FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Germany’s Federal Court of Justice has ruled that investors can sue Standard & Poor’s for failing to adequately reflect the deteriorating financial health of Lehman Bros in its rating assessment shortly before the bank became insolvent.
The court admitted a case brought by Juergen Hillebrand, a German pensioner who bought a Lehman investment note called an “Alpha Express Zertifikat”, a product whose performance was tied to Lehman’s credit risk, his lawyer Jens-Peter Gieschen at law firm KWAG in Bremen, Germany, said on Thursday.
It’s the first time a German court has admitted a case brought by retail investors against rating agencies, potentially opening the door to further claims.
S&P, part of McGraw-Hill Cos Inc MHP.NMHR.TO, failed in its duty to make a credible ratings assessment because the notes were given a good score only days before the Lehman insolvency in September 2008, Gieschen said.
A spokeswoman for S&P in Germany said: “We believe that these claims are without merit.”
One of the reasons Hillebrand bought 30,000 euros ($40,100)worth of the Lehman notes in May 2008 was the fact that they were rated A+, giving him the impression it was a conservative investment, Gieschen said.
Nikolaus Boemcke, a Munich-based attorney specialized in capital markets litigation with law firm Roessner, said: “With this decision the court has opened a new way to help Lehman victims.”
The Federal Court decision dates from December 13, 2012 and was communicated to Hillebrand on January 14, Gieschen said.
Reporting by Edward Taylor and Andreas Kroener; Editing by David Holmes