The Supreme Court has a long history of rejecting expansive interpretations of implied private rights of action under Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act. Most notably, since 1975, it rejected the argument that mere holders, rather than only purchasers and sellers, may bring private damage actions under Section 10(b), rejected the argument that Section 10(b) liability may be imposed based on negligence rather than scienter, rejected the argument that Section 10(b) may be applied to “unfair” as opposed to fraudulent conduct, rejected the argument that purchase price inflation is enough to show damages under Section 10(b), rejected the argument that Section 10(b) reaches aiders and abettors rather than only primary violators, and rejected efforts to muddy the distinction between primary and secondary liability under Section 10(b).
The Court, however, has barely even mentioned Section 11 of the Securities Act in its opinions, much less interpreted it. Section 11, unlike Section 10(b), 1) provides an express private right of action, 2) is limited to misrepresentations and omissions in a registration statement, and 3) requires no proof of culpability although defendants other than an issuer have due diligence affirmative defenses. The Supreme Court’s March 24, 2015 decision in Omnicare, Inc. v. Laborers District Council Construction Industry Pension Fund, No. 13-435, is the Court’s first meaningful foray into Section 11. Unfortunately, the decision, which addresses opinion liability under Section 11, provides an amorphous standard that is likely to lead to unpredictable results. It should provide little comfort to plaintiffs or defendants and should make defendants more cautious about including unnecessary opinions in registration statements and, where appropriate, should lead them to carefully qualify opinions that they do include.