On Friday, U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts dismissed a securities class action against Deutsche Bank and its underwriters on a $5.6 billion offering of preferred securities. The judge ruled on a defense motion for reconsideration that under the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals’ 2011 ruling in Fait v. Regions Financial, the defendants’ valuation of Deutsche Bank’s exposure to subprime mortgages was an opinion, and the plaintiffs couldn’t show that the defendants didn’t believe that opinion when offering materials were published. Batts’s ruling was a big win for Deutsche Bank’s lawyers at Cahill Gordon & Reindel and the underwriting syndicate’s counsel at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
Usually when I write about the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Morrison v. National Australia Bank, it’s to tell you about yet another successful defense effort to dismiss claims involving the overseas application of U.S. laws, whether in trade secrets litigation, bankruptcy clawback actions or lots of other arenas that have nothing to do with Morrison‘s securities-law roots. In April, the Securities and Exchange Commission needed a full 106 pages to analyze Morrison‘s background and impact (before declining to answer the question of whether Congress should reform securities laws to restore a cause of action for U.S. investors against foreign-listed defendants). Across a wide plain of civil litigation, foreign defendants have wielded Morrison as a case-crushing bludgeon, with federal judges bowing to its power.
It’s been relatively easy for district courts to figure out how to apply the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Morrison v. National Australia Bank in securities cases – unless the defendant is a U.S.-listed company, shareholders are pretty much out of luck in U.S. courts. Post-Morrison racketeering litigation has no such conveniently bright lines. The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act doesn’t explicitly mention that it applies to overseas conduct, so under Morrison judges must presume it does not. But they’ve struggled to define exactly what constitutes overseas racketeering as opposed to domestic racketeering with an international component.
A month ago, when I wrote about the dismissal of a securities class action against UBS, George Conway III of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz told me that the UBS case had been the last, best chance for plaintiffs lawyers to find a way around the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2010 ruling in Morrison v. National Australia Bank. Morrison, as you know, barred U.S. courts from hearing securities fraud cases against companies whose shares aren’t listed on U.S. exchanges. In the 16 months since the Supreme Court issued its Morrison ruling, federal courts have made it indelibly clear that securities suits against foreign companies — whether they involve the 1933 Act, the Exchange Act, common stock, CDOs, or swaps — are a non-starter under Morrison’s strictures. (Here’s Sullivan & Cromwell’s Sept. 29 overview of Morrison’s impact on securities litigation.) “Now it’s all over,” Conway told me. “They don’t even bother to bring these cases anymore.”