On January 21, 2010, the insurance information firm Advisen released the latest in a series of various observers’ year end analyses of 2009 securities litigation. Advisen’s year report can be accessed here. The Advisen report takes a somewhat different approach than the other reports, and reaches some strikingly different conclusions. Among other things, the Advisen report, perhaps by contrast to prior studies, concludes that "securities litigation" (as that term is used in the report) is actually increasing.


Warning! Terminology Matters!

In order to appreciate the Advisen report, it is absolutely indispensible to understand that the Advisen report uses its own unique terminology.


The most important thing to understand is that the Advisen report uses the term "securities litigation" to include a very broad range of kinds of lawsuits, including not just securities class action lawsuits, but also derivative actions, regulatory and enforcement actions, individual lawsuits, and collective actions in courts outside the United States.


The Advisen report also apparently includes within the category "securities lawsuits" claims alleging "common law torts, contract violations and breaches of fiduciary duties."


So the report uses the term "securities lawsuits" basically to mean any type of corporate or securities litigation (other than ERISA litigation), regardless even of whether or not the legal action was commenced in the U.S. or even apparently whether it alleges a violation of the securities laws. Because of the enormous variety of litigation encompassed within this category, throughout this post I have put the phrase "securities lawsuits" or "securities litigation" in quotation marks.


The Advisen report also uses the phrase "securities fraud" lawsuits as a subset of the larger group of "securities lawsuits." Contrary to what you might expect, however, the category of "securities fraud" lawsuits does not include class action lawsuits alleging securities fraud – securities fraud class action lawsuits are their own separate category ("SCAS"). Instead, the phrase is used to refer to regulatory and enforcement actions — yet somehow also includes private securities lawsuits that are not filed as class actions.


So the "securities fraud" lawsuit category includes lawsuits alleging fraud under the federal securities laws if the fraud is alleged by an individual but not if it is alleged on behalf of a class. 

The Report’s Conclusions

Perhaps the most important contribution that the Advisen report makes to understanding what happened from a litigation standpoint is its observation that "securities litigation" — as broadly defined in the report – actually increased in 2009 by comparison to prior years. Thus the report states that in 2009 the number of "securities lawsuits" actually grew to 910 suits, up 13% from 2008, which in turn was up 33% from 2007.


This observation is interesting and seemingly contrasts with conclusions reported in other studies suggesting that securities litigation declined in 2009. The difference in the analysis is due to the fact that the other studies concentrated exclusively on securities class action lawsuit filings in the United States, whereas the Advisen report is focused more broadly on corporate and securities litigation generally, and on litigation both inside and outside the United States.


It appears that for several years, securities class action lawsuits as a percentage of all "securities lawsuits" have been declining. As recently as 2004, securities class action lawsuit filings represented as much as half of all " securities lawsuits" filed, whereas in 2009 securities class action lawsuits represent only about one quarter of all "securities lawsuits."


The point here is an important one – that is, even if absolute numbers of securities class action lawsuit filings are declining, that does not mean that overall claims activity is decreasing. To the contrary, claims activity is actually increasing, while at the same time the mix of cases filed is changing. So if you were to focus only on securities class action lawsuit filing levels, you might mistakenly conclude that overall claims susceptibility is decreasing. It is not. It is increasing.


But even with respect to the narrower issue of securities class action lawsuit filings ("SCAS"), the Advisen report reflects a different perspective than other studies.


The Advisen report reports a relatively higher number for the number of securities class action lawsuit filings in 2009 (234) compared, for example, to the Cornerstone tally of 169 securities class action lawsuit filings in 2009, but the Advisen study also reports a much slighter decline in securities class action lawsuit filings from 2008 to 2009 (234 in 2009, 239 in 2009), than does the Cornerstone study (223 in 2008 to 169 in 2009).


Part of the explanation for this seemingly enormous difference is categorization. Thus, the Advisen study counts securities class action lawsuits that were filed in state courts (there apparently were 15 state court securities class action lawsuit filings in the fourth quarter of 2009 alone), but the Cornerstone study does not.


Part of the explanation for the difference is methodological. As stated in its report, Advisen "counts each company for which securities violations are alleged in a singled complaint as a separate suit." As far as I can tell, the Cornerstone study would count that single complaint only once regardless of the numbers of corporate defendants named in the complaint – that is certainly the approach I use in my own tallies. The Advisen approach will inevitably lead to higher numbers than are reported in some other studies.


Part of the explanation for the difference is simply timing. The Advisen report includes filings through December 31, 2009, whereas the Cornerstone report only counts filings through December 21, 2009.


Among other things, the Advisen report states that the aggregate losses claimed in the "securities lawsuits" filed in 2009 was $1.3 trillion, compared to $1.2 trillion in 2008. The average losses per "securities lawsuit" were $9.8 billion in 2009, compared to $6.4 billion in 2008, which may be interpreted to suggest the possibility of "record payouts" for the securities lawsuits filed in 2009.


The report also contains an extensive discussion of the growing significance of "securities lawsuits" against non-U.S. companies. According to the study, there were 117 "securities lawsuits," or 13 percent of the total, filed against non-U.S. companies in 2009, including 46 "large cases" filed in non-U.S. courts. (The report does not specify what constitutes a "large case.") However, the report also notes that one subset of these "securities lawsuits" against non-U.S. companies, that is, the filings in the subcategory of "collective actions" were almost entirely concentrated in the first quarter and largely driven by Ponzi scheme cases.


The Advisen report is quite extensive and contains a wealth of information, and is worth reading at length and in full (albeit very carefully). But of all the observations contained in the report, by far the most important one is that even if securities class action lawsuit filings may have declined, overall "securities litigation" has not decreased – in fact, in 2009, "securities litigation," as that term is used in the Advisen report, increased materially and for the second consecutive year.


Securities Litigation Webinar: On Friday January 22, 2010 at 11:00 a.m. EST, I will be participating in a free one-hour "Review of Securities Litigation 2009 and Expert Views for the Year Ahead." The other panelists include Travelers’s Mark Lamendola, Beecher Carlson’s Jeff Lattmann, and Advisen’s Dave Bradford. Advisen’s Jim Blinn will moderate the panel. You can register for the webinar here.