Tag: Securities fraud

New Records in SEC Enforcement Actions

John C. Wander is a partner in the Shareholder Litigation & Enforcement practice at Vinson & Elkins LLP. This post is based on a Vinson & Elkins publication authored by Mr. Wander, Jeffrey S. JohnstonClifford Thau, and Olivia D. Howe.

In late October, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced that under the leadership of chair Mary Jo White and enforcement director Andrew Ceresney, the SEC has continued to ramp up enforcement activity. In its 2015 fiscal year, the SEC reported filing a total of 807 actions for the year—including 507 independent enforcement actions, 168 follow-on actions, and 132 actions for delinquent filings—resulting in $4.19 billion in monetary penalties and disgorgements.

Enforcement Discretion at the SEC

David Zaring is an Associate Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Zaring.

The Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform Act allowed the Securities & Exchange Commission to bring almost any claim that it can file in federal court to its own Administrative Law Judges. The agency has since taken up this power against a panoply of alleged insider traders and other perpetrators of securities fraud. Many targets of SEC ALJ enforcement actions have sued on equal protection, due process, and separation of powers grounds, seeking to require the agency to sue them in court, if at all.

The SEC has vigorously—and, my article argues, correctly—defended its power to choose where it sues. Agencies have always enjoyed unfettered discretion to choose their enforcement targets and their policy making fora. Formal adjudication under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), which is the process SEC ALJs offer, has been with us for decades, and has never before been thought to be unconstitutional in any way. It violates no rights, nor offends the separation of powers; if anything scholars have bemoaned the fact that it offers inefficiently large amounts of process to defendants, administered by insulated civil servants who in no way threaten the president’s control over the executive branch. Nonetheless, because defendants, advised by high profile lawyers, have raised appointments clause, due process, equal protection, and right to a jury trial claims against the agency, the article reviews the reasons why these claims will fail, and discusses the timing issues that have led the two appellate courts to address the claims to dismiss them as prematurely brought.


Omnicare in Action: City of Westland Decision

Aric H. Wu is a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. This post is based on a Gibson Dunn client alert by Mr. Wu and Michael J. Kahn.

When the Supreme Court issued its decision in Omnicare, Inc. v. Laborers District Council Construction Industry Pension Fund, 135 S. Ct. 1318 (2015), plaintiff and defense counsel had warring views on what its practical impact would be, particularly at the motion to dismiss stage of securities class actions brought under Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. A recent decision from the Southern District of New York, City of Westland Police and Fire Retirement System v. MetLife, Inc., 2015 WL 5311196 (S.D.N.Y Sept. 11, 2015) (Kaplan, J.), shows that Omnicare will serve as a meaningful bar to plaintiffs who seek to base federal securities law claims on statements of opinion, but cannot plead sufficient underlying facts.


Individual Accountability for Corporate Wrongdoing

Daniel P. Chung is of counsel in the Washington, D.C. office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. This post is based on a Gibson Dunn publication authored by Mr. Chung, F. Joseph Warin, Charles J. Stevens, and Debra Wong Yang.

On September 9, 2015, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) issued a new policy memorandum, signed by Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, regarding the prosecution of individuals in corporate fraud cases—”Individual Accountability for Corporate Wrongdoing” (“the Yates Memorandum”).

The Yates Memorandum has been heralded as a sign of a new resolve at DOJ, and follows a series of public statements made by DOJ officials indicating that they intend to adopt a more severe posture towards “flesh-and-blood” corporate criminals, not just corporate entities. Furthermore, the Yates Memorandum formalizes six guidelines that are intended “to strengthen [DOJ’s] pursuit of corporate wrongdoing.”

Though much of the Yates Memorandum is not entirely novel, corporations and their executives should take close note of DOJ’s increasing and public focus on individual prosecutions. Additionally, both corporations and DOJ should take note of how the Yates Memorandum may carry a number of consequences—intended and unintended—with respect to cooperation with DOJ investigations.


Federal Court Dismisses Madoff Investors’ Claim

John F. Savarese is a partner in the Litigation Department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton firm memorandum by Mr. Savarese, Stephen R. DiPrimaEmil A. Kleinhaus, and Noah B. Yavitz

In a significant decision addressing claims arising out of Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida has dismissed federal securities and other claims asserted by Madoff investors. Dusek v. JPMorgan Chase & Co., No. 2:14-cv-184 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 17, 2015). The decision applies and enforces key principles of federal securities law that, taken together, limit the scope of liability for financial institutions sued in connection with frauds perpetrated by their customers, especially Ponzi schemes.


Price Impact in Securities Class Actions Post-Halliburton II

Jorge Baez and Dr. Renzo Comolli are Senior Consultants at NERA Economic Consulting. This post is based on a NERA publication authored by Mr. Baez and Dr. Comolli. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Rethinking Basic by Lucian Bebchuk and Allen Ferrell (discussed on the Forum here).

