Last week, proxy advisory firm Institutional Shareholders Services (“ISS”) published its semi-annual report of the top 100 U.S. securities class action settlements and top 50 SEC settlements of all time, as of December 31, 2016. The report adds thirteen new class action settlements from last year – making 2016 the most represented year in the report’s settlement rankings – along with two new top SEC settlements.
The ISS report ranks, among other things, the top 100 shareholder class action settlements ever reached in the U.S. for actions filed on or after January 1, 1996, when the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act was implemented. ISS’s June 2017 report reflects that there were 137 court-approved securities class action settlements in the US in 2016, remaining steady with 2015. Notably, however, 13 of the 137 class action settlements were among the top 100 shareholder class action settlements, resulting in a total approved settlement fund of over $5.6 billion, the largest in a single year. The largest of these 13 settlements was in Lawrence E. Jaffe Pension Plan v. Household International, Inc., et al., Case No. 02-CV-05893 (N.D. Ill.), which was based on claims of fraudulent misrepresentations concerning allegedly illegal sales techniques, predatory lending practices, and accounting manipulations. In December 2016, the Northern District of Illinois approved a final settlement fund of $1.58 billion, resulting in the seventh largest securities class action settlement in U.S. history. READ MORE
On April 16, 2013, Judge Victor Marrero conditionally approved a $600 million consent judgment between the SEC and CR Intrinsic Investors LLC (“CR”) where CR “neither admitted nor denied” the allegations brought against it. The settlement was on the heels of a highly publicized investigation and lawsuit regarding CR’s purported insider trading scheme involving S.A.C. Capital Advisors and former S.A.C. trader Mathew Martoma. Despite finding the proposed injunctive and monetary relief “fair, adequate, and reasonable, and in the public interest,” Judge Marrero questioned the appropriateness of the “neither admit nor deny” provisions because of the extraordinary public and private harm caused by CR’s alleged wrongful conduct.
Approval of the CR settlement was conditioned upon the outcome of the pending Second Circuit appeal in S.E.C. v. Citigroup Global Markets, Inc., 11-cv-5227 (2d Cir.). In Citigroup, Judge Rakoff (of the Southern District of New York) denied approval of the SEC’s proposed settlement of fraud charges against Citigroup. Rakoff’s opinion harshly critiqued the agency’s use of “no admission” settlements as imposing “substantial relief on the basis of mere allegations.” He questioned whether “no admission” settlements could be properly judged when the Court did not know the relevant facts and therefore “lack[ed] a framework for determining adequacy.” Both Citigroup and the SEC appealed Rakoff’s decision to the Second Circuit, where the decision remains pending. READ MORE
It has been over three years since the SEC filed its insider trading charges against Galleon Management and Raj Rajaratnam. When that complaint was filed, the Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, Robert Khuzami promised to “roll back the curtain” and “look at patterns across all markets” for illegal insider trading. Last month, Mr. Khuzami echoed those remarks when he announced that the SEC had filed its largest-ever insider trading case and warned “would-be insider traders” that the SEC is “here to stay.”
In that case, SEC v. CR Intrinsic Investors, LLC, the SEC alleges that a group of hedge funds and their managers made $276 million in illicit profits by improperly trading on insider information about pharmaceutical clinical trial results. One of the defendants, a medical consultant for an “expert network” firm who allegedly provided the inside information on which the trades were based, entered into a settlement with the SEC and a non-prosecution agreement with the Department of Justice. The case against the portfolio manager who allegedly made the trades, and the investment adviser with whom he was affiliated, is ongoing.
Last week, the SEC filed yet another insider trading complaint, this time against ten individuals who made stock trades in advance of four merger and acquisition transactions. In SEC v. Femenia, the SEC claims to have identified a “massive, serial insider trading scheme obtaining at least $11 million in illicit trading profits” centered around a former investment banker who misappropriated the information and “tipped” his personal friends about the upcoming deals. According to the SEC, those personal friends (who are also defendants in the case) traded on the information and paid a portion of their profits to the investment banker. In some instances, the information was even “tipped” a second time to friends and family members of the original “tippee.”
According to the SEC’s statistics, it has brought 58 enforcement actions for insider trading in 2012, the second-highest total in the last ten years and the most in any year since 2008. Those numbers confirm that the SEC really is “here to stay” on insider trading.