Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Securities Law
Obeslo, et al. v. Empower Capital, et al.
Two law firms that represented Plaintiffs in this litigation, Schlichter Bogard & Denton LLP (“SBD”) and Schneider Wallace Cottrell Konecky LLP (“SWCK”), appealed the district court’s order imposing sanctions against them under 28 U.S.C. § 1927. Plaintiffs’ counsel represented individual shareholders and an employee retirement plan in a lawsuit claiming that the investment company, investment adviser, and recordkeeper (collectively “Empower”) servicing their mutual funds charged excessive fees in violation of its fiduciary duties under § 36(b) of the Investment Company Act. Following denial of Empower’s summary judgment and Daubert motions, the case proceeded to a bench trial where the district court ruled in favor of Empower. Thereafter, the court sanctioned Plaintiffs’ counsel for “recklessly pursu[ing] their claims through trial despite the fact that they were lacking in merit” and held SWCK and SBD jointly and severally liable for $1.5 million in Empower’s trial costs, expenses, and attorneys’ fees. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court abused its discretion and therefore reversed the order imposing sanctions. Accordingly, the Court did not reach the issues of SWCK and SBD’s joint and several liability or the court’s denial of SWCK’s motion to amend the judgment. View "Obeslo, et al. v. Empower Capital, et al." on Justia Law
Meitav Dash Provident Funds and Pension Ltd., et al. v. Spirit AeroSystems Holdings, et al.
This appeal centered on claims for securities fraud against Spirit AeroSystems, Inc., and four of its executives. Spirit produced components for jetliners, including Boeing’s 737 MAX. But Boeing stopped producing the 737 MAX, and Spirit’s sales tumbled. At about the same time, Spirit acknowledged an unexpected loss from inadequate accounting controls. After learning about Spirit’s downturn in sales and the inadequacies in accounting controls, some investors sued Spirit and four executives for securities fraud. The district court dismissed the suit, and the investors appealed. "For claims involving securities fraud, pleaders bear a stiff burden when alleging scienter." In the Tenth Circuit's view, the investors did not satisfy that burden, so it affirmed the dismissal. View "Meitav Dash Provident Funds and Pension Ltd., et al. v. Spirit AeroSystems Holdings, et al." on Justia Law
Hogan, et al. v. Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation, et al.
Plaintiff Patrick Hogan brought a putative federal securities-fraud class action against poultry producer Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., Pilgrim’s former chief executive officer and president William Lovette, and Pilgrim’s then chief financial officer Fabio Sandri (collectively, Defendants). Plaintiff accused Defendants of violating § 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and Securities and Exchange Commission Rule 10b–5, 17 C.F.R. § 240.10b–5. Plaintiff also accused Lovette and Sandri of violating § 20(a) of the Act, 15 U.S.C. § 78t(a). Plaintiff appealed four decisions by the district court: (1) the grant of Defendants’ motion to dismiss the first amended complaint (the FAC) for failure to adequately plead a claim; (2) the denial of Plaintiff’s motion to reconsider "Hogan I" (but granting leave to amend the complaint without setting a deadline); (3) the grant of Defendants’ motion to dismiss the second amended complaint (the SAC) as barred by the applicable statute of repose; and (4) the denial of Plaintiff’s motion to reconsider "Hogan III." After review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s order in Hogan III, dismissed as moot Plaintiff’s challenges to the orders in Hogan I, Hogan II, and Hogan IV, and remanded for further proceedings at the district court. Because (1) the SAC did not raise new claims or add any defendants and (2) the district court did not enter a final order after Hogan I and Hogan II (so Defendants’ right to repose had not vested), the SAC was not barred by the statute of repose. Because the SAC superseded the FAC, the Court found the sufficiency of the FAC was a moot issue. And because the district court did not address the sufficiency of the SAC, the case was remanded for the district court to address this issue in the first instance. View "Hogan, et al. v. Pilgrim's Pride Corporation, et al." on Justia Law
Indiana Public Retirement, et al. v. Pluralsight, et al.
