According to the Company’s Form 10-Q for the quarterly period ended June 30, 2006, the Company has approved a settlement agreement and related agreements which set forth the terms of a settlement between Autobytel, the plaintiff class and the vast majority of the other approximately 300 issuer defendants. Among other provisions, the settlement provides for a release of the Company and the Autobytel Individual Defendants for the conduct alleged in the action to be wrongful. The Company would agree to undertake certain responsibilities, including agreeing to assign away, not assert, or release certain potential claims the Company may have against its underwriters. The settlement agreement also provides a guaranteed recovery of one billion dollars to plaintiffs for the cases relating to all of the approximately 300 issuers. On April 20, 2006, JPMorgan Chase and the plaintiffs reached a preliminary agreement for a settlement for $425 million. The JPMorgan Chase settlement has not yet been approved by the Court. However, if it is finally approved, then the maximum amount that the issuers’ insurers will be potentially liable for is $575 million. To the extent that the underwriter defendants settle all of the cases for at least one billion dollars, no payment will be required under the issuers’ settlement agreement. To the extent that the underwriter defendants settle for less than $1 billion, the issuers are required to make up the difference. It is anticipated that any potential financial obligation of the Company to plaintiffs pursuant to the terms of the settlement agreement and related agreements will be directly covered and paid by its insurance carriers. On February 15, 2005, the Court granted preliminary approval of the settlement agreement, subject to certain modifications consistent with its opinion. Those modifications have been made. On March 20, 2006, the Underwriter Defendants submitted objections to the settlement to the Court. The Court held a hearing regarding these and any other objections to the settlement at a fairness hearing on April 24, 2006, but it has not yet issued a ruling. There is no assurance that the Court will grant final approval to the settlement.
As summarized by the same SEC filing, on August 2001, a purported class action lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against Autobytel and certain of the Company’s current and former directors and officers (the “Autobytel Individual Defendants”) and underwriters involved in the Company’s initial public offering. The complaints against the Company have been consolidated with two other complaints that relate to its initial public offering but do not name it as a defendant, and a Consolidated Amended Complaint, which is now the operative complaint, was filed on April 19, 2002. The action is being coordinated with approximately 300 other nearly identical actions filed against other companies. A motion to dismiss addressing issues common to the companies and individuals who have been sued in these actions was filed on July 15, 2002. On October 9, 2002, the Court dismissed the Autobytel Individual Defendants from the case without prejudice based upon Stipulations of Dismissal filed by the plaintiffs and the Autobytel Individual Defendants. On February 19, 2003, the Court denied the motion to dismiss the complaint against the Company. On October 13, 2004, the Court certified a class in six of the approximately 300 other nearly identical actions and noted that the decision is intended to provide strong guidance to all parties regarding class certification in the remaining cases. The Underwriter Defendants sought leave to appeal this decision and the Second Circuit has accepted the appeal. Plaintiffs have not yet moved to certify a class in the Company case.
The complaint alleges violations of Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5 promulgated thereunder. The complaint further alleges that the Prospectus was materially false and misleading because it failed to disclose, among other things, that: (i) defendants had solicited and received excessive and undisclosed commissions from certain investors in exchange for which defendants allocated to those investors material portions of the restricted number of Autobytel shares issued in connection with the Autobytel IPO; and (ii) defendants had entered into agreements with customers whereby defendants agreed to allocate Autobytel shares to those customers in the Autobytel IPO in exchange for which the customers agreed to purchase additional Autobytel shares in the aftermarket at pre-determined prices. As alleged in the complaint, the SEC is investigating underwriting practices in connection with several other initial public offerings.