Articles Posted in Securities Law

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Employee-shareholders Steven Nichols, Deborah Deavours, Terry Akers, Thomas Dryden, and Gary Evans appealed a circuit court’s dismissal of their action against HealthSouth Corporation ("HealthSouth"). The employee shareholders at one time were all HealthSouth employees and holders of HealthSouth stock. In 2003, the employee shareholders sued HealthSouth, Richard Scrushy, Weston Smith, William Owens, and the accounting firm Ernst & Young, alleging fraud and negligence. The action was delayed for 11 years for a variety of reasons, including a stay imposed until related criminal prosecutions were completed and a stay imposed pending the resolution of federal and state class actions. In their original complaint (and in several subsequent amended complaints) the employee shareholders alleged that HealthSouth and several of its executive officers mislead investors by filing false financial statements of HealthSouth from 1987 forward. When the employee shareholders filed their action, the Alabama Supreme Court's precedent held: (1) that "[n]either Rule 23.1[, Ala. R. Civ. P.,] nor any other provision of Alabama law required stockholders' causes of action that involve the conduct of officers, directors, agents, and employees be brought only in a derivative action," and (2) that claims by shareholders against a corporation alleging "fraud, intentional misrepresentations and omissions of material facts, suppression, conspiracy to defraud, and breach of fiduciary duty" "do not seek compensation for injury to the [corporation] as a result of negligence or mismanagement," and therefore "are not derivative in nature." In the present case, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the employee shareholders' claims were direct rather than derivative and that, the trial court erred in dismissing the employee shareholders' claims for failure to comply with Rule 23.1, Ala. R. Civ. P. Furthermore, the Court found employee shareholders' eighth amended complaint related back to their original complaint and thus the claims asserted therein were not barred by the statute of limitations. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court was reversed and the cause remanded for further proceedings. View "Nichols v. HealthSouth Corporation" on Justia Law

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Employee-shareholders Steven Nichols, Deborah Deavours, Terry Akers, Thomas Dryden, and Gary Evans appealed a circuit court’s dismissal of their action against HealthSouth Corporation ("HealthSouth"). The employee shareholders at one time were all HealthSouth employees and holders of HealthSouth stock. In 2003, the employee shareholders sued HealthSouth, Richard Scrushy, Weston Smith, William Owens, and the accounting firm Ernst & Young, alleging fraud and negligence. The action was delayed for 11 years for a variety of reasons, including a stay imposed until related criminal prosecutions were completed and a stay imposed pending the resolution of federal and state class actions. In their original complaint (and in several subsequent amended complaints) the employee shareholders alleged that HealthSouth and several of its executive officers mislead investors by filing false financial statements of HealthSouth from 1987 forward. When the employee shareholders filed their action, the Alabama Supreme Court's precedent held: (1) that "[n]either Rule 23.1[, Ala. R. Civ. P.,] nor any other provision of Alabama law required stockholders' causes of action that involve the conduct of officers, directors, agents, and employees be brought only in a derivative action," and (2) that claims by shareholders against a corporation alleging "fraud, intentional misrepresentations and omissions of material facts, suppression, conspiracy to defraud, and breach of fiduciary duty" "do not seek compensation for injury to the [corporation] as a result of negligence or mismanagement," and therefore "are not derivative in nature." In the present case, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the employee shareholders' claims were direct rather than derivative and that, the trial court erred in dismissing the employee shareholders' claims for failure to comply with Rule 23.1, Ala. R. Civ. P. Furthermore, the Court found employee shareholders' eighth amended complaint related back to their original complaint and thus the claims asserted therein were not barred by the statute of limitations. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court was reversed and the cause remanded for further proceedings. View "Nichols v. HealthSouth Corporation" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Traci Salinas and Sharon Lee Stark, as shareholders of Sterne Agee Group, Inc. ("SAG") filed a shareholder-derivative action, on behalf of nominal defendant SAG, against James and William Holbrook and the nonHolbrook directors, who together composed the SAG board of directors. Salinas and Stark alleged that the Holbrooks had breached their fiduciary duty to the SAG shareholders by misusing, misappropriating, and wasting corporate assets and that the non-Holbrook directors had knowledge of, and had acquiesced in, the Holbrooks' alleged misconduct. In 2015, while Salinas and Stark's action was pending, SAG entered into a merger agreement with Stifel Financial Corp. ("Stifel") pursuant to which Stifel would acquire SAG ("the merger"). As a result of the merger, each share of certain classes of SAG stock was to be converted into a right of the shareholder to receive a pro rata share of merger consideration in cash and/or shares of Stifel common stock. The Holbrooks moved for summary judgment in which they argued that, under Delaware law, when a plaintiff in a shareholder-derivative action ceases to be a shareholder of the corporation on whose behalf the action was brought, the shareholder was divested of standing to continue prosecuting the derivative action. Thus, the Holbrooks argued, because Salinas and Wainwright were no longer SAG shareholders following the merger, they lacked standing to prosecute their derivative action and, the argument continued, the Holbrooks were entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. In response, Salinas and Wainwright amended their complaint to allege that a merger "cannot absolve fiduciaries from accountability for fraudulent conduct that necessitated the merger." Rather, they maintained, "such conduct gives rise to a direct claim that survives the merger, as the injury caused by such misconduct is suffered by the shareholders rather than the corporation, and thereby supports a direct cause of action." Subsequently, the parties filed a stipulation of dismissal in which they dismissed Salinas from the action, leaving Wainwright as the sole plaintiff. The Alabama Supreme Court determined that a May 2017 trial court order did not come within the subject-matter-jurisdiction exception to the general rule that the denial of a motion to dismiss or a motion for a summary judgment was not reviewable by petition for a writ of mandamus. “The petitioners have an adequate remedy by way of appeal should they suffer an adverse judgment. Accordingly, we deny the petitions.” View "Ex parte Jon S. Sanderson et al." on Justia Law

