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The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has authority to enforce securities laws by instituting an administrative proceeding against an alleged wrongdoer, typically overseen by an administrative law judge (ALJ). Other staff members, rather than the Commission, selected all of the five current ALJs, who have “authority to do all things necessary and appropriate” to ensure a “fair and orderly” adversarial proceeding, 17 CFR 201.111, 200.14(a). After a hearing, the ALJ issues an initial decision. The Commission can review that decision, but if it opts against review, it issues an order that the initial decision is “deemed the action of the Commission,” 15 U.S.C. 78d–1(c). The SEC charged Lucia and assigned ALJ Elliot to adjudicate the case. Following a hearing, Elliot issued an initial decision concluding that Lucia had violated the law and imposing sanctions. Lucia argued that the proceeding was invalid because SEC ALJs are “Officers of the United States,” subject to the Appointments Clause. Under that Clause, only the President, “Courts of Law,” or “Heads of Departments” can appoint “Officers.” The SEC and the D. C. Circuit rejected Lucia’s argument. The Supreme Court reversed. SEC ALJs are subject to the Appointments Clause. To qualify as an officer, rather than an employee, an individual must occupy a “continuing” position established by law, and must “exercis[e] significant authority pursuant to the laws of the United States,” SEC ALJs hold a continuing office established 5 U.S.C. 556–557, 5372, 3105, and exercise “significant discretion." The ALJs have nearly all the tools of federal trial judges: they take testimony, conduct trials, rule on the admissibility of evidence, can enforce compliance with discovery orders, and prepare proposed findings and an opinion including remedies. Judge Elliot heard and decided Lucia’s case without a constitutional appointment. View "Lucia v. Securities and Exchange Commission" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of a securities action based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction. In this case, the district court concluded that plaintiffs failed to sufficiently allege a "domestic transaction" under section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The court held, however, that plaintiffs plausibly alleged a domestic transaction cognizable under section 10(b) because the agreement at issue was entered into in New York and irrevocable liability was incurred in the United States. The court rejected the argument that the areement was so predominately foreign as to be impermissibly extraterritorial. Therefore, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Giunta v. Dingman" on Justia Law

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Claims brought under the Martin Act, N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law 23-A, 352 et seq., are governed by the three-year statute of limitations in N.Y. C.P.L.R. 214(2) rather than the six-year limitations period in either N.Y. C.P.L.R. 213(1) or 213(8). The Attorney General commenced this action asserting that the issuance of residential mortgage-backed securities by Defendants violated the Martin Act. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the action was time-barred because the operative statute of limitations was the three-year period found in N.Y. C.P.L.R. 214(2), which covers actions to recover upon a liability, penalty or forfeiture created or imposed by statute. Supreme Court denied the motion to dismiss, concluding that the six-year limitations period in N.Y. C.P.L.R. 213 applied because Plaintiff sought to impose liability on Defendants based on the common-law tort of investor fraud. The Appellate Division affirmed. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that because the Martin Act expands liability for fraudulent practices beyond that recognized under the common law, section 214(2) controls. View "People v. Credit Suisse Securities (USA) LLC" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's putative class action complaint alleging state law claims for breach of contract and negligence. Plaintiff claimed that because Passport Account customers had agreed only to pay for "expenses incurred in facilitating the execution and clearing" of their trades, RJA's undisclosed profit built into the Processing Fees breached the Passport Agreement. The court held that the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998 (SLUSA) did not prohibit plaintiff's putative class action because RJA's alleged failure to disclose the hidden profit built into the Processing Fee was not a misrepresentation of a material fact for purposes of SLUSA. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Brink v. Raymond James & Associates, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit vacated a cease and desist order issued by the FTC against LabMD. The FTC brought an enforcement action against LabMD, alleging that LabMD's data-security program was inadequate and thus constituted an "unfair act or practice" under Section 5(a) of the Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. 45(a). The court agreed with LabMD that the order was not enforceable because it did not direct LabMD to cease committing an unfair act or practice within the meaning of Section 5(a). Assuming arguendo that LabMD's negligent failure to design and maintain a reasonable data-security program invaded consumers' right of privacy and thus constituted an unfair act or practice, the court held nonetheless that the cease and desist order was not enforceable where it contained no prohibitions, but rather commanded LabMD to overhaul and replace its data-security program to meet an indeterminable standard of reasonableness. View "LabMD, Inc. v. Federal Trade Commission" on Justia Law

