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Court OKs class certification in Conseco securities-fraud case

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In a securities-fraud case involving the Carmel-based financial and life insurance services company Conseco, a 7th Circuit Court of Appeals panel has refused to significantly alter the class certification rules and throw out the long-established fraud-on-the-market doctrine.

The ruling comes today in Franz Schleicher, et al. v. Gary C. Wendt, et al., No. 09-2154, which stems from several lawsuits that were consolidated in the Southern District of Indiana. The suit alleges that Conseco (now CNO Financial Group) violated the Securities and Exchange Act through misleading statements about Conseco’s financial position that inflated stock prices for investors prior to the company’s bankruptcy.

Early last year, U.S. Judge David F. Hamilton on the trial bench certified a class, but the defendants resisted that certification.

“That’s not surprising, because certification substantially increases the settlement value of a securities suit,” Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote in the ruling today. “What do surprise are the arguments defendants advance, arguments that if accepted would end the use of class certification in securities cases.”

Defendants contend that even a firm as large as Conseco does not qualify for the fraud-on-the-market doctrine, which was established in the 22-year-old case of Basic, Inc. v. Levinson, 485 U.S. 224 (1988) that held securities sellers and purchasers relying on market price integrity are also impacted by any material misrepresentations. Along with that argument, the Conseco defendants also argue that a District judge must determine that contested statements actually caused material stock price changes before granting class certification.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in Oscar Private Equity Investments v. Allegiance Telecom, Inc., 487 F. 3d 261 (5th Cir. 2007) ruled that way, but Chief Judge Easterbrook said that jurisdiction stands alone and the 7th Circuit doesn’t agree with that stance. That court’s position would more than just tighten the class certification rules, it would make that certification virtually impossible in many securities suits.

By holding a hearing to basically determine the merits of a complaint before granting class certification, a court would basically be disregarding the federal rules established more than four decades ago. That review of the merits should be limited, the 7th Circuit ruled.

“That would resurrect the one-way-intervention model that was ditched by the 1966 amendments to Rule 23,” Chief Judge Easterbrook wrote. “Under the current rule, certification is largely independent of the merits… and a certified class can go down in flames on the merits.”

Judge Hamilton assured that the market for Conseco stock was thick enough to transmit defendants’ statements to investors by way of the price, and that finding supports the use of the fraud-on-the-market doctrine as a replacement for individual reading and reliance on the statements. As a result, the 7th Circuit found that he didn’t commit legal error or abuse his discretion.
 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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