And Then There Was One

In securities class actions, plaintiffs often take a shotgun approach and allege that the defendants made numerous false statements throughout the putative class period.  Whether that helps avoid dismissal, however, is an open question.

In City of Plantation Police Officers Pension Fund v. Meredith Corp., 16 F.4th 553 (8th Cir. 2021), the plaintiffs alleged that Meredith Corp. – during a 19-month class period – made 138 false statements relating to its acquisition and integration of Time, Inc. (the owner of Time, People, Sports Illustrated, and other magazines).  On appeal, the court found that 137 of the 138 statements were not actionable because they “were clearly either (1) statements identified as forward-looking and accompanied by meaningful cautionary statements, (2) corporate puffery, or (3) forward-looking statements that the complaint’s allegations do not imply by strong inference were made with actual knowledge of their falsity.”  But what about that 138th statement?

Meredith’s CEO claimed that the company had “fully integrated [its ]HR, finance, legal and IT functions.”  According to a former Meredith employee, however, at that time the legacy Meredith employees and legacy Time employees were still operating on different finance software systems.  The court found that this was a bit of a closer call, but concluded that nothing in the complaint provided “any insight” into what the CEO actually knew about the integration of the finance departments.  A more plausible inference than fraudulent intent was that the CEO made the statement because he had limited information.

Holding: Dismissal affirmed.

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