Public Red Flags

The efficient market hypothesis can be a double-edged sword for plaintiffs. While it is necessary to support a presumption of reliance in securities class actions, it also makes courts skeptical of any theory of fraud that is based on the corporate defendant failing to inform the market about the impact of known events.

In City of Omaha, Nebraska Civilian Employees’ Retirement System v. CBS Corp., 2012 WL 1624022 (2d Cir. May 10, 2012), the plaintiffs alleged that CBS should have performed an impairment test on its goodwill and disclosed the results several months before it actually did so in October 2008. The Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case on two grounds.

First, the court held, based on on its prior Fait decision, that estimates of goodwill are statements of opinion. The plaintiffs’ failure to allege “that defendants did not believe in their statements of opinion regarding CBS’s goodwill at the time they made them” was fatal to their securities fraud claims.

Second, the court found that “all of the information alleged to constitute ‘red flags’ calling for interim impairment testing . . . were matters of public knowledge.” Given the efficiency of the market for CBS stock, the price therefore “would at all pertinent times have reflected the need for, if any, or culpable failure to undertake, if any, interim impairment testing.” Under these circumstances, the complaint did not allege in a plausible fashion that “the market price of CBS stock was inflated by a fraud” and that the plaintiffs relied upon that fraudulently inflated price.

Holding: Dismissal affirmed.

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