In the wake of JP Morgan Chase’s startling news last week of its $2 billion trading loss, and of the equaling startling statements of Jamie DImon, the bank’s CEO, that the losing trades were, among other things, “flawed, complex, poorly reviewed, poorly executed, and poorly monitored,” there has been speculation whether these disclosures would lead to litigation. In particular, commentators have asked whether Dimon’s candid statements would hurt the company in any litigation that might arise.
Well, it looks like we will be finding out. On May 14, 2012, plaintiffs filed a securities class action in the Southern District of New York, against the bank; Dimon; Ina Drew, the bank’s former Chief Investment Officer: and Douglas Bronstein, the bank’s chief financial officer. A copy of the complaint can be found here.
According to the plaintiffs’’ lawyers’ May 14, 2012 press release (here), the complaint alleges that during the class period of April 13, 2012 through May 11, 2012, the defendants issued “materially false and misleading statements regarding certain securities trading by the Company’s Chief Investment Office (“CIO”). Specifically, Defendants misrepresented and/or failed to disclose that the CIO had engaged in extremely risky and speculative trades that exposed JPMorgan to significant losses.” The complaint specifically references the defendants’ reassuring statements made between the time the rumors about the trading activity first surfaced in April and the time of the disclosures of the trading losses, and blockbuster admissions about the trades.
The initial complaint is just 18 pages. Although the complaint quotes extensively from Dimon’s statements in a May 10, 2012 conference call, it does not refer to many other highly publicized features involved with the trading losses, including for example, the April rumors of trading activities by a JP Morgan trader labeled the “London whale,” whose trades had roiled the derivatives market (the complaint refers to the trades, just not to the “whale,” at least not by that name) nor Dimon’s statements to Meet the Press aired on Sunday May 13, 2012, that the bank had been “sloppy” and “stupid” and that he had been “dead wrong” when he characterized questions about the derivatives trades as a “tempest in a teapot.”
The complaint’s scienter allegations do not allege any motivations for alleged misrepresentations made during the relatively short class period. There are no allegations that any of the defendants’ traded on basis of allegations or that the defendants otherwise personally benefitted from the misrepresentations. The complaint does allege that the defendants did not believe their earlier statements about the bank’s derivatives trading activities at the time the statements were made.
To be sure, it is not uncommon for an initial securities class action complaint to be skeletal, with more detailed allegations added in subsequent amended pleadings after lead counsel has been selected and the cases consolidated. Along those lines, there may well be other complaints filed on behalf of other prospective class representatives that may contain different or additional allegations. Subsequent complaints or amended complaints may well be more detailed. These complaints may also draw on subsequent news reports that JPMorgan’s senior management allegedly had disregarded “red flags” regarding the bank’s trading activities.
Even if they are able to add additional details, however, plaintiffs seeking to plead this case will be faced with the challenge of attempting to present scienter allegations sufficient to overcome the initial pleading hurdles. The defendants will argue that it is not enough for plaintiffs to rely on the magnitude of the losses or even on the fact that the losses resulted from a trading strategy that Dimon has now publicly acknowledges was flawed. In attempting to show that the early reassurances are not merely misleading but are actionable, the plaintiffs may find that they must allege more than the subsequent admissions about the trading activities.
How the securities class action plaintiffs will proceed and how they will fare remains to be seen. But in the meantime, there are now press reports circulating that the Department of Justice has “opened an inquiry” regarding the bank’s trading losses. The news of the DoJ inquiry follows prior reports that the SEC had opened a review of the developments. President Obama, among many others, has seized upon the bank’s trading losses as evidence of the need for greater bank regulation, including in particular the so-called “Volker Rule.” Questions are also being raised whether the bank will or should seek to “claw back” compensation from the three trades who were released following the disclosure of the losses.
The fallout from the trading losses will continue to roil the markets and the media for some time to come, and could hound both Dimon and J.P. Morgan for some time as well. In the meantime, the private securities class action lawsuit will unfold, as these cases do, in the fullness of time. I will say that as interesting as it is that a securities class action complaint has been filed, it will be more interesting to see the plaintiffs’ allegations as they appear in the consolidated, amended complaint that ultimately will be filed.