On February 26, 2014, the Supreme Court decided Chadbourne & Parke LLP v. Troice, 571 U.S. ___ (2014), ruling by a 7-2 vote that the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998 (“SLUSA”) does not bar state-law securities class actions in which the plaintiffs allege that they purchased uncovered securities that the defendants misrepresented were backed by covered securities. The decision is the first in which the Court has held that a state-law suit pertaining to securities fraud is not precluded by SLUSA, suggesting that there are limits to the broad interpretation of SLUSA’s preclusion provision that the Court has recognized in previous cases. While Chadbourne leaves many questions unanswered concerning the precise contours of SLUSA preclusion, and could encourage plaintiffs to pursue securities-fraud claims under state-law theories, the unusual facts in Chadbourne could limit the reach of the holding and provide defendants with avenues for distinguishing more typical state-law claims in other cases.
Posts Tagged ‘Class actions’
On March 5, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc., No. 13-317, which presents whether to overrule or significantly limit plaintiffs’ ability to rely on the legal presumption that each would-be class member in a securities fraud class action relied on the statements challenged as fraudulent in the lawsuit. Without this so-called fraud-on-the-market presumption of classwide reliance, putative class action plaintiffs would face substantial barriers in maintaining securities fraud class actions. The Court’s decision in Halliburton, which is expected by June 2014, could lead to a significant change in the conduct of securities class actions. Even if the Court ultimately retains some formulation of the fraud-on-the-market presumption of reliance, the Court could increase defendants’ ability to contest what in practice has evolved into a virtually irrebuttable presumption.
Plaintiffs filed 166 new federal securities class actions in 2013, a 9 percent increase over 2012, according to Securities Class Action Filings—2013 Year in Review, an annual report prepared by Cornerstone Research and the Stanford Law School Securities Class Action Clearinghouse. The 2013 filings, although boosted by a second-half surge, are still 13 percent below the historical average from 1997 to 2012.
One possible explanation for filings remaining below the historical average in recent years is the decline in the number of unique companies listed on the NYSE and NASDAQ. A new analysis in the report shows that the number of companies on these exchanges has decreased 46 percent since 1998, providing fewer companies for plaintiffs to target as the subject of federal securities class actions.
Some corporate practitioners could have the impression that significant fee awards are granted as a matter of course in M&A class action litigation, even where the results obtained by class counsel were supplemental (and arguably routine) disclosures regarding the proposed transaction. Recent comments by the judges of the Delaware Court of Chancery, however, may suggest an increasing concern over what might be perceived as “default” fee awards in this context, as well as the value of purely supplemental, as opposed to remedial, disclosures.
In 2011, Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster analyzed M&A fee awards in a published case titled In re Sauer-Danfoss Inc. Shareholders Litigation, 65 A.3d 1116 (Del. Ch. 2011). This undertaking, it reasonably could be hoped, would serve to promote consistency and establish reasonable expectations, especially in an area where precedent frequently lies in transcripts and unpublished orders. Of particular note, Vice Chancellor Laster wrote:
2013 proved to be a watershed year for securities litigation, and 2014 is shaping up to be a “career killing” year for plaintiffs’ lawyers specializing in 10b-5 class actions. In what may turn out to be one of the most important cases in the last three decades, the Supreme Court will address the long debated fraud-on-the-market theory in Halliburton II, and address head on whether the Court’s decades-old ruling in Basic v. Levinson establishing that theory should be overruled. The case for overruling Basic is a strong one, with at least four justices having expressed serious concerns about the fraud-on-the-market theory in the Court’s 2013 decision in Amgen. See “A Shot Across the Basic Bow,” in our 2013 Mid-Year Securities Litigation Update. If, as many court observers predict, the Court in fact overturns the fraud-on-the-market theory, securities class actions as we know them may be consigned to the dust heap.
The blogosphere is abuzz over Halliburton.  Will the Supreme Court overturn
Basic  and abolish the fraud-on-the-market presumption? Will the decision end shareholder class actions as we have known them? Presumably, by the Fourth of July, we will know.
The purpose of this post is not to predict the outcome of Halliburton. Rather, it is to begin thinking about ways in which the plaintiffs’ bar may respond if the Court does overturn Basic. Those who think that plaintiffs’ lawyers will go quiet into the night are, in my opinion, ignoring the lessons of history.
Legal developments have dominated the news about federal securities class actions in 2013. Last February, the Supreme Court decision in Amgen resolved certain questions about materiality but focused the debate on Basic and the presumption of reliance, which are now back to the Supreme Court after certiorari was granted for the second time in Halliburton.
Against this legal backdrop, 2013 saw a small increase in the number of complaints filed for securities class actions in general and for class actions alleging violation of Rule 10b-5 in particular. Filings in the 5th Circuit doubled, while filings in the 9th Circuit bounced back after having dipped in 2012.
In order to prove securities fraud under federal law, one must show that the defendant either misrepresented a material fact or omitted to state a material fact when under a duty to speak. The fact must somehow matter to investors. But the courts have struggled mightily to determine when a fact is material.
On the one hand, the Supreme Court has held that a fact is material if it would be important to a reasonable investor in deciding how to act—how to vote or whether to trade. The information need not be so important that it would change the outcome. But it cannot be so trivial that it would not affect the total mix of available information. Moreover, it must matter in the sense that an investor can do something with the information. For example, although the fact that a merger lacks a business purpose or that the board of directors thinks the price is low might be important in some sense, these facts may not be material if the investor has no vote on the matter or the controlling stockholder has enough votes to assure approval.
As we have described in our prior posts and memos (here and here), in Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc., No. 13-317, the Supreme Court will decide whether or not to abandon the “fraud on the market” presumption of reliance that has facilitated class-action treatment of claims brought under Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and SEC Rule 10b–5. The case will be argued before the Court on March 5, and a decision will likely come by the end of June. As our earlier memos explained, Halliburton is potentially the most important securities case that the Court has heard in a long time.
In Activision Blizzard, Inc. v. Hayes, No. 497, 2013 (Del. Nov. 15, 2013), the Delaware Supreme Court addressed the question of whether the purchase by Activision Blizzard, Inc. (“Activision”) of shares of its own stock, as well as net operating loss carryforwards (“NOLs”), from Vivendi, S.A. (“Vivendi”) constituted a “merger, business combination or similar transaction” under Activision’s amended certificate of incorporation and, as a result, required the approval of stockholders. The Court held that, despite its form as the combination of two entities, the transaction at issue did not require the approval of stockholders. “Indeed,” observed the Court, “it is the opposite of a business combination. Two companies will be separating their business connection.”