On March 5, 2014, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit agreed to constitute an en banc panel to reconsider a decision issued by the court in Trek Leather Inc. et al. v. United States.  The entire court will reconsider a July 30, 2013 decision issued by a three-judge panel holding that the government had to prove officers and/or shareholders had aided or abetted fraud, or otherwise took actions that justified piercing the corporate veil, in order to hold them personally liable for US customs law violations committed by a corporate entity.  If the full court overrules the three-judge panel, the benefits of incorporation would be mitigated with respect to an officer or shareholder’s actions that result in US customs law violations.
Posts Tagged ‘Liability standards’
In prior articles (see, e.g., Regulating Shadows: Financial Regulation and Responsibility Failure, 70 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 1781 (2013)), I have argued that shadow banking is so radically transforming finance that regulatory scholars need to rethink certain of their basic assumptions. In a forthcoming new article, The Governance Structure of Shadow Banking: Rethinking Assumptions About Limited Liability, I argue that the governance structure of shadow banking should be redesigned to make certain investors financially responsible, by reason of their ownership interests, for their firm’s liabilities beyond the capital they have invested. This argument challenges the longstanding assumption of the optimality of limited liability.
“This Order contains no findings that an officer, director or employee of Alcoa knowingly engaged in the bribe scheme.”
There are several notable aspects of aluminum producer Alcoa, Inc.’s (“Alcoa”) recent FCPA settlement. The $384 million in penalties, forfeitures and disgorgement qualify as the fifth largest FCPA case to date. Further, it is remarkable that such a large monetary sanction was imposed when the criminal charges brought by the U.K. Serious Fraud Office against the consultant central to the alleged bribery scheme were dismissed on the grounds that there was no “realistic prospect of conviction.” Perhaps most striking, however, is the theory of parent corporate liability that the settlement reflects. Although there is no allegation that an Alcoa official participated in, or knew of, the improper payments made by its subsidiaries, the government held the parent corporation liable for FCPA anti-bribery violations under purported “agency” principles. Alcoa serves as an important marker in what appears to be a steady progression toward a strict liability FCPA regime.
The tax status of so-called “carried interests,” held by private equity fund sponsors (and benefitting, in particular, the individual managers of those sponsors) is the subject of this post. A decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit holding that a private equity fund was engaged in a trade or business for purposes of the withdrawal liability provisions of ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act) has caused considerable comment on the issue of whether a private equity fund might also be held to be in a trade or business (and not just a passive investor) for purposes of capital gains tax treatment on the sale of its portfolio companies. Proposed federal income tax legislation, beginning in 2007 and continuing into 2013, also has raised concern as to the status of capital gains tax treatment for holders of carried interests. The following post addresses both of these developments.
On September 30, 2013, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)—quietly, and with little fanfare—released an informal statement of policy in the form of frequently asked questions (FAQ), in which it addressed its recent case against Ted Urban.  In doing so, the SEC shed light on when and how the agency will seek to hold legal and compliance personnel responsible for failing to supervise employees on the business side.
As many will recall, the Urban case was closely watched by securities legal and compliance professionals, who worried that a decision by the commissioners could be used by enforcement staff to make such professionals easier targets in future enforcement actions. Ultimately, the commissioners dismissed the case. That said, given the circumstances surrounding the case’s dismissal, legal and compliance officers were left with little guidance as to whether the case against Urban could be used against them to establish supervisor liability.
On September 23, 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a decision clarifying the standard for aiding and abetting liability under the Commodities Exchange Act (“CEA”). The decision, in In re Amaranth Natural Gas Commodities Litigation, No. 12-2075-cv (2d Cir. Sept. 23, 2013), affirmed a judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, which dismissed a putative class action filed by purchasers of natural gas futures contracts against J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, Inc. and J.P. Morgan Futures, Inc. (“JPMorgan”). The purchaser plaintiffs claimed that Amaranth, a hedge fund for which JPMorgan provided clearing broker services, manipulated natural gas futures prices on the NYMEX commodities exchange, and that JPMorgan aided and abetted Amaranth’s manipulation.
