The notoriously secretive Financial Stability Oversight Council will need to divulge hundreds of pages of its files if MetLife prevails in its latest legal gambit.
In December 2014, FSOC designated Metlife, the nation’s largest insurance company, as a Systemically Important Financial Institution, subjecting it to new regulatory, disclosure, and capital demands. After failing to prevail in FSOC’s appeal process, MetLife, in January, sued the agency in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. A Motion for Summary Judgment, reiterating the firm’s claim that its designation was neither constitutional, nor in line with the intent to the Dodd-Frank Act (which created the multi-regulator FSOC) was filed on June 16
On Monday, as part of that lawsuit, MetLife asked Judge Rosemary Collyer to authorize the release of nearly 500 pages of documents pertaining to the SIFI designation to its outside counsel (the law firm Gibson Dunn). FSOC has resisted releasing much of the documentation that details its deliberations because it frequently includes discussions of other companies and could reveal confidential information about the insurance company's competitors. The court had previously authorized access to nearly 2,000 pages of once-redacted files, imposing confidentiality demands on the attorneys reviewing them for the case. MetLife claims, however, that an additional 500 pages, many detailing discussions with FSOC’s insurance industry members, remain unavailable.
As for the broader lawsuit, among MetLife’s claims:
“FSOC made “numerous critical errors” that fatally undermined the reasoning in its final designation. It failed to understand, or give meaningful weight to, the comprehensive state insurance regulatory regime that supervises every aspect of MetLife’s U.S. insurance business.
FSOC fixated on MetLife’s size and so-called interconnections with other financial companies—“factors that, considered alone, would inevitably lead to the designation of virtually any large financial company”—and ignored other statutorily mandated considerations that weighed sharply against designation.
“FSOC consistently relied on vague standards and assertions, unsubstantiated speculation, and unreasonable assumptions that are inconsistent with historical experience, basic economic teachings, and accepted principles of risk analysis.”
“FSOC wholly ignored the tools used by federal regulators to assess the potential impact of severely adverse economic conditions in other contexts, including Federal Reserve Board ‘stress tests.’”
FSOC denied MetLife access to data and materials used to make its designation, depriving the Company of an opportunity to rebut assumptions and respond to its analysis. This violated the firm’s due process rights, the suit says.
In an amicus curiae brief filed on June 29, the American Council of Life Insurers, a trade association with approximately 300 member companies, wrote that it "fully endorses the legal arguments made by MetLife that the SIFI designation was “arbitrary and capricious; unsupported by the record, empirical fact, or economic logic; and contrary to law."
"First, in important respects, the Council's designation of MetLife failed to account for the fundamental differences between banks, on the one hand, and life insurance companies, on the other—differences that render the Council's analysis unsound," ACLI wrote. "Second, the Council continues to predicate its designations of life insurance companies on a basic misunderstanding of existing state regulation of the life insurance industry.” FSOC, it says, failed to engage meaningfully with the state regulation system that has long governed the life insurance industry effectively.”