How Much Particularity Is Enough?

Less than many other circuit courts have required, is the answer from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Adams v. Kinder-Morgan, Inc., 2003 WL 21906117 (10th Cir. August 11, 2003). Pursuant to the PSLRA, plaintiffs attempting to plead securities fraud based on information and belief (as opposed to personal knowledge) must “state with particularity all facts” supporting their belief that the specified statements were misleading. Courts have routinely grappled with the meaning of the words “all facts.”

The Second Circuit, in Novak v. Kasaks, 216 F.3d 300 (2d Cir. 2000), concluded that interpreting the text literally would lead to absurd results, including requiring dismissal “where the complaint pled facts fully sufficient to support a convincing inference if any known facts were omitted.” The Second Circuit tempered its holding, however, by finding that it is not enough for plaintiffs to baldly allege facts in support of their allegations, they must provide “documentary evidence and/or a sufficient general description of the personal sources of the plaintiffs’ beliefs.” (The Fifth Circuit has also adopted this approach, while the First and Ninth Circuits have required detailed source information.)

In Adams, the Tenth Circuit agreed with the Second Circuit that “all facts” should not be interpreted literally, but declined to impose a requirement that plaintiffs state the source of their facts. Noting that the PSLRA did not “purport to move up the trial to the pleadings stage” and does not mention the pleading of sources, the court held that it will “apply a common-sense, case-by-case approach in determining whether a plaintiff has alleged securities fraud with the particularity required by [the PSLRA] without adding a per se judicial requirement that the source of facts must always be alleged to support substantive allegations of fraud in an information and belief complaint.” The court did note, however, that in the absence of source information, the facts in the complaint “will usually have to be particularly detailed, numerous, plausible, or objectively verifiable by the defendant before they will support a reasonable belief that the defendant’s statements were false or misleading.”

Holding: Reversed in part (dismissal based on a lack of particularity, and other grounds, as to all defendants), affirmed in part (dismissal based on insufficient scienter allegations and lack of control as to one defendant).

Quote of note: “While the PSLRA certainly heightened pleading standards for securities fraud lawsuits, we believe that if Congress had intended in securities fraud lawsuits to abolish the concept of notice pleading that underlies the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Congress would have done so explicitly.”

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