DOJ’s $5B Securities Lawsuit Against Standard & Poor’s Can Proceed, Says Judge

U.S. District Judge David O. Carter for the Central District of California has turned down Standard & Poor’s bid to have the Justice Department’s $5 billion securities lawsuit against it dismissed. This affirms Carter’s recent tentative ruling earlier on the matter.

S & P is the largest credit rating agency in the world. It is a McGraw Hill Financial Inc. unit.

According to the US government, the credit rater fraudulently misrepresented its ratings process as objective and independent when it was, in fact, stymied from issuing ratings because of its desire to please banks and other clients. Instead, between 2004 and 2007, S & P purportedly issued AAA ratings to certain poor quality mortgage packages, including residential mortgage-backed securities, collateralized debt obligations, and subprime mortgage-backed securities. Now, prosecutors want to recover the losses that credit unions and federally insured banks allegedly suffered because of these inaccurate ratings that it contends upped investor demand for the instruments until the prices soared and the market collapsed, contributing to the global economic meltdown that followed.

S & P contends that it did not cause the financial crisis. It claims that just like the Federal Reserve, the US Treasury, and other market participants, the credit rater could not have foreseen the market events that went on to happen in 2008.

Seeking to have the securities case dismissed, S & P argued that its public statements about its objectivity and autonomy that prosecutors identified as purportedly fraudulent misrepresentations, including official policy statements about rating deals and employee conduct codes, are in actuality “puffery” statements that investors were not supposed to take at face value. S & P lawyers said that because of this, the government couldn’t use these statements as grounds for its securities fraud case.

Now, Judge Carter is saying that he finds S & P’s “puffery” defense “deeply… troubling,” especially in light of the implications. He observed that with this defense, S & P is implying that investors, legislators, and regulators shouldn’t have taken seriously any of the public statements the credit rater made about either supposed data-based, unbiased credit ratings or its agency procedures.

As in his earlier, tentative ruling, Carter said that contrary to defendants’ protestations, his court cannot see how all the “must nots” and “shalls” used by S & P in its statements was merely the company’s way to aspire about vague objectives. Rather, he sees these statements as “specific assertions” about polices and they contrast conduct the government is accusing S & P of committing.

Meantime, S & P is battling more than a dozen CDO lawsuits filed by state prosecutors who are accusing the credit rating agency of the same alleged fraud.

Please contact our CDO lawyers at Shepherd Smith Edwards and Kantas, LLP if you believe your losses are due to securities fraud. Your initial case consultation with The SSEK Partners Group is free.

U.S. Federal Judge Calls S&P Defense Troubling, NASDAQ, July 17, 2013

Judge lets U.S. pursue $5-billion fraud lawsuit against S&P, Reuters, July 17, 2013

More Blog Posts:
District Judge Not Inclined to Toss $5B Securities Fraud Case Against Standard & Poor’s, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, July 4, 2013

Standard & Poor’s Seeks Dismissal of DOJ Securities Fraud Lawsuit Over RMBS and CDO Ratings Issued During the Financial Crisis, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, May 9, 2013

US Justice Department Sues Standard and Poor’s Over Allegedly Fraudulent Ratings of Collateralized Debt Obligations, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, February 5, 2013