Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

Steve Jobs lawsuits face tough odds

January 21, 2009: 11:16 AM ET

Jobs with Mark Twain quoteThe report Wednesday that the Securities and Exchange Commission is looking closely at Apple's disclosures about the state of Steve Jobs' health (link) follows speculation last week that stockholders are also likely to file lawsuits against the company.

The issue, of course, is whether Apple (AAPL) and Jobs misled investors by issuing first good news ("hormone imbalance") that drove the stock up, followed by bad news ("medical leave") that drove it down.

But even if Jobs has been less than forthcoming about his health problems -- as many doctors suspect -- legal experts say that neither the SEC probe nor any investor lawsuit is likely to get very far.

Even the sources quoted by Bloomberg News, which reported the SEC rumor, say that the commission would have a tough time bringing a case against Apple. According to Peter Henning, a former SEC prosecuter, it would have to prove that the company tried to benefit by withholding information about an unambiguous diagnosis.

Former SEC commisioner Joseph Grundfest takes an even dimmer view of suits filed on behalf of investors or speculators who lost money in the see-sawing stock price.

"I never underestimate the cleverness of plaintiffs attorneys," he told Reuters. "But I personally am aware of no theory that would support a filing of a case."

Although Jobs is not expected to participate in Apple's Q1 earnings call with reporters and analysts this afternoon at 5 p.m. EST (2 p.m. PST), questions about the state of his health are sure to come up. Tune in here for our live blog.

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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