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securities litigation

Six months ago the Delaware Supreme Court upheld the right of an enterprise to include a loser-pays provision in its bylaws, specifying that losing shareholder-litigants would have to contribute reasonable legal fees to compensate what would otherwise be loss to other owners. Since then there’s been a concerted campaign to overturn the ruling, either in the Delaware legislature or if necessary elsewhere. But as I argue in a new Cato post, allowing scope for freedom of contract of this sort is one of the best and most promising ways to avert an ever-rising toll of litigation. Contractually specified alternatives to courtroom wrangling have played a vital role, and are under attack for that very reason, in curbing litigation areas like workplace and consumer arbitration, shrinkwrap and click-through disclaimers of liability, and risk disclaimers at ballparks and elsewhere. (& Stephen Bainbridge).

To the extent America has made progress in recent years in rolling back the extreme litigiousness of earlier years, one main reason has been the courts’ increased willingness to respect the libertarian and classical liberal principle of freedom of contract. Most legal disputes arise between parties with prior dealings, and if they have been left free in those dealings to specify who bears the risks when things go wrong, the result will often be to cut off the need for expensive and open-ended litigation afterward.

More on the Delaware bylaw controversy: D & O Diary (scroll), Andrew Trask on state of the merger class action, WSJ Law Blog first and second, Daniel Fisher, and ABA Journal in June, Alison Frankel/Reuters (forum selection bylaws).

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Banking and finance roundup

by Walter Olson on November 17, 2014

  • “How Operation Choke Point Hurts the Unbanked” [former FDIC chairman William Isaac, American Banker]
  • A nation of snitches: “U.S. rules would expand white collar crime informers” [Reuters]
  • Courts should stop giving deference to agency interpretations of criminal law: “Justice Scalia’s shot across the SEC’s bow re insider trading” [Bainbridge] Judge Rakoff criticizes SEC for bringing so many enforcement proceedings to in-house adjudicators [Reuters, earlier]
  • Monitor envy: “The biggest U.S. banks have 100 or more on-site examiners from an array of regulators” and now New York’s financial regulator wants to get into the act [WSJ]
  • Seventh Circuit finds Bank of America entitled to ask loan applicants about expected continuing entitlement to disability benefits, but in the mean time bank agrees in DoJ settlement to cease such inquiries [Easterbrook opinion in Wigginton v. Bank of America, see last page]
  • Two SEC commissioners warn that campaigned-for “fair fund” to compensate investors in CR Intrinsic inside trading case “likely to benefit only class-action attorneys and the fund’s administrators” [Daniel Gallagher and Michael Piwowar, WSJ]
  • “U.S. veterans sue [major European] banks, claim they should pay for Iraq attacks” [Alison Frankel, Reuters]

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Steve Bainbridge has a wish list for reforms to financial and securities law in the new Congress, especially the damaging Dodd-Frank and Sarbanes-Oxley laws. Included: repeal of conflicts minerals disclosure, “say on pay,” and pay ratio disclosure; more leeway for public companies to opt out of various regulatory obligations to shareholders that their own shareholders have not contractually seen fit to impose; and litigation reform.

Meanwhile, my Cato colleague Mark Calabria points out that there “are numerous protectors of the status quo in both major political parties,” which may frustrate the relatively free-market instincts of the responsible committee chairs, Sen. Richard Shelby and Rep. Jeb Hensarling. “But at least financial regulation is unlikely to get any worse.”

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Prof. Bainbridge flags this disturbing Wall Street Journal piece:

The Securities and Exchange Commission is increasingly steering cases to hearings in front of the agency’s appointed administrative judges, who found in its favor in every verdict for the 12 months through September, rather than taking them to federal court.

