In a landmark development for private securities litigation in Canada, a Justice of the Ontario Superior Court has ruled that a proposed securities suit against IMAX under Ontario’s new statutory provisions allowing private securities litigation may proceed. The court separately certified a global class of IMAX investors on whose behalf the case will now proceed.
According to a December 14, 2009 National Post article (here), Ontario Superior Court Justice Katherine van Rensberg, in two separate orders, granted the plaintiffs leave to bring the case and certified the action as a class suit, allowing plaintiffs to proceed with their case against several IMAX directors and officers over disclosures in the company’s 2005 financial statements. Justice van Rensberg's December 14, 2009 opinion granting the plaintiffs' motion for leave can be found here. Her December 14, 2009 opinion granting the plaintiff's motion for class certification can be found here.
Justice van Rensberg’s decisions are, according to the Post article “groundbreaking” because the case is the first to test recent revisions to the Ontario Securities Act that potentially made it easier for disappointed investors to bring actions for civil liability against directors and officers of public companies for misrepresentations in public disclosure documents.
These statutory provisions, which became effective in December 2005, were first passed by the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in legislation now referred to simply as Bill 198, which is codified as Section XXIII.1 of the Ontario Securities Act. The provisions provide for the liability of certain specified individuals for misrepresentations in companies’ public disclosure documents.
Section 138.8 (1) of the statute specifies, however, that a liability action cannot be commenced "without leave of court granted upon motion with notice to each defendant." The court is to grant leave only "where it is satisfied" that the action "is being brought in good faith" and there is a "reasonable possibility" the plaintiff will prevail at trial.
The significance of Justice van Rensberg’s decision in the IMAX case is that, according to Justice van Rensberg, the IMAX case represents "the first .case in Ontario in which the court has been asked to grant leave in such an action." She also observed that the statutory provision "has never been interpreted previously" adding that there is no other statutory similar statutory provision in force in any other Canadian jurisdiction.
In granting the plaintiffs' motion for leave to proceed, Justice van Rensberg held that "she is satisfied that the action is brought in good faith and that the plaintiffs have a reasonable possibility of success at trial in pursuing the statuory claims against all ... parties" other than with respect to two individual outside director defendants.
Of particular significance is Justice van Rensberg's conclusion that the standard to be used in determining whether a case should proceed is relatively low. With respect to the first part of the test, she said that "there is no reason to read in a 'high' or 'substantial' onus requirement for good faith in this type of proceeding." She also ruled against a more onerous threshold for the "reasonable possibility of sucess" part of the test, stating that "a threshold that is too difficult may have little deterrent value" and that an onerous threshold "may unduly lengthen and complicate the leave procedure."
In a portion of the ruling that is of particular significance for outside directors serving on the boards of Canadian corporations, Justice van Rensberg specifically held that the statutory thresholds had been met with respect to several outside director defendants who served on the audit committee to the board or who otherwise had oversight responsibilties for the company's disclosure documents.
Justice van Rensberg also separately held that the plaintiffs had satisfied the requirement for the certification of a global class to assert both the statutory claims and certain common law claims that the plaintiffs had raised. The approved class included both plaintiffs who had bought there IMAX shares on the TSX as well as those who had bought their shares on the NASDAQ exchange.
In certifying the class, van Rensberg specifically rejected the defendants' arguments that the court could not include within the class the 80 to 85% of IMAX shareholders who resided in the U.S. or were otherwise non-Canadian. The defendants argued that it would be "extraordinary" for the court to recognize a class where most of the class members resided outside the jurisdiction. The defendants also argued that given the pendancy of the separate securities lawsuit pending in the U.S., it would be "premature" for the court to certify a worldwide class.
In rejecting the defendants' arguments against certification of a worldwide class, Justice van Rensberg took particular note of the arguments that the defendants had raised in opposing class certification in the U.S. securities lawsuit, in which they had also argued against the certification of a global class in that case as well. The defendants in particular had urged the superiority of the Canadian action, leading van Rensberg to conclude that the defendants were trying to have it both ways.
