Securities Class Actions as Pragmatic Ex Post Regulation

69 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2008 Last revised: 1 Oct 2015

Date Written: January 14, 2009


Securities class actions are on the chopping block-again. Traditional commentators continue to view class actions with suspicion; they see class suits as nonmeritorious byproducts of self-interest and the attorneys who bring them as rent-seekers. Their conventional approach has popularized securities class actions' negative effects. High-profile commissions capitalizing on this rhetoric, such as the Committee on Capital Markets Regulation, have recently recommended eliminating or severely curtailing securities class actions. But this approach misses the point: in the ongoing push and pull of securities regulation, corporations are winning the battle.

Thus, understanding the full picture and texture of securities class actions necessitates a positive pragmatic account. This Article provides that account and thus fills a significant gap in the benefit side of academic cost-benefit literature. To do so, however, it self-consciously begins from a controversial assumption: namely, that securities class actions provide a public good. Integrating both public and private actors into ex post enforcement diminishes collective action dilemmas, agency inaction, and private resolution of public law matters through arbitration. Moreover, by supplementing ex post enforcement, securities class actions produce positive externalities, spillover effects that confer public advantages such as: innovation, cost-reduction through information sharing, deterrence, transparent judicial process, and both corporate and enforcement accountability. So, while I harbor no illusion that the securities class action always functions optimally and have a number of lingering doctrinal and jurisprudential concerns about its operation, I also recognize its comparative institutional capability to make transparent an increasingly opaque process, craft decisional rules and interpretations that guide future behavior, cultivate innovation, deter fraud, and hold corporations, exchanges, and the SEC publicly accountable. This piece thus envisions the ramifications of eliminating securities class actions by imagining a world with government-centric securities enforcement. That world, I contend, is one steeped in bureaucracy, one failing to produce behavior-guiding precedent, one filled with closed-door arbitrations, one neglecting nonprioritized misconduct, and one ignoring litigant preference for judicial process. In short, it is a world less preferable than our current system-flawed though it is.

Keywords: corporate governance, securities class actions, regulation, enforcement, SEC, public good, transparency, accountability, innovation, private rights of action

Suggested Citation

Burch, Elizabeth Chamblee, Securities Class Actions as Pragmatic Ex Post Regulation (January 14, 2009). Georgia Law Review, Vol. 43, p. 63, 2008, FSU College of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 308, FSU College of Law, Law and Economics Paper No. 08-08, Available at SSRN:

Elizabeth Chamblee Burch (Contact Author)

University of Georgia Law School ( email )

225 Herty Drive
Athens, GA 30602
United States

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