Justia Class Action Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Professional Malpractice & Ethics
Harris v. Amgen
Plaintiffs, current and former employees of Amgen and AML, participated in two employer-sponsored pension plans, the Amgen Plan and the AML Plan. The Plans were employee stock-ownership plans that qualified as "eligible individual account plans" (EIAPs) under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1107(d)(3)(A). Plaintiffs filed an ERISA class action against Amgen, AML, and others after the value of Amgen common stock fell, alleging that defendants breached their fiduciary duties under ERISA. The court concluded that defendants were not entitled to a presumption of prudence under Quan v. Computer Sciences Corp., that plaintiffs have stated claims under ERISA in Counts II through VI, and that Amgen was a properly named fiduciary under the Amgen Plan. Therefore, the court reversed the decision of the district court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Harris v. Amgen" on Justia Law
City of Livonia Emps’ Ret. Sys. v. Boeing Co.
Plaintiffs filed a class action on behalf of stock purchasers, alleging that Boeing committed securities fraud under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. 78j(b), and SEC Rule 10b-5. The suit related to statements concerning the new 787-8 Dreamliner, which had not yet flown, and did not specify a damages figure. At argument the plaintiffs’ lawyer indicated that the class was seeking hundreds of millions of dollars. The district court dismissed the suit under Rule 12(b)(6) before deciding whether to certify a class. Plaintiffs appealed the dismissal; Boeing cross-appealed denial of sanctions on the plaintiffs’ lawyers for violating Fed. R. Civ. P. 11. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal with prejudice, but remanded for consideration under 15 U.S.C. 78u-4(c)(1), (2), of Rule 11 sanctions on the plaintiffs’ lawyers. No one who made optimistic public statements about the timing of the first flight knew that their optimism was unfounded; there is no securities fraud by hindsight. Plaintiffs’ lawyers had made confident assurances in their complaints about a confidential source, their only barrier to dismissal of their suit, even though none of them had spoken to the source and their investigator had acknowledged that she could not verify what he had told her. View "City of Livonia Emps' Ret. Sys. v. Boeing Co." on Justia Law
Lanfear, et al. v. Home Depot, Inc., et al.
Plaintiffs claimed that the fiduciaries of their retirement plan violated the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq., in ways that damaged their efforts to stockpile savings for their winter years. The court held that because plaintiffs have not pleaded facts establishing that defendants abused their discretion by following the Plan's directions, they have not stated a valid claim for breach of the duty of prudence. The court also held that plaintiffs have failed to state a viable breach of loyalty claim. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' third and last amended complaint. View "Lanfear, et al. v. Home Depot, Inc., et al." on Justia Law
In re Celera Corp. Shareholder Litigation
This putative class action was before the court on an application for the approval of settlement of the class's claims for, among other things, breaches of fiduciary duty in connection with a merger of two publicly traded Delaware corporations. The target's largest stockholder, which acquired the vast majority of its shares after the challenged transaction was announced, objected to the proposed settlement. In addition, defendants' and plaintiffs' counsel disagreed about the appropriate level of attorneys' fees that should be awarded. The court certified the class under Rules 23(a), (b)(1), and (b)(2) with NOERS as class representative; denied BVF's request to certify the class on only an opt out basis; approved the settlement as fair and reasonable; and awarded attorneys' fees to plaintiffs' counsel in the amount of $1,350,000, inclusive of expenses. View "In re Celera Corp. Shareholder Litigation" on Justia Law
Continental Cas. Co. v. Law Offices of Melbourne Mills
The attorney represented more than 400 plaintiffs in a class action related to the diet drug Fen-Phen. Lawyers’ fees were to be limited to 30 percent of the clients' gross recovery. The case settled for almost $200 million. Plaintiffs together received $74 million, 37 percent of the settlement; $20 million was used to establish Kentucky Fund for Healthy Living. The attorney served on the Fund’s board, for which he received $5,350 monthly. The attorney knew that the Kentucky Bar Association was investigating fee division in the case and possible unauthorized practice of law by his paralegal. The attorney subsequently applied to renew his malpractice insurance and answered "no" to questions about possible pending claims and investigations. The policy excluded coverage for dishonest acts and omissions. Members of the class subsequently filed malpractice claims and were awarded $42 million. The insurer sought a declaration that it was entitled to rescind the policy. The district court granted the insurer summary judgment and awarded $233,674.49 for its outlay on defense costs. Class members intervened to protect their ability to recover. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Disbarment constituted a sufficient "regulatory ruling" under the dishonesty exclusion clause and there were material misrepresentations on the application. View "Continental Cas. Co. v. Law Offices of Melbourne Mills" on Justia Law
Hargis v. Access Capital Funding, LLC, et al.
