PSLRA/SLUSA Class Actions

Posted On: July 6, 2010 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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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.

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Posted On: June 29, 2010 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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CAFA Class Action Defense Cases–Lincoln National Life v. Bezich: Seventh Circuit Court Dismisses Appeal For Lack Of Jurisdiction Holding Variable Life Insurance Policy Was A "Security" Within Meaning Of Exception To CAFA Jurisdiction

District Court Properly Remanded Class Action to State Court on Ground that Variable Life Insurance Policy Constituted a “Security” Within the Meaning of Exception to Federal Court Jurisdiction under CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act) Seventh Circuit Holds

Plaintiff filed a putative class action against the issuer of his life insurance policy, Lincoln National Life Insurance, alleging that it breached the terms of certain of its variable life insurance policies. Lincoln Nat’l Life Ins. Co. v. Bezich, ___ F.3d ___ (7th Cir. June 25, 2010) [Slip Opn., at 1]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, “Each month, Lincoln deducts cost-of-insurance charges from the accounts of its policyholders…[that] are not determined based on expected mortality, as promised by the policy.” Id., at 1-2. Defense attorneys removed the class action to federal court, asserting jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), id., at 2. However, the district court remanded the class action to state court on the ground that CAFA provides an exception for class actions “that solely involves a claim . . . that relates to the rights, duties (including fiduciary duties), and obligations relating to or created by or pursuant to any security (as defined under section 2(a)(1) of the Securities Act of 1933 (15 U.S.C. 77b(a)(1)) and the regulations issued thereunder).” Id. (citing § 1332(d)(9)(C)). Defendant filed a petition with the Seventh Circuit seeking permission to appeal the district court’s remand order. Id., at 1-2. Lincoln National Life argued “that its petition raises a ‘novel and important issue’ under CAFA: ‘whether contract claims grounded in the traditional insurance features of variable life insurance policies, as opposed to those related to their security features, qualify under the securities exception to CAFA.’” Id., at 2. Because the Seventh Circuit agreed with the district court’s conclusion that § 1332(d)(9)(C) required remand, it dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. Id.

The Circuit Court explained that Lincoln allowed the holders of single variable life insurance policies to “allocate money between a General Account, which accumulates value from premium payments, and a Separate Account, an investment account whose value varies depending on the performance of the investments selected.” Bezich, at 2-3. The policyholder may place 100% of his or her funds in either the General or Separate Account, or may split the funds between the accounts in any percentage they desire. Id., at 3. “The Separate Account is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission as a unit investment trust under the Investment Company Act of 1940,” id. (citation omitted). The class action challenges the insurance charges deducted from both the General and Separate Account based on the percentage of funds in each account. Id. Defense attorneys argued that the appeal should be accepted because “no court of appeals has ever considered the application of CAFA to this type of variable life insurance policy.” Id.

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Posted On: April 27, 2010 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Countrywide Class Action Defense Cases–Greenwich Financial v. Countrywide: Second Circuit Court Dismisses Appeal From Order Remanding Class Action To State Court Holding CAFA Exception Precluded Appellate Review

District Court Order Remanding Class Action to State Court Must be Dismissed because Class Action Fairness Act did not Authorize Appellate Review of Specific Facts of the Case Second Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs, the “holders of certificates issued by the trusts,” filed a putative class action in New York state court against various Countrywide Financial entities seeking a declaratory judgment that, under the terms of Pooling and Servicing Agreements between plaintiffs and defendants, Defendant Countrywide Servicing is required to repurchase the certain loans from the plaintiff-trusts “at a price equal to their unpaid principal plus any accrued interest.” Greenwich Financial Services Distressed Mortgage Fund 3 LLC v. Countrywide Financial Corp., ___ F.3d ___, 2010 WL 1541628, *1, *2 (2d Cir. April 20, 2010). Defense attorneys removed the class action to federal court pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), id., at *1. Plaintiffs moved to remand the class action to state court on the grounds that “while CAFA extended federal jurisdiction for most class actions meeting certain monetary and diversity requirements, it did not apply to this action because the statute exempted suits involving claims that ‘relate[d] to the rights, duties[,] ... and obligations relating to or created by or pursuant to any security.’” Id. (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(9)(C)). The district court agreed and remanded the class action to state court, id. Defendants appealed the remand order. The Second Circuit dismissed the appeal, concluding that it lacked jurisdiction to consider it.

The Circuit Court explained that appeal turned on a provision in CAFA that “bars appellate review of orders remanding securities class actions to state court.” Greenwich Financial, at *1. By way of background, the defendants originate and service residential home loans. Id. Defendant Countrywide Home Loans raised money to finance the loans by selling mortgages in securitization transactions “to specially created trusts, which received payment of interest and principal from mortgage borrowers.” Id. The trusts then “sold certificates to investors,” which entitled the owners to repayment of their principal and to interest payments, id. Defendant Countrywide Servicing administered the loans under Pooling and Servicing Agreements (PSAs). Id. Defendants Countrywide Home Loans and Countrywide Servicing, together with various other entities, were parties to the PSAs; however, the holders of the certificates and Defendant Countrywide Financial were not. Id. According to the allegations underlying the class action, in 2008, the attorneys general of seven states filed lawsuits against various Countrywide entities alleging predatory lending; specifically, “The states alleged that Countrywide engaged in deceptive sales practices, charged unlawful fees, and made loans it had no reasonable basis to think could be repaid.” Id., at *2. Countrywide eventually entered into a single settlement agreement resolving the multi-state litigation, which required Countrywide “to modify the terms of many of the mortgages owned by the trusts and administered by Countrywide Servicing on behalf of the trusts.” Id. Under the terms of the settlement, some homeowners “would make smaller payments of interest and principal to the trusts, thereby decreasing the value of the certificates.” Id.

