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Gregory M. Castaldo

Partner

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Gregory M. Castaldo is a master litigation strategist with over 20 years experience in complex securities fraud cases. Institutional investors trust Greg’s judgment in developing and executing successful litigation plans, from initial claim identification and investigation, all the way through resolution. As a result, he handles many of the firm’s most significant cases in both state and federal courts.

Greg has represented several of the world’s largest pension funds in cases against Bank of America related to its acquisition of Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, Tenet Healthcare, and Duke Energy. In 2014, he won a rare plaintiff’s victory in a full jury trial against China’s Longtop Financial Technologies in the Southern District of New York. 

Awards/Rankings

  • Benchmark Litigation Stars, 2020 
  • Lawdragon 500 Leading Plaintiff Financial Lawyer, 2019
Experience

Ongoing Cases

  • CASE CAPTION In re Acuity Brands, Inc. Securities Litigation
    COURT United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia
    CASE NUMBER 1:18-cv-02140-MHC
    JUDGE Honorable Mark H. Cohen
    PLAINTIFF Public Employees’ Retirement System of Mississippi
    DEFENDANTS Acuity Brands, Inc., Vernon J. Nagel, Richard K. Reece, & Mark A. Black
    CLASS PERIOD October 7, 2017 to April 3, 2017, inclusive

    This securities fraud class action arises from Acuity’s false and misleading statements regarding its ability to sustain the growth rate it experienced from 2010 to 2015.

    From 2010 to 2015, Acuity experienced a rapid growth rate fueled by the recovery in non-residential construction following the 2008 financial crisis and a wide transition to LED lighting. Acuity’s relationship with The Home Depot created a strong foundation for its extraordinary sales growth, as the Company experienced nine consecutive quarters of record growth. However, by the middle of 2015, competitive pressures in the lighting industry, including increased competition from overseas suppliers, lower LED prices, and a failure to break into the smart lighting solutions market, as well as a dramatic decline in sales to The Home Depot, slowed the Company’s growth considerably. Acuity’s investors were kept in the dark about all of these fundamental developments while the Defendants materially misrepresented Acuity’s ability to maintain the growth rate that it experienced in the previous five years.

    Acuity’s declining growth rate was revealed to the public gradually when the Company reported three consecutive quarters of below-expectation results. Acuity’s stock prices deteriorated, causing massive losses to shareholders.

    Plaintiff filed a Consolidated Amended Class Action Complaint on behalf of a putative class of investors, alleging that Acuity, Vernon Nagel, and Richard Reece violated Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act by making materially false and misleading statements regarding the growth rate of Acuity; and that Nagel, Reece, and Mark Black as controlling persons of Acuity violated Section 20(a) of the Exchange Act. On August 12, 2019, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia granted in part and denied in part Defendants’ motion to dismiss.

    On August 25, 2020, Plaintiff’s motion for class certification was granted, certifying the following class: “All persons who invested in the publicly traded common stock of Acuity Brands, Inc. between October 7, 2015, through April 3, 2017 (the ‘Class Period’) and were damaged thereby.” The Court appointed Plaintiff, the Public Employees’ Retirement System of Mississippi, as Class Representative; and Kessler Topaz Meltzer & Check and Labaton Sucharow as Class Counsel.  Defendants have taken an immediate appeal of the class certification order, which is currently pending before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. 

  •   CASE CAPTION Sjunde AP-Fonden, et al., v. General Electric Company, et al.
      COURT United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
      CASE NUMBER 1:17-cv-08457-JMF
      JUDGE Honorable Jesse M. Furman
      PLAINTIFF  Sjunde AP-Fonden and The Cleveland Bakers and Teamsters Pension Fund
      DEFENDANTS General Electric Company and Jeffrey S. Bornstein
      CLASS PERIOD March 2, 2015 through January 23, 2018, inclusive

    This securities fraud class action case arises out of alleged misrepresentations made by General Electric (“GE”) and its former Chief Financial Officer, Jeffrey S. Bornstein (together, “Defendants”), regarding the use of factoring to conceal cash flow problems that existed within GE Power between March 2, 2015, and January 24, 2018 (the “Class Period”).

