Earlier this week, I hosted a guest post from the counsel for the plaintiffs in the Vivendi securities class action lawsuit, in which plaintiffs’ counsel summarized their position on the impact that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Morrison v. National Australia Bank had on their case.


In response to their post, University of Minnesota Law Professor Richard Painter prepared the following commentary and submitted it to me for publication here. By way of background, Professor Painter’s opening reference is to George Conway of the Wachtell Lipton firm, who, as reported in the prior post on this topic, briefed and argued the Morrison case for National Australia Bank, and who has been quoted as characterizing the position of the Vivendi plaintiffs on this issue as “Completely nuts, N-U-T-S.” 



Here are Professor Painter’s comments:



Actually, Conway has to be right. The argument that Section 10(b) applies to foreign transactions in securities merely because those securities are listed in the United States is absurd.



First, a reading of the entire Morrison opinion leads to the conclusion that the Court did not extend the reach of Section 10(b) to foreign transactions in securities listed on an American exchange. The Court’s unequivocal holding is that Section 10(b) does not apply “extraterritorially.” The Court repeatedly emphasizes that the “focus” of American securities laws is on “domestic transactions” and on “purchases and sales of securities in the United States.”



An extremely large hole would be driven through that holding if the mere listing of a stock or an ADR on an American exchange were enough to justify application of U.S. law to a foreign purchase of the stock on a foreign exchange, as there are hundreds if not thousands of foreign issuers that list their home-country shares or ADRs on a U.S. exchange.



Second, the Court was well aware that NAB had ADRs listed in New York. In order for a foreign issuer to sponsor and list ADRs on a U.S. exchange, it must register the underlying, deposited shares with the SEC and, at least for the NYSE, actually list the underlying shares (though not for trading). NAB’s registration statement in the United States, for example, pertained to “ordinary shares” (At page 58 of the Supplemental Joint Appendix in Morrison v. NAB, the 20-F cover says NAB’s ordinary shares were “registered on the NYSE.” This cover looks exactly like the 20-F cover for Vivendi that the plaintiffs there are relying on.)



The Court nonetheless held that Section 10(b) did not apply to NAB’s ordinary shares traded in Australia. This holding is inconsistent with a theory that the Court would apply Section 10(b) to any security listed on a U.S. exchange even if the transaction in that security is outside the United States.



Many companies have ADRs trading in the United States. It cannot possibly be the case that the Court intended Section 10(b) to apply not only to the ADR itself but also to a foreign purchase of the underlying stock on a foreign exchange simply because the underlying shares are registered in the United States to enable the company to issue the ADR.



Indeed, if the Vivendi plaintiff’s counsel were correct, Section 10(b) after Morrison would have a broader extraterritorial reach than ever before. Think of the many foreign-cubed claims dismissed under the Second Circuit’s conduct test before the Supreme Court ruled: many – if not most – of the defendant issuers in those cases had sponsored ADRs that traded on American exchanges, just like NAB, and just like Vivendi. On plaintiffs’ reading of Morrison, those cases were wrongly dismissed. Section 10(b) – which the Supreme Court said did not have any extraterritorial application “at all” – according to Vivendi plaintiffs’ counsel would apply more extraterritorially than ever before.



This is the exact opposite of what the Court clearly intended. And it would mean that the Court got the result wrong in Morrison itself.



There are other points to make against the plaintiffs’ contention, such as the significance of Section 30 of the Exchange Act, whose territorial limitations would be rendered meaningless if plaintiffs’ reading of Morrison were correct. The bottom line is: it is quite clear that plaintiffs who transacted in securities outside the United States have no cause of action under Section 10(b) merely because these securities or related ADRs are listed on a U.S. securities exchange.



Nice try plaintiffs, but if you want a different rule, ask the SEC to recommend one in its study of extraterritorial private rights of action that Congress mandated in Dodd-Frank. Don’t waste your time with a meritless interpretation of Morrison.



I encourage reader to respond to Professor Painter’s commentary or to the Vivendi plaintiffs’ prior column using this blog’s comment function.



I welcome guest blog posts from responsible commentators on topics of interests to readers of this blog. Please contact me (using the Contact function in the right hand column) if you are interested in submitting a guest column.