Our mid-year report one year ago presented an exciting opportunity to discuss a time of great change at the SEC. A new Chair and a new Director of Enforcement had recently assumed the reins and begun making bold policy pronouncements. One year later, things have stabilized somewhat. The hot-button issues identified early in the new SEC administration—admissions for settling parties, a growing number of trials (and, for the agency, trial losses), and a renewed focus on public company accounting—remain the leading issues a year later, albeit with some interesting developments.
Posts Tagged ‘Securities litigation’
In our paper, Carrot or Stick? The Shift from Voluntary to Mandatory Disclosure of Risk Factors, we investigate public companies’ disclosure of risk factors that are meant to inform investors about risks and uncertainties. We compare risk factor disclosures under the voluntary, incentive-based disclosure regime provided by the safe harbor provision of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act, adopted in 1995, and the SEC’s subsequent disclosure mandate, adopted in 2005.
During the recent financial crisis, there was a dramatic spike in “idiosyncratic volatility”—the volatility of individual firm share prices after adjustment for movements in the market as a whole. The average firm’s increase was a remarkable five-fold as measured by variance. This dramatic spike is not peculiar to the most recent crisis. Rather, it has occurred with each major downturn in the economy since the 1920s, as our paper shows for the first time. These spikes present a puzzle in terms of existing economic theory. They also have important implications for several areas of corporate and securities law where the capacity of securities prices to reflect available information is particularly important. Examples include the presumption of reliance, loss causation and materiality in fraud-on-the-market suits, materiality in insider trading cases, and the corporate law regulation of defenses undertaken by targets of hostile takeover attempts. The continuing centrality of these issues is underscored by this week’s decision in Halliburton Co v. Erica P. John Fund, where the Supreme Court ruled that a defendant can defeat a fraud-on-the-market case class certification by showing that the alleged misstatement had no impact on price.
On June 23, 2014, the United States Supreme Court issued its much-anticipated decision in Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc. Halliburton called into question the very foundation of a securities class action—the presumption of class-wide reliance. A unanimous Court answered the question today, and the presumption of reliance lives. The Court’s decision may, however, have given defendants new opportunities to rebut the presumption in the earlier stages of a case.
Corporations today are routinely subject to expensive shareholder litigation for which shareholders ultimately foot the bill. Even weak shareholder claims pose significant costs and uncertainty, and exert significant settlement pressures, on corporations. Several recent state court decisions, however, underscore the potential for corporate bylaws, including those adopted by boards, to reduce incentives for the plaintiffs’ bar to file such lawsuits:
- The Delaware Court of Chancery has upheld, at least as a general matter, the statutory and contractual validity of board-adopted bylaws that seek to limit the forum for intra-corporate litigation.
- State courts in Louisiana, New York and Illinois have, in turn, enforced Delaware exclusive forum clauses.
- The Delaware Supreme Court has upheld the statutory and contractual validity of bylaws that allocate the cost of intra-corporate litigation to a losing plaintiff.
- A state court in Maryland has upheld a corporate bylaw that requires the arbitration of intra-corporate disputes.
We consider below how advancement of legal fees, indemnification, and insurance operate when officers and directors become involved in regulatory investigations and proceedings. Part I addresses the enhanced risk officers and directors face today in an Age of Accountability. Part II addresses advancement of legal fees, which may be discretionary or mandatory depending on a company’s by-laws. Part III covers indemnification, which generally requires at least a conclusion that the officers and directors acted in good faith and reasonably believed that their conduct was in, or at least not contrary to, the best interests of the corporation. Part IV examines insurance coverage, which varies from carrier to carrier and may or may not provide meaningful protection. Finally, Part V summarizes the principal lessons from the analysis. Although there is significant overlap with similar principles that apply to private litigation, we limit our discussion here to advancement, indemnification, and insurance for regulatory investigations and proceedings.
The number of accounting case settlements in 2013 increased for the second year in a row, but remained low compared with the previous 10 years, according to Cornerstone Research’s latest report, Accounting Class Action Filings and Settlements—2013 Review and Analysis. While the number of securities class action filings that included accounting allegations (47) remained relatively constant in 2013 compared with 2012, the market capitalization losses associated with these filings more than doubled.
Following the publication of Michael Lewis’ new book, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt (“Flash Boys”), plaintiffs’ lawyers and US government regulators have increasingly focused their attention on financial institutions participating in high-frequency trading (“HFT”). Less than three weeks after the release of Flash Boys, private plaintiffs’ lawyers filed a class action lawsuit against 27 financial services firms and 14 national securities exchanges (with additional defendants likely to be named later) alleging that the defendants’ HFT practices in the US equities markets violated the anti-fraud provisions of the federal securities laws. Plaintiffs’ lawyers filed a separate action against The CME Group, Inc. (“CME”) and The Board of Trade of the City of Chicago (“CBOT”) containing similar allegations in US derivatives markets.
In Carpenters Pension Trust Fund of St. Louis, et al. v. Barclays PLC, et al., one of a recent spate of lawsuits arising out of matters concerning LIBOR, the Second Circuit addressed three pleading issues that frequently arise in securities class actions: loss causation, disclosures that amount to “puffery,” and control person liability. Most significantly, it rejected efforts by the plaintiffs to base a misrepresentation claim on general statements about corporate internal controls that did not specify the particular area in which alleged misconduct later occurred.
On May 6, 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued the following decision in the City of Pontiac Policemen’s & Firemen’s Ret. Sys. et al. v. UBS AG et al., No. 12-4355 (2d Cir. May 6, 2014). The decision is one of first impression in the Second Circuit with respect to two questions arising out of the Supreme Court’s decision in Morrison v. National Australia Bank Ltd., 561 U.S. 247 (2010). First, does Morrison bar Exchange Act Section 10(b) claims with respect to the purchase or sale of securities on foreign exchanges when those same securities are cross-listed on a U.S. exchange? The Second Circuit answered with a “yes.” Second, is the mere placement of a buy order in the United States for the purchase of foreign securities on a foreign exchange sufficient to allege that a purchaser incurred irrevocable liability in the United States, such that the U.S. securities laws govern the purchase of those securities under the Second Circuit’s decision in Absolute Activist Value Master Fund Ltd v. Ficeto, 677 F.3d 60 (2d Cir. 2012)? The Second Circuit answered with a “no.”