Category Archives: Securities Litigation & Enforcement

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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SEC Charges Computer Sciences Corporation & Former Executives With Accounting Fraud

Nicholas S. Goldin is a partner and Yafit Cohn is an associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP. This post is based on a Simpson Thacher publication.

On June 5, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) entered into settled administrative cease-and-desist proceedings with Computer Sciences Corporation (“CSC”) and some of its former executives due to the company’s alleged manipulation of financial results and concealment of problems with the company’s largest contract. [1] Among other things, CSC agreed to pay a $190 million penalty to settle the charges, and two of CSC’s former executives agreed to return a portion of their compensation to CSC pursuant to the clawback provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. The SEC also charged former CSC finance executives for ignoring accounting standards to increase reported profits.

Factual Background and SEC Findings

CSC entered into a contract with the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (“NHS”) to build and deploy an electronic patient record system. The contract had the potential to earn CSC $5.4 billion in revenue if the company satisfied the timeframes outlined in the contract. The contract also included penalties of up to $160,000 per day for missed deadlines. CSC had trouble developing the software. CSC and NHS amended the contract, NHS agreeing to waive the penalties in exchange for certainty of deployment of the electronic record system on an agreed upon date. It later became clear that CSC would not be able to meet its commitments under the amended contract either.

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Third Circuit Provides Guidance on Excluding Shareholder Proposals

Robert E. Buckholz and Marc Trevino are partners and Heather L. Coleman is an associate at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP. This post is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication by Mr. Buckholz, Mr. Trevino, and Ms. Coleman.

 

 

On Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit released its opinion in Trinity Wall Street v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. [1] The Court had issued an earlier order, without an opinion, that Wal-Mart could exclude Trinity’s Rule 14a-8 shareholder proposal relating to the sale of firearms with high-capacity magazines from Wal-Mart’s proxy materials because it related to “ordinary business operations.” At the time, the Court stated it would subsequently issue a more detailed opinion explaining its rationale.

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Chamber of Commerce Airs Grievances Related To Internal Controls Inspections

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 William J. Foley Jr.

In recent months, issues related to internal control systems and reporting have taken on an increased profile and significance. For example, as previously noted by the authors here and here, the SEC has sought to prioritize compliance with internal controls by initiating a growing number of investigations into companies based on allegations of inadequate internal controls.

By way of background, “internal controls” refers to the procedures and practices that companies use to manage risk, conduct business efficiently, and ensure compliance with the law and company policy. Public companies are required to maintain sufficient internal controls by the securities laws. In particular, Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (as amended by the Dodd-Frank Act) requires, among other things, that: (i) company management assess and report on the effectiveness of the company’s internal control over its financial reporting, and (ii) the company’s independent auditors verify management’s disclosures. Sarbanes-Oxley also created the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (“PCAOB”) to oversee public company audits, including the audits of internal control reporting. The PCAOB, in turn, conducts regular inspections to ensure compliance with laws, rules and professional standards.

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Shareholder Proposal Developments During the 2015 Proxy Season    

Elizabeth Ising is a partner and Co-Chair of the Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance practice group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. This post is based on a Gibson Dunn client alert by Ms. Ising, Sarah E. Fortt, Madison A. Jones, Gillian McPhee, Ronald O. Mueller, Kasey Levit Robinson, and Lori Zyskowski. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

This post provides an overview of shareholder proposals submitted to public companies for 2015 shareholder meetings, including statistics, notable decisions from the staff (the “Staff”) of the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) on no-action requests, and information about litigation regarding shareholder proposals.

I. Shareholder Proposal Statistics and Voting Results

A. Shareholder Proposals Submitted

According to data from Institutional Shareholder Services (“ISS”), shareholders have submitted approximately 943 proposals for 2015 shareholder meetings, which surpasses the total of 901 proposals submitted as of a comparable time last year. For 2015, across four broad categories of shareholder proposals—governance and shareholder rights; environmental and social issues; executive compensation; and corporate civic engagement (which includes proposals regarding contributions to or membership in political, lobbying, or charitable organizations)—the most frequently submitted proposals were governance and shareholder rights proposals (with approximately 352 submitted), largely due to the unprecedented number of proxy access proposals (108 proposals). If not for the dramatic rise in the number of proxy access proposals, proposals on environmental and social issues would have again comprised the largest category of proposals (with approximately 324 submitted), continuing a trend that began in 2014.

