Articles Posted in U.S. Supreme Court

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Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and SEC Rule 10b–5 prohibit undisclosed trading on inside corporate information by persons bound by a duty not to exploit that information for their personal advantage. These persons are also forbidden from tipping inside information to others for trading. The Supreme Court has held (Dirks) that tippee liability hinges on whether the tipper disclosed the information for a personal benefit; personal benefit may be inferred where the tipper receives something of value in exchange for the tip or “makes a gift of confidential information to a trading relative or friend.” Salman was convicted for trading on inside information he received from Kara, who had received the information from his brother, Maher, a former investment banker at Citigroup. Maher testified that he expected his brother to trade on the information. Kara testified that Salman knew the information was from Maher. While Salman’s appeal was pending, the Second Circuit decided that personal benefit to the tipper may not be inferred from a gift of confidential information to a trading relative or friend, unless there is “proof of a meaningfully close personal relationship … that generates an exchange that is objective, consequential, and represents at least a potential gain of a pecuniary or similarly valuable nature.” The Ninth Circuit declined to follow the Second Circuit. A unanimous Supreme Court affirmed. When an insider gives a trading relative or friend confidential information, the situation resembles trading by the insider himself followed by a gift of the profits to the recipient. Maher breached his duty to Citigroup and its clients—a duty acquired and breached by Salman when he traded on the information, knowing that it had been improperly disclosed. View "Salman v. United States" on Justia Law

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Manning held 2,000,000 shares of Escala stock. He claims that he lost most of his investment when its price plummeted after Merrill Lynch devalued Escala through “naked short sales.” Unlike a typical short sale, where a person borrows stock from a broker, sells it to a buyer on the open market, and later purchases the same number of shares to return to the broker, the seller in a “naked” short sale does not borrow the stock he puts on the market, and never delivers the promised shares to the buyer. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Regulation SHO prohibits short-sellers from intentionally failing to deliver securities. Manning claimed violation of New Jersey law, but referred explicitly to Regulation SHO, citing past accusations against Merrill Lynch and suggesting that the transactions at issue had again violated the regulation. Merrill Lynch removed the case, invoking general federal-question jurisdiction, 28 U. S. C. 1331, and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. 78aa(a). The Third Circuit ordered remand, holding that Manning’s claims did not necessarily raise any federal issues and that the Exchange Act covers only cases that would satisfy the “arising under” test for general federal jurisdiction. The Supreme Court affirmed. The jurisdictional test established by Section 27 is the same as Section 1331’s test for deciding if a case “arises under” a federal law. Section 27 confers federal jurisdiction over suits brought under the Exchange Act and the rare suit in which a state-law claim rises and falls on the plaintiff’s ability to prove the violation of a federal duty. View "Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc. v. Manning" on Justia Law

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Fifth Third maintains a defined-contribution retirement savings plan for its employees. Participants may direct their contributions into any of several investment options, including an “employee stock ownership plan” (ESOP), which invests primarily in Fifth Third stock. Former participants sued, alleging breach of the fiduciary duty of prudence imposed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1104(a)(1)(B) in that the defendants should have known—on the basis of both public information and inside information available to Fifth Third officers—that the stock was overpriced and risky. The price of Fifth Third stock fell, reducing plaintiffs’ retirement savings. The district court dismissed; the Sixth Circuit reversed. A unanimous Supreme Court vacated. ESOP fiduciaries are not entitled to any special presumption of prudence, but are subject to the same duty that applies to ERISA fiduciaries in general, except that they need not diversify the fund’s assets. There is no requirement that plaintiffs allege that the employer was, for example, on the “brink of collapse.” Where a stock is publicly traded, allegations that a fiduciary should have recognized, on the basis of publicly available information, that the market was over- or under-valuing the stock are generally implausible and insufficient to state a claim. To state a claim, a complaint must plausibly allege an alternative action that could have been taken, that would have been legal, and that a prudent fiduciary in the same circumstances would not have viewed as more likely to harm the fund than to help it. ERISA’s duty of prudence never requires a fiduciary to break the law, so a fiduciary cannot be imprudent for failing to buy or sell in violation of insider trading laws. An allegation that fiduciaries failed to decide, based on negative inside information, to refrain from making additional stock purchases or failed to publicly disclose that information so that the stock would no longer be overvalued, requires courts to consider possible conflicts with complex insider trading and corporate disclosure laws. Courts confronted with such claims must also consider whether the complaint has plausibly alleged that a prudent fiduciary in the same position could not have concluded that stopping purchases or publicly disclosing negative information would do more harm than good to the fund. View "Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer" on Justia Law

