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Appeals Court Bars NASD Termination Form Libel Suits

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New York financial services companies enjoy at least a “qualified privilege” and possibly an “absolute privilege” to write what they want to write in the official explanations of why they have fired registered representatives.

A 3-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has handed down that interpretation in a ruling on Chaskie J. Rosenberg vs. MetLife Inc. et al.

Rosenberg, who worked as securities broker at a unit of MetLife Inc., New York, from 1997 to 2003, filed a lawsuit after MetLife reported on an NASD Form U-5 that it had fired him for violations of company policies.

A federal district court had ruled in favor of MetLife.

The 2nd Circuit affirmed the lower court ruling and granted summary judgment in favor of MetLife.

The National Association of Securities Dealers, Washington, created the form to give member companies a vehicle for explaining why they have terminated employees. The NASD gives the form to any member firm upon request, the 2nd Circuit court writes in a short, unsigned opinion explaining the ruling.

The appeals court asked the New York Court of Appeals for its interpretation of New York state law regarding the matter, and that court ruled that the Form U-5 statements enjoy absolute immunity against libel suits in New York, the 2nd Circuit writes in the Rosenberg opinion.

The 2nd Circuit left open the possibility that it might rule differently in a different situation.

Rosenberg gave no reasons why the MetLife Form U-5 describing the reasons for his firing might “escape the privilege” the court writes.

“Consequently,” the court writes, “we need not decide if there are circumstances in which statements on a Form U-5 are not absolutely privileged.”

Statements made in the context of judicial proceedings are absolutely privileged only if they are material and pertinent to the issue to be resolved in a proceeding, the court writes.

The 2nd Circuit appellate court has jurisdiction in Connecticut, New York and Vermont.

MetLife is pleased with the appellate court ruling, a company spokesman says.