PSLRA Class Action Defense Cases–Cornelia I. Crowell GST Trust v. Possis Medical: Eighth Circuit Affirms Dismissal Of Securities Fraud Class Action Holding Allegations In Class Action Complaint Failed To Meet PSLRA’s Heightened Pleading Requirements

May 7, 2008 | By: Michael J. Hassen

District Court Properly Dismissed Securities Fraud Class Action Without Leave to Amend because Class Action Complaint Failed to Satisfy Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (PSLRA) Pleading Requirements Eighth Circuit Holds

Plaintiff filed a class action complaint against Possis Medical and two individuals alleging securities fraud violations. The class action alleged that after Possis Medical decided in 2001 to study whether its non-surgical catheter system, designed to remove blood clots, could be used for other medical procedures, it “made several public statements regarding the study’s potentially favorable impact on company revenues”; however, in August 2004, Possis Medical released the results of its study “which did not support expanded…usage.” The precipitous drop in stock value led plaintiff to file her putative class action. Cornelia I. Crowell GST Trust v. Possis Medical, Inc., 519 F.3d 778, 781 (8th Cir. 2008). Defense attorneys moved to dismiss the class action on the ground that the class action complaint “failed to meet the heightened pleading standards” required by the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (PSLRA), id. The district court granted the motion and dismissed the class action complaint, without granting leave to amend, on the ground that the pleadings were insufficient under the PSLRA. Id. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that the class action adequately alleged securities fraud or, alternatively, that the district court erred in failing to grant leave to file an amended class action complaint, id. The Eighth Circuit affirmed.

With respect to the motion to dismiss the class action, the district court found that the complaint “failed to establish that Possis Medical had misrepresented a material fact or acted with the required scienter.” Crowell Trust, at 782. The Eighth Circuit agreed. First, the class action failed to “provide the level of detail” required to support the misrepresentation element: “‘[R]ote allegations that the defendants knowingly made false statements of material fact’ alone are insufficient.” Id. (quoting In re Navarre Corp. Sec. Litig., 299 F.3d 735, 745 (8th Cir. 2002)). The Circuit Court held that the anonymous statements relied on by plaintiff failed to provide the necessary “who, what, when, where and how” of the allegedly actionable statements. Id., at 782. Moreover, the scienter element was missing because the court cannot focus on isolated acts but rather must consider “‘whether all the facts alleged, taken collectively, give rise to a strong inference of scienter, not whether any allegation, scrutinized in isolation meets that standard.’” Id. (quoting Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., ___ U.S. ___, 127 S.Ct. 2499, 2502 (2007)). The mere fact that the study was important was insufficient to establish scienter, id., at 783.

With respect to the denial of leave to amend, the Circuit Court noted that plaintiff “failed to demonstrate any meaningful basis upon which it could amend its complaint to comply with the heightened securities pleading standards”; accordingly, the trial court did not err in refusing to grant leave to amend. Crowell Trust, at 784. The Eighth Circuit therefore affirmed the district court order, id.

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