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Defendant Williams Companies, Inc. (Williams) was an energy company; its president and chief executive officer (CEO) was Defendant Alan Armstrong and its chief financial officer (CFO) was Defendant Donald Chappel. Armstrong also served on its board of directors. Defendant Williams Partners GP LLC (Williams Partners GP) was a limited-liability company owned by Williams. Armstrong was chairman of the board and CEO; and Chappel was CFO and a director. Defendant Williams Partners L.P. (WPZ) was a master limited partnership, whose general partner was Williams Partners GP. Williams owned 60% of WPZ’s limited-partnership units. Plaintiff’s case centered on merger discussions between Williams and Energy Transfer Equity L.P. (ETE), a competing energy firm. The members of the putative class purchased units of WPZ between May 13, 2015 (when Williams announced that it planned to merge with WPZ) and June 19, 2015 (when ETE announced that, despite having been rebuffed by Williams, it would seek to merge with Williams and that such a merger would preclude the merger with WPZ). The value of the units dropped significantly after this announcement. Ultimately, ETE merged with Williams and the proposed WPZ merger was not consummated. The Complaint alleged the class members paid an excessive price for WPZ units because Williams had not disclosed during the class period its merger discussions with ETE. Employees’ Retirement System of the State of Rhode Island (Plaintiff) appealed the dismissal of its amended complaint in a putative class-action suit, alleging violations of federal securities law because of the failure to disclose merger discussions that affected the value of its investment. The Tenth Circuit concluded the complaint failed to adequately allege facts establishing a duty to disclose the discussions, the materiality of the discussions, or the requisite scienter in failing to disclose the discussions. View "Employees' Retirement System v. Williams Companies" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed separate class action complaints against TD Ameritrade, alleging that the company breached its duty of best execution when it routed client orders to buy and sell securities to trading venues that paid TD Ameritrade top dollar for its order flow. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint because the state law claims were precluded by the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998 (SLUSA). In this case, the gravamen of plaintiffs' claims involved a misrepresentation or omission of a material fact in connection with the purchase or sale of a covered security. View "Zola v. TD Ameritrade, Inc." on Justia Law

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Karna Kornkven, Eric Molbert, and Kristi Benz ("Siblings") appeal after the district court entered judgment in favor of their brother, Lauris Molbert. The parties' father, Ralph Molbert, owned the controlling interest in the Bank of Steele and its holding company, H.O.M.E., Inc. Lauris, the oldest child, became a director of the bank in 1983 and director of the holding company in 1986 and was actively involved in the operations of both entities. Ralph and Beverly Molbert intended for Lauris Molbert to own and control the bank and holding company and pursued this intention through their estate plan. In December 1992, Ralph and Beverly Molbert gifted their children shares of H.O.M.E. stock and recorded the gift for tax purposes in 1992. It was understood that Ralph and Beverly intended to restrict these gifted shares. Following the gift of H.O.M.E. shares to the Molbert children, H.O.M.E. board minutes signed by Ralph and Beverly described the development of a shareholder agreement to restrict the gifted shares. In July 1993, the parties discussed the agreement while on a family vacation to Whitefish, Montana. The parties executed the stock purchase agreement following the Whitefish vacation. Ralph signed the agreement as H.O.M.E. president. Share certificates were issued after execution of the agreement stating the gifted shares were restricted by the stock purchase agreement. The agreement granted Lauris the right to vote the Siblings' shares. The agreement also granted him the irrevocable right to purchase the Siblings' shares at book value. Lauris sent written notice to the Siblings that he was exercising the call option set forth in Paragraph Seven of the stock purchase agreement. The Siblings refused to transfer their shares. Molbert sued the Siblings for specific performance, seeking a judgment requiring them to sell their shares to him in exchange for the book value payment. The Siblings counterclaimed, alleging the stock purchase agreement was void because Lauris engaged in fraud by failing to disclose that the agreement granted him a purchase option at book value. The Siblings also alleged the agreement lacked consideration and Lauris breached fiduciary duties owed to them. The Siblings sought relief in the form of cancellation of the agreement. Judgment was entered in Lauris' favor; finding no reversible error in that judgment, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Molbert v. Kornkven" on Justia Law

