Justia Securities Law Opinion Summaries

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Kevin Diep, a stockholder of El Pollo Loco Holdings, Inc. (“EPL”), filed derivative claims against some members of EPL’s board of directors and management, as well as a private investment firm. The suit focused on two acts of alleged wrongdoing: concealing the negative impact of price increases during an earnings call and selling EPL stock while in possession of material non-public financial information. After the Delaware Court of Chancery denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss, the EPL board of directors designated a special litigation committee of the board (“SLC”) with exclusive authority to investigate the derivative claims and to take whatever action was in EPL’s best interests. After a lengthy investigation and extensive report, the SLC moved to terminate the derivative claims. All defendants but the private investment firm settled with Diep while the dismissal motion was pending. The Court of Chancery granted the SLC’s motion after applying the two-step review under Zapata Corp. v. Maldonado, 430 A.2d 779 (Del. 1981). Diep appealed, but after its review of the record, including the SLC’s report, and the Court of Chancery’s decision, the Delaware Supreme Court found that the court properly evaluated the SLC’s independence, investigation, and conclusions, and affirm the judgment of dismissal. View "Diep v. Trimaran Pollo Partners, L.L.C." on Justia Law

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Between 2004 and 2008, respondents HEI Resources, Inc. (“HEI”), and the Heartland Development Corporation (“HEDC”), both corporations whose principal place of business is Colorado, formed, capitalized, and operated eight separate joint ventures related to the exploration and drilling of oil and gas wells. They solicited investors for what they called Los Ojuelos Joint Ventures by cold calling thousands of individuals from all over the country. Those who joined the ventures became parties to an agreement organized as a general partnership under the Texas Revised Partnership Act. In 2009, the Securities Commissioner for the State of Colorado (“the Commissioner”) initiated this enforcement action, alleging that respondents had violated the Colorado Securities Act (CSA) by, among other things, offering and selling unregistered securities to investors nationwide through the use of unlicensed sales representatives and in the guise of general partnerships. The Commissioner alleged that HEDC and HEI used the general partnership form deliberately in order to avoid regulation. Each of the Commissioner’s claims required that the Commissioner prove that the general partnerships were securities, so the trial was bifurcated to permit resolution of that threshold question. THe Colorado Supreme Court granted review in this matter to determine how courts should evaluate whether an interest in a “general partnership” is an “investment contract” under the CSA. The Court concluded that when faced with an assertion that an interest in a general partnership is an investment contract and thus within the CSA’s definition of a “security,” the plaintiff bears the burden of proving this claim by a preponderance of the evidence. No presumption beyond that burden applies. Accordingly, the Court reversed the court of appeals’ judgment on the question of whether courts should apply a “strong presumption,” and the Court remanded the case to the trial court for further findings. View "Chan v. HEI Resources, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Division affirming Supreme Court's judgment dismissing HSBC Bank USA, National Association's claim against the sponsor of an underlying transaction seeking to "revive" an earlier action filed by two certificateholders pursuant to N.Y. C.P.L.R. 205(a), holding that there was no error.Defendant, as sponsor of a residential mortgage-backed securities trust transaction, purchased thousands of mortgage loans and sold them to ACE Securities Corp. pursuant to an agreement in which the sponsor made various representations and warranties. ACE Securities deposited the loans in the trust, and the loans served as collateral for $500 million in certificates issued by the trust. Those certificates paid principal and interest to certificateholders based on funds generated by the mortgages. After two certificateholders brought an action against the sponsor HSBC filed a complaint on behalf of the trust purporting to substitute as plaintiff for the certificateholders. Supreme Court denied sponsor's motion to dismiss the complaint as untimely. The Appellate Division reversed, concluding that the action was time-barred. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that HSBC could not invoke C.P.L.R. 205(a) to avoid dismissal of this time-barred claim. View "ACE Securities Corp. v. DB Structured Products, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Delaware Supreme Court addressed whether approval of a corporation’s Class B stockholders was required to transfer pledged assets to secured creditors in connection with what was, in essence, a privately structured foreclosure transaction. Stream TV Network, Inc. (“Stream” or the “Company”), along with Mathu and Raja Rajan, argued that the agreement authorizing the secured creditors to transfer Stream’s pledged assets (the “Omnibus Agreement”) was invalid because Stream’s unambiguous certificate of incorporation (“Charter”) required the approval of Stream’s Class B stockholders. Stream’s Charter required a majority vote of Class B stockholders for any “sale, lease or other disposition of all or substantially all of the assets or intellectual property of the company.” Stream argued the trial court erred by applying a common law insolvency exception to Section 271 in interpreting the Charter, and that the enactment of 8 Del. C. 271 and its predecessor superseded any common law exceptions. It contended that, in any event, such a “board only” common law exception never existed in Delaware. SeeCubic, Inc. argued the court correctly found that neither the Charter, nor Section 271, required approval of the Class B shares to effectuate the Omnibus Agreement. Because the Supreme Court agreed that a majority vote of Class B stockholders was required under Stream’s charter, it vacated the injunction, reversed the declaratory judgment, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Steam TV Networks, Inc. v. SeeCubic, Inc." on Justia Law

