On March 24, 2015 in Omnicare, Inc. v. Laborers District Council Construction Industry Pension Fund, No. 13-435, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the requirement in Section 11 of the Securities Act of 1933 that a registration statement not “contain an untrue statement of a material fact” or “omit to state a material fact … necessary to make the statements therein not misleading.” Specifically, the Court considered what plaintiffs need to plead under each of those phrases with respect to statements of opinion. The Court’s guidance is significant in light of the importance of pleading standards and motions to dismiss in securities litigation. The Court held, consistent with a majority of the federal courts of appeals, that a pure statement of opinion offered in a Section 11 filing is “an untrue statement of material fact” only if the plaintiff can plead (and ultimately prove) that the issuer did not actually hold the stated belief. At the same time, the Court held that the omission of certain material facts can render even a pure statement of opinion actionably misleading under Section 11. But the Court emphasized that pleading an omissions claim will be difficult because a plaintiff must identify specific, material facts whose omission makes the opinion statement misleading to a reasonable person reading the statement fairly and in context. The Supreme Court’s decision should curtail Section 11 litigation over honestly held opinions that turn out to be wrong, but it may cause the plaintiffs’ bar to bring claims that issuers have not accompanied their opinions with sufficient material facts underlying those opinions. To ward off the risk of such lawsuits, issuers should consider supplementing their disclosure documents with information about the bases of their opinions that could be material to a reasonable investor.
Posts Tagged ‘Securities litigation’
As we noted last year in our memorandum focused on 2013 developments, Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White has called for the SEC to be more aggressive in its enforcement program. By all accounts, the Enforcement Division has responded to that call. The past year saw the SEC continue the trend, started under Enforcement Director Robert Khuzami in 2009, of transforming the SEC’s civil enforcement arm into an aggressive law enforcement agency modeled on a federal prosecutor’s office. This should not come as a surprise since both Andrew Ceresney, the current Director, and George Cannellos, Ceresney’s Co-Director for a brief period of time, like Khuzami, spent many years as federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. And the Commission itself is now led for the first time by a former federal prosecutor, Mary Jo White, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 1993 to 2002. Given the events of the past decade involving the Madoff fraud and the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis, we believe both the aggressive tone and positions the SEC has taken in recent years will continue.
With a minor change to the customary lock-up agreement, issuers and underwriters may be better able to fight frivolous IPO lawsuits. By allowing non-registration statement shares to enter the market, underwriters may prevent Section 11 strike-suiters from “tracing” their shares to the IPO. This could enable ’33 Act defendants to knock out the lawsuits against them.
Basics of Section 11 Standing and Tracing
Section 11 of the Securities Act of 1933, 15 U.S. Code § 77k, provides a private remedy for those who purchase shares issued pursuant to a registration statement that is materially false or misleading. The remedy applies to “any person acquiring such security.” Section 11(a). That is, a person may assert a claim with respect to shares issued pursuant to the particular registration statement.
A new report shows that the percentage of 2014 lawsuits filed by shareholders in M&A deals remained consistent with the previous four years, while other key indicators suggest a slowdown. The report, Shareholder Litigation Involving Acquisitions of Public Companies, released February 25, 2015 by Cornerstone Research, reveals that investors contested 93 percent of M&A transactions in 2014. Despite this typically high percentage, shareholders brought a smaller number of competing lawsuits per deal and in fewer jurisdictions, challenged fewer deals valued below $1 billion, and took slightly longer to file lawsuits.
In a significant shift from recent years, 60 percent of contested M&A deals had lawsuits filed against them in only one jurisdiction. Just 4 percent of these deals were challenged in more than two courts, the lowest number since 2007.
