This year, the United States Supreme Court addressed the viability of securities fraud claims against secondary actors. On June 14, 2011, the Supreme Court in Janus Capital Group Inc. v. First Derivative Traders, 131
S. Ct. 2296 (2011), brought much-needed predictability to the securities markets by articulating a “clean line” separating “those who are primarily liable (and thus may be pursued in a private [Rule 10b-5] suit) and those who are secondarily liable (and thus may not be pursued in private [Rule 10b-5] suit).” at 2302 n.6. Id.
The Court, in a 5-4 opinion, concluded that Janus Capital Management (“JCM”), a registered investment adviser, could not be held liable in a private Rule 10b-5 suit for drafting allegedly misleading prospectuses issued by its mutual-fund client, the Janus Investment Fund. Instead, the Court made clear that the only proper defendant in a private Rule 10b-5 suit is the “maker” of the statement—“the person or entity with ultimate authority over the statement, including its content and whether and how to communicate it.”
at 2302. “Without control,” the Court explained, “a person or entity can merely suggest what to say, not ‘make’ a statement in its own right,” and therefore “[o]ne who prepares or publishes a statement on behalf of another is not its maker.” Id . (quoting 17 C.F.R. § 240.10b-5(b)).. Id
Applying this test, the Court concluded that “JCM did not ‘make’ any of the statements in the [Janus Investment Fund's] prospectuses”--even if it may have participated in the writing and dissemination of the prospectuses--because JCM’s involvement was “subject to the ultimate control” of the Janus Investment Fund.
at 2305. “There was no allegation that JCM in fact filed the prospectuses and falsely attributed them to Janus Investment Fund,” the Court noted, “[n]or did anything on the face of the prospectuses indicate that any statements therein came from JCM rather than from Janus Investment Fund--a legally independent entity with its own board of trustees.” Id . Accordingly, the statements in the prospectuses were made by Janus Investment Fund--not by JCM. Id . at 2304-05.. Id
Even though the opinion does not expressly address the liability of persons or entities other than investment advisers who provide services to public companies, those service providers--bankers, lawyers, accountants, financial advisers, and others--should be able to invoke the decision to defend private lawsuits based on their work behind the scenes in preparing offering documents for their issuer clients. The issuer--not the service provider--has “ultimate authority over the statement[s]” in its offering documents, and it is therefore the only “maker of [those] statement[s]”" under the Court’s rationale.
at 2302.. Id
The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Janus Capital Group, Inc. v. First Derivative Traders has left many investment company directors wondering whether they should take additional measures either to protect their funds and themselves from liability for prospectus errors or to provide their funds' investment adviser with additional incentives to ensure the accuracy and completeness of fund prospectuses.