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June 30, 2015

MetLife accuses U.S. risk panel of secrecy; demands access to records

MetLife asked a federal judge on Monday to force the U.S. government to hand over 500 pages of confidential records that relate to financial regulators' decision to designate the insurance giant as systemically important.

In a filing in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, MetLife said the government's failure to hand over the records harms its "due-process rights."

MetLife is embroiled in a legal battle with the U.S. Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC), a panel of regulators chaired by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew that polices for emerging financial market risks and threats to stability.

The panel has the power to dub large non-bank financial firms as systemically important, a tag that results in greater oversight by the Federal Reserve.

MetLife has argued it is not systemically risky to the broader marketplace, and it is asking the court to overturn the FSOC's determination.

The FSOC has come under criticism in recent years by companies, lawmakers and even the Government Accountability Office that its decision-making process lacks adequate transparency.

Although the FSOC does hold public meetings, much of its business is conducted behind closed doors, and companies have complained they have not received enough advanced warning when they were being considered for the designation of systemically important.

The FSOC has made changes to address some of these criticisms, including giving companies more warning and more chances to offer feedback during the process.

But MetLife says the FSOC has still refused to provide its outside lawyers all the documents about the designation, even though the panel has already made its final decision.

MetLife said in Monday's court filing that the FSOC is denying access to the records because of "information-sharing" arrangements it has with state insurance regulators about the company.

MetLife argued that the FSOC should not be balking about cooperating because there is a protective order in place to ensure that only the company's outside attorneys and the government - and not the general public or even the company itself - would be able to view any sensitive material.

"This court should therefore direct FSOC to produce the withheld documents immediately so that MetLife can review all of the materials that the agency considered as part of its decision-making process and mount a fully informed challenge to FSOC's designation determination," the court filing says.

A Treasury Department spokesman did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment about MetLife's request.