Did the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act Work?
77 Pages Posted: 13 Nov 2002
Date Written: October 2002
In 1995 Congress passed the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act to address abuses in securities fraud class actions. In the wake of Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia, and other high profile securities frauds, critics suggest that the law made it too easy to escape liability for securities fraud and thus created a climate in which frauds are more likely to occur. Others claim that the Act has largely failed because it did little to deter plaintiff's lawyers from filing non-meritorious cases. This article employs a database of the 1,449 class actions filed from 1996 through 2001 to explore whether the Act achieved several of its primary goals - discouraging the filing of non-meritorious suits, reducing litigation risk for high technology issuers, and reducing the "race to the courthouse," whereby class actions were filed soon after significant stock price declines, apparently with very little pre-filing investigation.
The picture that emerges from studying these data is that the PSLRA did not work as intended. This article demonstrates that as many or more class actions are filed after the Act as before. High technology issuers remain at significantly greater risk than issuers in other industries. There is statistically significant evidence, however, that suggests that the Act improved overall case quality at least in the circuit that most strictly interprets one of the Act's key provisions, a heightened pleading standard. The data in the article also demonstrate that Congress did not achieve its goal of increasing the filing delay in class actions. Actions are filed as quickly now as they were before passage of the Act. Nonetheless, that too may provide indirect evidence that plaintiff's attorneys are selecting more apparent cases of fraud that require less pre-filing investigation.
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