June 16, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Plain Language of Insurance Contract Bars Coverage for Actions Brought by Receivers Against Directors

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in BancInsure, Inc. v. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation on Thursday, August 6, 2015.

Columbian Bank & Trust obtained an insurance policy from BancInsure where BancInsure agreed to pay losses the insured would be legally obligated to pay. The policy contained an “insured v. insured” exclusion which barred recovery for claims “by, on behalf of, or at the behest of . . . any . . . receiver of the company” and a regulatory exclusion, barring coverage for any action brought by or on behalf of any state or regulatory agency, including actions brought by those agencies as receiver. However, Columbian purchased a regulatory exclusion endorsement that amended the policy by the deletion of the regulatory exclusion.

In August 2008, the Kansas State Bank Commissioner declared Columbian insolvent and appointed the FDIC as receiver. In September 2008, BancInsure received notice of claims the FDIC intended to file against Columbian’s officers and directors. In anticipation of such suit, Columbian’s parent company and director-defendant Carl McCaffree brought suit against BancInsure, seeking a declaratory judgment that the policy covered claims brought after the company was declared insolvent but before the policy’s expiration date. The district court ultimately held that the policy remained in effect until May 2010. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit held that no case or controversy existed at the time of the judgment and remanded with instructions to vacate the judgment.

BancInsure filed suit in Kansas state court in August 2011, seeking a declaratory judgment that it owed no duty of coverage to the director-defendants for claims brought against them by the FDIC-R. The FDIC-R joined the action and removed it to federal court, simultaneously bringing claims against several of Columbian’s directors and officers for negligence, gross negligence, and breach of fiduciary duty. BancInsure, the FDIC-R, and the director-defendants reached a settlement in February 2013 in which BancInsure agreed to make payments in partial satisfaction of the judgment, reserving the right to seek reimbursement if it succeeds in this litigation.

The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment on the issue of coverage. The district court granted BancInsure’s motion, finding the insured v. insured exclusion unambiguously barred coverage for claims by the FDIC-R against director-defendants. The FDIC-R and director-defendants timely appealed. Meanwhile, BancInsure was placed into receivership and the Kansas Insurance Guaranty Association intervened to defend BancInsure’s rights.

On appeal, the Tenth Circuit examined BancInsure’s contract with Columbian and found no ambiguity in the insured v. insured exclusion. The Tenth Circuit found the plain meaning of the exclusion barred coverage for claims brought by receivers against director-defendants. Appellants argued the policy as a whole should be construed as ambiguous because the shareholder derivative action exclusion renders the insured v. insured exclusion ambiguous and because the regulatory exclusion renders the insured v. insured exclusion ambiguous as to claims brought by the FDIC. The Tenth Circuit first examined the shareholder derivative action exclusion and found no ambiguity because the insured v. insured exclusion specifically referenced receivership actions. Next, the Tenth Circuit found that the regulatory exclusion did not render the insured v. insured exclusion ambiguous because claims could still be brought by other regulatory agencies that were not appointed receivers.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to BancInsure.

Tenth Circuit: CEA Allows Nationwide Service of Process for Receivers Pursuing Receivership Property

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Klein v. Cornelius on Wednesday, May 27, 2015.

R. Wayne Klein was appointed receiver of Winsome Investment Trust, a business entity whose founder, Robert J. Andres, caused it to illegally distribute funds as part of a Ponzi scheme. William Cornelius and his Houston law firm, Cornelius & Salhab, received some of the illegally obtained funds as payment for a New Hampshire criminal defense representation of one of Andres’ friends. Klein, as receiver, brought suit against Cornelius in Utah federal court to void the fraudulent transfer to Cornelius for approximately $90,000 in legal fees. The Utah court granted summary judgment to Klein, and Cornelius appealed, raising several points of error.

The Tenth Circuit first addressed Cornelius’ three jurisdictional challenges. Cornelius first argued the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA) does not authorize a receiver to bring state fraudulent transfer claims in federal court against a third-party recipient of Ponzi scheme funds. The Tenth Circuit found that the CEA authorizes the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to bring civil actions in federal court to enjoin violations of the CEA, and does not prohibit a receiver from pursuing state law claims in federal court. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court had subject matter jurisdiction to resolve Klein’s Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (UFTA) claims on Winsome’s behalf.

