Marked by leadership changes, high-profile trials, and shifting priorities, 2013 was a turning point for the Enforcement Division of the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC” or the “Commission”). While the results of these management and programmatic changes will continue to play out over the next year and beyond, one notable early observation is that we expect an increasingly aggressive enforcement program.
Posts Tagged ‘Securities litigation’
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.
Delaware’s Leading Role in Business and Business Litigation
Delaware has long been known as the corporate capital of the world. It is the state of incorporation for 64 percent of the Fortune 500 and more than half of all companies whose securities trade on the NYSE, Nasdaq and other exchanges. Its preeminence in business law started with its corporate code—the Delaware General Corporation Law—and has been enhanced by business law innovations that have led to the creation of many new business entities designed to meet the expanding needs of corporate and financial America.
This is our ninth annual review of key Delaware corporate and commercial decisions. During 2013, we reviewed and summarized over 200 decisions from Delaware’s Supreme Court and Court of Chancery on corporate and commercial issues. Among the decisions with the most far-reaching application and importance during 2013 are the “top ten” that we are highlighting in this short overview. We are providing links to the more complete blog summaries, and the actual court rulings, for each of the cases that we highlight below.
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.
Last year, in our annual survey (discussed on the Forum here) of the white collar and regulatory enforcement landscape, we noted that the trend toward ever more aggressive prosecutions reflected a “gloomy picture” for large companies facing such investigations. Our assessment remains the same, as the pattern of imposing massive fines and extracting huge financial settlements from companies continued unabated in 2013. For example, on November 17, 2013, DOJ announced that it had reached a $13 billion settlement with JPMorgan to resolve claims arising out of the marketing and sale of residential mortgage-backed securities—the largest settlement with a single entity in American history. Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay more than $2.2 billion to resolve criminal and civil investigations into off-label drug marketing and the payment of kickbacks to doctors and pharmacists. Deutsche Bank agreed to pay $1.9 billion to settle claims by the Federal Housing Finance Agency that it made misleading disclosures about mortgage-backed securities sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. SAC Capital entered a guilty plea to insider trading charges and was subjected to a $1.8 billion financial penalty—the largest insider trading penalty in history. And in the fourth largest FCPA case ever, French oil company Total S.A. agreed to pay $398 million in penalties and disgorgement for bribing an Iranian official. Not to be outdone, the SEC announced that it had recovered a record $3.4 billion in monetary sanctions in the 2013 fiscal year.
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.
Sullivan & Cromwell LLP filed an amicus brief on January 6, 2014 with the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc., No. 13-317. This brief is submitted on behalf of former members of Congress, SEC officials and congressional counsel involved in the drafting of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (PSLRA) of 1995. In Amgen, Justice Ginsburg, for the majority, characterized the PSLRA’s silence on the Basic fraud-on-the-market presumption as a “reject[ion]” of “calls to undo” Basic. 133 S. Ct. at 1200 (Amgen, p. 20, available here). In opposing cert in Halliburton (see brief in opposition of certiorari, pages 32-33, available here), plaintiffs referenced Congress’s silence in the PSLRA as acquiescence in Basic‘s presumption. This congressional acquiescence argument could be critical to the decision in Halliburton, which could be one of the most important securities cases in years.