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Appeal sped up over Bank of America's $8.5B Countrywide accord


NEW YORK (Reuters)—A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday sped up the review of a ruling that moved consideration of Bank of America Corp.'s $8.5 billion settlement over mortgage debt to federal court from a New York state court.

The decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York could help Bank of America, which intended the accord to address much of its remaining legal liability from its 2008 purchase of the mortgage lender Countrywide Financial Corp.

Bank of New York Mellon Corp., which as trustee negotiated the accord, and investors such as BlackRock Inc. and MetLife Inc. are hoping to reverse an Oct. 19 ruling by U.S. District Judge William Pauley in Manhattan moving the case to his court from a New York state court.

Judge Pauley said he took the case because it implicated "paramount federal interests" such as the integrity of nationally chartered banks and the vitality of financial markets.

The settlement applied to 530 mortgage securitization trusts with $174 billion of unpaid principal. It was intended to address claims by investors who said the seemingly safe securities that they bought proved toxic because they were backed by risky home loans that were underwritten poorly.

Bank of New York Mellon had negotiated the accord with 22 institutional investors including BlackRock and MetLife.

But objections were raised by many investors that were not part of the talks but would be bound by the outcome, including a group called Walnut Place.

Some of these investors said the $8.5 billion payout was too low. Moving the case to federal court could potentially make it easier to back out, or negotiate higher payouts.

In court papers, Bank of New York Mellon countered that delaying the appeal would "disrupt a settlement that is of enormous importance to investors."

Fallout from the Countrywide purchase has weighed on the share price of Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America, which on Tuesday fell to its lowest level since March 2009.

Shares of the second-largest U.S. bank rose 37 cents, or 7.3%, on Wednesday to close at $5.44.

The 2nd Circuit did not say when it would consider the appeals. Bank of America was not part of either motion seeking expedited appeal.

The cases are Bank of New York Mellon vs. Walnut Place L.L.C. et al., 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Nos. 11-4554 and 11-4571.