In December 2014, the SEC proposed rules under the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (the “JOBS Act”) that reflect new, higher thresholds for registration under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the “Exchange Act”). The SEC also proposed rules that would implement higher thresholds for termination of registration and suspension of reporting for banks and bank holding companies and savings and loan holding companies. In addition, the SEC has proposed to revise the definition of “held of record” in Exchange Act Rule 12g5-1 to exclude certain securities held by persons who received them pursuant to employee compensation plans and to establish a non-exclusive safe harbor for determining whether securities are “held of record” for purposes of registration under Exchange Act Section 12(g).
Posts Tagged ‘Exchange Act’
Motions to dismiss have been called “the main event” in securities class actions. They are filed in over 90% of securities class actions and they result in dismissal close to 50% of the time they are filed. In contrast, out of 4,226 class actions filed between 1995 and 2013, only 14 were resolved through a trial, and of those, only five resulted in verdicts for the defendant. In between a denial of a motion to dismiss and a trial are i) discovery, ii) opposition to class certification, iii) motion for summary judgment, iv) mediation, and v) settlement. Unfortunately for defendants in securities class actions, class certification is granted in whole or in part 84% of the time, and there is no summary judgment decision at all over 90% of the time. Thus, for most defendants in securities class actions, a denial of a motion to dismiss usually results in writing a settlement check, often after years of costly discovery. Defendants that fail to give adequate attention to motions to dismiss are shortchanging the very best opportunity they have to avoid what may otherwise become multi-year, expensive litigation.
This post deals with certain of the liability provisions of the federal securities laws: §§ 11, 12, 15 and 17 of the Securities Act of 1933 (the “Securities Act”), and §§ 10, 18 and 20 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the “Exchange Act”). It does not address other potential sources of liability and sanction, such as federal mail and wire fraud statutes, state fraud statutes and common law remedies, RICO and the United States Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC”) disciplinary powers.
On December 22, 1995, the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (the “Reform Act” or “PSLRA”) became law after the Senate overrode President Clinton’s veto. Pub. L. No. 104-67, 109 Stat. 737 (1995). Where relevant, this post discusses changes and additions that the PSLRA made to the liability provisions of the Securities Act and the Exchange Act.
Following the publication of Michael Lewis’ new book, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt (“Flash Boys”), plaintiffs’ lawyers and US government regulators have increasingly focused their attention on financial institutions participating in high-frequency trading (“HFT”). Less than three weeks after the release of Flash Boys, private plaintiffs’ lawyers filed a class action lawsuit against 27 financial services firms and 14 national securities exchanges (with additional defendants likely to be named later) alleging that the defendants’ HFT practices in the US equities markets violated the anti-fraud provisions of the federal securities laws. Plaintiffs’ lawyers filed a separate action against The CME Group, Inc. (“CME”) and The Board of Trade of the City of Chicago (“CBOT”) containing similar allegations in US derivatives markets.
On April 14, 2014, in National Association of Manufacturers v. Securities and Exchange Commission, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit partially invalidated the final rule of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) requiring public companies to investigate and disclose the origin of certain minerals found in the war-ridden Congo region (“conflict minerals”).  While upholding most aspects of the rule, the Court concluded that the rule and the statutory provisions on which it is based violate the First Amendment “to the extent the statute and rule require regulated entities to report to the Commission and to state on their website that any of their products have not been found to be ‘DRC conflict free.’”  On April 29, 2014, amid uncertainty regarding the impact of the Court’s decision on issuers’ obligations under the rule, the Director of the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance announced that the SEC expects issuers to comply with those aspects of the rule that were upheld by the Court.
The importance of small businesses in America is unquestionable—they are the foundation of today’s economy and are responsible for many of the new jobs created each year in the United States. And angel investors play a vital role in the development of small businesses by nurturing them at their earliest, most vulnerable stages when they may have little more than the next great idea. For early stage entrepreneurs, angels often are the only ones willing to listen to their business pitch, provide advice, and put in that crucial infusion of capital that is needed to transform an idea into a thriving new business. Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Home Depot—these are just some of the titans of today’s corporate America that, at an earlier stage of their development, were first backed by angel investors.  Equally impressive are some of the statistics about the impact of angel investing—by one estimate, in the first half of 2013 alone, angels invested approximately $9.7 billion in over 28,000 ventures, with over 111,000 new jobs created as a result of these investments. 
China Natural Resources, Inc. (“CHNR”), a natural resources company based in the People’s Republic of China (the “PRC”) with shares listed on the NASDAQ Capital Market, recently completed the spin-off (the “Spin-Off”) and listing by introduction (the “Listing by Introduction”) on The Stock Exchange of Hong Kong Limited (the “Hong Kong Stock Exchange”) of its wholly-owned subsidiary, Feishang Anthracite Resources Limited (“Feishang Anthracite”), which operated CHNR’s coal mining and related businesses prior to the Spin-Off.  S&C represented CHNR and Feishang Anthracite in connection with the Spin-Off and Listing by Introduction, which is the first-of-its-kind where a U.S.-listed company successfully spun off and listed shares of its businesses on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, including advising on the U.S. and Hong Kong legal issues that arose in connection with this transaction.
On March 5, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc., No. 13-317, which presents whether to overrule or significantly limit plaintiffs’ ability to rely on the legal presumption that each would-be class member in a securities fraud class action relied on the statements challenged as fraudulent in the lawsuit. Without this so-called fraud-on-the-market presumption of classwide reliance, putative class action plaintiffs would face substantial barriers in maintaining securities fraud class actions. The Court’s decision in Halliburton, which is expected by June 2014, could lead to a significant change in the conduct of securities class actions. Even if the Court ultimately retains some formulation of the fraud-on-the-market presumption of reliance, the Court could increase defendants’ ability to contest what in practice has evolved into a virtually irrebuttable presumption.
The SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance recently released three Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations concerning the SEC’s so-called unbundling rule (Exchange Act Rule 14a-4(a)(3)), which requires proxies to identify clearly and impartially each “separate matter” intended to be acted upon.
Nearly a year ago, in Greenlight Capital, L.P. v. Apple, Inc., a federal court enjoined Apple from bundling four charter amendments into a single proposal. The Apple decision highlighted the lack of clarity in the unbundling rules and the risk that the SEC or an activist shareholder could challenge a company’s presentation of proposals. The new C&DIs provide bright-line guidance for amendments to equity incentive plans but leave other situations to be considered on a facts-and-circumstances basis and, implicitly, to be discussed with the SEC Staff in cases of uncertainty.
Two new concepts will need to be addressed going forward:
Nearly a decade ago, the United States Supreme Court in Dura Pharmaceuticals Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 345 (2005), emphasized that a securities fraud suit is not an investor’s insurance policy against market losses. As courts continue to address the fallout from the financial crisis that began in 2007, the court’s admonition is alive and well, and frequently appearing in decisions addressing claims under § 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and common law claims involving structured products such as mortgage-backed securities. Just recently, two federal courts observed in the § 10(b) context that “[t]he securities laws are not an insurance policy for investments gone wrong, inexperience, bad luck, poor choices, or unexpected market events,” nor are they “a prophylaxis against the normal risks attendant to speculation and investment in the financial markets.”