On Tuesday, February 6, 2018, United States District Judge Jed S. Rakoff denied class counsel’s request to file under seal three supplemental agreements to a $2.95 billion settlement in the Petrobras Securities Litigation, and made the side agreements part of the public record. (See Memorandum Order – Petrobras (2-6-18)). This included making public the supplemental agreement that Petrobras could back out of the settlement if more than 5% of the class members opted out. In his order denying the request, Judge Rakoff could not help but find irony in the fact that plaintiffs’ counsel, “who have premised their claim of fraud on defendants’ alleged failure to disclose material information,” was “seeking to keep secret three agreements that are a material part of the settlement.” However, the existence of the supplemental agreements, and the fact that Petrobras could terminate the settlement if an undisclosed “Opt-Out Threshold” was met, were disclosed publicly in the stipulation of settlement. Keeping secret the percentage of opt-outs needed to “blow up” a settlement is standard practice, and publishing it can embolden opt-out proponents and threaten the stability of settlements.
Peter Saparoff is a Member in the firm’s Boston office and co-chairs the firm’s Securities Litigation Practice. He is one of the nation’s leading securities litigators and he has represented clients in well over 100 cases, investigations, and proceedings throughout the country. He has successfully defended SEC investigations, class actions, derivative suits, stock exchange proceedings, and state securities investigations, and has handled numerous FINRA arbitrations, among other matters.
First there was Libor. Next came credit default swaps and foreign exchange. Now, highlighted by the over $2 billion settlement reached in the Foreign Exchange Antitrust Litigation, plaintiffs are pursuing a number of additional antitrust class actions against financial institutions alleging anti-competitive behavior in a number of markets affecting institutional investors. These include: the ISDA interest-rate benchmark litigation, the Euribor antitrust litigation, the U.S. Treasuries antitrust litigation, the stock lending antitrust litigation, and the gold and silver antitrust litigation. Some defendants in some of these cases have agreed to settlements, including the over $2 billion in FX settlements, as well as partial settlements in the Libor, ISDAfix and Euribor cases for approximately $830 million combined. Institutional investors who are active participants in these markets may be in-line for significant recoveries, and the claims filing deadlines are fast approaching.
Of course, it is axiomatic that a claimant has to file a claim before it can recover. Mintz Levin’s Institutional Investor Class Action Recovery Practice is uniquely positioned to manage the claims filing process on behalf of institutional investors. The claims filing processes for these cases can be complex, and present an entirely new set of variables from typical securities cases. Indeed, custodians and other service providers that typically handle claims filing for institutional investors in securities settlements may not be able, or willing, to file claims in these antitrust settlements. Please contact Peter Saparoff or Joel Rothman to learn if Mintz Levin could efficiently and effectively manage filing claims in these antitrust matters for you.
Douglas Greene, one of the United States’ most well-known securities litigators – on either side of the bar – recently wrote a four-part treatise, titled Who is Winning the Securities Class Action War – Plaintiffs or Defendants?, in which he discussed the various ways in which the defense bar is losing the “securities class action war.” Greene’s thorough analysis is well-worth reading in full, but we will briefly summarize and comment on his piece here. Continue Reading Is the Defense Bar Losing the “Securities Class Action War?”
Recently, in Melbourne City Investments Pty Ltd v. Treasury Wine Estates Limited (“Treasury Wine”), the Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia considered a primary judge’s class closure order which broke new ground in group action practice in Australia. The Treasury Wine case is part of a growing trend in Australian securities litigation toward class proceedings similar to the U.S. model, where investors do not have to be a named plaintiff to participate in a recovery. Rather, in this case, prior to the issuer and the representative plaintiff mediating the case, investors needed to “register” by submitting their transaction data. When the case settled after mediation, those who registered could recover from the settlement fund, but those who did not register were shut out of the settlement. Registering was not without risks, however, as the mediation could have failed. Some investors may have feared that by submitting their transaction data they were exposing themselves to the defendants and potential discovery in the event the case did not settle. However, the case did settle after mediation, and those who registered were rewarded.
In a June 13, 2017, ruling on a motion for partial summary judgment in the Ocwen Financial Corp. Securities Litigation (the “Ocwen Litigation”), the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida determined Ocwen materially misrepresented in its securities filings and other public statements that its Executive Chairman would recuse himself from Ocwen’s transactions with companies in which the Executive Chairman also served as Chairman and thus had a direct financial interest. The Court concluded that although Ocwen and the Executive Chairman definitively stated the Executive Chairman would recuse himself according to company policy, there was in fact no company policy requiring recusal, nor had the Executive Chairman recused himself. The Court further concluded these statements by Ocwen and the Executive Chairman was materially false and misleading as a matter of law. Thus, while class plaintiffs still must prove the remaining elements of their Section 10(b)/Rule 10b-5 claim at trial, the Court found the class plaintiffs were entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the first element of their claim – that the statements concerning the Executive Chairman’s recusal were materially false and misleading.
We have been following defendants’ motions to dismiss in the In re Lending Club Securities Litigation class action, No 3:16-cv-02627-WHA, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California (“the Lending Club Litigation”). Plaintiffs brought claims under both Section 11 of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, alleging that Lending Club misled shareholders about (1) the company’s internal controls over financial reporting, (2) its relationship with Cirrix—a company formed for the sole purpose of purchasing loans from lending club, (3) its data integrity and security, and (4) its loan approval process. The Court’s decision on defendants’ motions to dismiss provides a roadmap for plaintiffs’ bringing Section 11 claims based on failure to disclose weaknesses in internal controls.
