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Michael J. Biles

In the following guest post, Michael J. Biles of the King & Spalding law firm takes a look at the analysis of the materialization-of-the-risk issues in the Fifth Circuit’s September 8, 2015 decision in the BP Deepwater Horizon securities class action lawsuit. As Michael asserts below, the Fifth Circuit’s decision opinion essentially removes the risk of materialization-of-the-risk cases in the Fifth Circuit.

I would like to thank Mike for his willingness to publish his article on my site. I welcome guest post submissions from responsible authors on topics of interest to readers of this site. Please contact me directly if you are interested in submitting a guest post. Here is Michael’s guest post.

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Materialization-of-the-risk cases are a favorite of the securities class action plaintiffs’ bar.  The basic theory of fraud in these cases is that a company misrepresented or withheld information, causing the market to miscalculate the company’s exposure to a particular risk.  Every company is susceptible to risks, whether it be natural or man-made disasters, competition, labor disputes, technological obsolescence, currency fluctuations, supply-chain disruptions, etc. –the risks are endless.  When a company’s stock price declines following a disclosure that you-name-the-risk has materialized – as every company must do on occasion – plaintiffs’ lawyers will scour the company’s prior disclosures concerning the risk and allege (with the benefit of hindsight) that the company and its executives did not accurately explain the company’s exposure to the risk.  The damages in such cases are usually easy to calculate – plaintiffs say that the stock was inflated by the amount of the share price decline following the revelation of the risk.  And if the case is certified as a class action, the damages typically run in the hundreds of millions, if not billions.

The securities class action filed against BP plc following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill is a classic materialization-of-the-risk  case.  Before the spill, according to plaintiffs, BP touted the company’s safety plans and procedures as being more advanced on paper than they were in practice.  These pre-spill statements lulled the market into believing that BP was a safer company than it actually was.  According to plaintiffs, BP thus understated the risk of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, and when that risk materialized, investors were damaged by the full value of the decline in BP stock caused by the materialization of the risk of the spill.  The Fifth Circuit recently affirmed the district court’s order denying class certification of plaintiffs’ materialization-of-the-risk claims.[1]  Ludlow v. BP, PLC, — F.3d —, 2015 WL 5235010 (5th Cir. Sept. 8, 2015).  This opinion essentially removes the risk of materialization-of-the-risk cases in the Fifth Circuit.
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In the wake of the disastrous April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, BP was hit with a wave of litigation from plaintiffs asserting claims of personal injury, wrongful death and property damage. The claimants also included BP shareholders raising allegations that they had been misled regarding BP safety efforts and processes. In a 129-page February