Gibson Dunn successfully represented DeVry Inc. in obtaining no-action relief from the SEC staff (the “Staff”) for the exclusion of a shareholder proposal requesting that DeVry “annually report to shareholders on the expected ability of students at Company-owned institutions to repay their student loans.” The shareholder proposal, which was submitted by the New York City Comptroller’s Office on behalf of several New York City pension funds, specified particular quantitative and other information to be included in the requested report.
Posts Tagged ‘Elizabeth Ising’
Institutional Shareholder Services (“ISS”), the most influential proxy advisory firm, today launched its annual global policy survey. Each year, ISS solicits comments in connection with its review of its proxy voting policies. At the end of this process, in November 2013, ISS will announce its updated proxy voting policies applicable to 2014 shareholders’ meetings.
Results from the policy survey that ISS posted on its website today will be used by ISS to inform its voting policy review. The survey includes questions on a variety of governance and executive compensation topics, including:
Shareholder proposals continued to attract significant attention during the 2013 proxy season. This post provides an overview of shareholder proposals submitted to public companies during the 2013 proxy season, including statistics, notable decisions from the staff (the “Staff”) of the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) on no-action requests  and other Staff guidance, majority votes on shareholder proposals and litigation seeking to exclude shareholder proposals.
1. Shareholder Proposal Statistics and Voting Results
According to data from Institutional Shareholder Services (“ISS”), shareholders submitted approximately 820 proposals to date for 2013 shareholder meetings, up from approximately 739 proposals submitted for 2012 shareholder meetings.  The most common 2013 shareholder proposal topics, along with the approximate number of proposals submitted, were:
During the 2012 proxy season, the SEC staff concurred that a number of high profile shareholder proposals could be excluded from company proxy statements because various key terms in the proposals were not adequately defined or explained within the text of the proposal and supporting statement. See e.g., WellPoint, Inc. (SEIU Master Trust) (avail. Feb. 24, 2012, recon. denied Mar. 27, 2012) (concurring with exclusion of an independent chair proposal that referred to the New York Stock Exchange standard of independence without defining it because “neither shareholders nor the company would be able to determine with any reasonable certainty exactly what actions or measures the proposal requires”); Textron Inc. (avail. Mar. 7, 2012) (arguing that a reference to the Rule 14a-8 eligibility requirements in a proxy access shareholder proposal was vague and indefinite, although the staff ultimately concurred with the exclusion of the shareholder proposal on other grounds); Dell Inc. (avail. Mar. 30, 2012) (concurring with the exclusion of a similar proxy access shareholder proposal because the proposal’s reference to the Rule 14a-8 eligibility requirements was vague and indefinite). While these no-action letters reflected long-standing SEC staff precedent, in the current proxy season, there has continued to be a large number of no-action requests arguing that various terms in shareholder proposals are undefined or vague and therefore excludable under Rule 14a-8(i)(3).
Institutional Shareholder Services (“ISS”) and Glass, Lewis & Co., Inc. (“Glass Lewis”), the two major proxy advisory firms, recently released updates to their proxy voting policies for the 2013 proxy season. The ISS U.S. Corporate Governance Policy 2013 Updates (the “ISS Policy Updates”), which are available at http://issgovernance.com/policy/2013/policy_information, apply to shareholder meetings held on or after February 1, 2013. ISS also has released updated Frequently Asked Questions (the “ISS FAQs”), available at the link above, relating to its 2013 policies. The Glass Lewis Proxy Paper Guidelines for the 2013 Proxy Season (the “Glass Lewis Guidelines”) will be effective for annual meetings held on or after January 1, 2013. A summary of the updates to the Glass Lewis Guidelines is available here. This alert reviews the most significant ISS and Glass Lewis updates and suggested steps for companies to consider in light of these updated proxy voting policies.
With the arrival of fall, calendar-year companies are gearing up for what promises to be another busy proxy season, preparing for new rules that will impact their disclosures and governance practices, and planning their 2013 board and committee calendars. To assist public companies in these endeavors, we discuss below ten key items for corporate secretaries and in-house counsel to consider.
On Friday, October 8, 2010, the SEC and the petitioners jointly filed a proposed briefing schedule for the case before the Court of Appeals. In the filing, the SEC confirmed that it does not expect proxy access to be available for the 2011 proxy season, and instead seeks a court ruling by the summer of 2011, so that if the rules are upheld, they may be used in the 2012 proxy season. The motion stated that the stay “necessarily means that the Commission’s rule changes will not be available for use by shareholders during the 2010-2011 proxy season.”A copy of the motion is available here.
In their joint motion, the parties proposed to the court that the case be briefed in November through February, with the petitioners’ brief due on November 30, 2010 and the SEC’s brief due on January 19, 2011. Oral argument would be expected in March or April under this schedule, with a decision by the summer. The schedule is subject to approval by the Court of Appeals.
The current economic and regulatory landscape poses unprecedented challenges for public companies and their boards of directors. They are facing scrutiny from shareholders, Congress, regulators and the public, and new proposals to address the causes of the financial crisis have been emerging on almost a daily basis for over a year now.
Some of these proposals have been adopted and some remain under consideration at a time when calendar-year companies are preparing for the 2010 proxy season, complicating the planning process. Of particular note, in December, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) adopted new proxy disclosure rules that likely will be a focal point for public company directors, as the new rules relate to disclosures regarding the composition and operation of boards of directors.  This memorandum is an update of our client alert covering considerations for public company directors in the current environment issued on October 15, 2009.
On November 25, 2009, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) approved amendments to the corporate governance listing standards of the New York Stock Exchange (“NYSE”). The changes will take effect on January 1, 2010.
As discussed in more detail below, the amendments, which the SEC approved in the form proposed in the NYSE’s original release: (1) codify certain staff interpretations, (2) clarify various disclosure requirements, and (3) incorporate applicable SEC disclosure requirements into the NYSE listing standards. Because most of the amendments conform the NYSE listing standards to existing SEC rules, or are of a clarifying or updating nature, they should necessitate only minimal changes to a listed company’s governance practices and disclosures. The most significant change is the new requirement that companies notify the NYSE in writing after any executive officer becomes aware of “any” non-compliance with the corporate governance listing standards, rather than any “material” non-compliance, as currently required.
The SEC release approving the NYSE amendments can be found here. The NYSE filing outlining the proposed amendments includes a mark-up showing the proposed changes to the text of the corporate governance listing standards.