Pomerantz LLP


Pomerantz Achieves Settlement with Barclays plc


As this issue of the Monitor was going to press, Pomerantz, as sole Lead Counsel, achieved a $27 million settlement on behalf of the Class in Strougo v. Barclays PLC, which is pending court approval. In this high-profile securities litigation, plaintiffs alleged that defendants Barclays PLC, Barclays Capital US, and former head of equities electron­ic trading William White, concealed information and misled investors regarding its management of its Liquidity Cross, or LX, dark pool -- a private off-exchange trading platform where the size and price of orders are not revealed to other participants.

Specifically, during the Class Period, Barclays touted its Liquidity Profiling tool, describing it as “a sophisticated surveillance framework that protects clients from predatory trading activity in LX,” while promoting LX as “built on transparency” and featuring “built-in safeguards to manage toxicity [of aggressive traders].” However, the suit alleges that rather than banning “predatory” traders, Barclays actively encouraged them to enter the pool, applied manual overrides to re-categorize “aggressive” clients as “passive” in the Liquidity Profiling system, failed to police LX to prevent and punish toxic trading, intentionally altered marketing materials to omit reference to the largest predatory high frequency trader in LX, and preferentially routed dark orders to LX where those orders rested for two seconds seeking a “fill” vulnerable to toxic traders. This preferential treatment to high-frequency traders allowed them to victimize other dark pool investors by trading ahead of anticipated purchase and sell orders, thereby rapidly capitalizing on proprietary information regarding trading patterns.

In certifying the Class in February 2016, Judge Shira S. Scheindlin of the federal district court in the Southern District of New York held that even though the dark pool was just a tiny part of Barclays’ overall operations, defendants’ fraud was qualitatively material to investors because it reflected directly on the integrity of management. Defendants appealed Judge Scheindlin’s ruling in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

Pomerantz, in successfully opposing the appeal, achieved a precedent-setting decision in November 2017, when the Second Circuit affirmed Judge Scheindlin’s class certifica­tion ruling. The Court held that direct evidence of market efficiency is not always necessary to invoke the Basic presumption of reliance, and was not required here. The Court further held that Defendants seeking to rebut the presumption must do so by a preponderance of the evidence. This ruling will form the bedrock of class action securities litigation for decades to come.

Pomerantz Managing Partner Jeremy Lieberman stated, “We are extremely pleased with this settlement, which represents more than 28 percent of plaintiffs’ alleged recoverable damages,” he said, “well above the norm in securities class actions.”

Pomerantz Partner Tamar A. Weinrib led the litigation with Managing Partner Jeremy Lieberman and Pomerantz Senior Partner Patrick V. Dahlstrom.

In The Beginning...


In its landmark 2014 decision, Kahn v. M&F Worldwide, known colloquially as MFW, the Delaware Supreme Court held that the deferential business judgment standard of re­view will apply to going private mergers with a controlling stockholder and its subsidiary if and only if the merger is conditioned “ab initio” —Latin for “from the beginning” — on two specific minority stockholder protective measures. Once a transaction has business judgment rule review, the Court will not inquire further as to sufficiency of price or terms absent egregious or reckless conduct by a Special Committee. Deals subject to the “entire fairness” standard of review have a significantly tougher time getting judicial approval than those subject to review under the business judgment rule.

These two conditions, which the controlling stockholder must agree to at the outset, are that the merger receive the approval of (1) an attentive Special Committee comprised of directors who are independent of the controlling stock­holder, fully empowered to decline the transaction and retain its own financial and legal advisors, and satisfies its duty of care in negotiating fair price, and (2) a major­ity of the unaffiliated stockholders, who are uncoerced in their vote and fully informed. Delaware courts require that these conditions be agreed to “at the outset” to ensure that controlling shareholders not use the MFW condi­tions as “bargaining chips” during economic negotiations, essentially trading price for protection. Controllers are thus motivated to maximize their initial offer if they want the immediate benefit of business judgment review.

Until the MFW decision, transactions that involved a con­trolling stockholder were always subject to the heightened, entire fairness level of review, which shifts to the controlling stockholder the burden to show that the transaction is fair to the minority stockholders and functionally precluded dismissal of a complaint at the pleadings stage.

An interesting question arose in Flood v. Synutra: what constitutes the beginning? In January 2016, Liang Zhang, who controlled 63.5% of Synutra’s stock, wrote a letter to the Synutra board proposing to take the company private, but failed to include the MFW procedural prerequisites of Special Committee and majority of the minority approvals in the initial bid. One week after Zhang’s first letter, the Synutra board formed a Special Committee to evaluate the proposal and, one week after that, Zhang submitted a revised bid letter that included the MFW protections. The Special Committee declined to engage in any price negotiations until it had retained and received financial projections from its own investment bank, and such ne­gotiations did not begin until seven months after Zhang’s second offer. Ultimately the board agreed to a deal.

