Tag: Liability standards

The Delaware Courts and the Investment Banks

Martin Lipton is a founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, specializing in mergers and acquisitions and matters affecting corporate policy and strategy. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Lipton, Theodore N. Mirvis, and William Savitt. 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.

A doctrinal innovation in Delaware law that first appeared a year ago is threatening to mature into a full-on trend: through the tort of “aiding-and-abetting” fiduciary breach, the Delaware courts, accepting the invitation of the stockholder-plaintiffs’ bar, have begun to take on the task of regulating the M&A advisory function of investment banks. In October 2014, the Court of Chancery awarded stockholder plaintiffs $76 million in damages against an investment bank for aiding and abetting breaches of the duty of care by the directors of Rural Metro, an ambulance company that was sold for a 37% premium in 2011 and was bankrupt by the time of trial. The novel theory of the decision was that conflicted bankers dispensed self-interested advice, which left Rural Metro’s directors uninformed and hence induced them to breach their duty of care in approving the sale. Although the directors were not liable for the breach (because they had settled and were exculpated at any rate), the court found that the bankers were.


The SEC Proposed Clawback Rule

Joseph E. Bachelder is special counsel in the Tax, Employee Benefits & Private Clients practice group at McCarter & English, LLP. The following post is based on an article by Mr. Bachelder which first appeared in the New York Law Journal. Andy Tsang, a senior financial analyst with the firm, assisted in the preparation of this column. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Excess-Pay Clawbacks by Jesse Fried and Nitzan Shilon (discussed on the Forum here).

On July 1, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued Proposed Rule 10D-1 relating to so-called “clawbacks” pursuant to Section 10D of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 (the Exchange Act). Section 10D of the Exchange Act was added by Section 954 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (Dodd-Frank).

(On Aug. 5, 2015 the SEC issued its final rule requiring the disclosure of the ratio of the annual pay of the CEO to the median annual pay of all employees (excluding the CEO). Issuers subject to the rule must comply with it for the first fiscal year beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2017. The pay ratio rule will be the subject of a future post.)


Enforcement Discretion at the SEC

David Zaring is an Associate Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Zaring.

The Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform Act allowed the Securities & Exchange Commission to bring almost any claim that it can file in federal court to its own Administrative Law Judges. The agency has since taken up this power against a panoply of alleged insider traders and other perpetrators of securities fraud. Many targets of SEC ALJ enforcement actions have sued on equal protection, due process, and separation of powers grounds, seeking to require the agency to sue them in court, if at all.

The SEC has vigorously—and, my article argues, correctly—defended its power to choose where it sues. Agencies have always enjoyed unfettered discretion to choose their enforcement targets and their policy making fora. Formal adjudication under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), which is the process SEC ALJs offer, has been with us for decades, and has never before been thought to be unconstitutional in any way. It violates no rights, nor offends the separation of powers; if anything scholars have bemoaned the fact that it offers inefficiently large amounts of process to defendants, administered by insulated civil servants who in no way threaten the president’s control over the executive branch. Nonetheless, because defendants, advised by high profile lawyers, have raised appointments clause, due process, equal protection, and right to a jury trial claims against the agency, the article reviews the reasons why these claims will fail, and discusses the timing issues that have led the two appellate courts to address the claims to dismiss them as prematurely brought.


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.


The Failure of Liability in Modern Markets

Yesha Yadav is an Associate Professor of Law of Vanderbilt Law School. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Yadav.

In April 2015, the Justice Department indicted Navinder Sarao—a 36 year-old trader operating out of his parents’ basement—for actions resulting in the Flash Crash in May 2010. [1] According to the complaint, Sarao’s use of fake or “spoof” orders was damaging enough to precipitate a near 1000-point plunge in in the Dow Jones Index. It is telling that, today, a single trader can stand accused of contributing to this extraordinary drop in the value of the stock market. The complaint draws into relief the central challenge facing securities trading. With markets approaching ever-fuller levels of automation and driven by complex algorithms, even small-time traders like Sarao can create costs far in excess of either the seriousness of their conduct—or their capacity to pay for what they do. As I argue in The Failure of Liability in Modern Markets, to be published in the Virginia Law Review, the liability framework anchoring modern, algorithmic markets struggles to both control harmful risks and to punish them satisfactorily. Where instances of mistake, carelessness and fraud can neither be reliably controlled nor adequately punished, the law’s capacity to create a fair, richly informed marketplace must come under serious doubt.


Materiality as Pleading Obstacle

Brad S. Karp is chairman and partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. This post is based on a Paul Weiss client memorandum.

Claims brought under the Securities Act of 1933 (the “Act”) are typically challenging for defendants to dismiss. Some defendants may have affirmative defenses, but most of the Act’s provisions impose strict liability for alleged misstatements—meaning that a plaintiff need not plead scienter—and claims brought under the Act are subject to the relatively low pleading standard imposed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8. Further, although plaintiffs suing under the Act must allege facts sufficient to show that the purported misstatements were material, courts are generally reluctant to dismiss for failure to plead this element because materiality is an inherently fact-bound inquiry.

