Sliding Scale

What triggers the running of the statute of limitations for a securities fraud action is suddenly a hot topic, thanks to a possible Supreme Court case and a recent Second Circuit decision.

In Staehr v. Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc., 2008 WL 4899445 (2d Cir. Nov. 17, 2008), the court considered whether the plaintiffs had been put on inquiry notice of their claims based on the “cumulative effect” of news articles, public filings, and lawsuits referring to an industrywide fraudulent scheme. The court found that the news articles mostly did not mention Hartford and were in specialty publications, the company’s public filings did not offer enough information about the subject of the fraud, and the lawsuits either did not mention Hartford or were not sufficiently publicized so as to be “reasonably accessible” to an ordinary investor. The New York Law Journal has a column (Dec. 10 edition – subscrip. req’d) on the decision.

Holding: Dismissal based on statute of limitations vacated.

Quote of note (decision): “Given the objective standard for inquiry notice, there is an inherent sliding scale in assessing whether inquiry notice was triggered by information in the public domain: the more widespread and prominent the public information disclosing the facts underlying the fraud, the more accessible this information is to plaintiffs, and the less company-specific the information must be.”

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