Plaintiff Flood brought a lawsuit challenging the fairness of the price and asserting breach of fiduciary duties. Flood argued that because controller Zhang, who held 63.5% of the company’s stock, failed to propose inclusion of the MFW protections in his first offer (even though he did so shortly thereafter, before negotiations commenced), the transaction did not comply with MFW and still had to meet the “entire fairness” test.

The Delaware Supreme Court declined to adopt a “bright line” rule that the MFW procedures had to be a condition of the controller’s “first offer” or other initial communication with the target about a potential transaction. Rejecting this narrow reading of MFW, the Court clarified that the conditions need not be included in the initial overture but must be in place “at the beginning stage of the process of considering a going private proposal and before any negotiations commence between the Special Committee and the controller over the economic terms of the offer.” Thus, even if those protections were not included in the “first offer,” the key concern of MFW — “ensuring that controllers could not use the conditions as bargaining chips during economic negotiations”—would still be addressed if the protections were in place before any economic negotiations commenced. This more flexible approach in­centivizes controlling stockholders to pre-commit to these conditions, which in turn benefits minority stockholders.

Delaware Chancery Court Threatens the Future of Mandatory Arbitration Provisions


In March 2018, the United States Supreme Court in Cyan, Inc. et al. v. Beaver County Employees Retirement Fund (“Cyan”) held that state courts continue to have concurrent jurisdiction (along with federal courts) over claims alleging violations of the Securities Act of 1933 (the “1933 Act”). The 1933 Act most notably provides claims based on misrepresentations in initial public offering ma­terials. The holding in Cyan raised the prospect that such claims could be filed by different shareholders in different state and federal courts.

In response, many companies going public adopted provisions in their bylaws or charters designating federal courts as the exclusive forum for the resolution of claims against them under the 1933 Act. For example, twenty of the 241 companies that went public with offering sizes of at least $10 million that began trading between Jan. 1, 2017 and May 3, 2018, had provisions designating federal courts as the only forum for securities law complaints. By doing so, companies hoped to avoid state court litigation of 1933 Act claims, or to prevent concurrent litigation of identical cases in state and federal court. If all the claims were in federal courts, it would be possible to consolidate them in a single multi-district litigation.

In a recent, significant decision in Sciabacucchi v. Salzburg (“Blue Apron”), the Delaware Chancery Court refused to dismiss the action, and in the process refused to enforce three company charters mandating that federal district courts be the sole and exclusive forum for the resolution of complaints asserting violations of the 1933 Act.

Plaintiff, a shareholder of meal delivery service Blue Apron, Inc., streaming device maker Roku Inc., and online personal shopping service Stitch Fix. Inc., filed a complaint seeking declaratory judgment under the 1933 Act against twenty individuals who signed the allegedly misleading registra­tion statements for the companies and who have served as the companies’ directors since their respective public offerings.

The case came before the Chancery Court, a state court, on cross motions for summary judgment. The charters of the three companies, incorporated under the laws of Delaware, contained substantially the same federal forum provisions, which provided, in relevant part, that “the federal district courts of the United States of America shall be the exclusive forum for the resolution of any complaint asserting a cause of action arising under the Securities Act of 1933.”

Defendants argued that the Delaware General Corporation Law, which allows certain provisions for the “management of the business and for the conduct of the affairs of the corporation,” was intended to provide great flexibility in a corporation’s ordering of its affairs, including the adoption of forum selection provisions, so long as the provisions were not unreasonable or contrary to public policy. Ad­ditionally, defendants argued that the law’s provision precluding corporations from adopting provisions that prohibit bringing internal corporate claims in the State of Delaware did not apply, since claims arising under the 1933 Act were not based upon a violation of a duty by a current or former officer, director or stockholder in such capacity.

Relying, in part, on the 2013 Chancery Court’s landmark decision in Boilermakers Local 154 Ret. Fund v. Chevron Corp. (“Boilermakers”), plaintiff argued that exclusive forum provisions must be limited to internal corporate governance claims, which — by definition — excluded claims brought under the 1933 Act. Those, according to plaintiff, “ha[d] nothing to do with the corporation’s internal governance” and nearly always involve false statements made even before the plaintiff became a stockholder.

