Justia Business Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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A group of retirement and pension funds filed a consolidated putative securities class action against PG&E Corporation and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (collectively, PG&E) and some of its current and former officers, directors, and bond underwriters (collectively, Individual Defendants). The plaintiffs alleged that all the defendants made false or misleading statements related to PG&E’s wildfire-safety policies and regulatory compliance. Shortly after the plaintiffs filed the operative complaint, PG&E filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, automatically staying this action as against PG&E but not the Individual Defendants. The district court then sua sponte stayed these proceedings as against the Individual Defendants, pending completion of PG&E’s bankruptcy case.The district court for the Northern District of California issued a stay of the securities fraud action against the Individual Defendants, pending the completion of PG&E's Chapter 11 bankruptcy case. The court reasoned that the stay would promote judicial efficiency and economy, as well as avoid the potential for inconsistent judgments. The plaintiffs appealed this decision, arguing that the district court abused its discretion by entering the stay.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that it had jurisdiction over this interlocutory appeal under the Moses H. Cone doctrine because the stay was both indefinite and likely to be lengthy. The appellate court found that the district court abused its discretion in ordering the stay as to the Individual Defendants. The court held that when deciding to issue a docket management stay, the district court must weigh three non-exclusive factors: the possible damage that may result from the granting of a stay, the hardship or inequity that a party may suffer in being required to go forward, and judicial efficiency. The appellate court vacated the stay and remanded for the district court to weigh all the relevant interests in determining whether a stay was appropriate. View "PUBLIC EMPLOYEES RETIREMENT ASS'N OF NEW MEXICO V. EARLEY" on Justia Law

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The case involves Jonathan Espy, a shareholder of J2 Global, Inc., who alleged that the company and its individual defendants committed securities fraud. Espy claimed that J2 made materially misleading statements by omitting key facts about a 2015 acquisition and a 2017 investment, and concealed underperforming acquisitions through consolidated accounting practices. He also alleged that investors learned of J2’s corporate mismanagement and deception not from J2’s disclosures, but from two short-seller reports.The district court dismissed Espy's complaint twice, stating that he failed to sufficiently plead scienter, which is the intent to deceive or act with deliberate recklessness. The court found that Espy's allegations, including statements from two confidential former employees, did not establish reliability or personal knowledge, or demonstrate that J2 acted with the intent to deceive or with deliberate recklessness.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The appellate court held that Espy failed to sufficiently plead scienter because he did not state with particularity facts giving rise to a strong inference that J2 acted with the intent to deceive or with deliberate recklessness. The court also held that Espy failed to sufficiently plead loss causation by showing that J2’s misstatement, as opposed to some other fact, foreseeably caused Espy’s loss. The court concluded that the two short-sellers’ reports did not qualify as corrective disclosures because one did not relate back to the alleged misrepresentations in Espy’s complaint, and the other’s analysis was based entirely on public information and required no expertise or specialized skills beyond what a typical market participant would possess. View "Espy v. J2 Global, Inc." on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute between Amazon and its delivery service partners (DSPs), who are business entities that entered into Delivery Service Program Agreements with Amazon. These agreements contained an arbitration provision, stipulating that disputes arising from the agreements would be resolved by binding arbitration conducted by the American Arbitration Association, rather than in court. The plaintiffs, who are or were DSPs, argued that the Federal Arbitration Act's (FAA) "transportation worker exemption" applied to them, which would exempt them from the FAA's coverage and allow them to bring their dispute to court.The United States District Court for the Western District of Washington rejected the plaintiffs' argument and granted Amazon's motion to compel arbitration, dismissing the case without prejudice. The plaintiffs appealed this decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that the FAA's "transportation worker exemption" did not extend to business entities or to commercial contracts like the DSP Agreement. The court also rejected the plaintiffs' argument that the arbitration agreement was unconscionable. The court found that the arbitration agreement contained a delegation provision, which incorporated AAA rules delegating threshold issues to the arbitrator. The court concluded that the delegation provision was between sophisticated parties, incorporated the AAA rules, and therefore must be enforced. Thus, the plaintiffs' remaining unconscionability arguments directed at the arbitration agreement as a whole must be decided by the arbitrator. View "FLI-LO Falcon, LLC V. Amazon.com, Inc." on Justia Law

