Just when it seemed as if the dismissal motion rulings in the subprime-related securities suits might be breaking more favorably to the plaintiffs, two February 18, 2010 rulings granted the defendants’ motions to dismiss in two separate subprime cases. While only one of the two dismissals was with prejudice, both represent substantial defense victories. These latest rulings tend to support the view that, with some notable exceptions of course, the plaintiffs are as a general matter facing hurdles in many of the subprime cases.
Fortis: In a February 18, 2010 decision (here) that addressed recurring issues of the extraterritorial jurisdiction of U.S. courts under the U.S. securities laws, Southern District of New York Judge Denny Chin dismissed the subprime-related securities suit pending against Fortis and certain of its directors and officers, for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.
As I detailed in a prior post about the Fortis lawsuit (here), Fortis is a Belgium-based financial company that in late 2008 received a massive bailout by the governments of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Fortis’ shares trade on several European exchanges and its ADRs trade over-the-counter in the U.S.
In their amended complaint, the plaintiffs allege that the defendants misrepresented the value of its collateralized debt obligations; the extent to which its assets were held as subprime-related mortgage backed securities; and the extent to which its ill-fated decision to acquire ABN-AMRO had compromised the company’s solvency.
In granting the motion to dismiss, Judge Chin found, applying the Second Circuit standard articulated in the National Australia Bank case, that the plaintiffs had not alleged either sufficient U.S.-based "conduct" or "effects" to support the court’s exercise of subject matter jurisdiction.
Specifically, the found that the company’s alleged New York-based data compilation was merely preparatory to the actual fraudulent misrepresentations, which were alleged to have been made by the company’s executives in Brussels. Judge Chin found that "the complaint describes the Brussels executives as the masterminds, and portrays the New York Office as uninvolved in decision-making regarding information to be communicated."
In finding that the complaint failed to satisfy the "effects" test, Judge Chin observed that the "lead plaintiffs do not explicitly allege what percentage of Fortis’s investors are U.S residents, nor the effect the fraud may have had in the United States."
Judge Chin noted that the complaint alleges that 17.2% of all institutional investors were located in North America, but "it does not break down what percentage of those were located in the U.S. – as opposed to Canada, Mexico or any of the approximately 38 countries on the continent."
In closing, Judge Chin denied plaintiffs leave to amend, noting that "plaintiffs have already had two bites of the apple, as they have already filed two complaints," adding that "it is difficult to imagine that plaintiffs did not allege all the facts they had a good faith basis for asserting," and a "third opportunity to plead would be futile."
Judge Chin’s refusal in the Fortis case to allow the plaintiffs’ to file an amended complaint stands in contrast to what happened in the Credit Suisse case, where, as I discussed here, Judge Victor Marrero at least allowed the plaintiffs to seek leave to file an amended complaint. Significantly, in the Credit Suisse case, the plaintiffs were able to present sufficient additional allegations to satisfy the "effects" test and to establish subject matter jurisdiction. Judge Chin’s refusal even to allow plaintiffs to seek leave to amend, and possibly to cure the pleading defect, stands in contrast to the Credit Suisse case.
MGIC: In a February 18, 2010 order (here), Eastern District of Washington Judge Lynn Adelman granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss in the subprime-related securities suit that had been filed against mortgage insurer MGIC Investment Corporation and certain of its directors and offices, as well as against certain officers of C-Bass, a subprime mortgage-securitizer in which MGIC was a joint venture partner with Radian Group.
In their complaint, the plaintiffs alleged that the MGIC defendants had misrepresented MGIC’s underwriting practices; that the MGIC defendants had misrepresented the performance of mortgages the company had insured in 2005 and 2006; and that the defendants had misled investors about the extent of C-Bass’s margin calls in July 2007.
Judge Adelman went through each of the allegedly misleading statements on which the plaintiffs sought to rely, and with respect to each, he found that the statements were either immaterial or not misleading, or even if misleading, that the plaintiffs had failed to establish that the statements had been made with scienter.