Cornelius next challenged standing, arguing Klein lacked standing to bring a UFTA claim because Winsome itself could not bring such a claim. Cornelius reasoned that because Winsome was unincorporated and under Andres’ control, it was an alter ego for Andres and therefore had no authority to sue in its own right. Although he conceded Klein could sue as a receiver for Andres, the Tenth Circuit disagreed with Cornelius’ contention that Winsome could not sue in its own right. The Tenth Circuit found that as a business entity abused as part of a Ponzi scheme, Winsome became a defrauded creditor. The Tenth Circuit found that Winsome was its own entity under Utah law and therefore Klein had standing to pursue the UFTA claim.

Cornelius also argued the district court lacked personal jurisdiction because he did not have sufficient contacts with Utah and because he was not properly served with a complaint. The Tenth Circuit first found the CEA allowed nationwide service of process for receivers pursuing receivership property. The Tenth Circuit next looked at Cornelius’ argument that he had minimum contacts with Utah, and found that in federal question cases where nationwide service of process invokes jurisdiction, the defendant must establish that the chosen forum burdens the defendant with “constitutionally significant inconvenience.” Because Cornelius made no jurisdiction arguments other than the minimum contact argument, the Tenth Circuit found no error in the district court’s determination that it had jurisdiction. Cornelius also argued that in personam jurisdiction was inappropriate and only in rem jurisdiction would apply, but the Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding personal jurisdiction applied under the particular statutory scheme.

Next, Cornelius argued three points of error regarding the district court’s application of UFTA: (1) Texas law applies, (2) the transfer was not fraudulent, and (3) regardless, Klein’s claim is barred by the statute of limitations. The Tenth Circuit addressed each argument in turn. Because the relevant provisions of Texas law use the same language as Utah, the Tenth Circuit found Cornelius’ first argument of no practical significance. Next, the Tenth Circuit found that because Ponzi schemes are inherently insolvent, there is a presumption that transfers from such entities involve an intent to defraud. Cornelius argued that neither he nor the criminal defendant he represented knew of the Ponzi scheme, but the Tenth Circuit noted that nothing in the UFTA requires a transferee to have knowledge of the fraud. The Tenth Circuit also declined to adopt Cornelius’ assertion that he provided “reasonably equivalent value” for his payment, noting that his legal services conferred no benefit on Winsome and the payments to Cornelius only served to diminish its net worth.

Finally, the Tenth Circuit addressed the statute of limitations argument. Claims alleging actual intent to defraud under the UFTA must be brought within four years of when the transfer was made or one year after the transfer could reasonably have been discovered. Klein brought suit against Cornelius in December 2011. The payments to Cornelius for his legal services were made between September 2006 and July 2007, and Cornelius argued the suit was untimely because it was brought well after the four year statute of limitations had expired. However, Klein was appointed as receiver in January 2011, and he could not have reasonably discovered the fraud until his appointment. The Tenth Circuit found the claim was timely since it was brought within one year of Klein’s appointment as receiver.

The district court’s grant of summary judgment to Klein was affirmed.

Tenth Circuit: “Reverse Preemption” Deprived District Court and Tenth Circuit of Subject Matter Jurisdiction

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Western Insurance Co. v. A & H Insurance Inc. on Friday, April 24, 2015.

Western Insurance is insolvent and being liquidated in Utah state court. The liquidator brought suit against several of Western’s “affiliates” to recover funds Western had transferred to them. The defendants removed the ancillary proceeding to federal court under diversity jurisdiction, and the liquidator sought a remand, which the district court granted. Defendants appealed.

Because insolvent insurers are exempt from federal bankruptcy protection, state law governs insurer insolvency proceedings. After the defendants removed the case to federal court, liquidators argued the McCarran-Ferguson Act barred removal, as it is essentially a “reverse preemption” doctrine. The district court remanded “for the reasons stated on the record.”

