Justia Securities Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals

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Knight was owner and CEO of Knight Industries, which owned other companies. Bank had provided credit ($34 million) to the companies, which, in 2009, filed bankruptcy petitions. Chatz was appointed trustee and was authorized to retain the Freeborn law firm. Chatz and the Bank alleged that Knight had made fraudulent transfers, had breached duties of good faith and fair dealing and duties to creditors, had misappropriated corporate opportunities, had committed conversion, and had violated securities laws, and demanded $27 million for the companies and $34 million for the Bank. In 2010 Knight filed a chapter 7 petition, listing the claims, value “unknown.” Chatz, appointed as trustee, requested representation by the Freeborn law firm, without disclosing intent to pursue the claims against Knight. The bankruptcy court approved. Later, the Bank and Chatz asked to assign the companies’ claims to the Bank. Knight objected, arguing that approval of the law firm conflicted with the companies having viable claims against Knight. The bankruptcy court overruled Knight’s objection. The district court and Seventh Circuit affirmed. Failure to disclose intent to pursue the claims did not harm Knight, and other remedies are available. It would be inequitable to permit Knight to reap huge benefits from harmless omission. View "Knight v. Bank of America, N.A." on Justia Law

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Sklena and Sarvey were floor traders in the Five-Year Treasury Note futures pit at the Chicago Board of Trade. Sklena was a “local,” authorized to trade only on his own behalf; Sarvey was a “broker” and could trade for himself and for his customers. On April 2, 2004, the price of the Five-Year Note futures fluctuated wildly. Sarvey and Sklena executed the series of transactions that resulted in criminal prosecution. According to the government, Sklena and Sarvey conspired to sell Sarvey’s customers’ contracts noncompetitively. The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission filed a civil complaint alleging that the two “engaged in a series of non-competitive trades” that defrauded customers out of over $2 million. Sarvey died before trial on charges of wire and commodity fraud and noncompetitive futures contract trading. In Sklena’s trial, the district court excluded Sarvey’s deposition as inadmissible hearsay. Sklena was convicted. The Seventh Circuit reversed. There was sufficient evidence to support the conviction, but the court erred in excluding the deposition testimony. View "United States v. Sklena" on Justia Law

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The collapse of investment manager Sentinel in 2007 left its customers in a lurch. Instead of maintaining customer assets in segregated accounts as required by the Commodity Exchange Act, 7 U.S.C. 1, Sentinel pledged customer assets to secure an overnight loan at the Bank of New York, giving the bank in a secured position on Sentinel’s $312 million loan. After filing for bankruptcy, Sentinel’s liquidation trustee brought attempted to dislodge the bank’s secured position. After extensive proceedings, the district court rejected the claims. Acknowledging concerns about the bank’s knowledge of Sentinel’s business practices, the Seventh Circuit affirmed. The essential issues were whether Sentinel had actual intent to hinder, delay, or defraud and whether the bank’s conduct was sufficiently egregious to justify equitable subordination, and the district court made the necessary credibility determinations. Even if the contract with the bank enabled illegal activity, the provisions did not themselves cause the segregation violations. View "Grede v. Bank of NY Mellon Corp." on Justia Law

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Wehrs alleged that his stock broker, Wells, violated federal securities and state laws by executing unauthorized trades on Wehrs’s account, causing significant losses. Wells never answered the complaint or appeared in court; default judgment entered. The court later vacated with respect to damages and granted summary judgment in favor of Wehrs. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, first upholding denial of the motion to vacate as to liability. Although Wells took quick action to correct the default, and alleged excusable neglect, asserting that his withdrawn counsel did not provide him notice of the date by which he had to respond, he did not set forth a meritorious defense. Wells implicitly admitted the allegations in contesting damages and only made a single conclusory statement that the transactions were authorized. To permit Wells to argue that Wehrs should have sold his shares at sooner to mitigate damages would allow Wells to contest liability, rather than the extent of damages. A defaulting party has no right to dispute liability. The duty to mitigate is an affirmative defense and Wells waived his right to this defense by not filing a responsive pleading and could not raise it under the guise of proximate cause. View "Wehrs. v. Wells" on Justia Law

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In 2007, Nelson, a minority shareholder and major creditor of RTI sued CHSWC alleging conspiracy with RTI’s majority shareholders to use RTI’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy to enrich themselves, tortious interference with RTI’s loan contract with Nelson, and abusing the bankruptcy process. The Bankruptcy Court found that RTI’s Chapter 11 petition was not filed in bad faith. The district court dismissed Nelson’s federal suit and remanded state law claims to state court. The Seventh Circuit concluded that because RTI had no assets and had terminated business, the adversary proceeding was moot; reversed the remand of state-law claims; and held that dismissal of the abuse-of-process claim did not require dismissal of state-law claims. On remand the district court dismissed, reasoning that the state law claims were predicated on allegation that RTI’s bankruptcy filing was improper, and finding “undisputed facts” and that partial recharacterization of Nelson’s debt as equity was proper. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, reasoning that nothing of legal significance happened after the last appeal. View "Nelson v. Welch" on Justia Law

