Justia Securities Law Opinion Summaries

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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

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Plaintiffs filed suit for fraud, rescission, conspiracy, aiding and abetting, fraudulent conveyance, and unjust enrichment alleging that defendants had misrepresented that collateral managers would exercise independence in selecting assets for collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants.The Second Circuit affirmed and held that plaintiffs have failed to establish, by clear and convincing evidence, reliance on defendants' representations. In this case, plaintiffs based their investment decisions solely on the investment proposals their investment advisor developed; the advisor developed these detailed investment proposals based on offering materials defendants provided and on the advisor's own due diligence; plaintiffs premised their fraud claims on the advisor's reliance on defendants' representations; but New York law does not support this theory of third-party representations. The court also held that plaintiffs have failed to establish that defendants misrepresented or omitted material information for two of the three CDO deals at issue—the Octans II CDO and the Sagittarius CDO I. The court explained that defendants' representations that the collateral managers would exercise independence in selecting assets were not misrepresentations at all, and defendants did not have a duty to disclose their knowledge of the hedge fund's investment strategy because this information could have been discovered through the exercise of due care. View "Loreley Financing (Jersey) No. 3 Ltd. v. Wells Fargo" on Justia Law

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In March 2010, Orrstown made a stock offering at $27 per share. SEPTA invested some of its pension funds in Orrstown stock during this offering and later purchased Orrstown stock on the open market. In 2011-2012 Orrstown made disclosures concerning its financial health. Orrstown’s stock price dropped following each disclosure falling to $8.20 by April 2012.SEPTA filed a purported class action in May 2012, on behalf of a “Securities Act Class" of investors who purchased Orrstown stock “in connection with, or traceable to,” Orrstown’s 2010 Registration Statement, and the “Exchange Act Class” of investors who later purchased Orrstown stock on the open market. A first amended complaint added the Underwriters and the Auditor. The district court dismissed the amended complaint without prejudice for failure to meet pleading requirements. SEPTA filed its Second Amended Complaint in February 2016. The court dismissed all Securities Act claims against Orrstown but did not dismiss the Exchange Act claims except for some individual Orrstown officers. The court dismissed all claims against the Underwriters and the Auditor. The parties began discovery, which triggered a lengthy process in which the parties sought to have federal and state regulators review the relevant documents. In April 2019, SEPTA moved for leave to file a Third Amended Complaint, arguing it had identified evidence to support previously-dismissed claims through discovery.The court granted SEPTA’s motion despite the expiration of the three-year (Securities Act) and five-year (Exchange Act) repose periods. The Third Circuit affirmed. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c), which provides an exception more commonly applied to statutes of limitations, also allows amendment of a pleading after the expiration of a repose period here because the Rule’s “relation-back” doctrine leaves the legislatively-mandated deadline intact and does not disturb any of the defendants’ vested rights. View "Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority v. Orrstown Financial Services Inc." on Justia Law

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Shareholders of Goldman filed a class action alleging that Goldman and several of its executives committed securities fraud by misrepresenting Goldman's freedom from, or ability to combat, conflicts of interest in its business practices. The district court certified a shareholder class, but the Second Circuit vacated the order in 2018. On remand, the district court certified the class once more. The Second Circuit affirmed and then the Supreme Court vacated and remanded because it was uncertain that the court properly considered the generic nature of Goldman's alleged misrepresentations in reviewing the district court's decision.The Second Circuit vacated the class certification order and remanded for further proceedings because it is unclear whether the district court considered the generic nature of Goldman's alleged misrepresentations in its evaluation of the evidence relevant to price impact and in light of the Supreme Court's clarifications of the legal standard. View "Arkansas Teacher Retirement System v. Goldman Sachs Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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Three pension funds filed a putative securities class action on behalf of themselves and all others who purchased Danske Bank American Depositary Receipts (ADRs), alleging that Danske Bank and several of its corporate officers made materially misleading statements about a money laundering scandal that was perpetrated through the Bank's branch in Estonia.The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the Funds' claims for failure to plead actionable misstatements or omissions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). In this case, none of the misstatements or omissions identified by the Funds are actionable and the allegations do not move the claims outside the realm of corporate mismanagement and into the realm of securities fraud. View "Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 773 Pension Fund v. Danske Bank" on Justia Law