The Tenth Circuit first evaluated its jurisdiction and found it could only proceed to entertain the appeal if the remand order was not based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction. In its order, the district court made several contradictory statements regarding its rationale for remand, leaving it unclear whether it relied on the McCarran-Ferguson Act’s “reverse preemption” in its remand order. However, the Tenth Circuit found that the bulk of the district court’s decision focused on the McCarran-Ferguson Act. Because the district court’s remand was based to a fair degree on lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the Tenth Circuit found it lacked jurisdiction to hear the appeal.

The appeal was dismissed.

Tenth Circuit: FDIC Exclusively Holds Claims Against Failed Bank’s Holding Company

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Barnes v. Harris on Tuesday, April 21, 2015.

The Barnes Banking Company (“bank”) began engaging in risky lending practices in the 2000s, leading to its ultimate demise in January 2010. The FDIC was appointed as receiver. In January 2012, J. Canute Barnes filed a derivative shareholder complaint in Utah state court against Barnes Bancorporation (“holding company”), parent of the bank, alleging breach of fiduciary duty. Attached to the Utah complaint was a demand letter alleging the bank was the holding company’s sole asset. The initial complaint stated the defendants were sued in their capacity as officers and directors of the holding company and not the bank. The FDIC filed a motion to intervene in state court, arguing it possessed sole statutory authority under FIRREA to assert the derivative claims at issue. The FDIC then removed the case to federal court.

The district court granted a motion to amend the complaint to include two additional shareholders, W. King Barnes and Robert Jones. Plaintiffs filed a motion to remand to state court, arguing the FDIC was not a party to the case because it had not filed a pleading, which motion was denied. Plaintiffs then moved to dismiss the FDIC for failure to state a claim. The FDIC filed its own motion to dismiss, and defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings. The district court denied plaintiffs’ motion to dismiss, granted in part the motions filed by defendants and the FDIC, and dismissed most of plaintiffs’ claims with prejudice while allowing some to be re-pled. Plaintiffs’ second amended complaint attempted to re-describe the bank as the holding company’s “primary asset,” but the focus of the complaint was still the harm suffered by the bank’s failure. The second amended complaint also alleged the bank received a $9 million tax return, which should have been in part distributed to the holding company, and that the holding company misused $265,000 by paying insurance premiums and retaining counsel. Both FDIC and defendants moved to dismiss the second complaint, which the district court granted. Plaintiffs appealed.

The Tenth Circuit first considered the district court’s jurisdiction. Through FIRREA, the FDIC is deemed a party, and the case is deemed to arise under federal law. The district court therefore had jurisdiction to hear the complaints. Plaintiffs argue the FDIC lacked jurisdiction because it never filed a pleading. The Tenth Circuit found the case on which plaintiffs relied inapposite to that assertion. Because FDIC was permitted to intervene in state court, it became a party to the proceeding, and jurisdiction was exclusive in the district court under FIRREA.

The Tenth Circuit proceeded to examine the merits. Once the FDIC is appointed as a receiver, FIRREA grants it all rights, powers, and privileges of the bank with respect to the assets of the bank, including those of the holding company. The question of whether FIRREA applies to cases in which a breach of fiduciary duty suit is brought against a bank holding company’s officers after the bank has gone into receivership was one of first impression in the Tenth Circuit. The Tenth Circuit examined similar cases from other jurisdictions, as well as Utah corporate law, and determined that FIRREA applies. The majority of plaintiffs’ claims were derivative, reaching the holding company only because of the harms of the bank. Those claims belong to the FDIC.

The Tenth Circuit found similarly that the $9 million tax return belonged exclusively to the bank and therefore the FDIC was the only party entitled to the return. The tax refund due from a joint return generally belongs to the company responsible for the losses that formed the basis for the return, and due to the receivership, the entire refund belongs to the FDIC.

Finally, the Tenth Circuit addressed the claims that the holding company misused $265,000 by using the funds to pay insurance premiums and legal fees. The Tenth Circuit, like the district court, found these claims inadequately pleaded. Plaintiffs were in a privileged position and could have examined the holding company’s records to find support for their claims. Plaintiffs further failed to explain how the expenditures constituted an actionable wrong. The Tenth Circuit upheld the district court’s dismissal of this claim.

