After over five years of hard-fought litigation, on February 19, 2020, Judge Michael M. Anello of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California granted preliminary approval of a class action settlement brought on behalf of SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. shareholders. Since December 2014, Kessler Topaz has served as co-lead counsel in the litigation.
The case alleges that SeaWorld and its former executives issued materially false and misleading statements during the Class Period about the impact on SeaWorld’s business of Blackfish, a highly publicized documentary film released in 2013, in violation of Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act of 1934. Defendants repeatedly told the market that the film and its related negative publicity were not affecting SeaWorld’s attendance or business at all. When the underlying truth of Blackfish’s impact on the business finally came to light in August 2014, SeaWorld’s stock price lost approximately 33% of its value in one day, causing substantial losses to class members.
In April 2019, after the close of fact and expert discovery, Defendants moved for summary judgment on all claims—their last and best opportunity to avoid a jury trial on the Class’s claims through a dispositive motion. After highly contested briefing and oral argument, in November 2019 the Court held in a 98-page opinion that Plaintiffs had successfully shown that the claims should go to a jury.
With summary judgment denied and the parties preparing for a February 2020 trial, the parties reached a $65 million cash settlement for SeaWorld’s investors. A final approval hearing is scheduled for July 2020.