Tag: Securities litigation

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.


D.C. Circuit Rules Against Conflict Minerals Disclosure Requirement

The Honorable Mario Mancuso is a corporate partner and of the International Trade and Investment Practice at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP. This post is based on a Fried Frank publication authored by Mr. Mancuso, Michael T. Gershberg, and Jocelyn Ryan.

On August 18, 2015, a divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit confirmed its earlier ruling striking down part of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC”) Conflict Minerals Rule (the “Rule”) as unconstitutional. Nat’l Ass’n. of Mfrs. v. SEC, No. 13-5252 (D.C. Cir. Aug. 18, 2015). The court again held that requiring issuers to describe their products as “not been found to be ‘DRC conflict free’” in reports filed with the SEC and posted on issuers’ websites violates the First Amendment.

The Decision

The ruling dealt only with the requirement in the Rule that issuers characterize their products using the label “not been found to be ‘DRC conflict free,’” and the court held that this requirement amounts to compelled speech in violation of the First Amendment’s right to freedom of speech. The decision is a narrow one and leaves unaffected the remaining disclosures required under the Rule, such as disclosure of facilities used by the issuer, country of origin of the issuer’s products and the efforts undertaken by the issuer to obtain such information.


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.’’”


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.


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).


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.


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.


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”).


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.


Third Circuit Provides Guidance on Excluding Shareholder Proposals

Robert E. Buckholz and Marc Trevino are partners and Heather L. Coleman is an associate at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP. This post is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication by Mr. Buckholz, Mr. Trevino, and Ms. Coleman.



On Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit released its opinion in Trinity Wall Street v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. [1] The Court had issued an earlier order, without an opinion, that Wal-Mart could exclude Trinity’s Rule 14a-8 shareholder proposal relating to the sale of firearms with high-capacity magazines from Wal-Mart’s proxy materials because it related to “ordinary business operations.” At the time, the Court stated it would subsequently issue a more detailed opinion explaining its rationale.


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