Morrison v. Nat'l Austl. Bank Ltd.

Citation561 U.S. 247,130 S.Ct. 2869,177 L.Ed.2d 535
Decision Date24 June 2010
Docket NumberNo. 08–1191.,08–1191.
PartiesRobert MORRISON, et al., Petitioners, v. NATIONAL AUSTRALIA BANK LTD. et al.
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Thomas A. Dubbs

, for petitioners.

George T. Conway, III

, for respondents.

Matthew D. Roberts, for the United States as amicus curiae, by special leave of the Court, supporting respondents.

Eric Seiler

, Friedman Kaplan Seiler & Adelman LLP, New York, NY, A. Graham Allen, Rogers Towers, P.A., Jacksonville, FL, George T. Conway, III, Counsel of Record, John F. Lynch, Carrie M. Reilly, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, New York, NY, for Respondents.

Samuel Issacharoff, New York, NY, Thomas A. Dubbs

, Counsel of Record, James W. Johnson, Richard W. Joffe, Barry M. Okun, Labaton Sucharow LLP, New York, NY, for petitioners.Opinion

Justice SCALIA

delivered the opinion of the Court.

We decide whether § 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 provides a cause of action to foreign plaintiffs suing foreign and American defendants for misconduct in connection with securities traded on foreign exchanges.


Respondent National Australia Bank Limited (National) was, during the relevant time, the largest bank in Australia. Its Ordinary Shares—what in America would be called “common stock”—are traded on the Australian Stock Exchange Limited and on other foreign securities exchanges, but not on any exchange in the United States. There are listed on the New York Stock Exchange, however, National's American Depositary Receipts (ADRs), which represent the right to receive a specified number of National's Ordinary Shares. 547 F.3d 167, 168, and n. 1 (C.A.2 2008)


The complaint alleges the following facts, which we accept as true. In February 1998, National bought respondent HomeSide Lending, Inc., a mortgage servicing company headquartered in Florida. HomeSide's business was to receive fees for servicing mortgages (essentially the administrative tasks associated with collecting mortgage payments, see J. Rosenberg, Dictionary of Banking and Financial Services 600 (2d ed.1985)). The rights to receive those fees, so-called mortgage-servicing rights, can provide a valuable income stream. See 2 The New Palgrave Dictionary of Money and Finance 817 (P. Newman, M. Milgate, & J. Eatwell eds.1992). How valuable each of the rights is depends, in part, on the likelihood that the mortgage to which it applies will be fully repaid before it is due, terminating the need for servicing. HomeSide calculated the present value of its mortgage-servicing rights by using valuation models designed to take this likelihood into account. It recorded the value of its assets, and the numbers appeared in National's financial statements.

From 1998 until 2001, National's annual reports and other public documents touted the success of HomeSide's business, and respondents Frank Cicutto (National's managing director and chief executive officer), Kevin Race (HomeSide's chief operating officer), and Hugh Harris (HomeSide's chief executive officer) did the same in public statements. But on July 5, 2001, National announced that it was writing down the value of HomeSide's assets by $450 million; and then again on September 3, by another $1.75 billion. The prices of both Ordinary Shares and ADRs slumped. After downplaying the July write-down, National explained the September write-down as the result of a failure to anticipate the lowering of prevailing interest rates (lower interest rates lead to more refinancings, i.e., more early repayments of mortgages), other mistaken assumptions in the financial models, and the loss of goodwill. According to the complaint, however, HomeSide, Race, Harris, and another HomeSide senior executive who is also a respondent here had manipulated HomeSide's financial models to make the rates of early repayment unrealistically low in order to cause the mortgage-servicing rights to appear more valuable than they really were. The complaint also alleges that National and Cicutto were aware of this deception by July 2000, but did nothing about it.

As relevant here, petitioners Russell Leslie Owen and Brian and Geraldine Silverlock, all Australians, purchased National's Ordinary Shares in 2000 and 2001, before the write-downs.1 They sued National, HomeSide, Cicutto, and the three HomeSide executives in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York for alleged violations of §§ 10(b) and 20(a) of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934, 48 Stat. 891, 15 U.S.C. §§ 78j(b)

and 78t(a), and SEC Rule 10b–5, 17 CFR § 240.10b–5 (2009), promulgated pursuant to § 10(b).2 They sought to represent a class of foreign purchasers of National's Ordinary Shares during a specified period up to the September write-down. 547 F.3d, at 169.

