Tag: SEC enforcement


D.C. Circuit Court Upholds Conflict Minerals Decision

Richard J. Sandler is a partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP and co-head of the firm’s global corporate governance group. This post is based on a Davis Polk client memorandum.

In the ongoing challenge to the SEC’s conflict minerals rule, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, issued an opinion on August 18 upholding its April 2014 finding that a key aspect of the rule violates constitutional free-speech guarantees, a decision we discussed in this client newsflash.

Last year, the SEC asked the D.C. Circuit to rehear the case in light of the outcome of an unrelated First Amendment lawsuit, American Meat Institute v. United States Department of Agriculture, which addressed the proper standard of review for compelled commercial speech. Stating that it saw no reason to change its analysis in light of the American Meat decision, the court affirmed that it would adhere to its original judgment that portions of the Dodd-Frank Act, under which the rule was promulgated, and the SEC’s final rule, “violate the First Amendment to the extent the statute and rule require regulated entities to report to the Commission and to state on their website that any of their products have ‘not been found to be ‘DRC conflict free.’’”

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Enhancing the Commission’s Waiver Process

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.

Requests for waivers from regulatory disqualifications remain a topic of considerable import—and lively debate—for the Commission. Such requests are typically made when certain individuals or entities become involved in Commission enforcement actions. One consequence of these enforcement actions can be that an entity or individual is automatically disqualified, as mandated by Congress, from conducting certain activities, or from relying on certain exemptions from registration. Commission rules allow entities and individuals subject to such disqualifications to approach the SEC staff and seek a waiver from these prohibitions. This post discusses how the Commission could strengthen its protocols for handling such waiver requests and provide enhanced transparency and clarity on the Commission’s waiver process. In addition, this post discusses the benefit of a more flexible and calibrated approach to waivers.

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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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SEC Adopts CEO Pay Ratio Disclosure Rule

Holly J. Gregory is a partner and co-global coordinator of the Corporate Governance and Executive Compensation group at Sidley Austin LLP. The following post is based on a Sidley update by Ms. Gregory, John P. Kelsh, Thomas J. Kim, Corey Perry, and Rebecca Grapsas. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes The Growth of Executive Pay by Lucian Bebchuk and Yaniv Grinstein.

On August 5, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), by a 3-2 vote, adopted rule amendments [1] to implement Section 953(b) of the Dodd-Frank Act, which requires public companies to disclose the “pay ratio” between its CEO’s annual total compensation and the median annual total compensation of all other employees of the company. [2]

The pay ratio disclosures that will result from this much-anticipated new rule will further heighten scrutiny on corporate executive compensation practices—with specific focus on how CEO compensation compares to the “median” employee. Companies should be aware that, depending on the magnitude of pay ratios, these new disclosures may exacerbate existing concerns among investors, labor groups and others around executive compensation.

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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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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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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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Are Public Companies Required to Disclose Government Investigations?

Jon N. Eisenberg is partner in the Government Enforcement practice at K&L Gates LLP. This post is based on a K&L Gates publication by Mr. Eisenberg.

For many public companies, the first issue they have to confront after they receive a government subpoena or Civil Investigative Demand (“CID”) is whether to disclose publicly that they are under investigation. Curiously, the standards for disclosure of investigations are more muddled than one would expect. As a result, disclosure practices vary—investigations are sometimes disclosed upon receipt of a subpoena or CID, sometimes when the staff advises a company that it has tentatively decided to recommend an enforcement action, sometimes not until the end of the process, and sometimes at other intermediate stages along the way. In many cases, differences in the timing of disclosure may reflect different approaches to disclosure. We discuss below the standards that govern the disclosure decision and practical considerations. We then provide five representative examples of language that companies used when they disclosed investigations at an early stage.

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