Defendant Pluralsight was a software company offering a cloud-based technology skills platform. Defendant Aaron Skonnard was Pluralsight’s Chief Executive Officer; defendant James Budge was the Chief Financial Officer. Plaintiffs purchased Pluralsight stock between January 16, 2019, and July 31, 2019. Beginning on January 16, 2019, Skonnard and Budge allegedly made materially false and misleading statements about the size and productivity of Pluralsight’s sales force, which Plaintiffs claim artificially inflated Pluralsight’s stock price, including during a secondary public offering (“SPO”) in March 2019. Pluralsight announced disappointing second-quarter earnings on July 31, 2019. Defendants attributed the low earnings to a shortage of sales representatives earlier in the year—but this explanation contradicted representations Pluralsight made in the first quarter of 2019 about the size of its sales force. Lead Plaintiffs Indiana Public Retirement System (“INPRS”) and Public School Teachers’ Pension and Retirement Fund of Chicago (“CTPF”) brought claims on behalf of a putative class of Pluralsight stock holders under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”), and the Securities Act of 1933 (“Securities Act”) in federal district court in Utah. Defendants moved to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), contending Plaintiffs failed to adequately allege: (1) any materially false or misleading statements or omissions; and (2) that Defendants acted with the requisite scienter. The district court found one statement (of eighteen alleged) was materially false or misleading but dismissed Plaintiffs’ Exchange Act claims because the complaint failed to allege a strong inference of scienter. The district court dismissed Plaintiffs’ Securities Act claims because none of the statements in Pluralsight’s SPO documents were materially false or misleading. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court erred in dismissing Plaintffs’ Exhcange Act claims. “Although the district court correctly determined that Plaintiffs sufficiently alleged only one materially false or misleading statement, the district court’s scienter determination was erroneous.” The Court also concluded the district court relied on erroneous reasoning to dismiss the alleged violation of Item 303 of SEC Regulation S–K, so the case was remanded for further consideration. The judgment was affirmed in all other respects. View "Indiana Public Retirement, et al. v. Pluralsight, et al." on Justia Law
SEC v. GenAudio Inc., et al.
Taj Jerry Mahabub, founder and Chief Executive Officer (“CEO”) of GenAudio, Inc. (“GenAudio”; collectively referred to as “Appellants”) attempted to secure a software licensing deal with Apple, Inc. (“Apple”). Mahabub intended to integrate GenAudio’s three-dimensional audio software, “AstoundSound,” into Apple’s products. While Appellants were pursuing that collaboration, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) commenced an investigation into Mr. Mahabub’s conduct: Mahabub was suspected of defrauding investors by fabricating statements about Apple’s interest in GenAudio’s software and violating registration provisions of the securities laws in connection with sales of GenAudio securities. The district court found Mahabub defrauded investors and violated the securities laws. The court determined that Appellants were liable for knowingly or recklessly making six fraudulent misstatements in connection with two offerings of GenAudio’s securities in violation of the antifraud provisions of the securities laws. Appellants appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the SEC. View "SEC v. GenAudio Inc., et al." on Justia Law
Obeslo, et al. v. Great-Western Life & Annuity, et al.
