Ally, Apple, Madoff, AT&T, Altria, JPMorgan in Court News

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Ally Financial Inc.’s GMAC Mortgage unit stopped buying home loans in Massachusetts after the state accused the five biggest providers of conducting illegal foreclosures.

“Recent developments have led mortgage lending in Massachusetts to no longer be viable,” Detroit-based Ally said in a statement. Ally, owned mostly by the U.S. government after being bailed out during the 2008 financial crisis, is ranked fifth this year among the nation’s mortgage lenders.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley sued Ally and four other mortgage lenders Dec. 1 for allegedly trying to seize homes when they didn’t hold the mortgage on the properties. Failure to obtain valid mortgage assignments before foreclosure has affected titles to “hundreds, if not thousands, of properties” in the state, she said.

“The company is disappointed that it can no longer participate in offering certain financing options in Massachusetts,” Ally said in its statement. “However, it has an obligation to manage risks and deploy capital in an appropriate manner and in a way that protects the investment of the U.S. taxpayer.”

Ally will continue making direct loans in the state, according to Gina Proia, a spokeswoman for Ally. The lender will honor any commitments through Dec. 5 and continue servicing existing customers, the statement said. Mortgage servicers send out and collect bills, and handle foreclosures if borrowers don’t pay.

Matt Anderson, a spokesman at the U.S. Treasury Department, which owns 74 percent of Ally, declined to comment.

Coakley’s lawsuit also named Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc. and Wells Fargo & Co.

The case is Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Bank of America NA, 11-4363, Suffolk County Superior Court (Boston).

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SEC’s Data Crunchers Find Clues Leading to Hedge-Fund Cases

Four hedge-fund fraud cases filed in the past three weeks by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission are the first products of the agency’s initiative to build cases on data analysis instead of outside tips, Bloomberg News’ Jesse Hamilton reports.

With a system the SEC calls an “aberrational performance inquiry,” analysts use data-mining to scrutinize hedge-fund returns and other factors. When they identify outliers, investigators can conduct a further review, the agency said in a statement Dec. 1.

As a result the SEC took action against three separate hedge fund firms and six people in the past month for misconduct including improper use of fund assets, fraudulent valuations and misrepresenting fund returns.

“Hedge-fund managers depend on valuation and performance for both their compensation and marketing,” Bruce Karpati, co-chief of the SEC’s asset-management enforcement unit, said in an interview. “These managers have either manipulated performance or engaged in other falsehoods in order to line their own pockets at the expense of investors.”

“The significant thing about these types of analytics is that we can detect these types of frauds without a complaint or tip,” Karpati said. “So now we’re able to get to conduct earlier.”

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Apple Wins Extension on Samsung Tablet Ban in Australia

Apple Inc. won a one-week extension of a ban on Samsung Electronics Co.’s sales of its latest tablet computer in Australia, delaying pre-Christmas sales, in a battle that began in April in the U.S. and spread to four continents.

High Court Justice John Dyson Heydon extended the ban Dec. 2 on the release of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 to Dec. 9. On that day, the country’s top court will consider Apple’s request for permission to appeal a lower court’s order issued earlier this week, which lifted a ban on the product that has been in place since mid-October.

“A stay for one week will cost Samsung, in effect, one week’s trade,” Heydon said, following a 90-minute hearing in Sydney. The extension will hurt Samsung “but not to extend the status quo is likely to be injurious to Apple,” he said.

The decision scuttled Samsung’s plan to begin importing the Galaxy Tab 10.1 into Australia over the weekend and take advantage of the pre-Christmas shopping season. The company had said if it can’t sell the tablet in Australia before Christmas it would scrap its release in the country.

“This is a critical period of time,” Katrina Howard, Samsung’s lawyer, told Heydon Dec. 2. “Even one day can make a difference.”

The battle between the companies began in April, when Apple sued Samsung in the U.S. and accused it of “slavishly” copying the designs of iPhones and iPads.

