Category Archives: Securities Litigation & Enforcement

Regulators Working Together to Serve Investors

Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Aguilar’s recent remarks at the North American Securities Administrators Association Annual NASAA/SEC 19(d) Conference; 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.

It is my honor to deliver the opening remarks for today’s [April 14, 2015] North American Securities Administrators Association (“NASAA”) and Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) 19(d) Conference. For those who are keeping count, this is my seventh year as the SEC’s liaison to NASAA. It has been a privilege to serve you in this role, which I have done since my early days as a Commissioner. Before I begin my remarks, however, let me issue the standard disclaimer that the views I express today are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SEC, my fellow Commissioners, or members of the staff.

NASAA and the SEC have a long history of working together to provide a robust regulatory environment for businesses to grow and to protect the investors who fuel that growth. Today is a clear example of that partnership, where representatives from the SEC and state regulators come together to share ideas for increasing cooperation and collaboration. This partnership is crucial to achieving our common goal of protecting investors, maintaining market integrity, and facilitating capital formation.

READ MORE »

The SEC Opens a New Front in Whistleblower Protection

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

For some time, SEC officials have expressed concern about confidentiality agreements that may deter corporate employees from submitting whistleblower reports. The SEC has now brought its first enforcement action in this area, a settled case in which the respondent agreed to pay a $130,000 civil penalty without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings. According to the SEC’s order, the company required its employees to sign confidentiality agreements at the outset of interviews in internal investigations. The agreements prohibited witnesses from communicating with anyone else any of “the subject matter discussed during the interview.” Such communication was permissible only if the employee first obtained authorization from the company’s legal department. The SEC found that this practice violated Rule 21F-17, which prohibits taking “any action to impede an individual from communicating directly with the Commission staff about a possible securities law violation, including enforcing, or threatening to enforce, a confidentiality agreement … with respect to such communications.”

READ MORE »

SEC Enforcement Actions for Failure to Update 13D Disclosures

The following post comes to us from James Moloney, partner and co-chair of the Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance Practice Group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, and is based on a Gibson Dunn publication by Mr. Moloney and Andrew Fabens, with assistance from Lauren Traina.

On Friday, March 13, 2015, the SEC announced that it had settled a string of 21C administrative proceedings brought against eight officers, directors, and shareholders of public companies for their failure to report plans and actions leading up to planned going private transactions. The SEC press release can be found here. In doing so, the SEC sent another strong reminder to those that beneficially own more than 5% of the equity securities of a public company to keep their 13D disclosures current.

The respondents included a lottery equipment holding company, the owners of a living trust, and the CEO of a Chinese technical services firm. According to the SEC, the respondents in each of these cases failed to report various plans and activities with respect to the anticipated going private transactions, including when the parties: (i) determined the form of the going private transaction; (ii) obtained waivers from preferred shareholders; (iii) assisted in arriving at shareholder vote projections; (iv) informed management of their plans to take the company private; and (v) recruited shareholders to execute on the proposals. In one case the respondents were charged for failure to report owning securities in the company that was going private. In another case, the respondents reported their transactions months or years later. The proceedings resulted in cease-and-desist orders as well as the imposition of civil monetary penalties ranging from $15,000 to $75,000 per respondent.

READ MORE »

Preparing for the Regulatory Challenges of the 21st Century

Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Aguilar’s recent remarks at the Georgia Law Review’s Annual Symposium, Financial Regulation: Reflections and Projections; 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.

During my tenure as an SEC Commissioner, our country’s economy has experienced extreme highs and lows. In fact, the country experienced the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, followed by the current period of significant economic growth where the stock market has grown by around 165% from the low point of the financial crisis.

I have had a front-row seat to all of this, as I became an SEC Commissioner just weeks before the financial crisis hit our nation. As a result, I witnessed first-hand just how fragile our capital markets can be, and the need for a robust and effective SEC to protect them. First, let me provide a snapshot of what went on. I was sworn-in as an SEC Commissioner on July 31, 2008. Within a few weeks, on September 15, 2008, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy. To give you a sense of its rapid decline, within 15 days, its share price went from $17.50 per share to virtually worthless. The demise of Lehman Brothers is often seen as the first in a rapid succession of events that led to an unimaginable market and liquidity crisis. These events included:

READ MORE »

Supreme Court Clarifies Liability for Opinions in Registration Statements

Robert Giuffra is a partner in Sullivan & Cromwell’s Litigation Group. The following post is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication by Mr. Giuffra, Brian T. Frawley, Brent J. McIntosh, and Jeffrey B. Wall; the complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

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.

READ MORE »

Suspect CEOs, Unethical Culture, and Corporate Misbehavior

The following post comes to us from Lee Biggerstaff of the Department of Finance at Miami University, David Cicero of the Department of Finance at the University of Alabama, and Andy Puckett of the Department of Finance at the University of Tennessee.

Trust is part of the foundation of public markets. Scandals at firms such as Enron and HealthSouth fractured this foundation and motivated market participants to ask why executives and other employees at these firms misled investors. Some regulators and experts conjecture that the roots of these scandals can be traced to the actions and attitudes of those at the very top of corporate leadership. In the words of Linda Chatman Thomsen (Director, Division of Enforcement, Securities and Exchange Commission) “Corporate character matters—and employees take their cues from the top. In our experience, the character of the CEO and other top officers is generally reflected in the character of the entire company.” In our paper, Suspect CEOs, Unethical Culture, and Corporate Misbehavior, forthcoming in the Journal of Financial Economics, we provide evidence consistent with this perspective by demonstrating an empirical link between CEOs’ revealed character and the misbehaviors of the firms they manage.

