Justia Securities Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
James Boykin v. K12, Inc.
This securities fraud lawsuit arises from a series of statements made by K12, Inc., and two of its executives over the spring and summer of 2020. Plaintiffs, a class of K12 shareholders who acquired stock during that time, allege that the statements fraudulently misrepresented the state of K12’s business, thereby artificially inflating the cost of their shares. To survive dismissal under the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (PSLRA), however, they must plead a “strong inference” of scienter, which requires establishing an inference of fraud to be “cogent and at least as compelling as any opposing inference.” The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiffs claims because Plaintiffs do not satisfy the “heightened pleading instruction”. The court explained by including the language of “we believe,” the statement reflected not an incontestable fact but an individual perspective. The statement was couched as opinion, not as fact. While it is true that the prefatory clause contains an embedded assertion—that K12 is “an innovator in K-12 online education”— plaintiffs do not seriously contest this point. Nor do Plaintiffs deny, in more than conclusory fashion, that K12 “actually holds” its stated belief. Finally, Plaintiffs fail to show that K12’s opinion omitted necessary context. The company’s opinion was not simply emitted into the ether. It was made within the framework of a 10-K filing, where investors could have parsed the ample disclosures at their fingertips before succumbing to K12’s stated view. View "James Boykin v. K12, Inc." on Justia Law
SEC v. Mark Johnson
Defendant challenged the district court’s disgorgement order against him and Owings Group, LLC, the entity he founded and controlled. Together, Defendant, Owings, and three codefendants perpetrated a fraudulent scheme in violation of federal securities laws. After Defendant consented to an entry of judgment, the court ordered him to disgorge $681,554 and imposed a monetary penalty in the same amount.Defendant argued that the disgorgement order violates Liu v. SEC, 140 S. Ct. 1936 (2020) and that the district court erroneously premised the associated monetary penalty on joint-and-several liability. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s disgorgement order and its monetary penalty.The court explained that it agreed with the district court that Defendant and Owings were “partners engaged in concerted wrongdoing". The court wrote that Owings’s conduct in the scheme generated its ill-gotten gains—and Defendant controlled that conduct. Further, the district court didn’t order a joint-and-several penalty. It ordered a penalty equal to Defendant's disgorgement, which happened to be joint and several.Finally, the court concluded that it found no abuse of discretion. Though the district court didn’t explicitly discuss Defendant's financial situation, it’s clear to the court that the district court considered it, along with the remaining factors. The district court understood that all the defendants were insolvent but decided that Defendant's substantially more serious role in the scheme warranted a penalty all the same. View "SEC v. Mark Johnson" on Justia Law
Construction Laborers Pension Trust Southern CA v. Marriott International, Inc.
Following a data breach targeting servers owned by Defendant, Plaintiffs alleged that Defendant violated federal securities laws by omitting material information about data vulnerabilities in their public statements.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the complaint, finding that the investors did not adequately allege that any of Defendant’s statements were false or misleading when made.The court explained that to state a claim under Sections 10(b) and 20(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and SEC Rule 10b-5, a plaintiff must first allege a “material misrepresentation or omission by the defendant.” However, not all material omissions give rise to a cause of action. Here, Plaintiffs focus on statements about the importance of protecting customer data; privacy statements on Defendant's website; and cybersecurity-related risk disclosures. The court found that Plaintiffs failed to allege that any of the challenged statements were false or rendered Defendant's public statement misleading. Although Defendant could have disseminated more information to the public about its vulnerability to cyberattacks, federal securities law does not require it to do so. View "Construction Laborers Pension Trust Southern CA v. Marriott International, Inc." on Justia Law
Robert F. Anderson v. Morgan Keegan & Company, Inc.
Infinity Business Group used an accounting practice that artificially inflated its accounts receivable and therefore its revenues. The company’s CEO, board of directors, and outside auditors affirmed the wrongdoing. Appellant, the company’s trustee, alleges that the true mastermind was a financial services company and an adviser of the company (“Defendants”) that Infinity contracted with to unsuccessfully solicit investments.The Fourth Circuit held that even assuming that the financial services company played some role in creating or perpetuating the flawed accounting technique, Appellant still cannot succeed in holding Defendants liable. Infinity engaged Defendant for the limited purpose of assisting with “a private placement of” Infinity stock. Defendants’ task was to help prepare a confidential information memorandum for potential investors, which was to include Infinity’s financial information from 2003 to 2005. Infinity’s CEO prepared and provided the relevant information for all three years. The accounting practice the company used was inconsistent with the generally accepted accounting principles endorsed by the Securities and Exchange Commission.Appellant first contends that he represents Infinity as well as Infinity’s creditors. Thus, when he was acting on behalf of the presumptively blameless creditors, Appellant insists he is immune from in pari delicto. The court held that when a trustee pursues a right of action that ultimately derives from the debtor—even if the trustee is nominally exercising a creditor’s powers when doing so—the trustee remains subject to the same defenses as the debtor. The court ultimately found that Infinity’s officers and auditors were the authors of the company’s demise—not Defendants. View "Robert F. Anderson v. Morgan Keegan & Company, Inc." on Justia Law
KBC Asset Management NV v. DXC Technology Co.
