It was obvious from the first reading that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Morrison v. National Australia Bank represents a sweeping victory for the defendants. As I noted in my initial post after the decision came down, the Court’s holding that plaintiffs can’t pursue fraud claims for securities purchased on foreign exchanges will have a significant impact both on pending cases and on future filings.
On further reflection, it seems the case could have even more significant implications.
First, with respect to pending cases, it is worth noting that Vivendi itself believes, as I suggested in my prior post, that National Australia Bank ruling has significant implications concerning the jury verdict entered against the company in January 2010. Indeed, Vivendi issued a June 25, 2010 press release (here), in which it said that the company is "very satisfied" with the decision, commenting further that the Court’s ruling is "totally in line with the position defended all along by the Group in the American and French Courts."
According to prior press reports (here), as many as two-thirds of Vivendi’s investors live in France, and undoubtedly many of them, as well as many of Vivendi’s other investors that reside outside the United States, likely bought their shares on securities exchanges outside the United States. Under the transactional test the Court enunciated in the National Australia Bank decision, investors who bought their share on non-U.S. exchanges cannot pursue a claim under U.S. securities laws. It seems likely that the class of persons entitled to claim injury in the Vivendi case necessarily will be dramatically narrowed.
There are many other pending cases that are likely to be similarly affected. In a June 25, 2010 AmLaw Litigation Daily article (here), Andrew Longstreth examines the likely impact of the National Australia Bank case on the securities class action litigation filed under U.S. securities law against BP and certain of its directors and officers. BP’s common shares trade on the London Stock Exchange, and though many investors likely bought American Depositary Receipts for BP on U.S. exchanges, many of its shareholders more likely bought their shares in the U.K. (The AmLaw article notes that 28% of BP’s equity is in ADRs, so those shares are unlikely to be affected by the Supreme Court’s recent decision.)
Other cases that are likely to be affected by the Supreme Court’s decision include the action brought against Porsche, which was sued in January 2010 by short sellers of Volkswagen stock who claimed Porsche secretly cornered the market in Volkswagen shares but denied that it intended to acquire Volkswagen. According to a June 25, 2010 Bloomberg article (here) discussing the impact of the National Australia Bank decision on the Porsche case, the plaintiffs claims in the case are likely reduced only to "causes of action based on low-volume American depositary shares."
A number of foreign-domiciled companies that have been the target of securities class action litigation under U.S. securities laws filed amicus briefs in the National Australia Bank case; the cases filed against many of these companies, including EADS and Alstom, seem likely to be substantially affect by the Court’s holding.
Other recently filed cases also seem likely to be affected, including the cases recently filed against Toyota,
Securities suits against foreign companies have in recent years been a significant part of overall securities lawsuit filings in recent years. For example, 24 (or 12.7%) of the 2009 securities lawsuit filings involved companies that are domiciled outside the United States. In 2008, there were 34 foreign domiciled companies sued in securities class action lawsuit, or about 15% of all filings that year.
Not all of these securities suits are necessarily going to be affected by the National Australia Bank case. For example, the lawsuit filed earlier this year against Nokia was at the very outset brought only on behalf of investors who bought their American Depositary Shares in the company on U.S. exchanges. Similarly the lawsuit filed late last year against Siemens was brought solely on behalf of purchasers of the company’s American Depositary Receipt shares.
The fact that cases against foreign companies with securities trading on U.S. exchanges may still be susceptible to securities class action litigation in U.S. court because their securities trade on U.S. exchanges could well discourage some overseas companies from having their shares trade here.
While there will still be circumstance even after National Australia Bank in which securities suits in U.S. courts against foreign-domiciled companies will still be filed and will still go forward, it seems probable that many other cases that might have been filed in the past will now simply go unfiled, at least in the U.S -- particularly in those cases where the foreign companies do not have significant numbers of ADRs or other securities trading on U.S. exchanges.
Given what a significant percentage of total U.S.-based securities class action filings these actions against foreign companies have become in recent years, the reduction in these filings could mean a material reduction in the overall level of securities class action filings (although please see my comments below about some other possibilities for U.S.-based litigation.)
The fact that investors who bought shares on foreign exchanges can no longer access U.S. courts clearly creates a problem these investors. As the filing levels described above demonstrate, these investors increasingly had come to rely on the U.S processes and remedies as a way to seek redress when they felt they had been misled, at least where the alleged fraud involved U.S-based conduct.
Indeed, numerous foreign institutional investors had filed amicus briefs in the National Australia Bank case (refer for example here), arguing that "both foreign and domestic investors alike rely on American Law to ensure that corporations doing business in America are not tainted by fraud."
Now that these investors can no longer "rely on American Law" in many instances, these investors will have to consider their alternatives. One possibility is that these investors will increasingly rely on remedies in their own country. Without access to U.S. courts, these and similarly situated investors may find action in their domestic courts more attractive.