Expressing sympathy for the plaintiffs’ position, the Tenth Circuit recognized the broad scope of the FDIC’s authority in dealing with the aftermath of a bank failure, and admonished bank holding company shareholders to take action prior to the bank’s collapse to stave off the collapse and protect their assets. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court.

Frederick Skillern: Real Estate Case Law — Foreclosure, Debtor-Creditor, Receivers, Lender Liability

Editor’s note: This is Part 12 of a series of posts in which Denver-area real estate attorney Frederick Skillern provides summaries of case law pertinent to real estate practitioners (click here for previous posts). These updates originally appeared as materials for the 32nd Annual Real Estate Symposium in July 2014.

frederick-b-skillernBy Frederick B. Skillern

Colorado Community Bank v. Hoffman
Colorado Court of Appeals, November 7, 2013
2013 COA 146

Receiver; order for sale certified as final judgment; C.R.C.P. 54(b); deadline to appeal; abuse of process; civil conspiracy.

This action arises from the judicial dissolution of certain companies in the course of a receivership proceeding. The companies were formed to develop golf courses. The bank sought appointment of a receiver when the companies defaulted on development loans. Certain individuals intervened and joined in the motion for appointment of a receiver. The companies asserted counterclaims for abuse of process and civil conspiracy.

The court granted a motion by the receiver for the companies to sell the golf courses to an entity controlled by the intervening individuals. The district court certified the sale orders as final under C.R.C.P. 54(b) to allow an appeal. The sale orders disposed of an “entire claim for relief” for purposes of C.R.C.P. 54(b) certification. Is a sale order in the course of a receivership action an “entire claim”? It can be, reasons the court. It states that prior cases have suggested that orders concerning property ownership can properly be certified. In Corporon v. Safeway Stores, Inc., 708 P.2d 1385 (Colo. App. 1985), the court held that “a quiet title claim is separable from slander and defamation claims, and therefore, properly certifiable under C.R.C.P. 54(b).” Because defendants did not appeal this order within forty-five days of the certification, but rather waited until the counterclaims had been resolved, the court of appeals lacked jurisdiction over this issue and that portion of the appeal was dismissed.

The court affirms the summary judgment order dismissing the abuse of process and civil conspiracy claims. Although the evidence might have proved that the interveners had an ulterior motive in bringing the receivership action, it did not establish the requisite improper use of process element. The rule was recently stated in Sterenbuch v. Goss, 266 P.3d 428 (Colo. App. 2011):

If the action is confined to its regular and legitimate function in relation to the cause of action stated in the complaint there is no abuse, even if the plaintiff had an ulterior motive in bringing the action or if he knowingly brought suit upon an unfounded claim.

The court agrees with the trial court that the claims failed this test. Because the companies’ conspiracy claims were based on the alleged underlying wrong of abuse of process, this claim also failed.


Armed Forces Bank v. Hicks
Colorado Court of Appeals, June 5, 2014
2014 COA 74

Guarantor; waiver of anti-deficiency rights; C.R.S. 38-38-106(6); good faith bid at foreclosure sale.

The bank makes a $6 million loan to a closely held, single asset company to build a condominium project in Glenwood Springs. The loan is personally guaranteed by Mr. and Mrs. Hicks, the principals of the company. After the loan goes into default in 2009, the bank agrees to several loan extensions, after which the company remained in default for failure to make certain payments and failure to obtain planning department approval of a condominium plat. After a trip by the company through bankruptcy court, the bank forecloses. At the foreclosure sale, the bank bids $3.7 million, leaving a $6 million deficiency, after all interest, costs and the like are added to the final tab. The bank files a civil action to collect the deficiency against Hicks. The Hicks attempt to assert defenses based on failure to make a bid based on a good faith estimate of fair market value, and alleging that the bank violated its duty of good faith and fair dealing by refusing to approve the plat ten months after the borrowers’ default. In effect, they argue that the bank failed to mitigate its damages by not allowing the plat to be recorded, even if the borrowers were in default, because the property would be more valuable at that point and the receiver would be able to lease the property, generating income to apply to the loan balance.

