Prior research shows that the PSLRA increased the significance of merit-related factors, such as the presence of an accounting restatement or insider selling, in determining the incidence and outcomes of securities fraud class actions. (Johnson, Nelson, and Pritchard, 2007). This result, however, is consistent with two possible hypotheses. First, the PSLRA may have reduced solely the incidence of non-meritorious litigation. Second, the PSLRA may have changed the definition of merit, effectively precluding claims that would have survived and produced a settlement pre-PSLRA. This paper tests these alternative hypotheses. We find that pre-PSLRA claims that settled for nuisance value would be less likely to be filed under the PSLRA regime. We also find, however, that pre-PSLRA non-nuisance claims would be less likely to be filed post-PSLRA period. The latter result, which we refer to as the screening effect, is particularly pronounced for claims lacking obvious hard evidence indicia of fraud (an accounting restatement or an SEC investigation). This screening effect is stronger if the claims also lacked evidence of abnormal insider trading. By contrast, we find that pre-PSLRA claims with hard evidence or abnormal insider trading would be no less likely to be filed in the post-PSLRA period. We also examine the likelihood of settlement for pre-PSRLA claims if they had been filed in the post-PSLRA period, and find a similar screening effect for case outcomes. We conclude that Congress effectively changed the definition of merit in adopting the PSLRA, discouraging suits that would have produced a non-nuisance outcome prior to the law’s enactment.


Accounting Law | Securities Law

Date of this Version

March 2007