Category Archives: Court Cases

Federal Court Injunction Against SEC Prosecution

John J. Falvey, Jr. and Daniel J. Tyukody are partners in the Securities Litigation & White Collar Defense Group at Goodwin Procter LLP. This post is based on a Goodwin Procter Financial Services Alert.

A federal judge in Manhattan recently granted a preliminary injunction against the Securities and Exchange Commission in the latest of a series of rulings raising issues with the SEC’s use of in-house proceedings before its administrative law judges (“ALJs”) rather than proceed with its charges in federal court. The SEC has prevailed more frequently in its administrative proceedings than it has in federal court, where defendants have more robust procedural rights. This ruling by a judge in the Southern District of New York indicates the federal courts’ ongoing concerns with the SEC’s increased preference for administrative proceedings before its own ALJs. But the SEC has the ability to correct the constitutional flaw that the court found to exist with its appointments of ALJs, suggesting that this and similar rulings will likely only raise a short-term disruption of the SEC’s use of its in-house courts.

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Court Strikes NYC’s “Responsible Banking Act”

Robert J. Giuffra, Jr. is a partner in the Litigation Group at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP. This post is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication by Mr. Giuffra, H. Rodgin Cohen, Matthew A. Schwartz, and Marc Trevino.

On August 7, 2015, in a 71-page opinion, Judge Katherine Polk Failla of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York struck down New York City Local Law 38 of 2012, entitled the “Responsible Banking Act” (“RBA”), as preempted by federal and state banking law. The RBA—enacted by the City Council on June 28, 2012, over Mayor Bloomberg’s veto—established an eight-member Community Investment Advisory Board (“CIAB”), charged with collecting data at the census-tract level from the 21 banks eligible to receive some of the City’s $150 billion in annual deposits. This data, which went beyond data required by federal and state banking regulators and would be disclosed publicly, covered a variety of categories ranging from the maintenance of foreclosed properties, to investment in affordable housing, to product and service offerings. Based on the data collected and feedback from public hearings, the CIAB was to develop “benchmarks and best practices” against which the deposit banks were to be evaluated, including against each other, in a publicly filed annual report. The report was to identify deposit banks that refused to provide the requested data. Finally, the RBA provided that the City’s Banking Commission—responsible for designating eligible deposit banks—“may” consider the CIAB’s annual report in making its designation decisions.

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Delaware Court Awards Damages to Option Holders

Jason M. Halper is a partner in the Securities Litigation & Regulatory Enforcement Practice Group at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP. This post is based on an Orrick publication by Mr. Halper and Peter J. Rooney. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

On July 28, 2015, the Delaware Court of Chancery issued a post-trial opinion in which it criticized in particularly strong terms the analysis performed by a financial firm that was retained to value companies that were being sold to a third party or spun off to stockholders (the “valuation firm”). See Fox v. CDX Holdings Inc., C.A. No. 8031-VCL (Del Ch. July 28, 2015)CDX is just the latest decision in which the Chancery Court has awarded damages and/or ordered injunctive relief based in part on a financial firm’s failure to discharge its role appropriately. Calling the valuation firm’s work “a new low,” Vice Chancellor Laster’s opinion is another chapter in this cautionary tale that lays bare how financial firms can be exposed not only to potential monetary liability but, as importantly, significant reputational harm from flawed sell side work on M&A transactions.

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D.C. Circuit Upholds Privilege For Internal Investigation Documents

John F. Savarese is a partner in the Litigation Department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton firm memorandum by Mr. Savarese, Peter C. Hein, and David B. Anders.

Earlier this week, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals for the second time granted a writ of mandamus and vacated district court orders that would have provided for the disclosure of privileged documents created in the course of a company’s internal investigation. In Re Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc., No. 14-5319 (Aug. 11, 2015).

As noted in our prior memo, in a 2014 decision in this same case the D.C. Circuit granted a writ of mandamus and made clear that a proper application of privilege principles would protect documents created in the course of a company’s internal investigation—even if the investigation was conducted by in-house counsel without outside lawyers, even if non-attorneys (serving as agents of attorneys) conducted many of the interviews, and even if the internal investigation was conducted pursuant to a company compliance program required by a statute or government regulation (and thus arguably had in part a business purpose in addition to the purpose of obtaining or providing legal advice).

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Court Rules on Halliburton II

Jonathan C. Dickey is partner and Co-Chair of the National Securities Litigation Practice Group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. This post is based on a Gibson Dunn publication. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Rethinking Basic by Lucian Bebchuk and Allen Ferrell (discussed on the Forum here).

On July 27, 2015, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued its anticipated decision on remand from Halliburton, Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 2398 (2014) (“Halliburton II“), where the United States Supreme Court held that a defendant in a securities fraud class action could introduce evidence of a lack of price impact at the class certification stage to show the absence of predominance. Although the case involved facts that arguably are unique to Halliburton’s particular public disclosures, the plaintiffs’ bar may look to the decision as a roadmap for how to meet the Supreme Court’s price impact test in future cases.

