Justia Securities Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
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Plaintiffs alleged pharmaceutical manufacturers stalled the release of clinical trial results for their blockbuster anti-cholesterol drugs, tried to change the study's endpoint to produce more favorable results, concealed their role in the change, and that the delay allowed one company to raise $4.08 billion through a public offering, which the company used to purchase another company to lessen its reliance on the drugs. Amid press reports and a congressional investigation, the companies released the clinical trial results, which allegedly caused their stock prices to plummet, amounting to about a $48 billion loss in market capitalization. Investors filed suit. The court denied defendants’ motions to dismiss under the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act’s heightened pleading standard, denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment, and granted class certification. Investors were provided with Rule 23(c)(2) notice of their right to opt-out: “you will not be bound by any judgment in this Action” and “will retain any right you have to individually pursue any legal rights.” After the opt-out period, the court approved settlements, offering opt-out investors 45 days to rejoin and share in the recovery, while stating that opt-outs “shall not be bound” to the settlement. Sixteen opt-out investors filed suits, tracking the class action claims, and adding a New Jersey common law fraud claim. After the Supreme Court held that American Pipe tolling does not extend to statutes of repose, plaintiffs were left with only their state-law claims. The court dismissed those as barred by the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act, 15 U.S.C. 10 78bb(f)(5)(B)(ii)(II). The Third Circuit reversed, finding that the class actions and the opt-out suits were not “joined, consolidated, or otherwise proceed[ing] as a single action for any purpose.” View "North Sound Capital LLC v. Merck & Co., Inc" on Justia Law

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Tibet, a holding company, “effectively control[led]” Yunnan, a manufacturer. Tibet attempted to raise capital for Yunnan's operations through an initial public offering (IPO). Zou was an investor in Tibet and the sole director of CT, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tibet. Tibet’s control of Yunnan flowed through CT. Zou told Downs, a managing director at the investment bank A&S, about the IPO. A&S agreed to serve as Tibet’s placement agent. Zou and downs were neither signatories to Tibet’s IPO registration statement nor named as directors of Tibet but were listed as non-voting board observers chosen by A&S without formal powers or duties. The registration statement explained, “they may nevertheless significantly influence the outcome of matters submitted to the Board.” The registration statement omitted information that Yunnan had defaulted on a loan from the Chinese government months earlier. Before Tibet filed its amended final prospectus, the Chinese government froze Yunnan’s assets. Tibet did not disclose that. The IPO closed, offering three million public shares at $5.50 per share. The Agricultural Bank of China auctioned off Yunnan’s assets, which prompted the NASDAQ to halt trading in Tibet’s stock. Plaintiffs sued Zou, Downs, Tibet, A&S, and others on behalf of a class of stock purchasers under the Securities Act of 1933, 15 U.S.C. 77k(a). The Third Circuit directed the entry of summary judgment in favor of Zou and Downs, holding that a nonvoting board observer affiliated with an issuer’s placement agent is not a “person who, with his consent, is named in the registration statement as being or about to become a director[ ] [or] person performing similar functions,” under section 77k(a). The court noted the registration statement’s description of the defendants, whose functions are not “similar” to those of board directors. View "Obasi Investment Ltd v. Tibet Pharmaceuticals Inc" on Justia Law

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StoneMor sells funeral products and services and is required by state law to hold in trust a percentage of proceeds from “pre-need sales.” Under Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), preneed sales held in trusts may not be represented as current revenue StoneMor issued nonGAAP financials that represented pre-need sales as a portion of current revenue; borrowed cash to distribute to investors the proceeds of preneed sales in the same quarter the sale was made; and used proceeds from equity sales to pay down the borrowed cash that funded those distributions. In 2016, StoneMor announced that it would restate about three years of previously-reported financial statements. Under GAAP regulations, StoneMor was temporarily prohibited from selling units and receiving corresponding equity proceeds. Plaintiffs allege that this prohibition caused StoneMor’s October 2016 unit distribution to fall by nearly half; StoneMor blamed the cut on salesforce issues. StoneMor’s unit price dropped by 45%. Investors sued under the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. 78j(b), and Rule 10b-5, alleging that Defendants made false or misleading statements, with scienter, which Plaintiffs relied on to their financial detriment. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case for failure to satisfy the heightened pleading standards of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act, 15 U.S.C. 78u-4. In a securities fraud case, a defendant’s sufficient disclosure of information can render alleged misrepresentations immaterial. StoneMor’s disclosures sufficiently informed reasonable investors of the risks inherent in its business. View "Fan v. Stonemor Partners LP" on Justia Law

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Former shareholders alleged that Altisource and several of its officers (collectively AAMC) inflated the price of its stock through false and misleading statements. When these mistruths were revealed to the market, they claimed, the price of AAMC’s stock plummeted, costing shareholders billions of dollars. The district court dismissed the complaint, concluding that Plaintiffs failed to satisfy the requirements of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (PSLRA), 15 U.S.C. 78u– 4. The Third Circuit affirmed. Plaintiffs failed to adequately plead three elements of a Rule 10b-5 claim: a material misrepresentation (or omission), scienter, and loss causation, with “particularity” as required by PSLRA. The economic harm suffered by AAMC’s investors is "regrettable," but plaintiffs failed to plausibly allege that this harm arose from fraud. When a stock experiences the rapid rise and fall that occurred here, it will not usually prove difficult to mine from the economic wreckage a few discrepancies in the now-deflated company’s records. View "City of Cambridge Retirement System v. Altisource Asset Management Corp." on Justia Law

