When the United States Supreme Court issued its June 21, 2007 opinion in the Tellabs case, media commentators generally viewed it as a defense victory. My own view (expressed here), was that the decision represented more of a draw, and that the practical impact would vary from Circuit to Circuit. The suggestion that Tellabs was not a comprehensive defense victory was arguably reinforced in the ongoing Tellabs case itself, when (as discussed here) the Seventh Circuit, reconsidering the case on remand from the Supreme Court, reaffirmed its prior reversal of the district court’s dismissal of the case.
An April 16, 2008 opinion (here) from the First Circuit in the Boston Scientific securities lawsuit provides even further support for the view that Tellabs by no means put the plaintiffs’ lawyers out of business, and indeed, that in some circuits – the First Circuit, for example – Tellabs may even put the plaintiffs in a better position than the were prior to Tellabs. I discuss the First Circuit’s opinion in the Boston Scientific case in detail below, but the critical point here is that the while the district court, applying the First Circuit’s pre-Tellabs standard, had dismissed the case, the First Circuit, applying the Tellabs standard, reversed the district court and remanded the case for further proceedings.
The background regarding the Boston Scientific case can be found here. In a nutshell, the complaint alleges that in late 2003, the company became aware of serious problems in Europe with its TAXUS stent, which at the time had not been introduced in the U.S. The company allegedly experienced serious problems, allegedly of the same kind as the prior problems in Europe, after the stent was introduced in the U.S. in March 2004. The plaintiffs allege that the company sought to soft-pedal the problems by representing that they were due to physician unfamiliarity with the stent, while the company allegedly knew that the problems were actually due to manufacturing defects. The defendants allegedly withheld the true information while TAXUS sales drove up the company’s share price, allegedly in order to permit the defendants to unload their shares of the company’s stock at the inflated prices. After the company announced a series of stent recalls, its share price fell and the securities litigation ensued.
In an opinion dated June 21, 2007 (here), issued ironically the same day as the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in the Tellabs case, the district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss. Among other things, the district court held that the plaintiff failed, as required under the PSLRA, to plead facts supporting a “strong inference” that as of the time of the stent recall and manufacturing changes, the defendants had the requisite scienter. The plaintiffs appealed.
The First Circuit, in an opinion written by Judge Sandra Lynch, noted that “the district court did not have the benefit of the Tellabs opinion, which reversed a higher standard for scienter imposed by the prior law of the circuit. We apply Tellabs and that leads us to a different result.” The court went on to note that “while there is support for the defendants’ inferences, we think, at this stage, that plaintiff’s inferences are at least equally strong.”
The First Circuit also reversed the district court’s holding as to reliant on the view that the plaintiffs’ allegations were essentially just “fraud by hindsight.” In addition, the First Circuit said that while the plaintiffs’ insider trading allegations are “on the weaker end of the spectrum…a finder of fact could reasonable ask why [the defendants] would have sold so much stock at a time when the company appeared to be soaring on the strength of TAXUS.” On these and other bases, the First Circuit concluded that “plaintiff has pled enough to give rise to inferences that are at least as strong as any competing inference regarding scienter.”
In reversing the district court, the First Circuit expressly acknowledged that Tellabs has reversed “a higher standard” that the First Circuit itself had previously “imposed” as the “law of the circuit.” This specific statement is an explicit recognition that, in the First Circuit at least, the Tellabs standard not only did not advance the defendants’ interests, but it arguably aids’ plaintiffs’ interests by imposing a lower threshold pleading requirement.
At a minimum, the First Circuit opinion in the Boston Scientific case underscores that the Tellabs opinion represents something less than that the watershed defense victory it was initially portrayed to be. The decision also highlights that even after Tellabs, in certain circumstances, plaintiffs will be able to continue to meet the PSLRA’s pleading requirements – particularly in certain circuits.
Another Options Backdating Securities Lawsuit Dismissal: In the latest dismissal motion ruling in an options backdating-related securities lawsuit, Judge Susan Illston of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, in an April 14, 2008 opinion (here) in the UTStarcom case (about which refer here), granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, and directing the plaintiff to file an amended complaint by May 16, 2008.
Judge Illston found that while the plaintiff had adequately pled loss causation, he had not adequately pled scienter. In rejecting the plaintiff’s scienter allegations, Judge Illitson found that “none of these factual allegations is cogent and compelling…because each could equally support the inference that the stock option had been backdated through innocent bookkeeping error.”
The UTstarcom dismissal is the latest in a series of options backdating-related securities lawsuit dismissals, as discussed in my recent post (here) commenting on other recent dismissals. I have added the UTStarcom dismissal to my running tally of the options backdating lawsuit dismissals, denials, and settlements, which can be accessed here.
Special thanks to Adam Savett of the Securities Litigation Watch blog (here) for copies of the Boston Scientific and UTstarcom opinions.
A Reflective Moment: The coincidence that both of the opinions cited above were both written by women made me wonder something – how many female members of the federal judiciary are there? The answer, determined after a little bit of Internet research, is that there are a lot of female federal judges, although women clearly are still underrepresented on the U.S. Supreme Court, the First Circuit, and several other federal courts. A slightly outdated list of women in the federal judiciary can be found here.
The list includes, among others, Leonie M. Brinkema, now a district court judge on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. I had the privilege of seeing Judge Brinkema, while she was still known to some as “Dee Dee”, appear in court when she was an AUSA (and I was a clerk for a federal judge). She was the most skilled and effective advocate I ever saw in action.
I learned many things from watching her, including the lesson that you did not have to be loud or obnoxious to be an effective advocate, a very important lesson for a young attorney to learn. If others of my brethren (and sistren) at the bar could also have learned the same lesson, I might still be involved in the active practice of law. Judge Brinkema is perhaps best known for presiding over the trial of 9/11 conspirator Zacharias Moussaoui, whom she told at his sentencing to life imprisonment that he would "die with a whimper."