Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Securities 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
Seafarers Pension Plan v. Bradway
In October 2018, a Boeing 737 MAX airliner crashed in the sea near Indonesia, killing everyone on board. In March 2019, a second 737 MAX crashed in Ethiopia, again killing everyone on board. Within days of the second crash, all 737 MAX airliners around the world were grounded. The FAA kept the planes grounded until November 2020, when it was satisfied that serious problems with the planes’ flight control systems had been corrected. The Pension Plan, a shareholder of the Boeing Company, filed a derivative suit on behalf of Boeing under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. 78n(a)(1), alleging that Boeing officers and board members made materially false and misleading public statements about the development and operation of the 737 MAX in Boeing’s 2017, 2018, and 2019 proxy materials.The district court dismissed the suit without addressing the merits, applying a Boeing bylaw that gives the company the right to insist that any derivative actions be filed in the Delaware Court of Chancery. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Because the federal Exchange Act gives federal courts exclusive jurisdiction over actions under it, applying the bylaw to this case would mean that the derivative action could not be heard in any forum. That result would be contrary to Delaware corporation law, which respects the non-waiver provision in Section 29(a) of the federal Exchange Act, 15 U.S.C. 78cc(a). View "Seafarers Pension Plan v. Bradway" on Justia Law
Kuebler v. Vectren Corp.
Following the 2018 merger between Vectren, an Indiana public utility and energy company, and CenterPoint, a public utility holding company, CenterPoint acquired all Vectren stock for $72.00 per share in cash. Several Vectren shareholders had filed suit alleging violations of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. 78a. The district court declined to enjoin the shareholder vote on the merger. The shareholders then filed an amended complaint alleging that Vectren’s Proxy Statement was misleading under Section 14(a) of the Act, arguing that the Proxy Statement should have included financial metrics used by Vectren’s financial advisor in its analysis leading to its opinion that the merger terms were fair to Vectren shareholders. The first omitted metric, Unlevered Cash Flow Projections, forecast the gross after‐tax annual cash flow for Vectren, 2018-2027. The second omitted metric, Business Segment Projections, showed separate financial projections for each of Vectren’s three main business lines.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The shareholders failed to allege adequately both materiality of the omissions and any resulting economic loss. The court noted that the plaintiffs did not allege the existence of a viable superior offer to support their allegations of economic loss. View "Kuebler v. Vectren Corp." on Justia Law
City of Taylor Police and Fire v. Zebra Technologies Corp.
Retirement System contends that Zebra defrauded investors by making bad predictions during a corporate consolidation with a division of Motorola. The consolidation proved more onerous than anticipated, leading to expenditure of an additional $200 million and a decline in Zebra’s share price. A purported class action under the Securities Exchange Act, 15 U.S.C. 78j(b), asserted that Zebra CEO Gustafsson and CFO Smiley duped investors by knowingly issuing false statements.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. Retirement System failed to state an adequate section 10(b) claim and did not satisfy the pleading requirements of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (PSLRA). The Securities Act does not impose a duty of total corporate transparency; nor does the Act demand perfection from forecasts, which are inevitably inaccurate. Some cited statements were non-specific puffery. The PSLRA requires plaintiffs to “state with particularity facts giving rise to a strong inference” that defendants spoke with intent to deceive (scienter), 15 U.S.C. 78u–4(b)(2)(A). Executives possess only limited information about the internal operations of other corporations. Gustafsson and Smiley would have known comparatively little about Motorola’s operations until consolidation was underway. While retrospective statements are held to a higher standard Retirement System challenged only statements made before or during integration. View "City of Taylor Police and Fire v. Zebra Technologies Corp." on Justia Law
Coscia v. United States
