Court Criticizes Legal “Racket”

A well-regarded Jurist in the Seventh Circuit issued a ruling which was highly critical of a legal practice (called a “racket”) in which in response to a large public corporation’s filing with the SEC for a strategic transaction, one or more plaintiff’s counsel file suit to challenge the adequacy of document disclosure. Rather than fight the suit, many corporations simply settle paying plaintiff’s counsel a handsome fee while making no substantive modification to the SEC documents in question.

For background, when Wallgreens issued a proxy statement to request a vote to reorganize after its combination with Boots, the UK pharmacy chain, Walgreens was sued for a failure of disclosure.

The court noted that such suits are commonplace because, in recent years, 95% of strategic transactions for public companies with market values over $100 million receive such challenges.

In Wallgreen’s case, the Court responded to what appears a simple payoff to plaintiffs’ counsel who received $370,000 for its one month suit. Walgreens put up no resistance. The Jurist stated that the value of the supplemental disclosure added to the proxy “appears to have been nil”.

The Jurist concluded, “[t]he type of class action illustrated by this case — the class action that yields fees for class counsel and nothing for the class — is no better than a racket.”

Corporations and plaintiffs’ counsel are now on notice that the Seventh Circuit will review settlement cases carefully.

For a good explanation of the practice and the ruling in the Walgreen’s case, please read Sheppard Mullin’s article in its Corporate & Securities Law Blog (click here).

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