In Rieckborn v. Velti plc, 2015 WL 468329 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 3, 2015) (Orrick, J.), the United States District Court for the Northern District of California clarified the scope of the judgment reduction provision that is found in almost all class action settlement agreements by holding that nonsettling defendants are entitled to a judgment reduction measured by the proportion of fault of all settling defendants, not just a dollar-for-dollar judgment reduction, on all settled claims under the Securities Act of 1933 (the “Securities Act”). In so holding, the court handed a major victory to nonsettling defendants in actions under the Securities Act by granting them a favorable form of judgment reduction on claims not explicitly covered by the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (the “PSLRA”). The court’s opinion also makes clear that bar orders cannot preclude “independent claims” and that bar orders must be “mutual,” thereby giving guidance to the drafters of class action settlement agreements.
I appreciate the opportunity to be here today [Feb. 20, 2015] with so many of the SEC staff, former SEC staff, and other members of the securities community. “SEC Speaks” provides us with the chance to reflect on all of the Commission’s accomplishments in the past year, which are the result of the hard work and dedication of the staff. At the same time, it is also an appropriate venue for considering what else we can do to effectively carry out our mission to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitate capital formation. I would suggest that the answer to how we can build upon the accomplishments of the past year is to apply the same objective that we have for the markets we regulate—that they be fair, orderly, and efficient—to ourselves. And so, I would like to discuss how we can make the SEC a more fair, orderly, and efficient agency.
Before going any further, lest you think that what I say necessary reflects the views of the Commission or my fellow Commissioners, I want to assure all of you that the views I express today are solely my own.
Prior studies of corporate and securities law litigation have focused almost entirely on cases filed by shareholder plaintiffs. Bondholders are thought to play little role in holding corporations accountable for poor governance that leads to fraud. My article, Bondholders and Securities Class Actions, challenges that conventional view in light of new evidence that bond investors are increasingly recovering losses through securities class actions.
Drawing upon a data set of 1660 securities class actions filed from 1996 through 2005, I find that bondholder involvement in securities class actions is increasing. Bondholder recoveries were rare for the first five years covered by the data set, averaging about 3% of settlements from 1996 through 2000. The rate of bondholder recoveries increased to an average of 8% of settlements from 2001 through 2005. Bondholder recoveries have not only become more frequent, they are disproportionately represented in the largest settlements of securities class actions. For the period covered by the data set, bondholders recovered in 4 of the 5 largest settlements and 19 of the 30 largest settlements.
Number and Size of Filings
- Plaintiffs filed 170 new federal class action securities cases (filings) in 2014—four more than in 2013. The number of 2014 filings was 10 percent below the historical average of 189 filings observed annually between 1997 and 2013.
- The total Maximum Dollar Loss (MDL) of filings in 2014 was $215 billion, or 66 percent below the historical annual average of $630 billion. MDL was at its lowest level since 1997.
Yet again, the past year has witnessed a staggering array of massive financial settlements in regulatory and white collar matters. Prominent examples, among many others, include Toyota, which was fined $1.2 billion in connection with resolving an investigation into safety defects; BNP, which pleaded guilty and paid $8.9 billion to resolve criminal and civil investigations into U.S. OFAC and other sanctions violations; Credit Suisse, which also pleaded guilty and paid $2.6 billion to resolve a long-running cross-border criminal tax investigation; and the global multi-agency settlements with six financial institutions for a total of $4.3 billion in fines, penalties and disgorgement in regard to allegations concerning attempted manipulation of foreign exchange benchmark rates. The government also continued to generate headlines with settlements arising out of the financial crisis, including settlements with numerous financial institutions totalling more than $24 billion. We have no reason to expect that this trend will change in 2015.
The close of 2014 saw the SEC’s Division of Enforcement take a victory lap. Following the release of the statistics for the fiscal year ended September 30, Division Director Andrew Ceresney touted a few records—the largest number of enforcement actions brought in a single year (755); the largest total value of monetary sanctions awarded to the agency (over $4 billion); the largest number of cases taken to trial in recent history (30). As Ceresney noted, numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. And it is in the details that one sees just how aggressive the Division has become, and how difficult the terrain is for individuals and entities caught in the crosshairs of an SEC investigation under the current administration.