Justia Securities Law Opinion Summaries
United States v. Wilkinson
In 1999-2016, Wilkinson convinced approximately 30 people to invest $13.5 million in two hedge funds that he created. By 2008, Wilkinson lost the vast majority of their money. Wilkinson told them that the funds’ assets included a $12 million note with an Australian hedge fund, Pengana. The “Pengana Note” did not exist. Wilkinson provided fraudulent K-1 federal income tax forms showing that the investments had interest payments on the Pengana Note. To pay back suspicious investors, Wilkinson solicited about $3 million from new investors using private placement memoranda (PPMs) falsely saying that Wilkinson intended to use their investments “to trade a variety of stock indexes and options, futures, and options on futures on such stock indexes on a variety of national securities and futures exchanges.” In 2016, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission filed a civil enforcement action against Wilkinson, 7 U.S.C. 6p(1).Indicted under 18 U.S.C. 1341, 1343, Wilkinson pleaded guilty to wire fraud, admitting that he sent fraudulent K-1 forms and induced investment of $115,000 using fraudulent PPMs. The court applied a four-level enhancement because the offense “involved … a violation of commodities law and ... the defendant was … a commodity pool operator,” U.S.S.G. 2B1.1(b)(20)(B). Wilkinson argued that he did not qualify as a commodity pool operator because he traded only broad-based indexes like S&P 500 futures, which fit the Commodity Exchange Act’s definition of an “excluded commodity,” “not based … on the value of a narrow group of commodities.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Wilkinson’s plea agreement and PSR established that Wilkinson was a commodity pool operator. View "United States v. Wilkinson" on Justia Law
Cavello Bay Reinsurance Ltd. v. Stein
The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of Cavello Bay's claims of securities fraud for failure to plead a domestic application of the law. The court assumed without deciding that the transaction was "domestic," and agreed with the district court that Cavello Bay's claims are predominantly foreign under Parkcentral Global HUB Ltd. v. Porsche Automobile Holdings SE, 763 F.3d 198 (2d Cir. 2014). In this case, the claims are based on a private agreement for a private offering between a Bermudan investor (Cavello Bay) and a Bermudan issuer (Spencer Capital); Cavello Bay purchased restricted shares in Spencer Capital in a private offering; and the shares reflect only an interest in Spencer Capital, and they are listed on no U.S. exchange and are not otherwise traded in the United States. The court explained that it is not enough for Cavello Bay to allege that Spencer Capital made a misstatement from New York (through defendant); planned to use the funds to invest in U.S. insurance services; had its principal place of business and CEO and directors in New York; and was managed by a U.S. company. The court concluded that the contacts that matter are those that relate to the purchase and sale of securities. View "Cavello Bay Reinsurance Ltd. v. Stein" on Justia Law
Morris v. Spectra Energy Partners
After a $3.3 billion “roll up” of minority-held units involving a merger between Enbridge, Inc. and Spectra Energy Partners L.P. (“SEP”), Paul Morris, a former SEP minority unitholder, lost standing to litigate an alleged $661 million derivative suit on behalf of SEP against its general partner, Spectra Energy Partners (DE) GP, LP (“SEP GP”). Morris repeated the derivative claim dismissal by filing a new class action complaint that alleged the Enbridge/SEP merger exchange ratio was unfair because SEP GP agreed to a merger that did not reflect the material value of his derivative claims. The Court of Chancery granted SEP GP’s motion to dismiss the new complaint for lack of standing. The court held that, to have standing to bring a post-merger claim, Morris had to allege a viable and material derivative claim that the buyer would not assert and provided no value for in the merger. Focusing on the materiality requirement, the court first discounted the $661 million recovery to $112 million to reflect the public unitholders’ beneficial interest in the derivative litigation recovery. The court then discounted the $112 million further to $28 million to reflect what the court estimated was a one in four chance of success in the litigation. After the discounting, the $28 million, less than 1% of the merger consideration, was immaterial to a $3.3 billion merger. On appeal, Morris argued the trial court should not have dismissed the plaintiff’s direct claims for lack of standing. After its review, the Delaware Supreme Court agreed with Morris finding that, on a motion to dismiss for lack of standing, he sufficiently pled a direct claim attacking the fairness of the merger itself for SEP GP’s failure to secure value for his pending derivative claims. The Court of Chancery’s judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Morris v. Spectra Energy Partners" on Justia Law
Securities & Exchange Commission v. Johnston
The First Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law and for a new trial in this civil enforcement action brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission, holding that the evidence was sufficient to support the verdict.At issue was whether Defendant, the CFO of AVEO Pharmaceuticals, knowingly misled investors by the manner in which he responded to investor inquiries about the substance of AVEO's discussions with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the results of AVEO's clinical trial for tivozanib, a kidney cancer drug candidate. A jury found against Defendant. On appeal, Defendant argued (1) he was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because he had no duty to disclose the substance of the FDA discussions and because the evidence of scienter was insufficient, and (2) he was entitled to a new trial because the district court improperly instructed the jury. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the evidence of fraud and scienter was sufficient to support the verdict; and (2) the challenged instructions were not given in error. View "Securities & Exchange Commission v. Johnston" on Justia Law
Porsche Automobile Holding SE v. John Hancock Life Insurance Co.
