On March 24, 2015 in Omnicare, Inc. v. Laborers District Council Construction Industry Pension Fund, No. 13-435, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the requirement in Section 11 of the Securities Act of 1933 that a registration statement not “contain an untrue statement of a material fact” or “omit to state a material fact … necessary to make the statements therein not misleading.” Specifically, the Court considered what plaintiffs need to plead under each of those phrases with respect to statements of opinion. The Court’s guidance is significant in light of the importance of pleading standards and motions to dismiss in securities litigation. The Court held, consistent with a majority of the federal courts of appeals, that a pure statement of opinion offered in a Section 11 filing is “an untrue statement of material fact” only if the plaintiff can plead (and ultimately prove) that the issuer did not actually hold the stated belief. At the same time, the Court held that the omission of certain material facts can render even a pure statement of opinion actionably misleading under Section 11. But the Court emphasized that pleading an omissions claim will be difficult because a plaintiff must identify specific, material facts whose omission makes the opinion statement misleading to a reasonable person reading the statement fairly and in context. The Supreme Court’s decision should curtail Section 11 litigation over honestly held opinions that turn out to be wrong, but it may cause the plaintiffs’ bar to bring claims that issuers have not accompanied their opinions with sufficient material facts underlying those opinions. To ward off the risk of such lawsuits, issuers should consider supplementing their disclosure documents with information about the bases of their opinions that could be material to a reasonable investor.
Posts Tagged ‘Sullivan & Cromwell’
It is clear that shareholder activism continues to evolve, expand and increase in influence. There is a growing emphasis, in particular by large mutual funds and other institutional investors, on shareholder engagement and shareholder-friendly governance structures that, together with the increased activity of activist hedge funds and other “strategic” activist investors, make shareholder engagement and preparedness an essential focus for public companies and their boards.
Most recently, BlackRock Inc. and the Vanguard Group, the largest and third largest U.S. asset managers with more than $7 trillion in combined assets under management, have made public statements emphasizing that they are focused on corporate governance and board engagement. Vanguard recently sent a letter to many of its portfolio companies cautioning them not to confuse Vanguard’s “predominantly passive management style” with a “passive attitude toward corporate governance.” The letter goes on to emphasize numerous corporate governance principles and to highlight in detail (as discussed further below) the importance of direct shareholder-director interactions. BlackRock recently updated its voting policies to make clear that they are more than just guides to how BlackRock votes–they represent “our expectations of boards of directors.” The new policies continue an emphasis on direct interaction between investors and directors.
On February 27, 2015, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (the “Federal Reserve”), the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (collectively, the “Agencies”) provided an important addition to their existing list of Frequently Asked Questions (“FAQs”) addressing the implementation of section 13 of the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956, as amended (the “BHC Act”), commonly known as the “Volcker Rule.”
The Volcker Rule imposes broad prohibitions on proprietary trading and investing in and sponsoring private equity funds, hedge funds and certain other investment vehicles (“covered funds”) by “banking entities” and their affiliates. The Volcker Rule, as implemented by the final rule issued by the Agencies (the “Final Rule”), provides an exemption from the covered fund prohibitions for foreign banking entities’ acquisition or retention of an ownership interest in, or sponsorship of, a covered fund “solely outside of the United States” (the “SOTUS covered fund exemption”).
Board portals and other mechanisms for the electronic dissemination of information to directors of public companies, non-profits and other organizations are in widespread use. Many companies have found that these portals can offer significant benefits, including improved document security, speed and ease of distribution and, for many directors, improved efficiency and ease of access to board materials.
Boards and management should be aware, however, that there is increasing discussion, including among Delaware jurists and practitioners on both the plaintiff and defense sides, concerning possible negatives associated with board portals and other electronic communications, if not properly managed. There are two areas in particular that merit thoughtful attention.
