The long wait is over and everyone will be at least slightly disappointed. After significant public and private debate, the Solicitor General has submitted an amicus brief in support of the corporate defendants in the Stoneridge (a.k.a. Charter Communications) case on scheme liability.
The government’s legal argument appears to be something of a compromise position. The brief states that the Eighth Circuit erred to the extent it held that “non-verbal deceptive conduct is somehow beyond the reach of Section 10(b).” Instead, the plain language of the statute makes it clear that it reaches “all conduct that is ‘manipulative’ or ‘deceptive,'” in whatever form.
Nevertheless, the government argues that the Eighth Circuit correctly upheld the dismissal of the complaint based on the plaintiffs’ failure to adequately plead reliance and loss causation. The plaintiffs allege “only that the backdating of the contracts assisted Charter in mischaracterizing the payments from [its business partners] as revenue (and thus inflating its operating cash flow in its financial statements).” The “critical point” is that it was Charter’s misrepresentation of its cash flow, not the allegedly deceptive conduct of its business partners, on which the plaintiffs relied in purchasing their shares. The presumption of reliance created by the fraud-on-the-market theory also is unavailable to the plaintiffs, the government argues, because it applies only to public misrepresentations and the complaint “does not identify any public statements or actions” by the business partners. Finally, the brief states that for “many of the same reasons” the complaint fails to adequately allege that the conduct of the business partners caused the plaintiffs’ losses.
A few additional notes: (1) SCOTUSblog has a summary of the filing and additional coverage can be found on the WSJ Law Blog and the Blog of the Legal Times; (2) many (if not all) of the briefs in the case, including the briefs of the corporate defendants filed today, are available on the DU Sturm College of Law Corporate Governance site; and (3) the Stoneridge docket reveals that oral argument in the case has been scheduled for October 9, 2007.
Quote of note (SG’s brief – citations omitted): “More fundamentally, Congress’s unwillingness to recognize a private right of action for aiding and abetting suggests that this Court should be loath to create the functional equivalent of such a right of action itself. Such an action would upset the deliberate balance struck by Congress. Insofar as petitioner and its amici advance various policy arguments in favor of broad liability for secondary actors, there are ample policy arguments to the contrary (some of which apparently struck a chord when Congress last expressly addressed the issue). In any event, all of those policy arguments ‘are more appropriately addressed to Congress than to this Court.'”