Driven by the growing wave of subprime-related litigation (particularly a spate of auction rate securities lawsuits), the number of new securities class action lawsuit filings surged in March 2008. The total number of new securities class action lawsuit filings — 25 – matches the number of new filings in November 2007, which in turn represented the highest monthly total of new filings since January 2005.

The 25 new securities lawsuits in March included 14 new subprime-related suits, taking account the new auction rate securities filed against J.P. Morgan Chase on March 31, 2008 (about which refer here). Of the 14 subprime-related suits, eight (including the new J.P. Morgan Chase lawsuit) were brought on behalf of auction rate securities investors against the companies that sold them the instruments. The remaining lawsuits (both those that are subprime-related and those that are not) were brought on behalf of public company shareholders against the companies and their directors and officers, other than one lawsuit brought on behalf of mutual fund investors.  

Largely because of the subprime-related litigation, many of the March lawsuits were filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York – a total of 11 of March’s 25 new securities lawsuits were filed in the S.D.N.Y. Six of the new securities lawsuits filed in March involved companies domiciled overseas.

With the addition of the 25 new lawsuits in March, the total number of new securities lawsuits filed in the first quarter of 2008 totaled 52, of which 24 are subprime-related. All of the auction rate securities lawsuits were filed in March. (A complete list of the subprime-related lawsuits can be found on my running tally of subprime lawsuits, which may be accessed here.)

The 52 new securities class action filings in the first quarter of 2008, if extrapolated across four quarters, imply an annual filing rate of 208 new securities class action lawsuits, which is consistent with historical norms. (According to Cornerstone’s year-end 2007 securities analysis, here, the average number of securities class action filings during the period 1997 to 2006 is 1994). However, while this filing rate is consistent with historical levels, it is well above the annual levels seen in the most recent years, particularly 2006 (116) and 2007 (166).

Again, largely due to the number of subprime-related filings, the S.D.N.Y had the largest number of first quarter filings, with 21. The federal district with the next highest numbers of filings, D.Mass., had only five.

The companies sued in new securities lawsuits in the first quarter represented 31 different Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) Code categories, which might suggest that a broad diversity of companies were sued, but in most of those 31 categories only a single company was sued. The SIC Code categories with the largest numbers of companies sued were SIC Code category 6211 (Security Brokers and Dealers), with 7 companies sued, and 6021 (National Commercial Banks), with 6 companies sued. In all 29 companies in the 6000 SIC Code series (Finance, Insurance and Real Estate) were sued in the first quarter.

Nine of the companies sued for the first time in the first quarter of 2008 were domiciled overseas, representing eight different countries (including Switzerland, in which two of the companies are domiciled; the other seven countries had only one each.)

Six on the companies sued for the first time in the first quarter of 2008 had completed an initial public offering less than 12 months before the date of the first-filed lawsuit.

A final word about my lawsuit count: I am largely dependent on publicly available sources for my information about securities class action filings, although I have been able to supplement my information with data and links supplied by readers. (I am always grateful when readers bring information to my attention). I have compared my count to the information available on the Stanford Law School Securities Class Action Clearinghouse website (here) and have elected to omit certain cases that the Stanford site has included, largely because at least three of the cases listed on the Stanford site do not involved publicly traded companies. I will say that the diversity and variation of cases that have arisen in the last few months have created some very difficult categorization issues, and reasonable minds clearly could differ as to whether any particular case should or should not be “counted.”

While the securities class action lawsuit filing rate has fluctuated since mid-2007, the evidence remains consistent that the "lull" in filings that occured between mid-2005 and mid-2007 is over. It does remain to be seen if the filings will continue at their current rate, especially whethter factors such as the auction rate securities crisis will continue to drive litigation. On the other hand, the litigation activity is being driven by so many different aspects of the current crisis, it seems probable that subprime and other credit-related litigation will continue to accumulate. The more interesting question may be the extent to whcih the credit crisis litigation will spread beyond the financial sector.

A Further Thought about Securities Class Action Settlements: Earlier today I posted about the new Cornerstone report on 2007 class action settlements. The report is interesting and includes useful analysis and information. But upon reflection, it occurred to me that it is increasingly the case that class action settlement data alone may not provide all of the information necessary to understand the costs involved in resolving securities lawsuits. As I have noted in numerous prior posts (refer here), class opt outs are an increasingly important part of securities lawsuit resolution, a development that gained considerable momentum during 2007. Indeed, as I note here, the aggregate amount required to settle the Qwest opt-out actions actually exceeded the amount of the class settlement, and the amount paid in settlement of other opt actions is also very substantial.

For that reason, any assessment of the total costs involved in securities case resolution cannot be limited to class action settlements alone. The costs involved with separate opt-out actions must also be considered.