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Investors can recover damages in a private securities fraud action only with proof that they relied on misrepresentation in deciding to buy or sell stock. The Supreme Court held, in "Basic," that the requirement could be met by invoking a presumption that the price of stock traded in an efficient market reflects all public, material information, including material misrepresentations; a defendant can rebut the presumption by showing that the alleged misrepresentation did not actually affect the stock price. EPJ filed a putative class action, alleging misrepresentations designed to inflate Halliburton’s stock price, in violation of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and SEC Rule 10b–5. The Supreme Court vacated denial of class certification, concluding that securities fraud plaintiffs need not prove causal connection between the alleged misrepresentations and their economic losses at the class certification stage. On remand, Halliburton argued that certification was nonetheless inappropriate because it had shown that alleged misrepresentations had not affected stock price. Without that presumption, investors would have to prove reliance on an individual basis, so that individual issues would predominate over common ones and class certification was inappropriate under FRCP 23(b)(3). The district court certified the class. The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated and remanded, while declining to reject the Basic presumption. The Court rejected arguments that “a robust view of market efficiency” is no longer tenable in light of evidence that material, public information often is not quickly incorporated into stock prices and that investors do not invest in reliance on the integrity of market price. Congress could alter Basic’s presumption, given recent decisions construing Rule 10b–5 claims, but has not done so, although it has responded to other concerns. The Basic doctrine includes two presumptions: if a plaintiff shows that the misrepresentation was public and material and that the stock traded in a generally efficient market, there is a presumption that the misrepresentation affected price. If the plaintiff also shows that he purchased stock at market price during the relevant period, there is a presumption that he purchased in reliance on the misrepresentation. Requiring plaintiffs to prove price impact directly would take away the first presumption. Defendants, however, must have an opportunity to rebut the presumption of reliance before class certification with evidence of lack of price impact. That a misrepresentation has price impact is Basic’s fundamental premise and has everything to do with predominance. If reliance is to be shown by that presumption, the publicity and market efficiency prerequisites must be proved before certification. Because indirect evidence of price impact will be before the court at the class certification stage in any event, there is no reason to artificially limit the inquiry at that stage by excluding direct evidence of price impact. View "Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc." on Justia Law

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To safeguard investors and restore trust in financial markets after the Enron collapse, Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which provides that no public company nor any contractor or subcontractor of such a company, may discharge, demote, suspend, threaten, harass, or discriminate against an employee in the terms and conditions of employment because of whistleblowing activity, 18 U. S. C. 1514A(a). Plaintiffs are former employees of FMR, private companies that contract to advise or manage mutual funds. As is common in the industry, those mutual funds are public companies with no employees. Plaintiffs allege that they blew the whistle on putative fraud relating to the mutual funds and suffered retaliation by FMR. FMR argued that the Act protects only employees of public companies, and not employees of private companies that contract with public companies. The district court denied FMR’s motion to dismiss. The First Circuit reversed, concluding that the term “an employee” refers only to employees of public companies. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, concluding that section 1514A’s whistleblower protection includes employees of a public company’s private contractors and subcontractors. FMR’s interpretation would shrink the protection against retaliation by contractors to insignificance. The Court stated that its reading fits the goal of warding off another Enron debacle; fear of retaliation was the primary deterrent to reporting by the employees of Enron’s contractors. FMR’s reading would insulate the entire mutual fund industry from section 1514A. Virtually all mutual funds are structured to have no employees of their own and are managed, instead, by independent investment advisors. View "Lawson v. FMR LLC" on Justia Law

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The Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998, 15 U.S.C. 78bb(f)(1), forbids large securities class actions “based upon the statutory or common law of any State” in which plaintiffs allege “a misrepresentation or omission of a material fact in connection with the purchase or sale of a covered security,” and defines “covered security” to include only securities traded on a national exchange. Plaintiffs filed civil class actions under state law, contending that defendants helped Stanford and his companies perpetrate a Ponzi scheme by falsely representing that uncovered securities (certificates of deposit in Stanford Bank) were backed by covered securities. The district court dismissed, reasoning that, for purposes of the Act, the Bank’s misrepresentation that its holdings in covered securities made investments in its uncovered securities more secure provided the requisite “connection” between the state-law actions and transactions in covered securities. The Fifth Circuit reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Act does not preclude the state-law class action. The Court noted the Act’s basic focus on transactions in covered, not uncovered, securities, and that use of the phrase “material fact in connection with the purchase or sale” suggests a connection that matters. A connection matters where the misrepresentation makes a significant difference to someone’s decision to purchase or to sell a covered security, not an uncovered one; the “someone” making that decision must be a party other than the fraudster. The Act and the underlying Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and the Securities Act of 1933, are intended to protect investor confidence in the securities markets, not to protect persons whose connection with the statutorily defined securities is more remote than buying or selling. A broader interpretation of “connection” would interfere with state efforts to provide remedies for ordinary state-law frauds. This interpretation does not curtail the Securities and Exchange Commission’s enforcement powers under 15 U S.C. 78c(a)(10). The SEC brought successful actions against Stanford and his associates, based on the Bank’s fraudulent sales of certificates of deposit. View "Chadbourne & Parke LLP v. Troice" on Justia Law

