SEC Grants Request to Exclude Rule 14a-8 Shareholder Proposal

Amy Goodman is a partner and co-chair of the Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance practice group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. The following post is based on a Gibson Dunn alert by Ms. Goodman, Elizabeth A. Ising, and Ronald O. Mueller.

Gibson Dunn successfully represented DeVry Inc. in obtaining no-action relief from the SEC staff (the “Staff”) for the exclusion of a shareholder proposal requesting that DeVry “annually report to shareholders on the expected ability of students at Company-owned institutions to repay their student loans.” The shareholder proposal, which was submitted by the New York City Comptroller’s Office on behalf of several New York City pension funds, specified particular quantitative and other information to be included in the requested report.

DeVry’s no-action request argued that DeVry could exclude the shareholder proposal under Rule 14a-8(i)(7) as relating to DeVry’s ordinary business operations because the proposal implicated decisions concerning product quality. The no-action request identified shareholder proposal precedents relating to the quality of products or services in other industries (such as beverages and banking) and pointed out that, similar to those precedents, the proposal at issue was focused on the quality of DeVry’s educational services. In a response letter dated September 6, 2013, the Staff concurred that the shareholder proposal could be excluded, noting that “the proposal focuses primarily on information the company should provide regarding the quality of its educational services” and that “[p]roposals that concern product quality are generally excludable under rule 14a-8(i)(7).”

The Staff’s decision to grant DeVry’s no-action request is notable because the Staff had denied a no-action request earlier this year regarding an identical shareholder proposal submitted to another company. The earlier no-action request had also asserted that the proposal was excludable under Rule 14a-8(i)(7), but its reasoning focused on the proposal’s infringement of the company’s risk assessment practices and compliance with laws rather than on how the proposal implicated the quality of the company’s products or services. The Staff’s concurrence with DeVry’s no-action request highlights the importance of identifying the appropriate issue that may support exclusion of a shareholder proposal, exploring and addressing any precedents and clearly articulating the reasons for which the proposal implicates a particular basis for exclusion.

Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.