The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is allowing a $20.5M award issued by a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority arbitration panel against Goldman Sachs Execution & Clearing LP to stand. The court turned down Goldman’s claim that the award should be vacated because it was issued in “manifest disregard of the law” and said that the clearing arm must pay this amount to the unsecured creditors of the now failed Bayou hedge fund group known as the Bayou Funds, which proved to be a large scale Ponzi scam.
Goldman was the prime broker and only clearing broker for the funds. After the scheme collapsed in 2005, the Bayou Funds sought bankruptcy protection the following year. Regulators would go on to sue the fund’s funders over the Ponzi scam and the losses sustained by investors. Meantime, an Official Unsecured Creditors’ Committee of Bayou Group was appointed to represent the debtors’ unsecured debtors. Blaming Goldman for not noticing the red flags that a Ponzi fraud was in the works, the committee proceeded to bring its arbitration claims against the clearing firm through FINRA. In 2010, the FINRA arbitration panel awarded the committee $20.58M against Goldman.
In affirming the arbitration award, the 2nd Circuit said that in this case, Goldman did not satisfy the manifest disregard standard. As an example, the court pointed to the $6.7M that was moved into the Bayou Funds from outside accounts in June 2005 and June 2004. While the committee had contended during arbitration that these deposits were “fraudulent transfers” and could be recovered from Goldman because they were an “initial transferee” under 11 U.S.C. §550(a), Goldman did not counter that the deposits weren’t fraudulent or that it was on inquiry notice of fraud. Instead, it claimed the deposits were not an “initial transferee” under 11 U.S.C. §550 and the panel had ignored the law by finding that it was.
Offering a rejoinder, the court agreed with the district court that Goldman’s argument for manifest disegard doesn’t succeed due to the recent case of Bear Stearns Securities Corp. v. Greddin, during which the Southern District of New York upheld the arbitration favoring the Creditors’ Committee. The court said it therefore could not conclude that arbitrators “manifestly disregarded the law” when they applied the legal principles in Greddin to impose on Goldman transferee liability.
The appeals court also found that arbitrators did not manifestly disregard the law as this relates to the $13.9M in transfers from the original Bayou fund to four new ones in March 2003. It affirmed the lower court’s decision that prejudgment interest should be awarded to the committee per the federal rate in 28 USC §961 and not the New York statutory rate.
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