The lawsuit Philadelphia filed against Wells Fargo over its allegedly discriminatory lending practices has been put on hold as the parties work to see if they can come to an out-of-court agreement.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Anita Brody of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania stayed the lawsuit City of Philadelphia v. Wells Fargo pending mediation. According to Brody’s order, the case is set to begin mediation before retired magistrate Judge Diane Welsh next month.
Philadelphia’s lawsuit was the first that a city has lodged against a financial institution since the 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bank of America v. City of Miami established that municipalities have standing to sue banks over allegedly discriminatory lending practices.
Although Philadelphia’s suit was the first to go forward since the Bank of America ruling, it was not the first municipality to sue a financial institution for allegedly discriminatory lending practices. Philadelphia’s complaint noted that Baltimore and Memphis brought similar claims against Wells Fargo, as have the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Reserve Bank. Several media reports have said an attorney arguing on behalf of Miami before the Supreme Court said Baltimore and Memphis each settled their claims for less than $10 million.
Philadelphia filed its suit in May 2017, focusing on lending practices that occurred between 2004 and 2014. The city contends that the allegedly discriminatory conduct caused high foreclosure rates in minority neighborhoods and lowered tax revenues that the city otherwise would have collected. According to the city’s complaint, during those 10 years Wells Fargo issued more than 1,000 discriminatory high-cost or high-risk loans to minority borrowers. The loans were clustered in neighborhoods in the north, west and southwest areas of the city that have high poverty rates and significant African-American and Hispanic populations, the complaint said.
Wells Fargo, however, fought back in a motion to dismiss, contending that the city’s arguments were too much of a stretch to proceed and would require six steps to establish a connection between any allegedly discriminatory loans and the city’s claimed injuries.
In August a discovery dispute also emerged, which had not been entirely resolved as of late last month. That dispute focused on whether Wells Fargo had to turn over certain internal and compliance audits that the city demanded.
According to the August filing, the city wanted the court to compel all audits and audit-related documents related to the company’s compliance with the federal Fair Housing Act when it comes to underwriting, purchasing, pricing or selling loans to minority residents of Philadelphia.
In a filing from Nov. 21, the city pointed to a recent announcement that the lending giant would pay $65 million following an investigation by the New York attorney general for misleading investors about its cross-selling business model.
“The AG’s investigation further demonstrates relevance of the materials the city is seeking with respect to the adequacy of the bank’s internal control as relates to mortgage lending and whether the bank’s compensation and incentive structure encouraged cross-selling of discriminatory mortgages,” the city said in the filing.
Duane Morris attorney Alexander Bono is representing Wells Fargo and Berger Montague attorney Sherrie Savett is representing Philadelphia.
A spokesman for Wells Fargo confirmed that mediation will start in January, but declined to comment further. A spokesman for the city Law Department did not return a message seeking comment.