March 5, 2010

The Sheriff of Orange County

Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor may be retired, but she is not done creating securities law. Last year, she sat with the Fifth Circuit by designation and wrote an opinion on loss causation. In February, it was the Sixth Circuit and her opinion concerns the scope of the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act ("SLUSA"), which precludes certain class actions based upon state law that allege a misrepresentation in connection with the purchase or sale of nationally traded securities.

In Demings v. Nationwide Life Ins. Co., 2010 WL 364335 (6th Cir. Feb. 3, 2010), the Sheriff of Orange County Florida brought a class action on behalf of all public employers who sponsor 457 deferred-compensation plans alleging that Nationwide implemented a scheme under which it improperly received revenue-sharing payments from mutual funds and mutual fund advisors that should have gone to the plan participants. The district court found that the case was precluded by SLUSA because the substance of the sheriff's claim was a covered class action alleging that "Nationwide misrepresented a relationship with mutual fund advisors, or, at a minimum, failed to disclose material facts about the relationship."

On appeal, the sheriff argued that his suit was subject to SLUSA's "state actions" exception, which exempts certain suits brought by states, political subdivisions thereof, and state pensions plans from SLUSA's preclusive effect. By its plain terms, however, the state actions exception only applies to a covered entity that brings an action "on its own behalf." Although the sheriff might be a "political subdivision," his complaint sought to bring an action on behalf of the deferred-compensation plan. In the absence of any allegation that the sheriff had the authority to bring an action as the plan, the district court was entitled not to consider that possibility. Moreover, the "state actions" exception requires the members of the proposed class to be "named plaintiffs . . . that have authorized participation, in such action." The sheriff was attempting to bring a class action on behalf of a prospective class of unnamed sponsors of deferred-compensation plans.

Holding: Affirmed dismissal based on SLUSA preclusion.

Posted by Lyle Roberts at March 5, 2010 10:23 PM | TrackBack
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