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Posted On: April 21, 2010 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Cases–In re Schering-Plough: New Jersey Federal Court Approves Class Action Settlement Where Only Monetary Benefit Was Payment Of Attorney Fees And Costs

Class Action Settlement of Lawsuits Challenging Merger of Schering-Plough and Merck Warranted Approval where Terms Required Declaratory Relief for Class in the Form of Additional Disclosures by Schering-Plough Prior to Shareholder Vote on Proposed Merger and Payment of $3.6 Million to Class Counsel in Attorney Fees and Costs New Jersey Federal Court Holds

Following the announcement of a planned merger, various plaintiffs filed several class action lawsuits in New Jersey state and federal courts against Schering-Plough and its Board of Directors seeking to block the company’s merger with Merck. In re Schering-Plough/Merck Merger Litig., U.S.D.C. Case No. 2:09-cv-01099-DMC-MF (D.N.J. March 26, 2010) [Slip Opn., at 1-2]. According to the allegations underlying the various class action complaints, “the Schering board members had breached their fiduciary duties to shareholders by approving the Merger, because the terms of the Merger were insufficiently favorable to Schering’s shareholders and/or the Board had failed to perform appropriate due diligence before approving the Merger.” Id., at 3. The New Jersey district court appointed Class Counsel, and consolidated all of the federal class actions and denied a request to abstain from considering the class actions during the pendency of the state court class actions. Id., at 2-3. The state court dismissed the state class actions, id., at 3. Defendants denied any wrongdoing, id. Following the filing of a consolidated class action complaint, id., at 3-4, and after conducting discovery, id., at 4-5, the parties agreed upon a proposed class action settlement, id., at 5-6. The proposed settlement called for Schering to make additional disclosures to shareholders in advance of a vote on the proposed merger with Merck, id., at 5; Schering made the disclosures agreed upon by the parties and its shareholders “voted overwhelmingly” in favor of the merger, id., at 6. The district court gave preliminary approval to the proposed class action settlement, id., at 6-7. The parties then moved the district court to give final approval to the class action settlement, id., at 1. In an unpublished order, and noting that “only five Class members objected to the Settlement, representing a minuscule .00001% of the Class,” id., at 7, the district court granted the motion.

The federal court first analyzed whether the class action requirements of Rule 23 had been satisfied, and concluded that class action treatment was warranted. In re Schering-Plough, at 11-16. The court then considered the proposed terms of the settlement, and found them to be fair, reasonable and adequate. See id., at 16-23. The court discussed the handful of objections filed against the class action settlement and found them inadequate to reject the settlement. See id., at 23-28. The most interesting aspect of the settlement was its provision for payment of $3.5 million to Class Counsel, which the district court affirmed under the “common benefit doctrine,” despite the relief secured for the class. See id., at 28-34. The federal court also award Class Counsel costs in the amount of $131,777.16. Id., at 35. Accordingly, the district court granted final approval to the class action settlement and awarded Class Counsel in excess of $3.6 million in fees and costs. Id.

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Posted On: March 3, 2010 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Cases–Archdiocese v. Halliburton: Fifth Circuit Affirms Denial Of Class Action Certification In Securities Fraud Class Action Complaint Against Halliburton

Class Action Complaint Against Halliburton Alleging Violations of Securities Laws did not Apply Wrong Legal Standard in Ruling on Class Action Certification Motion and Properly Denied Class Action Treatment because Plaintiff Failed to Establish Causation Seventh Circuit Holds

Plaintiff filed a putative class action against Halliburton and David Lesar (its COO and then CEO during the class period alleging violations of various federal securities laws; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that defendants violated Sections 10(b) and 20(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as well as Rule 10(b)-5. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee Supporting Fund, Inc. v. Halliburton Co., ___ F.3d ___, 2010 WL 481407, *1 (5th Cir. February 12, 2010). According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, defendant was liable for securities fraud violations under a “fraud-on-the-market” theory, alleging that false statements had been made concerning “(1) Halliburton's potential liability in asbestos litigation, (2) Halliburton's accounting of revenue in its engineering and construction business, and (3) the benefits to Halliburton of a merger with Dresser Industries.” Id. Plaintiff moved the district court to certify the litigation as a class action; defense attorneys opposed class action treatment. Id. The district court denied the motion, holding that the Rule 23’s requirements for certification of a class action had not been met. Id. Specifically, in order to obtain class certification “Plaintiff was required to prove loss causation, i.e., that the corrected truth of the former falsehoods actually caused the stock price to fall and resulted in the losses.” Id. The district court denied certification because it found that plaintiff had failed to establish the necessary “causal relationship,” id. The Fifth Circuit affirmed.

Plaintiff argued on appeal “that the district court applied an erroneous standard for loss causation and required it to prove more than is required under law.” Halliburton, at *1. The Circuit Court disagreed. The Court explained,

In the case of a putative class, a plaintiff may create a rebuttable presumption of reliance under the fraud-on-the-market theory by showing “that (1) the defendant made public material misrepresentations, (2) the defendant's shares were traded in an efficient market, and (3) the plaintiffs traded shares between the time the misrepresentations were made and the time the truth was revealed.”… A defendant may rebut the presumption “by ‘[a]ny showing that severs the link between the alleged misrepresentation and either the price received (or paid) by the plaintiff, or his decision to trade at fair market price[.]’”

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Posted On: February 8, 2010 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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SLUSA Class Action Defense Cases–Demings v. Nationwide Life Insurance: Sixth Circuit Affirms Dismissal Of Class Action Complaint Holding That State-Actions Exception Did Not Apply

Class Action Challenging Secret Revenue-Sharing Payments in Purchase of Mutual Funds Fell Within Scope of “Covered Class Actions” under SLUSA (Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998) and was Properly Dismissed because State-Actions Exception did not Apply Sixth Circuit Holds

Plaintiff filed a putative class action against various Nationwide Life Insurance entities on behalf of employee-participants in his employer’s “deferred compensation plan” alleging breach of fiduciary duty and unjust enrichment; the class action complaint alleged that Nationwide received “revenue-sharing payments from the mutual funds in which the § 457 plan invested its participants' individual funds” and that “Nationwide implemented a scheme under which it would receive revenue-sharing payments from mutual funds and mutual fund advisors based upon a percentage of assets invested from the § 457 plans into the mutual funds.” Demings v. Nationwide Life Ins. Co., ___ F.3d ___, 2010 WL 364335, *1 (6th Cir. February 3, 2010). According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, in selecting which mutual funds to use in the § 457 plans, Nationwide would not include a mutual fund in the plan unless it agreed to participate in this revenue-sharing scheme. Id. The thrust of plaintiff’s class action “was that plan participants, not Nationwide, were entitled to any revenue-sharing payments because such profits were directly derived from the assets of plan participants.” Id. Defense attorneys moved to dismiss the class action complaint on the ground that it was barred by the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998 (SLUSA), which prohibits certain “covered class action” lawsuits. Id., at *1-*2. Plaintiff admitted that his lawsuit was a “covered class action” within the meaning of SLUSA, but argued that it did not allege “fraud” or “deception in connection with the purchase or sale of any security,” id., at *2. The district court disagreed, finding that “although [plaintiff] did not specifically use the words ‘untrue statement’ or ‘omission’ in his complaint, the substance of his claim was that Nationwide misrepresented a relationship with mutual fund advisors or, at a minimum, failed to disclose material facts about the relationship.” Id. Accordingly, the district court dismissed the class action, id. The Sixth Circuit affirmed.

