On April 8, 2014, Vice Chancellor Laster of the Delaware Court of Chancery issued an opinion addressing the reasonableness of a “market check” as well as required proxy disclosures to stockholders in M&A transactions. In Chen v. Howard-Anderson,  the Vice Chancellor held that (i) evidence suggesting that a board of directors favored a potential acquirer by, among other things, failing to engage in a robust market check precluded summary judgment against a non-exculpated director, and (ii) evidence that the board failed to disclose all material facts in its proxy statement precluded summary judgment against all directors. The opinion addresses the appropriate scope of a market check, the necessary disclosure when submitting a transaction to stockholders for approval, the effect of exculpatory provisions in a company’s certificate of incorporation, and the potential conflicts faced by directors who are also fiduciaries of one of the company’s stockholders.
Archive for the ‘Securities Litigation & Enforcement’ Category
I have been NASAA’s liaison since I was asked by NASAA to take on that role early in my tenure at the SEC, and it is truly a pleasure to continue our dialogue with my fifth appearance here at the 19(d) conference. This conference, as required by Section 19(d) of the Securities Act, is held jointly by the North American Securities Administrators Association (“NASAA”) and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC” or “Commission”).
The annual “19(d) conference” is a great opportunity for representatives of the Commission and NASAA to share ideas and best practices on how best to carry out our shared mission of protecting investors. Cooperation between state and federal regulators is critical to investor protection and to maintaining the integrity of our financial markets, and that has never been more true than it is today.
I have participated in this event for many years and have always considered this conference to be all about the compliance and legal issues that are most important to the integrity of our securities markets. Now, as Chair of the SEC, I would like to thank you for the work you do day in and day out to protect investors and keep our markets robust and safe.
In about a week, I will have completed my first year at the SEC. It has been quite a year. We have made very good progress in accomplishing the initial goals I set to achieve significant traction on our rulemaking agenda arising from the Dodd Frank and JOBS Acts, intensify our review of the structure of our equity markets, and enhance our already strong enforcement program.
A recent and groundbreaking decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasburg might shatter the entire structure of the Italian and European regulation of market abuse (insider trading and market manipulations). The case is “Grand Stevens and others v. Italy”, and was decided on March 4, 2014.
The facts can be briefly summarized as follows. In 2005, the corporations that controlled the car manufacturer Fiat, renegotiated a financial contract (equity swap) with Merrill Lynch. One of the goals of the agreement was to maintain control over Fiat without being required to launch a mandatory tender offer. Consob, the Italian securities and exchange commission, initiated an administrative action against the corporation and some of its managers and consultants, accusing them of not having properly disclosed the renegotiation of the contract to the market. The procedure resulted in heavy financial fines (for some individuals, up to 5 million euro), and additional measures prohibiting some of the people involved from serving as corporate directors and practicing law. At the same time, a criminal investigation was launched for the same facts. It is not necessary here to discuss the merits of the controversy, it is sufficient to mention that the sanctioned parties challenged the sanctions in Italian courts, but did not prevail.
We have recently revised our paper Rethinking Basic (discussed earlier on the Forum here). Our revision, which will be published in the May issue of the Business Lawyer, takes into account, and relates our analysis to, the Justices’ questions at the Halliburton oral argument. As our revision explains, questions asked by some of the Justices at the oral argument suggest that the fraudulent distortion approach we support might appeal to the Court.
In the Halliburton case, the United States Supreme Court is expected to reconsider the Basic ruling that, twenty-five years ago, adopted the fraud-on-the-market theory, which has since facilitated securities class action litigation. Our paper seeks to contribute to this reconsideration by providing a conceptual and economic framework for a reexamination of the Basic rule.
Greg [Tanzer, ASIC Commissioner] suggested that I talk about my perspectives on international cooperation in the enforcement context, as well as what we at the SEC are doing to try to make our own enforcement program even more robust and responsive to the issues presented by interconnected and fast moving markets. I am happy to do that. But, before I do, I would like to share a couple of thoughts on the topic of your first session—“Enforcement—does the punishment fit the crime?”
