450 F.3d 1257 (11th Cir. 2006), 04-14894, Financial Security Assur., Inc. v. Stephens, Inc.

Docket Nº:04-14894.
Citation:450 F.3d 1257
Party Name:FINANCIAL SECURITY ASSURANCE, INC., Plaintiff-Appellant, v. STEPHENS, INC., Hayes, James & Associates, Inc., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:May 31, 2006
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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Page 1257

450 F.3d 1257 (11th Cir. 2006)

FINANCIAL SECURITY ASSURANCE, INC., Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

STEPHENS, INC., Hayes, James & Associates, Inc., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 04-14894.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit.

May 31, 2006

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Julie Ann Lierly, William H. Boice, Stephen E. Hudson, Kilpatrick Stockton, LLP, Atlanta, GA, Peter N. Wang, Friedman, Wang & Bleiberg, P.C., Kimberly J. Shur, Foley & Lardner, LLP, New York City, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Stacey Godfrey Evans, Thomas S. Richey, Powell Goldstein, LLP, Patrick Michael Phillips, John W. Greenfield, Greenfield, Bost & Kliros, P.C., Atlanta, GA, for Defendants-Appellees.

H. Peter Haveles, Jr., Arnold & Porter, LLP, John D. Gordan, III, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, LLP, New York City, for Amici Curiae.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, D. C. Docket No. 00-03181-CV-JOF-1

Before TJOFLAT and KRAVITCH, Circuit Judges, and LAWSON[*], District Judge.

KRAVITCH, Circuit Judge:

The primary issue presented in this case is whether an insurer of municipal bonds that becomes the owner of those bonds upon default has standing pursuant to § 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the "Exchange Act"), 15 U.S.C. § 78j(b), and Rule 10b-5 promulgated

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thereunder, 17 C.F.R. § 240.10b-5. The plaintiff, Financial Security Assurance, Inc. ("FSA"), appeals the district court's orders dismissing its Rule 10b-5 claim and granting summary judgment in favor of defendants Stephens, Inc. ("Stephens") and Hayes, James & Associates, Inc. ("Hayes James") on its claims for common law fraud and negligent misrepresentation. After thorough review, we reverse the district court's dismissal of the Rule 10b-5 claim and remand the matter for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. We affirm the district court's grant of summary judgment on the fraud and negligent misrepresentation claims.

I. Facts

In the early 1990s, Crisp County, Georgia approved plans for a regional solid waste processing facility (the "Facility"), which would extend the life of a newly-opened landfill by removing recyclable material from waste before dumping the remainder into the landfill. The County established the Solid Waste Management Authority of Crisp County (the "Authority") to construct and operate the Facility. To finance its initial construction, the Authority obtained approximately $53 million in short-term bank loans in 1996 (the "Bank Financing").

Once constructed, the Authority would obtain revenue for the Facility by accepting waste from cities, counties and private companies and by selling materials of value ("MOV") from the waste it collected. Accordingly, before the Facility was built, the Authority contracted with more than thirty of these entities (the "Participants"), each of which agreed to make minimum payments to the Authority based on the expected tonnage of waste the Authority would collect or the number of households the Authority would service in the city or county. They executed "put or pay" contracts. The Authority also contracted with TransWaste Services LLC ("TransWaste"), a waste hauler, to pick up the Participants' waste and deliver it to the Facility, paying a tipping fee for each ton delivered. TransWaste agreed to deliver enough waste for the Authority to break even. In turn, the Authority agreed that TransWaste would receive a rebate from the Authority's revenues from the sale of recyclable MOV.

The Authority contracted with defendant Hayes James for civil engineering services, including the conduct of a feasibility study based on the Bank Financing and the preparation of a report on the results of an Acceptance Test that Hayes James had developed for the Facility's equipment.

The Authority hired Stephens to act as underwriter for a bond financing for the Facility. In early 1998, Stephens prepared a Request for Proposal ("RFP") for potential credit enhancers, including FSA. The RFP included a pro forma financial representation (the "Pro Forma"). The RFP's disclaimer instructed potential credit enhancers to perform their own due diligence.