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Griffin, a futures commission merchant, went bankrupt in 1998 after one of its customers, Park, sustained trading losses of several million dollars and neither Park nor Griffin had enough capital to cover the obligations. The Bankruptcy Court first relied on admissions by the controlling Griffin partners that they failed to block a wire transfer, allowing segregated customer funds to be used to help cover Park’s (and thus Griffin’s) losses. On remand, the court reversed itself and held that the trustee failed to establish that the partners actually caused the loss of customer funds and failed to establish damages. The district court affirmed, applying the Illinois version of the Uniform Commercial Code to a series of transactions that was initiated by the margin call that caused Griffin’s downfall. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, stating that there is no reason why the transactions at issue (which involved banks in England, Canada, France, and Germany, but not Illinois) would be governed by Illinois law. The Bankruptcy Court’s first decision appropriately relied on the partners’ admission that they failed in their obligation to protect customer funds, which was enough to hold them liable for the entire value of the wire transfer. View "Inskeep v. Griffin" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff owned a rental center and retained defendants, who provide investment banking services to the equipment rental industry, to help him obtain an investor or buyer. Defendants’ advice culminated in sale of a majority of plaintiff’s stock for about $30 million. Defendants billed plaintiff $758,675. Plaintiff paid without complaint but later sued for return of the entire fee on the ground that defendants lacked a brokerage license required by Wis. Stats. 452.01(2)(a), 452.03. The district court dismissed, finding the parties equally at fault. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, declining to definitively answer whether a license was required under the circumstances that a negotiated sale of assets fell through in favor of a sale of stock. Plaintiff is not entitled to relief even if there was a violation. Referring to the classic Highwayman’s Case, the court rejected claims of in pari delicto and unclean hands; plaintiff was not equally at fault. To bar relief, however, is not punishing a victim. Plaintiff did not incur damages and is not entitled to restitution. Plaintiff sought compensation for spotting a violation and incurring expenses to punish the violator, a bounty-hunter or private attorney general theory, not recognized under Wisconsin law. The voluntary-payment doctrine is inapplicable. View "Schlueter v. Latek" on Justia Law

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Zimmer manufactures orthopaedic reconstructive devices. One product, a replacement hip socket, was subject to a report of high failure rates. Zimmer announced preliminary findings in 2008, attributed the failures to improper surgical technique, stopped selling the product in the U.S. while preparing new instructions for implantation, and returned the item to the market. Owners of Zimmer stock sued, claiming that the problem was poor design or quality control, that Zimmer pretended otherwise to avoid hurting the price of its stock, and that Zimmer delayed revealing quality-control problems at its plant until after its 2008 quarterly report and earnings call. Zimmer had projected 10% to 11% revenue growth for the year and net earnings of $4.20 to $4.25 per share; months later it cut this projection to 8.5% to 9% growth and net earnings of $4.05 to $4.10 per share. The district court dismissed under the pleading standards of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995, 15 U.S.C. 78u-4. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that plaintiffs failed to establish scienter. The FDA has never concluded that the product was defectively designed or made and never issued a warning or caution; quality control issues at pharmaceutical and medical-device producers are endemic. View "Plumbers & Pipefitters Local Union 719 Pension Fund v. Zimmer Holdings Inc." on Justia Law

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A corporation that wants its shares to be traded on an exchange or through broker-dealers that make national markets must register the securities under the Securities Act of 1933, 15 U.S.C. 77j. Section 13(a) of the 1934 Act, 15 U.S.C. 8m(a), requires the issuer to file periodic reports. Plaintiff registered securities and persuaded broker-dealers to make markets in them, but fell behind with its filings. After eight years, during which plaintiff fell farther behind, the SEC opened a formal proceeding. After a hearing and disclosure that plaintiff could not pay an auditor to certify recent financial statements, the SEC revoked plaintiff's registration; trading in its shares came to a halt. While judicial review was pending, plaintiff filed a new registration, which has not been revoked despite plaintiff's failure to catch up on reports. The Seventh Circuit dismissed the case as moot. To commence trading in any newly registered stock, a broker-dealer needs approval from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. When a potential market-maker sought approval, it noted SEC comments on plaintiff's new registration. Setting aside the SEC revocation decision would not oblige FINRA to allow trading to resume. View "Tara Gold Resources Corp. v. Sec. & Exch. Comm'n" on Justia Law

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The SEC filed a complaint. The court appointed a receiver to handle defendants' assets for distribution among victims of the $31 million fraud. Assets included oil and gas leases. SonCo filed a claim. The parties came to terms; the court entered an agreed order that required SonCo to pay $580,000 for assignment of the leases. The wells were unproductive, because of freeze orders entered to prevent dissipation of assets; the lease operator, ALCO, had posted a $250,000 bond with the Texas Railroad Commission. The bond was, in part, from defrauded investors. SonCo was ordered to replace ALCO as operator and to obtain a bond. More than a year later, SonCo had not posted the bond or obtained Commission authorization to operate the wells, but had paid for the assignment. The judge held SonCo in contempt and ordered it to return the leases, allowing the receiver to keep $600,000 that SonCo had paid. SonCo returned the leases. The Seventh Circuit affirmed that SonCo willfully violated the order, but vacated the sanction. The judge on remand may: reimpose the sanction, upon demonstrating that it is a compensatory remedy for civil contempt; impose a different, or no sanction; or proceed under rules governing criminal contempt. View "SonCo Holdings, LLC v. Bradley" on Justia Law