The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last month in the Morrison v. National Australia Bank case made it clear U.S. securities laws do not allow so-called "f-cubed" cases — securities claims against foreign domiciled companies and brought by foreign-domiciled claimants who purchased their company shares on foreign exchanges — in U.S. courts. The securities laws, the Court said in Morrison, relate solely to "transactions in securities listed on domestic exchanges" and to claims relating to "domestic transactions in other securities."


But what did the Court mean when it referred to "domestic transactions"? Unfortunately the Court didn’t say. As the recent lead plaintiff decision in the securities class action lawsuit involving Toyota demonstrates, this question could be a problem in many cases involving foreign companies, particularly where the cases involve claims brought by or on behalf of U.S. domiciled investors who bought their shares in the foreign companies on foreign exchanges – the so-called "f-squared" claimants.


These issues were addressed recently in the lead plaintiff decisions in the Toyota class action securities litigation. As discussed at greater length here, in February 2010, Toyota and certain related corporate entitles, as well as certain of its directors and officers, were sued in securities class action lawsuit in the Central District of California. The plaintiffs allege that Toyota misled investors by allegedly failing to disclose that there was a design defect in Toyota’s acceleration system that could cause its cars to accelerate suddenly.


Toyota’s common stock trades on the Tokyo stock exchange and its American Depository Shares trade on the NYSE.


The Supreme Court’s Morrison decision became relevant in connection with the court’s selection of lead plaintiff in the Toyota case. As reflected in her July 16, 2010 memorandum opinion, Judge Dale Fischer had to determine whether or not the Morrison decision allows claims under the securities laws by domestic U.S. shareholders who purchased their shares in a foreign company on a foreign exchange. She had to determine for purposes of the lead plaintiff motion whether the claims of U.S. purchasers of Toyota common stock on the Tokyo exchange were relevant for purposes of the lead plaintiff selection.


In her July 16 opinion, Judge Fischer noted the Morrison decision’s statement that the securities laws allows claims relating to "domestic transactions in other securities," which the decision also refers to as "the purchase or sale of any security in the United States." In exploring what these phrases from the Morrison decision might mean, Judge Fischer said:


One view of the Supreme Court’s holding is that if the purchaser or seller resides in the United States and completes a transaction on a foreign exchange from the United States, the purchase or sale has taken place in the United States. However, an alternative view is that because the actual transaction takes place on the foreign exchange, the purchaser or seller has figuratively traveled to that foreign exchange – presumably via a foreign broker – to complete the transaction. Under this second view, "domestic transactions" or "purchase[s] or sales[s]…in the United States" means purchases and sales of securities explicitly solicited by the issuer within the United States rather than transactions in foreign-traded securities where the ultimate purchaser or seller has physically remained in the United States.


Judge Fischer concluded that the latter of these two positions was "better supported" by Morrison, largely because the Morrison decision emphasized that the U.S. securities laws were not intended to regulate the foreign exchanges.


Having worked through this analysis of whose claims were proper under the U.S. securities laws, Judge Fischer then selected as lead plaintiff the proposed lead plaintiff that had the larges alleged American Depository Share loss.


However, Judge Fischer did say at the outset of her opinion with respect to her analysis of whose claims the Court could properly entertain that "this is not a final determination of the issue and Plaintiffs are not foreclosed from arguing that domestic purchasers of Toyota common stock [as opposed to domestic purchasers of Toyota’s American Depository Shares] have claims" under the securities laws." She added, however, that "the Court currently believes that a fair reading of Morrison excludes those claims" – that is, the claims of domestic U.S. shareholders who purchases Toyota’s common stock on the Tokyo stock exchange.


When the U.S. Supreme Court released its opinion in the Morrison case, it was immediately apparent that the decision would have a significant potential impact on pending and future securities cases involving foreign-domiciled companies. However, as the lead plaintiff decision in the Toyota case shows, it may not be entirely clear how the Morrison decision will affect the cases against foreign companies.


It remains to be seen whether or not "f-squared" cases will be precluded on the Morrison decision, but it seems likely that this will be a hotly contested battleground in many of the cases involving foreign companies.


Very special thanks to a loyal reader for providing me with a copy of Judge Fischer’s July 16 opinion.


My pre-Morrison discussion of an" f-squared claimant" case involving European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co. (EADS) can be found here.