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Frankie Ware died in 2011, survived by his wife, Carolyn Ware, and their three children, Dana Ware, Angela Ware Mohr, and Richard Ware. Richard was married to Melisa Ware. Carolyn was appointed executor of Frankie’s estate. At the time of his death, Frankie owned 25 percent of four different family corporations. Carolyn owned another 25 percent of each, and Richard owned 50 percent of each. Frankie’s will placed the majority of Frankie’s assets, including his shares in the four family corporations, into two testamentary trusts for which Carolyn, Richard, Angela, and Dana were appointed trustees. The primary beneficiary of both trusts was Carolyn, but one trust allowed potential, limited distributions to Richard, Angela, and Dana. Prolonged litigation between Carolyn and Richard ensued over disagreements regarding how to dispose of Frankie’s shares in the four corporations and how to manage the four corporations. Richard eventually filed for dissolution of the four corporations. The trial court ultimately consolidated the estate case with the corporate dissolution case, and denied Angela and Dana’s motions to join/intervene in both cases. It also appointed a corporate receiver (Derek Henderson) in the dissolution case by agreed order that also authorized dissolution. The chancery court ultimately ordered that the shares be offered for sale to the corporations, and it approved the dissolution and sale of the corporations. Angela and Dana appealed the trial court’s denial of their attempts to join or intervene in the two cases. Carolyn appeals a multitude of issues surrounding the trial court’s decisions regarding the corporations and shares. Richard cross-appealed the trial court’s net asset value determination date and methodology. The Receiver argued the trial court’s judgment should have been affirmed on all issues. In the estate case, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the chancery court’s determination that the estate had to offer the shares to the corporation prior to transferring them to the trusts; the corporations filed their breach of contract claim after the expiration of the statute of limitations. The Court affirmed the chancery court’s denial of Angela and Dana’s motions to intervene, and it affirmed the chancery court’s decision in the dissolution case. The Court reversed the judgment to the extent that it allowed the corporations to purchase shares from the estate. The cases were remanded to the chancery court for a determination of how to distribute the money from the corporate sales, in which the estate held 25 percent of the corporate shares. View "In The Matter of The Estate of Frankie Don Ware" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a putative class action lawsuit against brokerage firm Hornor, Townsend & Kent (“HTK”) and its parent company The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company. The complaint alleged that HTK breached its fiduciary duties under Georgia law and that Penn Mutual aided and abetted that breach. The district court concluded that the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act (“SLUSA”) barred Plaintiff from using a class action to bring those state law claims.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal. The court explained that SLUSA’s bar applies when “(1) the suit is a ‘covered class action,’ (2) the plaintiffs’ claims are based on state law, (3) one or more ‘covered securities’ has been purchased or sold, and (4) the defendant [allegedly] misrepresented or omitted a material fact ‘in connection with the purchase or sale of such security.’”Here, the only disputed issue is whether Plaintiff’s complaint alleges a misrepresentation or omission. The court reasoned that the district court correctly dismissed the actions because the complaint alleges “an untrue statement or omission of material fact in connection with the purchase or sale of a covered security." View "Jeffrey A. Cochran v. The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company, et al" on Justia Law

