On December 16, 2014, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the U.S. District Court of Arizona’s dismissal of a Section 10(b) class action against Apollo Education Group, Inc., a for-profit education company, and several of its officers and directors. In doing so, the Ninth Circuit held that the heightened pleading standard of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 9(b) applies to all elements of a securities fraud action, including loss causation.
Securities fraud actions are often filed on the heels of an announcement of an internal or SEC investigation. A recent Ninth Circuit decision, Loos v. Immersion Corp., may make it easier for company executives to sleep at night following such an announcement. The Ninth Circuit has joined a growing number of circuits holding that the announcement of an internal investigation, standing alone, is insufficient to show loss causation at the pleading stage. Read More
The Ninth Circuit recently reversed a ruling by the U.S. District Court of Nevada granting summary judgment in favor of the SEC in a case alleging violations of Section 5 of the Securities Act of 1933 in connection with the sale of unregistered securities. The SEC’s complaint alleged that 1st Global Stock Transfer LLC (“Global”), a transfer agent, and Global’s owner, Helen Bagley (collectively “Defendants”), assisted in the sale of unregistered securities for CMKM Diamonds, Inc. (“CMKM”), a purported diamond and gold mining company. The SEC’s complaint further alleged that CMKM had no legitimate business operations but instead the Company concocted false press releases and distributed fake maps and videos of mineral operations to its investors. While CMKM was one of several defendants in the action, the SEC only moved for summary judgment against Global, Bagley, and CMKM’s attorney. The District Court granted the SEC’s motion for summary judgment against the three defendants, but only Global and Bagley appealed that ruling.
In perpetrating the scheme, CMKM’s attorney was alleged to have provided hundreds of false opinion letters supporting the issuance of unregistered stock without restrictive legends to indicate that the stock was unregistered. Relying on these opinion letters, Global and Bagley issued additional CMKM stock without restrictive legends, believing that the issuance was legal. After a year and a half of this practice, Bagley became suspicious and asked a second law firm to confirm the opinion letters. The second law firm, however, relied on the first attorney’s opinion letters and also issued an opinion letter stating that the issuance of additional CMKM stock was valid. Based on the additional opinion letter, Global and Bagley continued to issue CMKM shares without restrictive legends. Read More
The Sixth Circuit recently made it easier for plaintiffs to bring securities suits brought under Section 11 of the Securities Act of 1933. In a recent ruling in Indiana State Dist. Council v. Omnicare, Inc., No. 12-5287 (6th Cir. May 23, 2013), the court of appeals revived a purported class action lawsuit against Omnicare. The suit, which had been dismissed by the District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, alleged that Omnicare artificially inflated its stock price by failing to disclose a kickback scheme in its registration statement.
The Sixth Circuit (which covers Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, and Michigan), held that the shareholders did not have to allege that the defendant executives knew that statements were false at the time they were made. In a unanimous opinion, Judges Cole, Griffin, and Gwin reasoned that Section 11 imposes strict liability for misstatements made in offering documents – whether or not the executive “making” the statement knew them to be false at the time they were made. The panel expressly refused to extend the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Virginia Bankshares v. Sandberg, 501 U.S. 1083 (1991) (which requires plaintiffs to allege both objective and subjective falsity to pursue a Section 14(a) claim) to Section 11 claims. This ruling will likely embolden plaintiffs to bring Section 11 claims in the Sixth Circuit. Read More
Agreeing to take up yet another securities case, the Supreme Court granted cert on January 18 in three related appeals arising out of the alleged multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme involving R. Allen Stanford’s Stanford International Bank. The Court’s decision in this case will likely resolve a circuit split over the scope of the preclusion provision of the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act (SLUSA).
Congress passed SLUSA in 1998 because plaintiffs were bringing class actions in state court to get around the tough pleading standards and other limitations imposed by the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. SLUSA precludes state law class actions involving misrepresentations made “in connection with” the purchase or sale of a security covered under SLUSA. Lower courts have struggled with the meaning of those three words: “in connection with.” If a state court case has anything at all to do with securities, will it fail?How closely must a claim relate to the sale of covered securities before SLUSA bars state law remedies? The Supreme Court is about to weigh in on these questions.
