United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
In re URBAN OUTFITTERS, INC. SECURITIES LITIGATION
For DAVID SCHWARTZ, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, Plaintiff: DAVID A. ROSENFELD, LEAD ATTORNEY, ROBBINS GELLER RUDMAN & DOWD LLP, MELVILLE, NY; DEBORAH R. GROSS, LEAD ATTORNEY, LAW OFFICES BERNARD M. GROSS, PC, PHILADELPHIA, PA; JACK REISE, LEAD ATTORNEY, ROBBINS GELLER RUDMAN & DOWD LLP, BOCA RATON, FL; STEPHEN R. ASTLEY, LEAD ATTORNEYS, PRO HAC VICE, ROBBINS GELLER RUDMAN & DOWD LLP, BOCA RATON, FL.
For URBAN OUTFITTERS, INC., RICHARD A. HAYNE, FRANK J. CONFORTI, TEDFORD G. MARLOW, DAVID W. MCCREIGHT, DAVID HAYNES, Defendants: MARC J. SONNENFELD, LEAD ATTORNEY, KAREN PIESLAK POHLMANN, MORGAN, LEWIS & BOCKIUS LLP, PHILADELPHIA, PA.
LUIS FELIPE RESTREPO, J.
Lead Plaintiff, David A. Schwartz (" Plaintiff" ), brings this class action, on behalf of himself and all persons or entities who purchased or acquired shares in Urban Outfitters, Inc. (" Urban" ) between March 12, 2013 and September 9, 2013 (" Class Period" ), against defendants Richard A. Hayne, Frank J. Conforti, and Tedford G. Marlow (" Individual Defendants" ) and Urban. Plaintiff alleges that, during the Class Period, defendants engaged in a fraudulent scheme to artificially inflate the stock price by misrepresenting and concealing information related to failed product assortments and the resulting deceleration in sales growth during the first half of fiscal year 2014, leading up to and including Urban's back-to-school season. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint asserts two Counts: (1) violations of Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (" Exchange Act" or " Act" ) and Rule 10b-5 promulgated thereunder against all defendants; and (2) violations of Section 20(a) of the Exchange Act against the Individual Defendants.
Before the Court is defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Amended Class Action Complaint, and plaintiff's opposition thereto. For the following reasons, defendants' motion is denied.
(A) The Parties
Urban is a specialty retail company with its principle executive offices in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The company is inclusive of five brands: Urban Outfitters (" UO" ); Anthropologie; Free People; Terrain; and BHLDN. Each of these brands sells a diverse mix of fashion products, such as apparel, accessories, and home goods, and offers their customers multiple venues for shopping, including retail stores, e-commerce websites, and mobile and online catalogs. UO's target customers are teenagers and young adults in their twenties. Anthropologie targets " sophisticated" women in their late twenties to mid-forties, and Free People targets young women aged 25 through 30. Urban owns over 500 retail stores world-wide, and Urban's largest brands, UO and Anthropologie, each operates over 150 stores within the U.S. Defendant Hayne is the co-founder, Chief Executive Officer (" CEO" ), and President of Urban, as well as the Chairman of Urban's Board of Directors. Defendant Conforti is the Chief Financial Officer (" CFO" ) of Urban, and defendant Marlow is a CEO of Urban.
On January 7, 2014, this Court appointed plaintiff to serve as the Lead Plaintiff in this suit, on behalf of himself and others who purchased common stock in Urban during the Class Period. Plaintiff purchased Urban's stock within the Class Period.
(B) Urban's Finances
Retail segment sales, most of which are attributed to the UO and Anthropologie brands, make up the majority of Urban's business. Urban's overall comparable retail segment net sales (" sales" ) for fiscal year 2014 amounted to $3,086,608, of which $1,369,302, or 44%, were sales by the UO brand. Anthropologie's sales were $1,264,242, or 41% of Urban's overall sales, in fiscal 2014. This is in contrast to the 47% and 40% of Urban's sales attributed to UO and Anthropologie brands, respectively, in fiscal 2013. Free People's sales amounted to 11% of Urban's total sales in fiscal 2013, which increased to 13% in fiscal 2014.
Because a dominant portion of Urban's business is comprised of UO's sales, a " significant portion of operating income" is earned from August through December when teenagers are more active in the retail market which included the back-to-school and holiday seasons. Moreover, " any decrease in sales or margins during this period . . . could have a more material adverse effect on [Urban's] business [and] financial condition . . . than in other periods." See Defs.' Ex. 1, at 7.
Urban's fiscal year ends on January 31 of each year and includes all financial transactions which occurred after January 31 of the previous year; for example, January 31, 2013 marked the end of fiscal 2013. For each of the annual and quarterly reporting periods in 2013, Urban released its report a little over a month after the end of each period. The results of Urban's fourth quarter of fiscal 2013 (which ended January 31, 2013) was first reported on March 11, 2013, its results for the first quarter of fiscal 2014 (which ended April 30, 2013) was released on May 20, 2013, the results of the second quarter of fiscal 2014 (which ended on July 31, 2013) was reported on August 19, 2013, and Urban's results for the third quarter of fiscal 2014 (which ended on October 31, 2013) was released on November 18, 2013. The Class Period starts and ends in the middle of the first and third quarters of fiscal 2014.