Coscia used electronic exchanges for futures trading and implemented high-frequency trading programs. High-frequency trading, called “spoofing,” and defined as bidding or offering with the intent to cancel the bid or offer before execution, became illegal in 2010 under the Dodd-Frank Act, 7 U.S.C. 6c(a)(5). Coscia was convicted of commodities fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1348, and spoofing, After an unsuccessful appeal, Coscia sought a new trial, citing new evidence that data discovered after trial establishes that there were errors in the data presented to the jury and that subsequent indictments for similar spoofing activities undercut the government’s characterization of Coscia as a trading “outlier.” He also claimed that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance, having an undisclosed conflict of interest. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Even assuming that Coscia’s new evidence could not have been discovered sooner through the exercise of due diligence, Coscia failed to explain how that evidence or the subsequent indictments seriously called the verdict into question. Coscia has not established that his attorneys learned of relevant and confidential information from its cited unrelated representations. Coscia’s counsel faced “the common situation” where the client stands a better chance of success by admitting the underlying actions and arguing that the actions do not constitute a crime. That the jury did not accept his defense does not render it constitutionally deficient. View "Coscia v. United States" on Justia Law
United States v. Wilkinson
In 1999-2016, Wilkinson convinced approximately 30 people to invest $13.5 million in two hedge funds that he created. By 2008, Wilkinson lost the vast majority of their money. Wilkinson told them that the funds’ assets included a $12 million note with an Australian hedge fund, Pengana. The “Pengana Note” did not exist. Wilkinson provided fraudulent K-1 federal income tax forms showing that the investments had interest payments on the Pengana Note. To pay back suspicious investors, Wilkinson solicited about $3 million from new investors using private placement memoranda (PPMs) falsely saying that Wilkinson intended to use their investments “to trade a variety of stock indexes and options, futures, and options on futures on such stock indexes on a variety of national securities and futures exchanges.” In 2016, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission filed a civil enforcement action against Wilkinson, 7 U.S.C. 6p(1).Indicted under 18 U.S.C. 1341, 1343, Wilkinson pleaded guilty to wire fraud, admitting that he sent fraudulent K-1 forms and induced investment of $115,000 using fraudulent PPMs. The court applied a four-level enhancement because the offense “involved … a violation of commodities law and ... the defendant was … a commodity pool operator,” U.S.S.G. 2B1.1(b)(20)(B). Wilkinson argued that he did not qualify as a commodity pool operator because he traded only broad-based indexes like S&P 500 futures, which fit the Commodity Exchange Act’s definition of an “excluded commodity,” “not based … on the value of a narrow group of commodities.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Wilkinson’s plea agreement and PSR established that Wilkinson was a commodity pool operator. View "United States v. Wilkinson" on Justia Law
Troyer v. National Futures Association
Between 1983-2015, Heneghan was an associated person (AP) of 14 different National Futures Association (NFA)-member firms. Troyer invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in financial derivatives through NFA Members. The first interaction between Troyer and Heneghan was in 2008. After receiving an unsolicited phone call from Heneghan, Troyer invested more than $160,000. Despite changes in Heneghan’s entity affiliation, his working relationship with Troyer remained constant. At one point, Heneghan’s then-firm, Statewide, withdrew from the NFA following an investigation. Heneghan was the subject of a four-month NFA approval-hold in 2012. Troyer began sending money to Heneghan personally in 2013, allegedly to obtain trading firm employee discounts; these investments totaled $82,000. Troyer neither received nor asked for any investment documentation for this investment. In 2016-2015, NFA investigated Heneghan’s then-firm, PMI, Despite Troyer’s alleged substantial investment, no PMI accounts were listed for either Troyer or Heneghan. In 2015, Troyer directed Heneghan to cash out the fund; “all hell broke loose.” In 2016, the NFA permanently barred Heneghan from NFA membership. Troyer filed suit under the Commodities Exchange Act. 7 U.S.C. 25(b).The Seventh Circuit affirmed the summary judgment rejection of Troyer’s claim. NFA Bylaw 301(a)(ii)(D), which bars persons from becoming or remaining NFA Members if their conduct was the cause of NFA expulsion, is inapplicable. Statewide’s agreement not to reapply represented a distinct sanction from expulsion and did not trigger Bylaw 301(a)(ii)(D). View "Troyer v. National Futures Association" on Justia Law
Carpenters Pension Trust Fund for Northern California v. Allstate Corp.