In the Stanford ponzi scheme cases, the plaintiffs are investors who purchased CDs issued by Stanford International Bank. The investors asserted claims against third-party advisors (including law firms and an insurance broker) under Texas and Louisiana law, alleging that the investors were duped into believing the CDs were backed by safe securities. Although the CDs themselves were not securities covered by SLUSA, the third-party advisors argued that SLUSA nevertheless barred the state law claims because the alleged misrepresentations related to the SLUSA-covered securities that purportedly backed the CDs. The district court agreed, dismissing the actions. But the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court, holding that the alleged fraudulent scheme was only “tangentially related” to the trading of securities covered by SLUSA. The Fifth Circuit agreed with the Ninth Circuit that misrepresentations are not made “in connection with” sales of SLUSA-covered securities when they are only “tangentially related” to those sales. This means the Fifth and Ninth Circuits are at odds with the Second, Sixth, and Eleventh Circuits, which have all adopted broader views of SLUSA’s preclusion provision.
The third-party advisor defendants asked the Supreme Court to resolve the split, and the Supreme Court agreed, given that the circuit split threatensinconsistent outcomes in some of the biggest, mostcomplex, and multi-layered securities cases. The Court’s resolution will likely go a long way towards defining the role of state courts in adjudicating important class actions relating to securities issues.
The Supreme Court will hear Amgen’s appeal in Amgen v. Connecticut Retirement Plans in the upcoming October term, the Court announced on Monday June 11. The lawsuit against Amgen alleges that the biotech company made misrepresentations about the safety of two anti-anemia drugs for US FDA-approved uses. In certifying the class, the Ninth Circuit held that plaintiff only needed to plausibly allege that Amgen’s misrepresentations were material based on a fraud-on-the-market theory for the class to be certified. Amgen’s appeal claims the district court must both require proof of materiality and allow Amgen to present evidence rebutting the fraud-on-the-market theory before certifying the class.
On May 15, 2012, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the district court finding in favor of the Securities Exchange Commission (“SEC”) on allegations that Carl Jasper, the former Chief Financial Officer of Maxim Integrated Products, Inc., violated various provisions of the securities laws in connection with the company’s stock options backdating scheme. SEC v. Jasper, Case No. 10-17064 (9th Cir. May 15, 2012). The court found that for ten consecutive quarters, Maxim granted backdated options with an exercise price equal to the lowest price of Maxim stock for each quarter. Read More
The United States Supreme Court held on March 26th that the two-year statute limitation for Section 16 insider trading begins to run as the fraudulent trade is or should have been discovered by a shareholder plaintiff. See Credit Suisse Securities LLC et al v. Simmonds. This decision was yet another rebuke to the Ninth Circuit, which had previously held that the limitations period for a Section 16(b) claim could be tolled until the insider actually discloses his or her improper trade to the SEC and shareholders.
Defendant underwriters challenged the Ninth Circuit’s holding, calling it contrary to language of Section 16(b) that indicates the limitation period should begin to run as soon as an insider makes a profit from an illegal short-swing trade. In an unanimous decision penned by Justice Scalia, the Court agreed, noting that if the filing of a Section 16(a) disclosure statement were necessary for Section 16(b) liability to attach, company insiders and underwriters who failed to file a 16(a) disclosure would forever face the possibility of claims under 16(b). The Court held that “the potential for such endless tolling in cases in which a reasonably diligent plaintiff would know of the facts underlying the action is out of step with the purpose of limitations periods in general.” The Court did not reach the larger question of whether Section 16(a) are subject to any equitable tolling and thus remanded the case to the Ninth Circuit for further consideration.
The Credit Suisse case is notable because it was one of 55 nearly identical actions filed over ten days in October 2007 by Vanessa Simmonds, then a 22-year old college student. The cases all alleged Section 16(b) claims against the underwriters and other financial institutions who had participated in IPO’s during the late 1990’s and 2000.