Justia Securities Law Opinion Summaries

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Petitioners opened brokerage accounts with Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, managed by Coleman Devlin. Dissatisfied with Devlin's performance, they filed for arbitration with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), alleging negligence, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, negligent supervision, and violations of state and federal securities laws. After nearly two years of hearings, the arbitration panel ruled in favor of Stifel and Devlin without providing a detailed explanation, as the parties did not request an "explained decision."Petitioners moved to vacate the arbitration award in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, arguing that the arbitration panel manifestly disregarded the law, including federal securities law. The district court denied the motion, stating that the petitioners failed to meet the high standard required to prove manifest disregard of the law. The court noted that the petitioners were essentially rearguing their case from the arbitration.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reviewed the case. The court noted that the Supreme Court's decision in Badgerow v. Walters requires an independent jurisdictional basis beyond the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) itself for federal courts to have jurisdiction over petitions to vacate arbitration awards. Since the petitioners did not provide such a basis, the Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss the petition for lack of jurisdiction. The court emphasized that claims of manifest disregard of federal law do not confer federal-question jurisdiction. View "Friedler v. Stifel, Nicolaus, & Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2017, the SEC filed a lawsuit against investment advisers Louis Navellier and Navellier & Associates, Inc. (NAI), alleging violations of sections 206(1) and 206(2) of the Investment Advisers Act. The SEC claimed that the defendants made materially false and misleading statements about the performance track record of their investment strategies. The United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts granted summary judgment in favor of the SEC, ordering disgorgement exceeding $22 million. The defendants appealed, challenging the summary judgment, the denial of their motion to stay pending appeal, and the denial of their motion to reduce the supersedeas bond.The district court found that the defendants had violated sections 206(1) and 206(2) by making false statements about the inception date and performance of the AlphaSector strategy, which they marketed as having been live-traded since 2001. The court determined that these statements were material and that the defendants acted with scienter (intent to defraud) or, at the very least, negligence. The court also rejected the defendants' selective enforcement defense, concluding that they were not similarly situated to other firms that were not prosecuted.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reviewed the case and affirmed the district court's decisions. The appellate court agreed that the defendants' statements were false and material, and that they acted with a high degree of recklessness, satisfying the scienter requirement. The court also upheld the disgorgement order, finding it to be a reasonable approximation of the profits causally connected to the violations. The court rejected the defendants' argument that disgorgement was inappropriate because their clients did not suffer pecuniary harm, emphasizing that disgorgement is meant to deprive wrongdoers of their ill-gotten gains. Finally, the court found no abuse of discretion in the district court's decision not to reduce the supersedeas bond amount. View "SEC v. Navellier & Associates, Inc." on Justia Law

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A group of AIM ImmunoTech, Inc. stockholders believed the board was mismanaging the company and initiated a campaign to elect new directors. This effort included two felons convicted of financial crimes. The board rejected two nomination attempts under its bylaws, leading to a lawsuit. The Court of Chancery denied the insurgents' request for a preliminary injunction, citing factual disputes. The insurgents, led by Ted D. Kellner, made a third attempt to nominate directors. The board amended its bylaws to include new advance notice provisions and rejected Kellner's nominations for non-compliance. Kellner filed suit.The Court of Chancery invalidated four of the six main advance notice bylaws and reinstated a 2016 bylaw. The court upheld the board's rejection of Kellner's nominations for failing to comply with the remaining bylaws, including the reinstated 2016 provision. Kellner argued that the court improperly used the 2016 bylaw and that the amended bylaws were preclusive and adopted for an improper purpose. The defendants contended that the court erred in invalidating the bylaws and that they withstood enhanced scrutiny.The Delaware Supreme Court reviewed the case. It found that the AIM board identified a legitimate threat to its information-gathering function but acted inequitably by adopting unreasonable bylaws to thwart Kellner's proxy contest. The court held that the board's primary purpose was to interfere with Kellner's nominations and maintain control. Consequently, the court declared the amended bylaws unenforceable. The judgment of the Court of Chancery was affirmed in part and reversed in part, closing the case. View "Kellner v. AIM ImmunoTech Inc." on Justia Law

