The Guessing Game

In the early days of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act and its new heightened pleading standards, courts regularly dismissed complaints that engaged in “puzzle pleading” (i.e., failed to specify the exact corporate statements that were false and the basis for their alleged falsity). Although plaintiffs quickly learned to be more careful, puzzle pleadings are still sometimes filed and the consequences can be severe.

In In re 2007 Novastar Financial, Inc. Sec. Litig., 2009 WL 2747281 (8th Cir. Sept. 1, 2009), the court considered a complaint against a subprime lender that “over the course of thirty-six pages . . . reproduced, either in their entirety or lengthy excerpts from, nineteen communications-including press releases, SEC filings, and conference call transcripts-issued by Novastar and the individual defendants during the class period that were allegedly false or misleading.” What the complaint did not do, however, is give “any indication as to what specific statements within these communications are alleged to be false or misleading.”

Although the lead plaintiff identified some specific false statements in his appellate brief, the court found that this did not “excuse” the “failure to comply with the pleading requirements under the PSLRA.” The court also agreed with the district court’s decision to deny leave to amend, noting that the lead plaintiff “never submitted a proposed amended complaint to the district court, nor did he proffer the substance of such an amended complaint until he filed his appellate brief.”
Holding: Dismissal affirmed.

Quote of Note: “[E]ven after the district court dismissed [the lead plaintiff’s] complaint and denied his request to amend the complaint, [the lead plaintiff] failed to file a motion under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 15(a)(2), 59(e), or 60(b), seeking leave to file an amended complaint. As we have noted before, ‘the district court [i]s not required to engage in a guessing game’ as a result of the plaintiff’s failure to specify proposed new allegations.”

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