While there were a number of significant, high-profile securities class action lawsuits filed during the first-half of 2010, overall filing levels for the year’s first six months, annualized for a full year, were well below last year’s filings and historical averages.
In the first half of 2010, there were 76 new securities class action lawsuits. This figure, if annualized, would mean 152 new securities class action lawsuits for the year, which is below the 169 that were filed in 2009, and about 29% below the 1997-2008 average of 197 filing per year.
The lawsuits were filed against companies in 41 different SIC Code categories, although as has been the case for the past several years, the first six months’ filings were again weighted toward the financial sector. 13 of the 72 first half filings were in the 6000 SIC Code category (Finance, Insurance and Real Estate), and another ten filings were against entities that lacked SIC Codes that were all financially related. This total of 23 first half filings against financially related filings represents 32% of the filings in the first six months.
Among these lawsuits filed against financially related targets were six new lawsuits filed against Exchange Traded Funds and six lawsuits filed against commercial banks. The filings against the ETFs is a trend that began in the second half of 2009. The suits filed against the commercial banks reflect in part the wave of bank failures that has been sweeping across the sector.
As in the past, life sciences companies also continue to be targeted. There were 7 lawsuits filed in the first half against companies in the 283 SIC Code group (Drugs) and 5 against companies in the 384 SIC Code group (Surgical, Medical and Dental Instruments and Supplies). These 12 lawsuits represent 16.6% of the first half filings.
In recent years, filings against foreign-domiciled companies have been an important part of total filings. For example, in 2008, lawsuits against companies from outside the U.S. represented 15% of all filings, and in 2009 they were 12.7% of all filings. However, so far in 2010, there have been relatively fewer securities suits filed against foreign companies. Four of the first half lawsuits were filed against foreign companies, representing only about 5.18% of the suits filed.
Even if, as I have speculated might be the case, the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Morrison v. National Australia Bank case might have the effect of discouraging suits against foreign domiciled companies (particularly those whose shares do not trade on U.S. exchanges), it already seems that filings against foreign domiciled companies are now a relatively less significant part of all filings than they have been in recent years.
The first half lawsuits were filed in 31 different federal district courts, although a significant number of the lawsuits were filed in the S.D.N.Y. There were 21 new securities class action lawsuits filed in the Southern District of New York in the first half of 2010, largely as a result of the concentration of cases filed against companies in the financial sector. The district court with the second most number of first half filings was the District of Massachusetts, which had four.
As I noted last year, there has been an increase in what I have described as "belated filings" – that is, new lawsuits where there is a gap between the proposed class period cutoff date of a year or more. By my count there were 14 of these belated cases filed in the first half, and they continued to be filed as the period progressed. It will be interesting to see what impact, if any, the Supreme Court’s statute of limitations ruling the Merck case (about which here) will have on the continued filing of these belated cases.
The subprime litigation wave began in early 2007. Though it is now in its fourth year, the subprime related and credit crisis related cases continue to come in. By my count, there were 13 subprime and credit crisis related lawsuits filed in the first half of 2010, many of them (such as the securities lawsuit filed against Goldman Sachs) related to mortgage securitizations that went bad. For a listing of the subprime and credit crisis related securities suits, including those filed in 2010, refer here.
As I have noted elsewhere, the plaintiffs have seemed particularly interested in pursuing claims in the wake of headline crises that various companies have suffered. Indeed, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill alone has generated securities class action lawsuits against BP, Transocean, and Anadarako. Other headline related securities suits in the first half include those filed against Goldman Sachs, Massey Energy and Toyota.
Though the number of new securities class action lawsuits are relatively down compared to historical levels, that does not necessarily mean that overall claims activity has declined. Indeed, analysis by Advisen (refer here) suggests that securities class action lawsuits represent an increasingly smaller percentage of all claims, a trend that began in 2006 and that increased in the first half of 2010.
In addition to the securities class action lawsuits, claimants are filing individual lawsuits (rather than class actions), a phenomenon that has been particularly evident with respect to many of the subprime and credit crisis-related claims. Claimants are also filing shareholders derivative suits or otherwise proceeding on different theories.
But this diversification notwithstanding, it is evident that securities class action filings were down in the first half of 2010, relative to historical levels, as they have been since about the second quarter of 2009.