Justia Securities Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Smykla v. Molinaroli
Johnson, a Wisconsin company, merged with Tyco, an Irish company. The combined entity, Johnson International, is domiciled in Ireland. The merger's terms were disclosed in a joint proxy statement/prospectus filed with the SEC, along with the opinions of financial advisors that the merger was overall “fair.” The statement stated that the market price of the shares would fluctuate. Each share of Johnson’s common stock would be, at the election of the shareholder, either converted into an ordinary share of International or cashed out; either would be a taxable transaction. Johnson shareholders were expected to own approximately 56% of International to prevent triggering 26 U.S.C. 7874: when a domestic corporation is acquired by a foreign entity, but its former shareholders retain at least 60% of the stock, the expatriated entity must pay “inversion gain” taxes. The Treasury Department had announced proposed regulations that affected how Johnson’s equity would be calculated, eliminating the tax benefits of the “reverse merger.” The proxy statement warned that if those regulations were finalized, the tax benefits would not be realized. Johnson shareholders voted in favor of the merger.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a putative class action, alleging that the defendants breached their fiduciary duties and wrongfully structured the merger as taxable for Johnson’s former shareholders. “Although plaintiffs allege that they are not challenging the business and financial merits of the merger, their arguments boil down to a demand for a better deal;” they failed to allege any materially misleading statements or omissions. View "Smykla v. Molinaroli" on Justia Law
United States v. Bases
Pacilio and Bases were senior traders on the precious metals trading desk at Bank of America. While working together in 2010-2011, and at times separately before and after that period, they engaged in “spoofing” to manipulate the prices of precious metals using an electronic trading platform, that allows traders to place buy or sell orders on certain numbers of futures contracts at a set price. It is assumed that every order is bona fide and placed with “intent to transact.” Spoofing consists of placing a (typically) large order, on one side of the market with intent to trade, and placing a spoof order, fully visible but not intended to be traded, on the other side. The spoof order pushes the market price to benefit the other order, allowing the trader to get the desired price. The spoof order is canceled before it can be filled.Pacilio and Bases challenged the constitutionality of their convictions for wire fraud affecting a financial institution and related charges, the sufficiency of the evidence, and evidentiary rulings relating to testimony about the Exchange’s and bank prohibitions on spoofing to support the government’s implied misrepresentation theory. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The defendants had sufficient notice that their spoofing scheme was prohibited by law. View "United States v. Bases" on Justia Law
Divane v. Northwestern University
Participating employees can contribute a portion of their salary to their Retirement Plan account and Northwestern makes a matching contribution. Employees participating in the Voluntary Savings Plan also contribute a portion of their salary, but Northwestern does not make a matching contribution. Both plans allow participants to choose the investments for their accounts from options assembled by the plans’ fiduciaries. Northwestern is the administrator and designated fiduciary of both plans. The plaintiffs sued Northwestern under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1001 (ERISA).The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit in 2020. The Supreme Court rejected the Seventh Circuit's reliance on a “categorical rule” that providing some low-cost options eliminates concerns about other investment options being imprudent. On remand, the Seventh Circuit reinstated claims that Northwestern failed to monitor and incurred excessive recordkeeping fees and failed to swap out retail shares for cheaper but otherwise identical institutional shares. The court again affirmed the dismissal of other claims, including a claim that Northwestern retained duplicative funds. View "Divane v. Northwestern University" on Justia Law
Joy Global Inc. v. Columbia Casualty Co.
