Malfeasance by a corporate insider against his company has the potential to leave a gaping wound. Facing a securities lawsuit due to that malfeasance is like salt in that wound. Corporations targeted with such lawsuits have turned to the adverse interest exception to try to protect themselves from further liability stemming from the rogue executive’s wrongdoing. But on October 23, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a precedent-setting decision rendering that salve unavailable. In In re ChinaCast Education Corp. Securities Litigation, the court held that under the federal securities laws, an executive’s scienter is imputed to the corporation where he “acted with apparent authority on behalf of the corporation, which placed him in a position of trust and confidence and controlled the level of oversight of his handling of the business.” Slip op. at 4.
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.
A lack of sweaty models trying on yoga pants may be problematic, but does it give rise to securities fraud? Not in the Southern District of New York. In In re lululemon Securities Litigation, decided on April 18, 2014, Judge Katherine B. Forrest dismissed in its entirety a class action complaint against lululemon based on sheer yoga pants alleging violations of Section 10(b) and Section 20(a) of the Exchange Act and SEC Rule 10b-5. As summarized by the court, lead plaintiff alleged, “if only lululemon had someone try on its black luon yoga pants before they shipped, it would have realized they were sheer; similarly, if lulumeon had only had someone exercise in certain athletic wear (enough to produce sweat), it would have realized that the colors bled.” Based on these purported shortcomings, plaintiff alleged that statements touting the high quality of the company’s products were materially false and misleading. The court, however, disagreed: “This narrative requires the Court to stretch allegations of, at most, corporate mismanagement into actionable federal securities fraud. This is not the law.” READ MORE
Can a securities plaintiff satisfy Section 11 of the Securities Act simply by alleging that a statement of opinion was objectively false, or must the plaintiff also allege that the speaker subjectively knew the statement was false when it was made? That is the question taken up by the Supreme Court earlier this month when it granted certiorari in Omnicare, Inc. v. The Laborers District Council Construction Industry Pension Fund and the Cement Masons Local 526 Combined Funds. As we previously discussed, the Sixth Circuit decision on appeal runs contrary to decisions in the Second and Ninth Circuits, so all eyes are on the Court to settle the debate. READ MORE
On May 28, 2013, in Delshah Group LLC v. Javeri, a rare securities trial regarding credit-crisis related claims, Judge Katherine B. Forrest of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York issued an order directing a complete defense judgment following a two-week bench trial. The decision includes a noteworthy discussion and analysis of loss causation in the context of credit crisis litigation—directly applicable to pending cases under Sections 10, 11 and 12—and highlights a tension between the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act and longstanding securities law when it comes to proving culpable intent.
The case arose from a real estate investment gone bad. In March of 2007, plaintiff purchased interests in a venture called 40 Broad Street Project. That project sought to make a return on converting commercial real estate space into condominiums and thus take advantage of the rapidly rising value of condos in New York City. Plaintiffs claimed that defendant misrepresented how far along the building project was, whether it was under budget, and how much “skin in the game” defendants had in the project. When the credit crisis hit and the real estate market collapsed, plaintiff lost substantial sums on its investment and claimed the above misstatements were its cause. READ MORE
On April 8, 2013, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin of the Southern District of New York granted auditor Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu CPA’s (“DTTC”) motion to dismiss a shareholder class action, finding that plaintiffs failed to sufficiently allege scienter or any misstatements by DTTC pursuant Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5 of the Securities Exchange Act. Plaintiffs alleged that DTTC issued unqualified audit opinions on behalf of its client Longtop from 2009 to 2011. During that period, Longtop reported very strong financial results, which were later revealed to be fraudulently inflated.
In May 2011, DTTC released a public letter of resignation as Longtop’s auditor, disclosing that its second round of bank confirmations were cut short by Longtop’s deliberate interference, that Longtop’s CEO admitted the company’s books were fraudulent, and that DTTC had resigned due to that admission and Longtop’s deliberate interference with its audit. As a result, the NYSE stopped trading on Longtop’s securities and delisted the company.
In dismissing shareholder claims against DTTC, the court applied the stringent test for plaintiffs to meet when alleging scienter against an auditor. Because “an outside auditor will typically not have an apparent motive to commit fraud, and its duty to monitor an audited company for fraud is less demanding than the company’s duty not to commit fraud,” an auditor’s mere failure to identify problems with a company’s internal controls and accounting practices will not constitute recklessness. READ MORE
Plaintiffs’ counsel beware: to avoid Rule 11 sanctions you might actually have to talk to “confidential witnesses” yourself and corroborate their statements before citing them in a securities fraud complaint.
That is one major takeaway from the Seventh Circuit’s March 26, 2013 opinion in City of Livonia Employees’ Retirement System v. The Boeing Company, et al. In that case, Judge Posner singled out plaintiffs’ counsel for making “confident assurances in their complaints about a confidential source . . . even though none of the lawyers had spoken to the source and their investigator had acknowledged that she couldn’t verify what (according to her) he had told her.” Slip op. at 16. Citing multiple cases in which the same firm, Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP, had “engaged in similar misconduct” and noting that “recidivism is relevant in assessing sanctions,” Judge Posner remanded to the district court for further proceedings on Rule 11 sanctions.
The appeal came from the district court’s grant of a renewed motion to dismiss in Boeing’s favor after discovery into the CW’s statement revealed significant inconsistencies with the complaint’s allegations. The allegations, briefly, were that Boeing made false statements about the progress of Boeing’s flagship aircraft, the Dreamliner. In April and May 2009, with the Dreamliner’s maiden test flight (or “First Flight”) scheduled for June 30, 2009, the Dreamliner failed several “stress tests” that raised doubts about the First Flight’s timing. Boeing remained optimistic about the scheduled First Flight, though, and made disclosures to that effect in May and June. But one week before the anticipated First Flight, the Company disclosed that it had failed the tests and that the First Flight had been canceled, delaying final delivery of the plane to customers. Following the disclosure, Boeing’s stock price fell 10% over two days of trading.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has revived a federal securities class action against Grant Thornton LLP regarding its unqualified 1999 audit opinion indicating that Winstar Communications Inc.’s 1999 financial statements was in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles. The Second Circuit’s opinion is notable because it finds that, despite an apparently thorough audit (in terms of hours spent and documents reviewed) a fact finder could still find enough evidence of a conscious disregard of signs of fraud to support an inference of recklessness. In other words, even where an auditor does a significant amount of work on an audit, such work will not necessarily immunize the auditor from securities claims. READ MORE