My suggestion (here) that the apparent second quarter securities lawsuit filing lull was due in part to the fact that plaintiffs’ lawyers have a backlog of cases outside the financial sector has proven controversial. All I can say that there is an increasing amount of evidence consistent with the backlog hypothesis. Specifically, a significant number of recently filed securities lawsuits propose class period ending dates that are well in the past, in many cases well over a year in the past. Three cases filed this past week reinforce this observation.
To cite the most recent example, on August 7, 2009, plaintiffs’ lawyers initiated a securities class action lawsuit in the Southern District of Texas against Flotek Industries and certain of its directors and officers. As reflected in the plaintiffs’ lawyers’ August 7 press release (here), the ending date of the proposed class period in their complaint (which can be found here) is January 23, 2008, well over a year and a half before the complaint was filed.
Similarly in the class action securities lawsuit filed in the Southern District of New York on August 6, 2009 against Conseco, Inc. and certain of its directors and officers, the proposed class period ending date is March 17, 2008, as reflected in the plaintiffs’ lawyers August 6 press release (here).
And, to cite another example just from among the complaints filed during this past week, the ending date for the class period proposed in the lawsuit filed on August 4, 2009 against Allscripts-Misys Healthcare Systems (refer here) is February 13, 2008.
These cases join a large number of other recently filed cases in which the proposed class period cutoff date is well in the past. Thus, the purported class period in the July 30, 2009 securities class action lawsuit filed against International Game Technology (refer here) ends on October 30, 2008. The proposed class period ending date in the lawsuit filed on July 22, 2009 against Accuray (refer here) is August 19, 2008.
An even more noteworthy example is the class period proposed in the securities class action filed on July 17, 2009 against Bare Escentuals (about which refer here), in which the proposed class period end date is November 26, 2007. Similarly, in the securities class action lawsuit filed on July 14, 2009 against Ambassadors Group and certain of its directors and officers, the proposed class period end date is October 23, 2007 (refer here).
Other recent cases in which the class period cutoff date is at least six months prior to the filing date include the lawsuit filed on July 10, 2009 against Tronox (refer here).
These cases were all filed during July and August, though every single one of them might have and could have been filed earlier. The seeming delayed timing of the filing of these cases might be due to any number of factors. But at a minimum, the seeming delay alone could account for the supposed class action lawsuit filing "lull" observed during 2Q09. The rapid accumulation of these cases during the third quarter suggests that the supposed lull is over. It also suggests that when all is said and done by year’s end, the 2009 securities lawsuit filings levels will likely be consistent with historical norms.
Another thing these lawsuits have in common is that, with the exception of the Conseco case, they all involve companies outside the financial sector. It is generally recognized that for some time going well into last year, securities lawsuit filings have been largely concentrated in the financial sector. This noteworthy recent accumulation of seemingly dated cases against companies outside the financial sector strongly suggests that while lawyers were racing to the courthouse over the past couple of years to file lawsuits against financial companies, they were also building up a backlog of cases against companies outside the financial sector, and that they are now actively working off that backlog. Indeed, this process may have started earlier this year (refer here), but it now appears to be picking up considerable momentum.
For D&O underwriters, the possibility of lawsuits over long past events may pose a particularly difficult underwriting challenge, as it makes it particularly tricky to determine when a company that has experienced problems is "out of the woods." Compounding the difficulty is the fact that while the D&O insurance market for financial sector companies has "hardened" as a result of economic and related litigation developments, the market for companies outside the financial sector remains competitive, and underwriters may face pressures to compete even for a company with past problems, not withstanding these underwriting uncertainties.
It would be all to easy, based on a review of the various recently released mid-year securities litigation reports, to conclude that securities class action lawsuit filing activity is both concentrated in the financial sector and declining. As I have suggested before (here), it is premature to conclude that overall securities litigation activity is in some sort of secular decline. By the same token, it would be incautious to conclude that the securities litigation threat is largely confined to the financial sector. The recent lawsuit filings in fact confirm that companies outside the financial sector continue to face considerable securities litigation exposure.
D&O Insurance in Troubled Times: An August 7, 2009 post on the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation blog (here) incorporates a memorandum from the Wachtell, Lipton law firm summarizing the critical D&O insurance issues in the current era of "historically significant dislocation." The memo provides a good but brief summary of critical issues, emphasizing the importance of Side A excess insurance, as well as considerations relating to the financial condition of insurers.
Among other things, the memo notes that "it may make sense to spend more for coverage from insurers that appear well-capitalized and financially strong."
Apologies for Service Issues: In recent days, some readers may have experienced problems attempting to access some documents to which I have linked on this site. In a sequence of events characterized both by lack of foresight and poor communications, the web address for a server I was using to host some documents for this site was changed without my knowledge, breaking the link to the URLs I used to link to the documents. I have fixed the most important links, but it will take a while to fix all of them. Readers may experience broken links on some older pages on this site for the next week or ten days while I fix the problem.
I encourage anyone who needs a particular document that they are unable to access as a result of this problem to contact me directly and I will provide you with a .pdf of the document. I apologize for this service glitch. I also note that anyone who thinks it would be easy to maintain a blog isn't reckoning, among other things, with the infinite potential for other people to radically screw things up.