Editor’s Note: This post is by John F. Olson of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP.
Several noteworthy developments recently occurred regarding director independence. First, on August 8, 2008, the Securities and Exchange Commission (the SEC) approved amendments to the definition of “independent director” under the NASDAQ Stock Market Rules, which have gone into effect. Second, on August 12, 2008, the New York Stock Exchange (the NYSE) filed rule changes with the SEC to amend two of its director independence tests; these rules do not require SEC approval and apply beginning September 11, 2008. Finally, on August 5, 2008, the SEC announced the settlement of an enforcement action involving a former director who failed to disclose a business relationship with the auditor of three companies on whose boards he served, thereby causing the companies to violate the federal securities laws.
The SEC approved an amendment to NASDAQ Rule 4200(a)(15), which sets forth several tests to determine whether a director of a listed company is independent. Prior to the amendment, Rule 4200(a)(15)(B) provided that a director would not be considered independent if the director or an immediate family member accepted any compensation from the listed company in excess of $100,000 during any period of 12 consecutive months within the three years preceding the determination of independence (excluding compensation for board or board committee service, compensation paid to an immediate family member as a non-executive employee, benefits paid under a tax-qualified retirement plan and non-discretionary compensation). The amendment increased the dollar threshold from $100,000 to $120,000. This amendment was adopted in response to the SEC’s 2006 amendment to Item 404 of Regulation S-K, which increased to $120,000 the dollar threshold applicable to disclosure of related party transactions. The NASDAQ rule change has gone into effect.
New York Stock Exchange Amendments
The NYSE amendments modify the bright line independence tests set forth in Section 303A.02(b) of the NYSE Listed Company Manual in two respects. The first amendment modifies Section 303A.02(b)(ii) to increase from $100,000 to $120,000 the amount of direct compensation (other than director or committee fees and pension or other forms of deferred compensation for prior service), that a director or members of a director’s immediate family may receive from a listed company in a 12-month period within the prior three years and still be considered an independent director. As with the similar NASDAQ amendment, the NYSE’s amendment was adopted to align the NYSE rules with the disclosure requirements set forth in Item 404 of Regulation S-K.
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