Justia Securities Law Opinion Summaries

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the Pension Fund's amended complaint in this securities fraud class action. The Pension Fund, as lead plaintiff, alleged securities fraud under section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act, as well as controlling-person liability under section 20(a) of the Securities Exchange Act.The court concluded that, 137 of the 138 statements listed in the amended complaint were clearly either (1) statements identified as forward looking and accompanied by meaningful cautionary statements, (2) corporate puffery, or (3) forward-looking statements that the complaint's allegations do not imply by strong inference were made with actual knowledge of their falsity. Furthermore, although the remaining statement comes closer than the other 137 to giving the Pension Fund a section 10(b) claim, it too falls short. The court explained that, even assuming arguendo the statement was false, the confidential former employee's allegation does not give rise to a strong inference of severe recklessness. Therefore, the complaint fails to satisfy the heightened pleading standards with respect to the misrepresentation and mental-state requirements of section 10(b) liability. Consequently, the section 20(b) claims were also properly dismissed. Finally, reviewing the issue of futility de novo, the court concluded that the district court properly denied leave to amend. View "City of Plantation Police Officers Pension Fund v. Meredith Corp." on Justia Law

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In 2008, Blackburn founded Treaty an oil and gas company whose shares were traded over the counter as “penny stocks.” Blackburn received around 400 million shares, giving him an 86.4% interest in Treaty. Though Blackburn was never a board member or an officer of Treaty, he maintained significant control. He communicated with a foreign government on behalf of Treaty, paid the company’s bills with his stock proceeds, and appointed Treaty’s officers and directors. Treaty had previously worked at a gravel company that went bankrupt. Blackburn paid over $1 million to settle the trustee’s claim that he had misappropriated company funds. Blackburn had also been convicted of four federal tax felonies. Blackburn recruited others, with clean records, to serve in public positions; they failed to disclose in public filings Blackburn’s involvement with Treaty.In 2014, the SEC asserted claims against Treaty, Blackburn, and others under the Securities Act. 15 U.S.C. 77e(a), 77q(a). The company and one defendant settled. The district court found the others liable for selling unregistered securities and misleading investors about the company’s production of oil and Blackburn’s involvement. It ordered disgorgement of the defendants’ fraud proceeds. The Fifth Circuit affirmed. Summary judgment was warranted in the SEC’s favor and the disgorgement award was “for the benefit of investors” as required by the Supreme Court’s 2020 “Liu” decision. View "Securities and Exchange Commission v. Blackburn" on Justia Law

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A global settlement was approved in 2002 in securities law class actions concerning the merger of companies to form Bank of America, which included an award of approximately $58 million in fees to the attorneys appointed to represent the NationsBank Class. Two decades later, one of the lead plaintiffs for the class filed a motion to reconsider the fee award and to order disgorgement of some $38 million in fees previously paid to NationsBank Class Counsel based on their poor performance, mismanagement of the settlement fund, and abandonment of the class.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiff's motion for redetermination, concluding that disgorgement of attorneys' fees was barred by the equitable doctrine of laches. The court concluded that the delay in asserting plaintiff's claim is manifestly unreasonable and inexcusable, prejudicing the other parties; the court and/or the district court previously rejected plaintiff's challenges; the challenged actions, from the inclusion of an exculpatory clause in the settlement checks to opposing cy pres distribution, occurred seven to fifteen years before plaintiff sought total disgorgement in his motion for redetermination; and plaintiff's failure to seek disgorgement in the proper manner and before the proper court was inexcusable delay. Finally, the court concluded that the district court has not failed to honor its ongoing fiduciary duty to the class in overseeing a complex settlement fund distribution made more complex and dilatory by the contentious actions of its participants, and the court has not allowed the class to be abandoned by those responsible for distributing the settlement fund. View "Oetting v. Sosne" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's order denying defendant's motion pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(4) for relief from judgment. In 2003, the SEC brought a civil enforcement action against defendant and, to resolve the matter, defendant consented to the entry of a final judgment against him, agreeing not to deny any of the factual allegations of the complaint. Almost 16 years later, defendant sought to invalidate the judgment on the basis that it incorporated a "gag order" that violated the First Amendment and his right to due process. The court agreed with the district court that defendant's motion fails on the merits because it does not allege either a jurisdictional or due process violation that would permit relief under Rule 60(b)(4). View "Securities and Exchange Commission v. Romeril" on Justia Law