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Custodial Bank’s Technical Failure Results in Dell Stockholders Losing Appraisal Rights

Steven Epstein is a partner and Co-Head of the Mergers & Acquisitions practice at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP. This post is based on a Fried Frank publication authored by Mr. Epstein, Robert C. Schwenkel, John E. Sorkin, and Gail Weinstein. 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 In re Appraisal of Dell (July 13, 2015), Vice Chancellor Laster, stating that he was compelled by Delaware Supreme Court precedent, applied a “strict” interpretation of the “Continuous Holder Requirement” of the Delaware appraisal statute. The Vice Chancellor, granting summary judgment in favor of Dell, Inc., held that the funds seeking appraisal of almost one million Dell shares (acquired by them after announcement of the Dell going-private transaction) had not met the Continuous Holder Requirement and so had lost their right to appraisal.

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SEC and CFTC Turn to Swaps and Security-Based Swaps Enforcement

Annette Nazareth is a partner in the Financial Institutions Group at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, and a former commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on a Davis Polk client memorandum.

The week of June 15, 2015 saw two of the first publicly announced enforcement actions brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) to enforce security-based swap and swap regulatory requirements under Title VII of the Dodd-Frank Act. The SEC accepted an offer of settlement from a web-based “exchange” for, among other things, offering security-based swaps to retail investors in violation of the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. In a separate action, the CFTC obtained a federal court order against a Kansas City man in a case alleging violations of the antifraud provisions of the swap dealer external business conduct rules in Part 23 of the CFTC regulations. [1] Swap dealers and security-based swap market participants may wish to consider these orders and the agencies’ approach to enforcement as firms further develop, review and update their compliance programs.

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The Role of Chief Compliance Officers Must be Supported

Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Aguilar’s recent public statement; the full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in the post are those of Commissioner Aguilar and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

Chief Compliance Officers of Investment Advisers (CCOs) play an important and crucial role in fostering integrity in the securities industry. They are responsible for making sure that their firms comply with the rules that apply to their operations. As part of that effort, CCOs typically work with senior corporate leadership to instill a culture of compliance, nurture an environment where employees understand the value of honesty and integrity, and encourage everyone to take compliance issues seriously. CCOs of investment advisers (as with CCOs of other regulated entities) also work to prevent violations from occurring in the first place and, thus, prevent violations from causing harm to the firm, its investors, and market participants. Given the vital role that CCOs play, they need to be supported. Simply stated, the Commission needs capable and honest CCOs to help protect investors and the integrity of the capital markets.

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Government Preferences and SEC Enforcement

Jonas Heese is Assistant Professor of Business Administration in the Accounting & Management Unit at Harvard Business School.

The Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) enforcement actions have been subject to increased scrutiny following the SEC’s failure to detect several accounting frauds. A growing literature investigates the reasons for such failure in SEC enforcement by examining the SEC’s choice of enforcement targets. While several studies recognize that the SEC and its enforcement actions are subject to political influence (e.g., Correia, 2014; Yu and Yu, 2011), they do not consider that such influence by the government may also reflect voters’ interests. Yet, economists such as Stigler (1971) and Peltzman (1976) have long emphasized that the government may also influence regulations and regulatory agencies to reflect voters’ interests—independent of firms’ political connections. In my paper, Government Preferences and SEC Enforcement, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, I examine whether political influence by the president and Congress (“government”) on the SEC may reflect voters’ interests.

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DOJ Provides “Best Practices” for Corporate Internal Investigations

Eugene Illovsky is a partner at Morrison & Foerster LLP. This post is based on a Morrison & Foerster publication by Mr. Illovsky.

What does the Department of Justice think is a high-quality internal investigation? How does DOJ decide whether an investigation was good enough to help a company avoid, or at least mitigate, criminal charges? In recent speeches, DOJ has provided important guidance on its view of best practices, and some useful common-sense reminders, for our clients’ counsel and their investigating board committees. Much of that guidance came in May 19, 2015 remarks by Criminal Division head Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell, as well as in other recent speeches.

AAG Caldwell made clear that DOJ does indeed take the time to scrutinize and “evaluate the quality of a company’s internal investigation.” She explained that the Department does this evaluation “through our own investigation” as well as “in considering what charges to bring against a company.”

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