About the UnitedHealth Group Class Action Settlement: UnitedHealth Group announced on July 2, 2008 (here) that it reached an agreement to settle its high profile options backdating-related securities class action lawsuit for $895 million. A July 3, 2008 Law.com article discussing the settlement can be found here.
Not only is this settlement the largest options backdating related securities lawsuit settlement to date, it is one of the largest securities settlements ever. The settlement does at least provide some counterweight to the view that some have expressed (refer here) that the options backdating related lawsuits may be settling low compared to historical standards.
This settlement, together with the $750 million Xerox settlement announced in March 2008 (including $80 million from the company’s auditor) and the flood of high profile, high stakes subprime-related litigation, may also undercut the view that has been expressed that overall settlements may begin to decline as the cases from the era of corporate scandals cycle out of the system.
It is probably worth noting that, as reported in the July 3, 2008 Wall Street Journal (here), the UnitedHealth settlement has not yet been completely resolved, as the settlement does not include United ealth’s former CEO William McGuire, nor does it include its former General Counsel, David Lubben.
Although it has not received nearly as much attention, it is also noteworthy that in its July 2 press release UnitedHealth also announced that it had also settled for $17 million the options backdating related ERISA lawsuit pending against the company and certain of its officials. As far as I am aware, this is the roughly half dozen options backdating related ERISA lawsuit to have settled. (To see a complete list of options backdating related ERISA lawsuits, refer here.)
Derivative litigation related to the options backdating woes at UnitedHealth previously resulted in the largest reported derivative settlement, as I discussed in a prior post, here.
I have added the UnitedHealth options backdating securities class action lawsuit settlement and ERISA lawsuit settlement to my table of the options backdating related settlements and dismissals, which can be accessed here.
Credit Rating Lawsuits: As I discussed in a recent post (here), even though the credit rating agencies’ conflicted role has been a central topic in the discussions surrounding the subprime meltdown, the plaintiffs’ lawyers have largely avoided drawing the credit rating agencies into the subprime litigation. However, lawsuits filed just in the past several days suggest that this may be changing, in addition to the lawsuit discussed in my prior post.
Though the plaintiffs’ lawyers had not generally been targeting the credit rating agencies for their rating activities, they have previously filed lawsuits on behalf of the shareholders of Moody’s (refer here) and of The McGraw Hill Company, parent of Standard & Poor’s (refer here), alleging misrepresentation in their financial disclosures.
As described in a July 1, 2008 press release (here), plaintiffs’ lawyers have now initiated a shareholder securities class action lawsuit against Fimalac, S.A., the corporate parent of Fitch’s rating agency. According to the press release, the complaint (which can be found here) alleges that the defendants failed to disclose with respect to Fitch’s ratings of Residential Mortgage Backed Securities (RMBS) and Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDO) that:
(i) the information upon which Fitch based its ratings of RMBS and CDOs was misleading and in many cases fraudulent; (ii) to continue to collect fees for its ratings, Fitch was applying lax standards or no standards at all when issuing its RMBS and CDO ratings; and (iii) Fitch was failing to monitor the credit quality of RMBS and CDOs after issuing its initial ratings, as Fitch was obligated to do, and many of these securities had deteriorated badly after Fitch had issued its ratings. Fitch is now under investigation by the New York Attorney General, the Connecticut Attorney General, the Ohio Attorney General and the SEC as a result of its practices of rating billions of dollars of securities without a reasonable basis for doing so and Fimalac’s stock is trading at approximately 50% of its Class Period high.
But the new Fimilac shareholder lawsuit is directed against Fimilac as a reporting company, not directly against the company for Fitch’s rating agency activities. As I noted in my prior post, plaintiffs' lawyers have largely avoided allegations against rating agencies for their rating activities. However, in a lawsuit initiated in New York state court on June 3 , 2008 and removed to federal court on June 23, 2008, plaintiffs have alleged that entities affiliated with Credit Suisse, and the Moody’s, S&P and the Dominion Bond Rating Service (DRBS) rating agencies misrepresented the values of Mortgage Pass-Through Certificates issued by the Home Equity Mortgage Trusts. (Refer here for background regarding the lawsuit.)
The basis of the claims of liability against the rating agencies in the Home Equity Mortgage Trust lawsuit, as alleged in paragraph 87 of the complaint (here), is that the rating agencies “prepared valuations, i.e., assigned ratings to the Certificates, in connection with the Offering, as defined in Section 11 (a)(4) of the Securities Act.” These allegations are similar to the allegations against the credit rating agencies in the HarborView case discussed in my prior post.
Whether or not these cases against the credit rating agencies for their rating activities ultimately go forward remains to be seen. As I have previously discussed (here), the credit rating agencies will contend that their rating activities are protected by the First Amendment.
In addition, it remains to be seen whether the Home Equity Mortgage Trust case will go forward in state or federal court. As discussed at length in my prior post (here), the ’33 Act expressly provides for concurrent state court jurisdiction and also expressly proscribes removal of state court ’33 Act actions to federal court. As discussed here, in at least one case, a federal court has concluded that a ’33 Act claim that has been initiated in state court and removed to federal court must be remanded back to state court.
One More Note About the Fimalac Lawsuit: Fimilac is a foreign-domiciled company whose shares do not trade on U.S. exchanges. Many of its shareholders obviously are domiciled outside the United States. If these non-U.S. shareholders were to be included in the class, the new class action complaint against Fimilac might present the complicated f-cubed litigant problem (which I discussed most recently here). However, the plaintiffs’ counsel in the Fimilac case purport to represent a class composed solely of U.S. residents, apparently as a way of avoiding the f-cubed litigant problem.
As I discussed in my recent post relating to the new securities class action filed against EADS (refer here), these attempts to plead around the issues involving foreign-domiciled plaintiffs still test the outer limits of the jurisdictional reach of U.S. securities laws against foreign-domiciled companies whose shares do not trade on U.S. exchanges. The case against Fimilac will be interesting to watch for reasons other than the involvement of a credit rating agency.
And Finally: The news about the dismissal of the lawsuit against Richard Grasso has gained a great deal of press attention. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal, in a July 3, 2008 editorial (here), congratulates Grasso and fellow defendant Kenneth Langone for their success in fighting the lawsuit, which the Journal viewed as an example of the overreaching of former New York AG Eliot Spitzer.
The Journal’s editorial is perhaps closest to the mark in its observation that “Mr. Grasso is fortunate he had the resources to fight back.” Had Grasso not had the wherewithal to resist, he might never have tasted vindication. Readers of this blog will be particularly interested to know that it was insurance funds – a very large amount of insurance funds – that ultimately allowed Grasso to succeed.
According to Langone, and as reported on Bloomberg (here), in defending themselves against the lawsuit, Grasso, Langone and the NYSE directors “spent more than $70 million fighting the case, all covered by insurance.”
So Grasso is indeed fortunate that he had the resources to fight back, but perhaps contrary to the Journal’s suggestion, and even Grasso’s own prior comments (refer here) it was not his own treasure that financed the fight.
The expenditure of the mind-boggling sum of $70 million in litigating this case is yet another reminder of the extraordinary costs associated with the kind of high stakes litigation in which directors and officers can become involved. As I recently noted (here), the escalating expense associated with this kind of litigation has important implications for limits adequacy assumptions.
While it may be that only extraordinary cases consume these astonishing quantities of money, a company’s D&O program is expected to be able to respond even to catastrophic claims. As seems to be increasingly apparent, the costs associated with just defending a catastrophic claim could exhaust many insurance programs. All of this may suggest the need to reexamine conventional assumptions about limits adequacy.