In 2013, Allstate announced a new strategy in its auto insurance business: attracting more new customers by “softening” its underwriting standards. Allstate disclosed that new and potentially riskier customers might file more claims and that Allstate would monitor and adjust business practices accordingly. Two years later, Allstate’s stock price dropped by more than 10 percent, immediately after Allstate announced that the higher claims rates it had experienced for three quarters had been fueled at least in part by the company’s recent growth strategy and that the company was “tightening" its underwriting parameters. The plaintiffs claim that Allstate initially intentionally misled the market by falsely attributing the increases to other factors.The Seventh Circuit vacated the certification of a plaintiff class after reviewing recent Supreme Court decisions concerning the fraud-on-the-market presumption of reliance, which allows plaintiffs to avoid proving individual reliance upon fraudulent misrepresentations and omissions. The issues of materiality, loss causation, and transaction causation are left for the merits but the court must consider evidence on those issues in deciding class certification using the presumption, if the defense offers it to show the absence of transaction causation (price impact). The district court granted class certification after admitting, but without engaging with, defense evidence offered to defeat the presumption--an expert opinion that the alleged misrepresentations had no impact on the stock price. Class certification may be appropriate here, but the district court must decide at the class stage the price impact issue. The court directed modification of any class certification to limit the class to buyers of Allstate common stock rather than any other securities. View "Carpenters Pension Trust Fund for Northern California v. Allstate Corp." on Justia Law
Walleye Trading LLC v. AbbVie Inc.
Wanting to repurchase outstanding shares. AbbVie began its auction at $114. Shareholders offered to sell at or below $114. AbbVie selected the lowest price that would allow it to purchase $7.5 billion of shares. AbbVie hired Computershare to receive all offers. At the end of bidding, AbbVie announced the preliminary result: it would purchase 71.4 million shares for $105 per share. AbbVie’s stock, which had been trading at roughly $100, closed at $103. An hour later, AbbVie announced that it had received corrected numbers from Computershare. Instead of purchasing 71.4 million shares at $105 a share, it would purchase 72.8 million shares at $103 a share. AbbVie’s share price fell to $99 the next day.Walleye contends that AbbVie’s actions violated sections 10(b) and 14(e) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. 78j(b) and 78n(e). The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Walleye’s complaint. A plaintiff bringing section 10(b) claims must plead the fraud with particularity and allegations of scienter must be as compelling as any opposing inference. Walleye has not pleaded that AbbVie made any statement that is false or misleading, much less a statement with the required mental state. AbbVie accurately reported Computershare’s preliminary numbers and was not required to verify third-party data before reporting. The end of the tender offer placed Walleye outside the zone of interests protected by section 14. View "Walleye Trading LLC v. AbbVie Inc." on Justia Law
INTL FCStone Financial Inc. v. Farmer
Defendants, commodities futures investors, maintained trading accounts with FCStone, a clearing firm that handled the confirmation, settlement, and delivery of transactions. In 2018, extraordinary volatility in the natural gas market wiped out the defendants’ account balances with FCStone, leaving some defendants in debt. The defendants alleged Commodity Exchange Act violations against FCStone and initiated arbitration proceedings before the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). FCStone sought a declaratory judgment, claiming the parties must arbitrate their disputes before the National Futures Association (NFA), and that FINRA lacks jurisdiction over the underlying disputes. The district court ruled for FCStone, ordered arbitration and designated an arbitration forum, then stayed the case to address related issues, including the arbitration venue. The Seventh Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1291 or the Federal Arbitration Act, ” 9 U.S.C. 16(a)(3). The district court’s decisions were non-final and no exception to the rule of finality applies. The court rejected an argument that the order amounted to an injunction prohibiting FINRA arbitration. A pro‐arbitration decision, coupled with a stay (rather than a dismissal) of the suit, is not appealable. The court noted that the district court did not decide whether the parties’ arbitration agreements relinquished defendants’ purported rights to FINRA arbitration. View "INTL FCStone Financial Inc. v. Farmer" on Justia Law