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In case no. 1130590, Kathryn L. Honea appealed the denial of her motion to vacate an arbitration award entered in favor of Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. ("Raymond James"), and Bernard Michaud, an employee of Raymond James (collectively, "RJFS"). In case no. 1130655, RJFS appealed the trial court's denial of its motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction; that appeal was dismissed. Honea opened several investment accounts with Raymond James. Honea and Raymond James executed a "client agreement" that included an arbitration provision. Honea filed a complaint in the Jefferson Circuit Court asserting that she had opened four accounts with Raymond James and that Michaud had acted as her financial advisor as to those accounts. She alleged that RJFS engaged in "abusive brokerage practices" in that her investments were not diversified, "were far too risky," and "were of poor quality." The arbitration panel dismissed Honea's breach-of-fiduciary-duty, negligence, wantonness, fraud, and Alabama Securities Act claims and proceeded to hear the breach-of-contract claims. An arbitration panel entered an award in favor of RJFS. The arbitration panel found that "Michaud did not sufficiently know his client nor make sufficient inquiry to attempt to know his client, her holdings, and/or her investment experience. These failures contributed to losses in [Honea's] account." However, the arbitration panel "denied" Honea's breach-of-contract claims, stating that they were "barred by the applicable statutes of limitations." Although the Alabama Supreme Court found one contract appeared to govern this case and that RJFS breached its duties by failing to properly understand Honea's investment knowledge before March 2000, Honea contended that allegedly improper transactions--the excessive use of margin and overly aggressive, high-risk trading occurring after March 2000--represented independent breaches of the FINRA rules. Those claims accrued within the six-year limitations period before her complaint was filed. Further, any knowledge by Honea of her losses did not mean that the trading activity was proper. Thus, to the extent that any transactions after March 2000 would be considered separate breaches of contract unrelated to the failure to properly know Honea, her holdings, or her investment experience, or setting up an "unsuitable" account, the Court found Honea demonstrated probable merit--for purposes of a Rule 59(g) hearing--that those claims would not be barred by the statute of limitations. Honea demonstrated that, in relation to the certain breach-of-contract claims, she was entitled to a Rule 59(g) hearing on her motion to vacate the arbitration award. View "Honea v. Raymond James Financial Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Municipal Workers Compensation Fund, Inc. ("the Fund"), appealed a circuit court's order denying the Fund's motion to vacate a judgment entered on an arbitration award. The Fund entrusted the management and investment of approximately $50 million in assets to Morgan Asset Management, Inc. ("MAM"), and Morgan Keegan & Company, Inc. ("Morgan Keegan"). MAM served as an investment advisor for a managed account and certain mutual funds owned by the Fund. Morgan Keegan served as the broker-dealer for the Fund's managed account and had the authority as the broker-dealer to execute transactions in that account as directed by the Fund. A second account at Morgan Keegan held the mutual funds that had been sold to the Fund through a Morgan Keegan broker. The Fund stated that it directed MAM and Morgan Keegan to invest its funds conservatively and that it relied on MAM and Morgan Keegan for sound financial advice and management. However, according to the Fund, MAM and Morgan Keegan disregarded this mandate by recommending that the Fund purchase and hold what the Fund says were unsuitable investments, by overconcentrating the Fund's assets in investments that had undue exposure to the sub-prime mortgage market and in other risky investments, and by misrepresenting and failing to disclose material facts pertaining to the investments. The Fund claims that it sustained losses in excess of $15 million in 2007 and 2008 as a result of the actions of MAM and Morgan Keegan. The Fund initiated arbitration proceedings against MAM and Morgan Keegan by filing a statement of claim with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority ("FINRA") pursuant to the arbitration provision contained in its contracts with MAM and Morgan Keegan, asserting claims of breach of fiduciary duty; breach of contract; negligence; fraud; violations of NASD and NYSE Rules; and violations of the Alabama Securities Act. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded from the admissible evidence entered at trial, the Fund established an evident partiality on the part of one of the arbitrators, and that the Fund was entitled to have the judgment entered on the arbitration award vacated. The Court remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Municipal Workers Compensation Fund, Inc. v. Morgan Keegan & Co." on Justia Law

