SEC Looks Likely to Win Appeal in $285M Securities Settlement that Judge Rakoff Rejected

In a primarily procedural decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has ruled that the Securities and Exchange Commission’s case against Citigroup, which resulted in a proposed $285M securities fred settlement, be stayed pending a joint appeal of U.S. Senior District Judge Jed Rakoff’s ruling that the civil lawsuit proceed to trial. Rakoff had rejected the settlement on the grounds that he didn’t believe that it was “adequate.” He also questioned the Commission’s practice of letting parties settle securities causes without having to admit or deny wrongdoing. The trial in SEC v. Citigroup Global Markets, Inc. had been scheduled for July 2012.

In December, the SEC filed a Notice of Appeal to the 2nd Circuit contending that the district court judge made a legal mistake in declaring an unprecedented standard that the Commission believes hurts investors by not allowing them to avail of “benefits that were immediate, substantial, and definite.” The notice also stated that it considered it incorrect for the district court to require an admission of facts or a trial as terms of condition for approving a proposed consent judgment—especially because the SEC provided Rakoff with information demonstrating the “reasoned basis” for its findings.

The 2nd circuit’s ruling deals a blow to Rakoff’s decision, which other federal judges have cited when asking if the public’s interest is being served when federal agencies propose settlements. The three-judge panel’s appellate ruling, which was a per curiam (unsigned) decision, found that the SEC and Citi would likely win their contention that Rakoff was in error when he turned down the securities settlement. The appeals court justices said that they had to defer to an executive agency’s evaluation of what is best for the public and that there was no grounds to question the SEC’s claim that the $285M securities settlement with Citigroup is in that interest.

The 2nd circuit said that Rakoff “misinterpreted” precedent related to his discretion to determine public interest and went beyond his judicial authority. Also, per the appellate panel, while district court judges should not merely rubber stamp on behalf of federal agencies it is not their job to define the latter’s policies.

It is important to note, however, that the 2nd circuit’s ruling only tackles the preliminary issue of whether the securities case should be stayed pending the completion of the appeal. The panel said it would be up to the justices that hear the appeal to resolve all matters and that this ruling should not have any “preclusive” impact. Counsel would also be appointed to argue Rakoff’s side during the appeal.

Ruling Gives Edge to U.S. in Its Appeal of Citi Case, NY Times, March 15, 2012

Second Circuit: Rakoff, Mind, Wall Street Journal, March 15, 2012

More Blog Posts:
Citigroup’s $285M Settlement With the SEC Is Turned Down by Judge Rakoff, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, November 28, 2011

Citigroup’s $285M Mortgage-Related CDO Settlement with Raises Concerns About SEC’s Enforcement Practices for Judge Rakoff, Institutional investor Securities Blog, November 9, 2011

Citigroup’s $75 Million Securities Fraud Settlement with the SEC Over Subprime Mortgage Debt Approved by Judge, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, October 23, 2010

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