Class Action Defense Cases-In re WorldCom: Second Circuit Reverses Judgment In Favor Of Defense Holding That Class Action Lawsuits Tolled Statutes Of Limitation For Claims By Putative Class Members Who Filed Individual Actions
District Court Erred in Denying American Pipe Tolling to Individual Plaintiffs who had Filed Lawsuits Prior to Court Ruling on Class Certification Motion in Securities Class Action, because as Matter of First Impression Class Action Complaint Tolled Statute of Limitations even as to Claims by all Putative Class Members Regardless of Whether They had Filed Individual Lawsuits Second Circuit Holds
Hundreds of individual and class action lawsuits were filed in state and federal courts against WorldCom and various bond underwriters, each of which ultimately found their way to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. In re WorldCom Sec. Litig., 496 F.3d 245, 2007 WL 2127874, *1 (2d Cir. 2007). After the district court certified a class action, defense attorneys for certain bond underwriters moved to dismiss the individual actions on the ground that they were time-barred because they had been added as named defendants after the limitations period had expired, id. Plaintiffs argued that the limitations period was tolled as to later-named defendants even though they had filed individual actions prior to a court ruling on whether to certify a class action, id. The district court agreed with defense attorneys, ruling that the plaintiffs’ claims were not tolled. The Second Circuit reversed, holding that even though plaintiffs had filed their individual lawsuits prior to the district court’s ruling on class certification, their claims were tolled under American Pipe & Construction Co. v. Utah, 414 U.S. 538 (1974), during the pendency of the class action litigation.
The district court summarized the facts underlying this litigation as follows: “For many years, WorldCom grew by acquisitions. By 1998, it had acquired more than sixty companies in transactions valued at over $70 billion.... In early 2000, however, its attempt to acquire Sprint collapsed. During this period of acquisition-driven expansion, WorldCom had used accounting devices to inflate its reported earnings. Senior WorldCom management instructed personnel in the company's controller's office on a quarterly basis to falsify WorldCom's books to reduce WorldCom's reported costs and thereby to increase its reported earnings. When the pace of acquisitions slowed, it added new strategies to disguise a decline in its revenues. In 2002, however, the scheme collapsed.” In re WorldCom, Inc. Sec. Litig., 294 F.Supp.2d 392, 400 (S.D.N.Y. 2003). In April 2002, the first class action lawsuit was filed against WorldCom, and a few months later, on June 25, “WorldCom admitted publicly that it had previously issued false and misleading financial statements” and that “it had overstated earnings and had falsely reported ordinary costs as capital expenditures.” In re WorldCom, 2007 WL 2127874 at *2. Soon after making these admissions WorldCom filed bankruptcy. Id. These admissions spawned dozens of securities class action lawsuits - transferred in August 2002 to the Southern District of New York by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation - and hundreds of individual lawsuits. Id. Between July 2002 and October 2003, more than 100 pension funds filed individual lawsuits against WorldCom in state courts; the actions were ultimately removed to federal court under 28 U.S.C. § 1452(a) by virtue of WorldCom’s bankruptcy filing; in May 2003, these individual actions were consolidated with the class actions id.
A state-court class action was filed on April 21, 2003, in Alaska state court against several underwriters of WorldCom bonds; the class action was removed to the Southern District of New York in August 2003, and the following month, on September 24, 2003, the class action complaint was amended to name additional bond underwriters as defendants, among these the “Caboto defendants,” for violations of § 11 of the Securities Act but these allegations were “not based on fraud, but rather on negligence and strict liability for registration statements containing untrue statements of material fact.” In re WorldCom, 2007 WL at *3.