The First Circuit affirmed the decisions of the district court in these appeals challenging the court's discretionary rulings in connection with a request under 28 U.S.C. 1782 to conduct court-ordered discovery for use in a foreign proceeding, holding that the district court did not err or abuse its discretion.The foreign proceeding at issue was one of approximately 200 separate securities fraud actions brought in 2016 against Porsche Automobile Holding SE in Germany. The actions stemmed from Porsche's alleged malfeasance in connection with "defeat devices" employed to circumvent emissions testing in certain diesel vehicles manufactured by Volkswagen AG. The district court granted in part Porsche's request for discovery in the United States from affiliates of John Hancock funds who were plaintiffs in the German actions. The First Circuit affirmed the district court's orders denying the Hancock plaintiffs' motion to intervene and denying in part the Hancock affiliates' motion to quash, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion. View "Porsche Automobile Holding SE v. John Hancock Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Ahmasuk v. Division of Banking and Securities
The Alaska Division of Banking and Securities civilly fined Sitnasuak Native Corporation shareholder Austin Ahmasuk for submitting a newspaper opinion letter about Sitnasuak’s shareholder proxy voting procedures without filing that letter with the Division as a shareholder proxy solicitation. Ahmasuk filed an agency appeal, arguing that the Division wrongly interpreted its proxy solicitation regulation to cover his letter and violated his constitutional due process and free speech rights. An administrative law judge upheld the Division’s sanction in an order that became the final agency decision, and the superior court upheld that decision in a subsequent appeal. Ahmasuk raised his same arguments on appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court. After review, the Supreme Court concluded Ahmasuk’s opinion letter was not a proxy solicitation under the Division’s controlling regulations, therefore reversing the superior court’s decision upholding the Division’s civil sanction against Ahmasuk without reaching the constitutional arguments. View "Ahmasuk v. Division of Banking and Securities" on Justia Law
Securities and Exchange Commission v. Marin
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed separate district court orders directing defendant and MinTrade to comply with SEC subpoenas for the production of documentary evidence and testimony. The court held that the district court properly exercised personal jurisdiction over defendant in the Southern District of Florida. As to MinTrade, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in not holding an evidentiary hearing. On the merits, the court held that neither district court abused its considerable discretion in concluding that the subpoenas were relevant to a legitimate investigation into possible violations of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. View "Securities and Exchange Commission v. Marin" on Justia Law
Lathigee v. British Columbia Securities Commission
The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's decision to recognize and enforce in Nevada the disgorgement portion of a securities-fraud judgment from British Columbia, holding that the district court properly recognized the disgorgement judgment.On appeal, Appellant argued that the disgorgement judgment was in the nature of a fine or penalty, and therefore, it should not be enforced outside Canada. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) the British Columbia judgment did not constitute an unenforceable penalty because the primary purpose of the disgorgement award was remedial in nature, not penal; and (2) even crediting the argument that Nev. Rev. Stat. 17.740(2)(b) takes the disgorgement judgment outside Nev. Rev. Stat. 17.750(1)'s mandatory recognition provisions, the district court properly recognized it as a matter of comity. View "Lathigee v. British Columbia Securities Commission" on Justia Law
Ahders v. SEI Private Trust Co.
This case arises out of R. Allen Stanford's Ponzi scheme. Plaintiffs filed suit against SEI and SEI's insurers, seeking to hold SEI liable under the control-person provision of Louisiana Securities Law. In this case, plaintiffs allege that SEI is liable for STC's violations under the control-person provision of Louisiana Securities Law based on SEI's contractual relationship with STC.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to SEI and its insurers, holding that SEI was not a control person under the statute. The court need not determine whether the investors must establish that SEI had control over STC's day-to-day operations because plaintiffs fail to demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact that SEI directly or indirectly controlled STC's primary violations. Because the district court properly granted summary judgment to SEI, the court also affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on all claims against the insurers. View "Ahders v. SEI Private Trust Co." on Justia Law
United States Securities and Exchange Commission v. Alpine Securities Corp.
The SEC filed a civil enforcement action against Alpine, a registered broker-dealer specializing in penny stocks and micro-cap securities, claiming that Alpine's failure to comply with the reporting requirements for filing Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) violated the reporting, recordkeeping, and record retention obligations under Section 17(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (Exchange Act), and Rule 17a-8 promulgated thereunder. The district court granted in part and denied in part the SEC's motion for summary judgment and denied Alpine's motion for summary judgment.The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, holding that the SEC has authority to enforce Section 17(a) of the Exchange Act through this civil action; Rule 17a-8, which requires compliance with Bank Secrecy Act requirements, is a reasonable interpretation of Section 17(a); Rule 17a-8 does not violate the Administrative Procedure Act; the district court did not err in granting summary judgment with respect to the SARs; and, in imposing the civil penalty, the district court did not abuse its discretion. View "United States Securities and Exchange Commission v. Alpine Securities Corp." on Justia Law