Category Archives: Securities Litigation & Enforcement

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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FTC Charges Activist Hedge Fund

Sabastian V. Niles is counsel in the Corporate Department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton firm memorandum by Mr. Niles, Nelson O. Fitts, and Franco Castelli.

Yesterday [August 24, 2015], the Federal Trade Commission announced that Dan Loeb’s Third Point had settled a complaint charging violations of the notification and waiting period requirements of the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act in connection with purchases of Yahoo! stock in 2011.

The HSR Act requires that acquirors notify the federal antitrust agencies of transactions that meet applicable thresholds and observe a pre-acquisition waiting period. Acquisitions of up to 10% of a company’s voting stock are exempt if made solely for the purpose of investment, and the acquirer “has no intention of participating in the formulation, determination, or direction of the basic business decisions of the issuer.” Buyers who intend to be involved in the management of the target company or to seek representation on its board of directors are not eligible for the exemption. HSR requirements have historically been enforced strictly and narrowly against public companies, officers, directors, and investors, without deference or favor to any particular class of violator.

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Scrutiny of Private Equity Firms

Veronica Rendón Callahan is a partner at Arnold & Porter LLP and co-chair of the firm’s Securities Enforcement and Litigation practice. This post is a based on an Arnold & Porter memorandum.

On June 29, 2015, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charged Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. with misallocating more than $17 million in broken deal expenses to its flagship private equity funds in breach of its fiduciary duty as an SEC-registered investment adviser. KKR agreed to pay nearly $30 million to settle the charges. This action represents a continuing and robust focus by the SEC on fee and expense allocation practices and disclosure by private equity fund advisers, many of which are relatively newly registered with the SEC following passage of the Dodd-Frank Act. It serves as a reminder of the need for private equity firms and other advisers to private investment funds to consider bolstering their compliance and disclosure policies and procedures related to the allocation of fees and expenses.
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Do Women Stay Out of Trouble?

Anup Agrawal is Professor of Finance at the University of Alabama. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Agrawal; Binay Adhikari, Visiting Assistant Professor of Finance at Miami University; and James Malm, Assistant Professor of Finance at the College of Charleston.

Does the presence of women in a firm’s top management team affect the risk of the firm being sued? A large literature in economics and psychology finds that women tend be more risk-averse, less overconfident, and more law-abiding than men. As more women reach top management positions, these gender differences have implications for firms’ policies and performance. As Neelie Kroes, then European Competition Commissioner provocatively asked in a speech at the World Economic Forum, “If Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters, would the financial crisis have happened like it did?” (see New York Times, February 1, 2009).

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Securities Class Action Filings—2015 Midyear Assessment

John Gould is senior vice president at Cornerstone Research. This post is based on a report from the Stanford Law School Securities Class Action Clearinghouse and Cornerstone Research; the full publication is available here.

Plaintiffs brought 85 new federal class action securities cases in the first half of 2015, according to Securities Class Action Filings—2015 Midyear Assessment, a report compiled by Cornerstone Research and the Stanford Law School Securities Class Action Clearinghouse. This represents a decrease from the second half of 2014, when plaintiffs filed 92 securities class actions. The number of filings in the first six months of 2015 remains 10 percent below the semiannual average of 94 observed between 1997 and 2014—the seventh consecutive semiannual period below the historical average.

Despite this period of little overall change in filing activity, securities class actions against companies headquartered outside the United States increased in the first half of 2015. Twenty filings, or 24 percent of the total, targeted foreign firms. Asian firms were named in more than half of these cases.

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Clarity in Commission Orders

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.

This statement is about the critical importance of clarity in Commission Orders for enforcement actions. One of the Commission’s most effective deterrents against future misconduct is what it says about the enforcement actions it takes. As a result, the Commission must use its position as a regulatory authority to carefully and effectively send clear messages to securities industry participants regarding what is, and what is not, acceptable behavior. For this reason, Commission Orders need to contain sufficiently detailed facts so that there is no doubt as to why the Commission brought an enforcement action, why the respondent deserved to be sanctioned, and why the Commission imposed the sanctions it did.

The Commission and its staff should always be cognizant that there is a broad audience that carefully reads Commission Orders for guidance. This broad audience is usually not familiar with the underlying facts of a particular matter, and is relying on the Order’s description of the misconduct to appreciate why a named respondent ran afoul of the applicable laws. A clear and transparent Commission Order, therefore, is an absolute necessity to ensure public transparency and accountability.

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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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Dissenting Statement on Pay Ratio Disclosure

Michael S. Piwowar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Piwowar’s recent remarks at a recent open meeting of the SEC. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in the post are those of Commissioner Piwowar and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

When the pay ratio disclosure rule was originally proposed, I objected to its consideration on the grounds that the Commission and its staff should not spend our limited resources on any rulemaking that unambiguously harms investors, negatively affects competition, promotes inefficiencies, and restricts capital formation—especially when there is no statutory deadline for completion. Pursuing a pay ratio rulemaking was wrong then and remains wrong now.

Today’s [August 5, 2015] rulemaking implements a provision of the highly partisan Dodd-Frank Act that pandered to politically-connected special interest groups and, independent of the Act, could not stand on its own merits. I am incredibly disappointed the Commission is stepping into that fray.

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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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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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