Securities — Materiality Need Not Be Proved at Class Certification Stage — Judicial Admissions in Pleadings, Pretrial Orders and Stipulations Are Conclusively Binding

Amgen Inc. v. Conn. Retirement Plans & Trust Funds, 2013 U.S. LEXIS 1862 (U.S. Feb. 27, 2013):

The issue presented concerns the requirement stated in Rule 23(b)(3) that "the questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members." Amgen contends that to meet the predominance requirement, Connecticut Retirement must do more than plausibly plead that Amgen's alleged misrepresentations and misleading omissions materially affected Amgen's stock price. According to Amgen, certification must be denied unless Connecticut Retirement proves materiality, for immaterial misrepresentations or omissions, by definition, would have no impact on Amgen's stock price in an efficient market.

While Connecticut Retirement certainly must prove materiality to prevail on the merits, we hold that such proof is not a prerequisite to class certification. Rule 23(b)(3) requires a showing that questions common to the class predominate, not that those questions will be answered, on the merits, in favor of the class. Because materiality is judged according to an objective standard, the materiality of Amgen's alleged misrepresentations and omissions is a question common to all members of the class Connecticut Retirement would represent. The alleged misrepresentations and omissions, whether material or immaterial, would be so equally for all investors composing the class. As vital, the plaintiff class's inability to prove materiality would not result in individual questions predominating. Instead, a failure of proof on the issue of materiality would end the case, given that materiality is an essential element of the class members' securities-fraud claims. As to materiality, therefore, the class is entirely cohesive: It will prevail or fail in unison. In no event will the individual circumstances of particular class members bear on the inquiry.

Essentially, Amgen, also the dissenters from today's decision, would have us put the cart before the horse. To gain certification under Rule 23(b)(3), Amgen and the dissenters urge, Connecticut Retirement must first establish that it will win the fray. But the office of a Rule 23(b)(3) certification ruling is not to adjudicate the case; rather, it is to select the "metho[d]" best suited to adjudication of the controversy "fairly and efficiently." ***This case involves the interaction between federal securities-fraud laws and Rule 23's requirements for class certification. To obtain certification of a class action for money damages under Rule 23(b)(3), a plaintiff must satisfy Rule 23(a)'s above-mentioned prerequisites of numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation, ... and must also establish that "the questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members, and that a class action is superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy." To recover damages in a private securities-fraud action under §10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 48 Stat. 891, as amended, 15 U. S. C. §78j(b) (2006 ed., Supp. V), and Securities and Exchange Commission Rule 10b-5, 17 CFR §240.10b-5 (2011), a plaintiff must prove "(1) a material misrepresentation or omission by the defendant; (2) scienter; (3) a connection between the misrepresentation or omission and the purchase or sale of a security; (4) reliance upon the misrepresentation or omission; (5) economic loss; and (6) loss causation." Matrixx Initiatives, Inc. v. Siracusano, 563 U. S. ___, ___, 131 S. Ct. 1309, 179 L. Ed. 2d 398, 409 (2011) (internal quotation marks omitted).

"Reliance," we have explained, "is an essential element of the §10(b) private cause of action" because "proof of reliance ensures that there is a proper connection between a defendant's misrepresentation and a plaintiff's injury." Halliburton, 563 U. S., at ___, 131 S. Ct. 2179, 180 L. Ed. 2d 24, at 31 (internal quotation marks omitted). "The traditional (and most direct) way" for a plaintiff to demonstrate reliance "is by showing that he was aware of a company's statement and engaged in a relevant transaction . . . based on that specific misrepresentation." Ibid. We have recognized, however, that requiring proof of direct reliance "would place an unnecessarily unrealistic evidentiary burden on [a] plaintiff who has traded on an impersonal market." Basic, 485 U. S., at 245, 108 S. Ct. 978, 99 L. Ed. 2d 194. Accordingly, in Basic the Court endorsed the "fraud-on-the-market" theory, which permits certain Rule 10b-5 plaintiffs to invoke a rebuttable presumption of reliance on material misrepresentations aired to the general public. Id., at 241-249, 108 S. Ct. 978, 99 L. Ed. 2d 194.

