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In re Refco

August 14, 2008

IN RE REFCO, INC. SECURITIES LITIGATION


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gerard E. Lynch, District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

Earlier in the course of this putative class action for securities fraud, this Court dismissed plaintiffs' claims under § 11 of the Securities Act against defendants Credit Suisse Securities (USA), Banc of America Securities LLC, and Deutsche Bank Securities, Inc. (collectively, the "144A Defendants") in connection with a so-called "Exxon Capital exchange," but permitted plaintiffs to replead. See In re Refco, Inc. Sec. Litig., 503 F. Supp. 2d 611, 628-31 (S.D.N.Y. 2007). Plaintiffs in due course filed a Second Amended Consolidated Class Action Complaint further detailing their allegations against these defendants, who now again move to dismiss. The motion will be granted.

BACKGROUND

The factual background of the fraudulent scheme to deceive investors and others about the true financial circumstances of the international brokerage firm Refco Inc. and its affiliated companies is set forth in detail in the Court's prior opinion dealing with the Exxon Capital exchange, see id. at 618-20, and in any number of additional opinions,*fn1 and need not be repeated here. It is sufficient for present purposes that plaintiffs have adequately alleged that Refco covered up massive losses resulting from uncollectible loans, and that this deliberately fraudulent non-disclosure rendered materially misleading (among other Refco financial statements and prospectuses for the sale of securities) the Bond Registration Statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC"), pursuant to which Refco offered registered bonds for public sale in April 2005.*fn2 (Compl. ¶ 166;*fn3 see Wilson Decl. Ex. C.) Prior to this offering, Refco had offered unregistered bonds through an underwriting by the 144A Defendants, who purchased the securities and immediately resold them to certain institutional investors, including some of the plaintiffs. These bonds were exempt from registration under SEC Rule 144A, 17 C.F.R. § 230.144A, which exempts private placements to qualified institutional buyers from the registration requirements of the Securities Act of 1933. Holders of the unregistered bonds were permitted to exchange their securities for registered bonds issued in the 2005 public offering in a transaction referred to as an "Exxon Capital exchange," In re Refco, 503 F. Supp. 2d at 624, and certain of the plaintiffs undertook such exchanges. (Compl. ¶ 166.)

In the First Amended Consolidated Class Action Complaint in this action (Doc. # 86), plaintiffs alleged that the 144A Defendants violated §§ 11 and 12 of the Securities Act by fraudulently offering or selling securities, arguing primarily that the issuance of the unregistered 144A securities and the Exxon Capital exchange were part of an integrated financing scheme, and that in consequence the underwriters of the unregistered offering should be treated as sellers of the registered bonds.*fn4 The Court rejected that argument, holding that the two transactions were separate, and that defendants' participation in underwriting the unregistered bonds did not ipso facto render them sellers of the later-issued registered bonds. In re Refco, 503 F. Supp. 2d at 627-28.

The First Amended Complaint also alleged, in conclusory fashion, that the 144A Defendants were liable under § 11 for their "participat[ion]" as underwriters in the sale of the registered bonds themselves. Id. at 629. The 144A Defendants sought dismissal of this count also, arguing that the only "participation" alleged was their service as underwriters in the 144A transaction, and that the allegation was based on the same "single transaction" theory that the Court had already rejected. Id. at 628-29. Noting that it was not clear what the plaintiffs meant to allege, the Court dismissed the §11 claim without prejudice, holding that "[b]ecause the plaintiffs have failed to make any specific allegations of 'participation' of the kind that would qualify the [144A Defendants] as underwriters of the public offering, the plaintiffs' conclusory allegation that they 'participated' in the creation of a registration statement," in the context of the other allegations of the Complaint suggesting that the allegation of participation referred to the underwriting of the 144A transaction, was insufficient to state a claim. Id. at 629-30. Nevertheless, the Court authorized plaintiffs to replead:

Of course, if the Court has misconstrued the complaint and the plaintiffs intended to allege some other participation in the creation of the Bond Registration Statement, plaintiffs can seek leave to file an amended complaint explaining the participation on which they rely.

Id. at 630 n.15.

Plaintiffs have now taken up that challenge, supplementing their initial allegation with more specific indications of what they claim is sufficient "participation" on the part of the defendants in the underwriting of the registered securities. Thus, plaintiffs now allege that the 144A Defendants and their lawyers played a substantial role in drafting and editing the Bond Registration Statement on the basis of which the registered bonds were sold to the public. (Compl. ¶¶ 170-78.) Plaintiffs argue that this is sufficient to make the 144A Defendants responsible under § 11 for the misstatements contained in the Bond Registration Statement. The 144A Defendants argue that involvement in the drafting or editing of an offering document in connection with a public offering is insufficient for § 11 liability.

DISCUSSION

Section 11 of the Securities Act permits purchasers of securities to sue various responsible actors for any "untrue statement of a material fact" in a registration statement or for the omission of a material fact "necessary to make the statements therein not misleading." 15 U.S.C. § 77k(a). Four of those categories of actors (signatories of the registration statement, directors or partners in the issuer of the securities, persons named in the registration statement as anticipated directors or partners, and accountants or other experts named in the statement as having prepared the statement or incorporated financial statements or reports) clearly do not apply to the 144A Defendants. Plaintiffs claim that the 144A Defendants fall within the fifth category, "underwriter[s] with respect to such security." Id. § 77k(a)(5). The Securities Act defines "underwriter" as: any person who has purchased from an issuer with a view to, or offers or sells for an issuer in connection with, the distribution of any security, or participates or has a direct or indirect participation in any such undertaking, or participates or has a participation in the direct or indirect underwriting of any such undertaking; but such term shall not include a person whose interest is limited to a commission from an underwriter or dealer not in excess of the usual and customary distributors' or sellers' commission.

Id. § 77b(a)(11) (emphasis added). Plaintiffs argue that the 144A Defendants' role in the drafting of the Bond Registration Statement constitutes "participation" in the "undertaking" of underwriting the registered bonds issued by Refco.

Plaintiffs do not cite any case in which a court has held that a party that participated in the drafting of a registration statement, but who was not identified to the public as endorsing the truth of representations contained therein, has been held liable under § 11 as an underwriter.

They argue, however, that the language of the statute is broad, and has been "interpreted broadly." (P. Mem. 9, quoting Harden v. Raffensperger, Hughes & Co., 65 F.3d 1392, 1400 (7th Cir. 1995).) According to plaintiffs, the 144A Defendants clearly "participated" in the distribution of the ...


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