    GE Power is the largest business in GE’s Industrials operating segment. The segment constructs and sells power plants, generators, and turbines, and also services such assets through long term service agreements (“LTSAs”). In the years leading up to the Class Period, as global demand for traditional power waned, so too did GE’s sales of gas turbines and its customer’s utilization of existing GE-serviced equipment.  These declines drove down GE Power’s earnings under its LTSAs associated with that equipment.  This was because GE could only collect cash from customers when certain utilization levels were achieved or upon some occurrence within the LTSA, such as significant service work.

    Plaintiffs allege that in an attempt to make up for these lost earnings, GE modified existing LTSAs to increase its profit margin and then utilized an accounting technique known as a “cumulative catch-up adjustment” to book immediate profits based on that higher margin.  In most instances, GE recorded those cumulative catch-up earnings on its income statement long before it could actually invoice customers and collect cash under those agreements. This contributed to a growing gap between GE’s recorded non-cash revenues (or “Contract Assets”) and its industrial cash flows from operating activities (“Industrial CFOA”).  

    In order to conceal this increasing disparity, Plaintiffs allege that GE increased its reliance on receivables factoring (i.e., selling future receivables, including on LTSAs, to GE Capital or third parties for immediate cash).  Through factoring, GE pulled forward future cash flows and, in light of the steep concessions it often agreed to in order to factor a receivable, traded away future revenues for immediate cash.  In stark contrast to the true state of affairs within GE Power—and in violation of Item 303 of Regulation S-K—GE’s Class Period financial statements did not disclose material facts regarding GE’s factoring practices, the true extent of the cash flow problems that GE was attempting to conceal through receivables factoring, or the risks associated with GE’s reliance on factoring.  Rather, Defendants affirmatively misled investors about the purpose of the Company’s factoring practices, claiming that such practices were aimed at managing credit risk, not liquidity

    Eventually, however, GE could no longer rely on this unsustainable practice to conceal its weak Industrial cash flows.  As the truth was gradually revealed to investors—in the form of, among other things, disclosures of poor Industrial cash flows, massive reductions in Industrial CFOA guidance, and a dividend cut that was attributable in part to weaker-than-expected Industrial cash flows—GE’s stock price plummeted, causing substantial harm to Plaintiffs and the Class. 

    In January 2021, the Court sustained Plaintiffs’ claims based on allegations that GE failed to disclose material facts relating its practice of and reliance on factoring, in violation of Item 303, and affirmatively misled investors about the purpose of GE’s factoring practices.  Fact discovery in the case is ongoing and is currently scheduled to conclude in February 2022.

  • CASE CAPTION            In re re Kraft Heinz Securities Litigation
    COURT United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois
    CASE NUMBER 1:19-cv-01339
    JUDGE Honorable Robert M. Dow, Jr.
    PLAINTIFF Union Asset Management Holding AG, Sjunde Ap-Fonden, and Booker Enterprises Pty Ltd.
    DEFENDANTS The Kraft Heinz Company (“Kraft” or the “Company”), 3G Capital Partners, 3G Capital, Inc., 3G Global Food Holdings, L.P., 3G Global Food Holdings GP LP, 3G Capital Partners LP, 3G Capital Partners II LP, 3G Capital Partners Ltd., Bernardo Hees, Paulo Basilio, David Knopf, Alexandre Behring, George Zoghbi, and Rafael Oliveira
    CLASS PERIOD November 5, 2015 through August 7, 2019, inclusive

    This securities fraud class action case arises out Defendants’ misstatements regarding the Company’s financial position, including the carrying value of Kraft Heinz’s assets, the sustainability of the Company’s margins, and the success of recent cost-cutting strategies by Kraft Heinz.

    Kraft Heinz is one of the world’s largest food and beverage manufacturer and produces well-known brands including Kraft, Heinz, Oscar Mayer, Jell-O, Maxwell House, and Velveeta. The Company was formed as the result of the 2015 merger between Kraft Foods Group, Inc. and H.J. Heinz Holding Corporation. That merger was orchestrated by the private equity firm 3G Capital (“3G”) and Berkshire Hathaway with the intention of wringing out excess costs from the legacy companies. 3G is particularly well-known for its strategy of buying mature companies with relatively slower growth and then cutting costs using “zero-based budgeting,” in which the budget for every expenditure begins at $0 with increases being justified during every period.

    Plaintiffs allege that Kraft misrepresented the carrying value of its assets, sustainability of its margins, and the success of the Company’s cost-cutting strategy in the wake of the 2015 merger. During the time that Kraft was making these misrepresentations and artificially inflating its stock price, Kraft’s private equity sponsor, 3G Capital, sold $1.2 billion worth of Kraft stock.