Based on the expert evidence presented on remand, the District Court granted the Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification as to one alleged corrective disclosure but denied the motion as to the other five alleged corrective disclosures. Erica P. John Fund, Inc. v. Halliburton Co., No. 3:02-CV-1152-M, slip op. at 1 (N.D. Tex. July 25, 2015). And as to that one disclosure, the court declined to entertain at the class certification stage Halliburton’s argument that the disclosure was not corrective of the alleged misrepresentation. While there may be continued debate regarding certain of the court’s legal conclusions—including whether a court may properly consider at class certification whether a disclosure was even corrective—the opinion demonstrates what most defendants argue Halliburton II requires: a careful and thorough analysis of defendant’s evidence of a lack of price impact. Beyond that, the court’s ruling may raise more questions than it answered.

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New Guidance on Advance Notice By-Laws

Alexander M. Kaye is the Practice Group Leader of the Global Corporate Group of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP and is a partner resident in the New York office. This post is based on a Milbank client alert by Mr. Kaye, Dean W. Sattler, and Monica Arduini. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

Hill International, Inc. (“Hill”), a publicly traded company, and one of its stockholders, Opportunity Partners L.P. (“Opportunity”), recently engaged in a dispute regarding whether Opportunity had timely submitted two proposals for items of business for consideration and two director nominations for election at Hill’s 2015 annual meeting. On appeal from the Delaware Chancery Court, the Delaware Supreme Court was called on to analyze the interpretation and application of Hill’s advance notice by-law.

On July 2, 2015, in Hill International, Inc. v. Opportunity Partners L.P., [1] the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Chancery’s holding that: (i) Hill’s board of directors only set the date of its annual meeting of stockholders when it announced the actual date of its annual meeting in its 2015 proxy statement, rather than a range of possible dates provided in Hill’s proxy statement from the preceding year, and (ii) Opportunity’s proposals were timely submitted in compliance with Hill’s advance notice by-law.

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DC Circuit Vacates SEC’s Application of Dodd-Frank Provision

Darrell S. Cafasso is a partner in the Litigation Group at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP. This post is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication by Mr. Cafasso, Stephen H. Meyer, and Jennifer L. Sutton. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

On July 14, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (the “DC Circuit”) held that the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC” or “Commission”) could not employ certain remedial provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank” or the “Act”) to retroactively punish an investment adviser for conduct that occurred prior to enactment of the Act. The court’s decision not only casts doubt on numerous similar punishments previously levied by the SEC based on pre-enactment misconduct, but could provide a basis for institutions to object to certain sanctions sought by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (the “CFPB”).

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Court of Chancery Upholds Customary Release in Spin-Off Transactions

David A. Katz is a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz specializing in the areas of mergers and acquisitions and complex securities transactions. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton publication by Mr. Katz, William Savitt, and Ryan A. McLeod. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

The Delaware Court of Chancery last week validated a release of liability that extinguished certain claims a recently spun-off company may have had against its former parent and its directors. In re AbbVie Inc. Stockholder Derivative Litig., C.A. No. 9983-VCG (Del. Ch. July 21, 2015). The decision confirms that the mutual releases customary in spin-off arrangements are presumptively appropriate and enforceable.

Abbott Laboratories spun off AbbVie, its research-based pharmaceutical subsidiary, in January 2013. Before the spin, Abbott was a defendant in a False Claims Act action alleging unlawful off-label marketing of an AbbVie product. As part of the spin-off, AbbVie broadly released all claims it might have against Abbott or any Abbott affiliate relating to assets transferred to AbbVie, including liability for the False Claims Act claim.

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Binding Spincos to Parent Obligations Requires Specificity

Matt Salerno is a partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP. This post is based on a Cleary Gottlieb memorandum by Mr. Salerno, Christopher Condlin, and Christina Prassas. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

In Miramar Police Officers’ Retirement Plan v. Murdoch [1] the Delaware Court of Chancery dismissed plaintiff’s claims, refusing to hold that an “unambiguous” boilerplate successors and assigns clause operated to bind a spun-off company to the terms of a contract entered into by its former parent company. The contract at issue generally restricted the former parent company from adopting a poison pill with a term of longer than one year without obtaining shareholder approval. The decision will serve as a reminder to practitioners to carefully consider the impact that significant corporate transactions could have on their clients’ contractual rights and obligations.

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Delaware Court of Chancery Rejects M&A Litigation Settlement

Ariel J. Deckelbaum is a partner and deputy chair of the Corporate Department at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. This post is based on a Paul Weiss client memorandum. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

In Acevedo v. Aeroflex Holding Corporation, in connection with a stockholder suit that challenged the sale of a company with a controlling stockholder to a third party, the Delaware Court of Chancery rejected a settlement which provided a global release of claims in exchange for a reduced termination fee and a shortening of the matching-rights period by one day, holding that these deal protections were not impediments to competing bidders and therefore were insufficient to support a global release.

In 2014, Aeroflex agreed to sell itself to a third-party and a class-action challenging the transaction was subsequently commenced. After engaging in discovery and consulting with third-party experts, the plaintiff concluded that the consideration offered to the Aeroflex stockholders fell within a range of reasonable value for Aeroflex’s shares, but that the proxy omitted certain material facts. The parties agreed to a settlement where the plaintiff granted the defendants a global release of all possible claims in exchange for modifying the deal protections by (i) reducing the termination fee by over 40% from $32 million to $18 million, and (ii) shortening the matching rights period from four business days to three business days. Additionally, the defendants agreed to make certain supplemental disclosures in the proxy.

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