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In connection with a 1998 nationwide, securities-fraud class action initiated against MedPartners, Inc., a physician-practice-management/pharmacy-benefits-management corporation and the predecessor in interest to CVS Caremark Corporation, the Jefferson Circuit Court certified a class that included the plaintiffs in this case. Based on the alleged financial distress and limited insurance resources of MedPartners, the 1998 litigation was concluded in 1999 by means of a negotiated "global settlement," pursuant to which the claims of all class members were settled for an amount that purportedly exhausted its available insurance coverage. Based on representations of counsel that MedPartners lacked the financial means to pay any judgment in excess of the negotiated settlement and that the settlement amount was thus the best potential recovery for the class, the trial court, after a hearing, approved the settlement and entered a judgment in accordance therewith. Thereafter, MedPartners (now Caremark) allegedly disclosed, in unrelated litigation, that it had actually obtained (and thus had available during the 1998 litigation) an excess-insurance policy providing alleged "unlimited coverage" with regard to its potential-damages exposure in the 1998 litigation. In 2003, John Lauriello, seeking to be named as class representative, again sued Caremark and insurers American International Group, Inc.; National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA; AIG Technical Services, Inc.; and American International Specialty Lines Insurance Company in the Jefferson Circuit Court, pursuant to a class-action complaint alleging misrepresentation and suppression, specifically, that Caremark and the insurers had misrepresented the amount of insurance coverage available to settle the 1998 litigation and that they also had suppressed the existence of the purportedly unlimited excess policy. In case no. 1120010, Caremark and the insurers appealed the circuit court's order certifying as a class action the fraud claims asserted by Lauriello, James Finney, Jr.; Sam Johnson; and the City of Birmingham Retirement and Relief System. In case no. 1120114, the plaintiffs cross-appealed the same class-certification order, alleging that, though class treatment was appropriate, the trial court erred in certifying the class as an "opt-out" class pursuant to Rule 23(b)(3), Ala. R. Civ. P., rather than a "mandatory" class pursuant to Rule 23(b)(1), Ala. R. Civ. P. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court in both cases. View "CVS Caremark Corporation et al. v. Lauriello et al." on Justia Law

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Morgan Keegan & Company, Inc. and Regions Bank (hereinafter referred to collectively as "Regions") appealed an order of the Baldwin Circuit Court which granted in part and denied in part their motions to compel arbitration in an action filed against them by Baldwin County Sewer Service, LLC ("BCSS"). In 2001 BCSS began discussing with AmSouth Bank ("AmSouth"), the predecessor-in-interest to Regions Bank, options to finance its existing debt. AmSouth recommended that BCSS finance its debt through variable-rate demand notes ("VRDNs").1 In its complaint, BCSS alleged that in late 2008 it received a notice of a substantial increase in the variable interest rates on its 2002, 2003, 2005, and 2007 VRDNs, which constituted BCSS's first notice that the interest-rate-swap agreements recommended by Regions did not fix the interest rate on the VRDNs but, instead, exposed BCSS to "an entirely new increased level of market risk in the highly complex derivative market." BCSS sued Regions Bank and Morgan Keegan asserting that Regions falsely represented to BCSS that swap agreements fixed BCSS's interest rates on all the BCSS debt that had been financed through the VRDNs. Following a hearing on the motions to compel arbitration, the trial court entered an order in which it granted the motions to compel arbitration as to BCSS's claims concerning the credit agreements but denied the motions to compel arbitration as to BCSS's claims concerning the failure of the swap transactions to provide a fixed interest rate. The trial court reasoned that the "Jurisdiction" clause in a master agreement, in combination with its merger clause, "prevent[ed] any argument that the VRDN arbitration agreement applies to disputes concerning the swap agreements" and that those clauses demonstrated that it was "the parties' intention, as it relates to the interest-swap agreement and any transaction related to that agreement, that the parties would not arbitrate but instead [any dispute] would be resolved by proceedings in a court of competent jurisdiction." Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that Regions presented evidence of the existence of a contract requiring arbitration of the disputes at issue. The Court reversed the order of the trial court denying the motions to compel arbitration of BCSS's claims concerning the master agreement and the swap agreement and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Regions Bank v. Baldwin County Sewer Service, LLC " on Justia Law

