I am outraged. It’s no secret that I’m not a big fan of Securities America, the hapless offspring of American Express Financial Services (now Ameriprise). In fact, I’m kind of embarrassed that I own Ameriprise stock, if for the only reason that it owns Securities America. There may be other reasons, but I haven’t looked at the company that closely lately.
Those of you who know me will recall that, with my then-partner, my law firm obtained an arbitration award against Securities America for $5.4 million several years ago. In that case, the firm tried to assert, with a straight face, that a broker using a stolen identity was properly registered. The arbitrators disagreed.
This time around we have Medical Capital Holdings and Provident Royalties. Both of these companies turned out to be frauds and Securities America was a huge seller of these two products. The one at issue in the Federal case is MedCap.
Securities America is desperate. Even though the company is owned by a huge financial services company, it is claiming that there is not enough money in the pot to fund a class action settlement and pay potential arbitration claims. So the company asked a judge to stop the arbitrations and now is asking the same judge to stop state regulators. (See Suzanne Barlyn’s article here.) Huh?
I was outraged when the judge halted the arbitrations. To me it was the height of hypocrisy to tell clients that they must participate in a class action. Yet Securities America would not allow a class action arbitration I am certain. Further, if a client brought an individual action against the company in court, it’s first reaction would likely be a motion to compel arbitration of the claims. Then they would ask a class-action judge to stop the arbitration? How is that fair or logical.
Pick your venue, boys. Class action or arbitration. But you don’t get the choice of stopping an arbitration (or regulator) in favor of the class action. If you don’t have the money, then file for bankruptcy and let everyone pick over the carcass. I’m betting there’s a good financial reason not to do it.
I have clients on both sides of the arbitration aisle. What I’m looking for is consistency in the application of laws regarding arbitration. I don’t see it here. Once again, Securities America seems to be making up the rules in its favor as it tries to deal with a problem. Good luck with that.
That’s the view of one lawyer from Jupiter, Palm Beach County, Florida. I’m Marc Dobin.