On June 27, 2016, SEC Administrative Law Judge Carol Fox Foelak dismissed the Division of Enforcement’s charges against IRA custodian Equity Trust Company in connection with the company’s processing of investments marketed by two convicted fraudsters. Judge Foelak’s decision—a complete defense victory for Equity Trust—shows that while the Division of Enforcement may still win most of its cases in administrative proceedings, it doesn’t win them all.
On March 4, 2016, the Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal of two related securities actions against Sanofi Pharmaceuticals, its predecessor Genzyme Corporation, and three company executives (collectively, “Sanofi”). In doing so, the Second Circuit offered its first substantial interpretation of the Supreme Court’s March 2015 decision in Omnicare, Inc. v. Laborers District Council Construction Industry Pension Fund, 135 S. Ct. 1318 (2015), which addresses how plaintiffs can allege securities claims based on statements of opinion.
After the repeated challenges to the SEC’s in-house courts as previously reported, Mark Cuban joined the debate by filing an amicus curiae brief in support of petitioners Raymond J. Lucia Companies, Inc. and Raymond J. Lucia (collectively “Lucia”) in Lucia v. SEC. Cuban, describing himself as a “first-hand witness to and victim of SEC overreach” in a 2013 insider trading case brought against him in an SEC court, argued that the D.C. Circuit should grant the petitioners’ appeal because SEC in-house judges are unconstitutionally appointed.
On March 24, 2015, the Supreme Court issued its much anticipated decision in Omnicare, Inc. v. Laborers District Council Construction Industry Pension Fund, No. 13-435, 2015 WL 1291916 (Mar. 24, 2015). With some significant caveats (discussed below), the decision is largely protective of issuers: it enshrines the distinction between “opinions” and “facts,” and generally makes it difficult to hold issuers liable for securities fraud based on statements of opinion.
In brief, the Court held that issuers that include opinions in a registration statement may be liable under Section 11 of the Securities Act of 1933 (the “Securities Act”) for making an untrue statement of fact only when the issuer does not subjectively believe the stated opinion. In so holding, the Court rejected the Sixth Circuit’s view that an honestly-held opinion that was at the time or later proved to be untrue could subject the issuer to liability. As the Court put it, Section 11 “is not, as the Court of Appeals and the [plaintiffs] would have it, an invitation to Monday morning quarterback an issuer’s opinions.”
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
In a precedent setting decision, the Ninth Circuit affirmed dismissal of a putative class action in In re Century Aluminum Co. Securities Litigation, significantly raising the pleading bar in Section 11 cases. Plaintiffs alleged that Century Aluminum and its underwriters, Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley, issued false and misleading statements in connection with a secondary offering. The Ninth Circuit applied the Twombly/Iqbal “plausibility” standard, holding that those decisions no longer make it possible for plaintiffs to simply allege without plausible supporting facts that their shares can be “traced” back to a secondary offering. The court’s decision in Century Aluminum may mean that Ninth Circuit plaintiffs filing suit under Section 11 who rely on aftermarket purchases, and cannot otherwise plead plausible facts they purchased in the secondary offering itself, face a near impossible uphill battle at the pleading stage when alleging tracing.
Section 11 provides a remedy to shareholders who purchase securities under “a materially false or misleading registration statement.” When shares are issued under only one such registration statement, this tracing requirement is not a problem. However, when shares are issued under multiple registration statements, tracing back to the allegedly misleading registration statement can be extremely difficult. The court acknowledged that tracing to a secondary offering is “often impossible,” but noted that the tracing requirement “is the condition Congress has imposed for granting access to the ‘relaxed liability requirements’ that Section 11 affords.”
Century Aluminum issued 49 million shares in an Initial Public Offering that were already trading when plaintiffs purchased their shares. In a prospectus supplement on January 28, 2009, an additional 25 million shares entered the market. Plaintiffs alleged they had standing to pursue a Section 11 claim because they “purchased Century Aluminum Common Stock directly traceable to the Company’s Secondary Offering.” In support of their tracing theory, plaintiffs argued that their shares were purchased on dates that showed sharp spikes in trading activity, indicating the flood of new shares as a result of the allegedly misleading prospectus supplement. READ MORE