Previously, the agency had tended to use the ALJs (administrative law judges) for relatively cut-and-dried enforcement actions, while taking more complex or cutting-edge disputes to federal court. Now, following the Dodd-Frank expansion of its powers, it prefers ALJs even for many complex and demanding cases arising from charges such as insider trading. Defendants enjoy a range of protections in federal court that are not provided in administrative litigation, including juries as well as the presence of federal judges who are independent of agency control, held to a more demanding ethical code, and drawn generally from higher and more sophisticated circles within the legal profession. Read the entire Bainbridge commentary, with followups linking Henry Manne (adjudicatory actions are ways to avoid the more demanding process of rulemaking) and Keith Bishop (current system open to constitutional challenge?).

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Banking and finance roundup

by Walter Olson on September 21, 2014

  • SEC regs suppress small business capital formation and that’s a shame [Commissioner Daniel Gallagher via Bainbridge]
  • Federally sponsored gripe site for financial institutions not likely to end well [Hester Peirce and Vera Soliman, Mercatus via Kevin Funnell]
  • Alleged terror payments “routed through” sued bank also went through major New York banks, which shouldn’t be surprising [Fisher]
  • Did mid-level managers in securitized mortgage finance know they were in a housing bubble but cynically go ahead? Evidence against [Cheng et al., American Economic Review via MR]
  • Shareholder litigation: “New ‘loser pays’ standard could curb abusive lawsuits” [Examiner editorial] Delaware take note: corporate by-law changes that cut off fee-seeking opportunism deserve acclaim [Keith Paul Bishop via Bainbridge]
  • NYT was hot on “Goldman Sachs manipulated aluminum market” allegations but judge wasn’t [Reuters, July 2013 NYT]
  • CFPB might shrug off discrimination and retaliation charges, but many of the firms it regulates could not afford to [Hans Bader]

The Supreme Court’s refusal to revisit the fraud-on-the-market presumption in securities litigation leaves intact an economically irrational system that mostly benefits lawyers. “Indeed, the Court’s decision almost certainly will make this litigation even more expensive by increasing the scope of the class certification inquiry (while not changing the result in many cases). That means even more money out of the pockets of shareholders and into the pockets of lawyers and economic experts.” [Mayer Brown, earlier]

In yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in Halliburton v. Erica P. John Fund, the Court unanimously agreed to narrow procedural relief for the corporate defendant, but declined 6-3 to revisit its 1988 mistake in creating from whole cloth the “fraud on the market” theory in Basic, Inc. v. Levinson. I have more at Cato at Liberty. Earlier on Halliburton v. Erica P. John Fund here. More: Kevin LaCroix, & welcome Stephen Bainbridge, SCOTUSBlog readers.

More: Alden Abbott and Thom Lambert at Truth on the Market; Bainbridge with roundup of commentary; Beck, Drug & Device Law, on implications for concept of reliance in that area.

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“Delaware’s Supreme Court has ruled that corporations can adopt bylaws requiring an investor who sues and loses to pay the company’s legal costs, potentially upending the economics of a booming type of shareholder litigation.” [Tom Hals, Reuters via Federalist Society Blog]

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Andrew Grossman reports on yesterday’s oral argument in Halliburton v. Erica P. John Fund, which “may be the biggest business case of the term. …Basic [Basic v. Levinson, 1988, in which the Court dispensed with the reliance requirement in favor of the "fraud on the market" theory] came at the tail-end of the Court’s decades-long experiment in policymaking by creating and defining the contours of civil actions. … The chief barrier to overturning Basic may not be its logic, its wisdom, or even its correctness as a matter of law, but instead stare decisis.” Earlier here, here, here, and here.

More: Kaye Scholer (possible “midway position” with impact on stock price considered at stage of class certification).

