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Posts Tagged ‘10b’

NOTE: The following is a copy of a post that I did for the recently-released Baker Hostetler Class Action Lawsuit Defense Blog. Be sure to check out the new blog for other fantastic class-action-related content!

Globalization has brought with it the growing problem of how to deal with mass disputes that transcend jurisdictional boundaries, as well as ever-increasing creativity among the members of the plaintiffs’ bar in bringing ever-larger class and mass actions. There is no single global court or other forum for bringing international or cross-border civil disputes, let alone disputes that involve allegations of mass harm. One of the key challenges for lawyers, policymakers, consumers, and businesses in the 21st century is how to efficiently resolve international mass disputes given the realities of globalization and the lack of any clear forum.

From the late 1990s through the first decade of this century, there were several trends favoring the U.S. courts as a global forum for litigating international disputes. However, recently, that trend has reversed, and the U.S. courts are becoming increasingly reluctant to entertain international class action litigation.

One of the hottest trends in securities litigation in the latter part of the last decade was what became known as foreign-cubed (or “f-cubed”) class actions, securities fraud class actions filed on behalf of foreign investors against foreign companies involving securities traded on a foreign exchange. The trend came to an abrupt halt, however, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Morrison v. National Australia Bank Ltd., 130 S. Ct. 2869 (2010), holding that section 10(b) of the Securities and Exchange Act does not have an extraterritorial reach and only applies to securities traded on a U.S. exchange or other transactions that occurs within a U.S. state or territory. Although lower court decisions following Morrison, including a recent Second Circuit Court of Appeals decision, may breathe some life back into the idea of litigating a small subset of primarily foreign securities disputes in the U.S. federal courts, Morrison has generally closed the U.S. courts to foreign-cubed class actions.

Another promising avenue for litigating global mass disputes was international arbitration. A developing strategy was for plaintiffs who had signed form arbitration agreements to seek to compel arbitration on behalf of both themselves and others who had signed the same form of agreement. (Several arbitration associations have implemented specific rules for how class arbitrations should be conducted. Here is a link to the AAA Supplemental Rules for Class Arbitration). The Supreme Court put an end to this strategy when it decided the international price-fixing case, Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 130 S. Ct. 1758 (2010). In Stolt-Nielsen, the Court held that a party to an arbitration agreement could not compel class-wide arbitration unless the parties had expressly agreed to allow class, rather than individual, arbitration.

In the human rights area, the U.S. Alien Tort Claims Act has increasingly been used as a tool to litigate international disputes involving alleged violations of international law over the past two decades. Several circuit courts of Appeals have even allowed actions under the ATCA to be brought against private corporations, under the theory that those corporations aided and abetted a foreign government or foreign official in committing human rights abuses. However, the Circuits split on the issue, and the Supreme Court accepted certiorari to resolve the split in the case of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, No. 10-1491. Following an oral argument held last month, the Supreme Court issued an order directing the parties to submit supplemental briefing to address the extent to which the ATCA should permit the exercise of extraterritorial jurisdiction at all over acts that took place within a sovereign jurisdiction other than the United States. Questions posed during oral argument, especially by the conservative wing of the Court, suggest skepticism about the allowing U.S. Courts to adjudicate human rights disputes that have nothing to do with the United States.

At the same time that avenues for global mass redress in the U.S. Courts have been closing, doors have been opening in other parts of the world. Class action law continues to develop in Canada and Australia. Israel has a class action procedure that closely mirrors U.S. law. Dozens of other countries in all corners of the world now have procedures allowing at least some form of mass redress. A very recent example is a class action law enacted in Mexico that permits a form of collective litigation that, while quite different from class actions in the United States, provides express mechanisms for seeking collective redress. In 2006, the Netherlands passed a law that allows mass settlements of claims (although it does not provide a procedure for litigating contested class claims), and arguably allows residents of other EU countries to be included. In other countries, the lack of a specific class or collective action procedure has not kept courts from fashioning remedies for mass redress.

The continuing lack of a single global forum for litigating mass disputes and the proliferation of new procedures permitting collective litigation abroad, are likely to have at least one near term practical impact. That is, the development of areas of law dealing with the enforcement of foreign class or collective action judgments. This has already become a reality in a huge environmental contamination case involving the drilling operations of a formal Chevron subsidiary in Ecuador. In 2010, a court in Ecuador entered an $18 million judgment in the case, and proceedings are ongoing in both the U.S. courts and in international arbitration proceedings relating to the enforceability of the judgment.

In a related vein, U.S. courts increasingly find themselves adjudicating disputes under 28 U.S.C. § 1782, which allows litigants discovery in the United States for use in connection with foreign proceedings (see this recent Second Circuit Court of Appeals decision interpreting the statute).

What does this all mean for potential litigants in global disputes? For any company or even small business that does business internationally, these developments highlight the necessity of keeping up with the constant changes in local laws as well as international trends. The procedures that might have been applicable, and arguments that might have been persuasive a year before, may no longer be viable, but new avenues and theories will have almost certainly taken their place.

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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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