Securities lawsuit filings remained elevated during the first half of 2008. The 105 new securities lawsuit filings during the first six months of 2008 were more than 50% higher than the number of new securities lawsuit filings (69) in the first six months of 2007. (Please refer to the note below regarding my lawsuit filing “count”, which may differ from some other published tallies).
The 204 new securities lawsuit filings during the 12-month period from July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2008 is 15% higher than the 176 filings for the full year 2007 and also represents a 65% increase compared to the 123 filings during the 12-month period from July 1, 2006 through June 30, 2007. The 204 new securities lawsuit filings during the 12-month period ending on June 30, 2008 is the highest 12-month total since the period July 2004 through June 2005, during which 228 lawsuits were filed.
The 105 lawsuits filed during the first half of 2008 projects to a year-end total of 210 securities lawsuit filings, meaning that the filing rate is above the post-PSLRA filing average. According to Cornerstone Research, here, the annual average number of securities class action lawsuits during the period from 1996 to 2006 was 194.
A year end total of 210 filings would also represent the highest annual total since 2004, when 237 securities lawsuits were filed. (Because my YTD lawsuit count omits a number of lawsuits, for reasons discussed below, my YTD tally and my year-end projection may be lower the numbers that may appear in other published sources.)
The most significant factor in the elevated securities filing activity is the number of new lawsuits associated with the subprime and credit crisis. 58 of the first half filings (about 55%) of the first half securities lawsuit filings are subprime or credit crisis related. As reflected on my running tally of the securities class action lawsuits, which may be accessed here, the total number of subprime and credit crisis related lawsuits, including those filed in 2007 as well as those filed in 2008, now stands at 98. (Please refer to the note below regarding the recent revisions to my subprime and credit crisis-related lawsuit tally.)
Only 46 of the 105 first-half securities lawsuit filings were not subprime or credit crisis-related, meaning that the subprime related litigation unquestionably was a driving factor in the elevated securities lawsuit filing levels (although one might also speculate that other filings are down because the plaintiffs’ securities’ bar is preoccupied with the still emerging subprime litigation).
The subprime and credit crisis filings show no sign of abating. Of the 58 subprime lawsuits filed in the first half of 2008, 29 – exactly half– were filed in the second quarter, including eleven in June alone. This continued steady filing level suggests that the subprime and credit crisis-related litigation wave will continue during the second half of 2008.
An analysis of the first half filings by Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code confirms the foregoing conclusions. Although the companies sued in the first half of 2008 represented 56 different SIC Code categories, fully 62 of the lawsuits (or about 59% of the first half filings) were filed against companies in the 6000 SIC Code series (Finance, Insurance and Real Estate). The two most prominent SIC Code categories were SIC Code 6021 (National Commercial Banks), which had 17 lawsuits, and SIC Code 6211 (Security Broker Dealers), which had 14 lawsuits. No other single SIC Code category outside the 6000 SIC Code series had more than three lawsuits. (Please refer to the note below regarding SIC Code categorization.)
These statistics underscore an important point about the subprime and credit crisis related litigation. That is, with a couple of arguable exceptions, the subprime and credit crisis related litigation wave really has not spread beyond the financial sector. Although I have long speculated (most recently here) that the credit crisis litigation might hit nonfinancial companies, by and large that has not yet happened, at least not to any significant degree.
One consequence of the predominance of the subprime and credit crisis related litigation is that many of the first half lawsuits involved nontraditional plaintiffs and defendants. The traditional or conventional securities lawsuit to which I refer here involves a securities class action lawsuit brought by public company shareholders against the company and its directors and officers. This traditional type of securities lawsuit may sometimes include other third party defendants such as the company’s auditors or the company’s offering underwriters.
But many of the first half lawsuits involve plaintiffs other than public company shareholders. For example, among the first half filings were 17 auction rate securities lawsuits, in which the plaintiffs were not public company shareholders, but rather auction rate securities investors who were suing the broker dealers or financial institutions that sold them the instruments. (The securities issuers were not usually targeted in these lawsuits.) Refer here for my prior discussion of the auction rate securities lawsuits.
Similarly, the multiple securities lawsuits brought by mortgage-backed securities investors against the financial institutions that created the instruments also do not involve traditional shareholder plaintiffs. In addition, as I discussed here, the plaintiffs lawyers have chosen to bring many of these lawsuits against the securitizers in state court, to be be removed subsequently by the defendants to federal court. So the first half 2008 filing total is also noteworthy for its inclusion of a number of state-court initiated lawsuits.
The credit crisis litigation wave has also hit a number of nontraditional defendants. Rather than targeting just public company defendants, the plaintiffs in many of these lawsuits targeted, for example, hedge funds (refer here) and mutual funds (refer here). The presence of these nontraditional defendants sometimes pose some tough questions at the margins about whether or not a specific lawsuit should be included in the lawsuit count, as discussed further below.
It is probably worth noting that in addition to the lawsuits from the current credit crisis-related litigation wave, the first half filings also included two options backdating-related securities lawsuits filings.