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Karna Kornkven, Eric Molbert, and Kristi Benz ("Siblings") appeal after the district court entered judgment in favor of their brother, Lauris Molbert. The parties' father, Ralph Molbert, owned the controlling interest in the Bank of Steele and its holding company, H.O.M.E., Inc. Lauris, the oldest child, became a director of the bank in 1983 and director of the holding company in 1986 and was actively involved in the operations of both entities. Ralph and Beverly Molbert intended for Lauris Molbert to own and control the bank and holding company and pursued this intention through their estate plan. In December 1992, Ralph and Beverly Molbert gifted their children shares of H.O.M.E. stock and recorded the gift for tax purposes in 1992. It was understood that Ralph and Beverly intended to restrict these gifted shares. Following the gift of H.O.M.E. shares to the Molbert children, H.O.M.E. board minutes signed by Ralph and Beverly described the development of a shareholder agreement to restrict the gifted shares. In July 1993, the parties discussed the agreement while on a family vacation to Whitefish, Montana. The parties executed the stock purchase agreement following the Whitefish vacation. Ralph signed the agreement as H.O.M.E. president. Share certificates were issued after execution of the agreement stating the gifted shares were restricted by the stock purchase agreement. The agreement granted Lauris the right to vote the Siblings' shares. The agreement also granted him the irrevocable right to purchase the Siblings' shares at book value. Lauris sent written notice to the Siblings that he was exercising the call option set forth in Paragraph Seven of the stock purchase agreement. The Siblings refused to transfer their shares. Molbert sued the Siblings for specific performance, seeking a judgment requiring them to sell their shares to him in exchange for the book value payment. The Siblings counterclaimed, alleging the stock purchase agreement was void because Lauris engaged in fraud by failing to disclose that the agreement granted him a purchase option at book value. The Siblings also alleged the agreement lacked consideration and Lauris breached fiduciary duties owed to them. The Siblings sought relief in the form of cancellation of the agreement. Judgment was entered in Lauris' favor; finding no reversible error in that judgment, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Molbert v. Kornkven" on Justia Law

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In “Citadel” the Seventh Circuit held that “the district court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing [the] case [of certain securities firms] for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.” After that decision, Securities Firms filed a petition before the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) seeking damages, claiming the Exchanges improperly imposed fees under Payment for Order Flow programs. The SEC dismissed that petition for lack of jurisdiction. The Exchanges, citing CitadeI, maintained the SEC had jurisdiction under Section 19(h)(1) of the Securities Exchange Act because the petition sought a determination that the Exchanges had violated their own rules. The SEC reasoned that Section 19(d), which authorizes it to review allegations that a national exchange has unduly “prohibit[ed] or limit[ed] … access to services,” 15 U.S.C. 78s(d)(1), did not apply; the petition did not allege that the Exchanges had denied or limited access to any service. The SEC further stated that seeking damages was “incongruous with” the SEC’s Section 19(d) remedial authority and that section 78s(h)(1) does not authorize claims by private parties. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, “the Petition alleges, in effect, a billing dispute” between two private parties, and requests the SEC order the Exchanges to pay damages for improperly charging fees under their PFOF programs. View "Chicago Board Options Exchange v. Securities and Exchange Commission" on Justia Law