In a decision that could significantly limit the power of U.S. bankruptcy trustees to challenge cross-border transactions, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York has held that the trustee overseeing the Madoff liquidation may not recover transfers made by Madoff’s foreign customers to other foreign entities. SIPC v. Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, No. 12-mc-115 (S.D.N.Y. July 7, 2014). The court held that recovery of such “purely foreign” transfers would run afoul of the presumption against extraterritoriality reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in Morrison v. National Australia Bank.
Posts Tagged ‘Extraterritoriality’
The Supreme Court issued its decision yesterday [June 16, 2014] in Republic of Argentina v. NML Capital, No. 12-842, holding that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) does not limit the scope of discovery available to a judgment creditor in post-judgment execution proceedings against a foreign sovereign.
As part of NML’s efforts to collect on various litigation judgments entered against Argentina following its default on bond obligations, NML sought discovery of Argentina’s assets around the world in an attempt to locate Argentine property that might be subject to attachment and execution. Those efforts included subpoenas served on Bank of America and Banco de la Nacion Argentina, both of which had offices in New York. The subpoenas generally sought information about Argentina’s accounts, balances, transaction histories and funds transfers. Argentina and the banks sought to quash the subpoenas, contending that they violated the FSIA by seeking discovery of Argentina’s extraterritorial assets that were beyond the reach of U.S. courts. The district court denied the motion to quash, and the Second Circuit affirmed. Only Argentina sought review in the Supreme Court.
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (“Sarbanes-Oxley”) was enacted following the accounting scandals of the early 2000s involving Enron, WorldCom and other public companies. Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank”) in 2010 following the global credit crisis that began a few years earlier. Both statutes offer protections for employees who face retaliation for “blowing the whistle” on corporate misconduct, and Dodd-Frank also provides enhanced monetary incentives to the employees who do so. Given the SEC’s recent and often-stated commitment to strict enforcement of the securities laws, coupled with the fact that the SEC has received over 6,000 whistleblower complaints in the past two years (and has made six awards since inception of its whistleblower reward program in 2011), whistleblowing activity now is a fact of corporate life that is likely to become even more prevalent as awareness spreads of the Dodd-Frank whistleblower reward program.
On May 6, 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued the following decision in the City of Pontiac Policemen’s & Firemen’s Ret. Sys. et al. v. UBS AG et al., No. 12-4355 (2d Cir. May 6, 2014). The decision is one of first impression in the Second Circuit with respect to two questions arising out of the Supreme Court’s decision in Morrison v. National Australia Bank Ltd., 561 U.S. 247 (2010). First, does Morrison bar Exchange Act Section 10(b) claims with respect to the purchase or sale of securities on foreign exchanges when those same securities are cross-listed on a U.S. exchange? The Second Circuit answered with a “yes.” Second, is the mere placement of a buy order in the United States for the purchase of foreign securities on a foreign exchange sufficient to allege that a purchaser incurred irrevocable liability in the United States, such that the U.S. securities laws govern the purchase of those securities under the Second Circuit’s decision in Absolute Activist Value Master Fund Ltd v. Ficeto, 677 F.3d 60 (2d Cir. 2012)? The Second Circuit answered with a “no.”
On August 30, 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit unanimously held that Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Section 10(b)”) does not apply to extraterritorial conduct, “regardless of whether liability is sought criminally or civilly.” Interpreting the scope of the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Morrison v. National Australian Bank Ltd.,  the Second Circuit’s significant decision in United States v. Vilar, et al. means that a criminal defendant may be convicted of fraud under Section 10(b) only if the defendant engaged in fraud “in connection with” a security listed on a United States exchange or a security “purchased or sold” in the United States. In reaching its conclusion, the court rejected the government’s attempts to distinguish criminal liability under Section 10(b) from the civil liability at issue in Morrison, holding that “[a] statute either applies extraterritorially or it does not, and once it is determined that a statute does not apply extraterritorially, the only question we must answer in the individual case is whether the relevant conduct occurred in the territory of a foreign sovereign.”
On April 17, 2013, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., __ U.S. __ (2013), addressing the scope of the Alien Tort Statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1350 (“ATS”). In Kiobel, the Court sharply limited the availability of U.S. courts to hear claims brought by foreign nationals against other foreign nationals for human rights violations committed outside the United States. Although the decision was unanimous, the Justices’ reasoning divided. Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the Court, concluded that the presumption against extraterritoriality applies to claims under the ATS and that nothing in the ATS itself rebuts that presumption. The Chief Justice’s opinion, joined by Justices Alito, Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas, casts doubt on the viability of ATS claims arising from foreign acts, but leaves open the possibility that the presumption against extraterritoriality might be rebutted if claims “touch and concern the territory of the United States” with “sufficient force to displace” that presumption. A foreign defendant’s “[m]ere corporate presence” in the United States, however, does not suffice. Justice Breyer, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan, filed a concurrence in the judgment rejecting the application of the presumption against extraterritoriality and instead proposing that claims for violations of international law can be recognized under the ATS even for violations committed abroad either where the defendant is an American national or where the case sufficiently implicates a U.S. interest.