Footnote 1. Part IV of Justice Blackmun's opinion in Basic--the part endorsing the fraud-on-the-market theory--was joined by Justices Brennan, Marshall, and Stevens. Together, these Justices composed a majority of the quorum of six Justices who participated in the case. See 28 U. S. C. §1 ("The Supreme Court of the United States shall consist of a Chief Justice of the United States and eight associate justices, any six of whom shall constitute a quorum.").

The fraud-on-the-market theory rests on the premise that certain well developed markets are efficient processors of public information. In such markets, the "market price of shares" will "reflec[t] all publicly available information." Id., at 246, 108 S. Ct. 978, 99 L. Ed. 2d 194. Few investors in such markets, if any, can consistently achieve above-market returns by trading based on publicly available information alone, for if such above-market returns were readily attainable, it would mean that market prices were not efficiently incorporating the full supply of public information. See R. Brealey, S. Myers, & F. Allen, Principles of Corporate Finance 330 (10th ed. 2011) ("[I]n an efficient market, there is no way for most investors to achieve consistently superior rates of return.").

In Basic, we held that if a market is shown to be efficient, courts may presume that investors who traded securities in that market relied on public, material misrepresentations regarding those securities. ***

Although fraud on the market is a substantive doctrine of federal securities-fraud law that can be invoked by any Rule 10b-5 plaintiff, see, e.g., Black v. Finantra Capital, Inc., 418 F. 3d 203, 209 (CA2 2005); Blackie v. Barrack, 524 F. 2d 891, 908 (CA9 1975), the doctrine has particular significance in securities-fraud class actions. Absent the fraud-on-the-market theory, the requirement that Rule 10b-5 plaintiffs establish reliance would ordinarily preclude certification of a class action seeking money damages because individual reliance issues would overwhelm questions common to the class. See Basic, 485 U. S., at 242, 108 S. Ct. 978, 99 L. Ed. 2d 194. The fraud-on-the-market theory, however, facilitates class certification by recognizing a rebuttable presumption of classwide reliance on public, material misrepresentations when shares are traded in an efficient market. Ibid.

Footnote 2. Although describing Basic's adoption of the fraud-on-the-market presumption of reliance as "questionable," JUSTICE THOMAS dissent acknowledges that "the Court has not been asked to revisit" that issue. Post, at 4-5, n. 4. See also post, p. 1 (ALITO, J., concurring).

***

The only issue before us in this case is whether Connecticut Retirement has satisfied Rule 23(b)(3)'s requirement that "questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members." Although we have cautioned that a court's class-certification analysis must be "rigorous" and may "entail some overlap with the merits of the plaintiff's underlying claim," Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 564 U. S. ___, ___, 131 S. Ct. 2541, 180 L. Ed. 2d 374, 390 (2011) (internal quotation marks omitted), Rule 23 grants courts no license to engage in free-ranging merits inquiries at the certification stage. Merits questions may be considered to the extent—but only to the extent—that they are relevant to determining whether the Rule 23 prerequisites for class certification are satisfied. See id., at ___, n. 6 (564 U.S. ., at ___, n. 6, 131 S. Ct. 2541, 180 L. Ed. 2d 374, at 391) (a district court has no "'authority to conduct a preliminary inquiry into the merits of a suit'" at class certification unless it is necessary "to determine the propriety of certification" (quoting Eisen v. Carlisle & Jacquelin, 417 U. S. 156, 177, 94 S. Ct. 2140, 40 L. Ed. 2d 732 (1974))); Advisory Committee's 2003 Note on subd. (c)(1) of Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 23, 28 U. S. C. App., p. 144 ("[A]n evaluation of the probable outcome on the merits is not properly part of the certification decision.").