Notwithstanding these principles, on September 29, 2015, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Oetken, J.) dismissed a putative class action brought under the Act on the ground that the complaint’s materiality allegations failed as a matter of law. The opinion provides valuable insights on how to defeat other Act claims on similar grounds. [1]


SCOTUS Declines Petition on Insider Trading Ruling

Brad S. Karp is chairman and partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. This post is based on a Paul Weiss client memorandum.

Today [October 5, 2015], the United States Supreme Court declined to hear the petition for a writ of certiorari (the “Petition”) filed by the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) in United States v. Newman, 773 F.3d 438 (2d Cir. 2014), a landmark decision that dismissed indictments against two insider trading defendants. By declining to hear the Petition, the Supreme Court ensured that the Second Circuit’s decision in Newman will remain binding in the Second Circuit and influential across the country.

As we explain below, two of Newman’s holdings are particularly important: first, that the government must prove that a remote tippee knew or should have known of the personal benefit received by a tipper in exchange for disclosing nonpublic information; and second, that the benefits alleged by the government in United States v. Newman were not sufficient to support a conviction, as they were not sufficiently “consequential.”


An End to Disclosure-Only Settlements?

Monica K. Loseman is a partner in the Litigation Department at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. This post is based on a Gibson Dunn publication authored by Ms. Loseman, Nicholas A. KleinBrian M. Lutz, and Meryl L. Young. 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 an opinion last week [September 17, 2015], the Delaware Court of Chancery, following other recent decisions from that Court, strongly signaled that stockholder lawsuits in Delaware attacking mergers may no longer be resolved by a corporate defendant providing additional disclosures to stockholders in exchange for a broad release of claims against all defendants. Signaling the end to what has become common practice in stockholder litigation routinely challenging mergers, Vice Chancellor Glasscock noted in his decision approving a settlement in In re Riverbed Technologies that, “in light of this Memorandum Opinion,” expectations that the court will approve such broad releases in exchange for additional disclosures “will be diminished or eliminated going forward.”

The settlement arose out of stockholder litigation concerning a going-private transaction. In the settlement, Riverbed agreed to make supplemental disclosures in an SEC filing prior to the stockholder vote and pay plaintiffs’ attorney’s fees, in exchange for defendants receiving a full release from liability for all claims arising out of the merger.


Banker Loyalty in Mergers and Acquisitions

Andrew F. Tuch is Associate Professor of Law at Washington University School of Law. This post is based on an article authored by Dr. Tuch, and 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.

As recent decisions of the Delaware Court of Chancery illustrate, investment banks can face conflicts of interest in their role as advisors on merger and acquisition (“M&A”) transactions. In a trilogy of recent decisions—Del Monte[1] El Paso [2] and Rural Metro [3]—the court signaled its concern, making clear that potentially disloyal investment banking conduct may lead to Revlon breaches by corporate directors and even expose bank advisors (“M&A advisors”) themselves to aiding and abetting liability. But the law is developing incrementally, and uncertainty remains as to the proper obligations of M&A advisors and the directors who retain them. For example, are M&A advisors in this context properly regarded as fiduciaries and thus obliged to act loyally toward their clients; gatekeepers, and thus expected to perform a guardian-like function for investors; or simply arm’s length counterparties with no other-regarding duties? [4] The Chancery Court in Rural Metro potentially muddied the waters by labelling M&A advisors as gatekeepers and—in an underappreciated part of its opinion—by also suggesting they act consistently with “established fiduciary norms.” [5]


England and Germany Limit Bank Resolution Obligations

Solomon J. Noh and Fredric Sosnick are partners in the Financial Restructuring & Insolvency Group at Shearman & Sterling LLP. This post is based on a Shearman & Sterling client publication.

In two recent decisions, European national courts have taken a narrow view of their obligations under the Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive (BRRD)—the new European framework for dealing with distressed banks. The message from both the English and the German courts was that resolution authorities must adhere strictly to the terms of the BRRD; otherwise, measures that they take in relation to distressed banks may not be given effect in other Member States.

Goldman Sachs International v Novo Banco SA

In August 2014, the Bank of Portugal announced the resolution of Banco Espírito Santo (BES), what at the time was Portugal’s second largest bank. That announcement followed the July disclosure of massive losses at BES, which compounded a picture of serious irregularities within the bank that had been developing for several months. As part of the resolution, BES’s healthy assets and most of its liabilities were transferred to a new bridge bank, Novo Banco (the so-called “good bank”), which received €4.9 billion of rescue funds—while troubled assets and “Excluded Liabilities,” categories specifically identified in the BRRD, remained at BES (the “bad bank”). Amongst those liabilities initially deemed to have transferred to Novo Banco in August was a USD $835 million loan made to BES via a Goldman Sachs-formed vehicle, Oak Finance.


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