Ong v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. et al
OPINION AND ORDER re: 60 MOTION to Dismiss the Amended Complaint, filed by John R. Hartung, M. Steven Ells, Montgomery F. Moran, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc.; 66 MOTION to Strike Document No. 62 [Motion to Strike Exhibits Submitted with Defendant's Motion to Dismiss], filed by Construction Laborers Pension Trust of Greater St. Louis, Metzler Investment GmbH. For the reasons outlined above, Defendants' motion to dismiss the Complaint for failure to s tate a claim is GRANTED. The Complaint is DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE. Plaintiffs' motion to strike Defendants' Exhibits, mooted given this result, is DENIED. The Clerk of Court is directed to terminate the motions at docket entries 60 and 66. Plaintiffs' request for leave to amend is GRANTED. Plaintiffs must file their Second Amended Complaint within 30 days of this Opinion. Defendants must answer or otherwise respond within 30 days of Plaintiffs' filing. (Signed by Judge Katherine Polk Failla on 3/8/2017) (cla)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
SUSIE ONG, individually and
on behalf of all others similarly situated,
CHIPOTLE MEXICAN GRILL, INC., et al.,
DOC #: _________________
DATE FILED: March 8, 2017
16 Civ. 141 (KPF)
OPINION AND ORDER
KATHERINE POLK FAILLA, District Judge:
In the wake of several food-borne illness outbreaks in 2015 that were
sourced to Chipotle restaurants, Lead Plaintiffs Metzler Investment GmbH
(“Metzler”) and Construction Laborers Pension Trust of Greater St. Louis (the
“Trust,” and together, “Plaintiffs”) brought this lawsuit on behalf of a putative
class of purchasers (the “Class”) of the common stock of Defendant Chipotle
Mexican Grill, Inc. (“Chipotle” or the “Company”), for the period between
February 5, 2015, and January 5, 2016, inclusive (the “Class Period”).
Plaintiffs allege that Chipotle and certain of its executives, M. Steven Ells,
Montgomery F. Moran, and John R. Hartung (together, the “Individual
Defendants”), violated Sections 10(b) and 20(a) of the Securities Exchange Act
of 1934 (the “Exchange Act”), 15 U.S.C. §§ 78j(b) and 78t(a), and Rule 10b-5
promulgated thereunder, 17 C.F.R. § 240.10b-5, in public statements issued
throughout 2015. Defendants have moved to dismiss Plaintiffs’ Amended
Complaint (the “Complaint”) pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 9(b)
and 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. Plaintiffs have cross-moved to strike
Exhibits 8, 11-14, and 17-40 (the “Exhibits”) attached to Defendants’ motion.
Plaintiffs’ Complaint may be long on text, but it is short on adequatelypleaded claims. Accordingly, and for the reasons outlined below, Defendants’
motion to dismiss is granted and Plaintiffs’ related motion to strike is denied.
However, Plaintiffs’ request for leave to file an amended pleading is also
granted, and the Complaint is therefore dismissed without prejudice.
Plaintiffs are purchasers of Chipotle common stock during the Class
Period. (Compl. ¶ 1; see also Dkt. #28, Ex. A). “Chipotle is a publicly traded
fast-food restaurant chain that directly operate[d] more than 1,900 Mexican
food restaurants in the United States” during the Class Period. (Compl. ¶ 2;
see also id. at ¶ 17). 2 The Company “distinguishes itself from its competitors
primarily through its corporate philosophy of ‘Food with Integrity,’ which is
Chipotle’s promise to find the highest quality ingredients that are sourced
This Opinion draws on facts from Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint (“Compl.” (Dkt. #49)),
taking all well-pleaded allegations as true as the Court must at this stage. See, e.g.,
Peralta v. St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hosp., No. 14 Civ. 2609 (KPF), 2015 WL 3947641, at *1
n.1 (S.D.N.Y. June 26, 2015). The Court has also reviewed the briefing submitted by
the parties and will refer to it as follows: Defendants’ Memorandum of Law in Support
of their Motion to Dismiss the Complaint (Dkt. #61) will be referred to as “Def. Br.,”
Plaintiffs’ Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Defendants’ Motion (Dkt. #70) as “Pl.
Opp.,” and Defendants’ Memorandum in Reply (Dkt. #74) as “Def. Reply.”
Chipotle also operated 13 ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen restaurants and 23
Chipotle restaurants abroad. (Compl. ¶ 17).
sustainably and organically, while still charging reasonable prices.” (Id. at
¶ 17; see also id. at ¶¶ 40-41). As of February 4, 2015, Chipotle had more than
31 million shares of common stock issued and outstanding, and these were
listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “CMG.” (Id. at
The Individual Defendants are Chipotle executives. Defendant Ells
founded Chipotle in 1993, and during the Class Period was the Company’s coCEO and Chairman of its Board of Directors (the “Board”). (Compl. ¶ 18).
Defendant Moran was Ells’s co-CEO and also a Director on the Board; he had
joined Chipotle in 2005 as President and Chief Operating Officer. (Id. at ¶ 19).
Moran had also previously served as the Company’s outside general counsel
while working as the CEO of the Denver law firm Messner & Reeves, LLC. (Id.).
Defendant Hartung was Chipotle’s Chief Financial Officer, and had been since
2002. (Id. at ¶ 20). In these positions, Plaintiffs allege, each of the Individual
Defendants “directly participated in the management of the Company, was
directly involved in the day-to-day operations of the Company at the highest
levels[,] and was privy to confidential proprietary information concerning the
Company and its business, operations, products, growth, financial statements,
and financial condition.” (Id. at ¶ 24; see also id. at ¶¶ 23, 25-28).
The Outbreaks and Their Aftermath
Between July 2015 and December 2015, there were at least seven
incidents of food-borne illness outbreaks involving Chipotle restaurants in the
United States. (Compl. ¶ 4). These included:
(i) an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 in July in Washington
State; (ii) an outbreak of Norovirus in August in
Washington; (iii) an outbreak of Norovirus in August in
California; (iv) an outbreak of Salmonella in August in
Minnesota; (v) an outbreak of E. coli STEC O26 in
October in Washington, Oregon, California, Illinois,
Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania,
Delaware, and Kentucky; (vi) an outbreak of E. coli
STEC O26 in November in Kansas, North Dakota, and
Oklahoma; and (vii) an outbreak of Norovirus in
December in Massachusetts.
(Id. at ¶ 14 n.1; see also id. at ¶ 76). 3 According to Plaintiffs, Chipotle in late
2014 had “switched from using central commissary kitchens to process and
“E. coli O157:H7 is a type of Escherichia coli and a cause of illness, typically contracted
through consumption of contaminated and raw food or water, and is highly virulent. E.
coli O157:H7 infection is characterized by the sudden onset of severe, acute
hemorrhagic diarrhea and abdominal cramps. The incubation period for the disease
(the period from ingestion of the bacteria to the start of symptoms) is typically five to ten
days, although shorter and longer periods are not unusual. In most infected
individuals, the intestinal illness lasts about a week and resolves without any long-term
problems.” (Compl. ¶¶ 78-79).
“Norovirus, also known as the ‘Norwalk virus,’ is a member of the virus family
Caliciviridae, which consists of several distinct groups of viruses. Humans are the only
host of Norovirus, which has several mechanisms that allow it to spread quickly and
easily. Norovirus infects humans through person-to-person transmission or through
contamination of food or water. ... Norovirus illness usually develops within one or two
days after ingestion. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain,
headache and low-grade fever. Although symptoms usually last a few days, Norovirus
infections can become quite serious in children and the elderly, and those who are
immune-compromised.” (Compl. ¶¶ 62-63).
“The term Salmonella refers to a group or family of bacteria that variously cause illness
in humans. Salmonella is an enteric bacterium, which means that it lives in the
intestinal tracts of humans and other animals. Salmonella bacteria are usually
transmitted to humans by eating foods contaminated with animal feces or foods that
have been handled by infected food service workers who have practiced poor personal
hygiene. ... Many raw foods of animal origin are frequently contaminated, but thorough
cooking kills Salmonella. Several bacteria, including Salmonella, induce reactive
arthritis. ... Salmonella is also a cause of a condition called post infectious irritable
bowel syndrome (“IBS”). ... Both Salmonella and E. coli are spread in a similar, nearly
identical fashion.” (Compl. ¶¶ 105-10).
“E. coli STEC O26 is grouped with other non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia
coli. E. coli STEC O26 infection is characterized by the sudden onset of abdominal pain
and severe cramps, followed within 24 hours by diarrhea. As the disease progresses, the
diarrhea becomes watery and then may become bloody to the naked eye. Vomiting can
also occur, but there is usually no fever. The incubation period for the disease (the
period from ingestion of the bacteria to the start of symptoms) is typically three to nine
prepare the produce used in its restaurants to processing produce in each of
the Company’s over 1,900 restaurants,” and “[s]everal of the outbreaks appear
to have resulted from [this] change.” (Id. at ¶ 4; see also id. at ¶¶ 46-47).
Plaintiffs alleges that “Chipotle repeatedly undertook efforts to conceal these
outbreaks from its customers, investors, and the public at large.” (Id. at ¶ 75).
And “[i]nstead of immediately improving its food safety practices after these
numerous outbreaks, Chipotle sought to shift the blame for these food-borne
illnesses to other entities, including one of its own suppliers, even when such
conclusions were not supported by the available scientific evidence.” (Id.).
The July E. coli Outbreak in Washington
The first outbreak was identified in late-July 2015, when the Washington
State Department of Health traced an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 that
sickened five people to a Chipotle restaurant in Seattle. (Compl. ¶ 77). “The
common ingredient eaten by these individuals was identified as cilantro, which
was supplied to Chipotle by Taylor Farms.” (Id.). Chipotle was apprised of the
outbreak no later than August 3, 2015, and participated in testing restaurant
employees for E. coli. (Id. at ¶¶ 82-83). Despite this awareness on Chipotle’s
part, “the outbreak was not publicly disclosed until November 10, 2015.” (Id.
at ¶ 84).
days, although shorter and longer periods are not unusual. In most infected
individuals, the intestinal illness lasts about a week and resolves without any long-term
problems.” (Compl. ¶¶ 135-36).
