A Mission Statement for Mutual Funds in Shareholder Litigation

98 Pages Posted: 22 Jul 2019 Last revised: 31 Jul 2020

See all articles by Sean J. Griffith

Sean J. Griffith

Fordham University School of Law; European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)

Dorothy S. Lund

Columbia Law School; European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)

Date Written: July 19, 2019


This Article analyzes the conduct of mutual funds in shareholder litigation. We begin by
reviewing the basic forms of shareholder litigation and the benefits such claims might offer
mutual fund investors. We then investigate, through an in-depth docket review, whether
and how the ten largest mutual funds participate in shareholder litigation. We find that
although shareholder suits offer potential benefits, the largest mutual funds have essentially
forfeited their use of litigation. This finding is particularly striking given that index funds
and other long-term oriented mutual funds generally cannot sell their shares when they
are dissatisfied with company performance, leaving them with only two levers in corporate
governance—voting and suing. Mutual funds vote, but they do not sue.

We analyze potential explanations for the failure of mutual funds to litigate on behalf of their
investors. Collective action problems and conflicts of interest raise significant obstacles
to mutual fund participation in shareholder litigation. Yet, we argue, there are situations in
which shareholder litigation could create value for mutual fund investors. We therefore turn
to the normative question: How should mutual funds litigate on behalf of their investors?
Answering this question allows us to articulate a mission statement for mutual funds in
shareholder litigation.

Our mission statement is grounded on the perspective of the broadly diversified “market
investor.” The repeat-play incentives and broad diversification of many mutual funds, index
funds in particular, suggests that they could create value by focusing principally on deterrence
objectives. Mutual funds should bring shareholder suits against portfolio companies when
doing so would meaningfully enhance deterrence. They should also scrutinize the litigation
brought by other shareholders, objecting to outcomes that fail to promote meaningful
deterrence. At the same time, mutual funds should focus on compensatory goals in litigation
against nonportfolio defendants because extraportfolio claims do not raise circularity
concerns. In addition, mutual funds should consider whether litigation can be used to
implement corporate governance reforms. Finally, in all cases, mutual funds should closely
monitor litigation agency costs. We close by suggesting ways in which the incentives of
mutual funds might be restructured to bring about these changes.

Keywords: mutual funds, index funds, institutional investors, corporate governance, stewardship, litigation, shareholder, engagement, monitoring, agency problems, activism, hedge fund, pension fund, market investor

JEL Classification: G23, G34, K22

Suggested Citation

Griffith, Sean J. and Lund, Dorothy S., A Mission Statement for Mutual Funds in Shareholder Litigation (July 19, 2019). University of Chicago Law Review, Forthcoming, European Corporate Governance Institute - Law Working Paper No. 468/2019, USC CLASS Research Paper No. CLASS19-23, USC Law Legal Studies Paper No. 19-23, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3422910

Sean J. Griffith (Contact Author)

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

150 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
United States

European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI) ( email )

c/o the Royal Academies of Belgium
Rue Ducale 1 Hertogsstraat
1000 Brussels

Dorothy S. Lund

Columbia Law School ( email )

435 West 116th St
NEW YORK, NY 10027

European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI) ( email )

c/o the Royal Academies of Belgium
Rue Ducale 1 Hertogsstraat
1000 Brussels

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