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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On January 6, 2020, solar panel company First Solar announced that it had settled the securities class action lawsuit  pending against the company and certain of its executive officers for a payment of $350 million. During the long course of this matter, the case made its way to the Ninth Circuit a couple of times; the case even involved an unsuccessful petition to the U.S. Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari. In addition to its sheer size, there are a number of other interesting aspects to this settlement, as discussed below. The settlement is subject to court approval. The company’s January 6, 2020 press release can be found here.
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The liability environment for directors and officers is always in a state of change, but 2019 was a particularly eventful year in the D&O liability arena, with important consequences for the D&O insurance marketplace. The past year’s many developments have significant implications for what may lie ahead in 2020 – and possibly for years to come, as well.  I have set out below the Top Ten D&O Stories of 2019, with a focus on the future implications.
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The number of federal court securities class action lawsuit filings during 2019 was consistent with the heightened number of filings in each of the two prior years. The total number of suits during 2019 was significantly increased by the number of federal court merger objection lawsuit filings, but even just with respect to the traditional suit filings, the number of securities suit filings in 2019 was well above historical levels. The 2019 federal court securities litigation rate (that is, the number of lawsuits relative to the number of listed companies) was at an all-time high.
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On November 21, 2019, when a plaintiff shareholder filed a securities class action lawsuit against Aurora Cannabis, Inc. and certain of its directors and officers, the company became the latest U.S.-listed Canadian cannabis company to be hit with a U.S. securities class action lawsuit. The lawsuit against Aurora came just one day after a different claimant launched a separate U.S. securities lawsuit against another Canadian-based and U.S.-listed cannabis company, Canopy Growth. These two companies join a growing list of cannabis-related firms that have been hit with securities suits this year. As discussed below, these cannabis-related company lawsuits are one of several factors contributed to the continued elevated level of securities class action lawsuit filings in the U.S.
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Opt-outs “remain a small yet significant part of the overall securities class action landscape,” according to a recently updated Cornerstone Research report written in conjunction with the Latham & Watkins law firm. The report, entitled “Opt-Out Cases in Securities Class Action Settlements” (here) notes that the opt-out rate has more than doubled in the most-recent four year period and that opt-outs remain more likely in larger dollar settlements. Cornerstone Research’s September 25, 2019 press release about the report can be found here.
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One of the most significant corporate litigation phenomena over recent years has been the rise of merger objection litigation, as result of which nearly every public company merger objection transaction has drawn at least one lawsuit. According to the latest study of merger litigation from Cornerstone Research, this phenomenon continued in 2018, with the same percentage of merger transactions as in 2017 attracting at least one lawsuit – in 2018, as in 2017, 82% of public company merger transaction valued over $100 million drew at least one lawsuit. The Cornerstone Research report, entitled “Shareholder Litigation Involving Acquisitions of Public Companies: Review of 2018 M&A Litigation,” can be found here. Cornerstone Research’s September 17, 2019 press release about the report can be found here.
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Plaintiffs filed federal court securities class action lawsuits at  “near-record levels” during the first six months of 2019, according to a new report from Cornerstone Research. The July 31, 2019 report, entitled “Securities Class Action Filings: 2019 Midyear Assessment,” notes that the elevated filing levels continued in the year’s first half despite reduced numbers of merger objection lawsuit filings. In addition to the number of federal court filings, there were a significant number of state court securities suit filings, bringing overall filing levels close to all-time highs. The new report can be found here. Cornerstone Research’s July 31, 2019 press release about the report can be found here. My own analysis of the first half filings can be found here.
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