PREMIUM PLUS PARTNERS v. GOLDMAN, SACHS & CO. (August 5, 2011)

On October 31, 2001, a Goldman Sachs employee provided its traders with certain information about 30-year government bonds that had not yet been made public. The traders bought futures contracts for the 30-year bonds and made a lot of money when the bonds’ price rose significantly. Unfortunately, their abnormal trading practices led to an SEC investigation. The SEC filed a civil complaint in September 2003. In March of 2004, Premium Plus Partners brought a class action on behalf of traders who had short positions in the bonds on October 31, no matter when they sold. Judge Der-Yeghiayan (N.D. Ill.) denied class certification. George Tomlinson, an individual investor who held a short position on October 31, then filed suit along with four other individual investors. Judge Bucklo (N.D. Ill.) dismissed the complaint on the pleadings, concluding that the two year statute of limitations had run before the class action had been filed (during which it would have been suspended). Meanwhile, in the Premium case, Goldman Sachs made an offer of judgment for the full amount of Premium's damages plus interest. Premium accepted the offer but also wanted to continue with the suit in order to certify a class and spread its costs among other class members. The court entered judgment on the Rule 68 offer and rejected Premium's proposed plan. Tomlinson then sought to intervene as class representative. The court denied that motion. Premium appeals the order denying class certification, Tomlinson appeals the order denying his motion to intervene, and Tomlinson also appeals the order dismissing his individual suit.

In their opinion, Seventh Circuit Chief Judge Easterbrook and Judges Sykes and Tinder affirmed with a modification. The Court first addressed the individual Tomlinson appeal. On the statute of limitations question, the Court assumed that the Merck federal securities fraud rule applies to a commodities fraud case because it was more favorable to Tomlinson than the understanding of the statute under the Commodity Exchange Act. Under Merck, the statute does not begin to run until the plaintiff discovers (or could have discovered) the essential facts of the violation, including scienter. Tomlinson admits that he was aware of his injury on October 31 and learned soon thereafter that Goldman Sachs had traded on nonpublic information. The central question, then, is whether Tomlinson could have discovered that Goldman Sachs acted with scienter. The Court concluded that all the facts regarding the transactions were in the public domain well before April of 2002. The fact that Goldman Sachs denied it and that the SEC did not file until late 2003 is of no moment. The district court did not err in dismissing the individual Tomlinson suit. The Court's decision on that appeal made their analysis of Tomlinson's intervention appeal rather simple. Since he has filed and lost his individual suit, he is not even a member of a potential class, much less an effective representative of the class. The Court turned to Premium's appeal. It noted that Premium had two options: a) it could have rejected the Rule 68 offer and continued with the case, or b) it could have accepted the Rule 68 offer and keep the case alive long enough for a viable class representative to intervene and pursue the class allegations. It cannot do what it wants to do -- continue to push ahead with the case as class representative in the hopes of spreading some of its costs and increasing its net recovery. Finally, the Court did find an error in the district court's computation of interest. The court should have calculated a compound, rather than simple, interest. The Court remanded for a recalculation.