Overall levels of corporate and securities litigation declined during the third quarter of 2011 relative to recent quarters but 2011 annualized filings remain above historical levels, according to a recent report from the insurance information firm Advisen entitled “Securities Litigation Activity Dips, An Advisen Report: Q3 2011,” which can be found here. My own survey of the third quarter 2011 securities litigation filing activity can be found here.


Preliminary Notes

It is critically important to recognize that the Advisen report uses its own unique vocabulary to describe certain of the corporate and securities litigation categories.


The “securities litigation” and “securities suits” analyzed in the Advisen report include not only securities class action lawsuits, but a broad collection of other types of suits as well, including regulatory and enforcement actions, individual actions, derivative actions, collective actions filed outside the U.S. and allegations of breach of fiduciary duty. All of these various kinds of lawsuits — whether or not involving alleged violations of the securities laws — are referred to in the aggregate in the Advisen report as "securities suits."


One subset of the overall collection of "securities suits" is a category denominated as "securities fraud" lawsuits, which includes a combination of both regulatory and enforcement actions, on the one hand, and private securities lawsuits brought as individual actions, on the other hand. However, the category of "securities fraud" lawsuits does NOT include private securities class action lawsuits, which are in their own separate category ("SCAS").


Due to these unfamiliar usages and the confusing similarity of category names, considerable care is required in reading the Advisen report.


The Report’s Findings

There were 316 “securities suits” (as that phrase is used in the Advisen report) during the third quarter of 2011, which is down from the 367 “securities suits” filed in 2Q11 and 421 filed in 1Q11. This quarterly decline is attributable in part to the decline of breach of fiduciary duty suits (primarily merger objection suits) in 3Q11, when there were 76 breach of fiduciary duty suits filed, compared to 130 filed in the year’s second quarter.


In addition, the quarterly decline in overall corporate and securities lawsuit filing activity is also due in part to the decline in 3Q11 compared to 1Q11 in what the Advisen report calls “securities fraud suits” (which as noted above encompasses both regulatory actions as well as private securities lawsuits brought as individual rather than class actions). According to the study, the number of these so-called “securities fraud suits” declined to 109 in the third quarter, compared to 156 in the first quarter and 101 in the second quarter.


According to the Advisen study, the number of securities class action lawsuits filed during the third quarter was also down relative to the second quarter. The Advisen study reports that there were 56 securities class action lawsuits filed during 3Q11, compared to 61 during the second quarter. Though the third quarter filings were down relative to the prior quarter, the third quarter filing activity level was higher than the 2010 quarterly filing average of 47. Over 70 percent of Q311 class action lawsuit filings named companies in four sectors as defendants: information technology, healthcare, financial and industrial.


Litigation involving non-U.S. companies, filed both in the U.S. and elsewhere, was an important part of “securities suit” filings during the third quarter and overall during 2011. In the first three quarters of 2011, 16 percent of all “securities suits” were filed against non-U.S. companies, compared to 11 percent for both 2009 and 2010. During the third quarter, fifteen percent of all “securities suits” were filed against non-U.S. companies, down from 19 percent during the second quarter.


With respect to this activity involving non-U.S. companies, an increasing percentage of this “securities suit” activity is outside the U.S. The study reports that in the first three quarters of 2011, there were 55 “securities suits” filed in courts outside the U.S., 17 of which were filed during the third quarter. These 55 cases represent five percent of all YTD “securities suits,” which is “higher than the 3-percent level recorded in most recent years.”


Many of the cases involving non-U.S. companies in U.S. court involve Chinese companies. The number of “securities suits” filed in U.S. court involving Chinese companies has rise from five in 2009 to 24 in 2010, and up to 55 during the first three quarters of 2011.


Even though we are now well past the peak of the credit crisis (at least as a temporal matter if not as an economic matter), overall corporate and securities litigation activity remains highly concentrated in the financial sector. According to the Advisen report, 35 percent of all “securities suits” filed during the third quarter targeted companies in the financial sector. A large portion of the “securities suits” filed against financial companies in the third quarter involve regulatory actions, as 48 percent of all “securities suits” filed against financial companies involved regulatory actions.


But while the filing activity concentration in the financial sector remains elevated, the 3Q11 “securities suits” were “more broadly dispersed” during the quarter “than in previous years, especially compared to 2008 and 2009.” Suits against information technology firms and healthcare companies each represented 13 percent of all “securities suits,” while suits against industrials represented 11 percent of all such suits.


The average value of settlements of “securities suits” during the third quarter was $17.4 million, down from $22.8 million in the second quarter and from $18.2 million for all of 2010. The average securities class action lawsuit settlement during the quarter was $45.7 million.


Advisen 3Q11 Securities Litigation Webinar: On Thursday November 17, 2011 at 11:00 am EST, I will be participating in one-hour long Advisen webinar to discuss third quarter 2011 corporate and securities litigation filing activity. The panelists for this free webinar will also include Steve Gilford of the Proskauer law firm, Alliant Insurance’s Susanne Murray, and Advisen’s Dave Bradford. The panel will be moderated by Advisen’s Jim Blinn. More information about this free webinar, including registration information, can be found here.