The Supreme Court’s decision in the Amgen securities case will have a profound impact on the future of securities class action litigation.  If the Court affirms the Ninth Circuit’s decision, it will eliminate an important event: a determination of whether the alleged false or misleading statements materially impacted the price of the company’s stock sufficient to invoke the “fraud-on-the-market” presumption of reliance.  That would mean, absent settlement, that the vast majority of all securities class actions that survive a motion to dismiss will remain alive until at least summary judgment, even those that are doomed to fail because the challenged statements were not, in fact, material.  If the Court reverses the Ninth Circuit, many future securities class actions will involve a meaningful class certification process.  That would yield several important strategic and economic consequences.   Argument is scheduled for November 5, 2012.

Before getting to my prediction and a discussion of the consequences of the Court’s ruling, following is a brief overview of the law and practice surrounding the issue the Court will decide.

Reliance is an essential element of a Section 10(b) claim.  Absent some way to harmonize individual issues of reliance, however, class treatment of a securities class action is not possible; individual issues would overwhelm common ones, precluding certification under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3).  In Basic v. Levinson, the Supreme Court provided a solution: a rebuttable presumption of reliance based on the “fraud-on-the-market” theory, which provides that a security traded on an efficient market reflects all public material information.  Purchasers (or sellers) rely on the integrity of the market price, and thus on a material misrepresentation.  Decisions following Basic have established three conditions to its application: market efficiency, a public misrepresentation, and a purchase (or sale) between the misrepresentation and the disclosure of the “truth.”  At issue in Amgen is whether the materiality of an alleged misrepresentation is also a condition to the presumption’s application.

Over the years, defendants have argued that, absent a showing by plaintiffs that the challenged statements were material, or upon a showing by defendants that they were not, the presumption is not applicable or has been rebutted.  And, in a twist on such arguments, defendants sometimes argued that the absence of loss causation rebutted the presumption.  This argument was accepted by the Fifth Circuit in Oscar Private Equity Investments v. Allegiance Telecom, Inc.  But  Oscar rested on shaky analytic grounds, and indeed the Supreme Court in Halliburton unanimously rejected loss causation as a condition of the presumption of reliance.

Continue Reading

The appeal of Judge Rakoff’s rejection of the settlement between the SEC and Citigroup is spectacular theater.  Behind the scenes, however, is a highly serious issue: does a federal district judge have the power, as a condition to approving a consent judgment, to require an admission of liability or to otherwise impose collateral estoppel effects.

The briefing is complete.  I commend it to you (if you have a couple of hours to spare); it is excellent and entertaining.  Oral argument has been requested but not scheduled.

Here’s some background.  The SEC investigated Citigroup’s marketing of collateralized debt obligations.  The SEC then filed a complaint alleging non-scienter violations of the Securities Act.  The same day, the SEC also filed a proposed consent judgment, enjoining violations of the law, ordering business reforms, and requiring the company to pay $285 million.  As part of the consent judgment, Citigroup did not admit or deny the complaint’s allegations.  Judge Rakoff held a hearing to determine “whether the proposed judgment is fair, reasonable, adequate, and in the public interest.”  In advance, the court posed nine questions, which the parties answered in detail.  Judge Rakoff rejected the consent judgment.

The rejection order rested, in part, on the court’s determination that any consent judgment that is not supported by “proven or acknowledged facts” would not serve the public interest because:

  • the public would not know the “truth in a matter of obvious public importance”, and
  • private litigants would not be able to use the consent judgment to pursue claims because it would have “no evidentiary value and no collateral estoppel effect”.

The SEC and Citigroup appealed, and sought an order staying the rejection order pending appeal.  A panel of the Second Circuit granted the motion, finding that the SEC and Citigroup have a strong likelihood of success on appeal, and rejecting the district court’s holding that a consent judgment may be approved only if “liability has been conceded or proved and is embodied in the judgment.”

The parties then filed appeal briefs.  One of the briefs is from pro bono counsel appointed to represent Judge Rakoff.

Continue Reading