One of the concerns raised by Congress, as part of the PSLRA, was that the application of traditional joint and several liability in securities cases may be unfair, given the enormous potential damages. To combat this problem, the PSLRA replaced joint and several liability with a proportionate liability scheme for defendants who are not found to have knowingly violated the securities laws. An unanswered question, however, is whether this proportionate liability scheme also applies to defendants who are found to have controlling person liability. Section 20(a) of the ’34 Act, which creates controlling person liability, specifically states that the controlling person shall be liable “jointly and severally with and to the same extent” as the primary violator.
In Laperriere v. Vesta Ins. Group, Inc., 2008 WL 1883482 (11th Cir. April 30, 2008), the Eleventh Circuit has held that the proportionate liability provisions of the PSLRA also apply to controlling persons. In the comprehensive decision, which discusses the relevant statutory provisions at length, the court found that both the plain language and legislative history suggest that Congress intended to include controlling persons.
Quote of Note: “We ought to avoid any interpretation of the statute that would treat controlling persons more harshly than the primary violator – that would put derivatively liable controlling persons on the hook for all damages, but let primary violators off the hook for any damages that their actions did not cause. That result would be contrary to common sense, to what the committee that drafted the PSLRA said it intended to do, and to what Congress actually did in the plain language of the PSLRA.”