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The Investment Advisers Act makes it illegal to defraud clients, 15 U.S.C. 10b–6(1),(2), and authorizes the Securities and Exchange Commission to bring enforcement actions against investment advisers and against individuals who aid and abet violations. If the SEC seeks civil penalties, it must file suit “within five years from the date when the claim first accrued,” 28 U. S. C. 2462. In 2008 the SEC sought civil penalties, alleging that individuals aided and abetted investment adviser fraud from 1999 until 2002. The district court dismissed the claim as time barred. The Second Circuit reversed, reasoning that the underlying violations sounded in fraud, so the “discovery rule” applied, and the limitations period did not begin to run until the SEC discovered or reasonably could have discovered the fraud. The Supreme Court reversed. The limitation period begins to run when the fraud occurs, not when it is discovered. In common parlance a right accrues when it comes into existence. The discovery rule is an exception to the standard rule and has never been applied where the plaintiff is not a defrauded victim seeking recompense, but is the government bringing an enforcement action for civil penalties. The government is a different kind of plaintiff. The SEC’s very purpose is to root out fraud. The discovery rule helps to ensure that the injured receive recompense, but civil penalties go beyond compensation and are intended to punish. Deciding when the government knew or reasonably should have known of a fraud would also present particular challenges for the courts. View "Gabelli v. Sec. & Exch. Comm'n" on Justia Law

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To recover damages in a private securities-fraud action under section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Securities and Exchange Commission Rule 10b–5, a plaintiff must prove reliance on a material misrepresentation or omission made by the defendant. The Supreme Court has endorsed a “fraud-on-the-market” theory, which permits plaintiffs to invoke a rebuttable presumption of reliance on public, material misrepresentations regarding securities traded in an efficient market. The theory facilitates the certification of securities-fraud class actions by permitting reliance to be proved on a class-wide basis. Connecticut Retirement sought FRCP 23(b)(3) certification of a securities-fraud class action against a biotechnology company (Amgen). The district court certified the class. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that Connecticut Retirement was required to prove materiality before class certification under Rule23(b)(3)’s requirement that “questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members.” The Supreme Court affirmed. Proof of materiality is not a prerequisite to certification of a securities-fraud class action. Materiality is judged by an objective standard and can be proved through evidence common to the class. Failure of proof of materiality would not result in individual questions predominating, but would end the case. A requirement that putative class representatives establish that they executed trades “between the time the misrepresentations were made and the time the truth was r¬vealed” relates primarily to typicality and adequacy of representation, not to the predominance inquiry. The Court rejected Amgen’s argument that, because of pressure to settle, materiality may never be addressed by a court if it is not evaluated at the class-certification stage. The potential immateriality of Amgen’s alleged misrepresentations and omissions was no barrier to finding that common questions predominate. View "Amgen Inc. v. CT Ret. Plans & Trust Funds" on Justia Law

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In 2007, respondent filed numerous actions under section 16(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. 78p(b), claiming that, in underwriting various initial public offerings in the late 1990's and 2000, petitioners and others inflated the stocks' aftermarket prices, allowing them to profit from the aftermarket sales. She also claimed that petitioners had failed to comply with section 16(a)'s requirement that insiders disclose any changes to their ownership in interests. That failure, according to respondent, tolled section 16(b)'s 2-year time period. The district court dismissed and the Ninth Circuit reversed, citing its decision in Whittaker v. Whittaker Corp. The Court held that, even assuming that the 2-year period could be extended, the Ninth Circuit erred in determining that it was tolled until a section 16(a) statement was filed. The text of section 16(b) simply did not support the Whittaker rule. The rule was also not supported by the background rule of equitable tolling for fraudulent concealment. Accordingly, the Court vacated the judgment of the Ninth Circuit and remanded for further proceedings. View "Credit Suisse Securities (USA) LLC v. Simmonds" on Justia Law

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Respondent, First Derivative Traders, representing a class of stockholders in petitioner Janus Capital Group, Inc. ("JCG"), filed a private action under the Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC") Rule 10b-5, alleging that JCG and its wholly owned subsidiary, petitioner Janus Capital Management LLC ("JCM"), made false statements in mutual funds prospectuses filed by Janus Investment Fund, for which JCM was the investment adviser and administrator, and that those statements affected the price of JCG's stock. Although JCG created Janus Investment Fund, it was a separate legal entity owned entirely by mutual fund investors. At issue was whether JCM, a mutual fund investment adviser, could be held liable in a private action under Rule 10b-5 for false statements included in its client mutual funds' prospectuses. The Court held that, because the false statements included in the prospectuses were made by Janus Investment Fund, not by JCM, JCM and JCG could not be held liable in a private action under Rule 10b-5. The Court found that, although JCM could have been significantly involved in preparing the prospectuses, it did not itself "make" the statements at issue for Rule 10b-5 purposes where its assistance in crafting what was said was subject to Janus Investment Fund's ultimate control. Accordingly, respondent had not stated a claim against JCM under Rule 10b-5 and the judgment of the Fourth Circuit was reversed.