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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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  2. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

  3. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  4. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  5. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

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