The Class Certification Hurdle

In an opinion issued in the IPO allocation cases, the Second Circuit has held that in evaluating a motion for class certification under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, district judges must receive and review enough evidence to be satisfied that each requirement of Rule 23 is met, even if there is some overlap between class certification and the merits of a case. The court cautioned that while district judges must reach a full “determination” (but not a finding) regarding fulfillment of the class certification requirements, they should avoid reviewing any aspects of case merits that are unrelated to those requirements. The decision brings the Second Circuit’s jurisprudence on class certification into line with the majority of federal appellate courts (including the Fourth, Fifth, Seventh, Eighth and Eleventh Circuits).

More importantly (at least for securities litigators), the court went on to decide whether class certification could be granted in the representative IPO allocation cases at issue. The Second Circuit held that, under the new, stronger standard, the plaintiffs were unable to satisfy the predominance of common questions over individual questions requirement for a Rule 23(b)(3) class action. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court’s order granting class certifications and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Although the court’s class certification analysis is short, it contains two interesting holdings.

Reliance: The court held that the “fraud on the market” presumption could not be applied because the market for IPO shares cannot be efficient under any circumstances. Interestingly, the court cited the Sixth Circuit’s decision in Freeman v. Laventhol & Horwath, 915 F.2d 193, 199 (6th Cir. 1990) in support of this position, even though Freeman is a case about newly traded municipal bonds, not securities traded on a national exchange. The court went on to find that an efficient market cannot be established, for example, because during the 25-day “quiet period” analysts cannot report publicly concerning securities in an IPO and a “significant number of reports by securities analysts” is a “characteristic of an efficient market.” Finally, the court reiterated its skepticism (also found in an earlier Second Circuit decision related to the WorldCom securities litigation) that the fraud on the market presumption can be applied in cases based on anything other than statements by an issuer or its agents.

Knowledge: For both Rule 10b-5 and Section 11 claims, plaintiffs must show that they traded without knowing that the stock price was affected by the alleged false or misleading statements. The Court held that lack of knowledge could not be established in the IPO allocation cases because many of the investors were fully aware of the alleged fraudulent scheme (due in large part to the unusual facts of the case). Thus, the court held that the plaintiffs were unable to fulfill the predominance requirement because lack of knowledge was not common throughout the class.

Reports on the decision and its potential impact on the proposed settlement by the issuer defendants can be found in the American LawyerWall Street Journal (subscrip. req’d), and WSJ Law Blog. There is also a Bloomberg article on dissension among the plaintiffs’ firms handling the litigation.

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