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The case involves shareholders of Genius Brands International, Inc., a children's entertainment company, who alleged that the company violated the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 by making fraudulent statements and omissions. The shareholders claimed that Genius concealed its relationship with a stock promoter, PennyStocks.com, misrepresented its relationship with Arnold Schwarzenegger, exaggerated the frequency of its show Rainbow Rangers on Nickelodeon Jr., falsely suggested that Disney or Netflix would acquire Genius, and overstated its rights to the works of comic book author Stan Lee.The United States District Court for the Central District of California dismissed the shareholders' complaint, finding that they failed to adequately allege that Genius's representations were misleading or that they caused the shareholders' losses.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's decision. The appellate court held that the shareholders adequately alleged that Genius's representations regarding PennyStocks were misleading and that they caused the shareholders' losses with respect to the Rainbow Rangers, Disney/Netflix, and Stan Lee claims. However, the court affirmed the dismissal of the claim regarding Genius's relationship with Schwarzenegger, finding that the shareholders did not adequately allege loss causation. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "In re Alavi v. Genius Brands International, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision to vacate the plaintiffs' quasi in rem attachment of a vessel owned by Bergshav Aframax Ltd., a defendant in an admiralty action seeking fulfillment of arbitration awards. The arbitration awards were owed to the plaintiffs by B-Gas Ltd., renamed Bepalo, a different corporate entity. The plaintiffs tried to hold Aframax liable for the arbitration awards by arguing that Aframax and Bepalo were alter egos, essentially the same entity.However, the court found that the plaintiffs failed to show a reasonable probability of success on their veil piercing theory, which would be required to establish that Aframax and Bepalo were alter egos. The court found that the plaintiffs did not demonstrate that Bepalo was dominated and controlled by the Bergshav Group, the parent corporate group of Aframax. The court noted that the minority shareholders of Bepalo exercised independent judgment in approving the relevant transactions, countering the claim that the Bergshav Group had total domination of Bepalo. Therefore, the court concluded that the plaintiffs had not met their burden of demonstrating a reasonable probability of success on their veil-piercing claim, leading to the affirmation of the district court's decision to vacate the attachment of the vessel. View "SIKOUSIS LEGACY, INC. V. B-GAS LIMITED" on Justia Law

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In the case involving Sorrento Therapeutics, Inc., its CEO, and its Vice President, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a securities fraud class-action case brought by lead plaintiff Andrew R. Zenoff. The plaintiff alleged that the defendants violated the Securities Exchange Act and the SEC's Rule 10b-5 by falsely claiming to have discovered a "cure" for COVID-19, resulting in a temporary surge in Sorrento's stock prices.The court held that the defendants' representations about the potential COVID-19 cure, when read in context, were not materially false or misleading. The court also found that the plaintiff failed to support the requisite strong inference of scienter, or intent to deceive, manipulate, or defraud. The court noted that Sorrento's financial difficulties and the need to raise capital did not provide a strong inference of scienter. Furthermore, the plaintiff did not provide evidence of specific stock sales or purchases that would indicate an intent to manipulate stock prices.The court found that the plaintiff's allegations did not meet the specific requirements for claims of securities fraud under the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995, which include demonstrating a material misrepresentation or omission, scienter, a connection between the misrepresentation or omission and the purchase or sale of a security, reliance upon the misrepresentation or omission, economic loss, and loss causation. The court concluded that the defendants' initial enthusiasm about the potential cure was not inherently false or misleading at the time, and the plaintiff failed to establish a strong inference of scienter. As a result, the court affirmed the lower court's dismissal of the case. View "ZENOFF V. SORRENTO THERAPEUTICS, INC., ET AL" on Justia Law

