On Friday, the New York Times ran a news analysis on Judge Pollack’s decision in the Merrill Lynch case. Unfortunately, the author misstates the central holding in the case, leading to a number of erroneous conclusions. In support of the proposition that the decision has little precedential value, the article conflates two elements of a Rule 10b-5 claim that Judge Pollack took great pains to separate: reasonable reliance and loss causation. The article states: “The judge’s point, instead, was that even if the research was fraudulent, the plaintiffs could not prove that their losses were tied to the research because they were not Merrill Lynch clients.”
Wrong. Instead, as discussed in The 10b-5 Daily, Judge Pollack held that the plaintiffs must “allege facts which, if accepted as true, would establish that the decline in the prices of 24/7 and Interliant stock (their claimed losses) was caused by any or all of the alleged omissions from the analyst reports.” Finding that there was no alleged connection between the analyst reports and the companies’ financial troubles or the collapse of the overall market, the court held that the plaintiffs failed to meet their pleading burden.
In other words, Judge Pollack’s ruling is much broader than the New York Times suggests. The key was not whether the plaintiffs were Merrill Lynch clients and therefore could establish that they reasonably relied on Merrill Lynch’s research. Judge Pollack notes in his decision that in a fraud-on-the-market class action, price inflation is typically used as a surrogate for reliance. Instead, the court focused on loss causation and whether the plaintiffs, presumably regardless of their status as Merrill Lynch clients, had adequately alleged that their investment losses were caused by the analyst reports. And that, as they say, is a bird of a different feather.
Addition: The 10b-5 Daily should note that the article’s overall theme, that Judge Pollack’s decision does not necessarily prevent Merrill Lynch clients from successfully bringing individual arbitration claims against the brokerage, is correct. It’s simply correct for a different reason. Judge Pollack’s decision addresses a fraud-on-the-market class action based on Rule 10b-5, it does not address every type of individual claim that might be brought against Merrill Lynch by a client (including breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, etc.).