The Legal Status of “Dump & Sue”: Should Plaintiffs and their Attorneys be Prohibited from Trading the Stock of Companies they Sue? – a Law and Economics Approach


There is some evidence that plaintiffs and their attorneys are profitably short-selling the stock of the companies they intend to sue. The status of such short sales is undecided in the law. Lawsuits against companies can cause large drops in market value, and hence such an action by the plaintiff should cause concern. Plaintiffs, however, are not traditional insiders, and they do not owe the shareholders any fiduciary duties. They can therefore consent to their attorneys also short-selling the stock of the defendant corporation. The attorneys need to receive such permission to avoid misappropriating the information concerning their client’s decision to sue. A plaintiff’s decision to sue after short-selling does not constitute market manipulation in the traditional sense, since the decision to sue is a true fact that causes the drop in the share price as opposed to those who commit fraud by spreading false negative stories about the company. Plaintiffs need, therefore, to be legally deemed temporary insiders until they publicly reveal their intention to sue or actually sue. The reasons for deeming them insiders, and hence prohibiting them from short-selling, are threefold. First, allowing such activities would raise the same concerns regarding market integrity raised by those opposed to insider trading. Second, allowing such short-selling is a form of fraud by silence against those who purchase the shares. Third, allowing short-selling would give the plaintiffs double recovery for their lawsuit, as they could gain a large share of their claim against the company from the profitable short sales in addition to any verdict or settlement. Furthermore, proposals to extend Regulation FD to plaintiff’s attorneys would be ineffective in combating the harm from such short-selling. The law, therefore, through either developments by the courts, regulatory promulgations by the SEC, an act of Congress, or a combination of any of the preceding three mechanisms should be used to treat plaintiffs as insiders until they sue or announce their intention to sue.


Business Organizations Law | Economics | Law and Economics | Securities Law

Date of this Version

March 2005