In a 56-page opinion, Vice Chancellor Laster sided with plaintiff, holding that the companies’ federal forum provi­sions were “ineffective and invalid,” on the grounds that “constitutive documents of a Delaware corporation cannot bind a plaintiff to a particular forum when the claim does not involve rights or relationships that were established by or under Delaware’s corporate law.” In so holding, Vice Chancellor Laster reasoned that although the state of incorporation has the power to regulate the corporation’s internal affairs — including the rights and privileges of shares of stock, the composition and structure of the board of directors, and what powers the board can exercise — the state cannot use corporate law to regulate the corpora­tion’s external relationships. Consequently, since a claim brought under the 1933 Act is external to the corporate contract, “corporate governance documents, regulated by the law of the state of incorporation, can[not] dictate mech­anisms for bringing … claims alleging fraud in connection with a securities sale.”

The Chancery Court’s decision in Blue Apron is one in a series of critical judicial pronouncements relating to the state courts’ jurisdiction over class actions alleging only 1933 Act violations by private plaintiffs.

If companies cannot force certain types of claims into federal court, can they force them into arbitration instead? A critical implication arising from the Chancery Court’s reasoning in Blue Apron is that provisions mandating arbitration of 1933 Act claims could also be deemed invalid. As partner Jennifer Pafiti wrote in the previous issue of The Pomerantz Monitor, “When it came to our attention that the United States Securities and Exchange Com­mission (the “SEC”) hinted that it might consider allowing companies to include mandatory arbitration clauses in their bylaws, Pomerantz acted quickly to express its con­cern that such clauses could eviscerate a shareholder’s ability to hold to account a corporate wrongdoer.” Pomerantz organized a coalition of large institutional investors from around the globe to meet with SEC Chair­man Jay Clayton in D.C. in October 2018, and also met with a number of both Republican and Democratic Senate staffers. Two weeks after these meetings, ten Republican State Treasurers, in a letter co-authored by the State Financial Officers Foundation, urged the SEC to maintain their existing stance against forced arbitration. Pomerantz has been credited by the American Association for Justice for our dedication to this effort.

On the other hand, proponents of mandatory arbitration clauses argue that such provisions are consistent with other litigation management tools that Delaware’s courts have recognized in the past, particularly in the Boilermakers case where the Chancery Court characterized compa­ny bylaw as a “flexible contract.” If the courts side with the consumers — a hypothesis that undoubtedly will be tested in litigation — corporations would be deprived of another vehicle by which they control the forum for resolution of claims arising under the 1933 Act. Most critically, it usually follows that if certain claims must be arbitrated, they cannot proceed as class actions.

If the Delaware Supreme Court affirms the Blue Apron decision, it could become a landmark.

Pomerantz: Securities Practice Group of 2018

Pomerantz earned a place on Law360’s coveted list of Securities Practice Groups of the Year for 2018. In its announcement, Law360 credited the firm’s stunning $3 billion win for investors in Petrobras securities as one of the reasons for this accolade. According to Law360, which interviewed Managing Partner Jeremy Lieberman pursuant to the award:

Pomerantz attorneys were able to achieve this re­sult, as well as an $80 million settlement resolving investor allegations involving Yahoo data breaches, by focusing much of their efforts on proving dam­ages, said managing partner Jeremy Lieberman. For the Petrobras case, investors ultimately alleged what they called an “unprecedented” 21 corrective disclosures revealing the fraud, and Lieberman said he personally spent about 500 hours with their damages expert.

“It was really understanding the damages and … putting defendants on the defensive and saying: Listen if you don’t pay us large settlements, you’re going to be in front of a jury and they’re not going to like to hear about some company involved in a mas­sive fraud and kickback scheme,” Lieberman said.

The Petrobras deal represented the biggest securities class action settlement in a decade and the big­gest-ever in a class action involving a foreign issuer, according to Pomerantz. … The class action settlement represented a 65 percent premium to the recoveries the individual plaintiffs secured, according to court documents.

“That’s really a unique, once-in-a-generation result where you’ll have the class do better than the opt-outs,” Lieberman said. “And it wasn’t by accident.”

Law360 further ascribed Pomerantz’s top standing to the precedent-setting rulings in Petrobras that the firm achieved in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The three-judge panel rejected Petrobras’ bid for a heightened standard when determining whether a class is ascertainable, or identifiable, and also rejected Petrobras’ argument that the investors should have been required to show that the stock increased in response to positive news and declined in response to negative news. As Jeremy Lieberman has stated, “These favorable decisions will form the bedrock of securities class action litigation for decades to come.”

