The D&O Diary is pleased to present the following guest blog post, written by Angelo Savino (pictured), a partner at the Cozen & O’Connor law firm. Angelo is resident in the firm’s New York office. Angelo’s guest blog post follows:
As noted in prior posts (here), the U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether to grant certiorari in the National Australia Bank ("NAB") case, which involves foreign-cubed or f-cubed litigation. At the Court’s invitation, the Solicitor General and the SEC have now weighed in with the government’s position by submitting a joint brief.
Oddly, as noted by 10b-5 Daily, the government argues that (1) every Circuit Court that has considered the extraterritorial reach of the federal securities laws since Judge Friendly’s 1975 decision in Bersch has focused on the wrong issue and (2) there is currently a conflict among the Circuits regarding the standard to be applied to foreign-cubed cases under the cause test, but that the Court should nevertheless deny certiorari. Ironically, the government’s position may increase the likelihood that the Court will grant cert.
NAB involved claims on behalf of a class of foreign purchasers of stock in NAB, an Australian corporation, on foreign exchanges. The complaint alleged accounting irregularities at NAB’s Florida mortgage servicing subsidiary, Homeside, that were transmitted to NAB headquarters in Australia and incorporated into NAB’s financial statements, which were then disseminated from outside the U.S. The District Court dismissed the claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and the Second Circuit affirmed.
In considering the extraterritorial reach of the U.S. securities laws, the Second Circuit applied the cause test, which the Court articulated as follows: "subject matter jurisdiction exists if activities in this country were more than merely preparatory to a fraud and culpable acts or omissions occurring here directly caused losses to investors abroad." Relying on two 1975 decisions by Judge Henry Friendly – Bersch v. Drexel Firestone Inc. and IIT v. Vencap Ltd., the Court sought to identify which actions constituted the fraud and directly caused harm, or as the Court stated elsewhere in the opinion "what is central or at the heart of a fraudulent scheme."
Applying the above standard, the Court held that subject matter jurisdiction did not exist because NAB, not Homeside, was the publicly traded company and its executives at the Australian headquarters were primarily responsible for the company’s public filings, relations with investors, and public statements. Thus, the conduct that directly caused any loss occurred outside the U.S.
Thereafter, the plaintiff petitioned for cert. and the Supreme Court invited the government to submit its view on the petition. Although the SEC had previously submitted an amicus brief to the Second Circuit siding with the plaintiff and asserting that subject matter jurisdiction existed in the case, its current brief urges the Supreme Court to deny cert. because, although the Second Circuit analyzed the wrong issue, it reached the correct result.
The most striking aspect of the government’s analysis is the assertion, contrary to the jurisprudence of the last 34 years, that "the geography of an alleged fraudulent scheme – i.e., whether it was conceived and executed in whole or in part outside the United States – is irrelevant to the district court’s subject-matter jurisdiction." Instead, the government would engraft a geographical component onto the 10b-5 cause of action. The government notes that in cases of transnational fraud, a private plaintiff should be required to demonstrate a direct causal link between his injury and the U.S. portion of the alleged scheme. The government concluded that, in this case, the link between Homeside’s accounting numbers and the harm to the plaintiffs was too attenuated because, as the Second Circuit explained, the numbers had to pass through numerous checkpoints manned by NAB’s Australian personnel before reaching investors.
In an action by the SEC, however, the government asserts that the transnational nature of a fraudulent scheme is relevant only insofar as it has a sufficient connection to the United States to bring it within section 10(b)’s substantive prohibition. This begs the question what is a sufficient connection. The government’s answer this time is to characterize Homeside’s conduct as integral to the overall scheme and, therefore, sufficient to support an SEC enforcement action.
So after trashing the analytical method applied by every court to consider the extraterritorial reach of the securities laws over the last 34 years, the government next concludes that the conduct at Homeside is insufficient for foreign private plaintiffs but sufficient for an SEC action. This tends to give the government’s analysis the appearance of intellectual gymnastics designed to preserve or extend its own ability to bring cases. It seems more analytically satisfying to accept the traditional jurisdictional analysis as correct, and require foreign-cubed plaintiffs to satisfy the cause test while requiring the SEC to demonstrate satisfaction of the effects test, which focuses on harm to U.S. investors and U.S. markets. Moreover, to the extent that the SEC seeks, in a given case, to prevent export of fraud from the U.S., it should rightly bear the burden on a motion to dismiss of demonstrating that the resources of U.S. courts are appropriately being used, as it would if the issue is jurisdictional, but not if it is part of the 10b-5 cause of action. The government’s analytical model would shift that burden for private plaintiffs as well, making it more likely that they would bring more actions in U.S. courts.
The government’s brief also recognizes the existence of a split among the Circuits, but characterizes it as "much less pronounced than petitioners contend." Different Circuits have in fact articulated different formulations of the cause test, as noted in the brief. Add to that calculus, the Eleventh Circuit’s recent decision in the CP Ships case, affirming a District Court’s finding of subject matter jurisdiction in a case that, like NAB, involved alleged accounting irregularities at the Florida subsidiary of a foreign company whose stock traded predominantly on foreign exchanges. The apparent inconsistencies among the Circuits, of course, may simply be the product of the fact-intensive inquiry inherent in analyzing causation regardless of how courts articulate the cause test. But even then, it would be preferable to have a single nationwide standard. Nevertheless, the government concludes that NAB is not a suitable vehicle for resolving the conflict because the petitioners identify no case indicating that any other Circuit would allow their suit to go forward.
The government’s arguments seem motivated by a concern that analyzing foreign-cubed cases as a jurisdictional issue and using the Second Circuit’s short-hand formulation of the cause test (where did the heart of the fraud occur?) could prevent the SEC from bringing enforcement actions in certain cases. The government’s reasoning, however, seems to miss the mark. The cause test will have an impact primarily, if not solely, in the foreign-cubed context where there is a foreign plaintiff. The SEC will be bringing cases generally when it perceives an effect on U.S. investors or markets and may, therefore, be evaluated under the effects test. Alternatively, it will need to justify invoking the power of the U.S. courts to protect primarily foreign interests by demonstrating domestic conduct that directly caused the losses. In any event, the jurisdictional analysis rightly places the burden of demonstrating that the action should proceed on the party bringing the case, which the government’s suggested analytical model would not, at least at the motion to dismiss stage.
Despite believing that courts have been misanalyzing the issue for over three decades and despite recognizing a split in the Circuits, the government urges the Court to deny cert. By stressing these issues in its brief, however, the government may very well persuade the Court of the need to resolve these questions in an era of increasing globalization of the capital markets and increasing incidence of foreign-cubed litigation.
The D&O Diary is very grateful to Angelo Savino for submitting this article for publication on this site. I welcome draft proposed guest posts from other authors. Anyone interested in submitting a proposed guest post should just drop me a note using this blog’s contact function (see the Contact link in the right hand column, above).