The August Norovirus Outbreak in Washington
In early August 2015, the Washington State Department of Health
identified a Norovirus outbreak at Chipotle’s Hazel Dell location. (Compl. ¶ 85).
The outbreak was caused by a Chipotle restaurant employee who had reported
to work sick and stayed for several hours while vomiting. (Id. at ¶ 87). Once
the outbreak was recognized, the restaurant initiated Chipotle’s “Norwalk
Protocol,” which “requires that Chipotle close any location where two or more
customers complain of food-borne illness[,] ... dispose of all food items, and
bleach all cooking and food handling surfaces.” (Id. at ¶¶ 88-89).
The August Norovirus Outbreak in California
On August 18, 2015, another Norovirus outbreak was identified, this
time at Chipotle’s Simi Valley restaurant. (Compl. ¶ 91). 243 individuals were
reported ill. (Id.). By August 20, 2015, the Company had initiated its Norwalk
Protocol and closed the Simi Valley restaurant. (Id. at ¶ 92). A sign was posted
at the restaurant indicating that it had “closed for the rest of the day due to a
severe staffing shortage.” (Id.). The restaurant reopened the following day
“with a new crew of employees from other Chipotle restaurants.” (Id. at ¶ 93).
On August 22, 2015, Chipotle reported to the Ventura County
Environmental Health Division that 17 Simi Valley employees “were sick with
gastrointestinal illness and had been replaced” with other Chipotle employees.
(Compl. ¶ 94). Health officials conducted testing on August 24 — though their
ability to do so was hindered by Chipotle’s sanitization during the
implementation of the Norwalk Protocol — and “concluded that the cause of the
outbreak was Norovirus.” (Id. at ¶ 95). The Ventura County Environmental
Health Division issued a press release to this effect on September 4, 2015. (Id.
at ¶ 97). On September 14, 2015, it issued a Notice of Violation to Chipotle
regarding violations that included “Chipotle’s failure to notify the ... Division
when it was first aware of sick employees.” (Id. at ¶ 99).
“In December 2015, Chipotle was served with a Federal Grand Jury
Subpoena from the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in
connection with an official criminal investigation being conducted by the U.S.
Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California,” and the U.S. Food and
Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations. (Compl. ¶ 101 (quoting
Chipotle’s January 6, 2016 Form 8-K)). Chipotle announced that it “intend[ed]
to fully cooperate with the investigation.” (Id.). But “[i]n response to this news,
the price of Chipotle’s common stock declined ... 4.98%, on unusually heavy
trading volume.” (Id. at ¶ 102). A class action lawsuit brought by a “purported
class of Chipotle consumers who were infected with Norovirus at the Simi
Valley location” was filed on January 19, 2016. (Id. at ¶ 103).
The August Salmonella Outbreak in Minnesota
On or about August 24, 2015, a Salmonella outbreak was identified at 22
Chipotle locations in Minnesota. (Compl. ¶ 104). 64 individuals were reported
ill. (Id.). The Minnesota Department of Health informed Chipotle corporate
employees, including the Company’s Investigations Manager Patti Mann, of the
outbreak by September 3, 2015. (Id. at ¶ 111). On September 10, 2015, the
Department issued a press release indicating that 45 cases had been identified
and that an investigation was ongoing. (Id. at ¶ 119). On September 16, 2015,
the Department issued a second press release to update the first, in which it
“named tomatoes as the ingredient that was tainted with Salmonella at these
Chipotle locations.” (Id. at ¶ 104; see also id. at ¶¶ 123-25). The press release
also indicated that “Chipotle had switched its supplier for tomatoes in light of
this outbreak.” (Id. at ¶ 125). Several civil lawsuits were filed alleging personal
injuries related to this outbreak. (Id. at ¶¶ 121-22, 126, 128-29). According to
Plaintiffs, “[t]he August Salmonella outbreak had a negative impact on the
Company’s operations and financial performance.” (Id. at ¶ 133).
The October E. coli Outbreak in Washington and Oregon
On October 30, 2015, the Washington State Department of Health
alerted Chipotle that an outbreak of E. coli STEC O26 beginning on
October 17, 2015, had been identified at Chipotle restaurants in Washington
and Oregon. (Compl. ¶ 134). On October 31, 2015, Chipotle closed 43 of its
restaurants in these states. (Id. at 139). Somewhat curiously, “signs on the
closed Oregon restaurants blam[ed] the closures on ‘equipment issues,’” and
“similar signs” at Chipotle locations in Washington blamed “supply issues.”
(Id. at ¶ 140). But on November 1, 2015, news coverage began reporting that
the closures were due to an E. coli outbreak. (Id. at ¶ 141). “Almost
immediately, news of this E. coli outbreak began having a significantly negative
impact on Chipotle’s common stock price and same store sales.” (Id. at ¶ 142).
The outbreak was chronicled in a series of press releases. On
November 3, 2015, the outbreak was publically acknowledged; “a spokesman
for the Oregon Public Health Division publicly stated that the specific produce
under scrutiny for this E. coli outbreak was cilantro, romaine lettuce and
tomatoes,” and Chipotle issued a press release that “publicly addressed this E.
coli outbreak and the remediation efforts that the Company had begun to
undertake.” (Compl. ¶¶ 146-47). Chipotle indicated that it would “continue
to work swiftly and thoroughly with health department officials as they look[ed]
to conclude this investigation.” (Id. at ¶ 147). The Center for Disease Control
and Prevention (the “CDC”) joined the conversation on November 4, 2015,
announcing in a web posting that 39 people were ill in Washington and Oregon
and that the CDC and its local partners were “continuing laboratory
surveillance ... to identify additional ill persons and to interview them.” (Id. at
¶¶ 148-49). CDC updates issued on November 5, 6, and 9 reiterated this
information and indicated the count of infected persons had risen to 41. (Id. at
¶¶ 151-52, 154). A November 9, 2015, press release from the Washington
State Department of Health stated that the Department’s staff were “still
working to investigate the cause of an outbreak of illnesses,” because “[t]he
first round of test results did not find E. coli bacteria in food samples taken
from several Chipotle restaurants.” (Id. at ¶ 155). Chipotle published a press
release on November 10 stating that its 43 closed restaurants would be
reopened because “[h]ealth officials [had] concluded that there [was] no ongoing
risk from this incident.” (Id. at ¶ 156). The November 10 press release also
claimed that “[n]o Chipotle locations outside of Oregon and Washington [had]
been connected to this issue in any way.” (Id.). “[N]o fewer than 30 news
outlets reported on and repeated Chipotle’s ... claim ... that the health officials
believed there was ‘no ongoing risk.’” (Id. at ¶ 192).
But on November 12, 2015, the CDC announced that it had identified 51
ill persons in Washington and Oregon, that it was “continuing laboratory
surveillance,” and that its investigation was “still ongoing to determine if the ill
people ate a meal item or ingredient in common that was served at the Chipotle
Mexican Grill locations.” (Compl. ¶ 157). And on November 20, 2015, another
CDC update indicated that the E. coli outbreak had “been linked to Chipotle
customers in California, New York, Ohio[,] and Minnesota as well.” (Id. at
¶ 158). The November 20 statement repeated that the CDC was “continuing
laboratory surveillance,” and engaged in “ongoing” investigatory work. (Id.).
Chipotle issued a responsive statement later that day, providing more detail
regarding the cases in California, Ohio, New York, and Minnesota and
Chipotle’s remediation efforts. (Id. at ¶ 159). “In response to this news, which
became public during the trading day on November 20, 2015, the price of
Chipotle common stock declined $75.81 per share, or approximately 12.4%[.]”
(Id. at ¶ 160).
The CDC’s investigation concluded on February 1, 2016, when the CDC
issued its Final Case Count Update. (Compl. ¶ 171). The CDC’s “Final Count
stated that the October E. coli outbreak infected 55 people across 11 states —
California, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Ohio,
Oregon, Pennsylvania[,] and Washington.” (Id.).
The November E. coli Outbreak in Kansas, North Dakota,
While the October outbreak was evolving, a second E. coli STEC O26
outbreak manifested in Chipotle customers in Kansas, North Dakota, and
Oklahoma. (Compl. ¶ 174). Five people were sickened and two Chipotle
restaurants implicated. (Id. at ¶¶ 174, 176). Both Chipotle and the CDC were
aware of this outbreak by November 26, 2015. (Id. at ¶ 175). The CDC
investigated a possible connection between this outbreak and the October E.
coli outbreak, but announced definitively in its February 2016 Final Count that
“the November E. coli outbreak had a different DNA profile from the October E.
coli outbreak,” and that the CDC’s investigation into both outbreaks had
concluded. (Id. at ¶ 178).
The December Norovirus Outbreak in Massachusetts
On December 7, 2015, there was a Norovirus outbreak identified at
Chipotle’s Brighton location. (Compl. ¶ 179). 143 individuals were reported ill.
(Id.). The restaurant was closed from December 7 to 9, 2015, and the employee
found to have caused the outbreak by “reporting to work while sick” was fired.
(Id. at ¶¶ 182-83). “In response to public reports of this Norovirus outbreak,
which began surfacing after the close of trading, the price of Chipotle common
stock declined $19.64 per share, or approximately 3.6%, from a close of
$551.75 per share on December 7, to an opening price of $532.11 per share on
December 8, 2015.” (Id. at ¶ 181).