Companies domiciled outside the United States were sued in 19 of the first half new securities lawsuit filings, representing 12 different countries, including four each from Canada and from Switzerland.
The lawsuits filed against domestic companies included corporate defendants from 27 different states, with the largest number from New York (22 lawsuits) and California (11 lawsuits).
The lawsuits were filed in 26 different U.S. district courts, but by far the largest number were filed in the Southern District of New York, where 43 (or about 41%) of the 105 lawsuits were filed. Other courts with a significant number of filings included the District of Massachusetts (11 lawsuits), the Northern District of Illinois (8 lawsuits), the Central District of California (5 lawsuits) and the Northern District of California (5 lawsuits).
A Note about “Counting” Lawsuits: As noted above, the presence of nontraditional plaintiffs and defendants, as well as the emergence of state court and other nontraditional filings, raises many hard questions about what to include in the lawsuit count. These factors by themselves create significant potential for different lawsuit counts.
In addition, the pattern of much of this litigation also poses some “counting” challenges. A couple of examples will illustrate the problem
Lehman Brothers (or at least one of its officers) was first sued in February 2008 in the Northern District of Illinois. That lawsuit was voluntarily dismissed. A second Northern District of Illinois lawsuit involving Lehman Brothers was filed in April 2008. Then a separate lawsuit was filed in the Southern District of New York in June 2008. I have only counted this litigation once, as has, for example, the Stanford Law School Securities Class Action Clearinghouse (as shown here).
By contrast, Falcon Strategies, a Citigroup-affiliated hedge fund, was sued in a securities lawsuit in April 2008, in federal court in Florida. That lawsuit was later voluntarily dismissed. (Refer here). Then the fund was sued in May 2008 in federal court in New York in a tender offer-related securities lawsuit (refer here) I could see counting this litigation once, but the Stanford website has counted each lawsuit separately and so have I.
But while I am in accord with the Stanford website to that extent, I could not agree with the Stanford site on some other specifics. For example, one of the lawsuits on their list is the Safeco litigation (refer here). The Safeco lawsuit is a merger objection suit. I have never counted these kinds of lawsuits in my tallies; were this lawsuit to be included, a whole raft of other merger objection litigation would also arguably have to be included. In my opinion, this lawsuit should not be counted in the securities lawsuit tally, but reasonable minds clearly could differ.
Similarly, the 2008 lawsuit involving Heartland Resources (about which refer here) contains allegations that the defendants improperly failed to register certain limited partnership interests. Alleged violations of the obligation to register securities seem to me to be fundamentally different than a lawsuit for securities law damages based on alleged misrepresentations or omissions relating to publicly traded securities. Reasonable minds could differ on this issue as well, but to my mind this kind of lawsuit should not “count.” This analysis applies not just to the Heartland Resources lawsuit, but also to the lawsuits involving Maximum Financial Group (refer here) and WCI Communities (refer here).
I have illustrated this analysis in detail here first to show how tricky this whole "counting" exercise is, and second to explain why there may be differences between my tallies and some others that may be published, including for example any lawsuit count based on the Stanford website. That does not mean that I think mine is right and the others are wrong – as I have stressed throughout, reasonable minds could differ on many of the specifics. The most important thing is that the various analyses are directionally consistent, which undoubtedly is and will be the case. The marginal differences are relatively unimportant.
A Note about SIC Code Categorization: As discussed above, the first half 2008 lawsuits include some filed against nonconventional defendants, including some, like hedge funds and mutual funds, that have not been assigned to an SIC Code category. In addition, many of the lawsuits included a host of related entity defendants.
Where the list of defendants includes a public company, I have used the public company’s SIC Code, even if it is not the primary defendant. Similarly, where a fund defendant is affiliated with a public company, I have used the public company’s SIC Code.
Nevertheless, there were a total of three of the lawsuits filed in the first half where I was unable to assign any SIC Code. These cases primarily involve mutual fund defendants.
A Note about the Subprime Lawsuit Tally: Regular readers know that I have been maintaining a running tally of the subprime and credit crisis-related securities lawsuits (which may accessed here). Readers that have been monitoring the list closely over time may have been somewhat surprised by the credit crisis lawsuit numbers I have used in this mid-year analysis. These numbers may appear suddenly larger than more recent tallies.
The reason for this adjustment is that as part of this mid-year review, I undertook a comprehensive audit of my lawsuit lists, and, in particular I conducted a cross-comparison with the Stanford website and a number of other sources.
As a result of this process, I added several items to my list of subprime securities lawsuits. Some of these additions were required because I had simply omitted certain items (where, for example, I was aware of the lawsuit but had simply neglected to add it to the list). Some of the additions were the result of recategorization, some simply new additions. All of these additions are highlighted in red in my updated list, which can be accessed here.
Break in the Action: The D&O Diary will slowing down in the next few days and will resume its normal publication schedule during the week of July 7.