Plaintiff sued defendants in Missouri state court, on behalf of a putative class of similarly situated borrowers, alleging that defendants engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in violation of Mo. Rev. State 484.020 when they charged certain fees in the course of refinancing plaintiff's mortgage. Defendants moved the suit to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), 28 U.S.C. 1332(d) and plaintiff subsequently appealed the district court's judgment. The court held that plaintiff failed to show that she was charged any fees, directly or indirectly, for legal work performed by non-lawyers. Therefore, plaintiff had not shown injury and did not have standing to bring her claim. In light of plaintiff's lack of standing, the district court should have dismissed for lack of jurisdiction rather than reaching the merits of the summary judgment motion. Accordingly, the judgment was affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded with instructions that the action be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. View "Hargis v. Access Capital Funding, LLC, et al." on Justia Law
Metabolic Research, Inc. v. Ferrell
The central issue on appeal in this case arose from an order that denied a pretrial special motion to dismiss under Nevada's anti-SLAPP statute (Nev. Rev. Stat. 41.635-670), and whether that order was appealable under the collateral order doctrine as established by Supreme Court precedent. In 2009, Defendant-Appellant attorney Scott Ferrell sent demand letters to Plaintiffs-Appellees Metabolic Research, Inc. (Metabolic), at its address in Las Vegas, Nevada, and to General Nutrition Centers, Inc. (GNC), at its address in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The demand letters purported to notify the recipients that they had violated California law by falsely advertising the properties and potential benefits of "Stemulite," which they marketed as a natural fitness supplement. Defendant represented that he was acting on behalf of three individuals and a class of similarly situated people, all of whom he alleged purchased Stemulite in California, in reliance on the supposed false advertising, and had not received the purported benefits. In his letters, Defendant set out his allegations, and concluded them with offers to compromise and allow Plaintiffs time to agree to an injunction. If Plaintiffs did not accept his offer, Defendant stated he would file suit. Metabolic filed suit in Nevada against Defendant and his putative class action plaintiffs charging them with extortion, racketeering and conspiracy. Defendant removed the case to the federal district court in Nevada, then moved to dismiss Metabolic's case based on Nevada's anti-SLAPP statute. In its order dismissing Ferrell’s motion, the district court found that Ferrell had not established that the demand letter to Metabolic constituted a good-faith communication in furtherance of the right to petition because it concluded that Nevada’s anti-SLAPP legislation only protected communications made directly to a governmental agency and did not protect a demand letter sent to a potential defendant in litigation. Finding that the Nevada legislature did not intend for its anti-SLAPP law to function as an immunity from suit, Defendant's motion was not immediately appealable. The Ninth Circuit held that the district court's denial of Defendant's special motion was not made in error. View "Metabolic Research, Inc. v. Ferrell" on Justia Law
Steinhardt, et al. v. Howard-Anderson, et al.
Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit on behalf of a class of stockholders of Occam. Defendants moved for sanctions against all plaintiffs other than Derek Sheeler for trading on the basis of confidential information obtained in this litigation. With respect to Michael Steinhardt and the funds, the motion was granted. Consistent with prior rulings by this court when confronted with representative plaintiffs who have traded while serving in a fiduciary capacity, Steinhardt and the funds were dismissed from the case with prejudice, barred from receiving any recovery from the litigation, required to self-report to the SEC, directed to disclose their improper trading in any future application to serve as lead plaintiff, and ordered to disgorge profits. With respect to Herbert Chen, the motion was denied. View "Steinhardt, et al. v. Howard-Anderson, et al." on Justia Law
In Re: American Express Finance Advisors Securities Litigation
Appellants brought various claims before Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) arbitrators against Ameriprise, a financial-services company, for, inter alia, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation related to the decline in value of various financial assets owned by appellants and managed by Ameriprise. Ameriprise answered appellants' FINRA complaint by asserting, principally, that appellants released their claims by operation of a settlement agreement in a class-action agreement suit that had proceeded between 2004 and 2007 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. After FINRA arbitrators denied Ameriprise's motion to stay appellants' arbitration, Ameriprise moved in the district court, in which the class action had been litigated and settled, for an order to enforce the settlement agreement that would enjoin appellants from pressing any of their claims before FINRA arbitrators. The district court concluded that the class settlement barred all of appellants' arbitration claims and therefore granted Ameriprise's motion and ordered appellants to dismiss their FINRA complaint with prejudice. The court held that the district court had the power to enter such an order and that several of appellants' arbitration claims were barred by the 2007 class-action settlement. Therefore, the court affirmed in part. But because the court concluded that appellants' arbitration complaint plead claims that were not, and could not have been, released by the class settlement, the court vacated in part the district court's judgment, and remanded the case for the entry of an order permitting the non-Released claims to proceed in FINRA arbitration. The court dismissed as moot appellants' appeal from the district court's denial of their motion for reconsideration. View "In Re: American Express Finance Advisors Securities Litigation" on Justia Law
Gearren, et al. v. The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., et al.
Plaintiffs appealed from a decision granting defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiffs' complaints for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Plaintiffs, participants in two retirement plans offered by defendants, brought suit alleging breach of fiduciary duty under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq. Plaintiff alleged that defendants acted imprudently by including employer stock as an investment option in the retirement plans and that defendants failed to provide adequate and truthful information to participants regarding the status of employer stock. The court held that the facts alleged by plaintiffs were, even if proven, insufficient to establish that defendants abused their discretion by continuing to offer plan participants the opportunity to invest in McGraw-Hill stock. The court also held that plaintiffs have not alleged facts sufficient to prove that defendants made any statements, while acting in a fiduciary capacity, that they knew to be false. Accordingly, the judgment was affirmed.