Chipotle’s Remediation Efforts
On December 4, 2015, Chipotle filed its Form 8-K, “which quantified for
the first time the devastating impact that this E. coli outbreak had on
Chipotle’s operations and financial performance.” (Compl. ¶ 165). Chipotle
rescinded its “previously announced 2016 outlook for comparable restaurant
sales increases,” because of “recent sales trends and additional uncertainty
related to the E. coli incident.” (Id.). “In response to the [December 4] Form 8K, filed after the close of trading on Friday, December 4, the price of Chipotle
common stock declined $44.37 per share, or approximately 7.9%, from a close
of $561.20 per share before the announcement, to an opening price of $516.83
per share on Monday, December 7, 2015.” (Id. at ¶ 166).
Among other modifications to its policies and procedures, Chipotle
“reverted back to commissary preparation for its produce.” (Compl. ¶ 4; see
also id. at ¶¶ 55-58). On December 4, 2015, the Company announced that it
had agreed to implement a new food safety regimen that it had devised together
with “food safety experts IEH Laboratories.” (Id. at ¶ 163). In December 2015
and January 2016, the company announced that it was “implementing
‘[e]nhanced internal training to ensure that all employees thoroughly
understand the [C]ompany’s high standards for food safety and food handling.’”
(Id. at ¶ 5; see also id. at ¶ 71). And on February 8, 2016, “Chipotle closed all
of its stores for a company-wide staff meeting to review Chipotle’s new food
safety protocols issued as part of the Company’s remediation efforts.” (Id. at
This lawsuit was first brought on January 8, 2016. (Dkt. #1). On
March 8, 2016, then-putative Class Members Metzler and the Trust moved the
Court for an order appointing them together as Lead Plaintiffs in this case and
approving their selected counsel as Lead Counsel. (Dkt. #23, 28-30; see also
Dkt. #39). This motion was granted on April 18, 2016. (Dkt. #43, 45).
On June 17, 2016, Plaintiffs filed the Complaint. (Dkt. #49). On August
18, 2016, Defendants filed their motion to dismiss the Complaint. (Dkt. #6062). Plaintiffs filed their opposition to Defendants’ motion on October 31, 2016
(Dkt. #70), along with a Motion to Strike the majority of the 40 exhibits that
Defendants had submitted in support of their motion (Dkt. #66-68). On
December 14, 2016, Defendants filed their opposition to Plaintiffs’ motion to
strike their exhibits (Dkt. #75), as well as their reply in further support of their
motion to dismiss the Complaint (Dkt. #74) and a request for oral argument
with regard to both pending motions (Dkt. #76). Plaintiffs filed their reply in
support of their motion to strike on January 11, 2017. (Dkt. #77).
Motions to Dismiss Under Federal Rule of Civil
When considering a motion to dismiss under this rule, a court should
“draw all reasonable inferences in [the plaintiffs’] favor, assume all well-pleaded
factual allegations to be true, and determine whether they plausibly give rise to
an entitlement to relief.” Faber v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 648 F.3d 98, 104 (2d Cir.
2011) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted) (quoting Selevan v. N.Y.
Thruway Auth., 584 F.3d 82, 88 (2d Cir. 2009)). Thus, “[t]o survive a motion to
dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true,
to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570
(2007)). In this regard, a complaint is deemed to include any written
instrument attached to it as an exhibit or any statements or documents
incorporated in it by reference. See, e.g., Hart v. FCI Lender Servs., Inc., 797
F.3d 219, 221 (2d Cir. 2015) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(c) (“A statement in a
pleading may be adopted by reference elsewhere in the same pleading or in any
other pleading or motion. A copy of a written instrument that is an exhibit to a
pleading is a part of the pleading for all purposes.”)).
“While Twombly does not require heightened fact pleading of specifics, it
does require enough facts to ‘[nudge a plaintiff’s] claims across the line from
conceivable to plausible.’” In re Elevator Antitrust Litig., 502 F.3d 47, 50 (2d
Cir. 2007) (per curiam) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “Where a
complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with’ a defendant’s liability,
it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to
relief.’” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Moreover,
“the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a
complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the
elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do
not suffice.” Id.
The Relevant Securities Laws
Under Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act, it is
unlawful for any person, directly or indirectly, by the
use of any means or instrumentality of interstate
commerce or of the mails, or of any facility of any
national securities exchange ... [t]o use or employ, in
connection with the purchase or sale of any security
registered on a national securities exchange or any
security not so registered, or any securities-based swap
agreement any manipulative or deceptive device or
contrivance in contravention of such rules and
regulations as the Commission may prescribe as
necessary or appropriate in the public interest or for the
protection of investors.
15 U.S.C. § 78j. Rule 10b-5, promulgated by the SEC under Section 10(b),
further provides that a person may not
employ any device, scheme, or artifice to defraud[;] ...
make any untrue statement of a material fact or ... omit
to state a material fact necessary in order to make the
statements made, in the light of the circumstances
under which they were made, not misleading[;] or ...
engage in any act, practice, or course of business which
operates or would operate as a fraud or deceit upon any
person[;] in connection with the purchase or sale of any
17 C.F.R. § 240.10b-5. “Although Section 10(b) does not expressly provide for
a private right of action, courts have long recognized an implied private right of
action under Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5.” In re Longtop Fin. Techs. Ltd. Sec.
Litig., 939 F. Supp. 2d 360, 376 (S.D.N.Y. 2013) (citing Superintendent of Ins. of
State of N.Y. v. Bankers Life & Cas. Co., 404 U.S. 6, 13 n.9 (1971) (“It is now
established that a private right of action is implied under [Section] 10(b).”)).
To succeed on a Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5 claim, a plaintiff must
prove “[i] a material misrepresentation or omission by the defendant;
[ii] scienter; [iii] a connection between the misrepresentation or omission and
the purchase or sale of a security; [iv] reliance upon the misrepresentation or
omission; [v] economic loss; and [vi] loss causation.’” GAMCO Inv’rs, Inc. v.
Vivendi Universal, S.A., 838 F.3d 214, 217 (2d Cir. 2016) (quoting Halliburton
Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc., — U.S. —, 134 S. Ct. 2398, 2407 (2014)).
Section 20(a) establishes that “[e]very person who, directly or indirectly,
controls any person liable under [the Exchange Act and its implementing
regulations] shall also be liable jointly and severally with and to the same
extent as such controlled person to any person to whom such controlled person
is liable.” 15 U.S.C. § 78t(a). To state a Section 20(a) claim, a plaintiff must
show [i] “a primary violation by the controlled person”; [ii] “control of the
primary violator by the defendant”; and [iii] that the controlling person “was, in
some meaningful sense, a culpable participant in the controlled person’s
fraud.” ATSI Commc’ns, Inc. v. Shaar Fund, Ltd., 493 F.3d 87, 108 (2d Cir.
Heightened Pleading of Fraud Claims Under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 9(b)
Plaintiffs’ securities fraud claims are subject to the heightened pleading
requirements of Rule 9(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the
Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (the “PSLRA”), 15 U.S.C. § 78u4(b). See, e.g., ATSI Commc’ns, 493 F.3d at 99 (affirming that securities fraud
claims must satisfy the heightened pleading standards of both Rule 9(b) and
the PSLRA); Arco Capital Corp. v. Deutsche Bank AG, 949 F. Supp. 2d 532, 539
(S.D.N.Y. 2013) (same). The Court will discuss the PSLRA in more detail below,
as it primarily pertains to Plaintiff’s pleading of the element of scienter.
Rule 9(b)’s requirements pertain to Plaintiff’s fraud claim as a whole,
however. Under Rule 9(b), a plaintiff must “state with particularity the
circumstances constituting [a] fraud.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b). This requires that a
plaintiff’s complaint: “[i] specify the statements that the plaintiff contends were
fraudulent, [ii] identify the speaker, [iii] state where and when the statements
were made, and [iv] explain why the statements were fraudulent.” Rombach v.
Chang, 355 F.3d 164, 170 (2d Cir. 2004) (internal quotation marks omitted)
(quoting Mills v. Polar Molecular Corp., 12 F.3d 1170, 1175 (2d Cir. 1993)). In
contrast, “intent, knowledge, and other conditions of mind may be averred
generally.” Kalnit v. Eichler, 264 F.3d 131, 138 (2d Cir. 2001) (quoting Fed. R.
Civ. P. 9(b)).
Plaintiffs have alleged that Defendants violated Sections 10(a) and 20(a)
and Rule 10b-5 when they: (i) failed to disclose the 2014 change to in-store
produce processing and preparation “and the resulting increase in the risk that
the Company could experience food-borne illness outbreaks” (Compl. ¶ 4; see
also id. at ¶¶ 45-59); (ii) failed to disclose that “their failure to enforce
Chipotle’s food safety protocols in its restaurants had significantly increased
the risk of food-borne illness outbreaks” (id. at ¶ 5; see also id. at ¶¶ 60-73);
(iii) “made materially false and misleading statements ... about the status of the
CDC’s investigation into the October E. coli outbreak at Chipotle restaurants”
in the November 10, 2015 press release (id. at ¶ 6); and (iv) “failed to timely
disclose the existence and/or extent of the food-borne illness outbreaks to
Chipotle’s investors,” including in the company’s October 20, 2015 financial
report (id. at ¶ 7; see also id. at ¶ 200).
Because Section 20(a) liability can only arise if there is a primary
violation by a controlled person, the Court considers first the antecedent issue
of whether Plaintiffs have adequately pleaded that any Defendant violated
Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5. See SRM Glob. Master Fund Ltd. P’ship v. Bear
Stearns Cos. L.L.C., 829 F.3d 173, 177 (2d Cir. 2016) (quoting ECA & Local 134
IBEW Joint Pension Tr. of Chi. v. JP Morgan Chase Co. (hereinafter, “ECA”), 553
F.3d 187, 207 (2d Cir. 2009)). The Court concludes that Plaintiffs have not,
and dismisses all of Plaintiffs’ remaining claims.
