Merrill Lynch, J.P. Morgan and Others fail to Obtain Dismissal of IPO Case by Houston Judge

In Texas, a Houston judge has ruled that a would-be class securities lawsuit filed against JP Morgan Securities, Inc., Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner and Smith and a number of other defendants can move forward. The plaintiffs were investors in Superior Offshore International Inc., a company that collapsed following a failed initial public offering. The four other defendants are former Superior company executives.

In the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Judge Nancy Atlas found that the plaintiffs met their burden when pleading material misrepresentations and omissions in Superior’s registration statement. She denied the defendants’ request to dismiss the complaint.

Superior Offshore International Inc. had provided commercial diving services and subsea construction to the natural gas and crude oil industry in the Gulf of Mexico. The company began IPO proceedings of about 10.2 million commercial shares at $15/share in April 2007. Merrill Lynch and JP Morgan acted as the primary underwriters. It was after this that Superior experienced major losses and its price dropped until it reached $1.08/share in April 2008. Soon after, Superior announced that it was shutting down operations.

In their consolidated class action, the plaintiffs claimed that while the registration statement revealed that the Superior board chairperson’s two sons were receiving salaries of $48,000 and $120,000, it failed to note that the two men weren’t doing any significant tasks for their respective incomes. The plaintiffs also questioned Superior’s claims that there was a high demand for its services and that certain hurricane-related projects were expected to continue for a number of years when, in fact, that work had declined significantly. They challenged Superior’s claim that it had multiple customers and maintained that the company had provided materially misleading data about its management team.

The defendants had tried dismissing the complaint by citing a failure to state a claim. They said they could not be held liable for events that transpired after the IPO. While the Texas court said it recognized that Superior’s registration statement included warnings about possible risks that could arise, it determined that the plaintiffs were not questioning the accuracy of the potential risks that were noted. Rather, the court said they were challenging the completeness and accuracy of the information Superior had provided about its current state at the time of the IPO.

Related Web Resources:

Superior Offshore International, Inc., Securities Class Action Clearing House, Stanford Law School
Superior Offshore International Confirms Plan of Liquidation, Stockhouse.com, January 30, 2009
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