Joy Global and Komatsu agreed to merge. Joy sent its investors disclosures required under the Securities Exchange Act, 15 U.S.C. 78n. Subsequent suits contended that Joy violated the Act by not disclosing some internal projections of Joy’s future growth that could have been used to negotiate a higher price, rendering the proxy statements fraudulent, and that Joy’s directors violated their state law duties by not maximizing the price for the shareholders. The suits settled for $21 million.The district court held that the $21 million loss is not covered by insurance. The policies do not require indemnification for “any amount of any judgment or settlement of any Inadequate Consideration Claim other than Defense Costs.” An “inadequate consideration claim” is that part of any Claim alleging that the price or consideration paid or proposed to be paid for the acquisition or completion of the acquisition of all or substantially all the ownership interest in or assets of an entity is inadequate.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The suits assert the wrongful act of failing to disclose documents that could have been used to seek a higher price and are within the definition of “inadequate consideration claim.” The claims do not identify any false or deficient disclosures about anything other than the price. The only objection to this merger was that Joy should have held out for more money, and that revealing this would have induced the investors to vote “no.” View "Joy Global Inc. v. Columbia Casualty Co." on Justia Law
Daneshrad v. Trean Group, LLC
Traders set up accounts with Trean, a Chicago Mercantile Exchange introducing broker, managing the customer side of the futures-trading business. Stone handled the trading side. The traders engaged in naked trading—speculating rather than hedging. Stone set a high margin accordingly. Stone was a principal in all trades and, with the clearing house bore, the immediate economic risk; Trean guaranteed Stone’s positions and shared in its commissions. The market did not cooperate. Trean learned that the traders had not met Stone’s margin call and were not cooperating with Stone. Trean told the traders that it would close their accounts but that they were free to deal directly with Stone. Stone thereafter prohibited any trades that would increase the holdings’ net risk. The traders liquidated. Of the $1,020,000 with which they began, they lost $548,000.The traders sued, contending that their contract with Trean did not allow it to cease dealing with them for the reason given and that Trean’s decision led Stone to impose unacceptable conditions. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Trean. Regardless of whether Trean was entitled to end its dealings with the traders, no reasonable jury could find that Trean injured them. Trean’s decision did not affect the value of their futures contracts; they did not have a greater loss than they would have by moving their accounts to a different introducing broker and retaining Stone. View "Daneshrad v. Trean Group, LLC" on Justia Law
United States v. Armbruster
Armbruster, a CPA with experience working at a Big Four accounting firm, began serving as the controller for Roadrunner's predecessor in 1990 and became Roadrunner’s CFO. Roadrunner grew rapidly, acquiring transportation companies and going public in 2010. In 2014, Roadrunner’s then‐controller recognized shortcomings in a subsidiary's (Morgan) accounting and began investigating. In 2016, many deficiencies in Morgan’s accounting remained unresolved. The departing controller found that Morgan had inflated its balance sheet by at least $2 million and perhaps as much as $4–5 million. Armbruster filed Roadrunner's 2016 third quarter SEC Form 10‐Q with no adjustments of the carrying values of Morgan balance sheet items and including other misstatements. Roadrunner’s CEO learned of the misstatements and informed Roadrunner’s Board of Directors. Roadrunner informed its independent auditor. Roadrunner’s share price dropped significantly. Roadrunner filed restated financial statements, reporting a decrease of approximately $66.5 million in net income over the misstated periods.Criminal charges were brought against Armbruster and two former departmental controllers. A mixed verdict acquitted the departmental controllers on all counts but convicted Armbruster on four of 11 charges for knowingly falsifying Roadrunner‘s accounting records by materially misstating the carrying values of Morgan's receivable and prepaid taxes account, 15 U.S.C. 78m(b)(2), (5), i78ff(a), 18 U.S.C. 2, fraudulently influencing Roadrunner’s external auditor, and filing fraudulent SEC financial statements, 18 U.S.C.1348. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. While the case against Armbruster may not have been open‐and‐shut, a rational jury could have concluded that the government presented enough evidence to support the guilty verdicts. View "United States v. Armbruster" on Justia Law
Barry v. Cboe Global Markets, Inc.
The Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing Plaintiffs' amended complaint against Cboe with prejudice and entering a judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(b) wrapping up litigation against Cboe involving claims under the Securities Exchange Act and the Commodity Exchange Act, holding there was no error.At issue was whether Cboe violated either Act by trading options and futures based on a number, called VIX, which was designed to estimate the near-term volatility in the Standard & Poors 500 Index of stocks. Plaintiff-traders argued that the Cboe knew that unknown entities could take advantage of the formula for determining VIX on the settlement dates and failed to enforce rules forbidding manipulation. The district court dismissed the amended complaint with prejudice. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that remedies, if any were appropriate, lay with administrative agencies rather than the judiciary at the behest of private litigants. View "Barry v. Cboe Global Markets, Inc." on Justia Law
Securities and Exchange Commission v. Goulding
Goulding, an accountant and lawyer, has a history of mail fraud and tax fraud. Goulding formed 15 funds that hired Nutmeg’s advisory services, which he managed. The funds invested in illiquid securities, many of which were close to insolvent. Gould wrote all of the disclosure documents, which overvalued the funds. Goulding made baseless statements about increases in value. Goulding did not use outside advisors and engaged in commingling, holding some securities in his own name.The Securities and Exchange Commission charged Goulding under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, 15 U.S.C. 80b, with running Nutmeg through a pattern of fraud, including touting his supposed financial expertise while failing to disclose his crimes, in addition to violating the Act’s technical rules. The district court issued an injunction removing Goulding from the business and appointing a receiver. A magistrate judge enjoined Goulding from violating the securities laws, required him to disgorge $642,422 (plus interest), and imposed a $642,422 civil penalty. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the finding of liability and the financial awards. The extent of Goulding’s wrongdoing makes it hard to determine his net unjustified withdrawals; as the wrongdoer, he bears the consequence of uncertainty. The restitution reflects a conservative estimate of Goulding’s ill-got gains. Nor did the judge err by declining to trace funds from their source to Goulding’s pocket. View "Securities and Exchange Commission v. Goulding" on Justia Law
United States v. Weller
Weller was convicted of insider trading, Securities Exchange Act, 15 U.S.C. 78j(b). Fleming, a vice president of Life Time Fitness, had learned that his company was likely to be acquired by a private equity firm at an above-market price. Fleming told a friend, Beshey, who told Clark and Kourtis (who knew that the information had been misappropriated), who told others, including Weller. Most of them profited by trading on the information and showed their appreciation by “kickbacks.”Weller unsuccessfully argued that he did not know that Fleming violated a duty to his employer by passing the information to Beshey and that the government did not prove a financial benefit to Fleming. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his convictions. Although Weller did not interact with all of the others, he did conspire with at least Kourtis to misuse material non-public information for their own benefit. The court upheld Weller’s 366-day below-Guidelines sentence, noting that Weller profited more than the others. View "United States v. Weller" on Justia Law
Arbitrage Event-Driven Fund v. Tribune Media Co.
Tribune and Sinclair announced an agreement to merge. Tribune abandoned the merger and sued Sinclair, accusing it of failing to comply with its contractual commitment to “use reasonable best efforts” to satisfy the demands of the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department and the FCC, both of which could block the merger. Sinclair settled that suit for $60 million; the settlement disclaims liability. While the merger agreement was in place, investors bought and sold Tribune’s stock. In this class action investors alleged violations of the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 by failing to disclose that Sinclair was “playing hardball with the regulators,” increasing the risk that the merger would be stymied.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The principal claims, which rest on the 1934 Act, failed under the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Questionable statements, such as predictions that the merger was likely to proceed, were forward-looking and shielded from liability because Tribune expressly cautioned investors about the need for regulatory approval and the fact that the merging firms could prove unwilling to do what regulators sought, 15 U.S.C. 78u–5(c)(1)..With respect to the 1933 Act, the registration statement and prospectus through which the shares were offered stated all of the material facts. The relevant “hardball” actions occurred after the plaintiffs purchased shares. “Plaintiffs suppose that, during a major corporate transaction, managers’ thoughts must be an open book." No statute or regulation requires that. View "Arbitrage Event-Driven Fund v. Tribune Media Co." on Justia Law