January 15, 2008
Supreme Court Rules in Stoneridge Case
The Supreme Court ruled in the case of Stoneridge Investment Partners, LLC v. Scientific-Atlanta, Inc. et. al, and there were no surprises in this 5-3 decision (Breyer not participating). The Court finds that "the implied right of action does not reach the customer/supplier companies because the investors did not rely upon their statements or representations." In the decision, the Court reaffirms its holding in Central Bank of Denver, N.A. v. First Interstate Bank of Denver, N.A..
This case again reminds us that private causes of action are different from criminal actions.The Court states:
"Secondary actors are subject to criminal penalties, see, e.g., 15 U. S. C. §78ff, and civil enforcement by the SEC, see, e.g., §78t(e). The enforcement power is not toothless. Since September 30, 2002, SEC enforcement actions have collected over $10 billion in disgorgement and penalties, much of it for distribution to injured investors. See SEC, 2007 Performance and Accountability Report, p. 26, http://www.sec.gov/about/secpar2007.shtml (as visited Jan. 2, 2008, and available in Clerk of Court’s case file).And in this case both parties agree that criminal penalties are a strong deterrent. See Brief for Respondents 48;Reply Brief for Petitioner 17. In addition some state securities laws permit state authorities to seek fines and restitution from aiders and abettors. See, e.g., Del. Code Ann., Tit. 6, §7325 (2005). All secondary actors, further-more, are not necessarily immune from private suit. The securities statutes provide an express private right of action against accountants and underwriters in certain circumstances, see 15 U. S. C. §77k, and the implied right of action in §10(b) continues to cover secondary actors who commit primary violations. Central Bank, supra, at 191. Here respondents were acting in concert with Charter in the ordinary course as suppliers and, as matters then evolved in the not so ordinary course, as customers. Unconventional as the arrangement was, it took place in the marketplace for goods and services, not in the investment sphere. Charter was free to do as it chose in preparing its books, conferring with its auditor, and preparing and then issuing its financial statements. In these circumstances the investors cannot be said to have relied upon any of respondents’ deceptive acts in the decision to purchase or sell securities; and as the requisite reliance cannot be shown, respondents have no liability to petitioner under the implied right of action. This conclusion is consistent with the narrow dimensions we must give to a right of action Congress did not authorize when it first enacted the statute and did not expand when it revisited the law."
It is important for the Court and Congress to distinguish the ability of private actors to bring actions under generic statutes. Although prosecutors do not always act wisely in using their prosecutorial discretion, their oversight is important when there are criminal implications. Civil litigants do not have the same ability to pick those cases that serve the public good as they represent individual clients. Thus, it is important for Congress and the Court to place added restrictions on the use of these statutes when it involves civil litigants.
See also Scotus Blog here.
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