Reforming Securities Litigation Reform: Restructuring the Relationship Between Public and Private Enforcement of Rule 10b-5
66 Pages Posted: 24 Feb 2008 Last revised: 18 Nov 2008
For years, commentators have debated how to reform the controversial Rule 10b-5 class action, without pausing to ask whether the game is worth the candle. Is private enforcement of Rule 10b-5 worth preserving, or might we be better off with exclusive public enforcement? This fundamental and neglected question demands attention today more than ever. An academic consensus has now emerged that private enforcement of Rule 10b-5 cannot be defended on compensatory grounds, at least in its most common form (a fraud-on-the-market class action brought against a non-trading issuer). That leaves the oft-cited, but under-theorized, rationale that private enforcement is a necessary supplement to the securities fraud deterrence efforts of the SEC. When this justification is critically examined, however, it proves to be highly debatable. A rich body of law and economics scholarship teaches that bounty hunter enforcement of an overbroad law, like Rule 10b-5, may lead to overdeterrence and stymie governmental efforts to set effective enforcement policy (even assuming away strike suits and the agency costs that attend class action litigation); if private enforcement is nevertheless desirable - a contestable proposition - it is because a world without it might result in even greater deviations from optimal deterrence, due to SEC budgetary constraints, inefficiency and/or capture.
By carefully explicating the relative advantages and disadvantages of private Rule 10b-5 enforcement versus exclusive public enforcement, this Article reveals a new and better way to remedy the shortcomings of the Rule 10b-5 class action. It proposes that policymakers adopt an oversight approach to securities litigation reform by, for example, granting the SEC the ability to screen which Rule 10b-5 class actions may be filed, and against whom. By muting the overdeterrence threat of private litigation and placing the SEC back firmly at the helm of Rule 10b-5 enforcement policy, this approach would mitigate the primary disadvantages of private enforcement. Moreover, by preserving a private check on SEC inefficiency and capture and allowing the SEC to continue to supplement its budget with private enforcement resources, it would do so without eliminating the primary advantages of the current system. This approach stands in stark contrast to prior securities litigation reforms, which have responded to the overdeterrence threat posed by Rule 10b-5 class actions by rigidly narrowing the scope of private liability. This Article argues that an oversight approach to securities litigation reform carries distinct advantages over this narrowing approach, and ought to receive serious consideration in the ongoing policy debate.
Keywords: bounty hunter, capital markets, class action, deterrence, discretionary nonenforcement, fair funds, fraud, fraud-on-the-market, implied right, overdeterrence, oversight, private attorney general, private enforcement, public enforcement, Rule 10b-5, SEC, securities, securities fraud, Stoneridge
JEL Classification: A12, G28, K00, K20, K22, K23, K40, K41, K42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation