Corporate Defense and Disputes

Latest from Corporate Defense and Disputes

While we are growing accustomed to pandemic-based shareholder actions relating to improper health and safety disclosures or misrepresentations relating to COVID-19 treatments and tests, this month brings a novel variant of the COVID-19 lawsuit. A Universal Health Services Inc. investor has filed a derivative suit against company officers and directors, claiming they took advantage of a pandemic-related drop in the company’s stock price to grant and receive certain stock options that were unfair to the company and its stockholders. The plaintiff investor claims that “company insiders took advantage of the temporary drop in the company’s stock price to grant and receive options to buy the company’s stock at rock bottom prices, thereby showering themselves in excessive compensation.” The complaint alleges that the drop in stock price was “not caused by any changes in the company’s fundamentals or business prospects,” but instead was entirely attributable to the effect of the pandemic on the markets writ large.

On April 20, 2021, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida dismissed a securities class action complaint against Norwegian Cruise Lines (“NCL”) relating to the company’s disclosures made as the coronavirus pandemic was starting to unfold in the United States. In Douglas v. Norwegian Cruise Lines, et al., the court found the plaintiff failed to plead actionable misstatements or omissions and scienter for a claim of securities fraud under Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”) and Rule 10b-5 promulgated thereunder.

Thanks to the court’s thorough analysis, this decision serves as a useful overview to those wishing to cruise through the sea of corporate puffery, forward-looking statements, and scienter in the federal securities laws.

As the world waits to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, publicly traded pharmaceutical companies waging in that fight are facing the multifaceted challenge of developing COVID-19 responses, informing the public of their progress, and managing legal challenges related to their efforts. Enter AstraZeneca.

AstraZeneca partnered with Oxford University to develop a COVID-19 vaccine in April 2020,

COVID-related securities claims continue to rattle the marketplace. On December 7, a leading plaintiffs firm announced an investigation on behalf of shareholders of The Cheesecake Factory Inc., just days after the SEC announced it was settling charges against the company for making misleading disclosures about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its business operations