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The case involved a lawsuit against Meta Platforms, Inc. (formerly known as Facebook) by a class of advertisers who claimed that Meta misrepresented the "Potential Reach" of advertisements on its platforms. The plaintiffs alleged that Meta falsely claimed that Potential Reach was an estimate of people, when in fact, it was an estimate of accounts.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order certifying one class of advertisers (the damages class) who sought compensation for fraudulent misrepresentation and concealment. The court stated that the misrepresentation was a common issue for the class and that the district court properly determined that the element of justifiable reliance was capable of classwide resolution.However, the court vacated the district court's order certifying another class of advertisers (the injunction class) who sought injunctive relief. The court asked the lower court to reconsider whether the named plaintiff, Cain Maxwell, had Article III standing to seek an injunction. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "DZ Reserve v. Meta Platforms, Inc." on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard an appeal by Cathay Pacific Airways Limited, from a district court's decision denying its motion to compel arbitration in a class action lawsuit. The plaintiffs, Winifredo and Macaria Herrera, alleged that Cathay Pacific breached their contract by failing to issue a refund following flight cancellations for tickets they purchased through a third-party booking website, ASAP Tickets.The court ruled that when a non-signatory, in this case Cathay Pacific, seeks to enforce an arbitration provision, an order denying a motion to compel arbitration based on the doctrine of equitable estoppel is reviewed de novo. Applying California contract law, the court held that the plaintiffs' allegations that Cathay Pacific breached its General Conditions of Carriage were intimately intertwined with ASAP’s alleged conduct under its Terms and Conditions. Thus, it was appropriate to enforce the arbitration clause contained in ASAP’s Terms and Conditions.Accordingly, the court reversed the district court’s denial of Cathay Pacific’s motion to compel arbitration and remanded with instructions to either dismiss or stay the action pending arbitration of the plaintiffs’ breach-of-contract claim. View "HERRERA V. CATHAY PACIFIC AIRWAYS LIMITED" on Justia Law

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The case involves a whistleblower-retaliation action brought by Tayo Daramola, a Canadian citizen, under the Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank Acts. Daramola was employed by Oracle Canada, a subsidiary of Oracle America, and worked remotely from Canada. He alleged that Oracle America and its employees retaliated against him for reporting suspected fraud related to one of Oracle's software products.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of Daramola's action. The court held that the whistleblower anti-retaliation provisions in the Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank Acts do not apply outside the United States. The court applied a presumption against extraterritoriality and concluded that the presumption was not overcome because Congress did not affirmatively and unmistakably instruct that the provisions should apply to foreign conduct.The court further held that this case did not involve a permissible domestic application of the statutes, given that Daramaola was a Canadian working out of Canada for a Canadian subsidiary of a U.S. parent company. The court agreed with other circuits that the focus of the Sarbanes-Oxley anti-retaliation provision is on protecting employees from employment-related retaliation, and the locus of Daramola's employment relationship was in Canada. The court also concluded that Daramola did not allege sufficient domestic conduct in the United States in connection with his Dodd-Frank claim. The same reasoning disposed of Daramola’s California state law claims. View "DARAMOLA V. ORACLE AMERICA, INC." on Justia Law

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In this case, Robert Sproat was convicted on ten counts of securities fraud. On appeal, Sproat argued that the district court improperly coerced the jurors into reaching a unanimous guilty verdict by instructing them to return the next day after they had reported an impasse in their deliberations.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the conviction, rejecting Sproat's argument. The court held that merely instructing a jury that reported an impasse to return the next day is not unconstitutionally coercive. The court found that the district court's instruction to return did not amount to an Allen charge, an instruction encouraging jurors to reach a unanimous verdict. The court explained that no such encouragement was explicit or implicit in the district court's instruction.The court also observed that the district court had not asked the jury to identify the nature of its impasse or the vote count before excusing them for the evening, and that any theoretical risk of coercion was cured by the partial Allen instruction the district court gave the following day, emphasizing the jurors' freedom to maintain their honest beliefs and their ability to be excused if they could not overcome their impasse. The court concluded that the district court's instruction to return the next day and the partial Allen instruction the following day did not coerce the jurors into reaching a unanimous guilty verdict. View "USA V. SPROAT" on Justia Law