Seventh Circuit Weighs In on State Court ’33 Act Jurisdiction and Removal: A January 5, 2009 Seventh Circuit decision in the Katz v. Gerardi case (here) may make it more difficult for plaintiffs to pursue ’33 Act litigation in state court, at least in the Seventh Circuit — and possibly elsewhere, too.
As I detailed in a recent post (here), plaintiffs’ lawyers have proven keenly interested in pursing subprime and credit crisis-related litigation in state court, apparently for forum shopping type reasons. Defendants generally have sought to remove these cases to federal court, relying, among other things on the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA) and the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998 (SLUSA).
However, this past summer, the Ninth Circuit held in the Luther v. Countrywide case that the nonremoval provision in Section 22 of the ’33 Act (which provides concurrent state and federal court jurisdiction for ’33 Act cases) effectively trumps the more recently enacted SLUSA and CAFA because it more specifically relates to securities lawsuits. My discussion of the Luther v. Countrywide case can be found here.
An October decision in the Second Circuit in the New Jersey Carpenters’ Fund v. Harborview Mortgage case had refused to remand to state court a ’33 Act case, as is more fully discussed on the 10b-5 Daily blog (here). The Harborview decision was primarily based on the fact that the underlying securities lawsuit did not involve "covered securities" for which SLUSA created an explicit removal exception; because the exception did not apply, the case could appropriately be removed to federal court notwithstanding the nonremoval provision in Section 22.
In the recent Seventh Circuit opinion, Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote that the provisions of the more recently enacted statutes, particularly CAFA, trump Section 22. Judge Easterbrook expressly rejected Luther v. Countrywide’s conclusion that the more specific securities statute prevailed. However, Judge Easterbrook’s opinion, like the Second Circuit opinion in Harborview, also depended in part on the fact that the investment instruments involved are not "covered securities" (i.e., do not trade on a national exchange), and therefore did not come within one of CAFA’s removal exceptions.
In addition, Judge Easterbrook’s opinion does seem to have been influenced significantly by the fact that the plaintiff in the case was really a seller of the investments involved, rather than a buyer, and therefore lacked a legal basis to assert a ’33 Act claim. Although the opinion nevertheless examined the removal/jurisdictional issues as if the plaintiff had a legal right to assert the claim, the opinion’s starting point arguably influenced the outcome of its analysis.
In any event, the Seventh Circuit’s recent opinion, together with the Second Circuit’s Harborview opinion, clearly could create substantial jurisdictional hurdles (at least outside the Ninth Circuit) for the numerous plaintiffs now seeking to pursue ’33 Act claims in state court. Many (if not all) of the various subprime and credit crisis-related cases filed in state court related to investment instruments that are not traded on national exchanges and therefore are not "covered securities." Accordingly, contrary to the title of one of my prior posts, Section 11 cases may not be "coming soon to a state court near you" after all.
A January 12, 2009 Law.com article discussing the Seventh Circuit opinion can be found here.
Collins & Aikman Defendants Criminal Charges Dropped: On January 9, 2009, prosecutors dropped securities fraud and other criminal charges against former Collins & Aikman CEO David Stockman and three others. As reported in the January 10, 2009 Wall Street Journal (here), the U.S. Attorney’s office said further prosecution "wouldn’t be in the ‘interests of justice’ following a renewed assessment of the case."
While the individuals involved undoubtedly are relieved to have the prosecutorial threat removed, the government’s action comes only after the now-defunct company’s directors and officers insurance was entirely exhausted by defense fees, as I discussed at length in a prior post (here). Unfortunately for these individuals, they continue to face SEC enforcement proceedings as well as civil litigation (about which refer here), now without any further insurance available to fund their defense in these proceedings, not to mention any settlements or judgments that may follow.
A criminal prosecution has such an enormous potential to cause harm. On the one hand, it is commendable that the government was willing to reassess the case and to drop it before any further harm was done. On the other hand, even though the prosecution is over, it has done material damage to the individuals who were unfortunate to be subject to a prosecution that lacked an adequate basis. It is extremely regrettable when the government uses its enormous power when it is unwarranted. In this instance the government can drop the case and walk away without so much as an apology, but the unfortunate consequences of an unjustified prosecution continue for the individuals involved.
University of Denver law professor Jay Brown has extensively covered the Collins & Aikman criminal prosecution on the Race to the Bottom blog (here), including in particular his discussion (here) of how the criminal prosecution exhausted the company’s D&O insurance. The SEC Actions blog has a good summary description (here) of the criminal case and raises the question whether the SEC will proceed with the civil enforcement proceeding in light of the discontinuance of the criminal case. All of the key pleadings in the criminal case can be found on the University of Denver Law School’s corporate governance website, here.
2008 Delaware Case Law in Review: Francis Pileggi of the Delaware Corporate and Commercial Litigation Blog has released the2008 installment of his annual review of key Delaware opinions. Pileggi’s report, which is must reading for anyone who wants an overview of important legal developments in Delaware’s court’s during 2008, is entitled "Selected Key Corporate and Commercial Delaware Decisions in 2008" and can be accessed here.