Ontario Court: Company with Shares Trading Only on Foreign Exchange Subject to Canadian Securities Suit
On March 30, 2012, in a decision that may highlight the extent to which Canadian courts are increasingly willing to enforce securities laws in ways that may have extraterritorial effects, the Ontario Court of Appeals held that the liability regime under the Ontario Securities Act applies to Canadian Solar, a company whose shares trade only on NASDAQ and that do not trade on any Canadian exchange, and that has its principal place of business in China. A copy of the Court of Appeal decision can be found here.
An Ontario resident initiated a putative class action lawsuit against Canadian Solar under the Ontario Securities laws, alleging that the company overstated its financial results. Section 138.3 of the Ontario Securities Act creates a cause of action in the event of a misrepresentation by a “responsible issuer.” The statute defines “responsible issuer” as a reporting issuer or “any issuer with a real and substantial connection to Ontario, any securities of which are publicly traded.”
Canadian Solar is not a “reporting issuer.” Its shares are listed only on NASDAQ. Its shares do not trade on any Canadian exchange. Canadian Solar’s principal place of business is in China. However, it is registered as a Canadian federal corporation with its registered office and executive offices in Ontario.
A motions judge held that Canadian Solar is “responsible issuer” within the meaning of the statute. Among other things, the motions judge held that Canadian Solar’s shares did not have to be publicly traded in Canada for it to come within the definition of “responsible issuer.” Canadian Solar appealed this aspect of the motions judge’s ruling, arguing that only a company whose shares were publicly traded in Canada came within the definition of a “responsible issuer.”
The Ruling of the Court of Appeals
In a March 30, 2012 opinion, written by Justice Alexandra Hoy for a three-judge panel, the Ontario Court of Appeal s held that “the general principles with respect to extraterritorial regulation do not require that the definition of ‘responsible issuer’ be interpreted as confined to issuers any of whose securities are publicly traded in Canada.” Justice Hoy added that “there is a sufficient connection between Ontario and Canadian Solar to support the application of Ontario’s regulatory regime to Canadian Solar.”
Among other things, in connection with the sufficiency of the connection to Ontario, the court also noted that the plaintiff , “an Ontario resident who placed his order in Ontario for shares of a corporation based in Ontario, would reasonably expect that his claim for misrepresentations in documents released or presented in Ontario would be determined by an Ontario court.”
The Ontario Court of Appeals decision in the Canadian Solar case is interesting and potentially significant because of its holding that the secondary market misrepresentation damages class action under the Ontario securities laws could be asserted against a company even though the company’s securities were not publicly traded in Canada. Because all of the Canadian provinces have enacted legislation simalar to Ontario's (similar at least in this respect), the decision could have implications across all of the Canadian provinces. There obviously are factors that made this situation somewhat distinct, if not perhaps unique; Canadian Solar is a Canadian registered corporation with both its registered office and its executive offices in Ontario. In addition, the plaintiff, an Ontario resident, purchased his Canadian Solar shares in Ontario.
Nevertheless, as noted in an April 4, 2012 memo from the Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt law firm (here), the Court’s decision “makes it clear that non-reporting issuers whose shares do not trade anywhere in Canada may nevertheless find themselves subject to Ontario’s liability regime for misrepresentations made in the secondary market, provided however that the issuer has a ‘real and substantial connection’ to Ontario.”
At a minimum, as discussed in a May 2012 memo from the Blake, Cassels & Graydon law firm (here), the Canadian Solar opinion provides “possible guidance that may be instructive to determining when a real and substantial connection exists for purposes of the statute.” In particular, the memo also notes, it appears that “there is no one factor that will insulate companies from Canadian securities law.”
The Blake law firm’s memo goes on to suggest that “it is feasible that the current state of the law may result in Ontario and other Canadian jurisdictions becoming the forum of choice for shareholders attempting to seek remedies even where the connection to Canada is tenuous.” What remain to be determined in future cases, as the Osler, Hoskin law firm’s memo notes, “is the extent of the connections that other foreign issuers will be required to have with the province before they will be considered ‘responsible issuers’ for purposes of” the statute.
In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Morrison v. National Australia Bank, one of the questions that has been asked is whether another jurisdiction will emerge as an alternative forum in which aggrieved investors precluded from U.S courts can pursue their remedies. The Canadian Solar case provides an interesting point of view on the consideration of these issues, given that because the company’s shares trade on NASDAQ, an action against the company and its directors and officers under the U.S. securities laws is not precluded under Morrison. (Indeed, a separate action against the company has been filed in the United States, about which refer here.)
Nevertheless, the case does provide interesting additional insight into the possible availability of Canada as an alternative forum. This possibility was already the subject of a great deal of focus since Canadian courts have certified a global plaintiff class in the Imax case (about which refer here), and in the Arctic Glacier case (about which refer here).
The possibility that the Canadian courts might emerge as an alternative forum of choice seems to be advanced by the Court’s holding that it is not preclusive of an action under the relevant laws that the defendant company’s share were not traded on a Canadian exchange. Of course there were many other factors involved in this case that supported the application of the Ontario laws here that are not going to be present in many other cases. Nevertheless, the case does reflect a willingness by Canadian courts to apply its laws to cases with significant foreign aspects as well.