The Circuit Court began by observing that plaintiff’s theory on appeal differed from his theory in the district court: “[Plaintiff] Demings does not now dispute that his proposed class-action suit was a covered state-law class action that would generally be precluded under SLUSA's terms. Instead, he argues that his suit fits within the ‘state actions’ exception to SLUSA preclusion.” Demings, at *1 (citation omitted). This is the only argument plaintiff raised on appeal, and it formed the foundation of plaintiff’s claim that the district court therefore erred in denying him leave to amend his class action complaint. Id., at *3. The Sixth Circuit explained SLUSA’s state-actions exception does not “preclude a State or political subdivision thereof or a State pension plan from bringing an action involving a covered security on its own behalf, or as a member of a class comprised solely of other States, political subdivisions, or State pension plans that are named plaintiffs, and that have authorized participation, in such action.” Id., at *4 (citation omitted). The Circuit Court held that this exception did not apply for two reasons. First, even though plaintiff is a sheriff, he is not “a state, political subdivision thereof, or a state pension plan bringing a suit on its own behalf.” See id., at *4-*5. Second, the class action was not “brought on behalf of a class comprised solely of other states, political subdivisions, or state pension plans that were named plaintiffs, and that had authorized participation, in such action.” See id., at *5-*8. In this regard, the Sixth Circuit held that the language of SLUSA requires that the State “authorize” its participation at the time the class action was filed, id., at *8. Accordingly, the state-actions exception did not apply, and the district court properly concluded that the class action was barred by SLUSA. Id. Accordingly, the Circuit Court affirmed the judgment of the district court, id.

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Posted On: February 3, 2010 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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PSLRA Class Action Defense Cases–Carr v. Gateway: Eleventh Circuit Affirms Dismissal Of Securities Fraud Class Action For Failure To Adequately Allege Scienter Under PSLRA’s Heightened Pleading Requirements

District Court Properly Dismissed Securities Fraud Class Action because, though Plaintiffs Adequately Alleged Falsity (Contrary to District Court Finding), Class Action Failed to Meet Pleading Requirements of Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (PSLRA) for Scienter Eleventh Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs-shareholders filed a putative class action against Jabil Circuit – “a publicly traded electronics and technology company headquartered in St. Petersburg, Florida” – and certain of its officers and directors alleging violations of securities laws. Edward J. Goodman Life Income Trust v. Jabil Circuit, Inc., ___ F.3d ___, 2010 WL 154519, *1 (11th Cir. January 18, 2010). According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, Jabil violated its corporate policy of requiring stock options to be exercised at a price “at least equal to fair market value” by backdating options “to a day where the trading price was lower than that on the actual date it is issued, resulting in an instant paper gain to the issuee.” Id. The allegations of backdating in the class action complaint “rely almost exclusively on circumstantial evidence…to show that stock option grants to executives were backdated”; the complaint failed to “identify any particular transaction or scheme of backdating or specific recipients of such a scheme.” Id. The Securities and Exchange Commission had conducted an informal investigation into Jabil’s stock option practices; moreover, Jabil itself reviewed its stock option practices and concluded that an accounting error “resulted in an overstatement of earnings by $54.3 million [from 1996 to 2005], forcing Jabil to restate its earnings for each of those years.” Id., at *2. However, Jabil denied purposely backdating stock options to directors and $49 million of the restated amount was attributable to non-executive employee compensation expenses. Id. Defense attorneys moved to dismiss the class action complaint on the grounds that it failed to meet the heightened pleading requirements established by the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (PSLRA). Id., at *1. The district court granted the motion and plaintiffs appealed, id. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed.

The Eleventh Circuit began its analysis with the observation that backdating options “is not itself illegal under the securities laws, nor is it improper under accounting principles.” Jabil, at *1. Allegations of improper backdating appeared in the Wall Street Journal, after which Jabil raised its third quarter projections for fiscal year 2006. Id., at *2. The class action complaint alleges that Jabil made this announcement “in order to divert attention from the allegations concerning backdating, and that Jabil knew that the factual bases for its improved forecasts were false even at the time it made the projections.” Id. But these allegations relied on confidential witnesses, and only one confidential source identified anyone as having “specific knowledge” of the allegations asserted therein. Id. The district court dismissed the first amended class action complaint without prejudice, but defense attorneys challenged the second amended class action complaint also for failure to meet the pleading requirements of the PSLRA. Id. “[T]he district court held that the shareholders failed to adequately plead falsity of the allegedly fraudulent statements, failed to raise a sufficient inference of scienter on the part of [plaintiffs], and failed to plead enough facts to show loss causation.” Id., at *3. The Eleventh Circuit began its analysis with the class action’s fraud claim under section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act and Rule 10b-5. Id. The Circuit Court did not address loss causation because it concurred with the lower court’s finding that the class action failed to adequately allege scienter. Id.

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Posted On: December 22, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Cases–Truk v. Wehlmann: Texas Federal Court Dismisses Securities Fraud Class Action Based On Cautionary Language In Public Offering Documents

Class Action Alleging Violations of Federal Securities Laws based on Oil Company’s “Proved Reserves” Estimates in Public Offering Documents Warranted Dismissal because Cautionary Language Warned Reasonable Investor of Risk of Lower Reserves Texas Federal Court Holds

Plaintiff filed a putative class action against Cano Petroleum (an independent oil and natural gas company) and individual officers and directors of Cano, as well as defendants involved in the underwriting of Cano’s secondary public offering, alleging violations of federal securities laws; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that the documents issued in connection with the secondary public offering contained material misrepresentations in violation of Sections 11, 12 and 15 of the Securities Act of 1933. Truk Int’l Fund LP v. Wehlmann, ___ F.Supp.2d ___ (N.D.Tex. December 3, 2009) [Slip Opn., at 2-3.] According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, defendants’ disclosures concerning Cano’s “proved reserves” were significantly overstated. Id., at 3-4. The class action further alleged that only one month after the secondary public offering, Cano’s CEO announced that the company’s proved reserves had declined by roughly 20%. Id., at 4-5. Following that announcement, Cano’s stock price fell “sharply and immediately.” Id., at 5. Defense attorneys moved to dismiss the class action on various grounds, see id., at 5-6. The district court granted the motions.

