This Spring, the Supreme Court will decide whether a for-profit corporation can refuse to provide insurance coverage for birth control and other reproductive health services mandated by the Affordable Healthcare Act (or “Obamacare”) when doing so would conflict with “the corporation’s” religious beliefs. Although the main legal issue in Sibelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., et al. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., et al. v. Sibelius concerns the extent to which the guarantee of free exercise of religion under the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act may be asserted by for-profit corporations, the Court’s decision may also have important—and unsettling—implications for state corporate laws that define the fiduciary duties of boards of directors.
Posts Tagged ‘State law’
In November 2013 I delivered the 29th Annual Francis G. Pileggi Distinguished Lecture in Law in Wilmington, Delaware. My lecture, entitled “Delaware’s Choice,” presented four uncontested facts from my prior research: (1) in the 1980s, federal courts established the principle that Section 203 must give bidders a “meaningful opportunity for success” in order to withstand scrutiny under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution; (2) federal courts upheld Section 203 at the time, based on empirical evidence from 1985-1988 purporting to show that Section 203 did in fact give bidders a meaningful opportunity for success; (3) between 1990 and 2010, not a single bidder was able to achieve the 85% threshold required by Section 203, thereby calling into question whether Section 203 has in fact given bidders a meaningful opportunity for success; and (4) perhaps most damning, the original evidence that the courts relied upon to conclude that Section 203 gave bidders a meaningful opportunity for success was seriously flawed—so flawed, in fact, that even this original evidence supports the opposite conclusion: that Section 203 did not give bidders a meaningful opportunity for success.
December 18, 2013 may well mark an historic turning point in the ability of small business to effectively access capital in the private and public markets under the federal securities regulatory framework. On that day the Commissioners of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission met in open session and unanimously authorized the issuance of proposed rules  intended to implement Title IV of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act of 2012 (the “JOBS Act”)—a provision widely labeled as “Regulation A+”—and whose implementation is dependent upon SEC rulemaking. Title IV, entitled “Small Company Capital Formation”, was intended by Congress to expand the use of Regulation A—a little used exemption from a full blown SEC registration of securities which has been around for more than 20 years—by increasing the dollar ceiling from $5 million to $50 million. Both the scope and breadth of the SEC’s proposed rules, and the areas in which the SEC expressly seeks public comment, appear to represent an opening salvo by the SEC in what is certain to be a fierce, long overdue battle between the Commission and state regulators, the SEC determined to reduce the burden of state regulation on capital formation—a burden falling disproportionately on small business—and state regulators seeking to preserve their autonomy to review securities offerings at the state level.
On December 18, 2013, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) voted to propose amendments to its public offering rules to exempt an additional category of small capital raising efforts as mandated by Title IV of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (the “JOBS Act”). The SEC has proposed to amend Regulation A to exempt offerings of up to $50 million within a 12-month period, and in so doing has created two tiers of offerings under Regulation A: Tier 1, for offerings of up to $5 million in any twelve-month period, and Tier 2, for offerings of up to $50 million in any twelve-month period. Rules regarding eligibility, disclosure and other matters would apply equally to Tier 1 and Tier 2 offerings and are in many respects a modernization of the existing provisions of Regulation A. Tier 2 offerings would, however, be subject to significant additional requirements, such as the provision of audited financial statements, ongoing reporting obligations and certain limitations on sales.
The Delaware General Assembly has adopted, and Delaware’s governor has signed into law, several important amendments to the State’s General Corporation Law (the “DGCL”) and Limited Liability Company Act (the “DLLCA”). Of particular interest to corporate and M&A practitioners are the following provisions:
- New DGCL Section 251(h), which eliminates the need for stockholder approval of second-step mergers following tender offers if certain conditions are met, thus eliminating the need for workarounds such as top-up options and dual-track structures;
- New DGCL Sections 204 and 205, which delineate a procedure to ratify defective corporate actions and to vest the Court of Chancery with jurisdiction over disputes regarding such actions;
- New DGCL Sections 361 through 368 (Subchapter XV), which permit the creation of public benefit corporations (i.e., for-profit corporations formed for the benefit of constituencies other than stockholders, such as categories of persons, entities, communities or interests); and
- Amended DLLCA Section 18-1104, which amendments confirm the default rule that fiduciary duties exist in the case of Delaware limited liability companies unless otherwise provided in the LLC agreement.
