Even though Madoff victims previously filed a securities class action lawsuit against Banco Santander and other parties in the Southern District of Florida (as discussed here), a different group of claimants has now filed a separate lawsuit in the Southern District of New York against substantially the same set of defendants. However, the new lawsuit purports to represent a different approach, and also presents specific allegations pertaining to Banco Santander’s public offer (here) to compromise the Madoff-related claims.
On February 4, 2009, plaintiffs filed a purported class action lawsuit in the Southern District of New York "on behalf of all persons or entities who owned shares of Optimal Strategic U.S. Equity Ltd. on December 10, 2008." The defendants include Banco Santander S.A. and related entities; Optimal Investment Services; PricewaterhouseCoopers; several HSBC-related entities; and several individual defendants. A copy of the complaint can be found here.
Both the purported class and cast of defendants named in this new lawsuit are similar to the class and defendants named in the previously filed Southern District of Florida lawsuit (about which refer here). However, unlike the prior lawsuit, the most recent lawsuit does not assert any claims under the federal securities laws.
Even though the new lawsuit purports to involve a class action, it asserts, rather than alleged violations of the federal securities laws, common law claims against all defendants for negligent misrepresentation, breach of fiduciary duty, and unjust enrichment. The complaint also asserts a claim for aiding and abetting a breach of fiduciary duty claim against PricewaterhouseCoopers. In addition, the complaint asserts a claim against all defendants under Section 349 of the New York General Business Law.
What makes this class action complaint’s lack of securities law allegations noteworthy is that it was filed by one of the leading plaintiffs’ securities class action law firms. A number of possibilities suggest themselves as to the reasons for the omission of a claim based on the firm’s area of specialty.
The first is the possibility that the firm hopes to maintain its own lawsuit separately and without consolidation with the previously filed lawsuits.
Another more interesting possibility is that the law firm wants to avoid the discovery stay under the PSLRA. Indeed, press reports (here) relating to the lawsuit expressly noted that "unlike other Madoff-related cases, the suit does not contain a securities claim, meaning plaintiffs can receive relevant information about the case before any trial that could bring to light previously unknown details on the case."
A leading plaintiffs’ securities firm’s use common law claims as a tactical way to insert a discovery tentacle, possibly to support later amended securities claims, is a disturbing possibility that would represent a circumvention of the PSLRA’s intended protections. Of course, there is always the possibility that the plaintiff lawyers in fact intend to pursue the common law claims without later adding securities claims, which would represent an interesting development in and of itself.
Yet another reason the plaintiffs’ lawyers may have dispensed with a federal securities claim is suggested in the claim asserted against PricewaterhouseCoopers. Under Stoneridge, the plaintiffs have no aiding and abetting claim against the audit firm under the securities laws. The complaint nevertheless asserts an aiding and abetting claim against the audit firm, but for fiduciary duty violations, not Securities law violations, suggesting an attempt to avoid Stoneridge’s limitations.
The new complaint in any event expressly references Banco Santander’s public offer to compromise the Madoff-related claims (about which refer here). Among other things, the complaint describes Santander’s offer as "woefully inadequate," citing the fact that the offer "does not compensate Class members for any interest or gain their money would have earned," and asserting that the preferred stock Banco Santander is offering would be substantially discounted in the open market.
For their part, the plaintiffs in the action previously filed in the Southern District of Florida have filed an "emergency motion" to enjoin Banco Santander from contacting putative class members to try to secure a release from them of their claims. In the memorandum filed in support of the motion (a copy of which can be found here), the plaintiffs allege that Santander "has launched a misleading and coercive campaign to pick off class members one by one, by pressuring them to release their claims based on incomplete and misleading information."
The memorandum cites Santander’s supposed use of closed door meetings, in which class members are presented with "onerous conditions and take-it-or-leave-it terms with quick expiration dates." The memorandum also references Santander’s "failure" to inform the putative class members of the existence of the lawsuit that "seeks recovery in excess of the compensation proposed."
The motion seeks to enjoin Santander from contacting class members, in order to prevent an "end-run around the Court’s jurisdiction and power to preside over this Class Action."
Whatever else may be said about the multidirectional litigation, it seems fairly certain that Banco Santander is getting a quick indoctrination into the battlefield tactics of the U.S. plaintiffs’ bar.
I have in any event added the new lawsuit to my running tally of the Madoff-related litigation, which can be accessed here. The new lawsuit appears in Table IV, in which I have identified "additional lawsuits against related defendants" and that are distinct from the federal securities class action lawsuits separately listed in the document.
Special thanks to Adam Savett of the Securities Litigation Watch blog for a copy of the complaint of the new lawsuit.
More Bank Closures: The expanding wave of bank failures swelled again this past Friday night when the FDIC announced the closure of three more banks, bringing the number of 2009 year-to-date closures to nine.
The three latest bank closures are Alliance Bank, previously a $1.14 billion asset bank in Culver City, CA (about which refer here); County Bank, previously a $1.3 billion bank in Merced, California (refer here); and First Bank Financial, previously a $279 million asset bank in McDonough, Georgia (refer here). The FDIC’s complete list of failed banks can be found here.
The closure of nine banks already in 2009, including in particular the closure of six banks in just the last two weeks, is extraordinary in and of itself. It is also noteworthy in context, as the number of bank closures just in the opening weeks of this year already exceeds the total number of all bank closures during the four years between January 1, 2003 and January 1, 2007. Indeed, during the period January 1, 2000 to January 1, 2008, only one year (2002, with 11 closures) had more bank closures than the nine already in the first six weeks of the year.
As I recently noted (here), the increasing number of bank closures is a difficult and disturbing trend, Unfortunately, all signs are that the number of bank closures will continue to grow as the year progresses.
Event Registration Update: If you are planning on attending the PLUS D&O Symposium on February 25 and 26, 2009 at the Marriott Marquis hotel in New York but you have not yet registered, you may want to get your registration in at your earliest opportunity. Event registration is rapidly filling, and so you may want to register now before it is too late. Registration information can be found here.
This year’s conference promises to be particularly interesting and informative. I am co-Chairing this year’s Symposium with my good friends, Chris Duca of Navigators Pro and Tony Galban of Chubb. The key note speakers include former Secretary of States Madeline Albright and New York Insurance Superintendent Eric Dinallo. Other panelists and speakers include a number of noteworthy individuals, including Stanford Law Professor Joseph Grundfest, Wilson Sonsini partner Boris Feldman and many others.
The Symposium will also feature a reprise of the excellent video, first shown at the PLUS International Conference in November, of "The Life and Times of Bill Lerach." The Securities Docket recently featured a trailer of the video, here.