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Ilene Richman, Individually and On Behalf of All Others Similarly Situated v. Goldman Sachs Group

June 21, 2012

ILENE RICHMAN, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS
v.
GOLDMAN SACHS GROUP, INC, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Paul A. Crotty, United States District Judge:

USDC SDNY

DOCUMENT

DOC #: _________________

OPINION & ORDER

Plaintiffs in this class action allege that Goldman Sachs & Co. ("Goldman"), Lloyd C. Blankfein, David A. Viniar, and Gary D. Cohn (the "Individual Defendants," and collectively with Goldman, the "Defendants") violated § 10(b) of the Exchange Act, and Rule 10b-5 promulgated thereunder (Count One); and § 20(a) of the Exchange Act (Count II). Plaintiffs, who are purchasers of Goldman's common stock during the period February 5, 2007 through June 10, 2010, claim that Defendants made material misstatements and omissions regarding: (1) Goldman's receipt of "Wells Notices" from the Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC") relating to Goldman's role in the synthetic collateralized debt obligation ("CDO"), titled ABACUS 2007 AC-1 ("Abacus"); and (2) Goldman's conflicts of interest that arose from its role in the Abacus, Hudson Mezzanine Funding 2006-1 ("Hudson"), The Anderson Mezzanine Funding 2007-1 ("Anderson"), and Timberwolf I CDO transactions.

Defendants move, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b) and 12(b)(6), to dismiss the Consolidated Class Action Complaint (the "Complaint"). For the following reasons, Defendants' motion with respect to the failure to disclose the Wells Notices is GRANTED, and otherwise DENIED.

BACKGROUND

I.Abacus and the SEC Investigation

On April 26, 2007, the Abacus synthetic CDO transaction closed.*fn1 Goldman served as the underwriter or placement agent, the lead manager, and the protection buyer for the Abacus transaction. (Compl. ¶ 50 & n.3.) Plaintiffs claim that "the Abacus transaction [ ] was designed from the outset by [Goldman] to allow a favored client to benefit at the expense of Goldman's other clients." (Id. ¶ 147.) Specifically, Plaintiffs claim that Goldman allowed Paulson & Co., a hedge fund client, to "play[ ] an active and determinative role in the selection process," and knew that Paulson was picking assets that it "believed would perform poorly or fail." (Id. ¶¶ 53, 64.) Indeed, "Paulson had agreed to pay Goldman a higher fee if Goldman could provide Paulson with CDS contracts containing premium payments below a certain level." (Id. ¶ 77.) Rather than disclose Paulson's role in the asset selection process, Goldman "falsely identified ACA [Management LLC] as the only portfolio selection agent for the CDO." (Id.¶¶ 59-66.) Goldman hid Paulson's role, because it "expect[ed] to leverage ACA's credibility and franchise to help distribute this Transaction." (Id. ¶ 61 (quoting a Goldman internal memorandum)). The Abacus transaction performed poorly, as Paulson intended; the investors lost approximately $1 billion, and Paulson, holding the sole short position, profited by this amount. (Id. ¶ 81.)

In August 2008, the SEC notified Goldman that it had commenced an investigation into Abacus and served Goldman with a subpoena.(Compl. ¶ 88.) Goldman disclosed in its SEC filings that it had "received requests for information from various governmental agencies and self-regulatory organizations relating to subprime mortgages, and securitizations, collateralized debt obligations and synthetic products relating to subprime mortgages" and that Goldman was "cooperating with the requests." (Id. ¶¶ 129, 130.) On July 29, 2009, the SEC issued a Wells Notice to Goldman, notifying it that the SEC's Enforcement Division staff "intends to recommend an enforcement action" and providing Goldman with "an opportunity to respond concerning the recommendation." (Id. ¶ 90.) On September 10 and 25, 2009, Goldman provided written Wells submissions to the SEC. (Id. ¶ 91.) Goldman thereafter met with the SEC on numerous occasions. (Id. ¶ 91.) Plaintiffs claim that by failing to disclose its receipt of a Wells Notice, Goldman "hid its improper conduct of betting against" its clients, and caused its stock to trade at artificially inflated levels. (Id. ¶¶ 49, 99.)

On September 28, 2009 and January 29, 2010, the SEC issued Wells Notices to Fabrice Tourre and Jonathan Egol, two Goldman employees involved in the Abacus transaction. (Id. ¶¶ 93, 94.) On April 16, 2010, the SEC filed a complaint against Goldman and Tourre-but not Egol-alleging securities fraud violations. (Id. ¶ 83.) As a result, Goldman's stock dropped from $184.27 to $160.70 per share, a drop of approximately 13%. (Id. ¶ 99.)

