank may maintain actions for indemnity against the United States for alleged negligence of the Comptroller of the Currency in conducting bank examinations. We affirm dismissal of the actions for failure to state a claim for relief.

Appellants are former directors of the United States National Bank of San Diego ("USNB"). The Comptroller of the Currency declared USNB insolvent on October 18, 1973, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation ("FDIC") was appointed receiver of the bank. After the bank's demise, a number of USNB shareholders filed class actions against the directors of the corporation alleging various breaches of the directors' fiduciary duties. These lawsuits were consolidated into a single action in which the FDIC, as the bank's receiver, intervened and filed a complaint against the directors. The directors thereafter filed third-party complaints against the United States, pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2674 Et seq., seeking indemnity for any liability they may have incurred.

The directors' complaints averred that the Comptroller of the Currency ("Comptroller") was negligent in performing bank examinations, in supervising employees who performed the examinations, and in failing to discover illegal or unsound banking practices of USNB. In dismissing the third-party complaints, the district court held that the Comptroller owed no duty to the bank or its shareholders for breach of which a negligence action would lie. The court also held that liability was foreclosed even if the Comptroller had assumed such a duty because the directors' negligence was of the same character as the claimed negligence of the Comptroller and because the discretionary function exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2680(a), prevented an action based upon the Act.

The directors cannot state a claim for equitable indemnity against the United States unless the Comptroller owed a duty to USNB's shareholders, the original plaintiffs in this action. 1 The directors argue that the Comptroller owed the shareholders a duty of care because (1) a duty in favor of the shareholders should be implied from the statutory obligation imposed upon the Comptroller to conduct bank examinations under 12 U.S.C. § 481, 2 and (2) the Comptroller assumed a duty of care by his actions in giving copies of bank examinations to the bank. We reject both contentions.

Nothing in the language of section 481 purports to impose any duty on the Comptroller to protect shareholders. Nothing in the statutory scheme suggests that any such duty should be implied. Federal examination of national banks was designed to provide the Comptroller with information necessary to perform his regulatory function. Although bank examinations may reveal irregularities and even fraud, which discoveries may redound to the benefit of innocent persons, including stockholders, that result is merely an incidental benefit to the examined banks. We agree with every other court that has considered the issue that the federal scheme of bank regulation creates no duty from the Comptroller to shareholders and directors of national banks. (In re Franklin National Bank Securities Litigation (E.D.N.Y.1978) 445 F.Supp. 723, 731; Social Security Administration Baltimore Federal Credit Union v. United States (D.Md.1956) 138 F.Supp. 639, 646. See also Kaufman v. Evans, Civ.No. 127-71 (D.N.J. July 21, 1977).)

Appellants cannot take any comfort from Dicta in Easton v. Iowa (1903) 188 U.S. 220, 230, 23 S.Ct. 288, 47 L.Ed. 452; Deitrick v. Greaney (1940) 309 U.S. 190, 194, 60 S.Ct. 180, 84 L.Ed. 694; Deitrick v. Standard Surety & Casualty Co. (1938) 303 U.S. 471, 480, 58 S.Ct. 696, 82 L.Ed. 962, stating that, among the purposes of federal banking regulations, was the protection of the banks' depositors and other creditors. The Supreme Court's comments on legislative purpose contained no suggestion that Congress intended to implement that purpose by creating or permitting private actions against the Comptroller for a failure to perform or carelessly performing his statutory duties. Moreover, from the fact of congressional intent to protect creditors and depositors of national banks, no inference arises of any congressional intent to protect stockholders and directors of national banks. (Cf. Social Security Administration Baltimore Federal Credit Union v. United States, supra, 138 F.Supp. 639.) 3

Appellants' reliance upon Indian Towing Co. v. United States (1955) 350 U.S. 61, 76 S.Ct. 122, 100 L.Ed. 48, is also misplaced. In Indian Towing, the Supreme Court held that, although the Coast Guard was not obligated to establish a certain lighthouse, "once it exercised its discretion to operate a light . . . and engendered reliance on the guidance afforded by the light, it was obligated to use due care to make certain that the light...

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    ...inure to bank officers and directors. First State Bank of Hudson County v. United States, 599 F.2d 558 (3rd Cir.1979); Harmsen v. Smith, 586 F.2d 156 (9th Cir.1978); FDIC v. Butcher, 660 F.Supp. 1274 (E.D.Tenn.1987). Courts have found uniformly that the public interest forecloses parties fr......
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    ...institutions. See, e.g., First National Bank of Hudson County v. United States of America, 599 F.2d 558 (3d Cir. 1979); Harmsen v. Smith, 586 F.2d 156 (9th Cir.1978); Social Security Administration Baltimore Federal Credit Union v. United States, 138 F.Supp. 639 (D.Md. 1956). In George Byer......
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