The district court began by summarizing public information relevant to the motion, see Truk, at 7-13, as well as the applicable standards governing the defendants’ motions, see id., at 13-15, and the relevant provisions of the Securities Act, see id., at 15-20. Focusing on the central allegations underlying the class action claims, see id., at 20-23, the district court first held that “[t]he cautionary statements in the Offering Documents made clear that the proved reserve numbers stated in the documents were estimates as of June 30, 2007, and that a large number of factors could cause the estimates to be lower if recalculated as of the date of the offering,” id., at 23. The new estimates had been based on a new estimate provided June 30, 2008, and were the result of circumstances that the Offering Documents warned could lead to a reduction in the proved reserves estimate. Id., at 24. In the federal court’s view, “a reasonable investor would know from reading the cautionary language in the Offering Documents that an investment in Cano was risky and that a part of that risk was in the uncertainty as to the quantity of proved reserves.” Id., at 28. Accordingly, the court granted the motions to dismiss the class action claims. Id., at 28, 30-31. The court also denied leave to amend, noting that “the nature of the pleading deficiencies suggest that repleading would be futile” and that “defendants should not be subjected to further costs of litigation.” Id., at 30.

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Posted On: December 21, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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PSLRA Class Action Defense Cases–In re Heartland Payment Systems: New Jersey Federal Court Dismisses Securities Fraud Class Action Holding Class Action Complaint Failed To Satisfy PSLRA

Class Action Complaint Alleging Securities Fraud Failed to Adequately Plead Misrepresentation or Scienter under Heightened Pleading Requirements Established by Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (PSLRA) New Jersey Federal Court Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against Heartland Payment Systems and others alleging violations of federal securities laws; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that defendants concealed information and/or made affirmative misrepresentations that were material to the value of the company’s stock and that plaintiffs suffered damage because the company’s stock value declined almost 80%. In re Heartland Payment Systems, Inc. Securities Litig., U.S.D.C. Case No. 09-1043 (D.N.J. December 7, 2009) [Slip Opn., at 1, 3.] According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, Heartland “provides bank card payment processing services to merchants” and “maintains millions of credit and debit card numbers on its computer network.” Id., at 1. In 2008, Hackers managed to steal 130 million credit and debit card numbers from Heartland. Id., at 2. At the time of the theft, the company believed hackers had targeted solely the “payroll manager application” which “does not contain data on cardholders’ credit and debit card accounts” but rather “internal corporate information such as employees’ names, addresses, social security numbers, and other confidential information.” Id. Heartland did not discover the full extent of the breach until January 2009, at which time it “immediately notified the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Secret Service, and the credit card companies who account numbers had been stolen,” and soon thereafter “publicly disclosed the theft.” Id. Following the public disclosure, Heartland’s stock price dropped dramatically, id. Plaintiffs filed their class action complaint on the theory that company statements concerning the adequacy of its security systems were fraudulent because the company was “aware that Heartland had poor data security and had not remedied the problem.” Id., at 3. Defense attorneys moved to dismiss the class action on the grounds that it failed to satisfy the heightened pleading requirements of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (PSLRA), id. The district court granted the motion.

The district court explained that the PSLRA requires a plaintiff “to plead the ‘who, what, when, where, and how’ of the allegedly fraudulent statements.” In re Heartland, at 3-4 (citing Institutional Investors Group v. Avaya Inc., 564 F.3d 242, 252 (3d Cir. 2009). Moreover, the PSLERA “requires that the complaint ‘state with particularity facts giving rise to a strong inference that the defendant acted with the required state of mind.’” Id., at 4 (citation omitted). The federal court agreed with defense attorneys that the class action complaint failed to adequately allege a material misrepresentation, see id., at 5-11. The court agreed further that the class action failed to adequately plead the requisite scienter to support the class action claims. See id., at 11-13. The district court therefore found it unnecessary to address defendant’s loss causation argument. See id., at 5, 13-14. The court dismissed the class action complaint without leave to amend, concluding that “further specificity would not cure the Complaint’s deficiencies,” id., at 14.

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Posted On: November 12, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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PSLRA Class Action Defense Cases–Zerger v. Midway Games: Illinois Federal Court Dismisses Securities Fraud Class Action Holding Class Action Complaint's Allegations Failed To Meet PSLRA's Pleading Requirements

Class Action Complaint Alleging Securities Fraud Violations Failed to Allege Facts (as Opposed to Conclusions) or Adequately Plead Scienter under Heightened Pleadings Requirements of Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (PSLRA) Illinois Federal Court Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against various officers and directors of Midway Games alleging violations of federal securities laws; specifically, the class action complaint “alleg[ed] that the executives artificially inflated the market value of Midway stock by deceiving the public about the company’s financial position.” Zerger v. Midway Games, Inc., ___ F.Supp.2d ___ (N.D. Ill. October 19, 2009) [Slip Opn., at 1]. (Plaintiffs also filed a class action against Midway Games, but voluntarily dismissed it after Midway filed for bankruptcy protection. Id., at 2.) According to plaintiffs, the allegations underlying the class action complaint established violations of §§ 10(b) and 20(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and of SEC Rule 10b-5. Id., at 1. Defense attorneys moved to dismiss the class action complaint for failure to meet the heightened pleading requirements established by the PSLRA (Private Securities Litigation Reform Act), id. The district court granted the motion and dismissed the complaint.

Over the course of 20 years, Midway developed more than 400 video games for various platforms, including home-console, handheld, coin-operated and PC. Zerger, at 2. In 2001, the company decided to focus on home-console and handheld devices, such as Xbox, Game Cube, Game Boy and PlayStation. Id. In 2005, the company “announced its first profitable quarter in five years,” id. But in the words of the Circuit Court, “all was not well with Midway’s business model.” Id., at 3. And while the company “repeatedly assured the market that Midway had sufficient working capital to fund day-to-day operations and to continue product development,” in September 2005 it had to borrow money to fund its day-to-day operations. Id. The class action complaint outlined other alleged omissions, see id., at 3-5, concluding that defendants took advantage of the false impression they had given the market to sell 800,000 shares of stock, nearly all of them in a 3-week period, id., at 5. Plaintiffs also blamed Sumner Redstone (chairman of Viacom and controlling shareholder of Midway) for the inflated stock prices because he had announced that he was “evaluating Midway as a potential acquisition target for Viacom” and had purchased millions of shares of stock in the company. Id. Analysts expressed concern that these purchases caused Midway’s stock to be “somewhat overvalued” and warned that if Redstone decided to sell his shares then the stock price would drop. Id. Redstone later announced that Viacom would not acquire Midway, and the stock “immediately began to lose value” ultimately falling more than 50%. Id., at 5-6.

