How Deep Is The Safe Harbor?

The PSLRA created a safe harbor for forward-looking statements to encourage companies to provide investors with information about future plans and prospects. Under the first prong of the safe harbor, a defendant is not liable with respect to any forward-looking statement if it is identified as forward-looking and is accompanied by “meaningful cautionary statements” that alert investors to the factors that could cause actual results to differ.

In the case of oral forward-looking statements, the PSLRA specifically provides that the meaningful cautionary statements can be incorporated by reference in a readily available written document. The statute is silent, however, about whether this is also true for written forward-looking statements. Surprisingly, only a few courts have addressed this issue.

In In re Blockbuster Inc., Sec. Litig., 2004 WL 884308 (N.D. Tex. April 24, 2004), the court noted that the PSLRA’s safe harbor is based on the judicially-created bespeaks caution doctrine, which provides that statements must be analyzed in context. The court therefore concluded that “as long as the reference is clear and explicit so that the referenced cautionary language can fairly be viewed as part of the ‘context’ surrounding the written forward-looking statement, the PSLRA safe harbor for written forward-looking statements can be satisfied by meaningful cautionary language that is incorporated by reference.” The court found that its holding was supported by the “illogic” of allowing incorporation by reference for oral statements, where the location of the cautionary statements is likely to be misheard or forgotten, but not allowing it for easily followed written statements.

Holding: Motion to dismiss granted.

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