CA

One from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

In In re Financial Oversight & Management Board for Puerto Rico, No. 22-1048 (Nov. 22, 2022), the court affirmed the district court’s 12(b)(6) dismissal of a takings claim because the government didn’t actually force the plaintiff credit unions into buying what the complaint alleges are “worthless government-issued securities,” even where “the defendants knew – but did not disclose – that these would be losing investments given the precarious state and dire financial situation in which Puerto Rico found itself at the time.” Slip op. at 1.

Conned into purchasing junk bonds? That’s on you.

This is another Takings Clause claim arising out of the Puerto Rico governmental bankruptcy. [Disclosure: we represent some of the property owners/Respondents in that other matter, now at the cert stage in SCOTUS.] The complaint alleged that in a series of meetings over the course of four years, Puerto Rico officials misled the credit unions into investing in securities that turned out to be worthless because the Commonwealth’s finances, contrary to the picture portrayed, was in shambles. This case is an adversary proceeding in the subsequent bankruptcy case.

To understand the court’s handling of the takings claim, you might want to read — or at least skim — the first part of the opinion in which the court affirms dismissal of the credit unions’ fraud claim because (you guessed it) the claim was not pleaded with the right about of specificity. See slip op.at 24 (“specificity is the name of the game when alleging fraud, and the Credit Unions have not filled the bill here”). 

Slide down to page 29 of the slip opinion, where the takings analysis starts. Here’s how the court describes the allegations in the complaint:

In the SAC, the Credit Unions allege that the defendants used “regulatory powers” to take “material portions of Plaintiffs’ cash and liquid assets,” resulting in “illegally appropriat[ing] the moneys of the Cooperatives to finance the government operation” by providing “materially diminished and value impaired government papers that did not constitute just compensation.” According to the plaintiffs, the defendants used the circular letters to compel the Credit Unions “to purchase knowingly materially diminished and value impaired government bonds,” “depriv[ing] the Cooperatives’ property of any significant economic value.” The Credit Unions allege the defendants’ actions resulted in both a per se physical taking and a categorical regulatory taking.

Slip op. 29-30 (footnote omitted).

The court summed up the takings claim in a footnote:

As best we can tell, based on closely examining the SAC, the Credit Unions’ takings claim theory seems to be that they were compelled to spend more on the bonds than the bonds were worth on the date of purchase. Problem is, merely alleging in the SAC an after-purchase decline in the value of the bonds in support of this theory does not, in and of itself, mean the bonds were not worth what the Credit Unions paid at the time of purchase. And relatedly, the allegations in the SAC about what the government and its instrumentalities knew at the time the Credit Unions purchased the bonds are all no-meat-on-the-bones conclusory in nature, e.g., the “instruments lacked true value,” and the defendants pushed the bonds “with full knowledge of the government’s lack of financial capacity to pay.”

Slip op. at 33 n.20.

The credit unions alleged the government put them under “irresistible pressure” to buy the securities, but the court concluded this wasn’t enough because they were not “require[d] to purchase.” Slip op. at 34. The government “did not instruct the Credit Unions to purchase the bonds.” Id. Yeah, the government “authorized and enticed the Credit Unions to purchase the bonds,” but the purchase wasn’t at the point of a gun, and the credit unions “voluntarily participate[d]” in the deal. Id. (“[W]here a property owner voluntarily participates in a regulated program, there can be no unconstitutional taking.”) (quoting Franklin Mem’l Hosp. v. Harvey, 575 F.3d 121, 129 (1st Cir. 2009)).

Apparently, the plaintiffs did not allege a due process claim.

And we close by noting two items: (1) the opinion uses Courier New (very Old School, First Circuit), and (2) the opinion has a somewhat “hip” feel to it – casual, conversational; and instead of “Conclusion,” it ends with the “Wrap Up.” Solid.

In re Financial Oversight & Management Board for Puerto Rico, No. 22-1048 (1st Cir. Nov. 23, 2022)