The U.S. Supreme Court held that purchasers of shares sold to the public through a direct listing cannot sue under Section 11 of the Securities Act of 1933 unless they can trace their shares to an allegedly defective registration statement. The short, unanimous decision in Slack Technologies, Inc. v. Pirani (June 1, 2023) appears likely to increase the difficulty of pleading § 11 claims arising from direct listings, thereby requiring dissatisfied purchasers to resort to the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, which imposes stricter standards for liability. The Court declined to comment on Securities Act § 12(a)(2)’s requirements, leaving the issue for the Ninth Circuit on remand.
On August 25, 2022, the Securities and Exchange Commission, in a 3-2 vote, adopted a new disclosure rule implementing the Dodd-Frank Act’s requirement that public companies disclose the relationship between compensation paid to executives and the company’s financial performance. SEC Chair Gary Gensler’s stated purpose of the new rule, commonly known as the “pay versus performance” disclosure requirement, is to promote transparency and make it easier for shareholders to assess a public company’s decision-making with respect to its executive compensation policies.
A judge in the United States District Court for the Central District of California has allowed a lawsuit against actress Jessica Alba’s child and personal care company Honest to move forward. The case is the latest in a series of investor-led actions against companies that shareholders claim have used COVID-19 and associated disruptions to mislead the public about the financial health of their businesses.
A California federal judge rejected Zoom Video Communications, Inc.’s motion to dismiss securities fraud claims against it, and its CEO and CFO, for misrepresenting Zoom’s privacy protections. Although there have been a number of cases challenging inadequate privacy protections on consumer protection grounds in recent years, this decision shifts the spotlight to an additional front on which the battles for privacy protection may be fought: the securities-litigation realm.
On July 30, 2021, L Brands, the parent company behind Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works, settled a rash of derivatives actions which had alleged “toxic” workplace conditions and “a culture of misogyny” at the company. We previously detailed the allegations in this space as part of our ongoing review of shareholder attempts to hold companies liable for perceived diversity failures and workplace discrimination. As we noted, a New York Times report detailing specific allegations of a former Chief Marketing Officer led to the filing of shareholder actions across the country, including in Ohio, Oregon, and Delaware.
SPACs remain on everyone’s mind, especially the country’s chief regulator. On May 26, 2021, SEC Chair Gary Gensler testified before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government on “key capital market trends” that will impact SEC resources in the coming years. And the very first topic he raised – Initial Public Offerings and Special Purpose Acquisition Companies – was of no surprise to most market watchers.
If 2020 was the “Year of the SPAC,” 2021 may be turning into the year of the SPAC class action. We have already followed numerous cases where recently formed SPACs have been challenged in federal court for alleged violations of federal securities laws. Although those cases are still pending, a district court recently delivered a notable ruling on a SPAC created far in the distant past, as far as SPACs are concerned: 2017.
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.