After a brief lull during the second quarter, securities class action lawsuit filings during the third quarter were closer to historical norms, although the filings levels did drop again during September.
By my count, there were 49 new securities class action lawsuits during the third quarter. For reasons discussed below, my count could vary significantly from third quarter tallies that others may publish. But the 49 third quarter filings brings the year to date total through September 30, 2009 to which brings the year to date total of new securities class action lawsuit filings to 143.
The annualized equivalent of the filings for the first nine months of 2009 projects to a twelve-month filing rate of 191, which is slightly below but still well within range of the average of 197.7 annual filings during the 13-year period between 1996 and 2008.
After a decline in filings during April and May at the end of the second quarter, when there were monthly filing totals of 11 and six respectively, there were 20 new securities lawsuit filings in June. But the number dropped to 17 in July and only 12 in September. Clearly, the filing activity levels have fluctuated month to month so far during 2009.
There may be any number of reasons for this fluctuation, but I continue to believe that the fluctuations are largely due to the fact that the plaintiffs’ lawyers are jammed up with the mass of lawsuits they filed over the last three years. As I have detailed at length elsewhere (here), many of the third quarter filings have proposed class period cutoffs well in the past, in some cases more than a year in the past. These filings may suggest that the plaintiffs’ lawyers have been so preoccupied with the other cases and with the Madoff lawsuits that they developed a backlog, which they are now getting around to working off.
The filings during the third quarter were not nearly so concentrated in the financial sector as during the first half of the year. In the first six months of 2009, about two thirds of the target defendant companies were in the financial sector. However, in the third quarter, only 12 of the 49 new securities lawsuit involved companies with Standard Industrial Classification Codes in the 6000 series (Finance, Insurance and Real Estate). There were also nine new securities class actions involving firms without SIC codes, most of which were financially related companies.
Even if all nine of those companies lacking SIC Codes are counted as financial, that still makes only 21 out of the 48 third court suits in the financial sector. Thus less than half of the third quarter filings were against companies in the financial sector, as compared to over two-thirds in the first half of the year.
One contributing factor in the relative decline in the number of new securities suits against financial companies may be the declining number of new lawsuits relating to the subprime meltdown and credit crisis. Thus, while there have been nearly 200 securities lawsuits filed since February 2007 related to the subprime and credit crisis litigation wave, including as many as 58 total in 2009, only about seven of subprime and credit crisis related cases were filed in the third quarter (depending on how you count).
As I noted in my recent interim update of the subprime and credit crisis related litigation (here), this apparent decline in the cases related to these phenomena may be due to the changing financial circumstances. What started several years ago with the subprime meltdown has evolved into a global financial crisis, affecting all companies across the entire economy. As a result of these developments, it has become increasingly difficult to define precisely what constitutes a subprime and credit crisis-related lawsuit. It may not be so much that the subprime and credit crisis litigation wave has crested as it is that the wave has merged into a larger tidal movement and is no longer its own separately identifiable phenomenon.
The high incidence of lawsuits involving companies without SIC Codes is a reflection of the number of new cases involving unusual lawsuit targets. There were, for example, several filings during the third quarter involving ETF Funds (refer here, here and here, for example). There were also new lawsuits filed involving closed end investment funds (refer here) and mortgage trusts (refer here and here). These actions are a continuation of the filing activity we have seen for several quarters, as a wide variety of complex financial firms and investment vehicles have been and continue to be drawn into securities litigation.
But though the third quarter filings, as was the case with the filings in the first half of the year, involved a number of these unusual targets, many of the companies named in third quarter lawsuits are more representative both of the larger economy and of more traditional securities litigation targets. Overall the companies named as defendants represented over 30 different SIC Code categories. For example, six of the third quarter filings involved life sciences companies in the 2830 SIC Code category and three involved filings against medical device companies in the 3840 SIC Code category.
By contrast to the first six months of the year, relatively few of the third quarter filings involved foreign domiciled companies. Thus, while 18 of the first half lawsuits involved foreign companies, only two of the third quarter lawsuits involved foreign companies. Many of the foreign targets in the first half of the year were financial companies, so the relative decline in filings against foreign companies may simply be a reflection of overall reduction in lawsuits against financial firms.
The new securities lawsuit filings in the third quarter were not nearly so heavily concentrated in the Southern District of New York as in the first half of the year. Thus, while in the six months of 2009, 45 out of 94 (or nearly half) of the new securities lawsuits were filed in the Southern District, only 12 of the 48 third quarter filings (or only 25%) were initiated in the S.D.N.Y. Again, this relative decline may be a reflection of the reduced number of lawsuits involving financial companies.
About Counting: As has been the case in recent quarters, the process of "counting" new securities lawsuits continued to be quite challenging during the third quarter. As has been the case in the past, I have not counted breach of fiduciary duty/merger objection lawsuits. In addition, I have also excluded from my count the "failure to register securities" lawsuits when these suits have been filed in state court (refer for example here), or even if filed in federal court assert only state law claims (refer for example here). In addition, the recurring phenomenon of lawsuit involving nontraditional financial vehicles makes it extremely challenging, given the outward similarity of many of these vehicles and their names, to tell whether or new complaint represents a new or a duplicate lawsuit.
These kinds of sorting issues inevitably result in some line drawing and some marginal categorization issues. Reasonable minds clearly could differ on many of these sorting concerns.
The bottom line is that my lawsuit count for the third quarter and for the first nine months almost certainly will differ from similar tallies that other may publish – indeed, for the same reason, the various other tallies will also likely disagree with each other as well. Certainly, anyone trying to come up with their own count that were to include, for example, merger objection suits or failure to register claims, would reach a substantially different number than the one I came up with.
I emphasize these counting issues, as I have in the past, as a way to try to explain the differences that may appear in the various published accounts. No one should be surprised by the differences, although consumers of the counting data have every right to know what has been included and excluded from any given count in order to understand how and why the count differs from other published versions.