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Failed Bank Investors' Securities Suit Dismissed

On January 14, 2011, in a ruling that could have implications for other failed bank investors' securities class action lawsuits, Northern District of Georgia Judge Charles A. Pannell, Jr. granted defendants' motions to dismiss the securities suit that had been brought by investors in the failed Haven Trust Bank of Duluth, Georgia. A copy of Judge Pannell's order can be found here.

This case may be familiar to readers as I recently wrote about the FDIC's failed bid to intervene in this case. As discussed here, Judge Pannell denied the FDIC's motion to intervene.

Banking regulators closed Haven Trust on December 12, 2008. As detailed here, on December 31, 2009, investors who purchased shares in the bank's holding company filed suit in the Northern District of Georgia alleging that the company's former officials had misled investors in connection with the share offering, in violation of federal and state securities laws.

In his January 14 order, Judge Pannell granted the defendants' motion to dismiss, finding that the plaintiffs had not adequately alleged violations of either the state or federal securities laws. With respect to the plaintiffs' federal securities laws allegations, Judge Pannell held that the plaintiffs had not adequately alleged scienter or loss causation.

In holding that the scienter allegations were insufficient, Judge Pannell said that "the amended complaint's reliance on the defendants' positions as directors and officers, their attendance at meetings, and access to internal documents and reports is insufficient to allege a strong inference of scienter." He also found that the defendants' alleged motivation to maintain a dividend stream was also insufficient to allege scienter.

Finally, with respect to the plaintiffs' allegations that there had been "excessively risky" loans to one of the defendant's children "may be relevant to a shareholder derivative claim for corporate mismanagement" but were not relevant to determining scienter.

With respect to loss causation, the plaintiff's allege that the FDIC announcement that it was taking over the bank caused the loss in value of the plaintiffs' stock. Judge Pannell said that "this allegation does not establish that the defendants' alleged misrepresentations and omissions caused the plaintiffs' loss, but instead establishes that the loss was caused by the FDIC's decision to close the Bank due to the effect of the subprime mortgage and financial crises on the Bank's loan portfolio."

After quoting with approval from a Second Circuit decision holding that "when the plaintiff's loss coincides with a marketwide phenomenon.. . the prospect that the plaintiff's loss was caused by fraud decreases," Judge Pannell concluded by stating that "in this case, the plaintiffs have not offered any facts distinguishing between losses caused by the defendants' alleged misrepresentations and the intervening events that wreaked havoc with the banking industry as a whole."

Read the article in its entirety at the D&O Diary, a blog by Kevin LaCroix.

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