A federal district court in Virginia recently held that the federal securities laws can apply to transactions in a foreign issuer’s unsponsored American Depositary Receipts (“ADRs”) that traded over the counter in the United States. However, the court ruled that statements by the foreign issuer’s U.S. subsidiary had not been sufficiently attributed to the foreign parent so that they could be deemed to have been made “in connection with” purchases of the parent’s ADRs.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held earlier this week that a company’s accurately reported financial statements are not misleading simply because they do not disclose that alleged misconduct might have contributed to the company’s financial results. The court also ruled that alleged misstatements made three to four years before the plaintiffs purchased the issuer’s securities were not material as a matter of law where an “outpouring of information” about the alleged misconduct followed those purported misstatements and preceded the plaintiffs’ securities purchases.
The decision in Plumber & Steamfitters Local 773 Pension Fund v. Danske Bank A/S (2d Cir. Aug. 25, 2021) squarely aligns the Second Circuit with other courts that have held that accurately reported financial results are not actionable even if undisclosed alleged misconduct purportedly contributed to the financial performance. The decision also highlights the need to consider whether a particular shareholder can be an optimal class representative where the complaint alleges a long class period.
On May 27, 2021, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida dismissed a securities class action against Carnival Corp. (“Carnival”), which operates the world’s largest cruise company, relating to the company’s health and safety disclosures made prior to and as the COVID-19 pandemic spread. This decision follows a dismissal of another securities fraud class action against a major cruise operator six weeks earlier by the same court.
Like in the prior case against Norwegian, the Carnival court dismissed the suit upon finding the plaintiffs failed to plead the existence of any statements that were materially false or misleading, and failed to sufficiently allege scienter. In so doing, it applied traditional principles of federal securities laws to the anything-but-traditional circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
On April 10, 2021, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida dismissed a securities class action complaint against Norwegian Cruise Lines (“NCL”) relating to the company’s disclosures made as the coronavirus pandemic was starting to unfold in the United States. In Douglas v. Norwegian Cruise Lines, et al., the court found the plaintiff failed to plead actionable misstatements or omissions and scienter for a claim of securities fraud under Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”) and Rule 10b-5 promulgated thereunder.
Thanks to the court’s thorough analysis, this decision serves as a useful overview to those wishing to cruise through the sea of corporate puffery, forward-looking statements, and scienter in the federal securities laws.
It is illegal under the Securities Exchange Act to make false or misleading statements to the investing public about material facts. At the same time, corporations and their officers must be able to make statements about the company’s future plans, projections, and aspirations without fear of opening themselves up to claims of securities law liability should the company’s achievements fall short of its ambitions. The Private Securities Litigation Reform Act, therefore, has carved out a “safe harbor” for certain forward-looking statements, including forward-looking statements accompanied by meaningful cautionary language, and forward-looking statements made by someone who does not know the statement to be false or misleading.
Thanks to HBO’s documentary, “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley,” and a barrage of media coverage about Elizabeth Holmes and her defunct company, Theranos, it is unmistakable that big misrepresentations can lie in public statements regarding miniscule quantities of blood.
This lesson proved true again last month, when the CEO of Decision Diagnostics, a pharmaceutical testing company, widely publicized that the company could accurately test for COVID-19, providing near-instant results with only a finger-prick of blood. In one press release, the CEO, Keith Berman, went so far as to say the COVID-19 testing would be “commercial ready” by summer of 2020. The market took note, and the company’s stock soared (by a whopping 1,200%) following Berman’s statements.
The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held yesterday that a securities-fraud plaintiff cannot establish corporate scienter without pleading facts showing that employees who allegedly knew of underlying corporate misconduct had some connection to the corporation’s purportedly false or misleading public statements. The decision in Jackson v. Abernathy should prevent securities plaintiffs from establishing “collective” or corporate scienter in the absence of factual allegations showing a corporate speaker’s awareness of the underlying alleged misconduct even if other employees not involved with the corporation’s disclosures purportedly had such knowledge.
The Supreme Court held on March 27 that persons who do not “make” material misstatements or omissions, but who disseminate them to potential investors with fraudulent intent, can be held to have violated other provisions of the securities laws that do not depend on actually “making” the misstatements or omissions. …