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In 2016, the board of directors of Facebook, Inc. (“Facebook”) voted in favor of a stock reclassification that would allow Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s controller, chairman, and chief executive officer, to sell most of his Facebook stock while maintaining voting control of the company. Zuckerberg proposed the Reclassification to allow him and his wife to fulfill a pledge to donate most of their wealth to philanthropic causes. With Zuckerberg casting the deciding votes, Facebook’s stockholders approved the Reclassification. Not long after, numerous stockholders filed lawsuits in the Delaware Court of Chancery, alleging that Facebook’s board of directors violated their fiduciary duties by negotiating and approving a purportedly one-sided deal that put Zuckerberg’s interests ahead of the company’s interests. The trial court consolidated more than a dozen of these lawsuits into a single class action. At Zuckerberg’s request and shortly before trial, Facebook withdrew the Reclassification and mooted the fiduciary-duty class action. Facebook spent more than $20 million defending against the class action and paid plaintiffs’ counsel more than $68 million in attorneys’ fees under the corporate benefit doctrine. Following the settlement, another Facebook stockholder, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and Participating Food Industry Employers Tri-State Pension Fund (“Tri-State”), filed a derivative complaint, rehashing many of the allegations made in the prior class action but sought compensation for the money Facebook spent in connection with the prior class action. Tri-State pleaded that making a demand on Facebook's board was futile because the board’s negotiation and approval of the Reclassification was not a valid exercise of its business judgment and because a majority of the directors were beholden to Zuckerberg. Facebook and the other defendants moved to dismiss Tri-State’s complaint arguing Tri-State did not make demand or prove that demand was futile. The Court of Chancery dismissed Tri-State's complaint under Rule 23.1. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed dismissal. View "United Food and Commercial Workers Union v. Zuckerberg, et al." on Justia Law

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The issue presented from this interlocutory appeal of a Court of Chancery order holding that Appellees/Cross-Appellants, former stockholders of TerraForm Power, Inc. (“TerraForm”), had direct standing to challenge TerraForm’s 2018 private placement of common stock to Appellant/Cross-Appellees Brookfield Asset Management, Inc. and its affiliates, a controlling stockholder, for allegedly inadequate consideration. The trial court held that Plaintiffs did not state direct claims under Tooley v. Donaldson, Lufkin & Jennette, Inc., but did state direct claims predicated on a factual paradigm “strikingly similar” to that of Gentile v. Rossette, and that Gentile was controlling here. Appellants contended Gentile was inconsistent with Tooley, and that the Delaware Supreme Court’s decision in Gentile created confusion in the law and therefore ought to be overruled. Having engaged in a "full and fair presentation and searching inquiry has been made of the justifications for such judicial action," the Supreme Court overruled Gentile. Accordingly, the Court of Chancery's decision was reversed, but not because the Court of Chancery erred, but rather, because the Vice Chancellor correctly applied the law as it existed, recognizing that the claims were exclusively derivative under Tooley, and that he was bound by Gentile. View "Brookfield Asset Management, Inc., v. Rosson" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order denying in part a motion to dismiss and ruling that plaintiff had standing to sue Slack and individual defendants under Sections 11 and 12(a)(2) of the Securities Act of 1933 based on shares issued under a new rule from the New York Stock Exchange allowing companies to make shares available to the public through a direct listing. Plaintiff alleges that Slack's registration statement was inaccurate and misleading because it did not alert prospective shareholders to the generous terms of Slack's service agreements, which obligated Slack to pay for service disruptions; nor did it disclose that these service disruptions were frequent in part because Slack guaranteed 99.99% uptime; and the statement downplayed the competition Slack was facing from Microsoft Teams at the time of its direct listing.The panel concluded that plaintiff had standing to bring a claim under Sections 11 and 12(a)(2) because his shares could not be purchased without the issuance of Slack's registration statement, thus demarking these shares, whether registered or unregistered, as "such security" under Sections 11 and 12 of the Act. The panel explained that because standing existed for plaintiff's section 11 claim against Slack, standing also existed for a dependent section 15 claim against controlling persons. The panel did not resolve the issue of whether plaintiff has sufficiently alleged the other elements of Section 12 liability. View "Pirani v. Slack Technologies, Inc." on Justia Law