The appeal case is Samsung Electronics Co. v. Apple Inc. NSD1792/2011. Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia (Sydney).

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Madoff Associate Kohn Has $42 Million Frozen by U.K. Judge

A London judge froze 27 million pounds ($42 million) of Sonja Kohn’s assets and ordered the former associate of Bernard Madoff to move funds to the U.K. as the administrators of Madoff’s European operation seek recoveries for victims of his fraud.

Judge Julian Flaux said Kohn should repatriate as much of the 27 million pounds as possible to the U.K. within 56 days, adding it may be at risk as a result of “the nature of the wrongful conduct which is alleged against her.”

Liquidators of Madoff’s estate are pursuing Kohn and the directors of Madoff Securities International Ltd., the company’s English unit, for the return of assets.

“This freezing order is a routine measure for such cases under English procedures and it is actually a good result in light of the entire case,” her lawyer, Clemens Trauttenberg, said by phone from Vienna.

The former chairwoman of Bank Medici AG, according to a prior ruling from Flaux, made at least $56 million introducing clients to Madoff, who pleaded guilty in 2009 to using money from new investors to pay off old ones in a Ponzi scheme, sparking investigations and dozens of lawsuits. He is serving 150 years in prison in North Carolina for the fraud that caused his New York-based firm to collapse in December 2008.

Kohn, who is suffering from health problems, has a house in Switzerland and fund investments worth at least 15 million pounds as well as bank accounts as far away as Israel, lawyers said Dec. 2.

Steve Akers, one of the administrators of Madoff Securities International, declined to comment.

The case is Madoff Securities International Ltd. v. Stephen Ernest John Raven, 10-1468, High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division (London)

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New Suits

AT&T, Sprint Sued Over Carrier IQ Tracking Software

AT&T Inc., Sprint Nextel Corp., Apple Inc. and T-Mobile USA were sued by mobile phone customers who claim that Carrier IQ Inc. tracking software installed on their phones violates U.S. wiretapping and computer fraud laws.

The lawsuit cites a YouTube report by a technology blogger that purported to show that Carrier IQ software collects information on phone users’ locations, applications and Web browsing and even the keys they press. Four consumers filed a complaint Dec. 2 in federal court in Wilmington, Delaware, seeking to block the carriers and phone makers from using the software.

Carrier IQ software logs user activity and runs in the background of mobile devices. After the YouTube report, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee contacted the company seeking information and alleging that the software may violate federal privacy laws, according to a copy of the complaint supplied by David Straite, an attorney for the plaintiffs. The filing of the lawsuit couldn’t be confirmed Dec. 2 through electronic court records.

AT&T and Sprint, the second- and third-largest U.S. wireless providers, said in e-mailed statements on Dec. 1 that the software data is used to improve service performance. Apple stopped supporting Carrier IQ in most products and will remove it completely in a future software update, Natalie Harrison, an Apple spokeswoman, said in a Dec. 1 e-mail.

The customers who sued seek compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of all others whose devices contain the so-called rootkit software from Mountain View, California-based Carrier IQ, which is also named as a defendant in the suit. The software is currently installed on 150 million phones worldwide, according to the complaint.

Violations of the federal wiretap laws, which prohibit willful interception of wire or electronic communication, can result in damages of $100 a day per violation, according to the complaint.

Carol Roos, a spokeswoman for Dallas-based AT&T, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Tom Neumayr, a spokesman for Cupertino, California-based Apple; Leigh Horner, a spokeswoman for Overland Park, Kansas-based Sprint Nextel; and T-Mobile USA representatives didn’t return calls seeking comment after regular business hours on Dec. 2. Carrier IQ spokeswoman Mira Woods didn’t respond to an e-mailed request for comment.

The case is Pacilli v. Carrier IQ, U.S. District Court, District of Delaware (Wilmington).

