Priya Cherian Huskins

As I have noted in prior posts (most recently here), there have already been at least two coronavirus-related securities class action lawsuits filed. In the following guest post, Priya Cherian Huskins, takes a look at these first pandemic-related cases and compares and contrasts them with general securities litigation filings patters. She also takes a look at the implications of the cases for coronavirus-related company disclosures.  Priya is a Senior Vice President and Partner at Woodruff Sawyer. A version of this article previously appeared in the D&O Notebook. I would like to thank Priya for allowing me to publish her article as a guest post on this site. I welcome guest post submissions from responsible authors on topics of interest to this blog’s readers. Please contact me directly if you would like to submit a guest post. Here is Priya’s article.
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Among the more significant securities class action filing trends in recent years has been the rise in event-driven litigation – that is, lawsuits based on adverse developments in the defendant company’s business operations, as opposed to allegations based on alleged financial or accounting misrepresentation. But while event-driven suits arguably have garnered the most attention, the reality is that the number of federal court securities class action lawsuits involving accounting allegations was at “record levels” in 2019, at least when merger-related accounting suits are taken into account. According to a new report from Cornerstone Research, the number of securities suit filings in 2019 involving accounting allegations was nearly double the historical average. The March 25, 2020 report, entitled “Accounting Class Action Filings and Settlements: 2019 Review and Analysis” can be found here. Cornerstone Research’s press release describing the report can be found here.
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As I have detailed in prior posts, U.S. securities class action lawsuit filings remained at historically high levels in 2019. Among the 2019 securities suit filings were significant number of lawsuits filed against non-U.S. companies with U.S. listings. As detailed in a new report from the Dechert law firm, there was an uptick in 2019 the number of U.S. securities lawsuits filed against non-U.S. companies compared with the year prior. The Dechert report also details a number of trends with respect to filings against non-U.S. companies, as well as the trends with respects to dispositive motions in these cases. The March 11, 2020 report can be found here.
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As previously reported (here), 2019 was a relatively slow year for securities class action lawsuit settlements compared to 2018. However, there were a number of significant securities lawsuit recoveries and the total recoveries in the aggregate were for at least some law firms quite substantial. In a March 11, 2020 report entitled “The Top 50 of 2019,” ISS Securities Class Action Services sets out a list of the top 50 law firms  — ranked by total cash amount and by number of cash settlements – with respect to final securities class action lawsuit settlements in 2019 in North America (inclusive of both the U.S. and Canada). ISS’s report can be found here.
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There were slightly fewer securities class action lawsuits and for fewer total dollars in 2019 compared to 2018, but the median settlement amount was unchanged in 2019 from the year prior, according to the annual securities suit settlement report from Cornerstone Research. The report, which is entitled “Securities Class Action Settlements: 2019 Review and Analysis,” states that the $11.5 million median securities class action settlement in 2019 was 34 percent higher than the 2010-2018 median. The report can be found here. Cornerstone Research’s February 26, 2020 press release about the report can be found here.
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As was the case for the last two reporting years, there were relatively few larger securities class action lawsuit settlements during 2019 compared to prior years. As reported in latest large securities class action lawsuit settlement report from ISS Securities Class Action Services (ISS), there were only two settlements finalized in 2019 large enough to make the list of all time large settlements. However, there are a number of pending tentative securities class action lawsuit settlements that are likely to be finalized in 2020, and thus are likely to lead to an increase in the number of Top 100 settlements during the year. The February 20, 2020 report, entitled “The Top 100 U.S. Class Action Settlements of All Time (as of December 31, 2019)” can be found here.
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In business meetings during my recent European visit, one topic that came up is the widespread liability risks arising out of the opioid crisis. One particular question I was asked was whether, in addition to everything else, the opioid crisis presented D&O risks. I was quick to refer to the various U.S. securities class action claims that have arisen (about which refer here) and to assure my hosts that there were indeed many other opioid-related D&O claims as well. Among the other opioid-related D&O claims is the shareholder derivative action that was filed against the board of McKesson Corp. As it turns out, the McKesson derivative suit recently settled, for an agreement to pay $175 million. As discussed below, this settlement, which is subject to court approval, and which is one of the largest derivative settlements ever, is to be funded entirely by D&O insurance.
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As I noted in my recent analysis of the 2019 securities class action litigation filings, one of the significant factors driving the near-historical levels of securities suit filings during the year was the elevated levels of securities litigation against life sciences companies. A January 21, 2020 report from the Dechert law firm, entitled “Dechert Survey: Developments in Securities Fraud Class Actions Against U.S. Life Sciences Companies: 2019 Edition” (here), details the 2019 securities lawsuit filings against life sciences companies, and reports that once again life sciences companies were “popular targets” for securities litigation claims.
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Securities class action lawsuit filings remained at elevated levels in 2019, but the mix of cases changed during the year, according to the recently published annual report from NERA Economic Consulting. According to the report, which is entitled “Recent Trends in Securities Class Action Litigation: 2019 Full-Year Review,” there were relatively fewer merger objection lawsuits during the year, and relatively more standard securities suits. NERA’s January 21, 2020 press release about the report can be found here, and the report itself can be found here. My own analysis of the 2019 securities litigation can be found here.
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Securities class action litigation has been an important part of the corporate and securities litigation environment in the United States and Canada for many years. What has been interesting in more recent years has been the steady rise of collective investor actions outside North America. As these various claims have accumulated, a number of them have developed into significant settlements, as documented in a recent report. ISS Securities Class Action Services has published an interesting report entitled “The Top 25 Non-North American Settlements: Largest Securities-Related Settlements Outside of North America of All-Time” (here) detailing the largest collective investor action settlements in Europe, Australia, and Asia.
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