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The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) brought a civil enforcement action against Dale Chappell and his investment entities for insider trading. The SEC alleged that Chappell traded securities based on material, nonpublic information about the FDA's feedback on a drug developed by Humanigen, a company in which Chappell's entities were the largest shareholders. The FDA had expressed significant concerns about the drug's clinical trial and recommended an additional trial. Despite this, Humanigen submitted an application for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) without conducting a second trial. Chappell sold a significant portion of his Humanigen stock before the FDA's denial of the EUA application was publicly announced, avoiding substantial losses.In the District Court, the SEC sought and obtained a preliminary injunction to freeze Chappell’s assets. Chappell appealed this decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.The Third Circuit affirmed the District Court's decision. It found that the SEC had shown a likelihood of success on its claim that Chappell violated insider trading laws. The court concluded that the FDA's feedback was material and that Chappell had the necessary mindset to commit fraud. The court also found that the preliminary injunction factors, including irreparable harm, balance of equities, and public interest, supported the injunction. The court noted that without the injunction, there was a substantial potential injury to Humanigen shareholders if Chappell was able to move assets out of reach of future judgment creditors. View "Securities and Exchange Commission v. Chappell" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Frequency Therapeutics, a biotech startup that was developing a treatment for severe sensorineural hearing loss called "FX-322". Initial trials were positive, but subsequent testing yielded disappointing results, causing a sharp drop in Frequency's stock price. Three stockholders filed a class action lawsuit alleging violations of sections 10(b) and 20(a) of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934, and Securities and Exchange Commission Rule 10b-5. They claimed that Frequency's CEO, David Lucchino, and its Chief Development Officer, Carl LeBel, knew of problems with the study before the results were announced, yet gave investors assurances to the contrary.The United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts dismissed the complaint, finding that the plaintiffs failed to allege sufficient facts to support a finding of scienter under the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act. The plaintiffs appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal. The court found that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that the defendants had made the false statements with the degree of scienter required to state a Securities and Exchange Act claim. The court noted that the complaint did not provide specific facts about when the defendants learned of the adverse events, which was a glaring omission. The court also found that the increase in stock sales by the CEO was not sufficient to establish an inference of scienter on its own. The court concluded that the plaintiffs' allegations, taken collectively, did not give rise to a strong inference of scienter. View "Quinones v. Frequency Therapeutics, Inc." on Justia Law

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The case revolves around the interpretation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, specifically 18 U.S.C. §1512(c)(2), which imposes criminal liability on anyone who corruptly obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so. The petitioner, Joseph Fischer, was charged with violating this provision for his actions during the Capitol breach on January 6, 2021. Fischer moved to dismiss the charge, arguing that the provision only criminalizes attempts to impair the availability or integrity of evidence. The District Court granted his motion, but a divided panel of the D.C. Circuit reversed and remanded for further proceedings.The Supreme Court of the United States held that to prove a violation of §1512(c)(2), the Government must establish that the defendant impaired the availability or integrity for use in an official proceeding of records, documents, objects, or other things used in an official proceeding, or attempted to do so. The Court reasoned that the "otherwise" provision of §1512(c)(2) is limited by the list of specific criminal violations that precede it in (c)(1). The Court also considered the broader context of §1512 in the criminal code and found that an unbounded interpretation of subsection (c)(2) would render superfluous the careful delineation of different types of obstructive conduct in §1512 itself. The Court vacated the judgment of the D.C. Circuit and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. View "Fischer v. United States" on Justia Law

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The case involves the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and investment adviser George Jarkesy, Jr., and his firm, Patriot28, LLC. The SEC initiated an enforcement action for civil penalties against Jarkesy and Patriot28 for alleged violations of the "antifraud provisions" contained in the federal securities laws. The SEC opted to adjudicate the matter in-house. The final order determined that Jarkesy and Patriot28 had committed securities violations and levied a civil penalty of $300,000. Jarkesy and Patriot28 petitioned for judicial review. The Fifth Circuit vacated the order on the ground that adjudicating the matter in-house violated the defendants’ Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial.The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the in-house adjudication by the SEC violated the defendants' Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial. The court applied a two-part test from Granfinanciera, S.A. v. Nordberg, determining that the SEC's antifraud claims were akin to traditional actions at common law, and thus required a jury trial. The court also concluded that the "public rights" exception did not apply, as the claims were not closely intertwined with the bankruptcy process.The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the Fifth Circuit's decision. The Court held that when the SEC seeks civil penalties against a defendant for securities fraud, the Seventh Amendment entitles the defendant to a jury trial. The Court found that the SEC's antifraud provisions replicate common law fraud, and thus implicate the Seventh Amendment. The Court also concluded that the "public rights" exception to Article III jurisdiction did not apply, as the action did not fall within any of the distinctive areas involving governmental prerogatives where a matter may be resolved outside of an Article III court, without a jury. The Court did not reach the remaining constitutional issues and affirmed the ruling of the Fifth Circuit on the Seventh Amendment ground alone. View "SEC v. Jarkesy" on Justia Law

