Justia U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Securities Law
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The board of directors of Finjan Holdings, Inc., struck a deal with Fortress Investment Group LLC for Fortress to purchase all Finjan shares. Finjan’s shareholders approved the deal. Shareholder Plaintiff then sued Finjan, its CEO, and members of its board of directors, alleging that revenue predictions and share-value estimations sent by Finjan management to shareholders before the sale had been false and in violation of Section 14(e) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s claim.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal. The panel held that to state a claim under Section 14(e), Plaintiff was required to plausibly allege that (1) Finjan management did not actually believe the revenue protections/share-value estimations they issued to the Finjan shareholders (“subjective falsity”), (2) the revenue protections/share value estimations did not reflect the company’s likely future performance (“objective falsity”), (3) shareholders foreseeably relied on the revenue-projections/share-value estimations in accepting the tender offer, and (4) shareholders suffered an economic loss as a result of the deal with Fortress. The district court ruled that the subjective falsity element of Grier’s claim required allegations of a conscious, fraudulent state-of-mind, also called “scienter.”   The panel, however, held that, for Plaintiff’s claim under Section 14(e), scienter was not required, and his allegations need to provide only enough factual material to create a “reasonable inference,” not a “strong inference,” of subjective falsity. The panel held that, nonetheless, Plaintiff’s allegations did not create even a “reasonable inference” of subjective falsity. View "IN RE: ROBERT GRIER, ET AL V. FINJAN HOLDINGS, INC., ET AL" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff brought claims under Section 12(a)(2) of the Securities Act against all Defendants, and a claim pursuant to Section 15 of the Securities Act against Cardone and Cardone Capital. At issue was whether Cardone and Cardone Capital count as persons who “offer or sell” securities under Section 12(a) based on their social media communications to prospective investors. The district court concluded that Cardone and Cardone Capital did not qualify as statutory sellers.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The panel concluded that Section 12 contains no requirement that a solicitation be directed or targeted to a particular plaintiff, and accordingly, held that a person can solicit a purchase, within the meaning of the Securities Act, by promoting the sale of a security in mass communication. Because the First Amended Complaint sufficiently alleges that Cardone and Cardone Capital were engaged in solicitation of investments in Funds V and VI, the district court erred in dismissing Plaintiff’s claim against Cardone and Cardone Capital under Section 12(a)(2), and also erred in dismissing his Section 15 claim for lack of a primary violation of the Securities Act. View "LUIS PINO V. CARDONE CAPITAL, LLC, ET AL" on Justia Law

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Appellants alleged they were not “brokers,” and thus did not have to register with the SEC because their client called the shots. Appellants appealed the district court’s liability and remedies orders. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment in favor of the SEC in its enforcement action against Appellants alleging violations of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.   The panel held that under the Exchange Act, the term “broker” encompassed much broader conduct: it included any person trading securities “for the account of others.” 15 U.S.C. Section 78c(a)(4)(A). Because Appellants put their client’s capital at risk on their trades and acted as his agents, they behaved as “brokers” under the Exchange Act. By not registering as brokers with the SEC, Appellants appeared as if they were merely retail investors (who receive priority for municipal bonds), allowing them to circumvent municipal bond purchasing order priority. The panel affirmed the civil penalties imposed against Appellants. Though it appears that no individual investor suffered financial harm, Appellants’ conduct undermined the SEC’s system of broker-dealer oversight and circumvented retail priority regulations allowing municipalities to raise capital at the lowest possible price. View "USSEC V. JOCELYN MURPHY, ET AL" on Justia Law

Posted in: Securities Law