Pomerantz Seeks Redress in Denmark for Danske Bank A/S Investors


Pomerantz has formed a coalition to seek redress in Denmark on behalf of investors who lost billions of dollars in the fallout from a €200bn money laundering scandal at Danske Bank A/S (“Danske” or the “Bank”). The coalition consists of the International Securities Associations & Foundations Management Company for Damaged Dan­ske Investors, LLC and Danish law firm, Németh Sigetty Advockater (“Németh Sigetty”). Németh Sigetty has a well-deserved reputation for handling major, complex, and high-stakes disputes against both private party litigants and government authorities and has vast experience with investor group litigations in Denmark.

Danske, Denmark’s largest bank and a major retail bank in Scandinavia and Northern Europe, had until recently enjoyed a reputation as one of Europe’s most respected financial institutions. Last year, Danske’s star swiftly fell, as media reports placed it at the center of one of the world’s largest and most egregious money laundering schemes.

On February 27, 2018, several newspapers revealed that Danske’s upper management had known about an extensive money laundering scheme and falsification of records at Danske’s Estonia branch since December of 2013, but had first concealed the misconduct and then misrepresented the extent of its participation in the money laundering scheme—all while touting Danske’s purported commit­ment to anti-money laundering policies and practices. The revelations emerged after a whistleblower had informed Danske that relatives of Russian President Vladimir Putin and high-ranking members of Russia’s Federal Security Service (the FSB, formerly the KGB) were behind one of the companies that were laundering money through the Bank’s Estonia branch. An internal audit at Danske had confirmed the accuracy of the whistleblower’s allegations as early as February 2014, and that Danske’s Board of Directors and Executive Board had been made aware of the audit’s conclusions. The Estonia Financial Supervisory Authority (“EFSA”) immediately announced an investigation to determine the Bank’s culpability in knowingly withhold­ing this information during prior EFSA inspections at the Estonia branch in 2014.

On April 5, 2018, Danske announced that Lars Morch, Danske’s Head of Business Banking, would be released from his ordinary work duties “as soon as possible,” but would remain formally employed at the Bank until October 2019. In announcing Morch’s release, Danske’s Board Chairman, Ole Andersen, stated that “the bank should have undertaken more thorough investigations at an earlier point,” which would have “prompted swifter actions.” On May 3, 2018, the Danish Financial Super-isory Authority (“DFSA”) issued its investigative report, which provided additional detail of stonewalling by the Bank’s central management.

On July 3, 2018, it was reported that the alleged money laundering volume at issue was approximately $8.3 billion, much larger than the earlier estimate of $1.5 billion. Two weeks later, Danske announced that it had made an estimated profit as high as $234 million in connection with the suspicious transactions, and that it would forego the illicit profit.

On September 7, 2018, The Wall Street Journal reported that Danske was conducting a probe of transactions subject to money laundering concerns and that the value of the suspicious transactions under review might be as high as $150 billion. Then, on September 19, 2018, Danske issued a report documenting the results of its internal investigation, which con­firmed the knowledge and complicity of Danske’s senior management in covering up the money laundering scheme at the Bank’s Estonia branch. The report added key details to previous news reports, and also disclosed that the cash flows through the Estonia branch’s Non-Resident Portfolio were much higher than previous estimates, amounting to approx­imately $234 billion worth of transactions bearing the suspicious hallmarks of money laundering activity.

Since the initial disclosure of the money laundering scheme and Danske’s management’s role in concealing it, Danske’s stock price has fallen from 250.10 DKK 122.00 DKK at the time of this writing, representing a total loss of more than 86 billion DKK, or nearly $13 billion, in market capitalization. Criminal investigations are currently pro­ceeding against Danske and members of its management in France, Denmark, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Estonia. In November 2018, Danske was formally charged by the Danish Prosecutor for money laundering-related violations.

Generally speaking, Danish group actions proceed on an opt-in basis, in which a group representative is appointed by the court to represent the group’s interest. Under Denmark’s legal regime, the “loser” is typically required to pay the legal costs of the prevailing party. However, Pomerantz has organized to bring a group action in Denmark in which all legal fees and any adverse costs for which an investor could otherwise become liable be borne by litigation funders and/or other parties. This means that there is no downside financial risk for any inves­tor with respect to costs by participating. Pomerantz will work in conjunction with Danish counsel with respect to its clients, overseeing and operating in a supervisory role with respect to their claims.

The process to recover losses requires damaged investors to proactively join an organized litigation “group” which will aggregate each investor’s loss into a collective loss in a single claim and action before the Danish Court. Németh Sigetty will file this group litigation on behalf of eligible investors organized via Pomerantz’s coalition in the second quarter of 2019. Only those investors who are named as participants will be able to benefit from any settlement or judgment.