Justia Securities Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Professional Malpractice & Ethics
Springsteen-Abbott v. Securities and Exchange Commission
This appeal arose from petitioner's mismanagement of two related businesses, Commonwealth Capital and Commonwealth Securities. After FINRA determined that petitioner misused investor funds and tried to cover it up, FINRA barred petitioner from the securities industry, fined her, and ordered her to disgorge certain misused expenses. The SEC affirmed the industry bar and disgorgement order.The DC Circuit affirmed, concluding that petitioner's ambitious constitutional arguments are futile for a simple reason: Congress has prohibited the court from considering issues not raised before the SEC. Furthermore, petitioner has not provided any reasonable grounds that would excuse her failure to exhaust her constitutional claims before the Commission. Nor has there been an intervening change in law that might have excused her failure to press these contentions below. The court also concluded that Saad v. SEC, 980 F.3d 103 (D.C. Cir. 2020), foreclosed petitioner's argument that her lifetime bar is impermissibly punitive. In this case, the SEC's remedial justification finds adequate support in the record. The court rejected petitioner's assertion that continuing education expenses misallocated to the funds—rather than to her companies—were not "net profit," and thus not appropriate for remedial disgorgement after Liu v. SEC, 140 S. Ct. 1936 (2020). Rather, by paying for continuing education expenses out of the funds, instead of her wholly-owned business, the court concluded that petitioner enriched herself by the amount of the savings. View "Springsteen-Abbott v. Securities and Exchange Commission" on Justia Law
Whitehead v. BBVA Compass Bank
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for appellees in an action brought by appellant, alleging claims for securities fraud and state common law claims of negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, suppression and fraud. Appellant alleged that appellees wrongfully failed to inform appellant of the risks involved in making a certain investment. The court found that the alleged wrongful conduct of appellees did not cause the economic loss for which appellant sues. In this case, there is no viable claim against appellees; no act or omission asserted against them was the cause of the loss suffered by appellant; and thus the district court properly granted summary judgment in their favor. View "Whitehead v. BBVA Compass Bank" on Justia Law
Saad v. Securities and Exchange Commission
Petitioner, a broker-dealer, twice misappropriated his employer's funds and then unsuccessfully tried to cover his tracks by falsifying documents. FINRA permanently barred him from membership and from associating with any FINRA member firm.The DC Circuit held that the Supreme Court's recent decision in Kokesh v. SEC, 137 S. Ct. 1635 (2017), which held that SEC disgorgement constitutes a penalty within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. 2462, does not have any bearing in petitioner's case. The court explained that binding circuit precedent establishes that the Commission may approve expulsion not as a penalty but as a means of protecting investors. In this case, the Commission did precisely that. Because this court has already held that the Commission appropriately concluded that petitioner's bar was not excessive or oppressive in any other respect, that ends the court's inquiry. View "Saad v. Securities and Exchange Commission" on Justia Law
ISN Software Corporation v. Richards, Layton & Finger, P.A.
For tax reasons ISN Software Corporation wanted to convert from a C corporation to an S corporation. But four of its eight stockholders, representing about 25 percent of the outstanding stock, could not qualify as S Corporation stockholders. ISN sought advice from Richards, Layton & Finger, P.A. (RLF) about its options. RLF advised ISN that before a conversion ISN could use a merger to cash out some or all of the four stockholders. The cashed-out stockholders could then accept ISN’s cash-out offer or exercise appraisal rights under Delaware law. ISN did not proceed with the conversion, but decided to use a merger to cash out three of the four non-qualifying stockholders. After ISN completed the merger, RLF notified ISN that its advice might not have been correct. All four stockholders, including the remaining stockholder whom ISN wanted to exclude, were entitled to appraisal rights. ISN decided not to try and unwind the merger, instead proceeding with the merger and notified all four stockholders they were entitled to appraisal. ISN and RLF agreed that RLF would continue to represent ISN in any appraisal action. Three of the four stockholders, including the stockholder ISN wanted to exclude, eventually demanded appraisal. Years later, when things did not turn out as ISN had hoped (the appraised value of ISN stock ended up substantially higher than ISN had reserved for), ISN filed a legal malpractice claim against RLF. The Superior Court dismissed ISN’s August 1, 2018 complaint on statute of limitations grounds. The court found that the statute of limitations expired three years after RLF informed ISN of the erroneous advice, or, at the latest, three years after the stockholder ISN sought to exclude demanded appraisal. On appeal, ISN argued its legal malpractice claim did not accrue until after the appraisal action valued ISN’s stock because only then could ISN claim damages. Although it applied a different analysis, the Delaware Supreme Court agreed with the Superior Court that the statute of limitations began to run in January 2013. By the time ISN filed its malpractice claim on August 1, 2018, the statute of limitations had expired. Thus, the Superior Court’s judgment was affirmed. View "ISN Software Corporation v. Richards, Layton & Finger, P.A." on Justia Law
Malouf v. SEC
Dennis Malouf held key roles at two firms. One of the firms (UASNM, Inc.) offered investment advice; the other firm (a branch of Raymond James Financial Services) served as a broker-dealer. Raymond James viewed those dual roles as a conflict, so Malouf sold the Raymond James branch. But the structure of the sale perpetuated the conflict. Because Malouf did not disclose perpetuation of the conflict, administrative officials sought sanctions against him for violating the federal securities laws. An administrative law judge found that Malouf had violated the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, the Securities Act of 1933, the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, Rule 10b–5, and Rule 206(4)–1. Given these findings, the judge imposed sanctions. The SEC affirmed these findings and imposed additional sanctions, including disgorgement of profits. Malouf appealed the SEC’s decision, but finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Malouf v. SEC" on Justia Law
Honea v. Raymond James Financial Services, Inc.
