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Posts Tagged ‘securities fraud’

In recent years, academics outside of the United States have made some of the most valuable contributions to the development of legal theory of class actions and other collective litigation.  Here are two examples of recent works by thought leaders in this area:

INDIVIDUAL STANDING IN CLASS ACTIONS (A LEGITIMIDADE DO INDIVÍDUO NAS AÇÕES COLETIVAS)

Author: Larissa Clare Pochmann da Silva (Master in Law in UNESA, Doctorate in Law student at UNESA and Professor of Complex Litigation and Civil Procedure at UCAM – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

Abstract (translated from Portuguese):

Individual Standing in Class Actions offers an important and interesting approach to the question of standing, one of the most important themes relating to the development of Brazilian class actions.

The first part the book summarizes research on foreign law, inquiring into the state of the art of collective protection throughout Latin America (Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Mexico), in the United States and Canada, in the European Union (Germany, France, England and Italy) and in Australia.  Part two offers a comparative analysis of these jurisdictions’ various approaches to standing.

Part three organizes the main objections to representational standing and argues for laws recognizing the standing of individuals to sue in a representative capacity, demonstrating the reasons for its relevance, and the important role to be played by lawyers in class actions.

Finally, the book addresses the question of the participation of the individual from various perspectives, seeking to offer a systematic framework for the standing discussion and proposals for the improvement of collective protection in Brazil.

The result is a work that contributes to the development and strengthening of collective action law in Brazilian and brings a new perspective of modernization and improvement of tools for access to justice and the effectiveness of the process.

Pochmann da Silva’s book is available at http://www.editoragz.com.br/produto.asp?prodId=199.

 

AN ECONOMIC ANALYSIS OF RELIANCE IN MARKET FRAUD AND NEGLIGENT MISREPRESENTATION

Authors: Alon Klement and Yuval Procaccia (Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliyah – Radzyner School of Law, Israel)

Abstract:

A deeply entrenched principle in the law of fraud and negligent misrepresentation provides that damages can be recovered only upon a showing of reliance. To prevail, plaintiffs must not only establish the mere falsity of a statement, but also show that they had acted upon the statement and sustained injury as a consequence.

Despite the intuitive appeal of this principle, this paper argues that the reliance requirement ought to be abandoned. Harm can be caused by a misrepresentation without reliance, and recovery for such loss should not be barred. When a firm misrepresents an attribute of a product, its price in equilibrium typically rises. The inflated price is an injury caused to all consumers, relying and non-relying alike. A rule restricting recovery to only relying consumers results in inadequate deterrence of the firm, which in turn spurs a host of inefficient effects: it may distort allocative efficiency; encourage investments by firms in the production of fraud; induce investments by consumers in self-protection efforts and in detrimental reliance investments; and prompt competing firms to invest excessively in signaling. Furthermore, it undermines deterrence by erecting a substantial barrier to private enforcement through class actions.

While the discussion focuses on consumer markets, it applies more broadly to other markets and other market structures. We explicitly discuss its extension to security markets, in which the requirement has been famously revoked. While the analysis supports existing policy in the domain of primary security markets, it does not do so in the context of secondary markets.

Klement and Procaccia’s article is available for download at SSRN: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2372922

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The Class Actions, Mass Torts and Derivative Suits Subcommittee of the Colorado Bar Association, now ably chaired by my BakerHostetler partner, Casie Collignon, held its first CLE luncheon of the year this past Friday.  The program, United States Supreme Court vs. Class Actions in 2013, featured excellent commentary about the Supreme Court’s 2013 class action decisions by The Honorable Marcia Krieger, Chief Judge, U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, Seth Katz of Burg Simpson, and John Fitzpatrick of Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell.  Here are just a few of the many insightful observations made by each of the speakers:

Judge Krieger opened by observing that none of the cases this term have been a surprise from the standpoint of what a trial court judge would have expected given existing law.  Amgen was predictable because the question of materiality in a securities fraud case is unquestionably a common issue, so it is not surprising that it is a question for trial, not a prerequisite for class certification.  Standard Fire can be viewed as a straightforward application of agency law: a plaintiff cannot bind a class of people that he or she doesn’t yet represent.  Comcast exemplifies the importance of examining the plaintiffs’ theory of liability and the relationship to the theory of loss.  Damages are not the same as loss.  The theory by which the plaintiff establishes loss determines the measure of damages.

