In October 2011, when Southern District of New York Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum dismissed the securities class action lawsuit that had been filed against China North Petroleum Holdings, Ltd, it was the first of the many cases recently filed against U.S.-listed Chinese companies to be dismissed (as discussed at length here). However, in an August 1, 2012 opinion (here), the Second Circuit vacated the dismissal and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings.
The Second Circuit held that the plaintiffs may still pursue their claims even though they had bypassed the opportunity to sell their shares at a profit shortly after the alleged misrepresentations had been disclosed. In reaching this conclusion the Second Circuit rejected a line of lower court decisions that had reached a contrary conclusion on the issue of whether or not price recovery following a stock price drop negates the inference of economic loss and loss causation.
As detailed here, the plaintiffs first filed their action in June 2010. According to their amended complaint, during the class period, the defendants inflated the amount of the company’s proven oil reserves, overstated reported earnings inflated profits and misrepresented the company’s internal controls. An allegedly “bizarre series of events” followed the company’s February 23, 2010 announcement that it would be restating prior financials, including “revelation of illicit bank transfers” made to company officials and “a dizzying number of resignations and replacements” of top executives. Over the next few months additional details were revealed regarding the transfers, ultimately resulting in the resignation of the CEO and several members of the board. The NYSE had halted trading on the company’s shares on May 25, 2010, but when trading resumed on September 9, 2010, the company’s share price “plunged.”
The defendants moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint on loss causation grounds, arguing that the plaintiff had several opportunities to sell its shares at a profit following the allegedly corrective disclosure at the end of the class period, and contending that had the plaintiff “chosen to sell at those post-disclosure dates, it would have turned a profit.”
Judge Cedarbaum agreed. Even though the plaintiff ultimately sold its shares at a loss, she concluded that “that loss cannot be imputed to any of NEP’s alleged misrepresentations,” adding that “a plaintiff who forgoes a chance to sell at a profit following a corrective disclosure cannot logically ascribe a later loss to devaluation caused by the disclosure.” Because she found that the plaintiff “has not suffered any loss attributable to the misrepresentations alleged in the complaint,” and in reliance on a line of district court cases that had reached a similar conclusion, she granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss. The plaintiff appealed.
In an August 1, 2012 opinion for a three-judge panel written by Judge Chester Straub, the Second Circuit vacated Judge Cedarbaum’s ruling and remanded the case to the district court. The Second Circuit rejected the reasoning of the line of cases on which Judge Cedarbaum had relied in dismissing the case, and held that the fact that the price of the stock recovered soon after the price dropped does not negate the inference of economic loss and loss causation at the pleading stage. The court said that the reasoning on which Judge Cedarbaum had relied was inconsistent with both the traditional measure of securities fraud damages and the 90 day “look back” provision in the PSLRA. The court said:
At this stage in the litigation, we do not know whether the price rebounds represent the market’s reactions to the disclosure of the alleged fraud or whether they represent unrelated gains. We thus do not know whether it is proper to offset the price recovery against [plaintiff’s] losses in determining [plaintiff’s] economic loss. Accordingly the recovery does not negate the inference that [plaintiff] has suffered an economic loss.
The Second Circuit’s ruling is obviously significant in that it establishes that a stock price rebound following a corrective disclosure does not in and of itself eliminate the possibility that the plaintiff might be able to prove an economic loss and loss causation. The plaintiff’s law firm’s August 1, 2012 press release about the Second Circuit’s ruling and its significance can be found here.
The Second Circuit’s ruling is also significant because it revives one of the securities suits filed against a U.S.-listed Chinese company that had been dismissed. Observers have been watching these cases closely, and counted the dismissal as one of the important early milestones in the development of these cases. It should be noted that on remand to the district court, the defendants will still have the ability to assert the many defenses they have raised in the case and which have not yet been ruled upon because of the district court’s prior dismissal on loss causation grounds. The case has a long way to go yet. Nevertheless, the Second Court’s ruling at least allows this plaintiff to live for another day.
As I noted at the time of Judge Cedarbaum’s ruling, because of the unusual movement of this company’s share price, the rulings on loss causation issues here are unlikely to have a significant impact on the other cases involving U.S.-listed Chinese companies. That observation remains true with respect to the Second Circuit’s ruling. However, the Second Circuit’s ruling could prove to be very significant amongst cases in general in which a defendant company’s share price rebounded following an initial price decline..