Omnicare in Action: City of Westland Decision

Aric H. Wu is a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. This post is based on a Gibson Dunn client alert by Mr. Wu and Michael J. Kahn.

When the Supreme Court issued its decision in Omnicare, Inc. v. Laborers District Council Construction Industry Pension Fund, 135 S. Ct. 1318 (2015), plaintiff and defense counsel had warring views on what its practical impact would be, particularly at the motion to dismiss stage of securities class actions brought under Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. A recent decision from the Southern District of New York, City of Westland Police and Fire Retirement System v. MetLife, Inc., 2015 WL 5311196 (S.D.N.Y Sept. 11, 2015) (Kaplan, J.), shows that Omnicare will serve as a meaningful bar to plaintiffs who seek to base federal securities law claims on statements of opinion, but cannot plead sufficient underlying facts.


Circuit Split on Dodd-Frank Act Whistleblower Provision

Aaron M. Katz and Eva Ciko Carman are partners at Ropes & Gray LLP. This post is based on a Ropes & Gray Alert.

On Thursday, September 10, 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued its highly anticipated decision in Berman v. Neo@Ogilvy LLC. The plaintiff-appellant, Daniel Berman, had been the finance director of Neo@Ogilvy. Mr. Berman’s lawsuit alleged that Neo@Ogilvy had unlawfully terminated him because he had reported internally, to senior company officers, supposed violations of GAAP and other accounting irregularities. The question of law presented was whether the Dodd-Frank Act’s whistleblower anti-retaliation provision offers protection to an employee who, like Mr. Berman, is fired after he reports possible financial misconduct internally but before he makes a report to the SEC. The district court had answered that question in the negative and dismissed Mr. Berman’s wrongful termination lawsuit. On appeal, the SEC, participating as amicus curiae, argued that the Dodd-Frank Act’s statutory language is ambiguous and that the SEC’s agency regulation answering that question in the affirmative, Exchange Act Rule 21F-2, is a reasonable interpretation of the statute. The Second Circuit agreed with the SEC, thereby creating a circuit split on the issue and raising the possibility that the Supreme Court will soon weigh in.


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.


Audit Committees: 2015 Mid-Year Issues Update

Rick E. Hansen is Assistant Corporate Secretary and Managing Counsel, Corporate Governance, at Chevron Corporation.

Board audit committee agendas continue to evolve as companies are faced with a rapidly-changing global business landscape, the proliferation of standards and regulations, increased stakeholder scrutiny, and a heightened enforcement environment. In this post, I summarize current issues of interest for audit committees.

The Audit Committee And Oversight

During her remarks at the Stanford Directors’ College in June 2014, SEC Chair Mary Jo White observed that “audit committees, in particular, have an extraordinarily important role in creating a culture of compliance through their oversight of financial reporting.” [1] Since then, various Commissioners of the SEC and its Staff have reinforced this message by reminding companies of the audit committee’s duties under federal securities laws to:

  • oversee the quality and integrity of the company’s financial reporting process, including the company’s relationship with the outside auditor;
  • oversee the company’s confidential and anonymous whistleblower complaint policies and procedures relating to accounting and auditing matters; and
  • report annually to stockholders on the performance of these duties.


How America’s Participation in International Financial Reporting Standards Was Lost

Chris Cox is partner and member of the Corporate Practice Group at Bingham McCutchen LLP and president of Bingham Consulting LLC. Mr. Cox served as Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission from 2005 to 2009. The following post is based on Mr. Cox’s recent keynote address to the 33rd Annual SEC and Financial Reporting Institute Conference. The complete publication is available here.

The modern quest for an “Esperanto” of business has been underway for nearly half a century. And though it was initiated by the United States, after 48 years, it has yet to gain our full support. That is unfortunate, because the promise of a global standard is truly dazzling.

An international language of disclosure and transparency would significantly improve investor confidence in global capital markets. Investors could more easily compare issuers’ disclosures, regardless of what country they came from. They could more easily weigh investment opportunities in their own countries against competing opportunities in other markets. And a single set of high-quality standards would be a great boon to emerging markets, because investors could have greater confidence in the transparency of financial reporting.


Whose Trojan Horse? The Dynamics of Resistance against IFRS

The following post comes to us from Martin Gelter, Associate Professor of Law at Fordham University. The post is drafted based on a paper co-authored by Professor Gelter and Zehra G. Kavame of Fordham Law School.

