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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. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  2. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

  3. Pass Legislation to require guilty defendants to pay for the costs of lab work, etc as part of court costs...

  4. The fee increase would be livable except for the 11% increase in spending at the Disciplinary Commission. The Commission should be focused on true public harm rather than going on witch hunts against lawyers who dare to criticize judges.

  5. Marijuana is safer than alcohol. AT the time the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act was enacted all major pharmaceutical companies in the US sold marijuana products. 11 Presidents of the US have smoked marijuana. Smoking it does not increase the likelihood that you will get lung cancer. There are numerous reports of canabis oil killing many kinds of incurable cancer. (See Rick Simpson's Oil on the internet or facebook).

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