When asked to identify any trends that she has been seeing in class actions recently, Judge Krieger identified issue certification as a key trend.  She has been seeing more situations where the factual issues may be individualized but there are common legal issues that can be resolved classwide.  She noted that she has been inclined to grant partial certification limited to the common legal issue(s) in that situation.

From the plaintiffs’ perspective, Katz agreed that the outcome of Standard Fire was not surprising, and he went as far as to say that the outcome was correct, noting that plaintiffs’ attorneys shouldn’t be afraid of the federal courts.  Although the holding of Amgen was favorable to plaintiffs, Katz noted an issue that should be of great concern to plaintiffs, and that is the commentary from the conservative wing of the court suggesting that they might be willing to revisit the fraud-on-the-market presumption adopted in Basic Inc. v. Levinson.  Katz sees the potential of a 4-4 split on that issue, with Chief Justice Roberts being the deciding vote.  He predicts market studies being commissioned by both sides over the coming years to demonstrate or disprove the continued efficiency of the markets.

Comcast, Katz noted, caused a collective sigh of relief in the plaintiffs’ bar because it does not go as far as many would have feared by requiring Daubert hearings at the class certification phase.  He noted that one positive impact for plaintiffs arising from the “death of Eisen” (the rejection in decisions like Wal-Mart and Comcast of the idea that merits questions were off-limits at the class certification phase) is that it gives plaintiffs’ counsel an opportunity to obtain merits discovery much earlier in a case than was allowed previously.  On the other hand, Katz expressed fear about the possibility that the Court is trying to raise the bar for plaintiffs with a subtle change in the language about what common proof is necessary on the issue of damages.  Where earlier decisions required that damages be “susceptible to classwide proof,” the Comcast majority phrased the standard as requiring the plaintiff to “prove classwide damages.”  Katz predicts that defendants will argue that this means damages must be uniform, as opposed to simply being susceptible to formulaic calculation.  He noted, however, that the few lower courts that have interpreted Comcast so far have rejected a broad application of the decision.

Fitzpatrick combined philosophical commentary about the evolution of class actions with some practical tips for defense lawyers.  Standard Fire, he argued, is proof that judicial hellholes still exist.  He pointed to Amgen as an example of the dangers of accepting conventional wisdom, pointing out that the outcome in that case might well have been different if the defendants had stipulated to the existence of an efficient market.

Comcast, Fitzpatrick said, provides an opportunity for defendants to prevail at the class certification stage by discrediting a plaintiffs’ expert.  Focus not just on the opinions themselves, he suggested, but also on 1) the existence of bias; 2) the expert’s credentials, and 3) flaws in the methodology.  Scour the country for transcripts about the plaintiffs’ experts.  Look at misstatements and exaggerations in the expert’s CV.  Make sure you find and read all of their prior statements in books, media, and transcripts.  Just as important, Fitzpatrick reminded defense practitioners, is the make sure to prepare your own experts for class certification.

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The Supreme Court has issued its opinion in one of the most highly anticipated class action-related cases on the docket this term.  The result in Amgen Inc. v. Connecticut Retirement Plans and Trust Funds, No. 11-1085, slip op. (U.S., Feb. 27, 2013) is not surprising given the content and tone of the questioning at oral argument.  In an 6-3 opinion authored by Justice Ginsberg, the Court held that the plaintiff in a securities fraud case based on a fraud-on-the-market theory of reliance does not have to prove materiality of the fraudulent statement or omission at the class certification stage.  Because materiality is a common question capable of resolution simultaneously for the entire class, the majority reasoned, it does not have to be proven at the class certification stage.  Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy dissented.

Amgen is an important decision in the securities fraud context because it addresses the lingering question of whether any special prerequisites exist in certifying a securities fraud class action that aren’t required in certifying other types of class actions.  Like the Supreme Court’s earlier decision in Erica P. John Fund v. Halliburton Co., 131 S. Ct. 2179 (2011), Amgen will probably have an impact beyond the securities fraud context.  In the context of class certification decisions more broadly, the opinion will be almost certainly be cited as clarifying the distinction between issues impacting the elements of class certification, which must be resolved at the class certification phase, and merits issues, which can wait until trial to be resolved.