On July 25, 2015, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued the much-anticipated ruling on class certification in Erica P. John Fund, Inc. v. Halliburton Co. The economic analysis of price impact was front and center in the Court’s ruling.

This ruling follows the Supreme Court’s decision on price impact that is widely known as Halliburton II. Although this ruling involves facts that are unique to Halliburton’s particular disclosures, attorneys may look at it as a roadmap for guiding economic analysis of price impact in future cases in the post-Halliburton II world.


Securities Class Action Filings—2015 Midyear Assessment

John Gould is senior vice president at Cornerstone Research. This post is based on a report from the Stanford Law School Securities Class Action Clearinghouse and Cornerstone Research; the full publication is available here.

Plaintiffs brought 85 new federal class action securities cases in the first half of 2015, according to Securities Class Action Filings—2015 Midyear Assessment, a report compiled by Cornerstone Research and the Stanford Law School Securities Class Action Clearinghouse. This represents a decrease from the second half of 2014, when plaintiffs filed 92 securities class actions. The number of filings in the first six months of 2015 remains 10 percent below the semiannual average of 94 observed between 1997 and 2014—the seventh consecutive semiannual period below the historical average.

Despite this period of little overall change in filing activity, securities class actions against companies headquartered outside the United States increased in the first half of 2015. Twenty filings, or 24 percent of the total, targeted foreign firms. Asian firms were named in more than half of these cases.


Court Rules on Halliburton II

Jonathan C. Dickey is partner and Co-Chair of the National Securities Litigation Practice Group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. This post is based on a Gibson Dunn publication. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Rethinking Basic by Lucian Bebchuk and Allen Ferrell (discussed on the Forum here).

On July 27, 2015, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued its anticipated decision on remand from Halliburton, Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 2398 (2014) (“Halliburton II“), where the United States Supreme Court held that a defendant in a securities fraud class action could introduce evidence of a lack of price impact at the class certification stage to show the absence of predominance. Although the case involved facts that arguably are unique to Halliburton’s particular public disclosures, the plaintiffs’ bar may look to the decision as a roadmap for how to meet the Supreme Court’s price impact test in future cases.

Based on the expert evidence presented on remand, the District Court granted the Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification as to one alleged corrective disclosure but denied the motion as to the other five alleged corrective disclosures. Erica P. John Fund, Inc. v. Halliburton Co., No. 3:02-CV-1152-M, slip op. at 1 (N.D. Tex. July 25, 2015). And as to that one disclosure, the court declined to entertain at the class certification stage Halliburton’s argument that the disclosure was not corrective of the alleged misrepresentation. While there may be continued debate regarding certain of the court’s legal conclusions—including whether a court may properly consider at class certification whether a disclosure was even corrective—the opinion demonstrates what most defendants argue Halliburton II requires: a careful and thorough analysis of defendant’s evidence of a lack of price impact. Beyond that, the court’s ruling may raise more questions than it answered.


Does Pending Delaware Legislation Cover Fee Shifting in Securities Cases?

Neil J. Cohen is the publisher of the Bank and Corporate Governance Law Reporter. The article is part of a series of articles on the Delaware legislation regarding fee shifting, published in the June 2015 issue of the Bank and Corporate Governance Law Reporter (available here). This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

The Delaware Senate by a 16-5 vote has passed Bill 75 banning fee-shifting provisions in charters and bylaws in stock corporations for “internal corporate claims”. The bill also contains a prohibition of bylaws or charter provisions that designate a forum other than Delaware as the exclusive forum. That provision would prevent corporations from designating forums that allow fee-shifting provisions.

The Senate resisted a lobbying effort by the Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform to insert a provision expanding the Court of Chancery’s discretionary authority to shift to include cases that “plainly should not have been brought but that do not satisfy the extremely narrow ‘bad faith’ or ‘frivolousness’ exceptions”.

The House is expected to approve the bill in June. If enacted, the amendments would become effective on August 1, 2015.


In re Kingate

David Parker is a partner in the Litigation and Risk Management practice at Kaplan, Kleinberg, Kaplan, Wolff & Cohen, P.C. The following post is based on a Kleinberg Kaplan publication by Mr. Parker and David Schechter.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in In re Kingate Management Limited Litigation, recently made it significantly easier for plaintiffs in the Second Circuit and New York, Connecticut and Vermont state courts to bring class actions alleging violations of state law in litigation involving certain types of securities. By allowing these claims to proceed under state law, the Second Circuit has signaled that plaintiffs may now be able to avoid the rigorous pleading standards of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“PSLRA”), which requires that pleadings contain robust fraud allegations pleaded with particularity. The PSLRA also requires that plaintiffs allege the defendant acted with scienter—in other words, that the defendant knew the alleged statement was false at the time it was made, or was reckless in not recognizing that the alleged statement was false.


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