DXC, a publicly-traded company formed in 2017 from a merger of Computer Science and Hewlett Packard, initially met its strategic financial goals by instituting costcutting measures. In February 2018, it issued a press release announcing its continued financial success. Soon, DXC had to revise its projected revenue guidance to shareholders downward by an estimated $800 million, which it announced in November 2018. DXC’s shareholders incurred losses when its stock price subsequently fell.Plaintiffs represent a class of shareholders who acquired DXC stock from February 8 through November 6, 2018, alleging violations of the Securities Exchange Act, 15 U.S.C. 78j(b), 78t(a), and Rule 10b-5. They claim that Defendants knew the cost-cutting measures implemented in 2018 undermined DXC’s ability to generate revenue and that this was contrary to information released to the public so that the Defendants fraudulently induced them to acquire DXC stock by making material misstatements and omissions regarding DXC's financial health and that they did so with the requisite scienter. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The statements issued by DXC were either forward-looking statements protected under the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PSLRA), 15 U.S.C. 78u-5, safe-harbor provision, or non-actionable puffery and that the complaint, viewed as a whole, did not contain factual allegations sufficient to give rise to the “strong inference” of scienter required by the PSLRA. View "KBC Asset Management NV v. DXC Technology Co." on Justia Law
LifeWise Family Financial Security, Inc. v. Triangle Capital Corp.
LifeWise, a shareholder in Triangle, filed a securities fraud class action against Triangle, alleging that defendants knew or should have known of the risks of certain investments but defrauded them by failing to disclose such alleged risks. The district court dismissed the amended complaint and subsequently denied leave to amend as futile.The Fourth Circuit affirmed, concluding that LifeWise has not satisfied the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995's (PSLRA) heightened burden of pleading scienter and this failure is fatal to both its securities fraud claim against Triangle and its director liability claims against Defendants Poole, Lilly, and Tucker. The court considered LifeWise's allegations holistically and in their proper context and held that Lifewise failed to allege a strong inference of scienter. Rather, the court explained that the much stronger inference is that defendants had an honest debate about the merits of a subjective business judgment, and in hindsight, simply made the wrong choice with some investments. View "LifeWise Family Financial Security, Inc. v. Triangle Capital Corp." on Justia Law
Interactive Brokers LLC v. Saroop
Investors filed a claim with FINRA's arbitration division seeking to recover substantial losses from Broker, alleging nine causes of action. Broker counterclaimed, seeking payment of the debt and attorneys' fees. The arbitration panel found in favor of Investors and dismissed Broker's counterclaim. The arbitrators then issued a modified award on remand. The district court subsequently granted Broker's motion to vacate the modified award in favor of the Investors and remanded Broker's counterclaim to a new panel of arbitrators. Investors timely appealed.The Fourth Circuit held that the district court erred in vacating the modified award where the arbitrators' imposition of liability against Broker is not in manifest disregard to the law. The court explained that imposing liability based on a contractual obligation to comply with the FINRA rules is, at the very least, an arguable interpretation of the parties' contracts. In this case, Broker executed trades of iPath S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures (VXX) on Investors' portfolio margin accounts, in clear violation of FINRA Rule 4210. Rule 4210 prohibits trades of certain high-risk securities through portfolio margin accounts, including trades of VXX. The court also held that the arbitration panel did not manifestly disregard the law by imposing damages in the amount of Investors' accounts on August 19, 2015. In light of Connecticut law, the court reasoned that the award placed Investors in the position they would have been if the contracts had been properly performed after August 19. Finally, the arbitration panel did not manifestly disregard the law by awarding Investors attorneys' fees. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded with instructions to confirm the modified arbitration award. View "Interactive Brokers LLC v. Saroop" on Justia Law
United States v. Bank
In 2015, the SEC initiated enforcement proceedings in the District of Arizona against appellant for illegitimate investment activities. In 2017, appellant entered into a consent agreement with the SEC, and the United States District Court for the District of Arizona ultimately held appellant liable for disgorgement in the amount of $4,494,900. Then the grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia returned an indictment charging appellant with, inter alia, securities fraud and unlawful sale of securities, based in part on the same conduct underlying the SEC proceeding. Appellant filed a motion to dismiss the indictment, which the district court denied.The Fourth Circuit joined with every other circuit to have decided the issue in holding that disgorgement in an SEC proceeding is not a criminal penalty pursuant to the Double Jeopardy Clause, such that an individual cannot be later prosecuted for the conduct underlying the disgorgement. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's denial of appellant's motion to dismiss the indictment. View "United States v. Bank" on Justia Law
In re: Willis Towers Watson
A putative class of former shareholders in Towers, Watson & Co. filed suit alleging that several defendants violated the Securities Exchange Act by omitting material facts in proxy documents, rendering statements in those documents false or misleading. The district court dismissed the complaint.The Fourth Circuit vacated and held that the statute of limitations begins to run for a claim governed by 15 U.S.C. 78i(f) when the plaintiff has discovery notice. Applying this standard, the court held that the putative class filed suit within one year of discovering the facts constituting the violation. Therefore, the district court erred in dismissing plaintiffs' suit as time-barred. The court also held that plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that the omitted facts were material and the district court erred in dismissing the Section 14(a) claim. Finally, the court held that none of the three alternative grounds presented by defendants supported the district court's dismissal order. View "In re: Willis Towers Watson" on Justia Law
Paradise Wire & Cable Defined Benefit Pension Plan v. Weil
After the merger of RCA and AFIN, RCA shareholders filed suit alleging that the proxy statement was false and misleading under federal securities laws. In this case, the shareholders alleged that the proxy statements and omissions regarding (A) the AFIN NAV; (B) the sale of the Merrill Lynch properties; (C) SunTrust Bank; and (D) the AFIN Standalone Projections were materially misleading.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the claims, holding that the statements the shareholders complained of were not false or misleading and the alleged omissions were addressed by narrowly tailored warning language. View "Paradise Wire & Cable Defined Benefit Pension Plan v. Weil" on Justia Law