Federal Courts Wrestle With Opening Doors To US Courthouse to KOSPI Class Action

April 2, 2018

When we talk about the globalization of Wall Street, we need look no further than a recent class action lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York ("SDNY") by five Korean citizens plaintiffs, who traded KOSPI 200 future contracts in the after-hours (the "night market") on the Korea Exchange ("KRX"). You might ask with some validity as to how such a case would have jurisdiction in the US courts. That's a fair question and, frankly, you're a pretty clever person to have raised the point. Then there's the whole mixing of the real and the digital worlds. Where does anything online occur anymore? If you enter a trade in Korea that is sent to a server based in the United States but routed back for settlement to Korea, how do we figure out just where "where" is? As more transactions move to the Cloud, the question of where something takes place may become more difficult. Read on and see how the US court system handled that very problem

SDNY 2016 Opinion and Order

In their class action filed in SDNY, the Korean plaintiffs alleged that during the relevant period between January 1, 2012, and December 31, 2012, high frequency trading firm Tower Research Capital LLC and its CEO/founder Mark Gorton used fictitious trades and other deceptive techniques to manipulate the prices at which the KOSPI 200 Futures contracts traded on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Globex platform ("CME Globex"). Plaintiffs asserted that the spoofing conduct violates the Commodity Exchange Act ("CEA") and the "Unjust Enrichment" law of New York State. Myun-Uk Choi, Jin-Ho Jung, Sung-Hun Jungm, Sung-Hee Lee, and Kyung-Sub Lee, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs‐Appellan v. Tower Research Capital LLC and Mark Gorton, Defendants‐Appellees(Opinion and Order, SDNY, 14-CV-9912 / February 24, 2016) (the "2016 SDNY Opinion") http://brokeandbroker.com/PDF/ChoiSDNY.pdf 

Defendants moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. In setting the stage for its analysis, SDNY characterized Plaintiffs's allegations as asserting that during 2012:

[D]efendants "manipulate[d] the price of KOSPI 200 futures contracts traded on the CME [Globex] for their own profit" by misleading other traders about the prevailing price and number of contracts available. Id. ¶ 2. Defendants allegedly did so by entering hundreds of large-volume orders either to buy or to sell KOSPI 200 futures contracts without intending these orders to be matched by others users. Id. ¶¶ 2, 29.

Instead, Defendants took advantage of flash-trading technology to respond to their own orders within a fraction of a second by either (1) cancelling the orders before they could be matched, or (2) fulfilling the orders themselves. Id. ¶¶ 2, 29. The purpose of this trading strategy -- sometimes known as "spoofing" -- was to create a "false impression regarding the number of contracts available in the market, along with illusory price and volume information" and thereby manipulate the price of KOSPI 200 futures contracts in Tower's favor. Id. ¶¶ 2, 29, 31. This false information was intended to trick other traders into believing that the prevailing price was either higher or lower than it actually was. Id. ¶ 31. Tower was then able to "purchase [KOSPI 200 futures] contracts at prices lower, or sell contracts at prices higher, than were available in the market before Tower entered its fictitious large-volume buy or sell orders." Id. ¶ 29.

Pages 2 - 3 of the SDNY 2016 Opinion

In parsing through various factors asserted in Defendants' Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim, SDNY preliminarily noted that;

Here, despite Plaintiffs' description of Tower's conduct as "fraudulent," the Complaint does not allege that Tower made any false or misleading statements of fact or material omissions as part of its alleged manipulation. The submission of an above- or below-market bid-even if the party intends to withdraw the bid before it can ever be matched-does not constitute a false or misleading statement that would trigger the application of Rule 9(b). See 27 F. Supp. 3d at 532. 

