American International Group Inc (NYSE:AIG) has beaten Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC) on an appeal in its mortgage fraud suit—because of a single comma. The appeals court decided that AIG should be able to pursue its legal claims against Bank of America in a state court in New York. The decision overturns an earlier ruling that had kept the case in federal court.
Reuters reports that the decision all came down to the use of a comma in the 1919 Edge Act, a law regarding offshore banking which Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC) had used in order to push the case into federal court. The law was aimed at helping banks that had been federally chartered to compete in offshore banking more effectively. It enables federal courts to hear suits filed because of international or U.S. territory banking transactions.
American International Group Inc (NYSE:AIG) sued Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC) in 2011 because of losses on the $28 billion in mortgage-backed securities it had purchased. It said that the securities were traded entirely in the U.S. and the use of underlying loans to cover some property in U.S. territories did not give it enough international basis to move the suit to federal court.
The judge in the case examined the grammar that was used in the 1919 law, specifically the section that reads: “arise(e) out of transactions involving international or foreign banking, or banking in a dependency or insular possession of the United States, or out of international or foreign financial operations, either directly or through the agency, ownership, or control of branches or local institutions in dependencies or insular possessions of the United States or in foreign countries.”
Bank of America said that part of the clause in question should describe only the clause immediately before it and not the two earlier clauses which served as the sentence’s antecedent. However, the judge said that the use of a comma directly preceding the phrase “either directly or through the agency” in the law showed that all three preceding clauses must be met in order to remove the lawsuit from state court and move it to federal court.