The legal future of Facebook (Nasdaq: FB), the No. 1 social networking site, could be decided Thursday by a panel of 11 federal judges in Manhattan, who’ll determine where lawsuits resulting from its botched initial public offering on May 18 should be tried.
The so-called Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation will hear arguments from Facebook, of Menlo Park, Calif., as well as lawyers representing dozens of shareholders who sued in different federal courts in New York, San Francisco, San Diego and elsewhere claiming that they didn’t receive full information about Facebook’s IPO, which raised about $16 billion for the company and at least $4 billion for CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Since then, Facebook shares, priced originally at $38, have fallen as low as $17.55, before recovering slightly this month. In midday trading, they were at $22.87, down 42 cents.
Facebook has asked that U.S. District Court Judge Robert Sweet in New York, who was randomly assigned the New York cases, be assigned to oversee all the class action lawsuits. Facebook’s lawyers have argued that New York is best-suited for securities cases because the company’s principal underwriters, Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS), JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM) and Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS) are based there.
Lawyers for the 33 cases filed so far are likely to go along with that argument, said Marc Gross, of Pomerantz Haudek Grossman & Gross, whose New York firm filed one of the original lawsuits, although it might also argue that San Francisco is better because it’s closer to Facebook’s headquarters and is a region attuned to technology.
U.S. District Court Judge Maxine Chesney has been assigned many of the San Francisco cases.
Once the 11 judges make their determination, lawyers for Facebook are expected to move to dismiss all the cases, especially because they have blamed problems with trading in Facebook shares on the Nasdaq exchange, which is operated by Nasdaq OMX Group (Nasdaq: NDQ).
When public trading began in Facebook shares on May 18, there was a still-unexplained 30-minute gap between the first trade at $42.05 and later trades closer to $38. The shares closed the first day at $38.23.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has also been investigating the gap. It hasn’t yet issued any findings.
But other suits charged that Facebook also didn’t disclose other information not published in its prospectus and other materials, specifically that the company’s growth was slowing and that it needed to adapt more to mobile platforms. Indeed, Facebook reported a second-quarter loss of $157 million, or 8 cents a share, reversing prior-year net income of $240 million, or 11 cents. Revenue gained 32 percent to $1.18 billion.
After hearing the arguments and reviewing any subsequent legal briefs, the 11-judge panel is expected to publish a decision in several weeks. Any trial in the case likely wouldn’t start until sometime in 2013, lawyers said.