Florida sues drug company over alleged stock loss of $62 million


Acting on its own, Florida will take on an international pharmaceutical company, alleging the state's pension fund lost more than $62 million in stock value because of federal securities violations by the company.

Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who comprise the State Board of Administration, agreed Tuesday to hire a New York-based law firm to take on Canada-based Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc., rather than participate in a class-action lawsuit with other stockholders.

Valeant has been accused of violating federal securities regulations by marking up drug prices and then selling the drugs through a pharmacy network, without disclosing the full scope of the transactions to stockholders.

Ash Williams, executive director of the State Board of Administration, said the state may not recover all $62 million but maintained Florida could do better in terms of recovery than being part of the class action.

“I think we'll get a higher proportion out of our losses this way than if we had stayed in the class,” Williams said after the Cabinet meeting. “And whatever the recovery is, we'll get to keep more of it because we'll have better terms.”

Valeant is facing numerous lawsuits, including an $80 billion claim filed in August by Lord Abbett & Co., a mutual-fund firm.

Wanting to review law firms that could handle the case, Bondi asked for a delay last month in hiring the firm Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann. Terms have yet to be finalized, but Williams said the firm is asking for a percent of any reward above what the state could receive from being involved in a victorious class-action suit.

Bondi declined to say Tuesday what, from her review of the case, made her agree to proceed with the solo approach.

“We feel we have enough to go forward, and we're very pleased that we are,” Bondi said after a state Cabinet meeting.

The case is expected to be filed in federal court in New Jersey, where the company has its U.S. headquarters.

In a report to the state, Bernstein Litowitz said Florida's $154 billion pension fund “incurred significant damages as a result of the fraudulent misrepresentations at Valeant.” The law firm identified at least $62 million in “potential recoverable damages,” based on Valeant stock transactions between January 2013 and August 2016.

In a review of records at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the law firm said the Florida losses were “among the largest of any public fund investor.”

About $7.5 million of the Valeant transactions were on the Canadian stock exchange, which is not expected to be the focus of the lawsuit.

In an indication of how much Florida might recover from the litigation, Bernstein Litowitz said it recovered 37.5 percent of investors' estimated damages in a securities lawsuit against the Cendant Corp. and 18.5 percent of investors' claims against the Biovail Corp.

Both were class-action lawsuits and Bernstein Litowitz noted it “has achieved substantially higher recovery percentages when selectively representing prominent institutional investors (including the SBA) in direct actions.”

In releasing its third-quarter numbers on Tuesday, Joseph Papa, the chief executive officer of the embattled company, highlighted Valeant's “continued progress.”

"Valeant is a very different company today than it was a year ago. Under a new management team, we have strengthened our balance sheet and stabilized the company by simplifying our business and allocating resources more efficiently," Papa said in a prepared statement. "We realize there is more progress to be made, and we will continue to hold ourselves accountable for delivering on our commitments to best serve our shareholders, employees, customers, and most importantly, patients."

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