Justia Securities Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Class Action
Police and Fire Retirement System of the City of Detroit v. Axogen, Inc., et al
The Police and Fire Retirement System of the City of Detroit lost money when a short seller’s report concluded that Axogen, Inc., had overstated the market for its products, resulting in a precipitous decline in Axogen’s stock price. Specifically, Axogen said that its human nerve repair products had potential because “each year” 1.4 million people in the United States suffer nerve damage, leading to over 700,000 nerve repair procedures. The Retirement System filed this lawsuit against Axogen and related entities, which presents the following question: Were Axogen’s public statements forward-looking? If so, as the district court held, the statements are eligible for a safe harbor from liability. The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the challenged statements are forward-looking and affirmed the judgment of the district court. The court explained that the Retirement System again does not argue that it meets the statutory “actual knowledge” standard. Instead, it contends that the Supreme Court’s decision in Omnicare, Inc. v. Laborers District Council Construction Industry Pension Fund, 575 U.S. 175 (2015) relieves it of that burden. The Retirement System’s argument misunderstands the safe-harbor statute and Omnicare. The “actual knowledge” standard is a non-negotiable part of the statute. The safe-harbor provision expressly requires a plaintiff to prove that a forward-looking statement was made with “actual knowledge that the statement was false or misleading.” Omnicare, on the other hand, addressed whether an opinion may be an actionable misstatement of fact under 15 U.S.C. Section 77k(a). Thus, the Retirement System’s failure to plausibly allege—or even attempt to argue on appeal—Axogen’s actual knowledge dooms its ’33 Securities Act claims. View "Police and Fire Retirement System of the City of Detroit v. Axogen, Inc., et al" on Justia Law
MACOMB COUNTY EMPL. RET. SYS. V. ALIGN TECHNOLOGY, INC.
Plaintiff alleged that corporate executives at Align Technology, Inc., a medical device manufacturer best known for selling “Invisalign” braces, misrepresented their company's prospects in China. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the securities fraud class action under Sections 10(b), 20(a), and 20A of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5. The court rejected as unsupported Defendants’ argument that their statements could not be considered false at the time they were made because Plaintiff did not allege sufficient facts to make plausible the inference that the rate of Align’s growth in China had begun to decline significantly when the challenged statements were made. The court concluded that former employees’ reports, viewed alongside circumstantial evidence of the short period of time between the twelve challenged statements and the downturn of Align’s prospects in China, sufficiently supported the inference that Align’s growth in China had slowed materially when the statements were made. The court held that the district court correctly found that six of the challenged statements were non-actionable “puffery,” which involves vague statements of optimism expressing an opinion that is not capable of objective verification. The district court also correctly found that the remaining six statements did not create a false impression of Align’s growth in China and so were not actionable. Having determined that all of the challenged statements were nonactionable, the panel declined to reach issues of scienter and control-person or insider-trading liability. View "MACOMB COUNTY EMPL. RET. SYS. V. ALIGN TECHNOLOGY, INC." on Justia Law
Jeffrey A. Cochran v. The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company, et al
Plaintiff filed a putative class action lawsuit against brokerage firm Hornor, Townsend & Kent (“HTK”) and its parent company The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company. The complaint alleged that HTK breached its fiduciary duties under Georgia law and that Penn Mutual aided and abetted that breach. The district court concluded that the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act (“SLUSA”) barred Plaintiff from using a class action to bring those state law claims. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal. The court explained that SLUSA’s bar applies when “(1) the suit is a ‘covered class action,’ (2) the plaintiffs’ claims are based on state law, (3) one or more ‘covered securities’ has been purchased or sold, and (4) the defendant [allegedly] misrepresented or omitted a material fact ‘in connection with the purchase or sale of such security.’”Here, the only disputed issue is whether Plaintiff’s complaint alleges a misrepresentation or omission. The court reasoned that the district court correctly dismissed the actions because the complaint alleges “an untrue statement or omission of material fact in connection with the purchase or sale of a covered security." View "Jeffrey A. Cochran v. The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company, et al" on Justia Law
Ponsa-Rabell v. Santander Securities, LLC
The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing all claims in this dispute between brokerage customers of Defendant, who purchased special Puerto Rico securities during a recession but before the bond market crash, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below.Plaintiffs brought a securities class action against Defendant, asserting claims under federal securities laws and Puerto Rico law. The district court entered judgment dismissing the federal law claims with prejudice and the state law claims without prejudice. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that Plaintiffs' claims that there were allegedly material omissions on the part of Defendant were not actionable. View "Ponsa-Rabell v. Santander Securities, LLC" on Justia Law
Petri v. Stericycle, Inc.