For that matter, without access to U.S remedies and processes, investors in foreign countries may press for the implantation of legal reforms in their home countries to permit them better means of attempting to recoup losses based on alleged fraud.
Of course, resourceful plaintiffs’ lawyers in this country are now highly motivated to try to find ways around the National Australia Bank decision. Some possible ways it might be circumvented include filing individual lawsuits in state court under state law, and filing federal court class actions alleging state law violations. Claimants in these kinds of cases arguably may face the same hurdles of trying to show that the relevant law provides remedies regarding securities transactions on foreign exchanges, but the existence of U.S.-based fraudulent conduct potentially could provide a sufficient basis for relief under many legal theories, even if not under the federal securities laws.
Another possibility is that the foreign institutional investors and others may seek legislative change in the U.S. in order to establish a new statutory basis for relief in U.S. courts for investors who bought shares overseas, at least where there is U.S.-based conduct involved in the alleged fraud. As I pointed out in my prior post, legislative initiatives in the current Congress proposed to do that very thing.
As Luke Green points out in his post on the Risk Metrics Securities Litigation blog (here), the National Australia Bank case does not carve out an exception for the SEC and the DoJ, and there may be considerable interest providing statutory means for these agencies to pursue remedies for U.S.-based fraudulent conduct even if in connection with transactions on foreign exchanges. (Green also has a number of other interesting thoughts and comments about the decision.)
UPDATE: An alert reader points out that in the Conference Committee of the financial reform bill (called "The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act", here ) there are provisions addressing these questions of extraterritoriality. First, Section 929P(b) authorizes an action brought by the Commission based on a statutorily defined conduct and effects test. Second, Section 929Y directs the Commission to study whether private rights of action should be allowed on the same basis as authorized for the Commission in 929P(b). The Commission is to report to Congress within 18 months of the statute's enactment.
The bottom line is that National Australia Bank is an important decision that will have a number of significant impacts, some immediately and some in the months and years to come. Some of the impacts are obvious and apparent now, and some will only become apparent over time.
The National Australia Bank case does underscore how significant it is when the U.S. Supreme Court decides to take up a securities case. Each occasion represents a context within very significant changes in the interpretation or application of the U.S. securities laws potentially could occur, as proved to be the case here. Full consideration of this possibility makes it all the more interesting and potentially significant that the Supreme Court recently agreed to hear the Matrixx Initiative securities suit. This development raises the possibility for even further landscape altering case law from the U.S. Supreme Court in its next term.
It’s Not Over Yet, Folks: While it is not too early to start looking ahead to the Supreme Court’s next term, it is also worth noting that this current term is not yet complete, as the Court has yet to issue decisions in four high profile cases. As noted on the WSJ.com Law Blog (here), these four decisions are likely to be issued on Monday, June 28, 2010.
Among the four cases yet to be decided is Free Enterprise Fund v. PCAOB, which will address the question whether it was appropriate for Congress to give authority to the SEC to name the members of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. The case raises basic questions about the separation of powers between the Executive and Legislative branches and potentially could address the question of the constitutionality of the Sarbanes Oxley Act.
Depending on how the Court rules, this case could potentially be very significant, particularly if the Court reaches the constitutionality question. As the WSJ.com Law Blog comments, "If the justices agree that the accounting board isn’t constitutional, it could force Congress to revisit Sarbanes-Oxley, or at least the portion of it that creates the accounting board. It could also call into question other independent agencies and how they appoint members of similar boards."
More World Cup Notes:
1. A tip of the hat to the Ghanians, who played with speed, skill and opportunism and did what they had to do to win an exhausting, exciting game.
2. A final salute to the Americans, too, who played all four of their games with heart and class and who are going home simply because there is a limit to how many times a team can come from behind. Landon Donovan's winning goal in extra time last Wednesday against Algeria is one of the great moments of this World Cup.
3. England's fans have to be beside themselves over Frank Lampard's disallowed goal late in the first half of their game against Germany. On the other hand, as unjust as the disallowance was, England pretty much got beat, by a clearly better team. .
4. The Mexicans have a legitimate gripe about Argentina's first goal on Sunday. Carlos Tevez was clearly offsides. However, poor officiating had nothing to do with the total defensive breakdown that allowed Gonzalo Higuain's goal for Argentina's second score, and the Argentiines' third goal was a magnificent strike from Tevez. The Germany/Argentina game next week should be terrific.
5. If, as seems likely at this point, FIFA spends the next four years trying to figure out how to improve the offciating at the next World Cup, I hope they will also take a hard look at ways to better enforce the rules against embellishment. Too many players seem more inclined to flop than to play. It really is revolting.
6. The French don't have to worry about anybody disrespecting them, because there's really no need -- the French have done such a masterful job of it themselves. The Irish can be excused for any pleasure they might be taking from the French team's embarrassment.