Kathryn Honea purported to appeal a judgment in favor of Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. ("Raymond James"), and Bernard Michaud, an employee of Raymond James (collectively, "RJFS"), in the underlying action seeking to vacate an arbitration award. In 1997, Honea opened several investment accounts with Raymond James. In March 2006, Honea sued RJFS alleging that her accounts had been mismanaged. She sought damages for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, wantonness, fraud, and violations of the Alabama Securities Act. The case went to arbitration. An arbitration panel entered an award in favor of RJFS, and on January 14, 2008, Honea filed in the trial court a motion to vacate that arbitration award. In this case's fourth trip before the Alabama Supreme Court, Honea's 2017 motion to vacate interjected issues and sought relief beyond the scope of the remand action ordered in "Raymond James III," which directed a Rule 59(g) hearing. "The trial court would have no jurisdiction to rule on it, and any ruling, whether express or a denial by operation of law, would be void." Accordingly, the Court dismissed this appeal. View "Honea v. Raymond James Financial Services, Inc." on Justia Law
Patel v. Portfolio Diversification Group, Inc.
Patel saved $560,000, enough to purchase a 7-Eleven franchise. He kept the money with Portfolio; the contract gave Wagha discretion over the funds’ deployment. Wagha invested much of the money in options. By the time Patel needed the funds (four months later), the market was down and he had lost a considerable sum. A jury concluded that Wagha and Portfolio had broken their promise to invest the money conservatively and awarded Patel $136,000 for breach of contract plus $64,000 for securities fraud. The district court remitted the $64,000 award, ruling that Patel has not shown loss causation, but entered judgment on the $136,000 award. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court retained jurisdiction after it resolved the federal law claim. In addition, the federal-law claim should not have been dismissed. The premise of that holding—that the securities laws are concerned only with inaccurate pricing—was incorrect. Securities laws forbid fraud in all aspects of securities transactions, whether or not the fraud affects the instruments’ prices. One kind of fraud is procuring securities known to be unsuitable to a client’s investment goals, after promising to further those goals. View "Patel v. Portfolio Diversification Group, Inc." on Justia Law
Maybank v. BB&T
This appeal arose out of a $17 million verdict rendered in favor of Francis Maybank for claims sounding in contract, tort, and the South Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act (UTPA). Maybank brought this action alleging he received faulty investment advice from Branch Banking and Trust (BB&T - the Bank) through BB&T Wealth Management (Wealth Management) and BB&T Asset Management (Asset Management), all operating under the corporate umbrella of BB&T Corporation (collectively, Appellants). Appellants appealed on numerous grounds, and Maybank appealed the trial court's denial of prejudgment interest. After review, the Supreme Court reversed as to an award of punitive damages based on a limitation of liability clause. The Court affirmed on all other grounds. View "Maybank v. BB&T" on Justia Law
Troice v. Proskauer Rose, L.L.P.
Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against Allen Standford's lawyers, Thomas Sjoblom, and the law firms where he worked, arguing that they aided and abetted Stanford’s fraud and conspired to thwart the SEC’s investigation of Stanford’s Ponzi scheme. The district court subsequently denied defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint as barred by the attorney immunity under Texas law. The court held that, under Texas law, attorney immunity is a true immunity of suit, such that denial of a motion to dismiss based on attorney immunity is appealable under the collateral order doctrine. The court reversed the district court’s order denying defendants’ motions to dismiss based on attorney immunity now that the Texas Supreme Court has clarified that there is no “fraud exception” to attorney immunity. Accordingly, the court rendered judgment that the case is dismissed with prejudice. View "Troice v. Proskauer Rose, L.L.P." on Justia Law
Oetting v. Norton
After the merger of NationsBank and BankAmerica, shareholders filed class actions alleging violations of securities laws. The district court appointed Oetting as lead plaintiff and the Green law firm, as lead counsel. The litigation resulted in a $333 million settlement for the NationsBank class. The Eighth Circuit affirmed approval of the settlement over Oetting’s objection. On the recommendation of Green, the court appointed Heffler as claims administrator. A Heffler employee conspired to submit false claims, resulting in fraudulent payment of $5.87 million. The court denied Green leave to file a supplemental complaint against Heffler. Oetting filed a separate action against Heffler that is pending. After distributions, $2.4 million remained. Green moved for distribution cy pres and requested an additional award of $98,114.34 in attorney’s fees for post-settlement work. Oetting opposed both, argued that Green should disgorge fees for abandoning the class, and filed a separate class action, alleging malpractice by negligently hiring and failing to supervise Heffler and abandonment of the class. The court granted Green’s motion for a cy pres distribution and for a supplemental fee award and denied disgorgement. The Eighth Circuit reversed the cy pres award, ordering additional distribution to the class, and vacated the supplemental fee award as premature. The district court then dismissed the malpractice complaint, concluding that Oetting lacked standing. The Eighth Circuit affirmed that collateral estoppel precluded the rejected disgorgement and class-abandonment claims; pendency of an appeal did not suspend preclusive effects. View "Oetting v. Norton" on Justia Law