Supreme Court Sets Two Year Limit for Section 16(a) Insider Trading Claims

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.