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Posted On: November 11, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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SLUSA Class Action Defense Cases–Segal v. Fifth Third Bank: Sixth Circuit Affirms Dismissal Of Class Action Complaint Holding Class Action Claims Fell Within Scope Of SLUSA

District Court Properly Found Class Action’s State Law Claims Fell within Scope of Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act (SLUSA) Sixth Circuit Holds

Plaintiff filed a putative class action against Fifth Third Bank and its holding company, Fifth Third Bancorp., alleging breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract. Segal v. Fifth Third Bank, N.A., 581 F.3d 305, 308 (6th Cir. 2009). According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, Fifth Third “ breached its fiduciary and contractual duties to the class in three ways: (1) It invested fiduciary assets in proprietary (and often higher-fee) Fifth Third mutual funds rather than superior funds operated by the Bank's competitors; (2) it promised trust beneficiaries that their fiduciary accounts would receive ‘individualized’ management and breached that agreement by providing standardized and largely automated management…, often by ‘relatively inexperienced’ and ‘low-level’ employees…; and (3) it invested too many of the funds' assets in low-yielding investments in order to cover the accounts' near-term tax liabilities.” Id. Defense attorneys moved to dismiss the class action on the grounds that the state law claims were preempted by the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998 (SLUSA); the district court agreed and dismissed the class action complaint. Id. The Sixth Circuit affirmed.

The Sixth Circuit explained that Congress enacted Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (PSRLA) to “curb[] ‘perceived abuses’ of federal class-action securities litigation by imposing special requirements and obstacles on claimants filing such actions.” Segal, at 308 (citations omitted). However, “some claimants responded by ‘avoid[ing] the federal forum altogether,’ bringing ‘class actions under state law, often in state court’ instead.” Id., at 309 (citation omitted). Because this “was not what Congress had in mind,” it enacted SLUSA: its purpose was to “‘prevent certain State private securities class action lawsuits alleging fraud from being used to frustrate the objectives of’ PLSRA…[by] expressly prohibit[ing] certain state law class actions,” id. (citation omitted). The Circuit Court explained that “SLUSA prohibits a claimant from filing a class action when four things are true: (1) the class action is ‘covered,’ which means it involves more than fifty members; (2) the claims are based on state law; (3) the action involves a ‘covered security,’ which means a nationally listed security; and (4) the complaint alleges ‘an untrue statement or omission of a material fact in connection with’ buying or selling a covered security or a ‘manipulative or deceptive device or contrivance in connection with’ buying or selling a covered security.” Id. (citations omitted). The parties agreed that the first three of these requirements were satisfied by the class action – the question on appeal was whether the last requirement had been met. Id.

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Posted On: November 10, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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PSLRA Class Action Defense Cases–Indiana State District Counsel v. Omnicare: Sixth Circuit Affirms Dismissal Of Securities Fraud Class Action Noting Bad Corporate News Does Not Automatically Mean Securities Fraud

Class Action Alleging Securities Fraud Properly Dismissed because Class Action Complaint Failed to Meet Heightened Pleading Requirements Established by Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (PSLRA) Sixth Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against Omnicare and individual officers and directors of Omnicare alleging violations of federal securities laws; in the words of the Sixth Circuit, “Seizing on a few vague statements from management, the plaintiffs try to turn bad corporate news into a securities class action.” Indiana State Dist. Counsel of Laborers, etc. v. Omnicare, Inc., 583 F.3d 935 (6th Cir. 2009) [Slip Opn., at 1, 2]. We do not here summarize the “sprawling and repetitive” allegations underlying the class action complaint, id., at 3; interested readers may find the Circuit Court’s summary at pages 3 through 7 of the opinion. Defense attorneys moved to dismiss the class action, which the district court granted. See id., at 7-8. Reviewing the district court’s decision de novo, id., at 8, the Sixth Circuit affirmed. The Court summarized its holding at page 2 as follows, “Because the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (‘PSLRA’) forbids such alchemy, we generally affirm the district court’s dismissal, although we reverse its disposition regarding the claims brought under the Securities Act of 1933.”

The Sixth Circuit began its analysis by explaining that § 10(b) securities fraud claims must be pleaded with the same specificity as fraud claims under FRCP Rule 9(b). Omnicare, at 9. The Court further explained, “Bolstering this rule of specificity, the PSLRA imposes further pleading requirements…. First, the complaint must ‘specify each statement alleged to have been misleading’ along with ‘the reason or reasons why the statement is misleading.’… Second, plaintiffs must ‘state with particularity facts giving rise to a strong inference that the defendant acted with the required state of mind.’” Id. (citations omitted). Under this standard, the Sixth Circuit affirmed. The Circuit Court concluded that the statements challenged by the class action complaint were not material, see id., at 9-11, or failed to adequately allege loss causation, see id., at 11-12, or failed to establish that defendants knew Omnicare’s claims of “legal compliance” were false when made, see id., at 13-16.

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Posted On: September 29, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Cases–In re Sanofi-Aventis: New York Federal Court Dismisses Securities Fraud Class Action Holding Class Action Complaint Failed To Adequately Plead Fraud Or Scienter

Class Action Complaint Alleging Securities Fraud Violations Arising from Disclosures Concerning Drug under Development Failed to State Claims under Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 or Rule 10b-5 New York Federal Court Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against French pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Aventis and certain individual defendants alleging violations of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that defendants misrepresented facts concerning the company’s “research activities and attempt to market a drug called ‘rimonabant’ used to treat obesity and related illnesses.” In re Sanofi-Aventis Sec. Litig., ___ F.Supp.2d ___ (S.D.N.Y. September 25, 2009) [Slip Opn., at 1-2]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, during the approval process the FDA sent Sanofi an approval letter for the drug’s use in connection with obesity, but a non-approval letter with respect to the drug’s use as a smoking cessation aid.” Id., at 2-3. Additionally, the FDA expressed concern “that use of rimonabant in treating obesity might be associated with higher rates of suicidality and other mood disorders.” Id., at 3. However, defendants’ disclosures allegedly failed to disclose the scope of the FDA’s concerns. Id., at 4. Defense attorneys moved to dismiss the class action complaint. Id., at 1. The district court granted the motion and dismissed the class action complaint.