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This appeal was the latest "in a decade-long dispute" between Joseph Dzwonkowski, Sr. (Joe Sr.) and two of his sons, Robert and Joseph Jr. (Joe Jr.) regarding the ownership and control of Sonitrol of Mobile, Inc., a closely-held corporation that provided commercial-security services in the greater Mobile area. Ten years prior, Joe Jr. sold his shares in the company to his father in order to settle some of his personal debts. Possession of the stock certificates was the central issue in the case. Joe Sr. fired his sons and offered to purchase their shares, but Joe Jr. demanded his former shares back from his father. Joe Sr. then filed suit for a declaratory judgment to determine who rightfully owned the stock and to uphold his decision to fire his sons. The trial court ruled against Joe Sr. In 2004, the Supreme Court dismissed Joe Sr.'s appeal of that judgment, holding that an appeal was premature because the damages to be awarded to Sonitrol had not yet been set. Those damages were eventually set in 2011, awarding Sonitrol $764,359 and Joe Jr. $1. Joe Sr. appealed. On appeal, Joe Sr. argued whether the trial court should have immediately entered an order declaring him owner of the disputed shares of Sonitrol stock. The Supreme Court found that the trial court did not act contrary to the appellate court's mandate on remand. Accordingly the trial court's judgment was affirmed. View "Dzwonkowski v. Sonitrol of Mobile, Inc." on Justia Law

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Callan Associates petitioned the Supreme Court for the writ of mandamus to direct the Montgomery Circuit Court to dismiss an action filed by Carol Perdue in her role as the legal guardian of Anna Perdue, who sued on behalf of the Wallace-Folsom Prepaid College Trust Fund. Ms. Perdue opened an account with the Trust Fund on behalf of her Daughter Anna. After making monthly payments, Anna would be entitled to reduced in-state tuition and fees. The Trust's assets pooled all such contributions and invested them so that designated beneficiaries would receive the promised benefits. The Trust hired Callan Associates as an investment consultant. The Trust's management notified beneficiaries that because of the stock market downturn of 2009, the Trust's assets were negatively impacted. Subsequently, Ms. Perdue sued on behalf of Anna and the Trust, contending that Callan and the Trustees mismanaged the Trust's assets. Callan moved to dismiss which the Circuit Court denied. On appeal to the Supreme Court, Callan argued that Ms. Perdue lacked standing to bring her claims. Furthermore, Callan argued that Ms. Perdue's claims were not ripe for adjudication since none of the beneficiaries have had tuition paid from the Trust. The Supreme Court concluded that "Callan's motion to dismiss in the trial court was well founded"; therefore the Court granted Callan's petition and issued the requested writ to direct the trial court to dismiss Ms. Perdue's claims. View "Perdue v. Callan Associates, Inc." on Justia Law

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Jean W. Reed, Mary W. Haynes, and Susan W. Stockham ("the sisters") sued Regions Bank ("Regions"), Morgan Asset Management, Inc. ("MAM"), Morgan Keegan & Company, Inc. ("Morgan Keegan"), and Regions Financial Corporation ("RFC"), alleging several claims related to the investment of assets belonging to two trusts set up for the benefit of Reed and Haynes. MAM, Morgan Keegan, and RFC unsuccessfully moved the Jefferson Circuit Court to dismiss the claims against them, arguing among other things, that the claims were derivative in nature and could be asserted only in compliance with Rule 23.1, Ala. R. Civ. P., with which the sisters did not comply. MAM, Morgan Keegan, and RFC petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the circuit court to grant their motion to dismiss. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that the sisters had not alleged an injury distinct from that suffered by the trusts' funds; the claims against MAM, Morgan Keegan, and RFC in their complaint were derivative and did not comply with Rule 23.1 for asserting such claims. The sisters therefore lacked standing to sue. The Court granted the petition and issued the writ. View "Reed v. Regions Bank" on Justia Law