The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled last week that the securities-law requirement to plead a “strong inference” of scienter does not apply to claims under § 14(e) of the Securities Exchange Act even where the challenged statement is a statement of opinion. The decision in Grier v. Finjan Holdings, Inc. (In re Finjan Holdings, Inc. Securities Litigation) (9th Cir. Jan. 20, 2023) held that, because § 14(e) claims – which arise in connection with tender offers – can be based on mere negligence instead of knowing or reckless misconduct, a plaintiff needs to plead only a “reasonable inference,” rather than a “strong inference,” of an opinion’s subjective falsity.
One of the most significant differences between bringing a securities lawsuit in state versus federal court is the application of the mandatory discovery stay set forth in the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (the “PSLRA”). Following the enactment of the PSLRA in 1995, federal courts must stay discovery in securities-law cases until after a complaint has survived a pleadings challenge, i.e., a motion to dismiss. State courts have been divided on whether such a stay is mandatory in securities-law cases brought before them as well. Now, a software company facing a challenge under the Securities Act of 1933 in California state court has been granted leave to argue before the United States Supreme Court that the PSLRA’s discovery stay equally applies in state courts.
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.