Determining whether a company has a duty to disclose a governmental investigation is always a complicated process, and the outcome of cases alleging the existence of such a duty depends on the specific facts and circumstances. That being said, you can add the 2nd Circuit’s recent decision in Noto v. 22nd Century Group, Inc. (2d. Cir. 5/22) to the list of cases finding that the plaintiffs sufficiently alleged that a company had a duty to disclose the existence of an SEC investigation. This excerpt from a recent Proskauer blog summarizes the decision and its potential implications:
The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit yesterday reversed the dismissal of a securities class action alleging fraud based on the defendants’ failure to disclose an SEC investigation into the company’s disclosed financial-control weaknesses. The May 24, 2022 ruling in Noto v. 22nd Century Group, Inc. (No. 21-0347) is fact-specific, requiring disclosure of the investigation because the defendants (i) had disclosed the accounting deficiencies that had led to the investigation, (ii) had said they were working on the problem, and (iii) eventually had said they had resolved it, even though the SEC investigation had been pending during that entire period.
The Noto decision could affect disclosure assessments where issuers disclose an underlying accounting problem or other deficiency but are debating whether they must also disclose a pending SEC or other governmental investigation related to that specific problem. Depending on the facts and circumstances of the particular situation, a court might hold that failure to disclose the governmental investigation makes the disclosure of the underlying problem materially misleading because nondisclosure of the investigation could cause reasonable investors to make “an overly optimistic assessment of the risk” posed by the underlying problem.
– John Jenkins