With respect to the class action’s claims under Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5, the federal court noted that “the complaint must explain why the allegedly misleading misstatements were fraudulent in order to satisfy the pleading standard of Rule 9(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.” In re Sanofi-Aventis, at 5 (citation omitted). Based on the court’s analysis, the class action failed to identify any material misstatements or omissions sufficient to state a securities fraud claim. See id., at 5-10. Moreover, the class action complaint failed to satisfy the scienter requirement. See id., at 10-13. And because plaintiffs failed to “establish a primary violation of the securities laws,” the claims under Section 20(a), seeking to impose liability on the individual defendants, failed as a matter of law. Id., at 13. Accordingly, the district court granted defendants’ motion and dismissed the class action complaint without leave to amend. Id., at 14.

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Posted On: August 18, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Cases–In re CP Ships: Eleventh Circuit Affirms Class Action Settlement Of Securities Fraud Class Action Holding Class Members Of Canadian Class Actions Could Opt Out

District Court did not Abuse its Discretion in Approving Class Action Settlement in Securities Fraud Class Action Filed in United States because Class Members with Claims in Canadian Class Actions were Provided Adequate Notice of the Right to Opt Out of the U.S. Class Action Settlement Eleventh Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs filed a class action against CP Ships, a container shipping company, and others alleging violations federal securities laws; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that Belo – a media company that inter alia published the Dallas Morning News (DMN), which accounted for 30% of Belo’s revenue – “engaged in a fraudulent scheme designed to inflate DMN’s circulation artificially.” In re CP Ships Ltd. Securities Litig., 578 F.3d 1306 (11th Cir. 2009) [Slip Opn., at 1]. Defendant is organized under the laws of Canada, headquartered in England, and operates in several countries; 80% of the company’s stock is traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX), and 20% is traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Id. Additionally, “crucial headquarters activities – including the relevant operations and personnel that were central to the fraud (i.e. the accounting department and executive offices) – were located in Tampa, Florida.” Id. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, CP Ships acquired 9 business during a 10-year period, each with its own accounting system: the company eventually transitioned to a single accounting system, but later “announced that the transition had caused it to understate its operational costs” causing the stock price to drop by more than 20% on both the TSX and NYSE. Id. This class action complaint followed, as did lawsuits filed in Canada, id. Defense attorneys successfully moved to dismiss the U.S. class action on the grounds that the complaint failed to adequately plead scienter under the heightened pleading requirements established by the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (PSLRA), but while plaintiffs’ appeal from that order was pending, the parties negotiated a class action settlement. Id. The district court approved the settlement over various objections, including the objections of an individual who was also a class member in a Canadian class action that “the settlement would prevent some members of the Canadian class from pursuing their action in Canada.” Id., at 1-2. All class members were given notice and an opportunity to opt out of the U.S. class action settlement, id., at 1. One of the objectors appealed, and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed.

The objector leveled a multi-prong attack against the class action settlement: (1) the district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the claims of class members who purchased foreign stock, or at the very least, as a matter of comity, should have declined to exercise jurisdiction over the dispute, (2) that the notice was inadequate, and (3) that the terms of the settlement were not fair, reasonable or adequate. In re CP Ships, at 1. The Circuit Court began by considering de novo whether subject matter jurisdiction was present over the dispute. Id., at 2. The Court found that the objector failed to raise a factual challenge to jurisdiction, see id., at 2-3, and concluded that the facial challenge to jurisdiction failed because jurisdiction exists under the “conduct test,” see id., at 3-6. The Eleventh Circuit then readily rejected the objector’s challenge to the adequacy of the notice, id., at 7, and turned to the adequacy of the class action settlement.

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Posted On: August 17, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Cases–Fener v. Belo: Fifth Circuit Court Affirms Denial Of Class Action Treatment In Securities Fraud Class Action Holding Plaintiffs Failed To Establish Loss Causation

Class Action Complaint Alleging Securities Fraud Properly Denied Class Action Treatment because Plaintiffs Failed to Establish that Decline in Stock Price was Connected to Disclosure of Alleged Fraud rather than Long-Term Industry Trends Fifth Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against Belo Corporation and others alleging violations of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that Belo – a media company that inter alia published the Dallas Morning News (DMN), which accounted for 30% of Belo’s revenue – “engaged in a fraudulent scheme designed to inflate DMN’s circulation artificially.” Fener v. Belo Corp., ___ F.3d ___ (5th Cir. August 12, 2009) [Slip Opn., at 1-2]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, Belo “allegedly paid bonuses for achieving circulation targets, rigged audits of DMN’s circulation, and implemented a no-return policy that eliminated any incentive for distributors to return unsold newspapers.” Id., at 2. These acts “artificially increased recorded circulation, which led to higher advertising revenues for DMN and larger profits for Belo” because 90% of DMN’s revenue came from advertising. Id. Belo eventually disclosed these facts in a press release, and the company’s stock price dropped substantially, id., at 2-3. The class action complaint followed, and plaintiffs moved the district court to certify the litigation as a class action. Id., at 3. Defense attorneys opposed class action treatment, relying on an expert opinion that “plaintiffs could not show that the fraudulent disclosure in the press release was the primary cause of the stock price decline.” Id., at 3-4. Plaintiffs countered with an expert opinion that the drop in stock price was “entirely or almost entirely attributable to the revelation of the relevant truth in this case.” Id., at 4. The district court denied class action treatment and plaintiffs appealed. Id. The Fifth Circuit affirmed.

After outlining the standard of review and the elements (including loss causation) required to prove a securities fraud case, see Fener, at 4-7, the Circuit Court noted that a district court may properly examine loss causation as part of a class action certification determination, id., at 7. The issue before the Court was “whether these plaintiffs have presented enough information to show loss causation under Rule 23.” Id. While plaintiffs submitted 100 pages in support of their class certification motion, defendants introduced expert testimony that Belo’s press release contained three distinct parts: “DMN’s circulation decrease resulted from (1) fraudulent overstatements; (2) changes in DMN’s methodology; and (3) industry-wide decline in newspaper circulation” and concluded – based on an examination of 132 analyst reports – that Belo’s stock dropped primarily because of “the non-fraudulent disclosures instead of the fraudulent one.” Id., at 8-9. The Fifth Circuit stated that it was important to resolve whether the press release should be viewed as “one complete disclosure or three separate ones,” id., at 9. Based on the “plain language” of the press release, the Circuit Court concluded that it was three separate disclosures. Id., at 10. Accordingly, “the release divides the news into fraudulent and non-fraudulent information related to possible future circulation declines.” Id.

