Over 40 Banks Settle Lehman Securities Class Action Litigation

December 2, 2011

On December 2, over 40 banks from throughout the world -- nearly every financial institution that was alleged to have underwritten securities issued by Lehman Brothers in the 18 months prior to its collapse -- agreed to settle a class action pending in New York federal court arising out of the Lehman offerings. The firm represented all of those banks. The settlement came only after two years of complex motion practice that, this summer, led to a narrowing of the asserted claims, and months of negotiations that, at the end stages, were aided by a mediator (a retired judge). The settlement posed unusually complex issues, including that Lehman Brothers was the lead underwriter of every offering at issue (and, since it is in a bankruptcy proceeding, was not a defendant in the cases), and because the syndicates in each of the dozen offerings at issue involved different banks that took place at different times. Each bank accordingly made an independent decision whether or not to participate in the settlement, and their doing so was preceded by a lengthy period in which each came to terms with how to divide their proportionate responsibility of an eventual settlement. In many similar high profile cases (e.g., Enron, Worldcom), the banks have been unable to maintain a united front, engaged in separate negotiations, which likely led to settlements being more expensive to the banks as a whole. This is the largest group the firm has ever represented in a securities class action, and the largest settlement ($417 million) it has handled.

Among the many clients were: Bank of America, BBVA, BNY Mellon, Caja Madrid, Citigroup, HSBC, ING, Morgan Stanley, Santander, Suntrust, UBS and Wells Fargo. The settlement is subject to customary conditions, including court approval. Approximately 12 “opt-out” actions are pending, which Cleary Gottlieb is now addressing.