Attorney: Jennifer Pafiti
Pomerantz Monitor July/August 2016
The United States sees hundreds of new securities class actions filed each year as well as approximately 100 class action settlements. For many institutional investors, the task of obtaining and tracking all this information is too complex and too expensive to do in-house; nevertheless, it remains essential that pension fund fiduciaries are regularly informed of the extent to which the value of the publicly traded investments they oversee may be diminished by financial misconduct. Increasingly, financial institutions have been turning, for help, to professional portfolio monitoring services.
Increasingly, fiduciaries must now also keep abreast of investor class actions filed abroad. In June 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court decided, in Morrison v. National Australia Bank, that U.S. federal securities law remedies were limited to investors that had purchased relevant securities only on a U.S. stock exchange. In the wake of this decision institutional investors began to realize that they could no longer limit their portfolio monitoring to activity in the U.S. They would need to have their global portfolio monitored by a team equally dedicated to both domestic and international monitoring services.
In the six years since the Morrison decision we have seen more and more litigation activity outside of the U.S.; in particular, (but not limited to) countries with collective redress procedures and securities laws closest to that of the U.S. In the past few years Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom have emerged as front runners for pursuing shareholder class actions outside of the U.S. for varying reasons. Here, we examine those merging venues to better understand them.
In Canada and Australia, class action procedures and pro-investor measures have recently combined to allow a steady stream of offering and open-market type claims to yield substantial recoveries.
The number of securities class actions initiated in Australia is growing. An essential feature of the Australian class action system is that there must be seven or more plaintiffs with claims arising out of the same or similar circumstances with substantial common issues of fact or law in question. Compared with many overseas jurisdictions, this is a fairly low threshold and makes Australia a class action friendly jurisdiction.
Australia is officially an “opt-out” jurisdiction (meaning that to be excluded from a class, the class member must formally exclude himself or herself from the class), and employs a “loser pays” system where the losing party may be liable for both their legal costs and that of the prevailing party. This often means that parties will bring in external litigation funders who will take a percentage of the class recovery if successful and hold the fee “risk” if the case is lost. This has effectively resulted in “closed classes” in which only those class members who have agreed to litigation funding are included in the class action and can participate in any recovery. To date, no securities class action filed against a publicly traded company in Australia has proceeded to judgment. Instead, the claims that have concluded have been settled outside the courtroom.
Last year, Canada saw only four new securities class action filings, whereas the U.S. sees roughly 150 new securities class actions filed each year. Most Canadian provinces have adopted an “opt-out” procedure whereby an investor is automatically included in the class unless they affirmatively “opt-out.” Like Australia, Canada has an active third-party litigation funding regime requiring investors to “opt-in” in order to participate in any recovery.
The Netherlands is a unique jurisdiction in that Dutch law enables the formation of settlement foundations (stichting) to bring collective redress for parties wishing to create a binding, European-wide settlement. Resembling the U.S. “opt-out” system, parties have the right to “opt-out” during the defined period set by the court.
An interesting component of the Dutch settlement system is that a significant connection between the conduct complained of and the Dutch jurisdiction is not required. This has led to the suggestion that foreign parties may flock to the Netherlands to seek redress. Notwithstanding this, the Netherlands is yet to be described as a hotspot for international securities class actions.
Unlike the other jurisdictions described above, the U.K. lacks a class action procedure. However, a group litigation mechanism exists whereby individual cases involving the same circumstances against the same defendants are grouped together. Only those claimants who are affirmatively named are included in the litigation and bound by the judgment (similar to “opt-in”). The U.K. adopts an unattractive “loser pays” system. The absence of litigation funders, changes in after-the-event insurance and the “loser pays” system have deterred investors from filing suit there. Nevertheless, the case currently proceeding in the U.K. against the Royal Bank of Scotland (“RBS”), in connection with its 2008 rights issue, is unprecedented in the U.K. and is being closely watched in terms of how the group litigation is being managed and how any loser-pays costs will be distributed. In recent years there has been much demand in the U.K. for a U.S.-style class action procedure to be introduced into legislation. Some argue that, at present, the U.K. government has no interest in changing legislation that would open the floodgates for investors to sue RBS – a bank in which the government has an 83% stake.
Determining whether to become involved in securities litigation outside the U.S. requires examination of near identical issues to be considered when taking affirmative action in the U.S., in addition to consideration of varying jurisdictional statutes of limitations, cost issues, and analysis of what types of losses are compensable.
It is prudent that pension fund fiduciaries are provided with both domestic and international portfolio monitoring services, coupled with comprehensive legal advice so that they can make informed decisions on what action, if any, they take to recover their losses.
Note: Pomerantz provides a no-cost portfolio monitoring service whereby clients receive monthly, personalized reports quantifying losses in new actions relating to the U.S. and worldwide, providing legal advice in respect of those losses and highlighting upcoming claims filing deadlines for settled securities class actions in which the fund is eligible to participate. For more information, please contact the author of this article at: firstname.lastname@example.org