In prior posts (refer here), I have discussed the increasing reluctance of U.S. courts to exercise subject matter jurisdiction over securities claims against foreign-domiciled companies brought by foreign claimants who bought their shares on foreign exchanges (so-called “f-cubed” claimants).
In the most recent example of this, Judge Thomas Griesa of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, in a June 3, 2008 opinion (here), granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the claims of “f-cubed” claimants against AstraZeneca and certain of its directors and offices.
The complaint essentially alleges that Exanta, a pharmaceutical being develop by the AstraZeneca (a U.K.-based company) “was not as safe or effective as defendants’ public statements made it out to be.” The plaintiffs’ claimed that these statements inflated the company’s share price. Refer here for background regarding the lawsuit.
The outcome of the subject matter jurisdiction question was probably tipped in the court’s opening observation that “over 90% of the members of the putative class are foreigners who purchased their shares on foreign exchanges.”
The court reviewed the propriety of its exercise of jurisdiction over claims brought on behalf of these foreign shareholders, by considering whether or not there were sufficient allegations of U.S.-based conduct causing sufficient U.S.-based effects. The court found that while there were sufficient allegations of U.S.-based conduct, plaintiffs “do not allege facts in support of the second prong of the test – that the United States conduct ‘directly caused’ plaintiffs’ losses.”
The court said that in order to establish this requisite causal link, the plaintiffs must have “sufficiently alleged that the foreign purchasers relied on United States based conduct when deciding to acquire the stock”. In order to establish this kind of reliance, the plaintiffs urged the court in effect to adopt a global “fraud-on-the-market” theory, arguing that “it is illogical to suggest that the fraud-on-the-market theory applies within the United States but not outside of it.”
The court noted that other courts had rejected the global fraud-on-the-market theory, out of concerns that it would “extend the jurisdictional reach of the United States securities laws too far.” The court further noted that the Second Circuit had not yet provided guidance on whether the fraud-on-the-market theory should apply to foreign countries, and “in the absence of clear authority in favor of a global fraud-on-the-market theory, the court declines to adopt such a theory.” The court dismissed the claims of the foreign claimants based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
The court further concluded that the plaintiffs had not sufficiently alleged that two foreign-domiciled individual defendants had the requisite “minimum contacts” with the U.S. for the court to exercise personal jurisdiction over them.
Finally, the court concluded that the plaintiffs had not sufficiently pled scienter, and dismissed the remaining claims on that basis. The court held that neither the allegations of insider trading nor the allegations relating to a secondary offering were sufficient to establish scienter.
The court further rejected the plaintiffs allegations that the defendants had consciously disregarded the truth, based on the court’s own review of the various disclosure documents on which the plaintiffs sought to rely. The court concluded that the plaintiffs “have not alleged anything to negate the idea that that defendants were attempting to develop a drug they thought beneficial and were do describing it to the public.” The court found that the plaintiffs had “not alleged an inference of scienter as compelling as the opposing inference.”
The fact that the case will not be going forward even as to the domestic shareholders reduces the impact of the court’s ruling to exclude the f-cubed claimants from the class. The dispersion of the class, with such an overwhelming percentage of f-cubed claimants in the purported class members may well have inclined the outcome on the jurisdictional issue in any event.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys in the most recently filed cases seem to be anticipating that courts are inclined to exclude these claimants from the putative class and increasingly are taking that into account in their initial pleadings. For example, as discussed here, when plaintiffs’ lawyers recently launched a U.S. securities lawsuit against Société Générale, they included in the purported class only U.S residents and investors who bought ADRs on U.S. exchanges. Their purported class by its own construction excludes foreign residents who bought shares on foreign exchanges.
The increasing exclusion of f-cubed litigants from U.S. securities class actions (whether voluntary or as a result of court action) is one of the reasons that interest in U.S.-style securities relief is increasing in other countries, as I discussed in a recent post (here).
In any event, the court’s dismissal of the AstraZeneca case also continues another trend, which is that while life sciences companies are frequently sued (compared to companies in most other categories), the cases filed against them are often dismissed, as I also discussed in a prior post (here)