According to January 29, 2010 reports in the New York Times (here) and on Bloomberg (here), the jury in the long-running securities class action lawsuit against Vivendi has resulted in a verdict against the company on all 57 of the plaintiffs’ claims. However, the jury also found that the two individual defendants, former Vivendi CEO Jean Marie Messier and former Vivendi CFO, were not liable. According to published reports, damages (with prejudgment interest) could be as much as $9 billion.
This case involved the financial impact on the company from the $46 billion December 2000 merger between Vivendi, Seagram’s entertainment businesses, and Canal Plus. The plaintiffs contended that as a result of this and other debt-financed transactions, Vivendi experienced growing liquidity problems throughout 2001 that culminated in a liquidity crisis in mid-2002, as a result of which, the plaintiffs contend, Vivendi’s CEO Jean-Marie Messier and CFO Guillaume Hannezo were sacked.
The plaintiffs contended that the between October 2000 and July 2002, the defendants misled investors by causing the company to issue a series of public statements "falsely stating that Vivendi did not face an immediate and severe cash shortage that threatened the Company’s viability going forward absent an asset fire sale. It was only after Vivendi’s Board dislodged Mr. Messier that the Company’s new management disclosed the severity of the crisis and that the Company would have to secure immediately both bridge and long-term financing or default on its largest credit obligations."
Additional background regarding the case and the plaintiffs’ allegations can be found here.
As reflected in data compiled by Adam Savett on the Securities Litigation Watch (here) since the enactment of the PSLRA in 1995, a total of nine securities class action lawsuits (counting Vivendi) have been tried to verdict. Of those nine, and after all post verdict motions and appeals, defendants have prevailed in five and plaintiffs have prevailed in four. Among the cases in which plaintiffs have prevailed is the Household International securities class action trial, which on May 7, 2009 resulted in a plaintiff’s verdict on the issue of liability (about which refer here.). Damages are also to be determined later in that case.
Though plaintiffs have prevailed in the Vivendi trial, at least as to their claims regarding the company, this case undoubtedly has much further to go. Not only will there be post-verdict motions and further proceedings regarding damages, but there almost certainly will be subsequent appeals. Indeed, Vivendi has already indicated that it would appeal if the verdict were unfavorable. Among other things, the case presents significant jurisdictional issues, particularly with respect to the claims of certain foreign domiciled investors. These issues are now pending before the Supreme Court in the National Australia Bank case.
But the bottom line is that the two securities class action cases that have gone to the jury in the last 12 months have resulted in verdicts in plaintiffs’ favor, a development the plaintiffs’ bar will certainly tout as significant .