The court of appeals affirms the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the bank, holding that the guaranty contained a specific, and very broad, waiver of any right to challenge the bank’s bid at the foreclosure sale based on a “one action or antideficiency law.” In a case of first impression, the court holds that the statutory duty of a creditor under C.R.S. § 38-38-106(6) to bid its good faith estimate of fair market value may be waived, and that such an agreement is not void for violation of public policy. The court contrasts this statute, which has no provision barring a contractual waiver of its terms, with C.R.S. § 38-38-703, which explicitly prohibits agreements to waive, inter alia, the right of cure and redemption. The court notes that there is still a common law duty to make a good faith bid, under Chew v. Acacia Mutual Life, 165 Colo. 43, 437 P.2d 339 (1968) (bid not made in good faith on the basis of what the security could reasonably be expected to produce on sale at its fair market price), but the guaranty signed by Mr. and Mrs. Hicks included a waiver of “any defenses given to guarantors in law or in equity” except for payment of the indebtedness.

It will be interesting to see if the Supreme Court wants to take a look at this.

Frederick B. Skillern, Esq., is a director and shareholder with Montgomery Little & Soran, P.C., practicing in real estate and related litigation and appeals. He serves as an expert witness in cases dealing with real estate, professional responsibility and attorney fees, and acts as a mediator and arbitrator in real estate cases. Before joining Montgomery Little in 2003, Fred was in private practice in Denver for 6 years with Carpenter & Klatskin and for 10 years with Isaacson Rosenbaum. He served as a district judge for Colorado’s Eighteenth Judicial District from 2000 through 2002. Fred is a graduate of Dartmouth College, and received his law degree at the University of Colorado in 1976, in another day and time in which the legal job market was simply awful.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Appeal Untimely When Filed After Resolution of Case but Not Within 45 Days of C.R.C.P. 54(b) Certification

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Colorado Community Bank v. Hoffman on Thursday, November 7, 2013.

Judicial Dissolution—CRCP 54(b)—Final Judgment—Receiver—Abuse of Process—Civil Conspiracy.

This action arose from the judicial dissolution of certain companies in the course of a receivership proceeding. Defendants appealed from orders certified as final under CRCP 54(b) and from orders granting summary judgment to intervenors Victor Harshberger, Kenneth Adelberg, and Robert Williams on defendants’ counterclaims for abuse of process and civil conspiracy. The appeal was dismissed in part and affirmed in part.

Walter E. Hoffman was the president and chief executive officer of Oxford Resource & Management (Oxford). Oxford, Adelberg, and Williams owned equity membership interests in KDGC Holdings, LLC (Holdings). Holdings was the parent of three operating subsidiaries, which served as the ownership structure for three golf courses. Hoffman served as general manager of all of the entities owned by Holdings. Plaintiff Colorado Community Bank (Bank) made several loans to finance Holdings’ acquisitions of two of the golf courses. Bank initiated this action after Hoffman and the subsidiary defaulted on this loan, and intervenors joined to appoint a receiver to remove Hoffman from control.

After the assets of Holdings and the subsidiaries were sold, the intervenors moved to certify the sale orders as final under CRCP 54(b). Over Hoffman’s objection, the district court granted the intervenors’ motion. Defendants contended that the district court erred in numerous ways when it issued the sale orders. The sale orders disposed of an “entire claim for relief” for purposes of CRCP 54(b) certification. Because defendants did not appeal this order within forty-five days of the certification, the Court of Appeals lacked jurisdiction over this issue and that portion of the appeal was dismissed.

Defendants also contended that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to the intervenors on defendants’ counterclaims for abuse of process and civil conspiracy. Although the evidence might have proved that the intervenors had an ulterior motive in bringing the receivership action, it did not establish the requisite improper use of process element. Therefore, defendant’s abuse of process claim failed. Because defendants’ conspiracy claims were based on the alleged underlying wrong of abuse of process, these claims also failed.

Summary and full case available here.