Much of my professional background has been in enforcement and strong enforcement was one of my primary focuses when I became Chair of the SEC almost a year ago and it remains so. Vigorous enforcement of the securities laws in the United States, in Australia and around the world is obviously a critical component of our investor protection mission.
In Lawson v. FMR LLC, No. 12-3 (Mar. 4, 2014), the U.S. Supreme Court clarified the scope of whistleblower protection provided by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (“SOX”), holding that employees of private contractors and subcontractors of public companies are protected by the whistleblower provision set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 1514A of the Act. The Court, acknowledging that the language of the Act is ambiguous, interpreted it to allow persons employed by non-public contractors to public companies—such as lawyers or accounting firms—to bring whistleblower claims under the Act. In a strong dissent, Justice Sotomayor objected to the “stunning reach” of this interpretation. The majority opinion, responding to that criticism, cited “various limiting principles” proposed by the plaintiffs and Solicitor General, which employers will need to rely on in the future. Among other things, the “limiting principles” include that the types of contractors whose employees could make use of SOX are those “whose performance will take place over a significant period of time,” and that an employee of a contractor would only be able to invoke SOX as to complaints arising out of the contractor’s “fulfilling its role as contractor for the public company, not the contractor in some other capacity.” Ultimately, however, the Court declined to address the precise bounds of § 1514A, finding that the whistleblower claims at issue fell squarely within the “mainstream application” of the statute, as both plaintiffs claimed retaliation after reporting allegedly fraudulent activity that plainly implicated mutual funds’ shareholders.
Good morning. I am very honored to be giving the welcoming remarks and to offer a few perspectives from my first 10 months as Chair. Looking back at remarks made by former Chairs at this event, the expectation seems to be for me to talk about the “State of the SEC.” I will happily oblige on behalf of this great and critical agency.
In 1972, 42 years ago at the very first SEC Speaks, there were approximately 1,500 SEC employees charged with regulating the activities of 5,000 broker-dealers, 3,500 investment advisers, and 1,500 investment companies.
Today the markets have grown and changed dramatically, and the SEC has significantly expanded responsibilities. There are now about 4,200 employees—not nearly enough to stretch across a landscape that requires us to regulate more than 25,000 market participants, including broker-dealers, investment advisers, mutual funds and exchange-traded funds, municipal advisors, clearing agents, transfer agents, and 18 exchanges. We also oversee the important functions of self-regulatory organizations and boards such as FASB, FINRA, MSRB, PCAOB, and SIPC. Only SIPC and FINRA’s predecessor, the NASD, even existed back in 1972.
The appointment of Supreme Court justices is a politically-charged process and the “ideology” (or “judicial philosophy”) of the nominees is perceived as playing a potentially relevant role in their future decision-making. It is fairly easy to intuit that ideology somehow enters the analysis with respect to politically divisive issues such as abortion and procreative rights, sexual conduct, freedom of speech, separation of church and state, gun control, procedural protections for the accused in criminal cases, and governmental powers. Many studies have tackled the question of the relevance of the ideology of the justices or appellate judges on these issues, often finding a correlation between policy preferences and decisions.
On February 26, 2014, the Supreme Court decided Chadbourne & Parke LLP v. Troice, 571 U.S. ___ (2014), ruling by a 7-2 vote that the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998 (“SLUSA”) does not bar state-law securities class actions in which the plaintiffs allege that they purchased uncovered securities that the defendants misrepresented were backed by covered securities. The decision is the first in which the Court has held that a state-law suit pertaining to securities fraud is not precluded by SLUSA, suggesting that there are limits to the broad interpretation of SLUSA’s preclusion provision that the Court has recognized in previous cases. While Chadbourne leaves many questions unanswered concerning the precise contours of SLUSA preclusion, and could encourage plaintiffs to pursue securities-fraud claims under state-law theories, the unusual facts in Chadbourne could limit the reach of the holding and provide defendants with avenues for distinguishing more typical state-law claims in other cases.