Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that a claim alleging a false statement of opinion or belief in a registration statement may proceed under Section 11 of the Securities Act notwithstanding the absence of allegations showing that the defendants did not actually hold the opinion or believe the statement. Indiana State District Council of Laborers & Hod Carriers Pension & Welfare Fund v. Omnicare, Inc., (6th Cir. May 23, 2013). The Sixth Circuit’s decision conflicts with decisions of the Second and Ninth Circuits holding that liability under Section 11 for a statement of belief or opinion would exist only if the statement was both objectively and subjectively false or misleading. See Fait v. Regions Financial Corp., 655 F.3d 105 (2d Cir. 2011); Rubke v. Capital Bancorp Ltd., 551 F.3d 1156 (9th Cir. 2009). Under that standard, a Section 11 complaint that fails to plausibly allege that a defendant did not actually believe the false statement or hold the opinion would be dismissed.
Posts Tagged ‘Securities litigation’
A recent inquiry into potential insider trading in Switzerland ahead of the acquisition of H.J. Heinz Company has drawn attention to the role of U.S. regulators in policing suspicious trading activities that take place outside of the United States. While the Heinz matter has attracted significant media attention, it is only the latest in a string of similar cross-border inquiries and enforcement actions undertaken recently by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). As these matters demonstrate, the SEC has in recent years shown an increasing willingness to pursue insider trading enforcement actions with substantial international dimensions. In the words of former SEC Enforcement Chief Robert Khuzami, “offshore trading is not off-limits to U.S. law enforcement.”
Historically, many of the SEC’s insider trading cases with international angles were simply the outgrowth of cases that were primarily domestic in nature. In recent years, however, a number of the SEC’s insider trading matters have involved significant overseas conduct (e.g., foreign traders operating through foreign accounts) and consequently a high number of foreign defendants. In many of these matters, the jurisdictional nexus between the suspicious conduct and the U.S. market is increasingly attenuated (including at least one recent example in which the sole basis appears to have been that a particular securities transaction was cleared through a U.S. brokerage account). While individuals or firms who choose to litigate insider trading cases against the SEC may be able to raise defenses to the SEC’s arguably extraterritorial exercise of its jurisdiction under certain factual scenarios, the mere prospect of an SEC investigation – including significant legal costs and corresponding reputational impact – should cause internationally active firms to take note of the breadth and intensity of the SEC’s focus on cross-border insider trading matters.
The 53 court-approved securities class action settlements reported in 2012 represent a 14-year low, according to Securities Class Action Settlements—2012 Review and Analysis by Cornerstone Research. This represents an 18 percent decrease from the number of approved settlements in 2011, and a decline of more than 45 percent from the 10-year average from 2002 through 2011.
As securities class actions historically take a number of years to settle, the decrease in settlements may be due in part to the relatively low number of securities class actions filed in 2009 and 2010. Despite the decrease in the number of cases settled, total settlement amounts increased by more than 100 percent in 2012 compared with 2011, with the number of mega-settlements (settlements in excess of $100 million) accounting for nearly 75 percent of all 2012 settlement dollars. One-third of the settlements in 2012 were for issuers in the financial services industry, with the technology and pharmaceutical industries being the next most prevalent sectors.
The average reported settlement amount dramatically increased from 2011 levels—in excess of 150 percent (from the inflation-adjusted amount of $21.6 million in 2011 to $54.7 million in 2012). The average settlement amount in 2012, however, is closer to the average for all prior post–Reform Act cases.
About a year ago, we published A New Playbook for Global Securities Litigation and Regulation, in which we detailed dramatic changes in the global securities regulatory and litigation arena driven by various factors, including not only the financial crisis of 2007-2008, but also changes in tolerance in the United States to litigation brought by foreign investors against public companies listed on non-U.S. exchanges.
One year later, the regulatory environment continues to revamp with new rules being issued constantly in the United States to conform to the legislative mandates set forth in the Dodd Frank Act. The United Kingdom and European Union also seek to reinforce previous global initiatives to reform and strengthen the Pan-European financial markets.
What is more ever-present, however, is the marked increase in global enforcement activities by regulators in the United Kingdom, Canada, and the European Union, which are attempts to give teeth to the global financial reforms each jurisdiction felt necessary to potentially prevent a “repeat” of the financial crisis. This article seeks to address the increase in global securities enforcement activity and concludes that continued cooperation and coordination in enforcement activities will be required to seamlessly address the desire to strengthen global regulatory initiatives aimed at harmonizing and centralizing international securities regulation to create safer, more fundamentally sound financial markets for investors.