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IWA filed a putative securities fraud class action against Textron, a manufacturer of aircraft and recreational vehicles, and two of its executives, alleging violations of sections 10(b) and 20(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5. The district court dismissed the action for failure to allege any actionable misstatements.The Second Circuit vacated the portion of the district court's judgment dismissing IWA's securities fraud claims arising from the inventory statements. The court concluded that IWA sufficiently alleged the materially misleading nature of the 2018 statements at issue regarding Textron's inventory, and that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b)'s demand for particularity is satisfied in this case. The court affirmed the district court's ruling as to the other categories of statements. View "IWA Forest Industry Pension Plan v. Textron Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2017, a third-party entity acquired Authentix Acquisition Company, Inc. (“Authentix”). The cash from the merger was distributed to the stockholders pursuant to a waterfall provision. The Authentix common stockholders received little to no consideration. A group of common stockholders filed a petition for appraisal to the Court of Chancery under Section 262 of the Delaware General Corporation Law (“DGCL”). Authentix moved to dismiss the petition, arguing that the petitioners had waived their appraisal rights under a stockholders agreement that bound the corporation and all of its stockholders. The Court of Chancery granted the motion to dismiss, holding that the petitioners had agreed to a clear provision requiring that they “refrain” from exercising their appraisal rights with respect to the merger. The court awarded the petitioners equitable interest on the merger consideration and declined to award Authentix pre-judgment interest under a fee-shifting provision. All parties appealed the Court of Chancery’s decisions. Pointing to Delaware’s "strong policy favoring private ordering," Authentix argued stockholders were free to set the terms that will govern their corporation so long as such alteration was not prohibited by statute or otherwise contrary to Delaware law. Authentix contended a waiver of the right to seek appraisal was not prohibited by the DGCL, and was not otherwise contrary to Delaware Law. "As a matter of public policy, there are certain fundamental features of a corporation that are essential to that entity’s identity and cannot be waived." Nonetheless, the Delaware Supreme Court determined the individual right of a stockholder to seek a judicial appraisal was not among those fundamental features that could not be waived. Accordingly, the Court held that Section 262 did not prohibit sophisticated and informed stockholders, who were represented by counsel and had bargaining power, from voluntarily agreeing to waive their appraisal rights in exchange for valuable consideration. Further, the Court found the Court of Chancery did not abuse its discretion by awarding the petitioners equitable interest on the merger consideration; nor did the court abuse its discretion by declining to award Authentix pre-judgment interest under a fee-shifting provision. Accordingly, the Court of Chancery’s judgment was affirmed. View "Manti Holdings, LLC et al. v. Authentix Acquisition Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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Following the 2018 merger between Vectren, an Indiana public utility and energy company, and CenterPoint, a public utility holding company, CenterPoint acquired all Vectren stock for $72.00 per share in cash. Several Vectren shareholders had filed suit alleging violations of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. 78a. The district court declined to enjoin the shareholder vote on the merger. The shareholders then filed an amended complaint alleging that Vectren’s Proxy Statement was misleading under Section 14(a) of the Act, arguing that the Proxy Statement should have included financial metrics used by Vectren’s financial advisor in its analysis leading to its opinion that the merger terms were fair to Vectren shareholders. The first omitted metric, Unlevered Cash Flow Projections, forecast the gross after‐tax annual cash flow for Vectren, 2018-2027. The second omitted metric, Business Segment Projections, showed separate financial projections for each of Vectren’s three main business lines.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The shareholders failed to allege adequately both materiality of the omissions and any resulting economic loss. The court noted that the plaintiffs did not allege the existence of a viable superior offer to support their allegations of economic loss. View "Kuebler v. Vectren Corp." on Justia Law