Plaintiff-Appellants were shareholders in a major mutual fund complex through their employer-sponsored retirement plans. They alleged the complex’s investment adviser, Great-West Capital Management LLC (“GWCM”), and affiliate recordkeeper, Great-West Life & Annuity Insurance Co. (“GWL&A”), breached their fiduciary duties by collecting excessive compensation from fund assets. After holding an eleven-day bench trial in January 2020, the district court adopted and incorporated by reference, with few changes, Defendants’ Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. It also found for Defendants on every element of every issue, concluding “even though they did not have the burden to do so, Defendants presented persuasive and credible evidence that overwhelmingly proved that their fees were reasonable and that they did not breach their fiduciary duties.” Plaintiffs appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Obeslo, et al. v. Great-Western Life & Annuity, et al." on Justia Law
United States v. Jean-Pierre
Guy Jean-Pierre, a corporate and securities attorney, aided an illegal stock trading operation. Through a series of self-dealing transactions, Jean-Pierre and his co-conspirators artificially inflated stock prices of a company they controlled. Jean- Pierre sent letters on the company’s behalf to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) that contained false and misleading information and omitted material information from disclosures to potential investors. Jean-Pierre appealed his convictions for conspiracy to commit securities fraud and securities fraud as to four of the twenty-eight counts of conviction, arguing the district court erred in admitting evidence that he had previously used his niece’s signature without her permission to submit attorney letters to a stock trading website. Jean- Pierre also argued that three of the four convictions should have been reversed because the district court declined to give a requested instruction reiterating the government’s burden as to a specific factual theory. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Jean-Pierre" on Justia Law
Foxfield Villa Associates v. Robben
This appeal stemmed from an attempt to hold Defendant Paul Robben liable for securities fraud. Various Plaintiffs alleged that Robben fraudulently induced them to purchase ownership interests in a Kansas limited liability company named Foxfield Villa Associates, LLC (“Foxfield”). Plaintiffs argued that those interests were securities under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Plaintiffs contended Robben violated section 10(b) of the 1934 Act (its broad antifraud provision) and SEC Rule 10b-5 (an administrative regulation expounding upon that antifraud provision) when engaging in his allegedly deceitful conduct. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the specific attributes of the LLC interests in this case lead it to conclude the interests at issue were not securities as that term was defined by the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The Court affirmed the district court's order declining to characterize the LLC interests as securities, thus granting summary judgment to defendants on those grounds. View "Foxfield Villa Associates v. Robben" on Justia Law
Mid Atlantic Capital v. Bien
A married couple, Beverly Bien and David Wellman, invested money with Mid Atlantic Capital Corporation (“Mid Atlantic”). Their investments performed poorly. Stung by the losses, Ms. Bien and Mr. Wellman initiated arbitration proceedings against Mid Atlantic. The arbitration panel awarded damages, fees and costs to the couple. The panel also ordered Ms. Bien and Mr. Wellman to reassign their ownership interests in their investments to Mid Atlantic. Mid Atlantic moved the federal district court to modify the arbitration award to correct “an evident material miscalculation of figures.” The district court denied the motion because the alleged error that Mid Atlantic sought to remedy did not appear on the face of the arbitration award. In the amended final judgment, in addition to ordering Mid Atlantic to pay Ms. Bien and Mr. Wellman certain damages, the court ordered that prejudgment interest would accrue on the damages portion of the award and that postjudgment interest would accrue at the federal rate specified in 28 U.S.C. 1961. Both parties appealed the district court’s order. Mid Atlantic specifically challenged the court’s denial of its motion to modify the arbitration award; the couple cross-appealed to challenge the court’s rulings with respect to prejudgment interest and the reassignment of distributions they received since the arbitration award due to their ownership interests in the investments. Finding no abuse of discretion or other reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Mid Atlantic Capital v. Bien" on Justia Law
Smallen Revocable Living Trust v. Western Union Company
A district court dismissed Plaintiff–Appellant Lawrence Smallen and Laura Smallen Revocable Living Trust’s securities-fraud class action against Defendant–Appellee The Western Union Company and several of its current and former executive officers (collectively, “Defendants”). Following the announcements of Western Union’s settlements with regulators in January 2017 and the subsequent drop in the price of the company’s stock shares, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on behalf of itself and other similarly situated shareholders. In its complaint, Plaintiff alleged Defendants committed securities fraud by making false or materially misleading public statements between February 24, 2012, and May 2, 2017 regarding, among other things, Western Union’s compliance with anti-money laundering and anti-fraud laws. The district court dismissed the complaint because Plaintiff failed to adequately plead scienter under the heightened standard imposed by the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“PSLRA”). While the Tenth Circuit found the complaint may have given rise to some plausible inference of culpability on Defendants' part, the Court concurred Plaintiff failed to plead particularized facts giving rise to the strong inference of scienter required to state a claim under the PSLRA, thus affirming dismissal. View "Smallen Revocable Living Trust v. Western Union Company" on Justia Law