While the teen retail market struggled financially, Urban's sales grew each quarter of fiscal 2013. Indeed, by the end of the third quarter, Urban as a whole had sales growth of 8% and UO's sales had grown by 7%. In contrast, major competitors of UO, such as Aeropostale, Abercrombie & Fitch, and American Eagle, experienced a sales decrease by 15%, 14%, and 5%, respectively. After the fourth quarter of fiscal 2013, Urban and the UO brand each experienced their highest sales growth, 11%, for the year.
The increase in company's sales growth continued into fiscal 2014, growing by 9% in the first and second quarters, then 7% in the third quarter, while UO's competitors sustained further sales declines. However, within Urban, UO's sales growth faltered unlike the rest of Urban's brands. In the first and second quarters of fiscal 2014, UO's sales grew by 6% and 5%, respectively. On the other hand, Anthropologie's sales increased by 8% and 9% in the first and second quarters, respectively, while Free People experienced significant growth of 44% during the first quarter and 38% in the second quarter.
On September 9, 2013, prior to the end of the third quarter, Urban commented on the company's third quarter results in its filing of the second quarterly report and stated that sales growth, thus far, was " mid single-digit positive." See Am. Compl. ¶ 147. The following day, Urban's stock price fell from $42.71 to $38.35. The trading volume was abnormally high on this day -- eight times the average daily volume in the past ten days. On September 11, 2013, at the Goldman Sachs Global Retailing Conference, Conforti confirmed that declining sales of UO had affected the sales growth of the entire company. By the end of the third quarter, Urban reported that the company achieved sales growth of 7%. The performance greatly varied across the individual brands at Urban: Free People and Anthropologie were successful with sales growth of 30% and 13%, respectively, while UO experienced a sales decrease in the third quarter by 1%. Analysts at Janney Capital Markets, Wells Fargo Securities, and William Blair remarked that UO's sales had slowed during the critical back-to-school season.
(C) Plaintiff's Confidential Witnesses
Plaintiff alleges that the sudden decline in sales growth of Urban in the third quarter was not surprising to Urban employees who were aware of the persistent increase in markdowns and promotional activity, which started in the beginning of the fiscal year. Six confidential witnesses who are former employees of UO attest to the increase in markdowns and promotional activity in UO stores across the country. Some of these witnesses claim that while working as employees at UO stores, they personally observed that there was an overflow of inventory and frequent and extended periods of sales. Except for two witnesses who discontinued their employment at UO in February and April of 2013, respectively, the witnesses remained at UO from before the start of and through the end or nearly to the end of the Class Period.
The Amended Complaint lists for each confidential witness (" CW" ): time of employment at UO; location of employment; title of position; job duties; and direct supervisor. All of these witnesses agree that via Urban's Intranet page, accessible only to employees, employees at all UO stores were able to access sales figures of any Urban brand stores. Further, witnesses report that through the " URBN Sales Page" on the Intranet, an employee could access UO's total sales in North America. Also available on the Intranet was a company-wide weekly newsletter, " The Slant," released by Urban headquarters, which provided promotional and sales events and markdowns to be instituted at the UO stores. Witnesses state that they observed Urban's Intranet page leading up to or during the Class Period and noticed a continued decline in sales and an increase in markdowns and promotional activity in the UO brand throughout the country in early 2013 and during the Class Period.
(D) The Alleged Fraudulent Scheme
Plaintiff alleges that defendants misrepresented the financial condition of Urban's largest brand during the Class Period, allowing defendants to sell their stock at inflated prices. Specifically, plaintiff claims that defendants concealed from investors that UO's sales growth had been decreasing throughout 2013, while promotional activity was increasing, which eventually affected the sales growth of Urban as a whole. Further, plaintiff asserts that defendants were aware of the struggles of the UO brand, or were at least reckless in affirmatively making statements to the contrary. In alleging this, plaintiff relies on information provided by CWs, SEC filings certified by defendants Conforti and Hayne, unusual and suspicious stock sales by defendants Conforti and Hayne, and that UO revenues make up the majority of the business for Urban as a whole. In response, defendants adamantly deny that defendants were aware of the information as alleged by plaintiff's CWs or that their stock sales were part of a scheme to take advantage of artificially inflated stock prices.
Plaintiff and defendants agree that on March 22, 2013, Hayne sold around 1.2 million shares of common stock in Urban, valued at over $50 million. On April 2, 2013, Conforti sold 5,000 shares of common stock. Conforti sold 22,000 more shares on September 3, 2013, and the total worth of stocks sold by Conforti is valued at over $1.1 million and amounts to more than 99% of his holdings. A week later, Urban reported its update on third quarter sales, which was followed by a drop in Urban's stock price by more than 10%. As a result of his investment in Urban and the subsequent depreciation in stock price, plaintiff suffered a monetary loss.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
(A) Rule 12(b)(6)
A motion to dismiss will be granted if the plaintiff " fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." See Fed.R.Civ.P. Rule 12(b)(6). Courts must " accept all factual allegations as true, construe the Complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the Complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (citation and quotation marks omitted). However, the Supreme Court clarified in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007), that " formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do[, and] . . . [f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." A claim must be facially plausible to survive a motion to dismiss. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). In other words, the plaintiff must plead " factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. A Complaint which alleges a mere possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully does not " state a plausible claim for relief" to survive a motion to dismiss. Id. at 679. Further, on a motion to dismiss in a Section 10(b) action, courts must also consider the Complaint in its entirety, as well as other ...