One of the most difficult, and therefore most heavily negotiated, issues in carve-out transactions is the division of liabilities between the parent and the carved-out business. Typically, the division of liabilities will follow the business: liabilities attributable to the parent’s business will be retained by the parent, and liabilities attributable to the subsidiary or division’s business will be assigned to the subsidiary or division. As explained below, in the case of an M&A transaction, this application can vary depending on whether the transaction is a stock sale or an asset sale. 
- Stock Sale. In a stock sale, liabilities of the carved-out entity typically pass to the buyer by operation of law. The carved-out entity is acquired “as is” with all of its existing liabilities. However, to the extent the parent is creditworthy, the buyer may be able to obtain protection from certain liabilities through indemnification.
- Asset Sale. In an asset sale, by contrast, the buyer is contractually responsible only for those liabilities that it specifically assumes as part of the negotiated asset purchase agreement. This flexibility allows the parties to choose from any number of liability arrangements, from “all liabilities resulting from the ownership and operation of the carved-out division” to only specifically enumerated liabilities in a schedule, with the parent typically providing unlimited indemnification for all other liabilities. However, even where the buyer does not expressly agree to assume any liabilities, the buyer should be aware that it may nonetheless be subject to certain successor liabilities arising out of the asset purchase. 
- Applicable Law. No matter what the transaction structure, both parties should be aware that under applicable state, federal or international law, certain environmental, product and employee liabilities may pass to the buyer or be retained by the parent even if the parties have contractually provided for another allocation.
The past decade has seen a surge in the number of cases brought against financial institutions and other major corporations under the Anti-Terrorism Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2331 et seq. (“ATA”). Plaintiffs alleging injuries by acts of international terrorism have sought to recover treble damages for their injuries from financial institutions on the theory that the financial institutions supplied, directly or indirectly, financial services to the terrorist groups. The frequency with which such suits are filed is unlikely to diminish, particularly because Congress recently extended the statute of limitations for ATA claims from four to ten years, and in some circumstances even longer. On February 14, 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a significant opinion with respect to the ATA’s causation requirements. In Rothstein v. UBS AG, the Court held that the plaintiffs had failed adequately to allege that UBS’s transfers of funds for the government of Iran were the proximate cause of the plaintiffs’ injuries suffered in terrorist attacks by Hamas and Hizbollah in Israel. Rothstein will be an important precedent for financial institutions and other companies in defending themselves against ATA lawsuits.
In the recent decision Gatz Properties LLC v. Auriga Capital Corporation, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Delaware Court of Chancery’s January 2012 decision in Auriga Capital Corporation v. Gatz Properties. In January of this year, the Court of Chancery held that a controlling member and manager of a limited liability company breached his fiduciary duties to the company’s minority members because the process by which he purchased the limited liability company from the minority members did not result in the payment of a fair price under the entire fairness standard of review. In affirming the decision, the Supreme Court stated that the question of whether the default standard under the Delaware Limited Liability Company Act is that a manager owes fiduciary duties to the members of a limited liability company remains unanswered and should not have been addressed by the lower court. Until this question is answered definitively, members of limited liability companies should clearly state in the limited liability company agreement whether and to what extent the company’s managers or controlling persons should have any fiduciary duties to the members.
On August 8, 2012, the Second Circuit issued an important decision in Securities and Exchange Commission v. Apuzzo, 2012 WL 3194303, clarifying the test the SEC must meet to establish aiding and abetting liability for a securities law violation. There previously had been uncertainty in the Second Circuit whether the SEC must prove that the aider and abettor proximately caused the harm on which the primary violation was based. In Apuzzo, the Second Circuit made clear that “proximate cause” was not an element of the aiding and abetting violation and that, to charge someone with aiding and abetting, the SEC need allege and prove only that the aider and abettor associated himself with the venture in some way, participated in the venture as in something he wished to bring about, and sought by his action to make the venture succeed. The Court of Appeals also stated that proof of a high degree of knowledge of a primary violation may lessen the SEC’s burden in proving substantial assistance.