As a result of legislative reforms and a changing enforcement environment, the number of disclosure related securities cases in Japan has increased in recent years and is likely to continue to grow in the years ahead, according to a July 15, 2009 report from NERA Economic Consulting. The report, which was written by Makoto Ikeya and Satoru Kishitani, is entitled "Trends in Securities Litigation in Japan: 1998-2008" and be found here.


The report examines 249 criminal and civil actions alleging violation of the Japanese securities from 1998 through 2008. Because very few Japanese cases settle, the report analyzes cases that have resulted in a judgment following trial.


The 249 cases studied encompass a wide variety of kinds of matters. The vast majority of the 249 cases (79%) represent broker-dealer cases (reflecting, for example, suitability allegations as well as a variety of other issues). The list also contains other kinds of cases included "market manipulation" and "insider trading" cases. But a large and growing number of the cases involve allegations of "misstatement" – indeed, by 2008, the misstatement cases represented half of all of the cases.


The growth in the number of misstatement cases in recent years is attributable to changes in the liability provisions in the Japanese securities laws. One set of revisions lessened the plaintiff’s burden for proving damages. In addition, for fiscal years beginning April 1, 2008, misstatements in internal control reports are subject to civil liability. The introduction of new accounting standards, more rigorous audits and disclosure of quarterly reports has added disclosure responsibilities, "increasing the risk that companies may make misstatements and face suits." Finally, Japan’s Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission has been strengthened and expanded.


The report’s data show that cases related to misstatements have increased significantly since 2005, although the numbers in part reflect that certain high profile scandals have attracted multiple suits in the absence of any provision in Japan for class action litigation. For example, there have been eleven cases filed against Seibu Railway and four against Livedoor.


The report also notes that cases alleging that auditors alleged failed to detect misstatements have been on the rise since 2006, with ten such cases from 2006 through 2008, compared to only two from 1998 through 2005.


The report also notes that the type and number of plaintiffs involved is changing. Institutional investors have been more involved in recent years; for example, pension funds and trust banks are the main plaintiffs in the cases against Livedoor and Seibu Railway. Plaintiffs attorneys have also started forming large groups of plaintiffs to file for damages; the Livedoor case involved 3.310 individual investors and similarly large plaintiff groups have formed in other cases.


The increased number of misstatement cases has also affected the damages trends. The 9.5 billion yen award in the Live Door case raised the average award in 2008 to 450 million yen. However, of the 25 civil cases alleging misstatements between 1996 and 2008, a high number resulted in no damages award, although eight of those sixteen involved audit firm defendants and four involved Seibu Railway litigation.


Excluding litigation against the audit firms, 44% of the civil misstatement cases resulted in damage awards that were more than half of the amount sought and the average judgment was 1.5 billion yen.


The report concludes by noting that given the changes in disclosure requirements and the current litigation environment, securities litigation in Japan is expected to gradually increase going forward. However, in light of the "fundamental differences" between the U.S. and Japan (for example, "the absence of class actions, fewer attorneys, and other social factors") it is "unlikely that the number of securities litigation cases in Japan will be comparable to the U.S."


An interesting January 2009 legal memorandum by the Anderson Mori & Tomotsune law firm on the topic of civil liability under Japanese law for false statements in securities filings can be found here.