last week the Ninth Circuit handed down a decision in a securities litigation case related to FCPA violations in Glazer Capital Management LP v. Magistri.
Glazer’s claims arose after InVision Technologies, Inc. (InVision) announced, in March 2004, that it had entered into a merger agreement with General Electric (GE). Several months later, in July 2004, InVision issued a press release, casting doubt on the merger because of the discovery of potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1997(FCPA), 15 U.S.C. § 17dd-1. Although the proposed merger ultimately was consummated, the July 2004 announcement resulted in an immediate drop in InVision’s share price. A class action complaint was filed by InVision shareholders and Glazer was appointed lead plaintiff.
The suit was largely based on three alleged misstatements in the merger agreement attached to the 10-K filed to announce the transaction. The merger agreement has representations that InVision was in compliance with all applicable law, in compliance with the books and record provisions of the FCPA and that the company had no knowledge of any FCPA violations. The merger agreement was signed by the President/CEO and the COO of the company.
One element of securities litigation is to show the element of scienter, that is the the required state of mind for the violation. In this case, that the defendant intended to commit the fraud. There is a concept of “collective scienter” where the intent of the company is imputed on the individual. In this case, the court found that since the CEO and COO are the ones that signed the merger agreement the plaintiff needs to prove that one of those two new that the statements were not correct.
As Kevin M. LaCroix of the D & O Diary points out:
[I]n the InVision case, “the surreptitious nature of the transactions creates an equally strong inference that the payments would have deliberately kept secret – even within the company.” Obviously, payments of this kind invariably are of a surreptitious nature and of a kind that would be kept secret, even within the company. The implication is that in order for a securities claim alleging FCPA-related disclosures to survive the initial pleadings stage, the claimants may have to plead that the company officials who prepared the company’s public disclosures were aware of the improper activities.