Respondents moved to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1)

and for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). The District Court granted the motion on the former ground, finding no jurisdiction because the acts in this country were, “at most, a link in the chain of an alleged overall securities fraud scheme that culminated abroad.” In re National Australia Bank Securities Litigation, No. 03 Civ. 6537(BSJ), 2006 WL 3844465, *8 (S.D.N.Y., Oct.25, 2006). The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed on similar grounds. The acts performed in the United States did not “compris[e] the heart of the alleged fraud.” 547 F.3d, at 175–176. We granted certiorari, 558 U.S. 1047, 130 S.Ct. 783, 175 L.Ed.2d 513 (2009).


Before addressing the question presented, we must correct a threshold error in the Second Circuit's analysis. It considered the extraterritorial reach of § 10(b) to raise a question of subject-matter jurisdiction, wherefore it affirmed the District Court's dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1)

. See 547 F.3d, at 177. In this regard it was following Circuit precedent, see Schoenbaum v. Firstbrook, 405 F.2d 200, 208, modified on other grounds en banc, 405 F.2d 215 (1968). The Second Circuit is hardly alone in taking this position, see, e.g.,

In re CP Ships Ltd. Securities Litigation, 578 F.3d 1306, 1313 (C.A.11 2009); Continental Grain (Australia) Pty. Ltd. v. Pacific Oilseeds, Inc., 592 F.2d 409, 421 (C.A.8 1979).

But to ask what conduct § 10(b) reaches is to ask what conduct § 10(b) prohibits, which is a merits question. Subject-matter jurisdiction, by contrast, “refers to a tribunal's “power to hear a case.” Union Pacific R. Co. v. Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Gen. Comm. of Adjustment, Central Region, 558 U.S. 67, ––––, 130 S.Ct. 584, 596, 175 L.Ed.2d 428 (2009)

(quoting Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 514, 126 S.Ct. 1235, 163 L.Ed.2d 1097 (2006), in turn quoting United States v. Cotton, 535 U.S. 625, 630, 122 S.Ct. 1781, 152 L.Ed.2d 860 (2002)). It presents an issue quite separate from the question whether the allegations the plaintiff makes entitle him to relief. See Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 682, 66 S.Ct. 773, 90 L.Ed. 939 (1946). The District Court here had jurisdiction under 15 U.S.C. § 78aa3 to adjudicate the question whether § 10(b) applies to National's conduct.

In view of this error, which the parties do not dispute, petitioners ask us to remand. We think that unnecessary. Since nothing in the analysis of the courts below turned on the mistake, a remand would only require a new Rule 12(b)(6)

label for the same Rule 12(b)(1) conclusion. As we have done before in situations like this, see, e.g.,

Romero v. International Terminal Operating Co., 358 U.S. 354, 359, 381–384, 79 S.Ct. 468, 3 L.Ed.2d 368 (1959), we proceed to address whether petitioners' allegations state a claim.


It is a “longstanding principle of American law ‘that legislation of Congress, unless a contrary intent appears, is meant to apply only within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.’ EEOC v. Arabian American Oil Co., 499 U.S. 244, 248, 111 S.Ct. 1227, 113 L.Ed.2d 274 (1991)

(Aramco) (quoting Foley Bros., Inc. v. Filardo, 336 U.S. 281, 285, 69 S.Ct. 575, 93 L.Ed. 680 (1949)). This principle represents a canon of construction, or a presumption about a statute's meaning, rather than a limit upon Congress's power to legislate, see Blackmer v. United States, 284 U.S. 421, 437, 52 S.Ct. 252, 76 L.Ed. 375 (1932). It rests on the perception that Congress ordinarily legislates with respect to domestic, not foreign matters. Smith v. United States, 507 U.S. 197, 204, n. 5, 113 S.Ct. 1178, 122 L.Ed.2d 548 (1993). Thus, “unless there is the affirmative intention of the Congress clearly expressed” to give a statute extraterritorial effect, we must presume it is primarily concerned with domestic conditions.” Aramco, supra, at 248, 111 S.Ct. 1227 (internal quotation marks omitted). The canon or presumption applies regardless of whether there is a risk of conflict between the American statute and a foreign law, see Sale v. Haitian Centers Council, Inc., 509 U.S. 155, 173–174, 113 S.Ct. 2549, 125 L.Ed.2d 128 (1993)

. When a statute gives no clear indication of an extraterritorial application, it has none.

Despite this principle of interpretation, long and often recited in our opinions, the Second Circuit believed that, because the Exchange Act is silent as to the extraterritorial application of § 10(b), it was left to the court to “discern” whether Congress would have wanted the statute to apply. See 547 F.3d, at 170

(internal quotation marks omitted). This disregard of the presumption against extraterritoriality did not originate with the Court of Appeals panel in this case. It has been repeated over many decades by various courts of appeals in determining the application of the Exchange Act, and § 10(b) in particular, to fraudulent schemes that involve conduct and effects abroad. That has produced a collection of tests for divining what Congress would have wanted, complex in formulation and unpredictable in application.

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