    On February 21, 2019, Kraft announced that it was forced to take a goodwill charge of $15.4 billion to write-down the value of the Kraft and Oscar Mayer brands—one of the largest goodwill impairment charges taken by any company since the financial crisis. In connection with the charge, Kraft also announced that it would cut its dividend by 36% and incur a $12.6 billion loss for the fourth quarter of 2018. That loss was driven not only by Kraft’s write-down, but also by plunging margins and lower pricing throughout Kraft’s core business. In response, analysts immediately criticized the Company for concealing and “push[ing] forward” the “bad news” and characterized the Company’s industry-leading margins as a “façade.”

    Heightening investor concerns, Kraft also revealed that it received a subpoena from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in the same quarter it determined to take this write-down and was conducting an internal investigation relating to the Company’s side-agreements with vendors in its procurement division. Because of this subpoena and internal investigation, Kraft was also forced to take a separate $25 million charge relating to its accounting practices. Plaintiffs allege that because of the Company’s misrepresentations, the price of Kraft’s shares traded at artificially-inflated levels during the Class Period.

    Plaintiffs’ complaint was filed on January 6, 2020. Defendants’ filed their motions to dismiss on March 6, 2020. Plaintiffs moved to amend their complaint based on new information regarding Kraft’s internal EBITDA projections, and filed their amended complaint on August 14, 2020. On August 11, 2021, The Honorable Robert M. Dow, Jr. sustained Plaintiffs’ complaint in a 5-page published opinion. The case is now in discovery.

Representative Outcomes

  • Allergan stockholders alleged that in February 2014, Valeant tipped Pershing Square founder Bill Ackman about its plan to launch a hostile bid for Allergan. Armed with this nonpublic information, Pershing then bought 29 million shares of stock from unsuspecting investors, who were unaware of the takeover bid that Valeant was preparing in concert with the hedge fund. When Valeant publicized its bid in April 2014, Allergan stock shot up by $20 per share, earning Pershing $1 billion in profits in a single day.

    Valeant’s bid spawned a bidding war for Allergan. The company was eventually sold to Actavis PLC for approximately $66 billion.

    Stockholders filed suit in 2014 in federal court in the Central District of California, where Judge David O. Carter presided over the case. Judge Carter appointed the Iowa Public Employees Retirement System (“Iowa”) and the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio (“Ohio”) as lead plaintiffs, and appointed Kessler Topaz Meltzer & Check, LLP and Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann, LLP as lead counsel.

    The court denied motions to dismiss the litigation in 2015 and 2016, and in 2017 certified a class of Allergan investors who sold common stock during the period when Pershing was buying.

    Earlier in December, the Court held a four-day hearing on dueling motions for summary judgment, with investors arguing that the Court should enter a liability judgment against Defendants, and Defendants arguing that the Court should throw out the case. A ruling was expected on those motions within coming days.

    The settlement reached resolves both the certified stockholder class action, which was set for trial on February 26, 2018, and the action brought on behalf of investors who traded in Allergan derivative instruments. Defendants are paying $250 million to resolve the certified common stock class action, and an additional $40 million to resolve the derivative case.

    Lee Rudy, a partner at Kessler Topaz and co-lead counsel for the common stock class, commented: “This settlement not only forces Valeant and Pershing to pay back hundreds of millions of dollars, it strikes a blow for the little guy who often believes, with good reason, that the stock market is rigged by more sophisticated players. Although we were fully prepared to present our case to a jury at trial, a pre-trial settlement guarantees significant relief to our class of investors who played by the rules.”

  • 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.  

  • As co-lead counsel representing the State of New Jersey – Division of Investment, negotiated a groundbreaking multipart settlement in litigation arising from Tenet Healthcare’s (Tenet) manipulation of the Medicare Outlier reimbursement system and related misrepresentations and omissions.

    The initial partial settlement included $215 million from Tenet, personal contributions totaling $1.5 million from two individual defendants—an unusual result in class action litigation—and numerous changes to the company’s corporate governance practices. A second partial settlement of $65 million from Tenet’s outside auditor, KPMG, addressed claims that it had provided false and misleading certifications of Tenet’s financial statements.  As a result of the settlement, various institutional rating entities now rank Tenet’s corporate governance policies among the strongest in the United States.