The Third Circuit recently upheld the validity of two clarifying amendments adopted by the SEC in 2005. The amendments clarified two important exemptions from shortswing-profit liability under Section 16(b) of the Securities Exchange Act: (1) Rule 16b-3, which exempts certain transactions between an issuer and its officers or directors; and (2) Rule 16b-7, which exempts certain mergers, reclassifications, and consolidations. In so doing, the Court expressly overruled a prior decision of the Third Circuit that imposed novel restrictions on the applicability of the two exemptions.
In Levy v. Sterling Holding Co., 314 F.3d 106 (3d Cir. 2002) (“Levy I”), the Third Circuit held that grants, awards, and other issuances to officers or directors must be compensation-related to be eligible for exemption under Rule 16b-3(d). The Third Circuit also suggested that Rule 16b-7 would not exempt reclassifications that involve classes of securities with different risk-return characteristics (such as an exchange of non-convertible preferred stock for common stock) or that increase shareholders’ percentage of common-stock ownership. (See our memo dated March 10, 2003.)
In response to the Third Circuit’s holding in Levy I, the SEC adopted clarifying amendments to Rules 16b-3 and 16b-7. The amendment to Rule 16b-3 made clear that the exemption would apply regardless of whether a compensation-related purpose could be demonstrated. The amendment to Rule 16b-7 made clear that the only condition for exempting a reclassification is that the company whose securities are acquired or disposed of owns 85% or more of the equity or assets of all companies that are parties to the transaction. Thus, where a single issuer reclassifies one class of its securities into another, there is effectively 100% “crossownership” and the exemption is available. (See our memo dated August 8, 2005.)
…continue reading: Third Circuit Upholds Validity of SEC: Amendments Clarifying Exemptions from Section 16 Liability