FSA assigned one of its employees, Margaret Gifford, to analyze the RFP and make a recommendation as to whether FSA should insure the bonds. Gifford toured the Facility and obtained information about the equipment, the quantities of waste delivered and processed, and the amount of MOV recovered. She recommended that FSA insure the bonds. Gifford's report noted that the Authority's contracts were the ultimate security for the bond issue. She reviewed only one sample contract between the Authority and a Participant, however, and she did not request copies of the contracts with TransWaste or with Crisp County. Gifford testified in her deposition that she did

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not perform any due diligence after July 28, 1998.

FSA submitted a bid in late July 1998, which was later accepted. The bid was conditioned on full review of all legal documentation pertaining to the deal.

The RFP indicated that the Facility would be subjected to an Acceptance Test to ensure that the Facility met its design specifications. Hayes James supplied the Acceptance Test's design specifications for inclusion in the RFP, based on the original contract created in connection with the Bank Financing. Hayes James made a few minor changes to these specifications and then provided them to Stephens for inclusion in the RFP. The Acceptance Test was administered after FSA agreed to insure the bonds. FSA never requested a copy of the test results, nor did it inquire as to how the Facility performed.

After Stephens accepted FSA's bid, Stephens's counsel prepared a Preliminary Official Statement (the "POS") for the Authority. Though her duties were officially finished by that point, Gifford testified that she did "glance at" the POS when it was provided to FSA. Ron Millet, in-house counsel for FSA, also testified that he read and made suggestions regarding at least one draft of the POS.

In October 1998, at the request of TransWaste, the Authority and TransWaste executed an amendment to their contract. The amendment extended the period for which TransWaste was eligible for its rebate based on MOV receipts and delayed enforcement of the break-even guarantee requirement. Stephens did not notify FSA of this amendment or the conversations that led to it. Also in October, Stephens, Hayes James and the Authority prepared a first-year budget for the Authority, which was sent to FSA. Hayes James also provided a budget certification letter (the "BCL"), certifying that the budget was reasonable.

The bond transaction closed on November 12, 1998 (the "Bond Closing"). The final version of the Official Statement (the "OS") was delivered to FSA just prior to the closing. Within two months of the Bond Closing, the Authority informed FSA that it was revising its budget and cash flow analysis. FSA terminated Gifford's employment shortly thereafter, based in part on her performance in this transaction. The Authority and TransWaste then further amended their contract by reducing the tipping fee and relieving TransWaste of its tonnage guarantee. Eventually, the Authority exhausted its debt service reserve fund and was unable to continue make payments on the bonds.

In anticipation of litigation, the parties to this action entered into a tolling agreement on March 29, 2000. On December 1, 2000, FSA brought the present action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, alleging federal securities fraud under Rule 10b-5 against Stephens, and state law claims for fraud and negligent misrepresentation against both Stephens and Hayes James. The district court later granted Stephens's Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss the federal securities claim. After a period of discovery, the defendants moved for summary judgment on the state law claims, which the district court granted, based primarily on FSA's failure to meet the due diligence requirements for justifiable reliance under Georgia law. FSA then filed the instant appeal.

II. Discussion

A. 10b-5 Standing

The district court dismissed FSA's Rule 10b-5 claim on the ground that FSA was not a purchaser or seller of securities as

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required by the Rule's authorizing statute, § 10(b) of the Exchange Act, 15 U.S.C. § 78j(b), and thus lacked standing to bring the claim. In Blue Chip Stamps v. Manor Drug Stores, 421 U.S. 723, 95 S.Ct. 1917, 44 L.Ed.2d 539 (1975), the Supreme Court endorsed the standing rule created by Birnbaum v. Newport Steel Corp., 193 F.2d 461, 464 (2d Cir. 1952), which permits only purchasers and sellers of securities, and those with contracts to purchase and sell securities, to bring suit under Rule 10b-5. The Blue Chip Stamps Court noted that three principal categories of plaintiffs are excluded from standing: (1) "potential purchasers of shares ... who allege that they decided not to purchase because of" the alleged violations; (2) "actual shareholders in the issuer who allege that they decided not to sell their shares because of" the alleged violations; and (3) "shareholders, creditors, and perhaps others related to an issuer who suffered loss in the value of their investment due to corporate or insider activities in connection with the purchase or sale of securities which violate Rule 10b-5." Blue Chip Stamps, 421 U.S. at 737-38, 95 S.Ct. 1917. Stephens contends that FSA is thus excluded.

We review de novo a district court's dismissal of a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, accepting the allegations in the complaint as true and construing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Roberts v. Fla. Power &...

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