There are plaintiffs and… there are plaintiffs : an empirical analysis of securities class action settlements

  • Reform of the securities class action is once again the subject of national debate. The impetus for this debate is the reports of three different groups – The Committee on Capital Market Regulation, The Commission on the Regulation of U.S. Capital Markets In the 21st Century, and McKinsey & Company. Each of the reports focuses on a single theme: how the contemporary regulatory culture places U.S. capital markets at a competitive disadvantage to foreign markets. While multiple regulatory forces are targeted by each report’s call for reform, each of the reports singles out securities class actions as one of the prime villains that place U.S. capital markets at a competitive disadvantage. The reports’ recommendations range from insignificant changes to drastic curtailments of private class actions. Surprisingly, these current-day cries echo calls for reform heeded by Congress in the not too distant past. Major reform of the securities class action occurred with the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995.5 Among the PSLRA’s contributions is the introduction of procedures by which the court chooses from among competing petitioners a lead plaintiff for the class. The statute commands that the petitioner with the largest financial loss suffered as a consequence of the defendant’s alleged misrepresentation is presumed to be the most adequate plaintiff. Thus, the lead plaintiff provision supplants the traditional “first to file” rule for selecting the suit’s plaintiff with a mechanism that seeks to harness to the plaintiff’s economic self interest to the suits’ prosecution. Also, by eliminating the race to be the first to file, the lead plaintiff provision seeks to avoid “hair trigger” filings by overly eager plaintiffs’ counsel which Congress believed too frequently gave rise to incomplete and insubstantially pled causes of action. The PSLRA also introduced for securities class actions a heightened pleading requirement8 as well as a bar to the plaintiff obtaining any discovery prior to the district court disposing of the defendants’ motions to dismiss. By introducing the requirement that allegations involving fraud must be plead not only with particularity, but also that the pled facts must establish a “strong inference” of fraud, the PSLRA cast aside, albeit only for securities actions, the much lower notice pleading requirement that has been a fixture of American civil procedure for decades. Substantive changes to the law were also introduced by the PSLRA. With few exceptions, joint and several liability was replaced by proportionate liability so that a particular defendant’s liability is capped by that defendant’s relative degree of fault. Similarly, contribution rights among co-violators are also based on proportionate fault of each defendant. Three years after the PSLRA, Congress returned to the topic again by enacting the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act;13 this provision was prompted by aggressive efforts of plaintiff lawyers to bypass the limitations, most notably the bar to discovery and higher pleading requirement, of the PSLRA by bringing suit in state court. Post-SLUSA, securities fraud class actions are exclusively the domain of the federal court. In this paper, we examine the impact of the PSLRA and more particularly the impact the type of lead plaintiff on the size of settlements in securities fraud class actions. We thus provide insight into whether the type of plaintiff that heads the class action impacts the overall outcome of the case. Furthermore, we explore possible indicia that may explain why some suits settle for extremely small sums – small relative to the “provable losses” suffered by the class, small relative to the asset size of the defendantcompany, and small relative to other settlements in our sample. This evidence bears heavily on the debate over “strike suits.” Part I of this paper sets forth the contemporary debate surrounding the need for further reforms of securities class actions. In this section, we set forth the insights advanced in three prominent reports focused on the competitiveness of U.S. capital markets. In Part II we first provide descriptive statistics of our extensive data set, and thenuse multivariate regression analysis to explore the underlying relationships. In Part III, we closely examine small settlements for clues to whether they reflect evidence of strike suits. We conclude in Part IV with a set of policy recommendations based on our analysis of the data. Our goals in this paper are more modest than the Committee Report, the Chamber Report and the McKinsey Report, each of which called for wide-ranging reforms: we focus on how the PSLRA changed securities fraud settlements so as to determine whether the reforms it introduced accomplished at least some of the Act’s important goals. If the PSLRA was successful, and we think it was, then one must be somewhat skeptical of the need for further cutbacks in private securities class action so soon after the Act was passed.

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Author:James D. Cox, Randall S. Thomas, Lynn Bai
Parent Title (German):Working paper series / Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe-Universität, Institute for Law and Finance ; 86
Series (Serial Number):Working paper / Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe-Universität, Institut for Law and Finance (86)
Publisher:Inst. for Law and Finance
Place of publication:Frankfurt am Main
Document Type:Working Paper
Year of Completion:2008
Year of first Publication:2008
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Release Date:2008/08/08
Institutes:Rechtswissenschaft / Rechtswissenschaft
Dewey Decimal Classification:3 Sozialwissenschaften / 34 Recht / 340 Recht
Licence (German):License LogoDeutsches Urheberrecht