Justice van Rensberg went on to conclude that the court had authority to certify an international class, noting that the case had a real and substantial connection between the claims asserted on behalf of the foreign class members and the jurisdiction. She also specifically rejected the argument that that the existence of the parallel U.S. proceeding represented a reason not to certify a global class in Canada.
The Post article quotes two leading Canadian plaintiffs’ class action securities attorneys, who predictably find much to like with the court rulings. Dimitri Lascarias, of the Siskinds law firm, who is co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the case, is quoted as saying the decisions represented a “huge undertaking” for the court because there are “no parallels.” He is also quoted as saying that “it’s a very good day for the investing public in Canada. For a long time it’s been difficult for them to advance their claims in a class action setting. Finally, there’s relief on the class-action horizon.” (The other co-lead counsel on the case was Jay Strosberg of the Sutts Strosberg firm.)
UPDATE: Dimitri Lascaris emailed me the following additional comment on the IMAX case: "We are obviously pleased with the decision, and are particularly gratified that the court certified a global class. Insofar as canadian issuers are concerned, the proper place for the rights of their shareholders, whether foreign or domestic, to be adjudicated is this country. "
I previously wrote about the IMAX case here in a post in which I raised the question about whether an action in Ontario might be used as a way to obtain discovery that could be used to support a parallel securities action pending in the United States. While that concern may remain, it may be likelier in light of these rulings that litigants may seek to pursue claims in Ontario not to support litigation elsewhere, but for its own sake and purposes, without reference to litigation in the U.S. or elsewhere. That said, the principles reflected in these rulings will be most compelling with respect to Canadian based corporations, suggesting that it is unlikely that the Ontario courts will be flooded with securities litigation involving companies from outside Canada.
With respect to Canadian companies, these rulings in the IMAX case unquestionably represent significant developments, and they suggest that there potentially could be significant additional litigation to come in the Ontario courts. Both Justice van Rensberg's ruling that a low threshold should apply on a motion to leave and that an Ontario court may certify a worldwide class, if followed by other courts, could make Ontario an attractive jursidiction in which to pursue securities litigation, at least with respect to Canadian companies if not with respect to companies domiciled or based elsewhere.
Julie Triedman has a December 15, 2009 article on the Am Law Litigation Daily (here) about the IMAX decisions that among other things quotes Lascaris as saying that the court certified of global class "and the door is now open for foreign investors to benefit from that protection."
UPDATE: Loyal reader and blog friend, Dave Williams of Chubb, sent me an email reminder that he will be chairing a panel on Securities Litigation developments in Canada at the PLUS D&O Symposium in New York on February 3-4, 2010. Background infromation regarding the Symposium can be found here. Speakers at the panel will include Justice Colin Campbell and Dimitri Lascaris, among others.
Very special thanks to Dimistri Lascaris for providing me with copies of Justice van Rensberg's opinions in the IMAX case.
I welcome comments on this blog from readers on these developments, particularly from my many friends north of the border that I know regularly read this blog.
Book Note: While I am in a Canadian mode, I want to recommend a recent excellent biography of Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer, navigator and mapmaker. In his splendid book Champlain's Dream, author David Hackett Fischer (who also wrote the excellent book, Washington's Crossing) tells Champlain's extraordinary story.
Fischer convincingly argues that the success of French attempts to explore and colonize North America were largely the result of Champlain's persistent and courageous efforts. The portrait that emerges is one of a man of uncommon bravery and intelligence, who mastered not only the arts required for voyages of discovery but also the tact and finesse required to maintain necessary relations at court during the reigns of several French monarchs.
Fischer also argues that Champlain was a noble and perhaps even heroic figure, in part because of his insistence that the Native Americans the French settlers encountered should be treated with dignity and respect. As a result, the French were able to establish far more amicable relations with the locals than were the English, Dutch and Spanish colonists.
A particularly good review of Fischer's book from the October 31, 2008 New York Times can be found here.
What Passes for Humor These Days: My 16-year old son: “What’s brown and sticky?” Me: “I don’t know, what’s brown and sticky?” My son (after a pause): “A stick.”
He told me that one right after he asked me, “What do you call cheese that isn’t yours?” Me: “I don’t know, what do you call cheese that isn’t yours?” My son: “Nacho Cheese.” (You might have to repeat that last one out loud a couple of times.)