Opinions are mixed on whether Stanford C. Stoddard can continue his winning streak in court.
The embattled Michigan banker is suing the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. for denying deposit insurance to his would-be bank. And though most legal and regulatory experts agreed that legally it's an uphill fight, they also acknowledge that Mr. Stoddard has a history of winning lawsuits against the regulators.
However, "given all the discretion that's been given to the agency and all the deference in the courts, he's got a hard row to hoe," said John Douglas, former general counsel at the FDIC, now an Atlanta attorney.
Mr. Stoddard, the former head of Michigan National Corp., was accused of misuse of bank funds in the 1980s but was never convicted or removed from the industry, as the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency had sought.
Last month he and other organizers sued the FDIC, which has twice denied insurance coverage for a proposed start-up, Bank of Michigan, Bloomfield, most recently in December.
He seeks insurance coverage, court costs, and $60 million in damages. He said the money would go toward capital for a new try with the de novo, whose charter has expired.
Mr. Stoddard accuses the FDIC board of being prejudiced against him because of the earlier "prolonged disputes and proceedings."
He also said the agency's denial was based on prejudice against his religious beliefs - he is a Mormon - and the race of three proposed bank directors.
One proof of religious discrimination, he said, is the FDIC's mention in its December denial that a proposed trustee for a trust he planned to establish was the retiring president of Brigham Young University. Mr. Stoddard had agreed to set up the trust, which would have controlled his stock in Bank of Michigan, because the FDIC objected to his exerting any ownership control over the bank.
He also noted that the denial notice said the nonrelatives he had named as trustees were associates of his through "church membership," family trust business, or previous real estate partnerships.
Moreover, Mr. Stoddard pointed out, transcripts of two FDIC board meetings acquired by his lawyer under the Freedom of Information Act quote one member referring to the skin color of three proposed bank directors. The unidentified board member, however, said the three proposed directors - who are black - were "well qualified" and "particularly outstanding," according to the transcript.
An FDIC spokesman declined to discuss the discrimination claims, saying he could not comment on pending litigation.
Mr. Douglas, the Atlanta attorney, said that although a denial based on religion or race would be inappropriate, the references in question didn't sound like a basis for denial.
Justin Moran, an analyst with Detroit's Roney & Co. and a Michigan bank consultant for 30 years who considers himself a business friend of Mr. Stoddard, said he thought the religious references were inappropriate, but that, "Bud will have a very hard time proving that the denial was based on race," he said.
Overall, some observers said it would be hard for Mr. Stoddard to beat the FDIC's vast judgment authority in its rulings.
Mr. Moran agreed that the main issue is whether the agency can rely on information outside of the application for its decision.
"The essence of Bud's suit is to challenge the degree of discretion that the FDIC has." That, he said, will be a "tough argument" for Mr. Stoddard.
But Mr. Stoddard has picked up some public support.
Crain's Detroit Business this week editorialized that the FDIC should "ease up" on Mr. Stoddard and said that if it were the FDIC, it would look to settle.
"We always wondered why the Feds went so strongly after Stoddard," the paper wrote. "Stoddard's track record in lawsuits against Goliaths is pretty impressive. His suits sound fruitless at first, but he wins 'em."