Oracle Accuses HP of False Advertising in Revised Itanium Suit

Oracle Corp., accusing Hewlett-Packard Co. of false advertising in a revised countersuit, said HP secretly paid Intel Corp. to continue producing the Itanium computer chip.

Oracle claims HP “made false and deceptive statements” to Oracle and the public regarding the future of the chip to induce Oracle to continue to build software that runs on HP servers that use the Itanium chip, according to an amended complaint provided by Deborah Hellinger, an Oracle spokeswoman. Filing of the document couldn’t be immediately confirmed through electronic state court records Dec. 2.

HP and Intel had an Itanium collaboration agreement under which Intel would prolong Itanium instead of discontinuing the chip, according to the complaint.

The agreement was kept secret until Oracle uncovered it in a lawsuit first filed by HP against Oracle in June. HP alleged then that Oracle used “strong arm tactics” to force customers to shift away from HP’s Itanium server hardware to Oracle’s own server hardware.

Details of the Itanium agreement, such as the date it was signed and how much HP paid Intel, are blacked out of the document. Oracle, based in Redwood City, California, seeks to rescind an agreement that settled litigation over Oracle’s hiring of former HP Chief Executive Officer Mark Hurd, as well as unspecified damages.

“Oracle is in breach of its contractual commitments to HP, and it has failed to honor its promises to customers,” Michael Thacker, a spokesman for Palo Alto, California-based HP, said Dec. 2 in an e-mailed statement responding to Oracle’s new claims. “Oracle should be addressing and rectifying this conduct rather than making up claims against HP.”

The case is Hewlett-Packard Co. v. Oracle Corp., 111-cv-0203163, California Superior Court (Santa Clara County).

Pfizer, Teva Accused of Keeping Generic Drug Off Market

Pfizer Inc.’s Wyeth unit and Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc. were accused by a group of prescription drug retailers of illegally keeping a generic version of the Effexor XR antidepressant off the market.

“Wyeth engaged in an overarching anticompetitive scheme to prevent and delay the approval and marketing of generic versions of Effexor XR,” the retailers, including Walgreen Co. and Kroger Co., said in a complaint filed Nov. 30 in federal court in Trenton, New Jersey.

The retailers allege that Wyeth fraudulently obtained patents and engaged in “sham litigation” to delay generic versions of the extended release drug. They also alleged that Wyeth and the U.S. unit of Israel-based Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd. colluded to keep Teva’s generic version off the market until June 2010.

Joan Campion, a spokeswoman for New York-based Pfizer, and Denise Bradley, a spokeswoman for Teva North America, didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment on the lawsuit after regular business hours Dec. 1.

The case is Walgreen v. Wyeth, 11-6985, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Trenton).

Apple Loses Bid for Order in Effort to Block Samsung Galaxy

Apple Inc. lost a request for a court order in its bid to block sales of Samsung Electronics Co.’s 4G smartphone and Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet computer, according to a ruling that was posted on a court docket and then removed.

The iPad maker, in its lawsuit filed in federal court in San Jose, California, sought an order blocking Samsung from selling its Galaxy line of mobile devices products in the U.S. based on claims they violate Apple patents. The lawsuit is part of a legal battle between the companies being fought in 10 countries.

Samsung said in an e-mailed statement that the ruling confirms its long-held view that Apple’s arguments lack merit.

“In particular, the court has recognized that Samsung has raised substantial questions about the validity of certain of Apple’s design patents,” according to the statement. “We are confident that we can demonstrate the distinctiveness of Samsung’s mobile devices when the case goes to trial next year.”

The two companies have filed at least 30 lawsuits against each other, according to Samsung. The conflict began in April, when Apple filed the San Jose lawsuit claiming the Suwon, South Korean company’s Galaxy devices copied the iPhone and iPad.