Plaintiffs Have Not Stated a Claim Under Section 10(b) and
Plaintiffs’ claim fails because they fail to plead adequately both the
existence of a material misrepresentation or omission by Defendants and
scienter. The Court therefore focuses its analysis on these two elements.
Actionable Misrepresentations or Omissions
To establish his or her securities fraud claim, a plaintiff must first
identify “an actual statement, one that is either ‘untrue’ outright or [that is]
‘misleading’ by virtue of what it omits to state.” In re Vivendi, S.A. Sec. Litig.,
838 F.3d 223, 239 (2d Cir. 2016). Statements of the latter ilk, “statements that
are misleading by omission,” are governed by the “rule against half-truths.” Id.
at 240. This rule is analogous to “the common-law tort of fraudulent
misrepresentation, according to which ‘a statement that contains only
favorable matters and omits all reference to unfavorable matters is as much a
false representation as if all the facts stated were untrue.’” Id. (quoting
Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 529, cmt. a (1977)).
Half-truths are distinguished from “pure omissions,” which entail “a
complete failure to make a statement.” In re Vivendi, S.A. Sec. Litig., 838 F.3d
at 239 (quoting Litwin v. Blackstone Grp., L.P., 634 F.3d 706, 719 (2d Cir.
2011)). Pure omissions are “actionable” only when they arise despite a “duty to
disclose the omitted facts.” Id. (internal quotation mark omitted) (quoting
Stratte-McClure v. Morgan Stanley, 776 F.3d 94, 101 (2d Cir. 2015)). “[I]n and
of themselves, ‘[Section] 10(b) and Rule 10b-5 do not create an affirmative duty
to disclose any and all material information.’” Id. (quoting Matrixx Initiatives,
Inc. v. Siracusano, 563 U.S. 27, 44 (2011)). And “[n]o such duty arises ‘merely
because a reasonable investor would very much like to know’” the omitted
information. Id. (quoting In re Time Warner Inc. Sec. Litig., 9 F.3d 259, 267 (2d
A duty to disclose can arise from “statutes or regulations that obligate a
party to speak.” In re Vivendi, S.A. Sec. Litig., 838 F.3d at 239 n.8 (internal
quotation mark omitted) (quoting Stratte-McClure, 776 F.3d at 102). For
example, this Circuit has determined that the affirmative disclosure
requirements of Item 303 of Regulation S-K “can serve as the basis for a
securities fraud claim under Section 10(b).” Stratte-McClure, 776 F.3d at 100.
The Circuit explained that “this conclusion stands to reason — for omitting an
item required to be disclosed on a 10-Q can render that financial statement
misleading,” because “a reasonable investor would interpret the absence of an
Item 303 disclosure to imply the nonexistence of ‘known trends or
uncertainties ... that the registrant reasonably expects will have a material ...
unfavorable impact on ... revenues or income from continuing operations.’” Id.
at 102 (quoting 17 C.F.R. § 229.303(a)(3)(ii)).
A duty can also arise from a company’s decision to speak. “It is wellestablished precedent in this Circuit that ‘once a company speaks on an issue
or topic, there is a duty to tell the whole truth,’ ‘[e]ven when there is no existing
independent duty to disclose information’ on the issue or topic.” In re Vivendi,
S.A. Sec. Litig., 838 F.3d at 258 (alteration in original) (quoting Meyer v.
Jinkosolar Holdings Co., Ltd., 761 F.3d 245, 250 (2d Cir. 2014)) (citing Caiola v.
Citibank, N.A., N.Y., 295 F.3d 312, 331 (2d Cir. 2002) (“[T]he lack of an
independent duty [to disclose] is not ... a defense to ... liability[,] because upon
choosing to speak, one must speak truthfully about material issues.”)).
Of course, identifying a statement that is outright untrue or misleading
on the basis of what is omitted, or a pure omission, is only the first step of the
inquiry. See Stratte-McClure, 776 F.3d at 102-03. A plaintiff must also plead
materiality. See id. at 102-04. To analyze materiality, “courts must engage in
a fact-specific inquiry.” ECA, 553 F.3d at 197 (citing Basic Inc. v. Levinson, 485
U.S. 224, 240 (1988)). “[I]n order for the misstatement to be material, ‘there
must be a substantial likelihood that the disclosure of the omitted fact would
have been viewed by the reasonable investor as having significantly altered the
total mix of information made available.’” Id. (quoting Basic Inc., 485 U.S. at
231-32). Because this determination “necessarily depends on all relevant
circumstances,” it poses “a mixed question of law and fact, in the context of
a ... 12(b)(6) motion.” Id. Therefore, “a complaint may not properly be
dismissed ... on the ground that the alleged misstatements or omissions are
not material unless they are so obviously unimportant to a reasonable investor
that reasonable minds could not differ on the question of their importance.” Id.
(internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Ganino v. Citizens Utils. Co., 228
F.3d 154, 162 (2d Cir. 2000)).
The Alleged Material Misrepresentations or Omissions
In this case, Plaintiffs have identified a host of statements and omissions
that they allege violate Section 10(a) and Rule 10b-5. Taking the last-in-time
statement first, the Court begins its analysis with Plaintiffs challenge to
statements in Chipotle’s November 10, 2015 press release, which averred that
(i) “[h]ealth officials have concluded that there is no ongoing risk from this
incident,” and (ii) there was “no ongoing threat related to the October E. coli
outbreak.” (Compl. ¶ 220; see also Pl. Opp. 13). Plaintiffs claim that even if
the Company lacked a duty to disclose the status of the CDC investigation
initially, it was obligated to ensure that its statements regarding this incident
were accurate and complete once it elected to make them. (Pl. Opp. 13).
Second, Plaintiffs challenge statements that Chipotle made in its 2014
Form 10-K (Compl. ¶¶ 204-08); April 22, 2015 Form 10-Q for the fiscal quarter
ended March 31, 2015 (id. at ¶¶ 209-10); July 22, 2015 Form 10-Q for the
fiscal quarter ended June 30, 2015 (id. at ¶¶ 211-12); and October 21, 2015
Form 10-Q for the fiscal quarter ended September 30, 2015 (id. at ¶¶ 217-18).
Each of these forms was signed by Hartung and certified under the SarbanesOxley Act of 2002 (“Sarbanes-Oxley”) by all of the Individual Defendants. (Id.
at ¶¶ 204, 209, 211, 217).
Plaintiffs first allege that the 2014 Form 10-K “made incomplete
representations concerning the Company’s usage of commissaries and
susceptibility to food-borne illnesses.” (Compl. ¶ 204). Specifically, Plaintiffs
take issue with three statements therein:
“Our food is prepared from scratch, with the majority
prepared in our restaurants while some is prepared
with the same fresh ingredients in larger batches in
“Instances of food-borne illnesses, real or perceived,
whether at our restaurants or those of our competitors,
may subject us to liability to affected customers, and
could result in negative publicity about us or the
restaurant industry that adversely affects our sales. We
may be at a higher risk for food-borne illness outbreaks
than some competitors due to our use of fresh produce
and meats rather than frozen, and our reliance on
employees cooking with traditional methods rather than
“We are committed to serving safe, high quality food to
our customers. Quality and food safety are integrated
throughout our supply chain and everything we do;
from the farms that supply our food all the way through
to our front line. We have established close
relationships with some of the top suppliers in the
industry, and we actively maintain a limited list of
approved suppliers from whom our distributors must
establishes and monitors our quality and food safety
programs for our supply chain. Our training and risk
management departments develop and implement
operating standards for food quality, preparation,
cleanliness and safety in the restaurants. Our food
safety programs are also designed to ensure that we
comply with applicable federal, state and local food
(Id. at ¶¶ 204, 206). Plaintiffs argue that the first two statements were
materially misleading because Defendants made them without disclosing the
Company’s “transition in late 2014 to in-store processing of produce instead of
commissary preparation,” which transition is alleged to have “dramatically
increased Chipotle’s risk of experiencing food-borne illness outbreaks during
the Class Period.” (Id. at ¶ 205). The third statement is contested because
“Defendants failed to disclose that Chipotle’s quality assurance department did
not adequately monitor Chipotle’s food safety programs and there were
insufficient controls and procedures in place to ensure that operating
standards had been properly implemented and adhered to.” (Id. at ¶ 207).
Plaintiffs’ second challenge — to Defendants’ April 22, 2015; July 22,
2015; and October 21, 2015 Form 10-Qs — proceeds from their challenge to
the 2014 10-K. With regard to each Form 10-Q, Plaintiffs allege that
Defendants’ statement therein that there had been “no material changes” in
Chipotle’s risk factors since its 2014 Form 10-K was false and materially
misleading. (Compl. ¶¶ 209-12, 217-18). Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that
Defendants failed to disclose the 2014 transition from commissary to in-store
produce preparation, and, further, were required to do so because (i) their
discussion of risk in these statements put the risk engendered by this
transition at issue (id. at ¶¶ 205, 207; Pl. Opp. 16-17) and (ii) this disclosure
was required by Items 303 and 503 of Regulation S-K (Compl. ¶¶ 251-60; Pl.
Opp. 17-19). More broadly, with regard to all of the statements contained in
the Company’s SEC filings, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants’ failure to disclose
the 2014 transition from commissary to in-store produce preparation and the
failure of the Company’s food safety programs and operation standards violated
its duties to disclose under Items 303 and 503 of the SEC’s Regulation S-K.
