In the latest development in the long-running lawsuit that is among the very few securities cases to actually have gone to trial, the Ninth Circuit – in its second crack at the case – affirmed the district court’s dismissal. The Ninth Circuit’s August 9, 2010 opinion (here) in the Thane International securities class action lawsuit affirmed the district court’s entry of judgment for the defendants on the issue of loss causation.
Reliant Interactive Media Corp. was acquired by Thane International in September 2001. Reliant shareholders received Thane shares in the merger. Thane’s shares had not been publicly traded, but the merger prospectus stated that Thane’s shares had been "approved for quotation and trading on the NASDAQ National Market" upon completion of the merger.
However, when the merger was consummated, Thane’s shares commenced trading not on the NASDAQ National Market System by on the NASDAQ Over-the-Counter Bulletin Board. For nineteen days, the shares traded above the merger price. However, when the company then reported disappointing earnings, the share price fell, and it continued to decline until Thane ultimately bought back the shares at a fraction of the merger price.
In September 2002, a class of former Reliant shareholders sue Thane and four of its directors and officers under Sections 12(a)(2) and 15 of the ’33 Act, alleging that the pre-merger prospectus had been misleading because it implied that Thane Shares would list on the NASDAQ National Market System.
Following a three-day bench trial, the district court concluded that Thane did not violate Section 12(a)(2), finding that the prospectus was not misleading, and that in any event the misrepresentations were not material because Thane’s share price did not depreciate below the merger price after the market became aware of the market on which the company’s shares were trading.
As discussed here, in a prior appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s trial ruling, holding that the statements in the prospectus, even if literally true, contained misleading statements regarding where Thane shares would be listed and trade, and that the information was material, because a reasonable investor would have wanted to know where the shares would trade. However, the Ninth Circuit recognized that the defendants could still prevail by establishing the affirmative defense of lack of causation.
On remand, the district court held that the defendants had carried their burden of establishing lack of loss causation, holding that there could be no loss as long as Thane’s share price remained above the merger price, and there could be no loss causation since the stock price didn’t fall below the merger price after "impounding" the information about the nonlisting on the National Market System. The plaintiffs’ appealed.
The August 9 Opinion
In its latest opinion, the Ninth Circuit quickly rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the appellate court’s prior ruling that the prospectus misrepresentation "foreclosed" the defendants’ reliance on the loss causation defense. The Ninth Circuit found that materiality and loss causation are separate issues, and the question whether investors would find information important (materiality) is different than the question whether a particular misstatement actually resulted in a loss (loss causation). Even if the "two inquiries are related" that "does not mean they are the same."
The Ninth Circuit also rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that, due to the inefficiency of the market in which Thane’s shares traded, the share price could not be used in a loss causation assessment. The Court said the absence of efficiency "does not mean that prices are unreliable." The Court rejected the theory urged by the plaintiffs that it is inappropriate to rely on stock prices in an inefficient market to determine loss causation.
Finally, the Ninth Circuit held that the district court did not err when it found that Thane’s share price had "impounded" (absorbed) the failure to list on the National Market System before it fell below the merger price.
The decision is likely to be of greatest interest to the parties involved, although it also has some value for its analysis of the relation between materiality the loss causation issue. The Court’s analysis of the role in the loss causation analysis of prices for shares that trade on an inefficient market is also interesting.
However, the thing that makes this decision most noteworthy is that it involves one of the very rare securities class action lawsuits that actually went to trial. Yes, the trial was a three-day bench trial, and yes the case’s lengthy post-trial procedural history essentially reduces the fact that there was a trial to just one event in the long history of the case.
Nevertheless, the process of tracking securities cases that have gone to trial has taken on an importance of its own, so for purposes of maintaining the running scorecard of securities cases that have gone to trial, this Ninth Circuit’s decision upholding the lower court’s dismissal is noteworthy.
According to data compiled by Adam Savett, the Director of Securities Class Actions at Claims Compensation Bureau, there have been nine securities class action lawsuits that have gone to trial post-PSLRA involving post-PSLRA conduct, including the Thane International case. Taking the Ninth Circuit’s recent ruling in the Thane case into account (as well as other recent developments, including the Ninth Circuit’s recent action in the Apollo Group case), the scoreboard in those nine post-PSLRA cases currently stands at five for the plaintiffs and four for the defendants.