On July 14, 2010, Goldman reached a $550 million settlement with the SEC, in which Goldman acknowledged that its marketing material was incomplete and that it had made a mistake:

[T]he marketing material for the ABACUS 2001-AC1 transaction contained incomplete information. In particular, it was a mistake for the Goldman marketing materials to state that the reference portfolio was "selected by" ACA Management LLC without disclosing the role of Paulson & Co. Inc. in the portfolio selection process and that Paulson's economic interests were adverse to CDO investors. (Id. ¶ 87.)

On November 9, 2010, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority ("FINRA") announced that it fined Goldman $650,000 for failing to disclose, within 30 days, that Tourre and Egol had received Wells Notices, in violation of National Association of Securities Dealers' ("NASD") Conduct Rule 3010 (which became FINRA Rule 2010, when FINRA succeeded NASD). (Id. ¶¶ 100-102.) In settling with FINRA, Goldman admitted that it violated these rules. (Id. ¶¶ 101, 102.)

II.Hudson

Hudson was a synthetic CDO that commenced on or around December 5, 2006, which Goldman packaged and sold. (Id. ¶¶ 148, 164.) Plaintiffs allege that Goldman had "clear conflicts of interest" in the Hudson transaction because it knew that the reference assets were poor quality mortgage related securities which were likely to lose value, and yet, sold these products to its clients at higher prices than Goldman believed they were worth, while betting against those very securities, "thereby allowing the Company to reap billions in profits at their clients direct expense." (Id. ¶ 148.) Goldman had told investors that it "has aligned incentives with the Hudson program by investing in a portion of equity," without disclosing that it also held 100% of the short position at the same time. (Id. ¶¶ 165, 171, 177.) Goldman's incentive from holding $6 million in equity was substantially outweighed by its $2 billion short position. (Id. ¶ 171.) Further, Goldman had not disclosed that the assets had been taken directly from Goldman's inventory, and had been priced by Goldman's own personnel. (Id. ¶¶ 174, 177.)

III.Anderson

Anderson was a synthetic CDO transaction that closed on March 20, 2007, for which Goldman served as the sole credit protection buyer and acted as an intermediary between the CDO and various broker-dealers. (Compl. ¶¶ 190, 191, 202.) Goldman was the source of 28 of the 61 CDS contracts that made up Anderson, and held a 40% short position. (Id. ¶¶ 189-191.) Plaintiffs allege that Goldman developed misleading talking points for its sales force, which did not adequately disclose the asset selection process and touted that Goldman would hold up to 50% of the equity tranche in the CDO, which was worth $21 million, without mentioning its $135 million short position. (Id. ¶¶ 204-207).

IV.Timberwolf I

Timberwolf I is a hybrid CDO squared transaction,*fn2 which closed in March 2007, that Goldman constructed, underwrote, and sold. (Id. ¶ 213.) In its marketing booklet, Goldman stated that it was purchasing 50% of the equity tranche, but failed to disclose that it was the largest source of assets and held a 36% short position in the CDO. (Id. ¶¶ 214, 216.) Goldman aggressively sold Timberwolf I without explaining its pricing methodology. (Id. ¶ 255.) Plaintiffs allege that Goldman knew it was selling poorly quality assets at inflated prices, and profited from its short position. (Id. ¶¶ 264-67.)

LEGAL STANDARDS

Since Plaintiffs bring claims for security fraud,they must meet heightened pleading requirements of Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b), and the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 ("PSLRA"). ATSI Commc'ns v. Shaar Fund, Ltd., 493 F.3d 87, 99 (2d Cir.2007); see also 15 U.S.C. § 78u--4(b)(1).

Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act prohibits any person from using or employing "any manipulative or deceptive device or contrivance in contravention" of SEC rules. 15 U.S.C. § 78j(b). Rule 10b-5, promulgated under Section 10(b), prohibits "any device, scheme, or artifice to defraud" and "any untrue statement of a material fact or to omit to state a material fact necessary in order to make the statements made . . . not misleading . . . ." 17 C.F.R. § 240.10b-5.

To state a claim in a private action under section 10(b) and Rule 10b--5, a plaintiff must prove: "(1) a material misrepresentation or omission by the defendant; (2) scienter; (3) a connection between the misrepresentation or omission and the purchase or sale of a security; (4) reliance upon the misrepresentation or omission [or transaction causation]; (5) economic loss; and (6) loss causation." Stoneridge Inv. Partners, L.L.C. v. Scientific--Atlanta, Inc., 552 U.S. 148, 157 (2008).

Defendants argue that the Complaint should be dismissed because: (1) Plaintiff failed to plead an actionable misstatement or omission; (2) Plaintiffs failed to allege facts giving rise to a strong inference of scienter; and ...


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