(Compl. ¶¶ 251-60; Pl. Opp. 17-19). 4
Third, Plaintiffs take issue with statements made in the Company’s Form
8-K filed on October 20, 2015, “which, among other things, provided Chipotle’s
financial guidance” for the fiscal quarter ended December 31, 2015, and fiscal
year 2016. (Compl. ¶ 200; see also Pl. Opp. 24). Specifically, the Form 8-K
indicated that “[f]or 2015, management expects ... [l]ow-to-mid single digit
comparable restaurant sales increases,” and “[f]or 2016, management
expects ... [l]ow-single digit comparable sales increases.” (Compl. ¶ 200; see
also id. at ¶ 213; Pl. Opp. 24). Analysts considered this surprising,
conservative guidance. (Compl. ¶ 201). Plaintiffs allege that it “was materially
false and misleading when made because Defendants did not have a
In relevant part, Item 303 requires a company to “[d]escribe any unusual or infrequent
events or transactions or any significant economic changes that materially affected the
amount of reported income from continuing operations and, in each case, indicate the
extent to which income was so affected,” and “[d]escribe any known trends or
uncertainties that have had or that the [Company] reasonably expects will have a
material favorable or unfavorable impact on net sales or revenues or income from
continuing operations.” 17 C.F.R. § 229.303(a)(3). Item 503 requires that a company
“provide under the caption ‘Risk Factors’ a discussion of the most significant factors
that make the offering speculative or risky[,] ... [e]xplain how the risk affects the issuer
or the securities being offered[,] ... and adequately describe the risk.” 17 C.F.R.
reasonable basis to issue such guidance due to the ... material adverse facts
existing at the time,” such as the Company’s transition to in-store produce
preparation, the Company’s failure to monitor food safety, the numerous
outbreaks of food-borne illnesses and their impact on the Company’s business,
and the future effects that additional outbreaks, publicity of them, and
investigations into them would have on the Company. (Id. at ¶ 214).
Fourth and finally, Plaintiffs challenge statements made by Hartung in
an October 20, 2015 conference call held to discuss the Form 8-K financial
results published that day. (Compl. ¶¶ 215-16; Pl. Opp. 22-23)). These too,
Plaintiffs allege, were materially false and misleading because they did not
disclose the material adverse facts existing at that time described above, and
their connection to the Company’s performance. (Compl. ¶ 216).
The Challenged Statements in Chipotle’s 2014 Form 10K; April 22, 2015 Form 10-Q; and July 22, 2015 Form
10-Q Are Not Actionable
Plaintiffs have failed to plead adequately that Defendants made material
false or misleading statements or omissions in Chipotle’s 2014 Form 10-K;
April 22, 2015 Form 10-Q; or July 22, 2015 Form 10-Q. In the Company’s
2014 Form 10-K, the Company disclosed that “the majority” of its food was
“prepared in [its] restaurants,” and that it was therefore possibly “at a higher
risk for food-borne illness outbreaks than some competitors due to [its] use of
fresh produce ... and ... reliance on employees cooking with traditional methods
rather than automation.” (Compl. ¶ 204). Significantly, Plaintiffs have not
provided any facts to indicate that, at the time this statement was made,
Defendants had any reason to believe that it was false.
It is perhaps true that in electing to speak regarding the risks posed by
its food preparation methods, Chipotle put those risks at issue and was
required to ensure that its statements regarding them were truthful and
complete. But Plaintiffs have not indicated that Chipotle’s statements were
not: Plaintiffs have not argued, for instance, that it is untrue that “the
majority” of Chipotle’s food was prepared “in-store,” or that this fact put
Chipotle at a higher risk for food-borne illness. Rather, Plaintiffs have argued
that Chipotle was obligated to disclose that this risk was perhaps heightened
by Chipotle’s 2014 transition to in-store produce preparation.
No facts support an inference that any Defendants were aware of this
heightened risk at the time this statement was made, if indeed there was such
a heightened risk. Rather, Plaintiffs’ facts support just the opposite inference:
Plaintiffs allege that Chipotle transitioned to in-store produce production in
“late 2014,” and have pleaded facts indicating that the first outbreak of foodborne illness at a Chipotle restaurant occurred in July 2015, at least seven
months later. (Compl. ¶¶ 4, 77). For at least seven months, therefore, this
transition appeared not to heighten Chipotle’s risk at all. Plaintiffs argue
awareness from the mere fact that the later events transpired, but such post
hoc, ergo propter hoc pleading has been repeatedly rejected by the courts:
“Corporate officials need not [be] clairvoyant; they are only responsible for
revealing those material facts reasonably available to them. Thus, allegations
that defendants should have anticipated future events and made certain
disclosures earlier than they actually did do not suffice to make out a claim of
securities fraud.” Elliott Assocs., L.P. v. Covance, Inc., No. 00 Civ. 4115 (SAS),
2000 WL 1752848, at *8 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 28, 2000) (quoting Novak v. Kasaks,
216 F.3d 300, 309 (2d Cir. 2000)). Here, Chipotle provided disclosures
regarding its risks that were company-specific and related to the direct risks it
uniquely faced; there can be no argument that these were boilerplate
statements insufficient to satisfy the Company’s obligations under Items 303 or
503. See In re Sanofi Sec. Litig., 87 F. Supp. 3d 510, 536 (S.D.N.Y. 2015)
(“These statements conveyed substantive information about the risk that
ultimately materialized. As such, they were meaningful cautionary language,
not mere boilerplate.”), aff’d sub nom. Tongue v. Sanofi, 816 F.3d 199 (2d Cir.
The Court likewise finds that the statements in this filing regarding
Chipotle’s food-safety programs and protocols are generalized statements that
courts in this Circuit have consistently deemed inactionable puffery. See, e.g.,
ECA, 553 F.3d at 206 (“The statements are too general to cause a reasonable
investor to rely upon them. ... [They] did not, and could not, amount to a
guarantee that [the company’s] choices would prevent failures in its risk
management practices[, but rather were] ... merely generalizations regarding
[the company’s] business practices.”); Lasker v. N.Y. State Elec. & Gas Corp., 85
F.3d 55, 58-59 (2d Cir. 1996). 5
The Statements in the October 20, 2015 8-K; October
20, 2015 Conference Call; October 21, 2015 Form 10-Q;
and November 10, 2015 Press Release May Be Actionable
On the other hand, Plaintiffs may have pleaded adequately that specific
statements contained in Chipotle’s October 20, 2015 8-K; its October 21, 2015
Form 10-Q; the October 21, 2015 conference call; and the November 10, 2015
Press Release were untrue outright or “half-truths.” Taking the last of these
statements first, Plaintiffs have alleged that the November 10, 2015 statements
to the effect that (i) health officials had concluded there was no ongoing risk
and (ii) there was no ongoing threat related to the October E. Coli outbreak
were false, citing to letters published by the CDC on November 20, 2015, and
April 15, 2016. (Compl. ¶¶ 222-23, 248). Such an alleged misrepresentation
of existing fact may be actionable. See Novak, 216 F.3d at 315.
Plaintiffs have also alleged that Chipotle’s statement in its October 21,
2015 Form 10-Q that there had been “no material changes” in Chipotle’s risk
factors since its 2014 Form 10-K was a misrepresentation of existing fact given
the four food-borne illness outbreaks identified prior to October 21. And
Though the Court does not need to reach the second step in the Section 10(b) and
Rule 10b-5 analysis with regard to these statements, because it finds them insufficient
at the first, the Court notes that these statements would also fail with regard to
scienter. Plaintiffs have pleaded no facts to demonstrate that these statements were
known to be untrue when made. The fact that Chipotle later found itself beset by a
plague of food-borne illness outbreaks does not prove that Chipotle was not committed
to serving safe food, that its quality assurance department did not establish and
monitor its quality and food safety programs, and that such programs were not
designed to ensure compliance with safety regulations.
similarly, Plaintiffs have pleaded that advising investors regarding Chipotle’s
financial performance and future in the October 20 8-K and conference call,
without discussing the import of the food-borne illness outbreaks for that
future, misrepresented existing facts by propagating a material omission. The
Court finds that these statements are more than the declarations of “intention,
hope, or projections of future earnings” that courts in this Circuit have deemed
“the hallmarks of inactionable puffery.” In re Moody’s Corp. Sec. Litig., 599 F.
Supp. 2d 493, 509 (S.D.N.Y.), opinion corrected on denial of reconsideration,
612 F. Supp. 2d 397 (S.D.N.Y. 2009). “They were neither ‘vague’ nor ‘nonspecific’ pronouncements that were incapable of ‘objective verification,’” but
rather specific, affirmative statements of fact regarding Chipotle’s risk and the
reasons for its past, present, and hoped-for future performance that could be
verified. Id. (quoting In re Tower Auto. Sec. Litig., 483 F. Supp. 2d 327, 336
(S.D.N.Y. 2007)). These too may be actionable allegations.
The Court pauses to underscore that these alleged misstatements can
only be actionable if Plaintiffs have also adequately pleaded that they are
material. That is, the Court must find that there is a substantial likelihood
that a disclosure of (i) an ongoing CDC investigation, (ii) the existence of
“material changes” in Chipotle’s risk factors since its 2014 Form 10-K, and
(iii) the impact of the food-borne illness outbreaks on Chipotle’s past, present,
and future financial performance each “would have been viewed by the
reasonable investor as having significantly altered the total mix of information
made available.” ECA, 553 F.3d at 197 (internal quotation mark omitted)
(quoting Basic Inc., 485 U.S. at 231-32).
The Court is skeptical that these particular disclosures would have
“altered the total mix of information available,” given the highly publicized
nature of the outbreaks documented in the Complaint. See In re Bank of Am.
Corp. Sec., Derivative, & Emp. Ret. Income Sec. Act (ERISA) Litig., 757 F. Supp.