Page 6 of the SDNY 2016 Opinion

Next. SDNY wrestled with Morrison v. National Australia Bank Ltd.,  (Opinion, Supreme Court, 561 U.S. 247 / 2010)
http://brokeandbroker.com/PDF/MorrisonSupCt.pdf[Ed: Footnotes omitted]:

Defendants argue that United States law does not apply to the alleged misconduct. See (Mot. to Dismiss, 5-10). In Morrison v. National Australia Bank Ltd., 561 U.S. 247 (2010), the United States Supreme Court held that the Securities Exchange Act (SEA) does not apply to conduct that occurs abroad, but rather applies only to the purchase or sale of a security that (1) is made in the United States, or (2) is listed on a domestic exchange. Id. at 269-70.4 Both the Second Circuit and this Court have held that Morrison's transactional test applies to the CEA as well . . .. See Loginovskaya v. Batratchenko, 936 F. Supp. 2d 357, 372 (S.D.N.Y. 2013) (Oetken, J.) aff'd, 764 F.3d 266 (2d Cir. 2014); Starshinova v. Batratchenko, 931 F. Supp. 2d 478, 487 (S.D.N.Y. 2013) (Wood, J.). 

Although the parties agree that Morrison's transactional test governs the analysis under the CEA, they dispute (1) whether the alleged transactions took place in the United States or in South Korea, and (2) whether they took place on a U.S. exchange or a Korean exchange. See (Mot. to Dismiss, 6); (Pls.' Opp'n, 5). Plaintiffs contend that the CME Globex trading platform itself qualifies as a domestic exchange, (Pls.' Opp'n, 5), and that, for all transactions taking place on the CME Globex, the "meeting of the minds required for the trade takes place on the CME Globex in Illinois." (Compl. ¶ 21). By contrast, Defendants contend that all transactions in KOSPI 200 futures contracts occur on the KRX, a South Korean exchange, and that the "use of CME Globex computers in Chicago" to effectuate these transactions during the night market "does not alter that fact." (Mot. to Dismiss, 7). Defendants contend that "[u]nder Morrison, what matters is the exchange's location, not where the technology is located." Id. 

For the reasons discussed below, the Court concludes that the alleged transactions fail to qualify as domestic under either prong of Morrison's test

Pages 6 -7 of the SDNY 2016 Opinion

SDNY could not find that Plaintiffs' allegations presented transactions that took place in the United States and determined that, in fact, the "meeting of the minds took place in South Korea." Similarly, SDNY found that the KOSPI 200 Futures contracts were not listed on a domestic exchange because notwithstanding that CME is a financial exchange based in the United States, CMEB Globex is merely "an electronic trading platform " to facilitate trading on exchanges and is not, in and of itself, a domestic exchange. As to Plaintiffs' New York State "Unjust Enrichment" claim, SDNY found that there was no proof of the requisite "direct dealing or actual, substantive relationship with the Defendants" necessary to support the claim. SDNY granted Defendants' Motion to Dismiss but gave Plaintiffs 30 days to file an Amended Complaint

SDNY 2017 Opinion and Order

In response to Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint, SDNY found that there was no additional allegation that cured the previously enunciated failure to state a claim. Myun-Uk Choi, Jin-Ho Jung, Sung-Hun Jungm, Sung-Hee Lee, and Kyung-Sub Lee, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs‐Appellan v. Tower Research Capital LLC and Mark Gorton, Defendants‐Appellees (Opinion and Order, SDNY 14-CV-9912 / February 8 2017) (the "2017 SDNY Opinion") http://brokeandbroker.com/PDF/ChoiSDNY2.pdf Accordingly, the 2017 SDNY Opinion dismissed Plaintiffs' Complaint with prejudice.