On May 9, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”) affirmed in part and reversed in part an earlier decision from the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, which had held that aspects of the Government’s bailout of AIG constituted an illegal exaction. This case stems from two steps the Government took as part of its bailout of AIG. First, the Government issued a loan to AIG in exchange for preferred shares that were convertible to common shares representing an 80% equity interest in AIG. Second, AIG executed a 1:20 reverse stock split that enabled AIG to have enough unissued and authorized common shares to enable the Government to convert its preferred shares, without the need for AIG shareholder to vote in favor of authorizing enough common shares to allow for the Government’s conversion. This case proceeded as an “opt-in” class action, and many institutional investors opted in to the class.
Briefly stated, AIG’s largest shareholder, Starr International Co. (“Starr”) asserted claims based on the Government’s acquisition AIG equity (the “Equity Claims”) and claims based on the reverse stock split (the “Stock Split Claims”). With respect to the Equity Claims, Starr alleged that the Government’s acquisition of AIG equity was an illegal exaction because Section 13 of the Federal Reserve Act did not authorize the Government to take equity as consideration for its bailout loan. Additionally, through the Stock Split Claims, Starr maintained that the Government engineered a reverse stock split to enable it to convert the preferred shares it obtained as consideration for the bailout loan into common shares without a shareholder vote, depriving Starr of its ability to block the resulting dilution. In sum, the Federal Circuit (a) reversed the Court of Federal Claims decision that Starr had standing to pursue its Equity Claims, holding those claims were solely derivative; and (b) affirmed the Court of Federal Claims decision that denied relief for the Stock Split Claims, holding the court did not clearly err in finding that the primary purpose of the stock split was to prevent delisting by the NYSE, not to avoid a shareholder vote.
We have been keeping up with the In re LendingClub Securities Litigation class action, No. 3:16-cv-02627-WHA in the Northern District of California (“LendingClub”), in regard to Judge William Alsup’s unusual decision to require additional briefing from the class plaintiff before agreeing to the class plaintiff’s choice of class counsel. Now, as the LendingClub Plaintiffs oppose the Defendants’ motions to dismiss, Plaintiffs’ counsel is highlighting a recurring trend in motion to dismiss practice: defendants arguing facts at the motion to dismiss stage, particularly in complex cases.
As we have previously noted (here and here), Dutch Foundations (or Stichtings) have been considered a useful tool in seeking recovery for losses on foreign securities. After the Morrison decision closed U.S. courts to claims for purchases of shares of foreign issuers on non-U.S. exchanges, investor advocates sought to use Dutch Foundation effectuate a recovery. Under the Dutch Civil Code, Foundations may negotiate global settlements of investor claims and/or bring suit in the Netherlands to recover for alleged securities fraud. Last year, for example, a foundation negotiated a €1.2 billion settlement with Ageas, the successor-in-interest to Fortis Holdings, over claims that Fortis misled investors. Prior to that, a Dutch Foundation had also forged $58.4 million settlement with Converium covering claims that Converium misstated its financial condition, and a $340 million settlement with Royal Dutch Shell covering transactions on non-U.S. exchanges. Currently, an investor Foundation has asserted claims in the Dutch courts against Volkswagen relating to the Dieselgate scandal.
Recent developments, however, have put the continued viability of Dutch Foundation actions into question. As we wrote here, in June of 2016, a Dutch court dismissed a foundation’s claims because, in the court’s view, the foundation failed to sufficiently safeguard the interests of its members from the foundation president’s potential conflict of interest. Then, the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) issued a decision in Universal Music International Holding BV v Schilling that limited the jurisdiction of courts in EU countries, such as the Netherlands. The Universal Music decision addressed Regulation 44/2001, under which defendants must be sued in courts of the member state where they are headquartered, or, for tort-based claims, the place where the harmful event occurred. The CJEU concluded that pure financial damage to a bank account cannot by itself give rise to jurisdiction in the member state where the bank account sits. The CJEU thus held ““It is only where the other circumstances specific to the case also contribute to attributing jurisdiction to the courts for the place where a purely financial damage occurred, that such damage could, justifiably, entitle the applicant to bring the proceedings before the courts for that place” (par. 39).
More recently, the Dutch court has applied the Universal Music case to limit the ability of a foundation to bring suit against BP p.l.c. in the Dutch courts. After settlement negotiations apparently failed, a Foundation representing the interests of BP retail shareholders filed an action against BP in Amsterdam, relating to BP’s alleged misstatement concerning its safety protocols leading up to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its alleged misstatement concerning the spill flow-rate. The Foundation sought recovery for investors who had invested in BP shares through a Dutch financial intermediary or account.
On November 4, 2016, Judge Keith Ellison of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas granted preliminary approval of a $175 million settlement in the federal securities class action In re: BP p.l.c. Securities Litigation between BP and Lead Plaintiffs for the “post-explosion” class. While the settlement is still subject to final approval, it resolves allegations that BP misrepresented the seriousness of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and its aftermath—covering investors who purchased BP shares between the date of the first alleged misrepresentation about the amount of oil being released as a result of the explosion (April 26, 2010) and the date on which it was revealed that BP initially misrepresented the spill’s severity (May 28, 2010). In granting preliminary approval of the settlement, Judge Ellison also: (1) rejected 135 institutional investors’ request for exemption from opt-out procedures; and (2) allowed some plaintiffs who timely requested exclusion from the class to withdraw their requests and opt back into the settlement. Continue Reading Court in the BP p.l.c. Securities Litigation Upholds Opt-Out Procedures But Then Allows Individual Action Plaintiffs to Opt Back Into $175 Million Settlement