May 18, 2012

Balancing Act

There is rarely a dull moment when Judge Frank Easterbrook writes a securities litigation opinion. In Fulton County Employees Retirement System v. MGIC Investment Corp., 675 F.3d 1047 (7th Cir. April 12, 2012) (Easterbrook, J.) the court addressed a credit crisis case in which a mortgage loan insurer allegedly made misstatements about the liquidity of an affiliated company. The decision includes a few interesting holdings.

(1) MGIC stated in a press release that the affiliated company (in which MGIC held a 46% interest) had "substantial liquidity," but eleven days later announced that its investment in the affiliated company was "materially impaired." The court concluded that the liquidity statement was inactionable both because it was true when made and because the press release contained specific warnings about the liquidity risk at the affiliated company.

(2) Moreover, the court noted that the events that led to the material impairment of the investment were known to the market. To the extent that the "whole world knew that firms that had issued, packaged, or insured subprime loans were in distress," MGIC was in no better position to foresee what would happen to its investment than anyone else.

(3) The plaintiffs also alleged that certain statements made by officers of the affiliated company during MGIC's earnings call were fraudulent. The court held that (a) MGIC's ownership interest in the affiliated company was insufficient to establish that it "controlled" the affiliate (especially given that another company also had a 46% stake) for purposes of control person liability, and (b) pursuant to the recent Janus decision, MGIC could not be held liable as a "maker" of the affiliated company's statements and had no duty to correct them.

Holding: Dismissal affirmed.

Quote of Note: "The press release went on to detail problems that MGIC was encountering, including the liquidity risk at [the affiliated company]. The goal of this paragraph was to let investors know about the trouble without painting too gloomy a picture. A balancing act of that nature cannot sensibly be described as fraud."

Posted by Lyle Roberts at May 18, 2012 10:20 PM | TrackBack
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