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NMS Capital Group, LLC, which was wholly owned by Petitioner purchased MCA Securities, LLC, and changed its name to NMS Capital Securities. MCA, now NMS Securities, was a member of FINRA, a securities industry self-regulatory organization registered with the SEC. NMS Securities submitted a Continuing Member Application (“CMA”) to request approval of the change in ownership. FINRA discovered that NMS Securities had failed to disclose that another registered investment advisor owned by Petitioner, NMS Capital Asset Management, was being investigated by the SEC for deficiencies in its compliance with securities laws. FINRA imposed Interim Restrictions on NMS Securities. While the Interim Restrictions were in effect, Petitioner signed agreements with investment banking clients on behalf of NMS Securities and engaged in other activities. FINRA began an investigation into whether Petitioner had violated the Interim Restrictions, and a FINRA panel found that Petitioner had violated FINRA.The Ninth Circuit denied in part and dismissed in part Petitioner’s challenge to the SEC’s determination. The panel held that because the court could review only a “final order” of the SEC under 15 U.S.C. Section 78y(a), there was no jurisdiction to review whether the SEC had substantial evidence to find that Petitioner violated FINRA Rules 8210 and 2010 by failing to produce and testify truthfully about his computers because the sanction for this violation was still pending before FINRA. However, the panel further held that the SEC’s determinations concerning the sanction of two industry bars did constitute a final order for the purposes of establishing jurisdiction. The panel denied Petitioner’s petition for review of the SEC’s decision to affirm those two sanctions. View "TREVOR SALIBA V. USSEC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Securities Law
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Plaintiff alleged that corporate executives at Align Technology, Inc., a medical device manufacturer best known for selling “Invisalign” braces, misrepresented their company's prospects in China.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the securities fraud class action under Sections 10(b), 20(a), and 20A of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5. The court rejected as unsupported Defendants’ argument that their statements could not be considered false at the time they were made because Plaintiff did not allege sufficient facts to make plausible the inference that the rate of Align’s growth in China had begun to decline significantly when the challenged statements were made. The court concluded that former employees’ reports, viewed alongside circumstantial evidence of the short period of time between the twelve challenged statements and the downturn of Align’s prospects in China, sufficiently supported the inference that Align’s growth in China had slowed materially when the statements were made.   The court held that the district court correctly found that six of the challenged statements were non-actionable “puffery,” which involves vague statements of optimism expressing an opinion that is not capable of objective verification. The district court also correctly found that the remaining six statements did not create a false impression of Align’s growth in China and so were not actionable. Having determined that all of the challenged statements were nonactionable, the panel declined to reach issues of scienter and control-person or insider-trading liability. View "MACOMB COUNTY EMPL. RET. SYS. V. ALIGN TECHNOLOGY, INC." on Justia Law

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Nektar Therapeutics (“Nektar”) touted the results from a Phase 1 clinical trial (dubbed “EXCEL”) of its anti-cancer drug. A different and more comprehensive Phase 1/2 clinical trial (called “PIVOT”) showed that the drug was not as effective as the initial trial had suggested. Two public pensions sued Nektar for securities fraud, alleging that Nektar misleadingly relied on outlier data from a single patient during the Phase 1 EXCEL clinical trial. The district court dismissed their operative complaint.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal for two reasons. First, the court held that Plaintiffs did not adequately allege falsity under section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. Section 78j(b), and Securities and Exchange Commission Rule 10b-5. The complaint failed to articulate why Nektar’s statements about the Phase 1 EXCEL clinical trial would be materially misleading to investors. Plaintiffs do not sufficiently explain what the clinical trial would have shown without the alleged outlier data, nor do they specify how that would have affected the investing public’s assessment of the drug.Second, Plaintiffs did not plausibly allege loss causation. Nothing in the operative complaint suggests that Nektar’s disclosure of its later Phase 1/2 PIVOT clinical trial results uncovered the “falsity” of the earlier Phase 1 EXCEL trial. Rather, Plaintiffs’ factual allegations suggest a more mundane explanation: the different and more robust Phase 1/2 PIVOT clinical trial merely showed that the drug may not be as effective as the initial Phase 1 EXCEL clinical trial had suggested. View "OKLAHOMA FIREFIGHTERS PENSION V. NEKTAR THERAPEUTICS" on Justia Law

Posted in: Securities Law
