Articles Posted in Securities Law

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In 2007-2008, Lehman Brothers raised capital through public securities offerings. Petitioner, the largest public pension fund in the country, purchased some of those securities. A 2008 putative class action claimed that financial firms were liable under the Securities Act of 1933, 15 U.S.C. 77k(a), for their participation as underwriters in the transactions, alleging that certain registration statements for Lehman’s offerings included material misstatements or omissions. More than three years after the relevant offerings, petitioner filed a separate complaint with the same allegations. A proposed settlement was reached in the putative class action, but petitioner opted out. The Second Circuit affirmed dismissal of the individual suit, citing the three-year bar in Section 13 of the Act. The Supreme Court affirmed. Section 13’s first sentence states a one-year limitations period; the three-year time limit is a statute of repose, not subject to equitable tolling. Its instruction that “[i]n no event” shall an action be brought more than three years after the relevant securities offering admits of no exception. The statute runs from the defendant’s last culpable act (the securities offering), not from the accrual of the claim (the plaintiff’s discovery of the defect). Tolling is permissible only where there is a particular indication that the legislature did not intend the statute to provide complete repose but instead anticipated the extension of the statutory period under certain circumstances. The timely filing of a class-action complaint does not fulfill the purposes of a statutory time limit for later-filed suits by individual class members. View "California Public Employees’ Retirement System v. ANZ Securities, Inc." on Justia Law

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Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and SEC Rule 10b–5 prohibit undisclosed trading on inside corporate information by persons bound by a duty not to exploit that information for their personal advantage. These persons are also forbidden from tipping inside information to others for trading. The Supreme Court has held (Dirks) that tippee liability hinges on whether the tipper disclosed the information for a personal benefit; personal benefit may be inferred where the tipper receives something of value in exchange for the tip or “makes a gift of confidential information to a trading relative or friend.” Salman was convicted for trading on inside information he received from Kara, who had received the information from his brother, Maher, a former investment banker at Citigroup. Maher testified that he expected his brother to trade on the information. Kara testified that Salman knew the information was from Maher. While Salman’s appeal was pending, the Second Circuit decided that personal benefit to the tipper may not be inferred from a gift of confidential information to a trading relative or friend, unless there is “proof of a meaningfully close personal relationship … that generates an exchange that is objective, consequential, and represents at least a potential gain of a pecuniary or similarly valuable nature.” The Ninth Circuit declined to follow the Second Circuit. A unanimous Supreme Court affirmed. When an insider gives a trading relative or friend confidential information, the situation resembles trading by the insider himself followed by a gift of the profits to the recipient. Maher breached his duty to Citigroup and its clients—a duty acquired and breached by Salman when he traded on the information, knowing that it had been improperly disclosed. View "Salman v. United States" on Justia Law

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Manning held 2,000,000 shares of Escala stock. He claims that he lost most of his investment when its price plummeted after Merrill Lynch devalued Escala through “naked short sales.” Unlike a typical short sale, where a person borrows stock from a broker, sells it to a buyer on the open market, and later purchases the same number of shares to return to the broker, the seller in a “naked” short sale does not borrow the stock he puts on the market, and never delivers the promised shares to the buyer. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Regulation SHO prohibits short-sellers from intentionally failing to deliver securities. Manning claimed violation of New Jersey law, but referred explicitly to Regulation SHO, citing past accusations against Merrill Lynch and suggesting that the transactions at issue had again violated the regulation. Merrill Lynch removed the case, invoking general federal-question jurisdiction, 28 U. S. C. 1331, and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. 78aa(a). The Third Circuit ordered remand, holding that Manning’s claims did not necessarily raise any federal issues and that the Exchange Act covers only cases that would satisfy the “arising under” test for general federal jurisdiction. The Supreme Court affirmed. The jurisdictional test established by Section 27 is the same as Section 1331’s test for deciding if a case “arises under” a federal law. Section 27 confers federal jurisdiction over suits brought under the Exchange Act and the rare suit in which a state-law claim rises and falls on the plaintiff’s ability to prove the violation of a federal duty. View "Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc. v. Manning" on Justia Law