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Posted On: August 5, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Cases–Desai v. Deutsche Bank: Ninth Circuit Affirms Denial Of Class Action Treatment In Securities Fraud Class Action Case Holding Issue Of Reliance Defeated Predominance Prong Of Rule 23(b)(3)

District Court did not Abuse Discretion in Denying Class Action Certification in Securities Fraud Class Action because Reliance Required to Establish Securities Exchange Act § 10(b) Violation could not be Proven on a Class-Wide Basis Ninth Circuit Holds

Numerous putative class action complaints were filed against Deutsche Bank alleging securities fraud in the alleged manipulation of the stock price of GenesisIntermedia, Inc. (“GENI”); the class action lawsuit “followed the collapse of an elaborate stock manipulation scheme.” Desai v. Deutsche Bank Securities Ltd., ___ F.3d ___, 2009 WL 2245223, *1 (9th Cir. July 29, 2009). The class action litigation dragged on for more than 7 years without leaving the class certification stage, id., at *3. We do not here summarize the facts underlying the class action allegations or the tortured history of the class action litigation, including its trip from California to Minnesota and then back to California, see id., at *1-*3. Eventually, the class action complaint alleged violations of § 10(b) and § 20(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and Rule 10b-5, id., at *2. And eventually, plaintiffs filed a motion for class certification which the district court denied, id., at *3. Plaintiffs then settled with the “last defendant standing” – Deutsche Bank – but reserved the right to appeal the district court order denying class action treatment to the lawsuit. Id. The Ninth Circuit affirmed.

Plaintiffs had sought to certify the lawsuit as a class action under Rule 23(b)(3), which requires a finding of both predominance of common issues of fact or law and superiority of the class action device as a mechanism for resolving the dispute. Desai, at *4. The district court refused to certify the litigation as a class action because it concluded that the predominance test had not been met; specifically, the district court found that the element of reliance – which is required to prove a violation of § 10(b) of the 1923 Act – would have to be proven “on an individual basis because they could not prove [reliance] class-wide.” Id. The Ninth Circuit explained, “A ruling on class certification ‘is subject to a very limited review and will be reversed only upon a strong showing that the district court’s decision was a clear abuse of discretion.’” Id. (citation omitted).

The Circuit Court held that “[r]eliance establishes the causal connection between the alleged fraud and the securities transaction.” Desai, at *6 (citation omitted). “To say that a plaintiff relied on a defendant’s bad act is to say that the defendant’s actions ‘played a substantial part in the plaintiff’s investment decision.’” Id. (citation omitted). The Ninth Circuit explained also that reliance can be presumed in two situations: in omission cases, provided that the information withheld is material, and under a “fraud on the market theory.” Id. The district court concluded that neither presumption applied because, under the facts of the case, plaintiffs could not demonstrate an “efficient market” for the securities. Id., at *7. The Circuit Court agreed, see id., at *7-*8. The district court also refused plaintiffs’ invitation “to create a novel presumption of reliance on ‘the integrity of the market’ in the context of manipulation cases.” Id., at *7. The Ninth Circuit also rejected this invitation, finding that there was no authority to support it, id., at *9. Accordingly, the Circuit Court affirmed the district court order denying class certification, id.

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Posted On: July 15, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Cases–In re HealthSouth: Eleventh Circuit Affirms Class Action Settlement Of Securities Fraud Class Action Including Bar Order Impacting CEO’s Indemnity Agreement With Company

Class Action Settlement Calling for Bar Order, Wiping Out Corporate Officer’s Indemnification Agreement and Advancement of Attorney Fees from Company Properly Approved by District Court Eleventh Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs filed a class action against HealthSouth Corporation and others, including its former chairman and CEO Richard M. Scrushy, alleging securities fraud; the class action complaint was filed in March 2003, after “HealthSouth acknowledged that its previous financial statements had substantially overstated its income and assets.” In re HealthSouth Corp. Sec. Litig., 572 F.3d 854, 2009 WL 1675398, *1 (11th Cir. 2009). According to the several class action complaints that were filed, defendants violated the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Id. Ultimately, the class actions were consolidated in the Northern District of Alabama, and a partial settlement was reached between HealthSouth and the lead plaintiffs whereby HealthSouth would pay $445 million in settlement. Id. Scrushy was not a party to the settlement (having been prohibited from the mediation as the alleged mastermind of the fraud), and the district court approved the settlement over his objections, id. In part, the settlement included a bar order that extinguished “[Scrushy’s] contractual claims against HealthSouth for indemnification of settlement payments he might make to the underlying plaintiffs and extinguishes his claims for advancement of legal defense costs.” Id.

The basis of the appeal is that, in 1994, “Scrushy and HealthSouth executed an agreement requiring HealthSouth to indemnify Scrushy to the fullest extent permitted by law.” In re HealthSouth, at *1. Specifically, the indemnity agreement “require[d] HealthSouth to indemnify Scrushy for any judgment or settlement in any action in which he is sued for actions taken as a director or officer of the company, if he acted in good faith and reasonably believed he was acting in the best interest of the company.” Id. The bar order, however, wiped out any indemnity obligations, id. Scrushy’s objection was premised on the fact that the bar order “extinguished valuable and enforceable rights to which Scrushy was entitled under his indemnification agreement with HealthSouth.” Id., at *2. But “[t]he Bar Order is reciprocal, extinguishing similar claims by the settling defendants.” Id., at *2 (footnote omitted). The Eleventh Circuit reviewed Scrushy’s challenges to the settlement bar order for an abuse of discretion, id., at *3.

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Posted On: May 29, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Cases—In re Satyam: Judicial Panel On Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) Grants Plaintiff Motion To Centralize Class Action Litigation In Southern District Of New York

Judicial Panel Grants Plaintiff Request for Pretrial Coordination of Class Action Lawsuits Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407, Unopposed by Other Class Action Plaintiffs or by Common Defendants, and Transfers Actions to Southern District of New York

Six class actions – one in California and five in New York – were filed against Orleans Homebuilders and OHB Homes alleging violations of federal securities laws; specifically, the class action complaints “arise from a purported massive financial scandal involving common defendant Satyam Computer Services, Ltd. (Satyam), one of India’s largest information technology and outsourcing companies.” In re Satyam Computer Services, Ltd., Securities Litig., ___ F.Supp.2d ___ (Jud.Pan.Mult.Lit. April 9, 2009) [Slip Opn., at 1]. According to the allegations underlying the class actions, “defendants deceived the investing public regarding Satyam’s business and finances, and thereby caused plaintiffs to purchase the company’s American Depositary Shares at artificially inflated prices.” Id. Plaintiffs in the California class action filed a motion with the Judicial Panel for Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) requesting centralization of the class actions pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407; initially, plaintiffs sought centralization in California, but ultimately agreed to centralization in the Southern District of New York, where the other five class actions were pending. Id. Only one class action plaintiff opposed centralization, id. The Judicial Panel granted the motion to centralize the class action lawsuits, id. The Panel also agreed that the Southern District of New York was the appropriate transferee court because “Five of the six constituent actions, including the first-filed action, are already pending there, and the parties suggest that some discovery from accountants and banks may take place in the district.” Id., at 2.