The Court’s analysis in Kiobel will likely have far-reaching repercussions for foreign nationals alleging that they have been the victims of human rights abuses outside the United States, for corporations potentially subject to expensive and difficult-to-predict ATS suits, and for foreign countries whose policies and actions might become the subject of ATS suits.
The Volcker Rule, as embodied in the Dodd-Frank Act and reflected in proposed regulations, generally prohibits “banking entities” from engaging in proprietary trading and from investing in or sponsoring private equity and hedge funds.  These “banking entities” include foreign banks that maintain branches or agencies in the U.S. or that own U.S. banks or commercial lending companies in the United States. These banks, as well as their parent holding companies, are referred to in U.S. regulations as “foreign banking organizations,” or “FBOs,” and we will use this term throughout this paper.  This bulletin evaluates how Volcker, as construed by proposed regulations, impacts the proprietary trading and investment fund-related activities of FBOs outside the United States.
Generally, the Dodd-Frank Act exempts proprietary trading by FBOs that is conducted solely outside the United States, and, provided that no ownership interest in a fund is offered or sold in the United States, investment fund-related activities by FBOs conducted solely outside the United States. The exemptions are available under the Dodd-Frank Act for FBOs (or their affiliates) not controlled by U.S.-based banking entities as long as the activities in question are conducted consistent with the exemption accorded FBOs for activities conducted outside the United States pursuant to Sections 4(c)(9 ) or 4(c)(13) of the Bank Holding Company Act. Accordingly, the exemptions are not available for activities conducted by the U.S. branches or agencies of FBOs, or by U.S. banks or U.S. commercial lending companies owned by FBOs.
Recently, in Global Reinsurance Corp.–U.S. Branch v. Equitas Ltd., the New York Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, refused to apply the state’s antitrust statute, the Donnelly Act, to allegedly anticompetitive conduct in Great Britain that had only incidental effects in New York. Reversing a divided decision of the intermediate appellate court, the Court of Appeals reasoned that state antitrust law could not have a broader extraterritorial reach than federal antitrust law; otherwise, statutory and judicial limitations on the federal Sherman Act “would be undone if states remained free to authorize ‘little Sherman Act’ claims that went beyond it.”
This rationale may have significant implications beyond the antitrust arena, as the Court of Appeals more broadly reaffirmed that “[t]he established presumption is, of course, against the extra-territorial operation of New York law.” For example, the potential impact on securities claims under state common law is particularly notable. In the wake of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Morrison v. National Australia Bank, which held that Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act applies only to domestic securities transactions (see our memo here), a number of plaintiffs have attempted to invoke state common law to recover losses on extraterritorial transactions. One potential obstacle to such state-law suits appeared to have been removed late last year, when the Court of Appeals, in Assured Guaranty (UK) Ltd. v. J.P. Morgan Investment Management, rejected a line of lower-court and federal precedents that had held common-law securities actions preempted by New York’s securities statute, the Martin Act (see our memo here).
In its 2010 decision in Morrison v. National Australia Bank, 130 S. Ct. 2869 (2010), the Supreme Court addressed whether Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act applies to a securities transaction involving foreign investors, foreign issuers and/or securities traded on foreign exchanges. The Morrison decision curtailed the extraterritorial application of the federal securities laws by holding that Section 10(b) applies only to (a) transactions in securities listed on domestic exchanges or (b) domestic transactions in other securities.
In Absolute Activist Value Master Fund Ltd. v. Ficeto, et al., Docket No. 11-0221-cv (2d Cir. Mar. 1, 2012), the Second Circuit addressed for the first time what constitutes a “domestic transaction” in securities not listed on a U.S. exchange. The Court held that, to establish a domestic transaction in securities not listed on a U.S. exchange, plaintiffs must allege facts plausibly showing either that irrevocable liability was incurred or that title was transferred within the United States.
Plaintiffs in Absolute Activist were nine Cayman Island hedge funds (the “Funds”) that had engaged Absolute Capital Management Holdings (“ACM”) to act as their investment manager. Plaintiffs alleged in their complaint that the ACM management defendants engaged in a variation of a pump-and-dump scheme. Specifically, defendants were alleged to have caused the Funds to purchase billions of shares of U.S. penny stocks issued by thinly capitalized U.S. companies – stocks that defendants themselves also owned – and then to have traded those stocks among the Funds in a way that artificially drove up the share value. Defendants thereby were alleged to have profited both from the fees generated through the fraudulent trading activity and the profits they earned when they sold their shares of the penny stocks at a profit to the Funds.
Recently, the Amsterdam Court of Appeal issued an important decision in the Converium case with implications for class action suits in the United States and internationally. The decision authorizes the use of the Dutch collective-settlement statute to settle disputes on a classwide, opt-out basis. Given that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Morrison v. National Australian Bank significantly limited the extent to which claims by foreign investors can be settled in United States securities cases, the Amsterdam Court of Appeal’s decision is significant because it provides a practical mechanism for structuring global securities class action settlements through the use of the Dutch statute in concert with U.S. proceedings, particularly in cases involving a large number of European investors.