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The Ninth Circuit panel held that defendant was not required to disgorge to CytoDyn his short-swing profits from exercising options and warrants granted by CytoDyn, entitling him to purchase and later sell CytoDyn shares. The panel held that the short-swing transaction fell within an exemption, set forth in SEC Rule 16b-3(d)(1) because the option and warrant award was “approved by the board of directors” of CytoDyn. The circuit court concluded that the affirmative votes of three of CytoDyn’s five board members, at a meeting where only four board members were present, were sufficient, and a unanimous decision was not required under either the plain text of Rule 16-3(d)(1), Delaware corporate law, or CytoDyn’s bylaws.The court left the determination of what a corporate board must do to approve insider-issuer acquisitions to the laws of the state where the corporation is incorporated. Reasoning that federal securities law defers to—and does not displace—the state laws governing corporate boards. Thus, the circuit court affirmed the district court’s ruling. View "ALPHA VENTURE CAPITAL PARTNERS V. NADER POURHASSAN" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a securities fraud lawsuit against Twitter under sections 10(b) and 20(a) of the Securities Exchange Act and Rule 10b-5, alleging that Twitter misled investors by hiding the scope of software bugs that hampered its advertisement customization. The panel concluded that securities laws do not require real-time business updates or complete disclosure of all material information whenever a company speaks on a particular topic. Rather, a company can speak selectively about its business so long as its statements do not paint a misleading picture. In this case, Twitter's statements about its advertising program were not false or misleading because they were qualified and factually true, and the company had no duty to disclose any more than it did under federal securities law. View "Weston Family Partnership LLLP v. Twitter, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Securities Law
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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order denying in part a motion to dismiss and ruling that plaintiff had standing to sue Slack and individual defendants under Sections 11 and 12(a)(2) of the Securities Act of 1933 based on shares issued under a new rule from the New York Stock Exchange allowing companies to make shares available to the public through a direct listing. Plaintiff alleges that Slack's registration statement was inaccurate and misleading because it did not alert prospective shareholders to the generous terms of Slack's service agreements, which obligated Slack to pay for service disruptions; nor did it disclose that these service disruptions were frequent in part because Slack guaranteed 99.99% uptime; and the statement downplayed the competition Slack was facing from Microsoft Teams at the time of its direct listing.The panel concluded that plaintiff had standing to bring a claim under Sections 11 and 12(a)(2) because his shares could not be purchased without the issuance of Slack's registration statement, thus demarking these shares, whether registered or unregistered, as "such security" under Sections 11 and 12 of the Act. The panel explained that because standing existed for plaintiff's section 11 claim against Slack, standing also existed for a dependent section 15 claim against controlling persons. The panel did not resolve the issue of whether plaintiff has sufficiently alleged the other elements of Section 12 liability. View "Pirani v. Slack Technologies, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Securities Law
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The Ninth Circuit granted in part a petition for a writ of mandamus and ordered the district court to vacate its order appointing an individual as lead plaintiff in a consolidated securities fraud action against Nikola and related defendants. In the underlying action, plaintiffs alleged that they suffered losses from buying Nikola securities after a non-party report described apparent false statements made by the founder and contained in company advertising materials. Petitioners Mersho, Chau, and Karczynski moved to be lead plaintiff as a group under the name Nikola Investor Group II (Group II).In a securities fraud class action, the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (PSLRA) requires the district court to identify the presumptive lead plaintiff, who is the movant with the largest financial interest and who has made a prima facie showing of adequacy and typicality. Once the presumption is established, competing movants can rebut the presumption by showing that the presumptive lead plaintiff will not fairly or adequately represent the class.The panel granted the petition to the extent it seeks to vacate the district court's order appointing Plaintiff Baio as lead plaintiff. The panel concluded that four of the five Bauman factors weigh in favor of mandamus relief and thus a writ of mandamus is appropriate. In regards to the third Bauman factor, the panel explained that the district court clearly erred by finding that the presumption had been rebutted. In this case, the district court failed to point to evidence supporting its decision, instead relying on the absence of proof by Group II regarding a prelitigation relationship and its misgivings. Therefore, the district court did not comport with the burden-shifting process Congress established in the PSLRA. The panel also concluded that the first, second, and fifth Bauman factors weigh in favor of granting the writ. However, the panel declined to instruct the district court to appoint Group II as lead plaintiff, remanding for the district court to redetermine the issue. View "Mersho v. United States District Court for the District of Arizona" on Justia Law