“It’s no coincidence that Samsung’s latest products look a lot like the iPhone and iPad, from the shape of the hardware to the user interface and even the packaging,” Kristin Huguet, a spokeswoman for for Cupertino, California-based Apple, said Dec. 3 in an e-mail. “This kind of blatant copying is wrong and, as we’ve said many times before, we need to protect Apple’s intellectual property when companies steal our ideas.”

According to the court docket in San Jose, the ruling, which was posted temporarily in error late Dec.2, was later filed under seal.

The case is Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co., 11-01846, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Jose).

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Altria Unit Must Pay $47.7 Million to Oregon, Court Rules

Altria Group Inc.’s Philip Morris USA must pay $47.7 million to Oregon, the state’s Supreme Court ruled, rejecting arguments from the biggest U.S. cigarette maker that the tobacco industry’s landmark 1998 settlement with 46 states barred the recovery.

The Oregon Supreme Court decided Dec. 2 that Philip Morris, a unit of Richmond, Virginia-based Altria, must pay the state 60 percent of a $79.5 million punitive damages award, plus interest, in a smoking-related wrongful death claim.

A jury in 1999 awarded that amount, in addition to compensatory damages, to the estate of Jesse Williams, a smoker who had died of lung cancer. An Oregon law cited in the court’s ruling requires that 60 percent of punitive damages awards go to the state.

Philip Morris claimed the state released its claim by signing the $206 billion multistate settlement agreement resolving health-care cost-recovery lawsuits against U.S. cigarette makers.

“We believe that the Oregon Supreme Court misapplied the law and reached an erroneous result,” said Murray Garnick, Altria Client Services senior vice president and associate general counsel. “As the lower court recognized, the state released its claims to any punitive damages when it signed the Master Settlement Agreement.”

The case is Williams v. R.J. Reynolds, SC S059014, Oregon Supreme Court (Salem).

UniCredit Has $331 Million Asset Ruling Overturned

A UniCredit SpA unit won an appeal overturning a 245 million-euro ($331 million) verdict related to assets of the former East German Communist Party and the case was returned to a lower court for a new trial.

The Zurich Court of Cassation on Nov. 30 overturned a lower Swiss court’s ruling that the bank must pay the amount to the German government, Vienna-based UniCredit Bank Austria said in a statement Dec. 2.

The lower Zurich court in 2010 ruled in favor of Germany, which argued Bank Austria’s former AKB Privatbank Zuerich unit helped embezzle funds from companies in the former East Germany. It will now have to reconsider the case.

When the dispute first went to court in 1994, Germany said the bank helped launder 250 million deutsche marks ($173 million) that vanished from the accounts of two former East German trading companies after communism fell. Germany said the funds were East German state assets that AKB helped shift to the Austria Communist Party in the 1990s after German reunification. Germany is also seeking interest on the amount dating from 1992.

Germany is being represented by Bundesanstalt fuer vereinigungsbedingte Sonderaufgaben, the legal successor of the group that was in charge of managing the assets of the former East Germany. The BvS didn’t reply to an e-mail by Bloomberg News requesting a comment.

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Court Filings

Bayerische Landesbank Suit Against JPMorgan Most Popular

A lawsuit against JPMorgan Chase & Co. for fraud by German lender Bayerische Landesbank, over losses on about $2.1 billion in mortgage-backed securities, was the most-read litigation docket on the Bloomberg Law system last week.

JPMorgan units concealed the truth about the poor quality of the loans underlying the securities and knew that credit ratings misrepresented their risk, BayernLB said in a lawsuit filed Nov. 21 in New York State Supreme Court.

The lender said it believed the mortgage securities were safe investments based on representations about the quality of loans and credit ratings when it invested almost $2.1 billion in 57 offerings from 2005 to 2007, according to the complaint. The lawsuit names JPMorgan and units of the New York-based bank as defendants.

The case is Bayerische Landesbank New York Branch v. Bear Stearns & Co., 653239/2011, New York State Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).

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