Judge Adelman granted the plaintiffs leave to amend, should they choose to do so. However, it will be very challenging for plaintiffs to overcome all of the concerns Judge Adelman noted. The very detailed, painstaking and comprehensive way that Judge Adelman considered each of the alleged misrepresentations may leave plaintiffs with very little room to try address his concerns.
In any event, the subprime-related securities suit filed against the other C-BASS joint venture partner, Radian Group, was previously dismissed, as discussed here.
The plaintiffs’ difficulties trying to establish subject matter jurisdiction in the Fortis case are significant, because many of the other subprime-related cases also involve foreign-domiciled companies. Perhaps the pleading differences between the Credit Suisse case (where the plaintiffs had specifically identified the percentage of shares held by U.S. institutional investors) and the Fortis case provide plaintiffs in other cases enough of a road map, but the Fortis case still does suggest that plaintiffs may struggle to establish jurisdiction in many of these cases.
The difference in outcomes in the two cases may be a reflection of where each company’s ADRs traded. Credit Suisse’s ADRs traded on the NYSE, but Fortis’s ADRs traded only over the counter. As Ben Hallman noted in his February 19, 2010 Am Law Litigation Daily article (here) discussing the Fortis decision, over the counter purchases are "nearly impossible to track," and accordingly "the damage to U.S. investors impossible to quantify." The plaintiffs in subprime cases against other non-U.S. companies whose shares or ADRs do not trade on one of the formal U.S. exchanges may have similar difficulty quantifying the impact on U.S. investors.
One interesting related question is the extent to which the outcome of the National Australia Bank case, now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, might affect these jurisdictional issues. Congress may also have its own say on these issues. The bottom line is that there are a lot of moving pieces that could affect consideration of these jurisdictional issues going forward.
In any event, these two dismissal motion rulings represent that much more evidence that overall plaintiffs do not seem to be faring particularly well in the subprime-related securities suits. As reflected on my running tally of the subprime and credit crisis-related dismissal motion ruling, which can be accessed here, the defendants have prevailed in far more motion rulings to date than have the plaintiffs.
Though plaintiffs have had some notable victories, and though plaintiffs have even managed to survive some renewed motions to dismiss after initial dismissal motions had been granted, in the majority of motion rulings, the defendants have prevailed. By contrast to historical patterns, where cases are dismissed somewhere between 33% and 40% of the time, in the subprime-related dismissal motion rulings, the defendants are prevailed about two-thirds of the time – at least so far. Many of the subprime and credit crisis cases have still not yet reached the dismissal motion stage.
So Many Updates, So Little Time: With all of the voices and sources, who is worth following? Bruce Carton, the author of the Securities Docket blog and a new media maven in the securities enforcement arena has put together an updated list of the 15 "must-follows" on Twitter. Special thanks to Bruce for including me on his list.
Some Winter Olympics Observations:
1. The key physical forces involved in the winter Olympics sports are the coefficients of friction and aerodynamic drag. (Contrary to what some might think, "aerodynamic drag" is not a description of Johnny Weir’s skating attire.)
2. Shaun White really did say, on camera, while describing his emotional state, "freaky deeky."
3. "Live curling." Discuss.
4. With reference to the commercial in which the female snowboarder leaves the earth’s atmosphere: (a) Does anybody have any idea what product or service is being advertised? (b) Where is she supposed to be snowboarding, the edge of some gigantic cosmic womb or something like that? (c) Am I the only one who is troubled that she never returns to earth, but instead drifts off further into the ether… it all seems so sad and weird.
5. In the summer Olympics, it was commercials with wind turbines. Now in the winter Olympics, it is commercials with girl ice hockey players.
6. Shen Xue and Zhao Hungbo not only came out of retirement to win gold in pairs figure skating, but they did something even more amazing – they managed to get us to root for a couple of Chinese athletes. (If you think that sounds xenophobic, just imagine how it is going to feel four years from now when Chinese snowboarders sweep the medals in the half pipe.)
7. In the entire history of the human race, from the dawn of man to the present moment, has there ever been anyone more unfortunately named than Dick Button?