It is common for a securities class action to follow an announcement that a company has engaged in Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) violations. Plaintiffs typically allege that the company’s statements about its legal compliance, internal controls, and/or financial results were rendered false or misleading by the failure to disclose that certain revenues were obtained through corruption.
In Doshi v. General Cable Corp., 2019 WL 1965159 (E.D. Ky. April 30, 2019), General Cable entered into settlements with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) over FCPA violations. As part of a non-prosecution agreement with the DOJ, the company admitted that it knew about certain corrupt payments and “knowingly and willfully failed to implement and maintain an adequate system of internal accounting controls designed to detect and prevent corruption or other illegal payments by its agents.” The court’s motion to dismiss ruling contains three interesting holdings.
First, there is a two-year statute of limitations for federal securities fraud claims, which begins to run when the “plaintiff did discover or a reasonably diligent plaintiff would have discovered the the facts constituting the violation.” Although the complaint was filed more than two years after General Cable first disclosed the possibility of FCPA violations, the court held that the claims were not barred by the statute of limitations because there was no available evidence of scienter (i.e., fraudulent intent) until the company entered into the government settlements.
Second, the court found that the only actionable misstatements made by General Cable related to its statements concerning the effectiveness of its internal controls over financial reporting (including SOX certifications). The company’s disclosure that it had a FCPA compliance program was not rendered false or misleading by the fact that the program was not effective. The company also had no obligation to disclose a theoretical risk that its overseas operations might fail if it could not rely on corrupt business practices.
Finally, despite its holdings regarding the statute of limitations and the existence of actionable misstatements, the court concluded that the plaintiffs had failed to adequately plead scienter. The company’s settlements with the government established that “GC knew it did not have controls that provided a sufficient framework for dealing with third-parties in the identified subsidiaries and GC knew that this allowed it to violate the FCPA in particular countries.” However, the court held, “this does not mean that GC knew its overall internal controls over financial reporting were not effective, nor does it mean that GC knew its SOX certifications – which do not specifically relate to the FCPA – were false.” In other words, the court found that the “most plausible inference” was that GC believed that its overall financial reporting system was “sound despite a specific FCPA-related issue.”
Holding: Motion to dismiss granted.