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  • Following vindication, Mark Cuban begins transcribing transcripts of other SEC trials on his blog [Blog Maverick, background] “Why Settling With The SEC Can Be Worse Than Losing At Trial” [John J. Carney, David Choi and Francesca Harker]
  • Congress needs to investigate whether administration browbeat Standard & Poor’s over sovereign debt rating [John McGinnis]
  • As regs squeeze banks out of small business lending, will we like non-bank alternatives as well? [John Cochrane] More: Kevin Funnell;
  • Cash business can’t bank its proceeds: “Robber gangs terrorize Colorado pot shops” [NBC News]
  • “Will Plaintiff Lawyers Cut Down On The Choices In Your 401(k)?” [Daniel Fisher]
  • Does Delaware have an incentive to keep securities lawyers happy with big fees? [Bainbridge]
  • “It’s Time To Grill the Federal Reserve About Bitcoin” [Ira Stoll]
  • SCOTUS to hear case of Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, First Amendment challenge to state laws regulating truth of political speech [IJ/Cato amicus cert brief]
  • Groups of law professors file amicus briefs in Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc. arguing that retreat from “fraud on the market” theory is consistent with modern scholarship on capital market efficiency [John Elwood] and sound statutory construction [Elwood, Bainbridge]
  • Behind the Michigan affirmative action plan in Schuette, including colorful background of litigant BAMN (“By Any Means Necessary”) [Gail Heriot, Federalist Society "Engage"]
  • Court dismisses Mulhall v. UNITE HERE (challenge to employer cooperation agreement with union as “thing of value”) as improvidently granted [Jack Goldsmith, On Labor, earlier]
  • Affordable Care Act saga has taken toll on rule of law [Timothy and Christina Sandefur, Regulation]
  • Lol-worthy new Twitter account, @clickbaitSCOTUS, with content like “The nine words no appellate advocate wants to read” [re: Madigan v. Levin]
  • Drug War vs. Constitution at Supreme Court, 1928: Drug War won by only one vote and you might not predict who wrote the most impassioned dissent [my Cato post]

Banking and finance roundup

by Walter Olson on November 21, 2013

  • J.P. Morgan and the Dodd-Frank system: “With Wall Street’s capable assistance, government has managed to institutionalize and monetize the perp walk.” [Michael Greve, related from Greve on the self-financing regulatory state]
  • Harvard needs to worry about being seen as endorsing its affiliated Shareholder Rights Project [Richard Painter]
  • Under regulatory pressure, J.P. Morgan “looking to pull back from lending to politically incorrect operations like pawn shops, payday lenders, check cashers” [Seeking Alpha]
  • Rare securities class action goes to trial against Household lending firm, HSBC; $2.46 billion judgment [Reuters]
  • Car dealers only thought they were winning a Dodd-Frank exemption from CFPB. Surprise! [Carter Dougherty/Bloomberg, Funnell]
  • “Memo to the Swiss: Capping CEO Pay is not an Intelligent Way of dealing with Income Inequality” [Bainbridge]
  • American Bankers Association vs. blogger who compiled online list of banks’ routing numbers [Popehat]

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Fortune reporter Erika Fry profiles the lawyer-allied Louisiana Municipal Police Employees’ Retirement System, pronounced “Lampers,” which has been called a “serial plaintiff,” a “frequent filer,” and in one legal brief “the most prolific filer of shareholder litigation in U.S. history.”

Banking and finance roundup

by Walter Olson on October 22, 2013

  • “Dodd-Frank and The Regulatory Burden on Smaller Banks” [Todd Zywicki]
  • Side-stepping Morrison: way found for foreign-cubed claims to get into federal court? [D&O Diary]
  • “Alice in Wonderland Has Nothing on Section 518 of the New York General Business Law” [Eugene Volokh, swipe fees]
  • “Financial Reform in 12 Minutes” [John Cochrane]
  • Why the state-owned Bank of North Dakota isn’t a model for much of anything [Mark Calabria, New York Times "Room for Debate"]
  • Regulated lenders have many reasons to watch SCOTUS’s upcoming Mount Holly case on housing disparate impact [Kevin Funnell]
  • Cert petition: “Time to undo fraud-on-the-market presumption in securities class actions?” [Alison Frankel]