The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida has decided not to throw out a securities fraud lawsuit filed by a couple of unsophisticated investors contending that allegedly false oral misrepresentations were made to them causing them to think that their money would be placed in low risk, conservative investments when, in fact, the financial instruments recommended for them were very volatile and speculative. The case is Hemenway v. Bartoletta.
Plaintiff Jason Hemenway had received about $13.8 million in a lump sum after winning the Florida lottery in 2007. He and his wife then opened up an investment account at Capital City Bank Trust Co. Although they expressed a preference for investments with low risks, two of the financial firm’s representatives, private equity group High Street Capital Management LLC managers John Bartoletta and Erick Arnett, convinced the couple to move their money to a hedge fund limited partnership. High Street was that fund’s general partner.
Arnett and Bartoletta allegedly told the Hemenways that the investment was conservative and safe even though it wasn’t really appropriate for unsophisticated investors. The two men also failed to mention that the interests of the limited partnership were a lot risker than traditional equities and bonds and weren’t in line with the couple’s risk tolerance or investment goals.
Over 14 months the couple lost about $1.2 million. That is when they filed a federal securities fraud lawsuit against Bartoletta, Arnett, and High Street Capital Management, LLC, High Street Financial, LLC, and High Street Group, LLC.
The defendants sought to have the federal securities case dismissed on the grounds of failure to state a claim. Not only did they want the other allegations dropped due to lack of subject matter jurisdiction, but also they argued that the alleged misrepresentations and omissions could be countered because the plaintiffs had been given written documents that contradicted the statements made to them. Countering the defendants’ reasons for why the case should be dismissed, the plaintiffs argued that even though they were given written materials to counter any alleged misrepresentations (and omissions), they still had a valid claim under the 1934 Securities Exchange Act Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5.
Explaining its decision to reject the defendants’ dismissal motion, the district court noted that although per “usual presumption” a plaintiff has no justification for depending on oral representation rather than what is written, a previous decision issued by an appeals court in another case, Bruschi v. Brow, had found that there are circumstances that warrant a departure from this presumption. That ruling took into consideration the plaintiff’s sophistication regarding financial matters (or lack thereof), whether the defendant and plaintiff have a longstanding relationship and if it is a fiduciary one, how much access the plaintiff had to material information, if the plaintiff was the one that sought the transaction, and the specifics of the alleged misrepresentations.
Now, in Hemenway v. Bartoletta, this court has found that “no single factor” was “dispositive” and that all factors must be considered when deciding whether reliance is merited. Therefore, the defendants’ motion to dismiss is denied.
Reliance Issues Bar Dismissal Of Suit by Unsophisticated Investors,Bloomberg/BNA, April 19, 2012
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