2d 260, 290 (S.D.N.Y. 2010) (“‘[W]idely reported’ facts disseminated in the news
media may be part of the ‘total mix’ of information.” (alteration in original)
(quoting United Paperworkers Int’l Union v. Int’l Paper Co., 985 F.2d 1190,
1197-98 (2d Cir. 1993)); see also GAF Corp. v. Heyman, 724 F.2d 727, 741 (2d
Cir. 1983) (justifying finding that disclosure would not have altered the total
mix of information available in part on the basis of news stories). “But case law
does not support the sweeping proposition that an issuer of securities is never
required to disclose publicly available information.” Litwin, 634 F.3d at 718;
see also id. at 718-19 (“In this case, the key information that plaintiffs assert
should have been disclosed is whether, and to what extent, the particular
known trend, event, or uncertainty might have been reasonably expected to
materially affect [defendant’s] investments. And this potential future impact
was certainly not public knowledge[.]”). Moreover, the Court cannot say that
these disclosures “are so obviously unimportant to a reasonable investor that
reasonable minds could not differ on the question of their importance.” Id. at
718 (emphasis added) (quoting Ganino, 228 F.3d at 162). The Court will not
therefore dismiss the disputed statements made on these four occasions on the
basis of their questionable materiality. As it happens, these statements fail at
the second step of the Court’s § 10(b) analysis. 6
The Law on Scienter
As discussed above, Plaintiffs’ securities fraud claims are subject to the
heightened pleading requirements of Rule 9(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure and the PSLRA, 15 U.S.C. § 78u-4(b). See, e.g., ATSI Commc’ns, 493
F.3d at 99 (affirming that securities fraud claims must satisfy the heightened
pleading standards of both Rule 9(b) and the PSLRA); Arco Capital Corp., 949 F.
Supp. 2d at 539 (same).
The PSLRA “requires plaintiffs to state with particularity both the facts
constituting the alleged violation, and the facts evidencing scienter, i.e., the
defendant’s intention ‘to deceive, manipulate, or defraud.’” Tellabs, Inc. v.
Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 313 (2007) (quoting Ernst & Ernst v.
Hochfelder, 425 U.S. 185, 193 & n.12 (1976)) (citing 15 U.S.C. § 78u-4(b)(1),
(2)). To satisfy the scienter requirement, a complaint must give “rise to a
strong inference that the defendant acted with the required state of mind.” 15
U.S.C. § 78u-4(b)(2). A “strong inference” that a defendant acted with scienter
is not an irrefutable inference, though it “must be more than merely plausible
or reasonable[.]” Tellabs, 551 U.S. at 314. It cannot be identified “in a
vacuum,” as “[t]he inquiry is inherently comparative[.]” Id. at 323. A “strong
The Court also assumes here, arguendo, that these statements do not fall within one of
the PSLRA’s safe harbor provisions. The Court will consider this question more fully
below, however, because it is bound up with the Court’s scienter analysis.
inference” is an inference that is “cogent and at least as compelling as any
opposing inference one could draw from the facts alleged.” Id. at 324.
To evaluate whether the PSLRA’s scienter standard has been met, courts
consider “whether all of the facts alleged, taken collectively, give rise to a strong
inference of scienter, not whether any individual allegation, scrutinized in
isolation, meets that standard.” Tellabs, Inc., 551 U.S. at 323 (emphasis in
original); see also id. at 326 (“[The court’s job is not to scrutinize each
allegation in isolation but to assess all the allegations holistically. ... [A] court
must ask: When the allegations are accepted as true and taken collectively,
would a reasonable person deem the inference of scienter at least as strong as
any opposing inference?”). And “[w]hen the defendant is a corporate entity, ...
the pleaded facts must create a strong inference that someone whose intent
could be imputed to the corporation acted with the requisite scienter.”
Teamsters Local 445 Freight Div. Pension Fund v. Dynex Capital Inc., 531 F.3d
190, 195 (2d Cir. 2008).
The facts pled must show either “that the defendants had the motive and
opportunity to commit fraud” or constitute “strong circumstantial evidence of
conscious misbehavior or recklessness.” ECA, 553 F.3d at 198. “In order to
raise a strong inference of scienter through ‘motive and opportunity’ to defraud,
[a plaintiff] must allege that [defendants] ‘benefitted in some concrete and
personal way from the purported fraud.’” Id. (emphasis added) (quoting Novak,
216 F.3d at 307-08). It is not enough for a plaintiff to show “[m]otives that are
common to most corporate officers, such as the desire for the corporation to
appear profitable and the desire to keep stock prices high to increase officer
compensation[.]” Id.; accord, e.g., Chill v. Gen. Elec. Co., 101 F.3d 263, 268 (2d
Cir. 1996) (“[A] generalized motive ... which could be imputed to any publicly
owned, for-profit endeavor, is not sufficiently concrete for purposes of inferring
In the absence of a showing of motive, “it is still possible to plead scienter
by identifying circumstances” indicative of conscious misbehavior or
recklessness on the part of the defendant, “though the strength of the
circumstantial allegations must be correspondingly greater.” Kalnit, 264 F.3d
at 142 (quoting Beck v. Mfrs. Hanover Tr. Co., 820 F.2d 46, 50 (2d Cir. 1987)).
Conscious recklessness is a “state of mind approximating actual intent, and
not merely a heightened form of negligence.” S. Cherry St., LLC v. Hennessee
Grp. LLC, 573 F.3d 98, 109 (2d Cir. 2009) (quotation mark and emphasis
omitted) (quoting Novak, 216 F.3d at 312). To plead conscious recklessness
adequately, a plaintiff must allege facts showing “conduct which is highly
unreasonable and which represents an extreme departure from the standards
of ordinary care to the extent that the danger was either known to the
defendants or so obvious that the defendant must have been aware of it.” In re
Carter-Wallace, Inc. Sec. Litig., 220 F.3d 36, 39 (2d Cir. 2000); accord Rothman
v. Gregor, 220 F.3d 81, 90 (2d Cir. 2000) (quoting Rolf v. Blyth, Eastman Dillon
& Co., 570 F.2d 38, 47 (2d Cir. 1978)). A plaintiff may allege that a defendant
“engaged in deliberately illegal behavior, knew facts or had access to
information suggesting his public statements were not accurate, or failed to
check information that he had a duty to monitor.” Nathel v. Siegal, 592 F.
Supp. 2d 452, 464 (S.D.N.Y. 2008) (citing Novak, 216 F.3d at 311). Opinions
or predictions can be the basis for scienter “if they are worded as guarantees or
are supported by specific statements of fact, or if the speaker does not
genuinely or reasonably believe them.” In re Int’l Bus. Machs. Corp. Sec. Litig.,
163 F.3d 102, 107 (2d Cir. 1998) (citation omitted).
Plaintiffs Have Not Pleaded Scienter on the Basis
of Defendants’ Motive and Opportunity to Commit Fraud
In attempting to comply with Rule 9(b), Plaintiffs have specified the
statements that are alleged to be fraudulent: they are the particular statements
described above within Chipotle’s October 20, 2015 8-K; October 21, 2015
Form 10-Q; the October 21, 2015 conference call, and November 10, 2015
Press Release. Plaintiffs have identified the speaker, attributing these
statements to Defendants. 7 They have described the circumstances in which
Plaintiffs have identified Hartung as the author of the October 20 conference call
statements. The Individual Defendants are alleged to be the collective authors of the
statements in made in the Company’s SEC filings. See Loreley Fin. (Jersey) No. 3 Ltd. v.
Wells Fargo Sec., LLC, 797 F.3d 160, 173 (2d Cir. 2015) (“Where a plural author is
implied by the nature of the representations — for instance, where, as here, [i] the
alleged fraud is based on statements made in the offering materials and [ii] the
complaint gives grounds for attributing the statements to the group — group pleading
may satisfy the source identification required by Rule 9(b).” The Court is skeptical of
this attribution with regard to Chipotle’s press releases, but does not need to resolve
this issue, since Plaintiffs’ claims fail on other grounds.
The Court notes, however, that courts in this Circuit have held that “[s]cienter must be
separately pled and individually supportable as to each defendant; scienter is not
amenable to group pleading.” C.D.T.S. v. UBS AG, No. 12 Civ. 4924 (KBF), 2013 WL
6576031, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 13, 2013), aff’d sub nom. Westchester Teamsters Pension
Fund v. UBS AG, 604 F. App’x 5 (2d Cir. 2015) (summary order); see also, e.g., S.E.C. v.
Espuelas, 579 F. Supp. 2d 461, 482 n.10 (S.D.N.Y. 2008) (“[T]he group pleading
doctrine can only be invoked to attribute fraudulent statements to defendants,
remaining wholly insufficient to plead scienter.”). Other courts have aptly noted that
“Individual Defendants’ signatures on SEC filings contribute, at most, a weak inference
of scienter.” Christine Asia Co. v. Alibaba Grp. Holding Ltd., 192 F. Supp. 3d 456, 482
(S.D.N.Y. 2016). “To hold otherwise would allow plaintiffs to plead the scienter of whole
the statements were made, and explained their belief as to why they were
fraudulent. Rule 9(b)’s requirements are satisfied.
With regard to the PSLRA, Plaintiffs have argued both that Defendants
had “the motive and opportunity to commit fraud” and that there is “strong
circumstantial evidence of conscious misbehavior or recklessness.” ECA, 553
F.3d at 198. Considering the first of these scienter arguments, the Court
focuses on Plaintiffs’ demonstration of motive; there is no dispute that
Defendants had the opportunity to commit fraud. See, e.g., In re PXRE Grp.,
Ltd., Sec. Litig. (hereinafter “PXRE”), 600 F. Supp. 2d 510, 529-30 (S.D.N.Y.),
aff’d sub nom. Condra v. PXRE Grp. Ltd., 357 F. App’x 393 (2d Cir. 2009)
(summary order); Pension Comm. of Univ. of Montreal Pension Plan v. Banc of
Am. Sec., LLC, 446 F. Supp. 2d 163, 181 (S.D.N.Y. 2006) (“Regarding the
‘opportunity’ prong, courts often assume that corporations, corporate officers,
and corporate directors would have the opportunity to commit fraud if they so
Plaintiffs’ motive argument focuses on the stock sales made by the
Individual Defendants just prior to the Class Period. In particular, Plaintiffs
argue that, following a proxy fight that resulted in the reduction of the
Individual Defendants’ salaries, the Defendants were motivated to, and did,
classes of defendants solely by alleging a misstatement.” Id. (internal quotation marks
omitted) (quoting In re Marsh & McLennan Cos., Inc. Sec. Litig., 501 F. Supp. 2d 452,
485 (S.D.N.Y. 2006)). Therefore, while the Court ultimately finds Plaintiffs have pleaded
scienter insufficiently on other grounds, it notes this attribution issue so that Plaintiffs
may consider it carefully in any amended pleading they may choose to file.
