This proxy season, rather than following the traditional route of seeking no-action relief from the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) (or, in one instance, after receiving a no-action denial), at least four companies have filed lawsuits against activist investor John Chevedden, in each case requesting declaratory judgment that the company may properly exclude Chevedden’s proposed shareholder resolution from the proxy materials for its 2014 annual meeting. While companies have enjoyed judicial victories against Chevedden in the recent past (including during the current proxy season), this month, for the first time, three federal courts dismissed actions against Chevedden, citing lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
Posts Tagged ‘U.S. federal courts’
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.
The Delaware Supreme Court today affirmed that a going-private transaction may be reviewed under the deferential business judgment rule when it is conditioned on the approval of both a well-functioning special committee and a majority of the minority stockholders. Kahn v. M&F Worldwide Corp., No. 334, 2013 (Del. Mar. 14, 2014).
As described in our previous memo, the case arose out of a stockholder challenge to a merger in which MacAndrews & Forbes acquired the 57% of M&F Worldwide it did not already own. Then-Chancellor Strine granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, finding that the record established the transaction was approved by both an independent special committee that functioned effectively and had the power to say no and the fully-informed vote of a majority of the unaffiliated stockholders, thus entitling them to business judgment review.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has broadened the Securities and Exchange Commission’s power to seek civil disgorgement of profits from insider trading violations even where an individual did not personally profit from the illegal trades.
In its panel opinion in SEC v. Contorinis, decided on February 18, the Second Circuit upheld a trial court order requiring that Joseph Contorinis, the former managing director of the Jeffries Paragon Fund, disgorge more than US$7 million in unlawful profits obtained by the fund as a result of Contorinis’s trading on material nonpublic information. This is despite the fact that he did not trade with his own personal assets and his personal compensation from the trades amounted to only US$427,875.
On February 18, both Argentina and the Exchange Bondholders Group filed petitions for writs of certiorari with the Supreme Court, seeking review of the Second Circuit’s rulings in the pari passu litigation. We discuss below the certiorari procedure, followed by comments on substantive arguments raised by Argentina and the Exchange Bondholders.
Our many prior comments on Argentina’s pari passu litigation, as well as all of the material pleadings and decisions (including the two February 18 certiorari petitions), can be found on our Argentine Sovereign Debt webpage, at http://www.shearman.com/argentine-sovereign-debt.
Delaware’s Leading Role in Business and Business Litigation
Delaware has long been known as the corporate capital of the world. It is the state of incorporation for 64 percent of the Fortune 500 and more than half of all companies whose securities trade on the NYSE, Nasdaq and other exchanges. Its preeminence in business law started with its corporate code—the Delaware General Corporation Law—and has been enhanced by business law innovations that have led to the creation of many new business entities designed to meet the expanding needs of corporate and financial America.
This is our ninth annual review of key Delaware corporate and commercial decisions. During 2013, we reviewed and summarized over 200 decisions from Delaware’s Supreme Court and Court of Chancery on corporate and commercial issues. Among the decisions with the most far-reaching application and importance during 2013 are the “top ten” that we are highlighting in this short overview. We are providing links to the more complete blog summaries, and the actual court rulings, for each of the cases that we highlight below.
2013 proved to be a watershed year for securities litigation, and 2014 is shaping up to be a “career killing” year for plaintiffs’ lawyers specializing in 10b-5 class actions. In what may turn out to be one of the most important cases in the last three decades, the Supreme Court will address the long debated fraud-on-the-market theory in Halliburton II, and address head on whether the Court’s decades-old ruling in Basic v. Levinson establishing that theory should be overruled. The case for overruling Basic is a strong one, with at least four justices having expressed serious concerns about the fraud-on-the-market theory in the Court’s 2013 decision in Amgen. See “A Shot Across the Basic Bow,” in our 2013 Mid-Year Securities Litigation Update. If, as many court observers predict, the Court in fact overturns the fraud-on-the-market theory, securities class actions as we know them may be consigned to the dust heap.
Legal developments have dominated the news about federal securities class actions in 2013. Last February, the Supreme Court decision in Amgen resolved certain questions about materiality but focused the debate on Basic and the presumption of reliance, which are now back to the Supreme Court after certiorari was granted for the second time in Halliburton.
Against this legal backdrop, 2013 saw a small increase in the number of complaints filed for securities class actions in general and for class actions alleging violation of Rule 10b-5 in particular. Filings in the 5th Circuit doubled, while filings in the 9th Circuit bounced back after having dipped in 2012.
Nearly a decade ago, the United States Supreme Court in Dura Pharmaceuticals Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 345 (2005), emphasized that a securities fraud suit is not an investor’s insurance policy against market losses. As courts continue to address the fallout from the financial crisis that began in 2007, the court’s admonition is alive and well, and frequently appearing in decisions addressing claims under § 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and common law claims involving structured products such as mortgage-backed securities. Just recently, two federal courts observed in the § 10(b) context that “[t]he securities laws are not an insurance policy for investments gone wrong, inexperience, bad luck, poor choices, or unexpected market events,” nor are they “a prophylaxis against the normal risks attendant to speculation and investment in the financial markets.”