When Congress enacted the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“PSLRA”), it appeared to resolve a circuit split regarding the threshold required for pleading a securities fraud cause of action. The courts of appeal agreed that securities fraud required scienter, but disagreed over whether a plaintiff must allege more than the conclusion that scienter existed. Congress adopted the most stringent approach, as expressed by the Second Circuit, that a plaintiff must “state with particularity facts giving rise to a strong inference that the defendant acted with the requisite state of mind,” 15 U.S.C. § 78u-4(b)(1). However, Congress did not codify the Second Circuit’s jurisprudence concerning the meaning of the term “strong inference,” and as a result courts diverged regarding the construction of that term.
In resolving that split in Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 127 S. Ct. 2499 (June 21, 2007), the U.S. Supreme Court said its task was “to prescribe a workable construction of the ‘strong inference’ standard, a reading geared to the PSLRA’s twin goals: to curb frivolous, lawyer-driven litigation, while preserving investors’ ability to recover on meritorious claims.” Its solution was to require a three-step process: (1) accept all factual allegations as true; (2) consider the complaint in its entirety plus documents incorporated into the complaint by reference or available through judicial notice; and (3) determine the plausible opposing inferences regarding scienter and dismiss the complaint unless “a reasonable person would deem the inference of scienter cogent and at least as compelling as any opposing inference one could draw from the facts alleged.” The Court rejected the argument that weighing competing inferences impinged upon the jury’s role, finding that Congress had the power to establish any special pleading requirements, as it had done in the PSLRA.
Tellabs does not represent a further application of the new fact-pleading rules emerging under Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S. Ct. 1955 (May 21, 2007) (see previous post), because it involved interpretation of heightened pleading requirements specifically codified into statute, rather than the federal rules of civil procedure or common law.