Deceiving The Accountant

Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued its first post-Tellabs decision on the pleading of scienter (i.e., fraudulent intent). The court is back this month with another scienter decision, this time in a case against an accounting firm.

In Public Employees’ Retirement Assoc. of Col. v. Deloitte & Touche LLP, 2009 WL 19134 (4th Cir. Jan. 5, 2009), the court considered the alleged role of two Deloitte entities in the Royal Ahold fraud. (The corporate defendants settled for $1.1 billion in 2005.) The court found that “to establish a strong inference of scienter,” the plaintiffs needed to “demonstrate that the Deloittes were either knowingly complicit in the fraud, or so reckless in their duties as to be oblivious to malfeasance that was readily apparent.” The plaintiffs, however, could not “escape the fact that Ahold . . . went to considerable lengths to conceal the frauds from the accountants and it was the defendants that ultimately uncovered the frauds.” The “strong inference to be drawn from this fact” is that the Deloitte entities “lacked the requisite scienter.”

Holding: Dismissal affirmed.

Quote of note: “It is not an accountant’s fault if its client actively conspires with others in order to deprive the accountant of accurate information about the client’s finances. It would be wrong and counter to the purposes of the PSLRA to find an accountant liable in such an instance.”

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