Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd.
551 U.S. ___ (2007)

Annotate this Case

SYLLABUS
OCTOBER TERM, 2006
TELLABS, INC. V. MAKOR ISSUES & RIGHTS, LTD.


SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

TELLABS, INC., et al. v. MAKOR ISSUES & RIGHTS, LTD., et al.

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the seventh circuit

No. 06–484. Argued March 28, 2007—Decided June 21, 2007

As a check against abusive litigation in private securities fraud actions, the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PSLRA) includes exacting pleading requirements. The Act requires plaintiffs to state with particularity both the facts constituting the alleged violation, and the facts evidencing scienter, i.e.,the defendant’s intention “to deceive, manipulate, or defraud.” Ernst & Ernst v. Hochfelder, 425 U. S. 185, 194, and n. 12. As set out in §21D(b)(2), plaintiffs must “state with particularity facts giving rise to a strong inference that the defendant acted with the required state of mind.” 15 U. S. C. §78u–4(b)(2). Congress left the key term “strong inference” undefined.

      Petitioner Tellabs, Inc., manufactures specialized equipment for fiber optic networks. Respondents (Shareholders) purchased Tellabs stock between December 11, 2000, and June 19, 2001. They filed a class action, alleging that Tellabs and petitioner Notebaert, then Tellabs’ chief executive officer and president, had engaged in securities fraud in violation of §10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Securities and Exchange Commission Rule 10b–5, and that Notebaert was a “controlling person” under the 1934 Act, and therefore derivatively liable for the company’s fraudulent acts. Tellabs moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground that the Shareholders had failed to plead their case with the particularity the PSLRA requires. The District Court agreed, dismissing the complaint without prejudice. The Shareholders then amended their complaint, adding references to 27 confidential sources and making further, more specific, allegations concerning Notebaert’s mental state. The District Court again dismissed, this time with prejudice. The Shareholders had sufficiently pleaded that Notebaert’s statements were misleading, the court determined, but they had insufficiently alleged that he acted with scienter. The Seventh Circuit reversed in relevant part. Like the District Court, it found that the Shareholders had pleaded the misleading character of Notebaert’s statements with sufficient particularity. Unlike the District Court, however, it concluded that the Shareholders had sufficiently alleged that Notebaert acted with the requisite state of mind. In evaluating whether the PSLRA’s pleading standard is met, the Circuit said, courts should examine all of the complaint’s allegations to decide whether collectively they establish an inference of scienter; the complaint would survive, the court stated, if a reasonable person could infer from the complaint’s allegations that the defendant acted with the requisite state of mind.

Held: To qualify as “strong” within the intendment of §21D(b)(2), an inference of scienter must be more than merely plausible or reasonable—it must be cogent and at least as compelling as any opposing inference of nonfraudulent intent. Pp. 6–18.

   (a) Setting a uniform pleading standard for §10(b) actions was among Congress’ objectives in enacting the PSLRA. Designed to curb perceived abuses of the §10(b) private action, the PSLRA installed both substantive and procedural controls. As relevant here, §21D(b) of the PSLRA “impose[d] heightened pleading requirements in [§10(b) and Rule 10b–5] actions.” Dabit, 547 U. S., at 81. In the instant case, the District Court and the Seventh Circuit agreed that the complaint sufficiently specified Notebaert’s alleged misleading statements and the reasons why the statements were misleading. But those courts disagreed on whether the Shareholders, as required by §21D(b)(2), “state[d] with particularity facts giving rise to a strong inference that [Notebaert] acted with [scienter],” §78u–4(b)(2). Congress did not shed much light on what facts would create a strong inference or how courts could determine the existence of the requisite inference. With no clear guide from Congress other than its “inten[tion] to strengthen existing pleading requirements,” H. R. Conf. Rep., at 41, Courts of Appeals have diverged in construing the term “strong inference.” Among the uncertainties, should courts consider competing inferences in determining whether an inference of scienter is “strong”? This Court’s task is 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. Pp. 6–10.

