Did Jamie Dimon engage in securities fraud when he downplayed the London Whale trading scandal as a “tempest in a teapot”? Thanks to a ruling issued on Monday, we could eventually see a ruling on that question—or a settlement to make it go away.
U.S. District Judge George Daniels in Manhattan refused to dismiss claims by JPM shareholders that the bank fraudulently concealed its exposure from risky bets on credit derivatives by traders in its London office, including one dubbed the London Whale by his cohorts because of his outsized bets. Daniels also allowed shareholders to proceed with parallel claims against Dimon, the bank’s CEO, and former CFO Douglas Braunstein.
Plaintiffs lawyers filed several class action complaints against JPM and its executives in May 2012, soon after the positions of the London-based traders came to light. The cases were consolidated before Daniels, who named three firms to lead the litigation: Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann, Kessler Topaz Meltzer & Check and Grant & Eisenhofer.
The plaintiffs alleged that the bank’s leaders purposefully misled investors about how much money was at risk. With regard to the tempest in a teapot quip, which Dimon made in an April 2012 earnings call, they alleged that he knew it was false because he sent an email approving of a more risky approach. (JPM disclosed the email as part of an investigation by U.S. and U.K. regulators, which culminated in a $920 million settlement in September 2013.)
In Monday’s ruling, Daniels wrote that the plaintiffs adequately alleged that JPM, Dimon and Braunstein violated various securities laws, including Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The judge concluded that there’s evidence from which one could find that Dimon and Braunstein made public statements that they knew were inaccurate.
The ruling wasn’t a total loss for JPM’s lawyers at Sullivan & Cromwell, led by Daryl Libow. Daniels wrote that the plaintiffs didn’t present enough evidence tying three individual defendants to the wrongdoing, and dismissed them from the case. The now-dismissed defendants are former cohead of investment Michael Cavanagh, former chief investment officer Ina Drew and former regulatory affairs chief Barry Zubrow.
In separate rulings, Daniels also agreed Monday to dismiss related ERISA and derivative claims against the bank.