Bearing firmly in mind that the focus of Rule 23(b)(3) is on the predominance of common questions, we turn to Amgen's contention that the courts below erred by failing to require Connecticut Retirement to prove the materiality of Amgen's alleged misrepresentations and omissions before certifying Connecticut Retirement's proposed class. As Amgen notes, materiality is not only an element of the Rule 10b-5 cause of action; it is also an essential predicate of the fraud-on-the-market theory. See Basic, 485 U. S., at 247, 108 S. Ct. 978, 99 L. Ed. 2d 194 ("[W]here materially misleading statements have been disseminated into an impersonal, well-developed market for securities, the reliance of individual plaintiffs on the integrity of the market price may be presumed." (emphasis added)). That theory, Amgen correctly observes, is premised on the understanding that in an efficient market, all publicly available information is rapidly incorporated into, and thus transmitted to investors through, the market price. See id., at 246-247, 108 S. Ct. 978, 99 L. Ed. 2d 194. Because immaterial information, by definition, does not affect market price, it cannot be relied upon indirectly by investors who, as the fraud-on-the-market theory presumes, rely on the market price's integrity. Therefore, the fraud-on-the-market theory cannot apply absent a material misrepresentation or omission. And without the fraud-on-the-market theory, the element of reliance cannot be proved on a classwide basis through evidence common to the class. See id., at 242, 108 S. Ct. 978, 99 L. Ed. 2d 194. It thus follows, Amgen contends, that materiality must be proved before a securities-fraud class action can be certified.

Contrary to Amgen's argument, the key question in this case is not whether materiality is an essential predicate of the fraud-on-the-market theory; indisputably it is. Instead, the pivotal inquiry is whether proof of materiality is needed to ensure that the questions of law or fact common to the class will "predominate over any questions affecting only individual members" as the litigation progresses. Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 23(b)(3). For two reasons, the answer to this question is clearly "no."

Footnote 4. We agree with JUSTICE THOMAS that "[m]ateriality was central to the development, analysis, and adoption of the fraud-on-the-market theory both before Basic and in Basic itself." Post, at 18. We disagree, however, that the history of the fraud-on-the-market theory's development "confirms that materiality must be proved at the time that the theory is invoked--i.e., at certification." Ibid. As explained below, ... proof of materiality is not required prior to class certification because such proof is not necessary to ensure satisfaction of Rule 23(b)(3)'s predominance requirement.

First, because "[t]he question of materiality . . . is an objective one, involving the significance of an omitted or misrepresented fact to a reasonable investor," materiality can be proved through evidence common to the class. TSC Industries, Inc. v. Northway, Inc., 426 U. S. 438, 445, 96 S. Ct. 2126, 48 L. Ed. 2d 757 (1976). Consequently, materiality is a "common questio[n]" for purposes of Rule 23(b)(3). Basic, 485 U. S., at 242, 108 S. Ct. 978, 99 L. Ed. 2d 194 (listing "materiality" as one of the questions common to the Basic class members).

Second, there is no risk whatever that a failure of proof on the common question of materiality will result in individual questions predominating. ***

Totally misapprehending our essential point, JUSTICE THOMAS' dissent asserts that our "entire argument is based on the assumption that the fraud-on-the-market presumption need not be shown at certification because it will be proved later on the merits." Post, at 11, n. 9. Our position is not so based. We rest, instead, entirely on the text of Rule 23(b)(3), which provides for class certification if "the questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members." A failure of proof on the common question of materiality ends the litigation and thus will never cause individual questions of reliance or anything else to overwhelm questions common to the class. Therefore, under the plain language of Rule 23(b)(3), plaintiffs are not required to prove materiality at the class-certification stage. In other words, they need not, at that threshold, prove that the predominating question will be answered in their favor.

JUSTICE THOMAS urges that a plaintiff seeking class certification "must show that the elements of [her] claim are susceptible to classwide proof." Post, at 7. See also post, at 11 (criticizing the Court for failing to focus its analysis on "whether the element of reliance is susceptible to classwide proof"). From this premise, JUSTICE THOMAS concludes that Rule 10b-5 plaintiffs must prove materiality before class certification because (1) "materiality is a necessary component of fraud on the market," and (2) without fraud on the market, the Rule 10b-5 element of reliance is not "susceptible of a classwide answer." Post, at 6, 10-11. See also post, at 12 ("[I]f a plaintiff wishes to use Basic's presumption to prove that reliance is a common question, he must establish the entire presumption, including materiality, at the class certification stage.").