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Pension Funds brought a putative securities fraud class action against Hertz and several of its current and former executives for violating sections 10(b) and 20(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended by the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PSLRA), and Rule 10b-5, 17 C.F.R. 240.10b-5 by making materially false and misleading statements concerning the company’s financial results, internal controls, and future earnings projections. The Funds’ securities fraud allegations rely on a financial restatement Hertz issued with its fiscal year 2014 Form 10-K. In it, the Company admitted that “an inconsistent and sometimes inappropriate tone at the top was present under the then existing senior management” and that the tone “resulted in an environment which in some instances may have led to inappropriate accounting decisions and the failure to disclose information critical to … effective review[.]”. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the fourth amended complaint for failure to plead a strong inference of scienter, as required by the PSLRA. The court conducted a comparative analysis by considering both inferences favorable to the Funds as well as “plausible, nonculpable explanations for the defendant’s conduct” and did not effectively require the Funds to submit “smoking-gun” evidence to survive the defendants’ motions to dismiss. View "In re: Hertz Global Holdings Inc" on Justia Law

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Vanguard offers retail securities brokerage accounts. Its website stated that Vanguard offered a price of “$2 commissions for stock . . . trades” for customers who maintained a balance in Vanguard accounts of $500,000-$1,000,000. The Taksirs, whose holdings met that threshold, used Vanguard to purchase Nokia stock. Vanguard charged them a $7 commission for each of their respective purchases, stating that the Taksirs’ accounts “are not eligible for discounts for trading stocks and other brokerage securities because of IRS nondiscrimination rules” and that “[u]nfortunately, this information is not listed on the Vanguard Brokerage Commission and Fee Schedule.” Weeks later, Orit Taksir acquired additional Nokia stock in the same Vanguard account and was charged a $2 commission. The Taksirs filed a putative class action for fraud or deception under Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law and breach of contract. The district court dismissed the UTPCPL claim but denied Vanguard’s motion to dismiss the contract claim. On interlocutory appeal, the Third Circuit affirmed. The Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998, 15 U.S.C. 78bb, does not bars investors’ claims that their broker overcharged them for the execution of securities transactions. The issue is whether the overcharges constitute “misrepresentation . . . in connection with the purchase or sale of a covered security.” The overcharges do not have a “connection that matters” to the securities transactions. View "Taksir v. Vanguard Group" on Justia Law

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Reading, a Pennsylvania not-for-profit health system, issued auction rate securities (ARSs) to finance capital projects. J.P. Morgan was the underwriter and broker-dealer. Reading claims that J.P. Morgan and others artificially propped up the ARS market through undisclosed support bidding; when they stopped in 2008, the market collapsed. Reading filed state law claims and demanded arbitration with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). The 2005 and 2007 broker-dealer agreements state “all actions and proceedings arising out of” the agreements or ARS transactions must be filed in the Southern District of New York. Reading filed a claim under FINRA Rule 12200, which requires a FINRA member (J.P. Morgan) to arbitrate any dispute at the customer’s request. J.P. Morgan refused, arguing that the forum-selection clauses in the 2005 and 2007 broker-dealer agreements constituted a waiver of Reading’s right to arbitrate under Rule 12200. The Third Circuit affirmed the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which resolved the transfer dispute before the arbitrability dispute, declined to transfer the action, and required J.P. Morgan to submit to arbitration. Reading’s right to arbitrate is not contractual but arises out of a binding, regulatory rule, adopted by FINRA and approved by the SEC. Condoning an implicit waiver of Reading’s regulatory right to arbitrate would erode investors’ ability to use a cost-effective means of resolving allegations of misconduct and undermine FINRA’s ability to oversee and remedy such misconduct. View "Reading Health System v. Bear Stearns & Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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Metro, a managing clerk at a New York City law firm, engaged in a five-year scheme in which he disclosed material nonpublic information concerning corporate transactions to his friend Tamayo. Tamayo told his stockbroker, Eydelman, who made trades for Tamayo, himself, his family, his friends, and other clients. Metro did not hold the involved stocks himself and did not collect proceeds but relied on Tamayo to reinvest the proceeds from their unlawful trades in future insider trading. During the government’s investigation, Tamayo promptly admitted his role in the scheme and cooperated with the government. The insider trading based on Metro’s tips resulted in illicit gains of $5,673,682. The court attributed that entire sum to Metro in determining his 46-month sentence after Metro pled guilty to conspiracy to violate securities laws, 18 U.S.C. 371, and insider trading, 15 U.S.C. 78j(b) and 78ff. Metro denies being aware of Eydelman’s existence until one year after he relayed his last tip to Tamayo, and contends that he never intended any of the tips to be passed to a broker or any other third party. The Third Circuit vacated the sentence. The district court failed to make sufficient factual findings to support the attribution of the full $5.6 million to Metro and gave too broad a meaning to the phrase “acting in concert.” View "United States v. Metro" on Justia Law

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Globus, a publicly-traded medical device company, terminated its relationship with one of its distributors, Vortex, in keeping with a policy of moving toward in-house sales. Several months later, in August 2014, Globus executives alerted shareholders that sales growth had slowed, attributed the decline in part to the decision to terminate its contract with Vortex, and revised Globus’s revenue guidance downward for fiscal year 2014. The price of Globus shares fell by approximately 18% the following day. Globus shareholders contend the company and its executives violated the Securities Exchange Act, 15 U.S.C. 78j(b) and Rule 10b-5 and defrauded investors by failing to disclose the company’s decision to terminate the distributor contract and by issuing revenue projections that failed to account for this decision. The Third Circuit affirmed dismissal of the case. Globus had no duty to disclose either its decision to terminate its relationship with Vortex or the completed termination of that relationship. Plaintiffs did not sufficiently plead that a drop in sales was inevitable; that the revenue projections were false when made; nor that that Globus incorporated anticipated revenue from Vortex in its projections. View "Williams v. Globus Medical, Inc." on Justia Law