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I’m pleased to announce that the BakerHostetler Class Action Defense Team has just released its 2012 Year-end Review of Class Actions, a joint project with the firm’s Employment Class Actions, Antitrust, and Data Privacy practice teams.  See below for a synopsis of the project.  Click the link above to access a copy of the report itself:

We are pleased to share with you the BakerHostetler 2012 Year-end Review of Class Actions, which offers a summary of some of the key developments in class action litigation during the past year. Class action litigation continues to persist in all areas of civil litigation despite the Supreme Court’s 2011 decisions in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion and in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, which were seen by many commentators as marking the beginning of the end of class actions as we know them. But while the Supreme Court’s 2011 decisions have had a significant impact on class action litigation, they have not brought about its demise and are not likely to do so anytime soon. In the last two years, we’ve seen landmark decisions and the addition of important judicial gloss to those decisions. 2013 will be no different as the Supreme Court is set to weigh in on a series of key cases this spring.

We hope you find this Review a useful tool as you move forward into the new year. This comprehensive analysis of last year’s developments in class action procedure and jurisdiction, as well as developments by subject matter will hopefully provide context and insight as you look ahead to 2013’s expected trends in class action law, including the proliferation of privacy class action litigation and class action litigation relating to the LIBOR rate-fixing scandal.

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Forbes columnist Daniel Fisher has authored an excellent preview of the three class-action-related cases set to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court this term.  The article, entitled Class-Action Lawyers Face Triple Threat At Supreme Court, previews the issues in each of the three cases and summarizes what’s at stake for class action lawyers.  The article points out that although the three decisions have potential to spell disaster for class action plaintiffs given the conservative majority in the Supreme Court, two of the three class-action-related decisions last term came out in favor of the plaintiffs.  I highly recommend this article, as well as Fisher’s work more generally.

For quick reference, the three cases set for decisions on class action issues this term, and the questions presented for review, are as follows:

Comcast v. Behrend, No. 11-864 – “Whether a district court may certify a class action without resolving whether the plaintiff class has introduced admissible evidence, including expert testimony, to show that the case is susceptible to awarding damages on a class-wide basis.”

Standard Fire Insurance Co. v. Knowles, No. 11-1450 – “When a named plaintiff attempts to defeat a defendant’s right of removal under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 by filing with a class action complaint a ‘stipulation’ that attempts to limit the damages he ‘seeks’ for the absent putative class members to less than the $5 million threshold for federal jurisdiction, and the defendant establishes that the actual amount in controversy, absent the ‘stipulation,’ exceeds $5 million, is the ‘stipulation’ binding on absent class members so as to destroy federal jurisdiction?”

Amgen Inc. v. Connecticut Retirement Plans, No. 11-1085 – “1. Whether, in a misrepresentation case under SEC Rule 10b-5, the district court must require proof of materiality before certifying a plaintiff class based on the fraud-on-the-market theory.  2. Whether, in such a case, the district court must allow the defendant to present evidence rebutting the applicability of the fraud-on-the-market theory before certifying a plaintiff class based on that theory.”

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The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari today in Amgen Inc. v. Connecticut Retirement Plans and Trust Funds, No. 11-1085, to address the requirements for certifying a securities class action based on the “fraud-on-the-market” theory of reliance.  The “fraud-on-the-market” theory involves allegations that public misrepresentations or omissions adversely affected the market price of a stock causing losses to an entire class of investors whether or not they individually relied on the information.  The theory can alleviate a common barrier to class certification, the need to prove individual reliance on alleged fraud.  As summarized by the folks at SCOTUS blog, the issues accepted for review are as follows:

(1) Whether, in a misrepresentation case under Securities and Exchange Commission Rule 10b-5, the district court must require proof of materiality before certifying a plaintiff class based on the fraud-on-the-market theory; and (2) whether, in such a case, the district court must allow the defendant to present evidence rebutting the applicability of the fraud-on-the-market theory before certifying a plaintiff class based on that theory. (Breyer, J., recused)

Amgen comes close on the heels of the Court’s decision last term in Erica P. John Fund Inc. v. Halliburton Co., in which a unanimous Court overturned a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the plaintiff in a securities class action brough under the fraud-on-the-market theory must prove loss causation at the class certification phase.  While the Court in Erica P. John Fund held that proof of the element of loss causation on the merits could not be required as a precondition of class certification, it was not presented with the question of what proof is needed at the class certification phase to support the application of the fraud-on-the-market doctrine itself.