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The Securities Act of 1933 requires that a company issuing securities file a registration statement containing specified information, 15 U.S.C. 77aa. The statement may include other representations of fact or opinion. A purchaser of securities may sue an issuer if it either “contain[s] an untrue statement of a material fact” or “omit[s] to state a material fact . . . necessary to make the statements therein not misleading.” The buyer need not prove intent to deceive. Omnicare filed a registration statement for a public offering of common stock. In addition to required disclosures, the statement expressed the company’s opinion that it was in compliance with federal and state laws. After the government sued Omnicare for receiving kickbacks from pharmaceutical manufacturers, purchasers of Omnicare Funds sued, claiming that the legal-compliance statements constituted “untrue statement[s] of . . . material fact” and that Omnicare “omitted to state [material] facts necessary” to make those statements not misleading. The district court dismissed. The Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that subjective disbelief was not required. The Supreme Court vacated. A statement of opinion is not an “untrue statement of . . . fact” simply because that opinion ultimately proves incorrect. Opinions qualify as untrue statements of fact if the opinion was not sincerely held or if they contain embedded statements of untrue facts. Under section 11’s omissions clause, whether a statement is “misleading” is an objective inquiry based on a reasonable investor’s perspective. A reasonable investor may understand an opinion to convey facts about the speaker’s basis for holding that view; if the real facts are otherwise, but not provided, the opinion will mislead by omission. An opinion, however, is not misleading simply because the issuer knows, but fails to disclose, some fact cutting the other way. Section 11 creates liability only for the omission of material facts that cannot be squared with a fair reading of the registration as a whole. The case was remanded for determination of whether the complaint adequately alleged that Omnicare omitted some fact that would have been material to a reasonable investor. View "Omnicare, Inc. v. Laborers Dist. Council Constr. Indus. Pension Fund" on Justia Law

Posted in: Securities Law

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Fifth Third maintains a defined-contribution retirement savings plan for its employees. Participants may direct their contributions into any of several investment options, including an “employee stock ownership plan” (ESOP), which invests primarily in Fifth Third stock. Former participants sued, alleging breach of the fiduciary duty of prudence imposed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1104(a)(1)(B) in that the defendants should have known—on the basis of both public information and inside information available to Fifth Third officers—that the stock was overpriced and risky. The price of Fifth Third stock fell, reducing plaintiffs’ retirement savings. The district court dismissed; the Sixth Circuit reversed. A unanimous Supreme Court vacated. ESOP fiduciaries are not entitled to any special presumption of prudence, but are subject to the same duty that applies to ERISA fiduciaries in general, except that they need not diversify the fund’s assets. There is no requirement that plaintiffs allege that the employer was, for example, on the “brink of collapse.” Where a stock is publicly traded, allegations that a fiduciary should have recognized, on the basis of publicly available information, that the market was over- or under-valuing the stock are generally implausible and insufficient to state a claim. To state a claim, a complaint must plausibly allege an alternative action that could have been taken, that would have been legal, and that a prudent fiduciary in the same circumstances would not have viewed as more likely to harm the fund than to help it. ERISA’s duty of prudence never requires a fiduciary to break the law, so a fiduciary cannot be imprudent for failing to buy or sell in violation of insider trading laws. An allegation that fiduciaries failed to decide, based on negative inside information, to refrain from making additional stock purchases or failed to publicly disclose that information so that the stock would no longer be overvalued, requires courts to consider possible conflicts with complex insider trading and corporate disclosure laws. Courts confronted with such claims must also consider whether the complaint has plausibly alleged that a prudent fiduciary in the same position could not have concluded that stopping purchases or publicly disclosing negative information would do more harm than good to the fund. View "Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer" on Justia Law