This post highlights what we believe to be the most significant developments during 2014 for financial institutions with respect to U.S. Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money laundering (“BSA/AML”) and U.S. sanctions programs, including sanctions administered by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”), and identifies significant trends. The overarching trend that is likely to continue for the foreseeable future is an intense focus on BSA/AML and sanctions compliance by multiple government agencies, combined with increasing regulatory expectations and significant enforcement actions and penalties.
On October 16, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (the “Federal Reserve”) issued its summary instructions and guidance  (the “CCAR 2015 Instructions”) for its supervisory Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review program for 2015 (“CCAR 2015”) applicable to bank holding companies with $50 billion or more of total consolidated assets (“Covered BHCs”). Thirty-one institutions will participate in CCAR 2015, including the 30 Covered BHCs  that participated in CCAR in 2014, as well as one institution that is new to the program. 
In a bench ruling  issued on October 14, 2014, the Delaware Court of Chancery (VC Laster) declined to dismiss fiduciary duty claims against the directors of Healthways, Inc. (“Healthways”) and an aiding and abetting claim against SunTrust Bank (“SunTrust”), the lender administrative agent, for entering into a credit facility of Healthways that has a dead hand “proxy put” provision. The provision at issue allows the lenders to declare an event of default and accelerate the debt in the event that a majority of the Healthways board during a period of 24 months is comprised of “non-continuing” directors, including directors initially nominated as a result of an actual or threatened proxy contest. Rejecting the director defendant claims that the fiduciary duty claims were not ripe, the Court stated that Healthways’ stockholders may presently be “suffering a distinct injury” from the deterrent effect of the “proxy put” and the fact that the dissident directors are non-continuing directors under the “proxy put.” In addition, in a further significant development, the Court stated that its prior holdings on the “entrenching” nature of “proxy puts” placed SunTrust on notice that a borrower’s board runs the risk of breaching their fiduciary duties if they accept dead hand “proxy puts” in the borrower’s debt documentation without negotiating significant value in return. Because the dead hand “proxy put” was included in Healthways’ credit agreement shortly after the threat of a proxy contest had occurred, the Court found that there was sufficient “knowing participation” pled to survive a motion to dismiss the aiding and abetting claim against SunTrust.
On September 29, 2014, the Financial Stability Board (the “FSB”) published a consultative document concerning cross-border recognition of resolution actions and the removal of impediments to the resolution of globally active, systemically important financial institutions (the “Consultative Document”). The Consultative Document encourages jurisdictions to include in their statutory frameworks seven elements that would enable prompt effect to be given to foreign resolution actions. In addition, due to a recognized gap between the various national legal resolution regimes that are currently in place and those recommended by the FSB, the Consultative Document sets forth two “contractual solutions”—that is, resolution-related arrangements to be implemented as a matter of contract among the private parties involved—to address two underlying substantive issues that the FSB considers critical for orderly cross-border resolution, namely:
In an opinion  issued on September 9, 2014, the Delaware Court of Chancery (VC Glasscock) held that in a controlling stockholder freeze-out merger subject to entire fairness review at the outset, disinterested directors entitled under a company’s charter to exculpation for duty of care violations cannot prevail in a motion to dismiss even though the claims against them for breach of fiduciary duty are not pled with particularity; instead, the issue of whether they will be entitled to exculpation must await a developed record, post-trial. The decision once again highlights the litigation cost that will be imposed on companies engaged in controlling stockholder freeze-out mergers for failing to employ both of the safeguards that Delaware has endorsed to ensure business judgment, instead of entire fairness, review—(1) an up-front non-waivable commitment by the controller to condition the transaction on an informed vote of a majority of the minority stockholders and (2) approval of the transaction by a well-functioning and broadly empowered special committee of disinterested directors. At the motion to dismiss stage, disinterested directors effectively will be treated in the same manner as controllers and their affiliated directors.
[On September 10, 2014], the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (the “Federal Reserve”), the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (collectively, the “Agencies”) provided an addition to their existing list of Frequently Asked Questions (“FAQs”) addressing the implementation of section 13 of the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956, as amended, commonly known as the “Volcker Rule.”