   (b) The Court establishes the following prescriptions: First, faced with a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss a §10(b) action, courts must, as with any motion to dismiss for failure to plead a claim on which relief can be granted, accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true. See Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence and Coordination Unit, 507 U. S. 163, 164. Second, courts must consider the complaint in its entirety, as well as other sources courts ordinarily examine when ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions. The inquiry is whether all of the facts alleged, taken collectively, give rise to a strong inference of scienter, not whether any individual allegation, scrutinized in isolation, meets that standard. Third, in determining whether the pleaded facts give rise to a “strong” inference of scienter, the court must take into account plausible opposing inferences. The Seventh Circuit expressly declined to engage in such a comparative inquiry. But in §21D(b)(2), Congress did not merely require plaintiffs toallege facts from which an inference of scienter rationally could be drawn. Instead, Congress required plaintiffs to plead with particularity facts that give rise to a “strong”—i.e., a powerful or cogent—inference. To determine whether the plaintiff has alleged facts giving rise to the requisite “strong inference,” a court must consider plausible nonculpable explanations for the defendant’s conduct, as well as inferences favoring the plaintiff. The inference that the defendant acted with scienter need not be irrefutable, but it must be more than merely “reasonable” or “permissible”—it must be cogent and compelling, thus strong in light of other explanations. A complaint will survive only if a reasonable person would deem the inference of scienter cogent and at least as compelling as any plausible opposing inference one could draw from the facts alleged. Pp. 11–13.

   (c) Tellabs contends that when competing inferences are considered, Notebaert’s evident lack of pecuniary motive will be dispositive. The Court agrees that motive can be a relevant consideration, and personal financial gain may weigh heavily in favor of a scienter inference. The absence of a motive allegation, however, is not fatal for allegations must be considered collectively; the significance that can be ascribed to an allegation of motive, or lack thereof, depends on the complaint’s entirety. Tellabs also maintains that several of the Shareholders’ allegations are too vague or ambiguous to contribute to a strong inference of scienter. While omissions and ambiguities count against inferring scienter, the court’s job is not to scrutinize each allegation in isolation but to access all the allegations holistically. Pp. 13–15.

   (d) The Seventh Circuit was unduly concerned that a court’s comparative assessment of plausible inferences would impinge upon the Seventh Amendment right to jury trial. Congress, as creator of federal statutory claims, has power to prescribe what must be pleaded to state the claim, just as it has power to determine what must be proved to prevail on the merits. It is the federal lawmaker’s prerogative, therefore, to allow, disallow, or shape the contours of—including the pleading and proof requirements for—§10(b) private actions. This Court has never questioned that authority in general, or suggested, in particular, that the Seventh Amendment inhibits Congress from establishing whatever pleading requirements it finds appropriate for federal statutory claims. Provided that the Shareholders have satisfied the congressionally “prescribe[d] … means of making an issue,” Fidelity & Deposit Co. of Md. v. United States, 187 U. S. 315, 320, the case will fall within the jury’s authority to assess the credibility of witnesses, resolve genuine issues of fact, and make the ultimate determination whether Notebaert and, by imputation, Tellabs acted with scienter. Under this Court’s construction of the “strong inference” standard, a plaintiff is not forced to plead more than she would be required to prove at trial. A plaintiff alleging fraud under §10(b) must plead facts rendering an inference of scienter at least as likely as any plausible opposing inference. At trial, she must then prove her case by a “preponderance of the evidence.” Pp. 15–17.

   (e) Neither the District Court nor the Court of Appeals had the opportunity to consider whether the Shareholders’ allegations warrant “a strong inference that [Notebaert and Tellabs] acted with the required state of mind,” 15 U. S. C. §78u–4(b)(2), in light of the prescriptions announced today. Thus, the case is remanded for a determination under this Court’s construction of §21D(b)(2). P. 18.

437 F. 3d 588, vacated and remanded.

   Ginsburg, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, and Breyer, JJ., joined. Scalia, J., and Alito, J., filed opinions concurring in the judgment. Stevens, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

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