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Investors can recover damages in a private securities fraud action only with proof that they relied on misrepresentation in deciding to buy or sell stock. The Supreme Court held, in "Basic," that the requirement could be met by invoking a presumption that the price of stock traded in an efficient market reflects all public, material information, including material misrepresentations; a defendant can rebut the presumption by showing that the alleged misrepresentation did not actually affect the stock price. EPJ filed a putative class action, alleging misrepresentations designed to inflate Halliburton’s stock price, in violation of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and SEC Rule 10b–5. The Supreme Court vacated denial of class certification, concluding that securities fraud plaintiffs need not prove causal connection between the alleged misrepresentations and their economic losses at the class certification stage. On remand, Halliburton argued that certification was nonetheless inappropriate because it had shown that alleged misrepresentations had not affected stock price. Without that presumption, investors would have to prove reliance on an individual basis, so that individual issues would predominate over common ones and class certification was inappropriate under FRCP 23(b)(3). The district court certified the class. The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated and remanded, while declining to reject the Basic presumption. The Court rejected arguments that “a robust view of market efficiency” is no longer tenable in light of evidence that material, public information often is not quickly incorporated into stock prices and that investors do not invest in reliance on the integrity of market price. Congress could alter Basic’s presumption, given recent decisions construing Rule 10b–5 claims, but has not done so, although it has responded to other concerns. The Basic doctrine includes two presumptions: if a plaintiff shows that the misrepresentation was public and material and that the stock traded in a generally efficient market, there is a presumption that the misrepresentation affected price. If the plaintiff also shows that he purchased stock at market price during the relevant period, there is a presumption that he purchased in reliance on the misrepresentation. Requiring plaintiffs to prove price impact directly would take away the first presumption. Defendants, however, must have an opportunity to rebut the presumption of reliance before class certification with evidence of lack of price impact. That a misrepresentation has price impact is Basic’s fundamental premise and has everything to do with predominance. If reliance is to be shown by that presumption, the publicity and market efficiency prerequisites must be proved before certification. Because indirect evidence of price impact will be before the court at the class certification stage in any event, there is no reason to artificially limit the inquiry at that stage by excluding direct evidence of price impact. View "Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc." on Justia Law

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To safeguard investors and restore trust in financial markets after the Enron collapse, Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which provides that no public company nor any contractor or subcontractor of such a company, may discharge, demote, suspend, threaten, harass, or discriminate against an employee in the terms and conditions of employment because of whistleblowing activity, 18 U. S. C. 1514A(a). Plaintiffs are former employees of FMR, private companies that contract to advise or manage mutual funds. As is common in the industry, those mutual funds are public companies with no employees. Plaintiffs allege that they blew the whistle on putative fraud relating to the mutual funds and suffered retaliation by FMR. FMR argued that the Act protects only employees of public companies, and not employees of private companies that contract with public companies. The district court denied FMR’s motion to dismiss. The First Circuit reversed, concluding that the term “an employee” refers only to employees of public companies. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, concluding that section 1514A’s whistleblower protection includes employees of a public company’s private contractors and subcontractors. FMR’s interpretation would shrink the protection against retaliation by contractors to insignificance. The Court stated that its reading fits the goal of warding off another Enron debacle; fear of retaliation was the primary deterrent to reporting by the employees of Enron’s contractors. FMR’s reading would insulate the entire mutual fund industry from section 1514A. Virtually all mutual funds are structured to have no employees of their own and are managed, instead, by independent investment advisors. View "Lawson v. FMR LLC" on Justia Law

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The Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998, 15 U.S.C. 78bb(f)(1), forbids large securities class actions “based upon the statutory or common law of any State” in which plaintiffs allege “a misrepresentation or omission of a material fact in connection with the purchase or sale of a covered security,” and defines “covered security” to include only securities traded on a national exchange. Plaintiffs filed civil class actions under state law, contending that defendants helped Stanford and his companies perpetrate a Ponzi scheme by falsely representing that uncovered securities (certificates of deposit in Stanford Bank) were backed by covered securities. The district court dismissed, reasoning that, for purposes of the Act, the Bank’s misrepresentation that its holdings in covered securities made investments in its uncovered securities more secure provided the requisite “connection” between the state-law actions and transactions in covered securities. The Fifth Circuit reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Act does not preclude the state-law class action. The Court noted the Act’s basic focus on transactions in covered, not uncovered, securities, and that use of the phrase “material fact in connection with the purchase or sale” suggests a connection that matters. A connection matters where the misrepresentation makes a significant difference to someone’s decision to purchase or to sell a covered security, not an uncovered one; the “someone” making that decision must be a party other than the fraudster. The Act and the underlying Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and the Securities Act of 1933, are intended to protect investor confidence in the securities markets, not to protect persons whose connection with the statutorily defined securities is more remote than buying or selling. A broader interpretation of “connection” would interfere with state efforts to provide remedies for ordinary state-law frauds. This interpretation does not curtail the Securities and Exchange Commission’s enforcement powers under 15 U S.C. 78c(a)(10). The SEC brought successful actions against Stanford and his associates, based on the Bank’s fraudulent sales of certificates of deposit. View "Chadbourne & Parke LLP v. Troice" on Justia Law

