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Brezden v. Associated Securities Corp.

June 1, 2009

MARIA BREZDEN, ET AL. PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ASSOCIATED SECURITIES CORP., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Andrew J. Guilford United States District Judge

ORDER DENYING MOTION TO REMAND; MOTION TO DISMISS; PETITION TO VACATE

This case involves allegations of securities fraud in violation of the federal securities statutes. The matter was arbitrated in February 2009, and the arbitrator issued and served a written decision in favor of Plaintiffs on March 24, 2009. Defendants then filed a petition to vacate that award ("Petition") in this Court, asserting that federal jurisdiction is appropriate given the subject matter of the underlying claims. Plaintiffs have now filed a motion to remand this case to state court ("Motion to Remand") and a motion to dismiss the case based on lack of jurisdiction ("Motion to Dismiss"). Finding that this Court has subject matter jurisdiction over the Petition, the Court DENIES the Motion to Dismiss and the Motion to Remand. The Court also DENIES the Petition to Vacate, finding that the arbitrators in this case did not act in manifest disregard of federal law.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs all invested in the Apex Equity Options Fund and L/P Premier Fund. (Markun Decl. Ex. 1 at 10.) Before each plaintiff invested in Apex, each was given an Apex Private Placement Memorandum ("PPM") and a Supplement to the PPM, and each executed a Subscription Agreement. Both the PPM and its Supplement note that the investment involves "a high degree of risk." (Markun Decl. Ex. 2 at 57, Ex. 3 at 118, 125.) The Subscription Agreement provides that the subscriber has "been furnished," "carefully read," and "relied solely" on the information contained in the PPM. (Markun Decl. Ex. 4 at 136.)

The Apex investments were not successful, and Plaintiffs suffered substantial losses. In October 2007, Plaintiffs initiated an arbitration action against Defendant Associated Securities Corp. ("ASC") and Defendant Jeffrey Forrest ("Forrest"), seeking to recover their losses resulting from the Apex investments. Plaintiffs alleged that Forrest, while working as a broker for ASC, fraudulently induced them to invest in Apex by falsely stating that Apex was a safe, secure, and liquid investment. Plaintiffs brought claims for federal securities fraud under Rule 10b-5 and common law fraud under the California Civil Code.

In responsive pleadings, ASC asserted that:

[Plaintiffs] were provided written disclosures that set forth the risks of investing in APEX but nevertheless decided to make the investment. To the extent that the written materials contained disclosures that were inconsistent with what [Plaintiffs] allege Forrest said to them about APEX, such reliance on the verbal statements of Forrest was unreasonable.

(Markun Decl. Ex. 5 at 191.) During the arbitration, ASC also cited Calvi v. Prudential Securities, Inc., 861 F. Supp. 69 (C.D. Cal. 1994), and Carr v. Cigna Securities, Inc., 95 F.3d 544 (7th Cir. 1996), for the proposition that claims for securities and common law fraud are barred for lack of justifiable reliance when the investor claims to have relied upon representations made by a broker that are at odds with clear and comprehensible investment documents provided to the investor.

Nevertheless, the arbitration panel found Forrest liable for both securities fraud and common law fraud, and found ASC liable for failing to properly supervise Forrest. (Markun Decl. Ex. 1 at 11.) The panel wrote:

... it is.... apparent that [Plaintiffs] reasonably and justifiably relied on Forrest's advice. None of the [Plaintiffs] had any experience in understanding about investing in options (with the possible exception of Mark Baker), much less investing in an options trading fund. Forrest held himself out as an expert in matters of this sort and that is precisely why [Plaintiffs] hired him as their financial advisor/planner. Indeed, when the [Plaintiffs] asked Forrest about the contents of the PPM before they signed the Apex Subscription Agreements, he told them that they did not need to read it themselves because he had read it and "that was what they were paying him for." The one claimant, Rena Stathacopulous, who did in fact read the PPM and saw the various disclaimers about risk that were inconsistent with what Forrest was touting about Apex was essentially told to ignore it as "legalese." Forrest then went on to tell her that he rated the risk of investing in Apex on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 being the "safest") as a 2 or 3 notwithstanding that options trading, especially naked options trading, as was done here, is probably a 9 or 10 on that same 10 point scale....

At bottom, the evidence is undisputed that [Plaintiffs] put their faith and trust in Forrest. They had every right to rely on his purported expertise in matters of finance -- particularly here where they paid him substantial fees to look after their interests in such matters.

(Markun Decl. Ex. 1 at 10-12.)

Defendants now move to vacate that award, arguing that the arbitrators acted in manifest disregard of federal securities law embodied in Calvi and Carr. Plaintiffs assert that the petition must be remanded or dismissed for lack of federal jurisdiction, and that, ...


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