The case will be heard in the October 2012 Supreme Court term.

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According to Deborah Mao in this article published today on businessweek.com, regulators for the city of Hong Kong has proposed new legislation that would permit representative actions for certain consumer class actions.  The legislation is reportedly a response, at least in part, to concerns about the difficulty of shareholders to seek collective redress for alleged acts of securities fraud, although the new law would not initial apply to securities fraud claims. 

The legislation would likely provide for class actions to be financed through a public legal aid program rather than through contingency fees, as is typically the case in the United States.  The proposal is still in the early stages, and specific legislation remains to be “drafted and introduced,” according to an official quoted in the article.

We’ll keep an eye on future developments relating to the proposed legislation.  Stay tuned…

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A few weeks ago, I posted a link to a Cornerstone Research report concluding that securities class action settlements were at a 10-year low.  Yesterday, securities litigators Daniel Tyukody and Gerald Silk posted an article in the New York Times DealBook blog entitled Understanding the Dip in Class-Action Securities Settlements with some insights explaining the downturn.  Among the explanations are lower starting inventory, the added size and complexity of credit crisis-related lawsuits, increased legislative and judicial scrutiny over securities class actions, and a decline of financial restatements by companies.  The article is a must read for anyone interested in understanding US securities class action trends.

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The Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision last week that confirms that there are still situations where primarily foreign securities fraud disputes may be litigated as class actions in the United States courts.  The decision explores the contours of the US Supreme Court’s holding in Morrison v. National Australia Bank Ltd., 130 S. Ct. 2869 (2010) that § 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 does not have an extraterritorial reach.  Here’s a link to the opinion, courtesy of the New York Law Journal: Absolute Activist Value Master Fund Ltd. v. Ficeto, No. 11-0221-cv (2d Cir., March 1, 2012).

Morrison recognized two situations in which a securities fraud claim would be sufficiently domestic in nature to be governed by § 10(b) and SEC Rule 10b-5.  The first, not at issue in Absolute Activist, is where the security is traded on a US exchange.  Absolute Activist addresses the second situation, which involves “domestic transactions in other securities.”  The Second Circuit’s test for whether transactions are domestic is whether “irrevocable liability is incurred or title passes within the United States.”  In simpler terms, if the parties become bound to effectuate the transaction in the United States, the transaction is a domestic one, but the transaction could also be domestic if title to the securities passes within in the United States, even if the parties became bound elsewhere.  In reaching this conclusion, the panel rejected several other tests proposed by the parties, including tests proposed by the plaintiff that would have looked to the location of the broker-dealer or to whether the security was issued by a US company or was registered with the SEC, and tests proposed by defendants that would look to the place of residence of both the buyer and seller in the transaction or to whether a given defendant committed some affirmative act within the United States.

Unfortunately, given the fact-intensive nature of the test articulated by the Second Circuit panel, the decision leaves open the question of what specific facts might be sufficient to establish that irrevocable liability was incurred or title transferred within the United States.  The panel held that the facts in the complaint were not sufficient to meet either requirement, but remanded with instructions to allow leave to amend.  However, the opinion does offer some insight into what might be sufficient.  In concluding that leave to amend would not be futile, the court held pointed to representations made by counsel at oral argument that there existed “trading records, private placement offering memoranda, and other documents indicating that the purchases became irrevocable upon payment and that payment was made through Hunter in the United States.”

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David H. Kaye, Distinguished Professor of Law and Weiss Family Faculty Scholar at the Penn State School of Law, recently published a fascinating commentary in the BNA Insights section of the BNA Product Safety & Liability and Class Action Reporters, entitled Trapped in the Matrixx: The U.S. Supreme Court And the Need for Statistical Significance.  In the article, Professor Kaye applies his vast expertise in the areas of scientific evidence and statistics in the law to add some color to the U.S. Supreme Court’s March 2011 decision in the securities class action Matrixx Initiatives, Inc. v. Siracusano

For those not familiar with Matrixx, the case involved allegations that the makers of the cold remedy product, Zicam, withheld information from investors suggesting that the product may cause a condition called anosmia, or loss of smell.  At the risk of oversimplifying, the holding of Justice Sotomayor’s unanimous opinion can generally be summarized as follows: in a securities fraud action arising out of an alleged failure to disclose information about a possible causal link between a product and negative health effects, the plaintiff need not allege that the omitted information showed a statistically significant probability that the product causes the ill effects in order to establish that the information was material.  The decision reaffirms the applicability of the reasonable investor standard for materiality announced in Basic Inc. v. Levinson, which looks to whether the omitted information would have “significantly altered the ‘total mix’ of information made available” to investors. 