READ MORE »

SEC Charges Schedule 13D Filers for Untimely Disclosure

David A. Katz is a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz specializing in the areas of mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance, and complex securities transactions. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Katz and Alison Z. Preiss.

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced last week that it had charged eight directors, officers and major stockholders for failing to timely disclose steps taken to take their respective companies private in their beneficial ownership reports on Schedule 13D. The orders issued by the SEC indicate the SEC staff became aware of the violations in the course of their review of proxy and Schedule 13E-3 transaction statements, which described the steps taken in the required disclosures regarding the background of the transactions. The orders note that emails and other contemporaneous communications clearly indicate the steps taken that had not been properly disclosed. The orders issued by the SEC (to which the offending parties consented) resulted in cease-and-desist orders and payment of civil penalties.

READ MORE »

SEC Enforcement Developments in 2014, and a Look Forward

The following post comes to us from Bill McLucas, partner and chair of the securities department at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, and is based on a WilmerHale publication by Mr. McLucas; the complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

As we noted last year in our memorandum focused on 2013 developments, Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White has called for the SEC to be more aggressive in its enforcement program. By all accounts, the Enforcement Division has responded to that call. The past year saw the SEC continue the trend, started under Enforcement Director Robert Khuzami in 2009, of transforming the SEC’s civil enforcement arm into an aggressive law enforcement agency modeled on a federal prosecutor’s office. This should not come as a surprise since both Andrew Ceresney, the current Director, and George Cannellos, Ceresney’s Co-Director for a brief period of time, like Khuzami, spent many years as federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. And the Commission itself is now led for the first time by a former federal prosecutor, Mary Jo White, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 1993 to 2002. Given the events of the past decade involving the Madoff fraud and the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis, we believe both the aggressive tone and positions the SEC has taken in recent years will continue.

READ MORE »

A Modest Strategy for Combatting Frivolous IPO Lawsuits

Boris Feldman is a member of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, P.C. The views expressed in this post are those of Mr. Feldman and do not reflect those of his firm or clients.

With a minor change to the customary lock-up agreement, issuers and underwriters may be better able to fight frivolous IPO lawsuits. By allowing non-registration statement shares to enter the market, underwriters may prevent Section 11 strike-suiters from “tracing” their shares to the IPO. This could enable ’33 Act defendants to knock out the lawsuits against them.

Basics of Section 11 Standing and Tracing

Section 11 of the Securities Act of 1933, 15 U.S. Code § 77k, provides a private remedy for those who purchase shares issued pursuant to a registration statement that is materially false or misleading. The remedy applies to “any person acquiring such security.” Section 11(a). That is, a person may assert a claim with respect to shares issued pursuant to the particular registration statement.

READ MORE »

Shareholder Litigation Involving Acquisitions of Public Companies

John Gould is senior vice president at Cornerstone Research. This post discusses a Cornerstone Research report by Olga Koumrian, titled “Shareholder Litigation Involving Acquisitions of Public Companies,” which is available in full here.

A new report shows that the percentage of 2014 lawsuits filed by shareholders in M&A deals remained consistent with the previous four years, while other key indicators suggest a slowdown. The report, Shareholder Litigation Involving Acquisitions of Public Companies, released February 25, 2015 by Cornerstone Research, reveals that investors contested 93 percent of M&A transactions in 2014. Despite this typically high percentage, shareholders brought a smaller number of competing lawsuits per deal and in fewer jurisdictions, challenged fewer deals valued below $1 billion, and took slightly longer to file lawsuits.

In a significant shift from recent years, 60 percent of contested M&A deals had lawsuits filed against them in only one jurisdiction. Just 4 percent of these deals were challenged in more than two courts, the lowest number since 2007.

READ MORE »

  • Subscribe

  • Cosponsored By:

  • Supported By:

  • Programs Faculty & Senior Fellows

    Lucian Bebchuk
    Alon Brav
    Robert Charles Clark
    John Coates
    Alma Cohen
    Stephen M. Davis
    Allen Ferrell
    Jesse Fried
    Oliver Hart
    Ben W. Heineman, Jr.
    Scott Hirst
    Howell Jackson
    Wei Jiang
    Reinier Kraakman
    Robert Pozen
    Mark Ramseyer
    Mark Roe
    Robert Sitkoff
    Holger Spamann
    Guhan Subramanian

  • Program on Corporate Governance Advisory Board

    William Ackman
    Peter Atkins
    Joseph Bachelder
    John Bader
    Allison Bennington
    Richard Breeden
    Daniel Burch
    Richard Climan
    Jesse Cohn
    Isaac Corré
    Scott Davis
    John Finley
    Daniel Fischel
    Stephen Fraidin
    Byron Georgiou
    Larry Hamdan
    Carl Icahn
    David Millstone
    Theodore Mirvis
    James Morphy
    Toby Myerson
    Barry Rosenstein
    Paul Rowe
    Rodman Ward