MetLife Case Docs to |Remain Under Seal

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Much of the record in the case that allowed insurance titan MetLife to shed its too big to fail designation will remain under seal, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
     MetLife filed suit in January 2015 against the Financial Stability Oversight Council, which had slapped the insurance company with the designation of a “nonbank systematically important financial institution” a month earlier. That designation left MetLife open to more stringent supervision from the Federal Reserve and violated the Dodd-Frank Act, MetLife claimed.
     Better Markets, a nonprofit group that advocates for Wall Street reform, filed a motion to intervene in MetLife’s suit in November with the sole hope of unsealing the record in the case.
     MetLife prevailed on its claims on March 30, with Judge Rosemary Collyer unsealing her opinion one week later. However, even after the case wrapped up and MetLife shed its designation, much of the record in the case remained under seal or redacted, according to an opinion filed Wednesday in Washington Federal Court.
     The day after the order came down, Better Markets filed an application for an order to show cause asking Collyer to order MetLife and the oversight council to look over every document in the case and briefing filed under seal or with redactions and determine whether they could be made public.
     While Collyer ignored MetLife’s opposition in granting Better Markets’ motion to intervene Wednesday, she denied the nonprofit’s application for an order to show cause, saying Congress has determined the information kept secret in the case must remain so.
     The Dodd-Frank Act mandated the oversight council, which it created, to keep secret “any data, information and reports” submitted to it, according to the opinion. Because the council used its complete final determination in its defense against MetLife, that part of the record must remain under seal by law.
     While Better Markets argued the mandate requiring the oversight council to keep any information filed before it secret only applies to the commission’s proceedings, Collyer determined such an arrangement would be bizarre when combined with a company’s right to judicial review of the council’s decisions.
     “It is unthinkable that Congress would condition the confidential treatment of a company’s refraining from seeking judicial review expressly afforded to it by the same statute,” Collyer wrote. “Nothing in Dodd-Frank suggests that a company waves confidentiality by going to court.”
     Collyer also rebuffed Better Markets’ claim that she allowed the parties to unilaterally decide what should remain secret and what should become public.
     “To the contrary, this court has reviewed the record and all of the briefs,” Collyer wrote. “The court concurs in the parties’ judgment and finds that large parts of the administrative record and the briefs should be redacted from public view.”
     Finally, Collyer determined most of the record is effectively unsealed as it is liberally referenced in briefs and other case records, as well as in Collyer’s opinion. The information is there for anyone who wants to look for it, Collyer ruled.
     “No basis for the court’s decision remains hidden from view,” Collyer wrote. “To the contrary, its analysis is available for the public to consider and debate (as it has). Better Markets may do the same.”
     In a statement Dennis Kelleher, president and CEO of Better Markets, said while he was happy the court allowed the group to intervene, he was concerned about what the effect of a sealed record in the MetLife case could be. “We are gratified that the court granted our Motion to Intervene, but respectfully disagree with the Court’s view that the Dodd Frank Act requires more than two-thirds of this record to be kept secret from the American people,” Kelleher said in the written statement. “Future financial crashes and more taxpayer bailouts are at stake in this important case. We will continue to take all appropriate steps to bring maximum transparency to this case.”

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