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Class Action Defense Cases–Morrison v. National Australia Bank: Supreme Court Affirms Dismissal Of Securities Class Action Holding No Cause Of Action Exists For Foreign Plaintiffs Suing For Misconduct Involving Securities Traded On Foreign Exchanges

District Court Properly Dismissed Securities Class Action but Existing Circuit Court Authority Overruled because Neither § 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 nor Rule 10b-5 is Extraterritorial Supreme Court Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against National Australia Bank, and its wholly-owned subsidiary HomeSide Lending (a mortgage servicing company) and three of its executives, alleging violations of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 after National announced that it was writing down the value of HomeSide causing its stock price to drop. Morrison v. National Australia Bank Ltd., ___ U.S. ___, 130 S.Ct. 2869, 2010 WL 2518523, *3-*4 (2010). According to the allegations underlying the class action, from 1998 to 2001 both National’s annual reports and other public documents, and HomeSide’s executives, “touted the success of HomeSide’s business.” Id., at *3. But in July 2001, National wrote down the value of HomeSide by $450 million, and in September it wrote down the value of HomeSide by another $1.75 billion. Id. The class action alleged that National downplayed the write-downs, and that HomeSide and its executives “had manipulated HomeSide’s financial models…in order to cause the mortgage-servicing rights to appear more valuable than they really were.” Id. The class action complaint was filed in the district court for the Southern District of New York and “alleged violations of §§ 10(b) and 20(a) of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934…, and SEC Rule 10b-5,” id., at *4. Defense attorneys moved to dismiss the class action for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) and for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). Id. The federal court dismissed the class action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction “because the acts in this country were, ‘at most, a link in the chain of an alleged overall securities fraud scheme that culminated abroad.’” Id. (citation omitted). The Second Circuit affirmed on the same grounds, id. (citation omitted). The Supreme Court granted certiorari, and affirmed.

The Supreme Court explained that this case presented the question of “whether § 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 provides a cause of action to foreign plaintiffs suing foreign and American defendants for misconduct in connection with securities traded on foreign exchanges.” Morrison, at *3. As a preliminary matter, the High Court addressed Second Circuit’s analysis of the extraterritorial reach of § 10(b) and circuit court precedent on the issue. Id. (citing Schoenbaum v. Firstbrook, 405 F.2d 200, 208, modified on other grounds en banc, 405 F.2d 215 (2d Cir. 1968); In re CP Ships Ltd. Sec. Litig., 578 F.3d 1306, 1313 (11th Cir. 2009); Continental Grain (Australia) Pty. Ltd. v. Pacific Oilseeds, Inc., 592 F.2d 409, 421 (8th Cir. 1979)). The Court explained at page *4, “But to ask what conduct § 10(b) reaches is to ask what conduct § 10(b) prohibits, which is a merits question. Subject-matter jurisdiction, by contrast, ‘refers to a tribunal’s “‘power to hear a case.’”’ [Citations.] It presents an issue quite separate from the question whether the allegations the plaintiff makes entitle him to relief. [Citation.]” But while this was error, the Supreme Court declined to remand the matter finding “that unnecessary” because “nothing in the analysis of the courts below turned on the mistake, [so] a remand would only require a new Rule 12(b)(6) label for the same Rule 12(b)(1) conclusion.” Id., at *4-*5.

Turning to the merits, the Supreme Court held that “When a statute gives no clear indication of an extraterritorial application, it has none.” Morrison, at *5. The Second Circuit, however, believed it was for the courts to decide “whether Congress would have wanted the statute to apply.” Id. (citation omitted). However, “This disregard of the presumption against extraterritoriality did not originate with the Court of Appeals panel in this case. It has been repeated over many decades by various courts of appeals in determining the application of the Exchange Act, and § 10(b) in particular, to fraudulent schemes that involve conduct and effects abroad. That has produced a collection of tests for divining what Congress would have wanted, complex in formulation and unpredictable in application.” Id. The High Court reversed this circuit court authority, see id., at *6-*9, and held that neither § 10(b) nor Rule 10b-5 is extraterritorial, id., at *9-*11. The Supreme Court further held that “the focus of the Exchange Act is not upon the place where the deception originated, but upon purchases and sales of securities in the United States” and that it is “only transactions in securities listed on domestic exchanges, and domestic transactions in other securities, to which § 10(b) applies.” Id., at *11 (footnote omitted). The Court concluded, therefore, “Section 10(b) reaches the use of a manipulative or deceptive device or contrivance only in connection with the purchase or sale of a security listed on an American stock exchange, and the purchase or sale of any other security in the United States. This case involves no securities listed on a domestic exchange, and all aspects of the purchases complained of by those petitioners who still have live claims occurred outside the United States. Petitioners have therefore failed to state a claim on which relief can be granted. We affirm the dismissal of petitioners’ complaint on this ground.” Id., at *14.

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