Thus, Matrixx eschews a bright-line rule (statistical significance) in favor of a more flexible “reasonable investor” standard.  Professor Kaye does not take issue with the Court’s rejection of a bright line rule requiring a plaintiff to plead (and ultimately, prove) statistical significance of omitted information in the securities context.  Instead, he is critical of the Court’s failure to articulate in better detail the technical shortcomings of using statistical significance as a bright-line rule, and he cautions against interpreting Matrixx as suggesting that something less than statistical significance would be appropriate to prove a causal link between a product and disease in other contexts.  In other words, it is one thing to say that the causal link does not have to be statistically significant in order for information about an association between the product and disease to be meaningful to investors or consumers.  It is another thing to say that statistical significance is unimportant when it is necessary to actually show evidence of a causal link itself, such as in the toxic tort context.

Although I followed and generally agreed with Professor Kaye’s article from a legal perspective, there were some technical concepts discussed in the article that were admittedly a bit over my head.  Fortunately, I knew just who to ask for more insight, having recently worked with Justin Hopson of Hitachi Consulting on two CLE presentations discussing the use of statistics in class actions.  Here are some of Justin’s observations after reading the article:

  • The article is well-written.  Professor Kaye would make a good expert witness.
  • Kaye identifies studies showing that zinc sulfate caused anosmia.  He does not comment on zinc acetate, nor zinc gluconate, the active ingredients in Zicam.  It sounds like the causal link may have been known, and available to use.  So, this was not a case about “arbitrary statistics.”  Instead, the issue had to do with the measurement of an understood, causal relationship.
  • Kaye describes the standard applied in Matrixx as looking to whether a reasonable investor would find the omitted information “sufficiently extensive and disturbing” to induce him to make a different investment decision.  Nonlawyer experts may be tempted to ask for a formulaic definition for this phrase, and it may not be obvious without explanation that the standard would leave the question about what is “sufficiently extensive and disturbing” to the factfinder.
  • Kaye talks about the historical treatment of .05 as the threshold “significance level” that makes something statistically significant.  I’ve often thought of “significance level” associated with the relative degress of the “risks”.  If the risk of being wrong is death, then is 1-in-20 OK?  You really have to think through: What does Type I and Type II error look like in my experiment?  What are the implications?
  • If one were really attempting to compute the potential causal connection between Zicam and anosmia, it might help to understand why the FDA suggested a background rate in “all cold remedies”.  If the causality is related to zinc sulfate, then isn’t that the common population?
  • The point that the 0.05 “convention” is somewhat arbitrary is an important one.  Kaye observes that “[a] useful rule of complaint drafting must avoid inquiries into the soundness of expert judgments about the population, the test statistic, and the model.”  Hmm…so how do we get a useful rule if you cannot attack the fundamentals?  Indeed, Kaye’s next point is that Bayesian analysis should be used sometimes.  All inferential statistics have assumptions, and any appropriate standard of pleading or proof should be flexible enough to allow the opposing lawyer to challenge every single assumption. 
  • The observation that “the p-value, by itself, cannot be converted into a probability that the alternative hypothesis is true” is also very important.  This is a common misunderstanding in beginning stats because we teach, “I fail to reject the null hypothesis.  Or I reject the null, and accept the alternative hypothesis.”  It becomes very important to correctly specify null/alternative in exhaustive and exclusive terms.  Otherwise some other non-specified conclusion should be reached.
  • The one thing I might challenge is the assertion that adverse event reports (AERs) are “haphazardly collected data”.  I’m not sure why Kaye chose this phrase.  The AERs should be observations.  It is only their cause that is in doubt.  It is not their function to establish the causal link.  Instead, the link would have to be established with other data, such as through a clinical trial using a well-organized data collection process.

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