Author: Dave Hoffman

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Horwitz on Sensitive Corporate Judges

Over at Prawfs, Paul Horwitz has been trying to get some precision on what it would mean for a judge to be “sensitive” to business interests.

Here is a taste:

If I were writing opinions in these [employment discrimination cases] that were “sensitive” to business, I would fully acknowledge that employees may use Title VII to try to turn garden-variety dismissals, demotions, etc. into discrimination cases, in the hope that the corporate defendant will settle after protracted litigation, and that this may ultimately drive down the incentive to hire; that class actions similarly attempt to induce settlement and may discourage innovation; and that consumer arbitration clauses are one way to efficiently channel disputes without the significant burden of litigation. But I might also “sensitively” acknowledge that proferring legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons is hardly the same thing as proving a dismissal was not, in fact, motivated by discrimination; that courts may be so tough on Title VII cases in part because they are caseload-driven; that businesses do in fact sometimes commit mass torts, and may even (at least until recently) collude in settlements that primarily serve the interests of the corporate defendant and plaintiffs’ counsel; that businesses may prefer arbitration because they think it ups their chances of success, particularly before repeat-player arbitrators, and deters consumers from pursuing their claims; and that there may be something qualitatively different between a commercial business contract and a boilerplate arbitration clause in a consumer or employment agreement. In short, I don’t know at first blush whether the corporate interest would win or lose; but I would be “sensitive” about the issues faced by business. So it doesn’t seem to me that a pro-business record of judicial rulings really tells us anything about whether that judge is sensitive to business interests. He may simply be insensitively supportive of them.

Go ahead and read the whole thing.

9

Alito and Securities Law: Part II

As Prof. Ribstein notes, there has been a significant amount of interest, both on the internet and offline, in Judge Alito’s record as a “business friendly” jurist. The emerging consensus is (for marketeers) bullish. Forbes quotes Ted Frank as saying “All and all, business wins,” and then (rather wistfully) the magazine continues that the “stock market may have signaled its agreement on Monday; the Dow Jones Industrial Average had risen 49 points at midday.”

In any event, I’ve done a bit more research into Judge Alito’s record as a judge in securities cases, and I think defense attorneys may not want to uncork the champagne just yet.

As I noted when discussing the Burlington Coat factory case, the Judge does not appear hostile (as some do) to securities claims as a general matter. Rather, he appears to want to force plaintiffs to plead scienter with particularity, and to measure materiality by its market impact. In this post, I’ll continue my analysis of two additional Alito securities decisions that Prof. Ribstein didn’t focus on.

Read More

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Alito: The Business Friendly Justice?

Larry Ribstein has a great new post up on the jurisprudence of Third Circuit Judge Samuel Alito, a potential SCOTUS nominee. He sums up:

In short, Alito has displayed a marked tendency to enforce contracts as written, specifically including choice of law/forum and arbitration provisions that are intended to mitigate litigation costs. He’s also obviously aware of the problems that can be caused by lax proof standards and open-ended liability.

On the list that Prof. Ribstein has created, I was particularly interested in In re Burlington Coat Factories Sec. Lit. Prof. Ribstein says that decision involves a “deni[al] securities claims for failure to adequately allege scienter and materiality, and for lack of a duty to update.” My reading of the decision produced a somewhat more complicated picture, which may give some insights into Alito’s opinions about securities complaints.

First, unlike the district judge whose opinion the Third Circuit was passing on, Alito’s opinion is significantly more respectful of the pleading standard, reversing (in effect) a dismissal on materiality grounds. This decision – if representative of Alito’s larger jurisprudence – suggests that he is not particularly hostile to securities plaintiffs. In the end, the opinion does dismiss claims on 9(B) grounds, but with leave to re-plead.

Most significantly, the Judge appears to buy into the efficient capital markets hypothesis without hesitation, dismissing one claim which failed to result in a market reaction with the following reasoning.

In the context of an “efficient” market, the concept of materiality translates into information that alters the price of the firm’s stock. . . . This is so because efficient markets are those in which information important to reasonable investors (in effect, the market) … is immediately incorporated into stock prices. … Therefore, to the extent that information is not important to reasonable

investors, it follows that its release will have a negligible

effect on the stock price.

There are two basic problems with the idea that non-price-movement should mean immateriality as a matter of law. First, there will be times when market-wide distortions will dampen reaction to disclosures — which is why we require litigants to conduct expensive loss causation analyses which correct for the effect of the market-basket. Second, the behavioral finance literature, summarized by Ribstein (in a great paper) here, should give pause to judges, plaintiffs and others who seek to rely heavily on the ideal of a perfectly well-functioning market. To be fair, we can’t blame Judge Alito for not being aware of this literature back in 1997, but it would be interesting to know what he thinks today.

Needless to say, if I were on the judiciary committee, we’d have fewer questions on intellectually moribund subjects like con law, and many more of the following type(s): “How should judges go about evaluating the question of whether the stock market is fully efficient? Can securities class actions survive evidence of irrational decisionmaking?”

[UPDATE: I’ve investigated Judge Alito’s securities decisions further here.]

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Why Blawging is Bad For Law

Hello Folks.

I’ve joined Co-Op today from Prawfsblawg. This is by my count the fifth time I’ve introduced myself at a new blog-home. That makes me a bit of an itinerant blogger. It is also pretty ironic, because I generally think that the institution of blogging/blawging threatens to fundamentally disrupt some very valuable aspects of how law is currently organized, administered and transmitted.

To take an example I posted on recently on Prawfs, consider what happens to the common law when the primary sources which form its skeleton — judicial opinions – become the fodder for the entertainment of an audience of millions of eager web-surfers. Yes, I’m talking about you, Howard. It isn’t that How Appealing, and like blawgs, are bad. Indeed, I visit Howard’s blawg every day, and it is an invaluable resource. It is that Howard’s popularity, and the increasing linking of opinions by the MSM-online, provides incentives for judges to write witty, funny, entertaining, short, glib opinions, instead of careful, boring, technically precise ones. That is, to the extent that lower-court judges want to be noticed and profiled by (kind of silly) websites like these, it makes sense to be more like Scalia and Douglas than Souter and Rutledge.

Some might protest: surely federal judges don’t care much about having their opinions widely publicized? They have life tenure, and they care only about not being reversed. But the motivations of federal judges seem to me to be an open question, and I think that if I could somehow chart the growth of funny and media friendly opinions, we’d see a small bump beginning with the introduction of WL and a huge increase in the last five years.

So, why is this bad?

To find out, you’ll have to visit here again, as I will be retuning to this topic soon.