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Posted On: May 28, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Securities Fraud Class Action Defense Cases–In re Zumiez: Washington Federal Court Dismisses Securities Fraud Class Action Holding Allegations In Class Action Complaint Insufficient Under PSLRA

Allegations in Securities Fraud Class Action Failed to Meet Heightened Pleading Requirements under Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (PSLRA) Warranting Dismissal with Prejudice of Class Action Complaint Washington Federal Court Holds

Plaintiffs filed a class action against Zumiez and three individual defendants alleging violations of federal securities laws; the class action complaint asserted that defendants “engaged in a scheme to defraud shareholders by making materially false and misleading statements by making false and misleading statements and engaging in insider trading.” In re Zumiez Inc. Sec. Litig., ___ F.Supp.2d ___ (W.D. Wash. March 30, 2009) [Slip Opn., at 7]. According to the allegations underlying the class action, defendants made six different statements that were false or misleading, each of which concerned guidance given to investors and expectations for earnings growth. Id., at 7-8. Defense attorneys moved to dismiss the class action on the grounds that it failed to satisfy the heightened pleading requirements of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (PSLRA). Id., at 9. The district court granted defendants’ motion.

The federal court began by noting that “One obvious difficulty with Plaintiffs’ theory is that, from arch until mid-October, Zumiez not only met, but significantly exceeded, its prediction of ‘mid-single digit’ comparable-store sales growth.” In re Zumiez, at 12. The district court explained at page 12, “Therefore, to raise a credible inference that the Company’s predictions during this time period were false or misleading, Plaintiffs must allege facts to suggest not only that Defendants knew of undisclosed problems within the company, but that these known problems (1) would somehow not manifest a negative effect on earnings until the later quarters, and (2) were not taken into account when calculating the Company’s projected earnings. Plaintiffs allege hardly any such facts, much less facts sufficient to raise a strong inference of wrongdoing.” The court considered plaintiffs’ claim that five of Zumiez’s 2007 earnings projections were false or misleading, see id., at 12-20, but ultimately found that the class action complaint “completely failed to raise a ‘strong inference’ that Defendants knowingly made false or misleading earnings projections,” id., at 20. The district court also considered plaintiffs’ challenges to “two statements that could arguably be viewed as assertions regarding current business performance, rather than forward-looking statements”; specifically, an October 18, 2007, statement that “the Company was ‘on track’ to grow earnings by at least 30%,” and a November 29, 2007, statement that “the Company’s month-to-date comparable-store sales growth were in line with its fourth quarter projections.” Id., at 20. To be actionable, these statements required allegations in the class action complaint of “specific facts sufficient to raise a strong inference that Brooks made the statements with deliberate recklessness to investors,” id., at 20-21 (citation omitted), but the court found no evidence to support such an inference, see id., at 21-23. Accordingly, the district court dismissed the class action complaint with prejudice.

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Posted On: May 26, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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WaMu Class Action Defense Cases–In re Washington Mutual: Washington Federal Court Dismisses Majority Of Securities Fraud Class Action Claims Finding 400-Page 1000-Paragraph Class Action Complaint Lacked Specificity

Sheer Size of Class Action Complaint for Securities Fraud Violations did not Defeat Motions to Dismiss because Class Action Allegations were “Verbose” but “Disordered” and Required “More Definite Statement” Washington Federal Court Holds

Three class action complaints were filed against dozens of defendants alleging securities fraud in connection with Washington Mutual home lending business; specifically, the class actions alleged violations of §§ 10(b) and 20(a) of the 1934 Securities and Exchange Act and Rule 10b-5 promulgated under § 10(b), and under §§ 11, 12(a)(2) and 15 of the 1933 Securities Act. The class actions were consolidated by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, lead plaintiff appointed, and a consolidated class action complaint filed. Among the more than three dozen defendants named in the consolidated class action were officers and directors, including outside directors, underwriters and investment banks, and accounting firms. In re Washington Mutual, Inc. Securities, Derivative & ERISA Litig., ___ F.Supp.2d ___ (W.D. Wash. May 15, 2009) [Slip Opn., at 1-3, 5]. The consolidated class action complaint was enormous, containing almost 400 pages (without exhibits), more than 1000 paragraphs, and citations to 89 confidential witnesses, id., at 5. The first 300 pages of the complaint consist of factual allegations of improper activity that claimed “(1) deliberate and secret efforts to decrease the efficacy of WaMu’s risk management policies…; (2) corruption of WaMu’s appraisal process…; (3) abandonment of appropriate underwriting standards for WaMu loans…; and (4) misrepresentation of financial results….” Id. Defense attorneys for various defendants filed five motions to dismiss the class action claims, id., at 1-2. And if plaintiffs believed that size alone would be sufficient to defeat a motion to dismiss, then they were mistaken: in the end, the district largely granted the motion to dismiss concluding that Counts One, Two and Three required “a more definite statement of the grounds for their claims,” and that Counts Four, Five and Six should be dismissed with respect to “claims regarding WaMu’s August 2006, September 2006, and December 2007 securities offerings.” Id., at 2. (The federal court denied the motion to dismiss Counts Four, Five and Six to the extent they concerned WaMu’s October 2007 securities offering. Id.)

We summarize only briefly the federal court’s 33-page opinion. It is worth noting that the district court characterized the massive class action complaint as a “verbose and disordered pleading,” and concluded that it “failed to organize and clearly identify allegations in support of each element of the 10(b) claims against each defendant” even though more than 280 page of the complaint were directed toward these claims. In re WaMu, at 8. Relying on the heightened pleading requirements established by the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (PSLRA) which requires that “a plaintiff alleging securities fraud must ‘plead with particularity both falsity and scienter,’” id., at 15 (citation omitted), the district court found “Remarkably, Plaintiffs make no effort to connect a particular statement made by any defendant with allegations as to why that statement was false or misleading or with allegations of facts giving rise to a strong inference of scienter,” id., at 17. The federal court also observed at page 17, “The first 300 pages of the Complaint fail to organize and identify the allegations supporting securities fraud as to each defendant, contain no useful cross-references or paragraph citations to connect the relevant allegations, and appear to include numerous irrelevant allegations, thereby depriving Defendants of proper notice of the grounds for the 10(b) claims against them.”

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