13 June 2011

SCOTUS Win For Janus Capital

Janus, a Denver based mutual fund group with its headquarters across the street from the Cherry Creek Mall won a major victory in the U.S. Supreme Court today. In the group, different mutual funds are organized as separate legal entities owned by their investors, and each fund has a management and control arrangement with the master entity. The ruling was a 5-4 decision for Janus along the usual conservative-liberal lines with the conservatives prevailing.

One of the funds made a statement in a prospectus that gave rise to securities fraud liability. The issue was whether the master entity could be held legally liable for the statement made only in the name of the individual fund because it provided management services and had effective control of the entity. Continuing a trend of the U.S. Supreme Court to limit secondary liability for securities fraud (e.g. disallowing aiding and abetting liability in private securities litigation), the court ruled that only the fund was legally responsible for the mistatement made in its prospectus about its fund. As a result, the damage is confined to a single entity and since there is substantial identity between the people hurt by the misstatement and the owners of the fund, the amount of financial gain available to the people bringing the suit may be modest.

The fund might have legal recourse against the master company for a breach of duty in the management of the fund that caused the misstatement to be made and caused the fund to incur liability, but given the pervasive control of that relationship by the master company, it is unlikely that such a suit will be brought in the absence of a derviative action (i.e. a suit against a third party in the name of the company brought by the owners of the company because the company itself refuses to act) by the fund owners, and such actions rarely prevail. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling, however, means that in this and many similar arrangements, the master company will have no liability for statements made in the name of a mere fund in a prospectus.

Essentially, the U.S. Supreme Court held that involvement in ghost writing a document does not suffice to pierce the corporate veil for private securities fraud lawsuit purposes.

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