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Fifth Third maintains a defined-contribution retirement savings plan for its employees. Participants may direct their contributions into any of several investment options, including an “employee stock ownership plan” (ESOP), which invests primarily in Fifth Third stock. Former participants sued, alleging breach of the fiduciary duty of prudence imposed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1104(a)(1)(B) in that the defendants should have known—on the basis of both public information and inside information available to Fifth Third officers—that the stock was overpriced and risky. The price of Fifth Third stock fell, reducing plaintiffs’ retirement savings. The district court dismissed; the Sixth Circuit reversed. A unanimous Supreme Court vacated. ESOP fiduciaries are not entitled to any special presumption of prudence, but are subject to the same duty that applies to ERISA fiduciaries in general, except that they need not diversify the fund’s assets. There is no requirement that plaintiffs allege that the employer was, for example, on the “brink of collapse.” Where a stock is publicly traded, allegations that a fiduciary should have recognized, on the basis of publicly available information, that the market was over- or under-valuing the stock are generally implausible and insufficient to state a claim. To state a claim, a complaint must plausibly allege an alternative action that could have been taken, that would have been legal, and that a prudent fiduciary in the same circumstances would not have viewed as more likely to harm the fund than to help it. ERISA’s duty of prudence never requires a fiduciary to break the law, so a fiduciary cannot be imprudent for failing to buy or sell in violation of insider trading laws. An allegation that fiduciaries failed to decide, based on negative inside information, to refrain from making additional stock purchases or failed to publicly disclose that information so that the stock would no longer be overvalued, requires courts to consider possible conflicts with complex insider trading and corporate disclosure laws. Courts confronted with such claims must also consider whether the complaint has plausibly alleged that a prudent fiduciary in the same position could not have concluded that stopping purchases or publicly disclosing negative information would do more harm than good to the fund. View "Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer" on Justia Law

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Investors can recover damages in a private securities fraud action only with proof that they relied on misrepresentation in deciding to buy or sell stock. The Supreme Court held, in "Basic," that the requirement could be met by invoking a presumption that the price of stock traded in an efficient market reflects all public, material information, including material misrepresentations; a defendant can rebut the presumption by showing that the alleged misrepresentation did not actually affect the stock price. EPJ filed a putative class action, alleging misrepresentations designed to inflate Halliburton’s stock price, in violation of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and SEC Rule 10b–5. The Supreme Court vacated denial of class certification, concluding that securities fraud plaintiffs need not prove causal connection between the alleged misrepresentations and their economic losses at the class certification stage. On remand, Halliburton argued that certification was nonetheless inappropriate because it had shown that alleged misrepresentations had not affected stock price. Without that presumption, investors would have to prove reliance on an individual basis, so that individual issues would predominate over common ones and class certification was inappropriate under FRCP 23(b)(3). The district court certified the class. The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated and remanded, while declining to reject the Basic presumption. The Court rejected arguments that “a robust view of market efficiency” is no longer tenable in light of evidence that material, public information often is not quickly incorporated into stock prices and that investors do not invest in reliance on the integrity of market price. Congress could alter Basic’s presumption, given recent decisions construing Rule 10b–5 claims, but has not done so, although it has responded to other concerns. The Basic doctrine includes two presumptions: if a plaintiff shows that the misrepresentation was public and material and that the stock traded in a generally efficient market, there is a presumption that the misrepresentation affected price. If the plaintiff also shows that he purchased stock at market price during the relevant period, there is a presumption that he purchased in reliance on the misrepresentation. Requiring plaintiffs to prove price impact directly would take away the first presumption. Defendants, however, must have an opportunity to rebut the presumption of reliance before class certification with evidence of lack of price impact. That a misrepresentation has price impact is Basic’s fundamental premise and has everything to do with predominance. If reliance is to be shown by that presumption, the publicity and market efficiency prerequisites must be proved before certification. Because indirect evidence of price impact will be before the court at the class certification stage in any event, there is no reason to artificially limit the inquiry at that stage by excluding direct evidence of price impact. View "Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc." on Justia Law