The U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2010 decision in Morrison v. National Australia Bank looked like the end of securities claims in U.S. courts on behalf so-called “f-cubed” claimants – that is, foreign shareholders of foreign-domiciled companies who bought their shares on foreign exchanges. In the aftermath of Morrison, these foreign claimants have pursued a number of avenues to pursue their claims, including, for example, initiating litigation in the defendant company’s home jurisdiction.
Among the more creative approaches was the attempt to pursue – in U.S. courts – claims on behalf of non-U.S. claimants under the laws of the claimants’ home country. The highest-profile attempt along these lines emerged in the Toyota shareholder litigation pending in the Central District of California, where the plaintiffs had amended their complaint in shareholder arising from the company’s sudden acceleration problems to assert claims under the Japanese Financial Instruments and Exchange Act. The plaintiffs had substantial incentive to pursue this approach since only a small fraction of the company’s shares (less than 10 percent) trade in the U.S. as American Depositary Shares.
However, in a July 7, 2011 opinion (here), Central District of California Dale Fischer made short work of this attempt to circumvent the impact of the Morrison decision. In her July 7 ruling, Judge Fischer rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the court had original jurisdiction over plaintiffs’ Japanese law claims under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA). She further declined to exercise the court’s supplemental jurisdiction over the claimants’ Japanese law claims. He dismissed the plaintiffs’ Japanese law claims with prejudice.
In seeking to argue that the court had original jurisdiction over their Japanese law claims, the plaintiffs’ had contended that because Toyota shares were listed but did not trade on the New York Stock Exchange, they were not a “covered” security to which CAFA applied, and, because CAFA did not apply, they could assert claims in U.S. court under Japanese law even though they could not otherwise assert claims under U.S. law. (I have attempted to summarize the plaintiffs’ CAFA arguments as best I could; Alison Frankel has a more thorough discussion of these issues in her July 11, 2011 Thomson Reuters News & Insight article entitled “Morrison End Run Hits Brick Wall in Toyota Case” (here)). Judge Fischer declined to read into CAFA the requirements that plaintiffs urged, as “to do so would ignore the plain language of the statute.”
Judge Fischer’s refusal to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the Japanese law claims is even more interesting, and is likely to spell the end of most future attempts by f-cubed claimants to try to assert claims in U.S. under foreign law. Among other things, because of the vast predominance of Japanese holders, “the damages analysis would focus overwhelmingly on these claims” and the Japanese law claims “unquestionably would dominate the litigation.”
Judge Fischer also found that the requirement of comity to Japanese courts “strongly argues against the exercise of supplemental jurisdiction.” He added that the respect for the rights of other countries to regulate their own securities markets “would be subverted if foreign claims were allowed to be piggybacked into virtually every American securities fraud case,” which would result in “imposing American procedures, requirements and interpretations likely never contemplated by the drafters of the foreign law.”
Judge Fischer did not say that there would never be an occasion when a U.S. court could properly exercise supplemental jurisdiction over foreign securities fraud claims. However, he specifically noted that “any reasonable reading of Morrison suggests that those instances will be rare.”
Whether or not any readers consider this outcome unexpected, the one thing that is clear is that the U.S. District Courts continue to take an expansive reading of Morrison. As Frankel put it in her article to which I linked above, the Toyota plaintiffs “fared no better than everyone else who’s tried to find any vulnerability in the Supreme Court’s ruling.”
M&A Litigation Soaring, For Sure: In my first half 2011 securities litigation analysis (here) one of the most distinctive trends I noted was the rise of M&A related litigation. Fox Business News has a July 12, 2011 article entitled “M&A Lawsuit Skyrocket as Fee-Hungry Law Firms Smell Easy Money” (here) which takes a closer look at the subject.
The article sounds themes that will be familiar to readers of this blog. However, the article is accompanied by a startling graphic that dramatically illustrates how massively the M&A-related litigation has ramped up since 2008. The article graphics also show how the M&A-related litigation has grown relative to M&A-related activity. In addition, the article provides numerical substantiation for the generalizations about the rising levels of M&A litigation.
I continue to believe that in the aggregate, these cases represent a serious problem for the D&O insurance industry, or at least for the carriers that are most active as primary carriers. I expect the increasing frequency of M&A –related litigation will be of increasing focus in the months ahead.
Second Quarter Litigation Update Webinar: And speaking of first half 2011 litigation filing trends, on Tuesday July 19, 2011 at 11 a.m. EDT, I will be participating in the Advisen’s "Q2 Securities Litigation Webinar." My fellow panelists will include Anderson Kill’s Bill Passanante, Navigators’ Scott Misson, and Willis’ John Connolly. The panel will be moderted by Advisen’s Jim Blinn. Information about registering for this event, which is free, can be found here.
Parting Thought: Am I the only one that finds the new nickels, with Thomas Jefferson’s oversized and distorted face looming off to one side, weird and creepy?