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The case involves the National Association of Manufacturers and Natural Gas Services Group, Incorporated (plaintiffs-appellants) against the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Gary Gensler, in his official capacity as Chair of the SEC (defendants-appellees). The dispute arose after the SEC, in 2020, adopted a rule regulating businesses that provide proxy voting advice to institutional shareholders of public corporations. Two years later, the SEC rescinded this rule. The appellants challenged the rescission in district court, arguing that the SEC arbitrarily and capriciously failed to provide an adequate explanation for its abrupt change in policy. The district court rejected the appellants’ contentions and granted summary judgment in favor of the SEC.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's decision. The court found that the SEC's explanation for rescinding the 2020 rule was arbitrary and capricious, and therefore unlawful. The court held that the SEC failed to provide an adequate justification for contradicting its prior factual finding that the 2020 Rule did not threaten the timeliness and independence of proxy voting advice. The court also found that the SEC failed to provide a reasonable explanation why these risks were so significant under the 2020 Rule as to justify its rescission. The court vacated the 2022 rescission in part and remanded the case back to the SEC. View "National Association of Manufacturers and Natural Gas Services Group, Inc. v. Securities and Exchange Commission" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Brad Packer, a shareholder of 1-800-Flowers.com, Inc. (FLWS), who alleged that Raging Capital Management, LLC, Raging Capital Master Fund, Ltd., and William C. Martin (collectively, the Appellees) violated Section 16(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. This section requires owners of more than 10% of a company's stock to disgorge profits made from buying and selling the company's stock within a six-month window. Packer claimed that the Appellees, as 10% beneficial owners of FLWS, engaged in such "short-swing" trading and failed to disgorge their profits. After FLWS declined to sue the Appellees, Packer filed a shareholder derivative suit on behalf of FLWS.The United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York dismissed Packer's suit, reasoning that he lacked constitutional standing because he did not allege a concrete injury. The District Court concluded that the Supreme Court's decision in TransUnion LLC v. Ramirez, which elaborated on the "concrete injury" requirement of constitutional standing, abrogated the Second Circuit's previous decision in Donoghue v. Bulldog Investors General Partnership. In Donoghue, the Second Circuit held that a violation of Section 16(b) inflicts an injury that confers constitutional standing.The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit disagreed with the District Court's interpretation. The Appeals Court held that TransUnion did not abrogate Donoghue, and the District Court erred in holding that it did. The Appeals Court emphasized that a District Court must follow controlling precedent, even if it believes that the precedent may eventually be overturned. The Appeals Court found that nothing in TransUnion undermines Donoghue, and thus, the District Court erred in dismissing Packer's Section 16(b) suit. The Appeals Court reversed the District Court's judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Packer v. Raging Capital Management, LLC" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute over the rights of parties holding certain revenue bonds issued by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority ("PREPA") before it entered reorganization proceedings under Title III of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act ("PROMESA"). The Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico ("the Board") filed an adversary proceeding within the Title III restructuring proceeding to define the rights and remedies that bondholders had against PREPA. The United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico held that the bondholders only had a secured claim on moneys deposited into the Sinking and Subordinate Funds, and that the bondholders had an unsecured claim on PREPA's Net Revenues.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit disagreed with the district court's findings. The appellate court held that the bondholders have a lien on PREPA's present and future Net Revenues, and that the bondholders' lien is not avoidable. The court also held that the proper amount of the bondholders' claim is the face value (i.e., principal plus matured interest) of the Revenue Bonds. The court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the bondholders' breach of trust claim, but reversed the dismissal of the bondholders' accounting claim. The case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the appellate court's opinion. View "Financial Oversight and Management Board v. U.S. Bank National Assn." on Justia Law