Following a False Claims Act lawsuit against Stericycle, customers were leaving and the price of Stericycle’s common stock dropped. On behalf of the company’s investors, Florida pension funds filed a securities fraud class action against Stericycle, its executives, board members, and the underwriters of its public offering, alleging that the defendants had inflated the stock price by making materially misleading statements about Stericycle’s fraudulent billing practices. The parties agreed to settle for $45 million. Lead counsel moved for a fee award of 25 percent of the settlement, plus costs. Petri, a class member, objected to the fee award, arguing that the amount was unreasonably high given the low risk of the litigation and the early stage at which the case settled. Petri moved to lift the stay the court had entered while the settlement agreement was pending so that he could seek discovery regarding class counsel’s billing methods, the fee allocation among firms, and counsel’s political and financial relationship with a lead plaintiff, a public pension fund.The district court approved the settlement and the proposed attorney fee and denied Petri’s discovery motion. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The district court did not give sufficient weight to evidence of ex-ante fee agreements, all the work that class counsel inherited from earlier litigation against Stericycle, and the early stage at which the settlement was reached. The court upheld the denial of the objector’s request for discovery into possible pay-to-play arrangements. View "Petri v. Stericycle, Inc." on Justia Law
Funding Metrics, LLC v. Letha’s Pies, LLC
The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court's order granting class certification in this action brought by Letha's Pies, LLC and Rhonda and Timothy Glenn, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated (collectively, Letha's Pies), for alleged violations of the Arkansas Securities Act, holding that the circuit court abused its discretion by refusing to enforce a class-action waiver.Letha's Pies entered into a merchant agreement to sell Funding Metrics, LLC $21,900 of Letha's Pies' future receivables in exchange for an immediate payment of $15,000 by Funding Metrics. The agreement contained a class-action waiver provision. Letha's Pies subsequently brought a class-action complaint claiming that Funding Metrics promoted and sold securities in violation of Arkansas law. Funding Metrics moved to dismiss based on the class-action waiver. The circuit court denied the request, finding that the agreement lacked mutuality of obligation. The circuit court then certified two classes. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court abused its discretion by refusing to enforce the class-action waiver in the merchant agreement as a bar to class certification. View "Funding Metrics, LLC v. Letha's Pies, LLC" on Justia Law
First Solar, Inc. v. National Union First Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA
In March 2012, First Solar, Inc. stockholders filed a class action lawsuit against the company alleging that it violated federal securities laws by making false or misleading public disclosures ("Smilovits Action"). National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA (“National Union”) provided insurance coverage for the Smilovits Action under a 2011–12 $10 million “claims made” directors and officers insurance policy. While the Smilovits Action was pending, First Solar stockholders who opted out of the Smilovits Action filed what has been referred to as the Maverick Action. The Maverick Action alleged violations of the same federal securities laws as the Smilovits Action, as well as violations of Arizona statutes and claims for fraud and negligent misrepresentation. In this appeal the issue presented for the Delaware Supreme Court's review was whether the Smilovits securities class action, and a later Maverick follow-on action were related actions, such that the follow-on action was excluded from insurance coverage under later-issued policies. The Superior Court found that the follow-on action was “fundamentally identical” to the first-filed action and therefore excluded from coverage under the later-issued policies. The Supreme Court found that even though the court applied an incorrect standard to assess the relatedness of the two actions, judgment was affirmed nonetheless because under either the erroneous “fundamentally identical” standard or the correct relatedness standard defined by the policies, the later-issued insurance policies did not cover the follow-on action. View "First Solar, Inc. v. National Union First Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA" on Justia Law
Arkansas Teacher Retirement System v. Goldman Sachs Group, Inc.
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
Obeslo, et al. v. Great-Western Life & Annuity, et al.
Plaintiff-Appellants were shareholders in a major mutual fund complex through their employer-sponsored retirement plans. They alleged the complex’s investment adviser, Great-West Capital Management LLC (“GWCM”), and affiliate recordkeeper, Great-West Life & Annuity Insurance Co. (“GWL&A”), breached their fiduciary duties by collecting excessive compensation from fund assets. After holding an eleven-day bench trial in January 2020, the district court adopted and incorporated by reference, with few changes, Defendants’ Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. It also found for Defendants on every element of every issue, concluding “even though they did not have the burden to do so, Defendants presented persuasive and credible evidence that overwhelmingly proved that their fees were reasonable and that they did not breach their fiduciary duties.” Plaintiffs appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Obeslo, et al. v. Great-Western Life & Annuity, et al." on Justia Law
Mersho v. United States District Court for the District of Arizona
The Ninth Circuit granted in part a petition for a writ of mandamus and ordered the district court to vacate its order appointing an individual as lead plaintiff in a consolidated securities fraud action against Nikola and related defendants. In the underlying action, plaintiffs alleged that they suffered losses from buying Nikola securities after a non-party report described apparent false statements made by the founder and contained in company advertising materials. Petitioners Mersho, Chau, and Karczynski moved to be lead plaintiff as a group under the name Nikola Investor Group II (Group II).In a securities fraud class action, the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (PSLRA) requires the district court to identify the presumptive lead plaintiff, who is the movant with the largest financial interest and who has made a prima facie showing of adequacy and typicality. Once the presumption is established, competing movants can rebut the presumption by showing that the presumptive lead plaintiff will not fairly or adequately represent the class.The panel granted the petition to the extent it seeks to vacate the district court's order appointing Plaintiff Baio as lead plaintiff. The panel concluded that four of the five Bauman factors weigh in favor of mandamus relief and thus a writ of mandamus is appropriate. In regards to the third Bauman factor, the panel explained that the district court clearly erred by finding that the presumption had been rebutted. In this case, the district court failed to point to evidence supporting its decision, instead relying on the absence of proof by Group II regarding a prelitigation relationship and its misgivings. Therefore, the district court did not comport with the burden-shifting process Congress established in the PSLRA. The panel also concluded that the first, second, and fifth Bauman factors weigh in favor of granting the writ. However, the panel declined to instruct the district court to appoint Group II as lead plaintiff, remanding for the district court to redetermine the issue. View "Mersho v. United States District Court for the District of Arizona" on Justia Law