May 7, 2010

Rejecting Creationism

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has rejected creationism, at least when it comes to determining whether a secondary actor has "made" a statement for purposes of securities fraud liability. In Pacific Investment Management Co. LLC v. Mayer Brown LLP, 2010 WL 1659230 (2d Cir. April 27, 2010), the plaintiffs and the SEC urged the court to reconsider its "bright line" test for determining whether a defendant can be liable for a misstatement.

Under the "bright line" test, primary liability (as opposed to aiding and abetting liability, which is not available in private securities fraud actions) only exists if the misstatement is attributable on its face to the defendant. In other words, the defendant must have been identified to investors as the maker of the statement. The plaintiffs and the SEC argued that public attribution is unnecessary. Instead, a court should be able to find primary liability where the defendant "creates" the statement, even if investors are unaware of the defendant's involvement.

The Second Circuit disagreed. First, the panel found that an "attribution requirement is more consistent with the Supreme Court's guidance on the question of secondary actor liability." In particular, the Supreme Court's Stoneridge decision suggests that attribution is necessary to establish the existence of reliance on the defendant's deceptive acts. Second, the panel noted that the Second Circuit has consistently favored a "bright line" test to distinguish "primary violations of Rule 10b-5 from aiding and abetting." The attribution requirement makes it clear that secondary actors "who sign or otherwise allow a statement to be attributed to them expose themselves to liability," while "[t]hose who do not are beyond the reach of Rule 10b-5's private right of action."

As for the case at hand, the panel found that none of the alleged misstatements in Refco's public filings were attributed to Mayer Brown or any of its attorneys. Without this attribution, "plantiffs cannot show reliance on any statements of Mayer Brown." Moreover, plaintiffs' "scheme liability" claims failed because plaintiffs admitted that "they were unaware of defendants' deceptive conduct or 'scheme' at the time they purchased Refco securities."

In an interesting concurrence, one of the judges noted that the Second Circuit's decisions on the "attribution" issue have been somewhat inconsistent (including rejecting an attribution requirement for corporate insiders) and there is a split among the circuits. Accordingly, he opined that it might be appropriate for the full Second Circuit, as well as the Supreme Court, to consider the case.

Holding: Dismissal of the claims against Mayer Brown and its attorney affirmed.

Posted by Lyle Roberts at May 7, 2010 10:37 PM | TrackBack
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