Causation by Presumption? Why the Supreme Court Should Reject Phantom Losses and Reverse Broudo

John C. Coffee Jr., Columbia Law School


The Supreme Court is about to hear Dura Pharmaceuticals Inc. v. Broudo, a case in which the Ninth Circuit significantly liberalized the "loss causation" standards applicable to federal securities litigation. In response to a companion article by Professor Merritt Fox, which favors such a liberalization and even the abandonment of loss causation as a necessary element, Professor Coffee argues that any change in causation standards that permits a plaintiff to escape showing a decline in the security's stock market price attributable to the material misstatement or omission gives rise to perverse incentives, which would likely result in the award of phantom losses that may have been caused instead by other factors, such as a market bubble. More generally, he argues that the securities class action against the corporate defendant in cases of secondary market stock drops appears to serve little legitimate function, advancing neither compensatory nor deterrent ends. Instead, such actions against the corporation (as opposed to actions against gatekeepers, controlling persons or the corporation in the primary market setting) principally effect inefficient wealth transfers among largely diversified shareholders. Given the legal and other transaction costs involved, shareholders appear likely to be net losers from such actions. As a result, he concludes that further minimization of the causation requirement should await policy clarification of the role of the "fraud on the market" action against a non-trading issuer defendant.