“artificially increase the price of Chipotle stock so that they could maximize the
sales of substantial amounts of their personal holdings.” (Compl. ¶¶ 286-87).
The Second Circuit has made clear that general motives that any
corporate director would have are insufficient, and that plaintiffs must allege
concrete and personal benefits that the defendants perpetrating the fraud
stood to gain. See Kalnit, 264 F.3d at 139 (citing Novak, 216 F.3d at 307-08).
Insufficient motives in this context include “[i] the desire for the corporation to
appear profitable and [ii] the desire to keep stock prices high to increase officer
compensation.” Id. (citing Novak, 216 F.3d at 307-08 (collecting cases)).
However, motive has been deemed “sufficiently pleaded where [a] plaintiff
alleged that defendants misrepresented corporate performance to inflate stock
prices while they sold their own shares.” Id. (citing Novak, 216 F.3d at 307-08
It is this latter needle that Plaintiffs attempt to thread. Plaintiffs argue
that the Individual Defendants’ trading activity during the Class Period permits
an inference of bad faith and scienter because the Defendants’ “stock sales
were ‘unusual.’” Acito v. IMCERA Grp., Inc., 47 F.3d 47, 54 (2d Cir. 1995)
(citation omitted) (citing In re Apple Comput. Sec. Litig., 886 F.2d 1109, 1117
(9th Cir. 1989)). And, indeed, courts have identified facts that can make a
single defendant’s stock sales “unusual,” including the size of the sale relative
to that defendant’s total stock holdings and other defendants’ sale of shares
during the class period. “Factors considered in determining whether insider
trading activity is unusual include the amount of profit from the sales, the
portion of stockholdings sold, the change in volume of insider sales, and the
number of insiders selling.” In re Scholastic Corp. Sec. Litig., 252 F.3d 63, 7475 (2d Cir. 2001); see also Stevelman v. Alias Research Inc., 174 F.3d 79, 85
(2d Cir. 1999). The timing of the sales is also critical: sales made only before
alleged misstatements may be inconsistent with a motive showing. Stevelman,
174 F.3d at 85; cf. id. at 86 (“Some of the sales occurred after the
representations were made, several officers made large sales, and a motive for
inflation of the stock price can be inferred from these sales.”).
Defendants have attempted to rebut Plaintiffs’ allegations with a factual
argument, claiming that the sales were not unusual because they were made
pursuant to Rule 10b5-1 plans. (Def. Br. 28). However, for reasons discussed
in more depth below, the Court will not consider at this stage the extrinsic
evidence that Defendants attempted to introduce in connection with their
motion to dismiss. Shorn of any factual support, Defendants’ argument fails.
Ultimately, though, the Court finds that Plaintiffs have not adequately
pleaded motive. It may be true that Defendants sold stock during the Class
Period, in quantities larger than usual, and for a profit that was larger than
typical. (Compl. ¶¶ 287-89). However, these sales were made long before the
alleged misstatements that the Court has deemed actionable above. To accept
Plaintiffs’ theory of motive, the Court must infer that Defendants were selling
off a small portion of their stock for months prior to the first outbreak of foodborne disease because they believed that such an outbreak was imminent. But
this inference cannot be said to be “at least as compelling as any opposing
inference one could draw from the facts alleged.” Tellabs, 551 U.S. at 324. Far
more plausible is the inference that the Individual Defendants sold more stock
than they had previously because they were being paid less than they had been
previously. Defendants sold stock through July 2015 and stopped selling once
the food-borne illness outbreaks occasioned a diminution of Chipotle stock’s
value, as would any rational economic actor. Because the stock sales ended
prior to the occasion of the alleged misstatements that the Court has found
actionable, they cannot support an argument for scienter with regard to those
misstatements. See Stevelman, 174 F.3d at 85.
Plaintiffs Have Not Pleaded Scienter on the Basis of
Defendants’ Conscious Misbehavior or Recklessness
The Court next considers the circumstantial evidence of Defendants’
conscious misbehavior or recklessness with regard to each of the alleged
material misstatements or omissions. Again, taking the last in time first, the
Court is skeptical that Plaintiffs have alleged adequately that Defendants’
statement in the November 10, 2015 press release was highly unreasonable
and evinced an extreme departure from standards of ordinary care. In re
Carter-Wallace, Inc. Sec. Litig., 220 F.3d at 39. It is true that by November 10,
2015, Chipotle was aware of at least five prior outbreaks of food-borne illness,
in connection with which it had worked with food safety authorities. Plaintiffs
allege therefore that the Company’s statement that there was “no ongoing risk
and that there was no ongoing threat related to the October E. Coli outbreak”
was untrue, or, at the very least, that the possibility of an ongoing risk or
threat “was either known to the [D]efendant[s] or so obvious that the
[D]efendant[s] must have been aware of it.” Id. They seek to bolster this
allegation by circumstantial evidence including the letters published by the
CDC on November 20, 2015, and April 15, 2016 (Compl. ¶¶ 222-23, 248);
subsequent press releases issued by Chipotle regarding the October E. coli
outbreak; and the experience that Plaintiffs assume the Company must have
garnered from its involvement in the prior outbreak investigations.
But looking carefully at Chipotle’s public statement, the Court finds that
Plaintiffs’ inference is considerably less compelling than others. The November
10 press release announced that Chipotle would reopen the 43 stores it had
closed in the Seattle and Portland areas after the outbreak, because the
Company had procured “a fresh supply of all new ingredients,” and “health
officials [had] concluded that there [was] no ongoing risk from this incident.”
(Compl. ¶ 156). This is not inconsistent with the CDC’s statements that it was
continuing laboratory surveillance to identify the cause of the outbreak and
any additional persons affected by it. Chipotle’s statement is forward-facing:
Health officials had concluded that there was no future risk posed by dining at
the restaurants that Chipotle was reopening. The CDC’s statement, in
contrast, is backward-looking: Its investigation into the causes of the outbreak
and identification of infected persons was ongoing.
Moreover, the Court notes that the Complaint only alleges CDC
involvement with regard to one prior investigation: Specifically, with regard to
the July E. coli outbreak, the Complaint alleges that the “CDC was made aware
of this outbreak in July, but no public disclosure was made because by the
time the link to Chipotle was discovered, health officials had determined that
this outbreak posed no ongoing risk to the public.” (Compl. ¶ 83). Plaintiffs’
contention that Chipotle must have learned from its past experiences about the
length of time an investigation would take is undermined by this fact, which
appears to imply that health officials’ July investigation concluded very
Similarly, Chipotle’s statement in its October 21, 2015 Form 10-Q that
there had been “no material changes” in Chipotle’s risk factors since its 2014
Form 10-K is alleged to conflict with the fact that there had been five outbreaks
of food-borne illness at Chipotle restaurants by that date. (Compl. ¶¶ 217-18
(emphasis added)). From this, Plaintiffs reason that on or before October 21,
the fact there had been “material changes” to Chipotle’s risk factors “was either
known to the defendant[s] or so obvious that the defendant[s] must have been
aware of it.” See In re Carter-Wallace, Inc. Sec. Litig., 220 F.3d at 39.
But again, this allegation falters when the Court drills down into
Chipotle’s specific disclosures and obligations, assuming in the first instance
that Items 303 and 503 gave rise to any such obligations with regard to the
disputed statements. Item 303 requires the disclosure of harm that is
“probable,” “imminent,” and “not merely potential.” See Christine Asia Co. v.
Alibaba Grp. Holding Ltd., 192 F. Supp. 3d 456, 477 (S.D.N.Y. 2016). And a
court’s inquiry with regard to Item 503 “boil[s] down ... to ‘whether the Offering
Documents were accurate and sufficiently candid.” Id. (quoting City of
Roseville Emps.’ Ret. Sys. v. EnergySolutions, Inc., 814 F. Supp. 2d 395, 426
(S.D.N.Y. 2011)). Here, Defendants described the risks posed by their in-store
production of the “majority” of their food in the “Risk Factors” section of the
2014 10-K that the October 21, 2015 Form 10-Q incorporated by reference.
This risk was adequately described, as was its potential impact on the
On a small number of occasions one or more Chipotle
restaurants have been associated with customer illness,
and on those occasions our sales have sometimes been
adversely impacted, at times even in markets beyond
those impacted by the illness. If our customers become
ill from food-borne or localized illnesses or if an illness
is attributed to our food, even incorrectly, we could also
be forced to temporarily close some restaurants, further
impacting sales. ... A decrease in customer traffic as a
result of these health concerns or negative publicity, or
as a result of a change in our menu or dining experience
or a temporary closure of any of our restaurants, would
adversely impact our restaurant sales and profitability.
Furthermore, if we react to these problems by changing
our menu or other key aspects of the Chipotle
experience, we may lose customers who do not accept
those changes, and may not be able to attract enough
new customers to generate sufficient revenue to make
our restaurants profitable. Customers may also shift
away from us if we choose to pass along to consumers
any higher ingredient costs resulting from supply
problems associated with outbreaks of food-borne
illnesses, which would also have a negative impact on
our sales and profitability.
