Wells Fargo & Co. has gone to court to challenge a financial-crisis lawsuit recently brought against it by the U.S. Justice Department, saying a prior multi-bank $25-billion (U.S.) mortgage settlement already cleared it of some liability.
The fourth-largest U.S. bank asked a federal judge in Washington on Thursday to rule that the U.S. violated the terms of the earlier settlement by filing its recent case in New York.
The U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan sued Wells Fargo on Oct. 9 seeking damages and penalties for more than 10 years of alleged misconduct related to government-insured Federal Housing Administration loans.
But an earlier consent judgment already "wiped the slate clean" for the bank in terms of certain conduct related to its FHA portfolio, Wells Fargo said in its Thursday court filing.
In February, Wells Fargo and four other top banks agreed to $25-billion in penalties and relief to homeowners to resolve allegations about shoddy mortgage servicing practices. That settlement also addressed certain claims involving the bank's annual certifications about its FHA compliance, Wells Fargo said.
Comparing the new allegations with the earlier settlement "demonstrates without any doubt that the United States is attempting to impose additional liability for the same conduct for which Wells Fargo obtained permanent peace through the very large settlement," the bank said.
The new U.S. lawsuit includes allegations unrelated to the certification. The earlier settlement also did not cover all issues at the individual loan level, so any resolution might hinge on determining whether Wells Fargo submitted specific loans for government insurance even if it knew the loans failed to qualify.
A spokeswoman for the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In the filing, lawyers for Wells Fargo said they had conferred with government attorneys, who said they would oppose the motion.
As U.S. authorities seek to make Wall Street pay for its role in triggering the financial crisis more than four years ago, Wells Fargo and other banks are starting to fight back more often, arguing they are being asked to repeatedly pay for the same conduct.
When Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara accused Bank of America last week of causing taxpayers more than $1-billion in losses by selling toxic mortgage loans to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the bank said that at some point it could not "be expected to compensate every entity that claims losses that actually were caused by the economic downturn."
Also last week, Democratic Congressman Barney Frank defended JPMorgan Chase & Co. and said the government was wrong to go after it for the alleged misdeeds of Bear Stearns, which the largest U.S. bank acquired at the government's urging.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued the bank last month over mortgage-backed securities packaged and sold by Bear Stearns.
Through its action on Thursday, Wells Fargo said it is seeking an order barring the government from pursuing certain claims included in the new lawsuit.
The bank said it is also seeking other relief to "compensate Wells Fargo for the injuries suffered as a result of the repetitive litigation" from the new U.S. lawsuit.