Justia Legal Ethics Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Securities Law
Obeslo, et al. v. Empower Capital, et al.
Two law firms that represented Plaintiffs in this litigation, Schlichter Bogard & Denton LLP (“SBD”) and Schneider Wallace Cottrell Konecky LLP (“SWCK”), appealed the district court’s order imposing sanctions against them under 28 U.S.C. § 1927. Plaintiffs’ counsel represented individual shareholders and an employee retirement plan in a lawsuit claiming that the investment company, investment adviser, and recordkeeper (collectively “Empower”) servicing their mutual funds charged excessive fees in violation of its fiduciary duties under § 36(b) of the Investment Company Act. Following denial of Empower’s summary judgment and Daubert motions, the case proceeded to a bench trial where the district court ruled in favor of Empower. Thereafter, the court sanctioned Plaintiffs’ counsel for “recklessly pursu[ing] their claims through trial despite the fact that they were lacking in merit” and held SWCK and SBD jointly and severally liable for $1.5 million in Empower’s trial costs, expenses, and attorneys’ fees. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court abused its discretion and therefore reversed the order imposing sanctions. Accordingly, the Court did not reach the issues of SWCK and SBD’s joint and several liability or the court’s denial of SWCK’s motion to amend the judgment. View "Obeslo, et al. v. Empower Capital, et al." on Justia Law
Scott v. Vantage Corp
Askew formed Vantage to trade securities. He recruited investors, including the plaintiffs. Vantage filed a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Form D to sell unregistered securities in a 2016 SEC Rule 506(b) stock offering. The plaintiffs became concerned because Askew was not providing sufficient information but they had no right, based on their stock agreements, to rescind those investments. They decided to threaten litigation and to report Vantage to the SEC to pressure Askew and Vantage to return their investments. Before filing suit, the plaintiffs engaged an independent accountant who reviewed some of Vantage’s financial documents and concluded that he could not say “whether anything nefarious is going" on but that the “‘smell factor’ is definitely present.”The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants in subsequent litigation. The district court then conducted an inquiry mandated by the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (PSLRA) and determined that the plaintiffs violated FRCP 11 but chose not to impose any sanctions. The Third Circuit affirmed that the plaintiffs violated Rule 11 in bringing their federal securities claims for an improper purpose (to force a settlement). The plaintiffs’ Unregistered Securities and Misrepresentation Claims lacked factual support. Askew was not entitled to attorney’s fees because the violations were not substantial. The PSLRA, however, mandates the imposition of some form of sanctions when parties violate Rule 11 so the court remanded for the imposition of “some form of Rule 11 sanctions.” View "Scott v. Vantage Corp" on Justia Law
Petri v. Stericycle, Inc.
Following a False Claims Act lawsuit against Stericycle, customers were leaving and the price of Stericycle’s common stock dropped. On behalf of the company’s investors, Florida pension funds filed a securities fraud class action against Stericycle, its executives, board members, and the underwriters of its public offering, alleging that the defendants had inflated the stock price by making materially misleading statements about Stericycle’s fraudulent billing practices. The parties agreed to settle for $45 million. Lead counsel moved for a fee award of 25 percent of the settlement, plus costs. Petri, a class member, objected to the fee award, arguing that the amount was unreasonably high given the low risk of the litigation and the early stage at which the case settled. Petri moved to lift the stay the court had entered while the settlement agreement was pending so that he could seek discovery regarding class counsel’s billing methods, the fee allocation among firms, and counsel’s political and financial relationship with a lead plaintiff, a public pension fund.The district court approved the settlement and the proposed attorney fee and denied Petri’s discovery motion. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The district court did not give sufficient weight to evidence of ex-ante fee agreements, all the work that class counsel inherited from earlier litigation against Stericycle, and the early stage at which the settlement was reached. The court upheld the denial of the objector’s request for discovery into possible pay-to-play arrangements. View "Petri v. Stericycle, Inc." on Justia Law
ISN Software Corporation v. Richards, Layton & Finger, P.A.
For tax reasons ISN Software Corporation wanted to convert from a C corporation to an S corporation. But four of its eight stockholders, representing about 25 percent of the outstanding stock, could not qualify as S Corporation stockholders. ISN sought advice from Richards, Layton & Finger, P.A. (RLF) about its options. RLF advised ISN that before a conversion ISN could use a merger to cash out some or all of the four stockholders. The cashed-out stockholders could then accept ISN’s cash-out offer or exercise appraisal rights under Delaware law. ISN did not proceed with the conversion, but decided to use a merger to cash out three of the four non-qualifying stockholders. After ISN completed the merger, RLF notified ISN that its advice might not have been correct. All four stockholders, including the remaining stockholder whom ISN wanted to exclude, were entitled to appraisal rights. ISN decided not to try and unwind the merger, instead proceeding with the merger and notified all four stockholders they were entitled to appraisal. ISN and RLF agreed that RLF would continue to represent ISN in any appraisal action. Three of the four stockholders, including the stockholder ISN wanted to exclude, eventually demanded appraisal. Years later, when things did not turn out as ISN had hoped (the appraised value of ISN stock ended up substantially higher than ISN had reserved for), ISN filed a legal malpractice claim against RLF. The Superior Court dismissed ISN’s August 1, 2018 complaint on statute of limitations grounds. The court found that the statute of limitations expired three years after RLF informed ISN of the erroneous advice, or, at the latest, three years after the stockholder ISN sought to exclude demanded appraisal. On appeal, ISN argued its legal malpractice claim did not accrue until after the appraisal action valued ISN’s stock because only then could ISN claim damages. Although it applied a different analysis, the Delaware Supreme Court agreed with the Superior Court that the statute of limitations began to run in January 2013. By the time ISN filed its malpractice claim on August 1, 2018, the statute of limitations had expired. Thus, the Superior Court’s judgment was affirmed. View "ISN Software Corporation v. Richards, Layton & Finger, P.A." on Justia Law
Olagues v. Timken
Olagues is a self-proclaimed stock options expert, traveling the country to file pro se claims under section 16(b) of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934, which permits a shareholder to bring an insider trading action to disgorge “short-swing” profits that an insider obtained improperly. Any recovery goes only to the company. In one such suit, the district court granted a motion to strike Olagues’ complaint and dismiss the action, stating Olagues, as a pro se litigant, could not pursue a section 16(b) claim on behalf of TimkenSteel because he would be representing the interests of the company. The Sixth Circuit affirmed that Olagues cannot proceed pro se but remanded to give Olagues the opportunity to retain counsel and file an amended complaint with counsel. View "Olagues v. Timken" on Justia Law
Troice v. Proskauer Rose, L.L.P.
Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against Allen Standford's lawyers, Thomas Sjoblom, and the law firms where he worked, arguing that they aided and abetted Stanford’s fraud and conspired to thwart the SEC’s investigation of Stanford’s Ponzi scheme. The district court subsequently denied defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint as barred by the attorney immunity under Texas law. The court held that, under Texas law, attorney immunity is a true immunity of suit, such that denial of a motion to dismiss based on attorney immunity is appealable under the collateral order doctrine. The court reversed the district court’s order denying defendants’ motions to dismiss based on attorney immunity now that the Texas Supreme Court has clarified that there is no “fraud exception” to attorney immunity. Accordingly, the court rendered judgment that the case is dismissed with prejudice. View "Troice v. Proskauer Rose, L.L.P." on Justia Law
McGee v. China Electric Motor, Inc.
After the parties reached a settlement in a securities class action, the district court approved the settlement and awarded attorneys' fees. Class counsel appealed, contending that the fee award was arbitrary. The court concluded that the district court's choice to apply the lodestar method, rather than the percentage-of-fund method, was well within the district court’s discretion. However, the court vacated and remanded for recalculation of the fee, concluding that the district court's near total failure to explain the basis of its award was an abuse of discretion. View "McGee v. China Electric Motor, Inc." on Justia Law
Oetting v. Norton
After the merger of NationsBank and BankAmerica, shareholders filed class actions alleging violations of securities laws. The district court appointed Oetting as lead plaintiff and the Green law firm, as lead counsel. The litigation resulted in a $333 million settlement for the NationsBank class. The Eighth Circuit affirmed approval of the settlement over Oetting’s objection. On the recommendation of Green, the court appointed Heffler as claims administrator. A Heffler employee conspired to submit false claims, resulting in fraudulent payment of $5.87 million. The court denied Green leave to file a supplemental complaint against Heffler. Oetting filed a separate action against Heffler that is pending. After distributions, $2.4 million remained. Green moved for distribution cy pres and requested an additional award of $98,114.34 in attorney’s fees for post-settlement work. Oetting opposed both, argued that Green should disgorge fees for abandoning the class, and filed a separate class action, alleging malpractice by negligently hiring and failing to supervise Heffler and abandonment of the class. The court granted Green’s motion for a cy pres distribution and for a supplemental fee award and denied disgorgement. The Eighth Circuit reversed the cy pres award, ordering additional distribution to the class, and vacated the supplemental fee award as premature. The district court then dismissed the malpractice complaint, concluding that Oetting lacked standing. The Eighth Circuit affirmed that collateral estoppel precluded the rejected disgorgement and class-abandonment claims; pendency of an appeal did not suspend preclusive effects. View "Oetting v. Norton" on Justia Law
Peterson v. Winston & Strawn, LLP
After the mutual funds, known as the Lancelot or Colossus group, folded in 2008, the trustee in bankruptcy filed independent suits or adversary actions seeking to recover from solvent third parties, including the Funds’ auditor, law firm, and some of the Funds’ investors, which the Trustee believes received preferential transfers or fraudulent conveyances. The Funds had invested in notes issued by Thousand Lakes, which was actually a Ponzi scheme, paying old investors with newly raised money. In these proceedings the trustee contends that investors who redeemed shares before the bankruptcy received preferential transfers, 11 U.S.C. 547, or fraudulent conveyances, 11 U.S.C. 548(a)(1)(B) and raised a claim under the Illinois fraudulent-conveyance statute, using the avoiding power of 11 U.S.C. 544. The bankruptcy court dismissed the claims against the law firm that prepared circulars for the Firms. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. No Illinois court has held that failure to report a corporate manager’s acts to the board of directors exposes a law firm to malpractice liability. The complaint does not plausibly allege that alerting the directors would have made a difference. View "Peterson v. Winston & Strawn, LLP" on Justia Law
Liles v. Motorola Solutions, Inc.
A class of Motorola investors claimed that, during 2006, the firm made false statements to disguise its inability to deliver a competitive mobile phone that could employ 3G protocols. When the problem became public, the price of Motorola’s stock declined. The parties settled for $200 million. None of the class members contends that the amount is inadequate. Two objected to approval of counsel’s proposal that it receive 27.5 percent of the fund. One objector protested almost a month after the deadline and failed to file a claim to his share of the recovery. The Seventh Circuit dismissed his appeal, stating that he lacks any interest in the amount of fees, since he would not receive a penny from the fund even if counsel’s share were reduced to zero. The other objector claimed that fee schedules should be set at the outset, preferably by an auction in which law firms compete to represent the class. Noting the problems inherent in such a system, the court held that the district judge did not abuse her discretion in approving the award. View "Liles v. Motorola Solutions, Inc." on Justia Law