(Compl. ¶ 267 (emphasis omitted)). The Court is not convinced that the
Company’s decision to transition to in-store produce production changed these
disclosed risk factors in a material way. Any heightened risk posed by that
transition was only potential, and the Company’s disclosure of its probable,
imminent risks was both accurate and candid.
Similarly, Plaintiffs allege that the possibility that the past and potential
future food-borne disease outbreaks had impacted and would continue to
impact Chipotle’s financial performance and future was “either known to the
defendants or so obvious that the defendant[s] must have been aware of it.”
See In re Carter-Wallace, Inc. Sec. Litig., 220 F.3d at 39. On this point,
Plaintiffs allege that in Defendants’ statements made in the October 21, 2015
Form 10-Q and on the October 21, 2015 conference call, Defendants disclosed
only “half-truths,” because they failed to mention, discuss, or even account for
the variable of Chipotle’s issues with food-borne illness when describing the
reasons for Chipotle’s recent performance and Defendants’ projections for its
Once more, the Court finds that Plaintiffs’ allegations cannot survive any
measure of scrutiny. In the October 20 Form 8-K, Chipotle predicted “low-tomid single digit comparable restaurant sales increases” for 2015, and a worse
performance in 2016, with only “low-single digit comparable restaurant sales
increases.” (Compl. ¶ 200). In the corresponding press conference, Defendant
Hartung answered the specific questions he was posed with specific answers,
describing long-standing trends the applicability and validity of which Plaintiffs
do not dispute. With regard to all of the 8-K and press conference statements,
there is no indication in the Complaint that Chipotle’s projections were
inconsistent with or did not account for the Company’s assessments of the
impact of the food-borne illness outbreaks. And “as long as the public
statements are consistent with reasonably available data, corporate officials
need not present an overly gloomy or cautious picture of current performance
and future prospects.” Novak, 216 F.3d at 309; cf. id. at 315 (“Here, the
complaint alleges that the defendants did more than just offer rosy predictions;
the defendants stated that the inventory situation was ‘in good shape’ or ‘under
control’ while they allegedly knew that the contrary was true.”).
Finally, the Court notes that this failure to plead scienter implicates the
PSLRA’s safe harbor. This statutory exception provides that “a defendant is not
liable if [a] forward-looking statement is identified and accompanied by
meaningful cautionary language or is immaterial or the plaintiff fails to prove
that it was made with actual knowledge that it was false or misleading.”
Slayton v. Am. Express Co., 604 F.3d 758, 766 (2d Cir. 2010) (last emphasis
added) (citing 15 U.S.C. § 78u-5(c)). Defendants’ 8-K and press conference
statements “were plainly forward looking under 15 U.S.C. § 78u-5(c)(1), as they
were framed as an expectation or projection.” Prime Mover Capital Partners L.P.
v. Elixir Gaming Techs., Inc., 548 F. App’x 16, 18 (2d Cir. 2013) (summary
order) (citing Slayton, 604 F.3d at 766-67). And both fall within the third safeharbor prong involving the absence of actual knowledge. “The scienter
requirement for forward-looking statements — actual knowledge — is ‘stricter
than for statements of current fact. Whereas liability for the latter requires a
showing of either knowing falsity or recklessness, liability for the former
attaches only upon proof of knowing falsity.’” In re Sanofi Sec. Litig., 87 F.
Supp. 3d at 530 (emphasis added) (quoting Slayton, 604 F.3d at 773). Here,
for the reasons described above, “the allegations in the [Complaint], considered
as a whole, do not support an inference of recklessness, much less a ‘strong
inference’ of actual knowledge.” Id. at 535 (citing Slayton, 604 F.3d at 773).
Therefore, these two statements are protected by the PSLRA safe harbor. 8
In sum, because Plaintiffs have failed to plead adequately the elements of
(i) material misstatements or omissions and (ii) scienter, their claims under
Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5 fail. The Court therefore declines to reach loss
causation, the third element Defendants have disputed in their motion to
The press conference statement is likely protected by the first prong of the safe harbor
as well, which prong protects forward-looking statements accompanied by meaningful
cautionary language. In his statements, Hartung notes that predicting future
performance based on the Company’s past performance is a “challenge,” and that the
Company is “hoping” it will be “able” to ignite a trend. (Compl. ¶ 201). He further
warns that “[w]hen that will happen, what the order of magnitude of that happening, is
very difficult to predict.” (Id.). When asked about the company’s performance in
October, Hartung describes what he is “hoping will happen,” and gives an estimate that
is “maybe” conservative, noting that because “October is so choppy right now, it isn’t
really giving us any indication of what the current underlying pattern is[,] ... it’s very
difficult to read.” (Id.).
“Of course, cautionary language about future risk does not insulate a defendant from
liability where the defendant fails to disclose that the risk is already present.” Bettis v.
Aixtron SE, No. 16 Civ. 25 (CM), 2016 WL 7468194, at *14 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 20, 2016).
But the Court does not find that within the cabined context of the challenged October
20, 2015 statements, Hartung failed to disclose a risk he knew to be present. Hartung
gave tailored answers to the tailored questions he was asked, and was not required to
append sua sponte a broad warning to the end of each answer regarding the food-borne
The Court pauses here to note Defendants’ troubling claim that Plaintiffs are selectively
quoting, and thereby misrepresenting, the substance of these challenged statements.
The Court cannot determine what warnings Hartung gave in the press conference
because it has been presented with only a small portion of a transcript of that
conference. And the Court may not infer at this stage that statements more favorable to
Defendants may have been omitted from the Complaint; for now, the Court’s hands are
tied, and it must take Plaintiffs’ well-pleaded allegations as true. Both sides are on
notice that false claims, whether in pleadings or in motion papers, are unlikely to serve
them well in this litigation.
That said, the Court is skeptical that Plaintiffs have pleaded adequately loss causation.
Plaintiffs attempt to do so by describing a series of drops in the value of Chipotle’s
stock. However, the timing of these drops appear to undermine their claims. See
60223 Tr. v. Goldman, Sachs & Co., 540 F. Supp. 2d 449, 461 (S.D.N.Y. 2007) (finding
loss causation was not adequately pleaded when a stock lost its value “gradually over
Plaintiffs Have Not Stated a Claim Under Section 20(a)
To state a Section 20(a) claim, a plaintiff must show [i] “a primary
violation by the controlled person”; [ii] “control of the primary violator by the
defendant”; and [iii] evidence that the controlling person “was, in some
meaningful sense, a culpable participant in the controlled person’s fraud.”
ATSI Commc’ns, Inc., 493 F.3d at 108. This claim fails because Plaintiffs have
not stated a primary violation under Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5.
Plaintiffs’ Application for Leave to Amend Is Granted
Plaintiffs request leave to amend the Complaint and file a Second
Amended Complaint rectifying its deficiencies. (Pl. Opp. 40). Rule 15(a)(2)
instructs courts to freely give leave to amend “when justice so requires.”
McCarthy v. Dun & Bradstreet Corp., 482 F.3d 184, 200 (2d Cir. 2007); see also
Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a). “This permissive standard is consistent with [the Second
Circuit’s] ‘strong preference for resolving disputes on the merits.’” Williams v.
Citigroup Inc., 659 F.3d 208, 212-13 (2d Cir. 2011) (per curiam) (quoting New
York v. Green, 420 F.3d 99, 104 (2d Cir. 2005)). And where, as here, a
securities fraud case “combines a complex commercial reality with a long,
multi-prong complaint,” the Circuit has encouraged courts to grant leave to
amend, because “pleading defects may not only be latent, and easily missed or
misperceived without full briefing and judicial resolution; they may also be
the course of the entire class period,” such that it had “already lost almost all its value”
“by the time of the disclosures which allegedly caused the economic loss”). The Court
also finds compelling Defendants’ argument that the result of the alleged corrective
disclosures is difficult to disentangle from the announcement of additional outbreaks.
(Def. Br. 39-40).
borderline, and hence subject to reasonable dispute.” Loreley Fin. (Jersey) No.
3 Ltd. v. Wells Fargo Sec., LLC, 797 F.3d 160, 191 (2d Cir. 2015).
The Court has not granted Plaintiffs leave to amend to correct pleading
deficiencies on any prior occasion, and cannot find that amendment would be
futile or unduly prejudicial. It cautions Plaintiffs, however, that additional
clarity need not require additional length. The Court also expects that
Plaintiffs will consider carefully the Court’s observations in this Opinion.
Plaintiffs’ Motion to Strike Is Denied
The Court is aware of the limits on its ability to consider materials
outside the pleadings when adjudicating a motion brought under Rule 12(b)(6).
See Goel v. Bunge, Ltd., 820 F.3d 554, 558-59 (2d Cir. 2016). Generally courts
may “not look beyond ‘facts stated on the face of the complaint, ... documents
appended to the complaint or incorporated in the complaint by reference,
and ... matters of which judicial notice may be taken.’” Id. at 559 (quoting
Concord Assocs., L.P. v. Entm’t Props. Tr., 817 F.3d 46, 51 n.2 (2d Cir. 2016)).
Defendants here urge the Court to take judicial notice of the Exhibits, but the
Court declines. The Court was able to resolve Defendants’ motion without
considering these materials. Accordingly, Plaintiffs’ motion to strike the
Exhibits is denied as moot.
For the reasons outlined above, Defendants’ motion to dismiss the
Complaint for failure to state a claim is GRANTED. The Complaint is
DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE. Plaintiffs’ motion to strike Defendants’
Exhibits, mooted given this result, is DENIED. The Clerk of Court is directed
to terminate the motions at docket entries 60 and 66.
Plaintiffs’ request for leave to amend is GRANTED. Plaintiffs must file
their Second Amended Complaint within 30 days of this Opinion. Defendants
must answer or otherwise respond within 30 days of Plaintiffs’ filing.
March 8, 2017
New York, New York
KATHERINE POLK FAILLA
United States District Judge
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?