Filing and Settlement Trends
Filing and settlement trends continue to reflect “business as usual” for the plaintiffs’ bar—hundreds of suits and significant settlement values can be expected for the rest of 2013, based on results from the early half of the year. According to a recent study by NERA Economic Consulting, the annualized rate of new class action filings based on results in the first half of 2013 is expected to be slightly up from the prior six-year averages. Through June 2013, new securities class action filings were annualizing at 222 cases for the full year, representing an uptick from the six-year average of 219 suits. On the other hand, median settlement amounts were somewhat lower that the six-year average: $8.8 million in the first quarter of 2013, versus the six-year average of $9.3 million, but higher than four out of those six years. The average settlement value in the first quarter of 2013 was more than double the six-year average: $78 million, versus the six-year average of $35 million. Finally, median settlement amounts as a percentage of investor losses in the first half of 2013 were 2.0%, up from 1.8% for the full year 2012, but slightly lower than the six-year average of 2.
Class Action Filings
Overall filing rates are reflected in Figure 1 below (all charts courtesy of NERA Economic Consulting). NERA reports an average of 219 new cases filed in the period 2007 to 2012. Annualized filings in the first half 2013 are projected to be higher than the prior six-year average, at 222 cases. Notably, these figures do not include the many such class suits filed in state courts, including the Delaware Court of Chancery.
Negotiating a term sheet, LOI, or other preliminary document can sometimes feel a bit like the Wild West: local laws and unintended consequences can vary from town to town. Even a concept as seemingly straightforward as agreeing to negotiate in good faith can yield extremely different results depending on jurisdiction. The Delaware Supreme Court’s recent decision in SIGA Technologies, Inc. v. PharmAthene, Inc. is a warning shot to investors and deal makers that, unlike most other states in the US, Delaware will award expectation (i.e., “benefit-of-the-bargain”) damages for the breach of an agreement to negotiate. What this means in practical terms is that, in certain circumstances, failure to fully negotiate a deal based on a non-binding but detailed term sheet could result in full damages as if the parties had actually signed up a deal.
This is a primer on attorneys as award-seeking SEC whistleblowers. It digests the relevant law and explains how it applies in real situations. That law includes the SEC attorney conduct and whistleblower award rules and each state’s ethics rules applicable to attorney disclosure. Fully assessing a particular situation will often require referring to the relevant rules for each state that might come into play for a particular lawyer in a particular situation. We therefore include information about choice of law and a chart summarizing the relevant rules in each of 51 US jurisdictions.
Our hope is that with this primer close at hand, attorneys and companies will not only be equipped to spot issues and apply the law, but will also understand how limited the circumstances are that will allow a lawyer to disclose confidential information to the SEC without client consent and seek a monetary award. This is true even though the SEC has expanded the circumstances allowing disclosure beyond those recognized in many states.
We will end with steps companies can take to deal with risks related to attorneys who are actual or would-be whistleblowers.
The Stanford Law School Securities Class Action Clearinghouse and Cornerstone Research recently released their analysis of securities class action filings in 2012. They report that 152 new securities class actions were filed last year, a 19 percent decline from the 188 new filings in 2011.
Of particular interest is the observation that only thirteen cases arising from merger and acquisition transactions were filed in federal courts in 2012, as compared to 43 in 2011 and 40 in 2010. “Evidence indicates,” the report states, that merger and acquisition litigation is “now being pursued almost exclusively in state courts after the unusual jump in federal M&A filings in 2010 and 2011.” Though such litigation typically arises under state law, plaintiffs often have the option to frame their claims as violations of the federal securities laws or bring them in federal court by invoking diversity jurisdiction.
My recent article, Mutual Fund Sales Notice Fees: Are a Handful of States Unconstitutionally Exacting $200 Million Each Year?, forthcoming in the Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly, describes the political compromise struck in 1996 between Congress and state securities regulators. That year, Congress enacted the National Securities Markets Improvement Act of 1996 (NSMIA), which effected multiple changes to the federal securities laws to promote efficiency and capital formation by eliminating overlapping federal and state securities regulations.
With respect to mutual funds, NSMIA resolved the problem of overlapping regulation by preempting state substantive regulation and registration requirements of mutual funds, thereby providing for exclusive federal jurisdiction over the contents of a mutual fund’s prospectus and operation of each fund. NSMIA was welcomed by the mutual fund industry because it eliminated the “crazy quilt” of regulation that had made registration of mutual fund shares unnecessarily cumbersome—in some cases leading mutual funds to restrict their fund offerings to residents of certain states.
However, in order to secure the acquiescence of the states and secure NSMIA’s enactment, NSMIA preserved state authority to require mutual funds to file sales reports and to pay state filing fees based on those sales in connection with the sales reports. A handful of states have taken unfair advantage of this fee loophole.