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Appellant appealed a United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC or Commission) order denying his application for a whistleblower award resulting from a successful SEC enforcement action. He contends that he voluntarily provided original information to the SEC that led to the successful enforcement action as set forth by the governing statute, 15 U.S.C. Section 78u-6(b)(1), but that the Commission erroneously rejected his award application based on its improper definitions of key statutory terms, see 17 C.F.R. Section 240.21F-4(a) (defining “[v]oluntary submission of information”), (b) (defining “[o]riginal information”).   The DC Circuit affirmed the district court’s order denying Appellant's application for a whistleblower award. The court held that because Appellant failed to satisfy the statutory requirements for “original information,” the court need not address his challenge to the SEC’s definition of “voluntary.” The court reasoned that the SEC properly denied Appellant’s award application, which was based on information submitted to the Commission before July 21, 2010. Congress expressly and unambiguously excluded from the definition of “original information” submissions provided to the Commission before this date, the statute’s date of enactment. 15 U.S.C. Section 78u-7(b); see id. Section 78u-6(a)(3). Further, because Appellant failed to satisfy one of the statutory requirements for whistleblower award eligibility, the court did not address his challenge to the Commission’s interpretation of “voluntary” set forth in 17 C.F.R. Section 240.21F-4(a) or its denial of Appellant’s request to exempt him from the requirement that the information be submitted voluntarily. View "Eugene Ross v. SEC" on Justia Law

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In 2005, the Securities and Exchange Commission adopted “Regulation NMS” to promote the availability of market data to investors and other market participants. Regulation NMS allowed for investors to obtain "core data" from a centralized securities-information processor, which receives certain data, compiles it, and then transmits it to subscribers. However, to receive additional data, market participants must subscribe to the exchanges’ own proprietary data feeds. This generates significant revenue for the exchanges.Due to changes in the securities market since 2005, the proprietary data feeds have become "vastly more useful." As a result, the Commission determined, there was an information asymmetry in the marketplace for securities data — those market participants relying on the core data feed were at a significant informational disadvantage to participants that could afford to subscribe to the exchanges’ comprehensive proprietary products. In response, the SEC adopted the Market Data Infrastructure Rule in 2020, which promotes the development of new data distribution methods. Various exchanges challenged the Market Data Infrastructure Rule, claiming it was arbitrary and capricious.The D.C. Circuit denied the exchanges' petitions, noting that the Market Data Infrastructure Rule promotes the Commission’s stated goals and is grounded in the record. The court also held that the rule was warranted, given changes in the securities market. View "The Nasdaq Stock Market LLC v. SEC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, investors in 22nd Century Group, alleged on behalf of an investor class that (1) Defendants engaged in an illegal stock promotion scheme in which they paid authors to write promotional articles about the company while concealing the fact that they paid the authors for the articles; and (2) Defendants failed to disclose an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) into the company’s financial control weaknesses. Plaintiffs alleged they were harmed after public articles revealed the promotion scheme and stock prices fell. The district court dismissed the complaint for failing to state a claim.   On appeal, Plaintiffs argued (1) they adequately alleged material misrepresentations sufficient to sustain claims under SEC Rule 10b-5; (2) their claim under Section 20(a) of the Securities Exchange Act was premised on a valid predicate violation of Section 10(b); and (3) the district court erred in dismissing the complaint with prejudice.   The Second Circuit affirmed in part and vacated in part. On the first and second points, the court agreed that the allegation that Defendants failed to disclose the SEC investigation states a material misrepresentation and could also support Section 20(a) liability. However, the court found no merit in the remaining challenges. The court reasoned that because the complaint does not adequately allege that Defendants had a duty to disclose that they paid for the articles’ publication, Plaintiffs fail to state a claim that the existence of the stock promotion scheme constituted a materially misleading omission. View "Noto v. 22nd Century Grp." on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing all claims in this dispute between brokerage customers of Defendant, who purchased special Puerto Rico securities during a recession but before the bond market crash, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below.Plaintiffs brought a securities class action against Defendant, asserting claims under federal securities laws and Puerto Rico law. The district court entered judgment dismissing the federal law claims with prejudice and the state law claims without prejudice. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that Plaintiffs' claims that there were allegedly material omissions on the part of Defendant were not actionable. View "Ponsa-Rabell v. Santander Securities, LLC" on Justia Law