2Cir Opinion

Plaintiffs appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ("2Cir"). Myun-Uk Choi, Jin-Ho Jung, Sung-Hun Jungm, Sung-Hee Lee, and Kyung-Sub Lee, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs‐Appellan v. Tower Research Capital LLC and Mark Gorton, Defendants‐Appellees(Opinion, 2Cir, 17‐648‐CV / March 29, 2018) http://brokeandbroker.com/PDF/Choi2Cir.pdf 
The 2Cir disagreed with SDNY's analysis and findings [Ed: Footnotes omitted]:

The district court dismissed the action principally on the ground that the CEA does not apply extraterritorially as would be required for it to reach Defendants' alleged conduct.  Because we conclude Plaintiffs' allegations make it plausible that the trades at issue were "domestic transactions" under our precedent, we do not agree that application of the CEA to Defendants' alleged conduct would be an impermissible extraterritorial application of the act. We also disagree with the district court's conclusion that Plaintiffs failed to state a claim for unjust enrichment. Accordingly, we VACATE and REMAND for further proceedings

Page 2 of the 2Cir Opinion

In applying Morrison to the facts at hand, the 2Cir explained that:

[T]he Supreme Court set out to define the territorial  reach of § 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act, 15 U.S.C. § 78j(b).  After discussing the presumption against extraterritoriality, 561 U.S. at 255, the Court concluded that, given its text, § 10(b) (and Rule 10b‐5, promulgated thereunder) has only a domestic reach, and therefore applies only to one of two types of transactions: (i) "transactions in securities listed on domestic exchanges;" and (ii) "domestic transactions in other securities," id. at 267.

Page 11 of the 2Cir Opinion

In utilizing the Morrison test, 2Cir found that:

Consequently, plausible allegations that parties to a transaction subject to the CEA incurred irrevocable liability in the United States suffice to overcome a motion to dismiss CEA claims on territoriality grounds. We believe in this case that Plaintiffs' allegations make it plausible that parties trading on the KRX night market incur irrevocable liability in the United States. This being a sufficient basis to resolve the extraterritoriality question at this stage, there is no need for us to address whether the CEA has a territorial reach on the basis that the CME Globex is a "domestic exchange."

Page 12 of the 2Cir Opinion

Moreover, 2Cir found that nothing in Morrison precluded the application of the CEA to trades made on a foreign exchange when irrevocable liability is incurred in the United States. In exploring that issue, 2Cir found that:

[P]laintiffs' amended complaint alleges not only that KRX night market trades bind the parties on matching, it also alleges that  the express view of CME Group is that "matches [on CME Globex] are essentially binding contracts" and "[m]embers are required to honor all bids or offers which have not been withdrawn from the market." AC ¶¶ 21-22. Nothing in the amended complaint or elsewhere suggests that a trading party may unilaterally revoke acceptance following matching on CME Globex. It follows from these allegations that, in the "classic contractual sense," Absolute Activist, 677 F.3d at 68, parties incur irrevocable liability on KRX night market trades at the moment of matching

Pages 14 - 15 of the 2Cir Opinion

Similarly, 2Cir vacated SDNY's dismissal of the New York State "Unjust Enrichment" claim by noting that:

Plaintiffs' allegations easily establish a connection sufficient for the unjust enrichment claim to proceed. Plaintiffs alleged it to be a near statistical certainty that they directly traded with Defendants on the KRX night market during the relevant period, in which Defendants continually manipulated the market on which the trades 11 occurred. AC ¶ 31 n.13. Moreover, even if none of Plaintiffs' trades were executed directly with Defendants, that would not necessarily defeat Plaintiffs' claim at this stage because Plaintiffs plausibly allege that Defendants' spoofing strategy artificially moved market prices in a way that directly harmed Plaintiffs while benefitting Defendants. . .

Pages 19 of the 2Cir Opinion

Bill Singer's Comment

Sometimes you see a reversal coming or you sense that there are issues in a lower court's opinion that will likely warrant a remand. To be candid here, I didn't see the 2Cir hanging SDNY out to dry. In reviewing the SDNY 2016 and 2017 Opinions, it's hard to find a flaw in the lower Court's logic -- which doesn't mean that you have to agree with the judge's analysis or findings but in the case of the two aforementioned SDHY rulings, the content and context are set forth with impressive depth and the opinions are compelling. That being said, I also find that 2Cir set forth its basis for vacating and remanding with equally compelling strength. Which leaves me in the somewhat odd and uncomfortable position of agreeing with both the lower and upper courts' analysis and findings.