The United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit on Dec. 26, 2023, affirmed a district court’s dismissal of a putative class action asserting claims against Philip Morris International that the company made false or misleading statements regarding both the scientific studies it conducted in support of an application to the Food and Drug Administration and the outlook for the company’s sales growth in Japanese markets, according to Lexology.
The district court held that the plaintiffs failed to adequately prove falsity or scienter. The 2nd Circuit affirmed the dismissal, holding that the plaintiffs failed to adequately plead falsity.
The court decided two questions of first impression in the 2nd Circuit, holding a securities fraud defendant’s statement that its scientific studies comply with a methodological standard that is published and internationally recognized, but stated in general and inherently subjective terms, is properly analyzed as a statement of opinion rather than a statement of fact, and holding that, whereas a securities fraud defendant’s statement expresses an interpretation of scientific data that is ultimately endorsed by the FDA, such a statement is per se “reasonable” (i.e., supported by “meaningful inquiry”) as a matter of law.
The plaintiffs alleged that PMI made misrepresentations in securities filings and public statements about clinical studies it conducted in support of an application to the FDA to sell IQOS in the U.S. and market IQOS as reduced risk. The plaintiffs also alleged that PMI made misleading statements about its growth projections in Japan regarding IQOS. The district court found that none of the challenged statements were false or misleading because all the challenged statements were true, inactionable puffery or inactionable statements of opinion. Furthermore, the district court found that the plaintiffs failed to establish the required strong inference of scienter, either by alleging facts showing motive and opportunity to commit fraud or strong circumstantial evidence of conscious misbehavior or recklessness. Accordingly, the district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ first amended complaint and denied the plaintiffs’ motion for reconsideration. After the district court dismissed the plaintiffs’ second amended complaint, this time with prejudice, the plaintiffs appealed.