The US is the last major economy that has not yet adopted International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) while, from Europe to Canada, from Australia to China, around 120 countries are already requiring or permitting IFRS; this figure will likely rise to 150 countries in the near future. The introduction of IFRS has been debated in the United States for several years. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) first issued a paper that includes a plan for possible implementation, and several SEC Staff Reports followed up until the July 2012 Final Staff Report with regard to the work plan. However, whether domestic issuers should be permitted to use IFRS is still very controversial.


Accounting Class Action Filings and Settlements—2013 Review

John Gould is senior vice president at Cornerstone Research. This post discusses a Cornerstone Research report, titled “Accounting Class Action Filings and Settlements—2013 Review and Analysis,” available here.

The number of accounting case settlements in 2013 increased for the second year in a row, but remained low compared with the previous 10 years, according to Cornerstone Research’s latest report, Accounting Class Action Filings and Settlements—2013 Review and Analysis. While the number of securities class action filings that included accounting allegations (47) remained relatively constant in 2013 compared with 2012, the market capitalization losses associated with these filings more than doubled.


The Misrepresentation of Earnings

The following post comes to us from Ilia Dichev, Professor of Accounting at Emory University; John Graham, Professor of Finance at Duke University; Campbell Harvey, Professor of Finance at Duke University; and Shivaram Rajgopal, Professor of Accounting at Emory University.

While hundreds of research papers discuss earnings quality, there is no agreed-upon definition. We take a unique perspective on the topic by focusing our efforts on the producers of earnings quality: Chief Financial Officers. In our paper, The Misrepresentation of Earnings, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we explore the definition, characteristics, and determinants of earnings quality, including the prevalence and identification of earnings misrepresentation. To do so, we conduct a large-scale survey of 375 CFOs on earnings quality. We supplement the survey with 12 in-depth interviews with CFOs from prominent firms.


Disclosure of Non-GAAP Financial Measures

The following post comes to us from David J. Goldschmidt, partner in the corporate finance department at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, and is based on a Skadden alert; the full text, including footnotes, is available here.

Companies commonly supplement their reported earnings under U.S. generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) with non-GAAP financial measures that they believe more accurately reflect their results of operations or financial position or that are commonly used by investors to evaluate performance. A non-GAAP financial measure is a numerical measure of a company’s historical or future financial performance, financial position or cash flows that includes or excludes amounts from the most directly comparable GAAP measure. Non-GAAP financial measures are used by companies to bridge the divide between corporate reporting that is standardized under GAAP and reporting that is tailored to a particular industry or circumstance.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) permits companies to present non-GAAP financial measures in their public disclosures as well as registration statements filed under the Securities Act of 1933 (Securities Act) and periodic reports filed under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (Exchange Act), subject to compliance with Regulation G and Item 10(e) of Regulation S-K (Item 10(e)). These regulations were adopted to ensure that investors are provided with financial information that is fulsome and not misleading.


Risk Modeling at the SEC: The Accounting Quality Model

Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Craig M. Lewis, Chief Economist and Director of the Division of Risk, Strategy, and Financial Innovation at the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission. This post is based on Mr. Lewis’s remarks at the Financial Executives International Committee on Finance and Information Technology, available here. The views expressed in this post are those of Mr. Lewis and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the RSFI division, or the Staff.

The Division of Risk, Strategy and Financial Innovation, or “RSFI”, was formed, in part, to integrate rigorous data analytics into the core mission of the SEC. Often referred to as the SEC’s “think tank,” RSFI consists of highly trained staff from a variety of backgrounds with a deep knowledge of the financial industry and markets. We are involved in a wide variety of projects across all Divisions and Offices within the SEC and I believe we approach regulatory issues with a uniquely broad perspective.

Because my Division has a slightly cumbersome name – which is why you might hear us colloquially called “RiskFin” (though I prefer the more inclusive and accurate “RSFI,” as you can see) – today in my remarks I thought I’d focus on one word in our magisterial title: “Risk.” Risk, particularly as relates to the financial markets, can be a capacious term, and my Division certainly touches on many of those various meanings. But we are particularly focused on developing cutting-edge ways to integrate data analysis into risk monitoring.


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