Pomerantz LLP

Pomerantz Achieves “Stunning” Class Action Settlement In Petrobras

Attorney: Emma Gilmore
Pomerantz Monitor January/February 2018

In a significant victory for investors, Pomerantz, as sole lead counsel for the class, along with lead plaintiff Universities Superannuation Scheme Limited, has achieved a historic $2.95 billion partial settlement with Petróleo Brasileiro S.A.–Petrobras–and its related entity, Petrobras International Finance Company, as well as certain of Petrobras’ former executives and directors, as well as a $50 million settlement with Petrobras’ auditor, Pricewaterhouse Coopers Auditores Independentes. This is not only the largest securities class action settlement in a decade, but is the largest settlement ever in a class action involving a foreign issuer, the fifth-largest class action settlement ever achieved in the United States, and the largest settlement achieved by a foreign lead plaintiff.

The litigation against Brazil’s energy giant, Petrobras, involved accusations that the company concealed a sprawling, decades-long kickback scheme from investors. The scandal ensnared not only Petrobras’ former ex­ecutives but also Brazilian politicians, including former presidents and at least one third of the Brazilian Congress. According to plaintiffs, defendants’ fraudulent scheme involved billions of dollars in kickbacks, and tens of billions of dollars in overstated assets, resulting in significant loss­es to Petrobras investors. Plaintiffs asserted claims under Sections 10(b) and 20(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Sections 11, 12(a)(2) and 15 of the Securities Act of 1933.

A January 8, 2018 article in Corporate Counsel reported on the historic settlement: “If any general counsel out there are still letting their companies sleepwalk through compli­ance programs, Wednesday’s $2.95 billion class action settlement with the Brazilian oil company Petrobras should smack them wide awake.”

Law360, reporting on the settlement in a January 5, 2018 article, remarked that the “stunning sum combined with a key legal ruling in the case will add gas to the booming market for securities class actions, lawyers say. … At a period when new securities suit filings are nearing all-time highs, such a blockbuster payday will likely encourage other would-be filers.”

The settlement was achieved after nearly three years of hard-fought litigation, including U.S. and foreign discovery and complex motion practice in the Southern District of New York and an appeal at the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and during the pendency of a petition by defendants for a writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court.

Pomerantz’ achievement is significant not only for the outstanding multi-billion dollar recovery to investors, but also for the precedent-setting decisions achieved during the litigation. Jeremy Lieberman, Co-Managing Partner of Pomerantz, who led the firm’s Petrobras litigation, commented:

We are very pleased with this historic settlement. Throughout the course of this litigation, plaintiffs achieved important precedents at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals regarding the ascertainability requirement during class certification, as well as the utility of event studies for es­tablishing predominance in securities class actions. These precedents will form the bedrock of class action jurisprudence in the Second Circuit for decades to come. Simply put, this litigation and its ultimate resolution have yielded an excellent result for the Class.

Defendants had appealed the district court’s opinion certifying classes of both purchasers of Petrobras equity and debt on multiple grounds, including for failure to satisfy the re­quirement of ascertainability and for failure to satisfy the burden of showing that the Petrobras securities traded on an efficient market. The Second Circuit accepted the appeal and, in an issue of first impression, squarely rejected defendants’ invitation to adopt the heightened ascertainability requirement promulgated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which would have required plaintiffs to demonstrate that determining membership in a class is “administratively feasible.” The Second Circuit also refused to adopt a requirement, urged by defendants, that all securities class action plaintiffs seeking class certification prove through direct evidence (i.e., via an event study) that the prices of the relevant securities moved in a particular direction in response to new information. The Second Circuit rejected the notion that complicated event studies need to be submitted by plaintiffs at the class certification stage, agreeing with plaintiffs that “event studies offer the seductive promise of hard numbers and dispassionate truth, but methodologi­cal constraints limit their utility in the context of single-firm analyses.”

The impact of precedent set by Petrobras was demonstrat­ed when the Second Circuit handed another significant win to plaintiffs in Strougo v. Barclays PLC–another case where Pomerantz serves as sole lead counsel–where, building on its decision in Petrobras, it held that “direct evidence of price impact . . . is not always necessary to establish market efficiency and invoke the Basic pre­sumption” of reliance. Importantly, the Second Circuit also held that defendants seeking to rebut the presumption of reliance must do so by a preponderance of the evidence rather than merely meeting a burden of production.

Pomerantz Partner, Jennifer Pafiti, commented on the rolof the lead plaintiff in Petrobras:

Universities Superannuation Scheme, the largest private pension fund in the United Kingdom, diligently prosecut­ed this case as lead plaintiff to assist in securing a fantas­tic recovery for defrauded investors as well as achieving some key legal rulings along the way. The settlement serves as a reminder to companies, both foreign and domestic, that raise money by issuing stock on a U.S. exchange that, when it comes to corporate misconduct, their investors will be afforded the protection provided by the United States’ robust securities fraud laws.

Jeremy A. Lieberman led the litigation. Key members of the team were Partners, Jennifer Pafiti, Emma Gilmore, and Marc I. Gross; Of Counsel, John A. Kehoe and Brenda Szydlo; and Associate, Justin Solomon Nematzadeh.