Rule 23(b)(3), however, does not require a plaintiff seeking class certification to prove that each "elemen[t] of [her] claim [is] susceptible to classwide proof." Post, at 7. What the rule does require is that common questions "predominate over any questions affecting only individual [class] members." Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 23(b)(3) (emphasis added). Nowhere does JUSTICE THOMAS explain how, in an action invoking the Basic presumption, a plaintiff class's failure to prove an essential element of its claim for relief will result in individual questions predominating over common ones. Absent proof of materiality, the claim of the Rule 10b-5 class will fail in its entirety; there will be no remaining individual questions to adjudicate.

Consequently, proof of materiality is not required to establish that a proposed class is "sufficiently cohesive to warrant adjudication by representation"--the focus of the predominance inquiry under Rule 23(b)(3). Amchem Products, Inc. v. Windsor, 521 U. S. 591, 623, 117 S. Ct. 2231, 138 L. Ed. 2d 689 (1997). No doubt a clever mind could conjure up fantastic scenarios in which an individual investor might rely on immaterial information (think of the superstitious investor who sells her securities based on a CEO's statement that a black cat crossed the CEO's path that morning). But such objectively unreasonable reliance does not give rise to a Rule 10b-5 claim. See TSC Industries, 426 U. S., at 445, 96 S. Ct. 2126, 48 L. Ed. 2d 757 (materiality is judged by an objective standard). Thus, "the individualized questions of reliance," post, at 9, n. 8, that hypothetically might arise when a failure of proof on the issue of materiality dooms the fraud-on-the-market class are far more imaginative than real. Such "individualized questions" do not undermine class cohesion and thus cannot be said to "predominate" for purposes of Rule 23(b)(3).

Because the question of materiality is common to the class, and because a failure of proof on that issue would not result in questions "affecting only individual members" predominating, Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 23(b)(3), Connecticut Retirement was not required to prove the materiality of Amgen's alleged misrepresentations and omissions at the class-certification stage. This is not a case in which the asserted problem--i.e., that the plaintiff class cannot prove materiality--"exhibits some fatal dissimilarity" among class members that would make use of the class-action device inefficient or unfair. Nagareda, Class Certification in the Age of Aggregate Proof, 84 N. Y. U. L. Rev. 97, 107 (2009). Instead, what Amgen alleges is "a fatal similarity--[an alleged] failure of proof as to an element of the plaintiffs' cause of action." Ibid. Such a contention is properly addressed at trial or in a ruling on a summary-judgment motion. The allegation should not be resolved in deciding whether to certify a proposed class. Ibid. See also Schleicher, 618 F. 3d, at 687 ("[W]hether a statement is materially false is a question common to all class members and therefore may be resolved on a class-wide basis after certification."). ***

6 Amgen advances a third argument founded on modern economic research tending to show that market efficiency is not "'a binary, yes or no question.'" Brief for Petitioners 32 (quoting Langevoort, Basic at Twenty: Rethinking Fraud on the Market, 2009 Wis. L. Rev. 151, 167). Instead, this research suggests, differences in efficiency can exist within a single market. [*28] For example, a market may more readily process certain forms of widely disseminated and easily digestible information, such as public merger announcements, than information more difficult to acquire and understand, such as obscure technical data buried in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. See, e.g., Macey & Miller, Good Finance, Bad Economics: An Analysis of the Fraud-on-the-Market Theory, 42 Stan. L. Rev. 1059, 1083-1087 (1990); Stout, The Mechanisms of Market Inefficiency: An Introduction to the New Finance, 28 J. Corp. L. 635, 653-656 (2003). Amgen, however, never clearly explains how this research on market efficiency bolsters its argument that courts should require precertification proof of materiality. In any event, this case is a poor vehicle for exploring whatever implications the research Amgen cites may have for the fraud-on-the-market presumption recognized in Basic. *** Amgen conceded in its answer that the market for its securities is "efficient" and thus "promptly digest[s] current information regarding Amgen from all publicly available sources and reflect[s] such information in Amgen's stock price." Consolidated Amended Class Action Complaint ¶¶199-200; Answer ¶¶199-200. See also App. to Pet. for Cert. 40a (relying on the admission in Amgen's answer and an unchallenged expert report submitted by Connecticut Retirement, the District Court expressly found that the market for Amgen's stock was efficient). Amgen remains bound by that concession. See American Title Ins. Co. v. Lacelaw Corp., 861 F. 2d 224, 226 (CA9 1988) ("Factual assertions in pleadings and pretrial orders, unless amended, are considered judicial admissions conclusively binding on the party who made them."); cf. Christian Legal Soc'y Chapter of Univ. of Cal., Hastings College of Law v. Martinez, 561 U. S. ___, ___, 130 S. Ct. 2971, 177 L. Ed. 2d 838, 878 (2010) ("This Court has . . . refused to consider a party's argument that contradicted a joint 'stipulation [entered] at the outset of th[e] litigation.'" (quoting Board of Regents of Univ. of Wis. System v. Southworth, 529 U. S. 217, 226, 120 S. Ct. 1346, 146 L. Ed. 2d 193 (2000))). We thus find nothing in the cited research that would support requiring precertification proof of materiality in this case.

