The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia said that Citigroup (C) and UBS (UBS)cannot preliminarily enjoin Financial Industry Regulatory Authority arbitration over an auction-rate securities offering that did not succeed. The case is UBS Financial Services Inc. v. Carilion Clinic. Carilion is a nonprofit health care and the two financial services firms had provided it with services, including underwriting, for an issuance of auction rate securities that ended up failing.
Per Judge John Gibney, Jr., in 2005, the nonprofit had looked to Citigroup and UBS for help in raising raise $308.465 million to renovate and grow its medical facilities. The two financial firms allegedly recommended that Carilion issue $72.24 million of bonds as variable demand rate obligations. The nonprofit then issued the rest of the funds—$234 million—as ARS, which are at the center of the case.
After the ARS market failed in 2008, the interest rates on Carillion’s ARS went up, forcing the nonprofit to refinance its debt so it wouldn’t have to contend with even higher rates. The auctions then started failing.
Carilion contends that it didn’t know that UBS and Citigroup had been helping to hold up the ARS market prior to its collapse (which they then stopped doing) and said it wouldn’t have issued the securities if they had known that this was the case. The nonprofit filed FINRA arbitration proceedings against the two financial firms and said it could submit the dispute as a “customer” of both even though arbitration isn’t a provision of their written agreements.
Citigroup and UBS sought to bar the arbitration with their motion for a preliminary injunction. The district court, however, rejected their contention that the nonprofit is not a customer of theirs (if this had been determined to be true, then Carilion would not be able to arbitrate against them in front of FINRA). It said that the nonprofit was a “customer,” to both UBS and Citigroup, seeing as both firms provided it with numerous financial services and were paid accordingly.
The court also turned down the financial firms’ argument that Carilion had waived its right to arbitration when it consented to a mandatory forum selection clause that requires for disputes to go through the litigation in front of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. It pointed out that the “forum selection clause” could only be found in the agreements with one of the parties and that language used, as it relates to arbitration, is ambiguous and would not be interpreted as a waiver of Carillion’s arbitration rights.
Carilion can therefore go ahead and have FINRA preside over its arbitration dispute.
UBS Financial Services Inc. v. Carilion Clinic, Reuters, July 30, 2012
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