The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently issued an important decision that addresses two types of allegations that plaintiffs routinely rely on to plead loss causation in federal securities fraud cases. In Meyer v. Greene, 2013 US App. LEXIS 4187 (11th Cir. Feb. 25, 2013), the Eleventh Circuit appears to have become the first federal court of appeals to rule definitively that the mere announcement of an investigation by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) followed by a decline in a company’s stock price is insufficient to plead loss causation. The Court also ruled, consistent with decisions from other federal circuits, that a negative third-party analyst presentation is not a corrective disclosure for purposes of pleading loss causation if the presentation is based on publicly available information.
Recently, the SEC’s Enforcement Division has brought three matters focused on alleged flaws (and fraud) in connection with valuation issues. Together these actions make clear that the SEC is and will be looking hard at how public companies as well as financial firms make difficult and subjective valuation decisions. Specifically, the SEC will be looking to see whether firms, and individuals, followed proper processes and applied the correct inputs in reaching these judgments. These cases also make clear that, even in times of significant market disruption, firms cannot ignore or substantially discount market inputs in making valuation judgment.
In November 2012, the SEC filed and settled In The Matter of KCAP Financial, Inc. This was the first action in which the SEC alleged that a public company had violated the provisions of Financial Accounting Standard (FAS) 157 by failing to properly value certain assets. FAS 157 requires expanded disclosures and incorporates a strong preference for market inputs to determine fair value. According to FAS 157, “[e]ven in times of market dislocation, it is not appropriate to conclude that all market activity represents forced liquidations or distressed sales.”
In Amgen Inc. v. Connecticut Retirement Plans & Trust Funds, No. 11-1085, 2013 WL 691001 (Feb. 27, 2013), the Supreme Court of the United States decided a significant issue concerning the requirements for class certification in actions based on alleged misrepresentations in violation of the federal securities laws. Under Amgen, a plaintiff in such an action is not required to prove the materiality of the alleged misrepresentation in order to obtain class certification. The Amgen decision will make it at least marginally easier for plaintiffs to obtain class certification in some Circuits.
Amgen is likely to be influential in ways that go well beyond its immediate holding. For example, the various opinions in Amgen debate the continuing vitality of the Supreme Court’s decision in Basic Inc. v. Levinson, 485 U.S. 224 (1988), which established the fundamental structure enabling claims under the federal securities laws to be litigated as class actions. These and other implications of the decision are discussed below. Readers not requiring a summary of the framework established in Basic may wish to go directly to section 2.
On February 27, 2013, in a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States held in Amgen Inc. v. Connecticut Retirement Plans and Trust Funds that a securities fraud plaintiff alleging fraud on the market need not establish the materiality of an alleged fraudulent statement in order to obtain class certification. Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the Court, and Justices Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy dissented.
The particular questions presented by the Supreme Court’s grant of certiorari were whether, in a misrepresentation case under SEC Rule 10b-5, a securities fraud plaintiff alleging fraud on the market must establish materiality of the misstatements in order to obtain class certification and whether, in such a case, the district court must allow the defendant to present evidence rebutting the applicability of the fraud-on-the-market theory before certifying a plaintiff class based on that theory.
Federal securities fraud class action filing activity slowed sharply in 2012. There were 152 filings in 2012 compared with 188 in 2011. The number of federal securities fraud class actions (also referred to in this report as filings, class actions, or cases) filed was 21 percent below the annual average of 193 filings observed between 1997 and 2011 (Figure 1).
The following trends are noteworthy for 2012:
The Stanford Law School Securities Class Action Clearinghouse and Cornerstone Research recently released their analysis of securities class action filings in 2012. They report that 152 new securities class actions were filed last year, a 19 percent decline from the 188 new filings in 2011.
Of particular interest is the observation that only thirteen cases arising from merger and acquisition transactions were filed in federal courts in 2012, as compared to 43 in 2011 and 40 in 2010. “Evidence indicates,” the report states, that merger and acquisition litigation is “now being pursued almost exclusively in state courts after the unusual jump in federal M&A filings in 2010 and 2011.” Though such litigation typically arises under state law, plaintiffs often have the option to frame their claims as violations of the federal securities laws or bring them in federal court by invoking diversity jurisdiction.