Court Allows U.S. Department of Justice to Intervene in SeaWorld Securities Litigation in Connection With Criminal Investigation
September 6, 2017
On September 9, 2017, Judge Michael M. Anello of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California granted the United States’ Unopposed Motion to Intervene and Partially Stay Discovery in the SeaWorld Securities Litigation. In this case, NPR serves as Co-Lead Counsel on behalf of Lead Plaintiffs, Arkansas Public Retirement System and Pensionskassen For Børne-Og Ungdomspædagoger, and a class of investors in securities of SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc.
On July 6, 2017, NPR informed the Court that SeaWorld had publicly disclosed that it received subpoenas from the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) related to investigations of the conduct at issue in the litigation. Specifically, in their notice, Lead Plaintiffs informed the Court that SeaWorld recently disclosed in its Current Report on Form 8-K, filed with the SEC on June 23, 2017, that the Company received a subpoena in connection with an investigation by the DOJ concerning disclosures and public statements made by the Company and certain of its executives on or before August 2014, including those regarding the impact of the Blackfish documentary and trading in SeaWorld’s securities, as well as subpoenas from the SEC in connection with these same matters.
On August 25, 2017, the Acting Chief of the United States DOJ’s Fraud Division filed a motion to intervene in the SeaWorld Securities Litigation and partially stay deposition discovery for three months, while the United States conducts its criminal investigation into SeaWorld. Lead Plaintiffs did not oppose the United States’ request for the limited and partial stay of depositions. On August 28, 2017, Judge Michael M. Anello ordered the United States to file an ex parte declaration of counsel with further details of the statuts of the United States’ pending criminal investigation to the Court under seal. On September 6, 2017, following that submission, Judge Anello granted the United States’ request “to stay depositions for less than three months” after finding, amongst other things, that “the nature of the criminal investigation and the subject matter of the civil action are substantially similar.” The Court made clear, however, that the parties could continue to proceed with written and document discovery during the limited period in which only depositions would be stayed.
The class alleges that SeaWorld made false and misleading statements concerning the cause of its unprecedented attendance declines and other business concerns in 2013 and 2014, which came on the heels of a documentary, Blackfish—a film that indicted SeaWorld’s core business and operations and sparked public outrage over the Company’s treatment of its orca whales. The class asserts claims under Section 10b and Rule 10b-5 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 against SeaWorld and certain of its former officers, and under Section 20(a) of the Exchange Act against the officers and the private equity firm that took SeaWorld public in 2013, The Blackstone Group, L.P.
NPR’s complex litigation team—partners Jeff Angelovich, Brad Beckworth and Susan Whatley and associates Lisa Baldwin, Trey Duck, Drew Pate and Cody Hill—lead the prosecution of this case.