The $277.5 million jury verdict in the Apollo Group securities lawsuit caused a great sensation at the time it was returned in January 2008 (as discussed here). The verdict heartened plaintiffs’ attorneys and it served as a counterweight to the defense verdict in the virtually contemporaneous JDSU Uniphase securities lawsuit trial (which is discussed here).

But on August 4, 2008, Judge James Teilborg of the United States District Court for the District of Arizona entered an order (here) granting the defendants’ motion for judgment as a matter of law, based on his finding that the trial testimony did not support the jury’s finding of loss causation. Judge Teilborg’s order vacated the judgment and entered judgment in defendants’ favor.

The Apollo Group securities lawsuit involved alleged misrepresentations and omissions relating to a February 6, 2004 “Program Review” in which a Department of Education representative discussed the company’ potential violation of DoE rules. News of the allegations in the Program Review first became public on September 14, 2004, but the company’s share price did not react. Apollo’s share price fell significantly on September 21, 2004, when a securities analyst issued a report (the “Flynn reports”) expressing concern about the company’s possible exposure to future regulatory issues.

Judge Teilborg had held in connection with the parties’ pre-trial cross-motions for summary judgment that the issue whether the Flynn reports constituted “corrective disclosure” sufficient to support a finding of loss causation was a question for the jury

In its post-trial motion, Apollo argued that the evidence at trial was insufficient to support a finding that the Flynn reports represented “corrective disclosure,” because they did not contain any new fraud-revealing information. Judge Teilborg found that “the evidence at trial undercut all bases on which [the plaintiff] claimed the Flynn reports were corrective.”

Accordingly, the court concluded that although the plaintiff “demonstrated that Apollo misled the markets in various ways concerning the DoE program review,” the plaintiff “failed to prove that Apollo’s actions caused investors to suffer harm.” The court therefore concluded that “Apollo is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”

Judge Teilborg then went on to consider conditionally Apollo’s motion for a new trial, as a precaution against the possibility that the appellate court could reverse the grant of judgment as a matter of law. He found that “none of the reasons cited by Apollo warrant a new trial in the case” and so the court conditionally denied Apollo’s motion for a new trial.

The possibility of significant post-trial developments in the Apollo case is something I expressly suggested at the time of the jury verdict, and, indeed the case still has a great deal farther to run procedurally, with additional opportunities for even further developments in the case.

In the interim, the post-trial disposition in the Apollo Group case alters the mix of securities lawsuit trial outcomes. According to data from the Securities Litigation Watch (here), six post-PSLRA cases (including Apollo Group) have gone to verdict, with three of the verdicts in favor of the plaintiffs and three in favor of defendants, although on November 26, 2007, the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded the defense verdicts in the Thane International case (about which refer here). With the vacatur of the plaintiff’s verdict in the Apollo Group case, the securities lawsuit jury verdict scoreboard now stands evenly distributed, three each for plaintiffs and defendants – subject to further procedural developments.

As for the significance of this development, it may be hard to say definitively until all proceedings are complete, but the verdict’s vacatur can’t be encouraging for plaintiffs’ lawyers. This development together with the defense verdict in the JDS Uniphase trial would seem to argue pretty compellingly in favor of avoiding jury trials and seeking pretrial resolution

One practical significance of the vacatur of the Apollo jury verdict is that it removes any suggestion that the jury’s verdict represents a finding of fraud sufficient to trigger the fraud exclusion in the company’s D&O insurance policy. This undoubtedly represents significant relief to the company and the other defendants, in addition to the sense of vindication the company likely feels following the court’s ruling.

The company’s August 5, 2008 press release about the Judge Teilborg’s ruling can be found here. A detailed summary of the Apollo Group securities case, including links to pleadings, can be found here.