Congress, we count it significant, has addressed the settlement pressures associated with securities-fraud class actions through means other than requiring proof of materiality at the class-certification stage. In enacting the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PSLRA), 109 Stat. 737, Congress recognized that although private securities-fraud litigation furthers important public-policy interests, prime among them, deterring wrongdoing and providing restitution to defrauded investors, such lawsuits have also been subject to abuse, including the "extract[ion]" of "extortionate 'settlements'" of frivolous claims. H. R. Conf. Rep. No. 104-369, pp. 31-32 (1995). The PSLRA's response to the perceived abuses was, inter alia, to "impos[e] heightened pleading requirements" for securities-fraud actions, "limit recoverable damages and attorney's fees, provide a 'safe harbor' for forward-looking statements, impose new restrictions on the selection of (and compensation awarded to) lead plaintiffs, mandate imposition of sanctions for frivolous litigation, and authorize a stay of discovery pending resolution of any motion to dismiss." Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc. v. Dabit, 547 U. S. 71, 81-82, 126 S. Ct. 1503, 164 L. Ed. 2d 179 (2006). See also 15 U. S. C. §78u-4 (2006 ed. and Supp. V). Congress later fortified the PSLRA by enacting the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998, 112 Stat. 3227, which curtailed plaintiffs' ability to evade the PSLRA's limitations on federal securities-fraud litigation by bringing class-action suits under state rather than federal law. See 15 U. S. C. §78bb(f)(1) (2006 ed.).

While taking these steps to curb abusive securities-fraud lawsuits, Congress rejected calls to undo the fraud-on-the-market presumption of classwide reliance endorsed in Basic. See Langevoort, Basic at Twenty: Rethinking Fraud on the Market, 2009 Wis. L. Rev. 151, 153, and n. 8 (noting that the initial version of H. R. 10, 104th Cong., 1st Sess. (1995), an unenacted bill that, like the PSLRA, was designed to curtail abuses in private securities litigation, "would have undone Basic"). See also Common Sense Legal Reform Act: Hearings before the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and Finance of the House Committee on Commerce, 104th Cong., 1st Sess., 92, 236-237, 251-252, 272 (1995) (witnesses criticized the fraud-on-the-market presumption and expressed support for H. R. 10's requirement that securities-fraud plaintiffs prove direct reliance). Nor did Congress decree that securities-fraud plaintiffs prove each element of their claim before obtaining class certification. Because Congress has homed in on the precise policy concerns raised in Amgen's brief, "[w]e do not think it appropriate for the judiciary to make its own further adjustments by reinterpreting Rule 23 to make likely success on the merits essential to class certification in securities-fraud suits." Schleicher, 618 F. 3d, at 686; cf. Smith v. Bayer Corp., 564 U. S. ___, ___, 131 S. Ct. 2368, 180 L. Ed. 2d 341, 356 (2011) ("Congress's decision to address the relitigation concerns associated with class actions through the mechanism of removal provides yet another reason for federal courts to adhere in this context to longstanding principles of preclusion.").

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