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Oppenheimer AMT-Free Municipals v. ACA Financial Guaranty Corp.

Supreme Court of New York, First Department

September 3, 2013

Oppenheimer AMT-Free Municipals, et al., Plaintiffs-Respondents,
v.
ACA Financial Guaranty Corporation, Defendant-Appellant.

Defendant appeals from an order and judgment (one paper) of the Supreme Court, New York County (Charles Ramos, J.), entered August 14, 2012, which denied its motion for summary judgment seeking a declaration that it was not obligated to provide coverage under the terms of the financial guaranty insurance policies it issued, and granted plaintiffs' cross motion for summary judgment declaring that defendant was required to provide coverage.

Duane Morris LLP, New York (Thomas R. Newman, Cameron MacRae III, Hugh T. McCormick and Nathan Abramowitz of counsel), for appellant.

Sidley Austin LLP, New York (John G. Hutchinson, Lee S. Attanasio, John J. Lavelle and Benjamin J. Hoffart of counsel), for respondents.

Angela M. Mazzarelli, J.P., Rolando T. Acosta, Dianne T. Renwick, Rosalyn H. Richter, Judith J. Gische, JJ.

GISCHE, J.

The underlying complaint seeks a declaration that defendant is still obligated to pay plaintiffs under certain insurance policies that guaranteed payment of municipal bonds when they matured in the event the issuing entity did not make the payment. Defendant seeks a declaration that it is relieved of liability for any further payment under the policies.

In February 1998, a public benefit corporation (issuer) issued and sold $200, 177, 680 in municipal bonds to finance the extension of a toll road in Greenville, South Carolina (original bonds). The issuance was made in accordance with a February 1, 1998 Master Indenture of Trust between the issuer and the First Union National Bank, as trustee (trust agreement). Under the trust agreement if the issuer files a voluntary petition in bankruptcy, it is an event of default which entitles a bond holder to pursue all its legal remedies.

In June 2001, defendant, a financial guaranty insurance company, issued a number of secondary market insurance policies to guaranty the issuer's timely payment of obligations under certain of the original bonds. The policies were subject to the terms of a November 3, 1997 custody agreement between First Trust of New York, National Association, a National Banking Association (custodian) and defendant. The individual policies were evidenced by certificates of bond insurance (collectively CBIs) which "wrapped" the particular bond defendant was insuring. The purpose of the CBIs was to improve the marketability and perceived creditworthiness of the original bonds.

Each CBI contained identical provisions which, insofar as relevant here, provide that defendant would pay the custodian the amount due for payment resulting from the issuer's nonpayment of its obligations under the bonds. Nonpayment is defined as the "failure of the Issuer to have provided sufficient funds... for the payment in full of all principal and interest on any Due Date of Payment of an Obligation." In the event of the issuer's nonpayment, once defendant received a Notice of Nonpayment, it was obligated to pay the custodian the monies due under the bonds, less any partial payments made. The monies paid, however, were for the benefit of the bond holders who received payment from the custodian according to a proscribed mechanism. Upon defendant making payment, it would become fully subrogated to the rights of the bond holder.

CBIs are "noncancellable except in the event the holder or the Owner surrenders its interest in the Certificate of Bond Insurance or in the position... and waives its rights to receive payment from the Insurer under this policy pursuant to Sections 3.03(f) [1] and 4.06(b) of the Custody Agreement." The referenced custody agreement waiver of rights under the policy was a document required from a bond holder in order to collect monies from the custodian on account of an issuer's default.

Between 2003 and 2007, plaintiffs purchased, on the secondary market, a large amount ($37.18 million par value) of the original bonds with corresponding CBIs. This litigation concerns 1998 Series B bonds identified by Committee on Uniform Security Identification Procedures (CUSIP) Nos. 20786LAQ4, 20786LAR2, 20786LAU5 and 20786LAW1, with Enhanced CUSIP Nos. 20786LCV1, 20786LCW9, 20786LCX7 and 20786LCY5. The Enhanced CUSIP identifies that each of the corresponding bonds is covered by a CBI.

The original bonds had maturity dates ranging from January 1, 2020 to January 1, 2026. They were zero coupon bonds, with interest accreting and paid at maturity, along with the principal. Although the court below issued a declaration with respect to Enhanced CUSIP Nos. 20786LCS8 and 20786LCU3, the parties agree that plaintiffs do not own or hold those underlying bonds.

The toll revenues received by the issuer were substantially less than projected and, on January 1, 2010, the issuer defaulted in making payments on certain of the outstanding original bonds, none of which were owned by plaintiffs. On June 24, 2010, however, the issuer filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection, which allows insolvent municipalities to reorganize their debts. Defendant was listed in the petition as one of the creditors holding twenty (20) of the largest unsecured debts. It was a "special notice" party and filed a proof of claim on its own behalf. Defendant was aware of all of the proceedings in bankruptcy court.

The bankruptcy filing had the effect of accelerating the claims on the original bonds. The CBIs, however, have no parallel acceleration requirement, except at the sole option of defendant, which it did not exercise. This policy provision is consistent with Insurance Law ยง 6905(a), which, as a protection for the insurer, provides that where payments on the insured bonds are accelerated for any reason, the guaranteed payments shall still be made when the payments were originally scheduled to come due, unless the insurer accelerates payment. While the parties disagree on whether defendant has any obligation at all to pay under the CBIs, ...


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