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Federal Securities Law Blog

Information on federal securities laws, news and developments

Whistleblowers wanted; Holder seeks increased compensation for financial crime informants

Posted in Corporate Governance, Whistleblower Issues

In the first major public comment about white collar crime in more than a year, the Department of Justice (DOJ) called for an increase in compensation for whistleblowers under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act (FIRREA). Senior DOJ officials, in three separate speeches, appealed to whistleblowers to come forward with information about crimes and suggested that compensation levels were too low to entice executives in the financial industry to report wrongdoing.

Attorney General Eric Holder, while speaking at New York University, suggested that Congress increase awards in cases involving banks and financial institutions. Under current law, FIRREA caps whistleblower awards at $1.6 million. Holder noted that under the False Claims Act (FCA), tipsters who provide information to law enforcement concerning wrongdoing can receive compensation at a level of 25 percent to 30 percent of the recovery received by the government.

Holder cited that in an industry that included a collective bonus pool of $26 billion and a median executive pay of $15 million, a “paltry” windfall of $1.6 million is “unlikely to induce an employee to risk his or her lucrative career in the financial sector.” Holder suggested that increased awards could improve the DOJ’s ability to gather evidence of wrongdoing “while complex financial crimes are still in progress — making it easier to complete investigations and to stop misconduct before it becomes so widespread that it foments into the next crisis.” Continue Reading

Sixth Circuit case specifies additional language required in indemnification survival clauses in M&A agreements

Posted in Executive Officer Matters, General Business News, Shareholder News

A recent Sixth Circuit case, interpreting Ohio law, found that a merger agreement stating that the representations and warranties “shall survive…the Closing until… the second anniversary date of the Closing…,” without more, was not sufficient to modify the statute of limitations for breach of contract claims related to the merger agreement. Fortunately, this issue can be remedied in merger agreements with the addition of a provision expressly limiting when “actions,” “demands” or “claims” may be brought.

This article describes the Sixth Circuit case in greater detail and provides a sample contract provision that M&A parties can add to their M&A agreements to ensure that courts will respect the parties’ intent to modify the statute of limitations in the survival clause of the agreement.

Background of the Sixth Circuit case

Escue v. Sequent, Inc., 2014 FED App. 0412N (6th Cir. 2014), involved the acquisition of Better Business Solutions of Alabama, Inc. (“Better Business”) by Sequent, Inc. pursuant to a stock for stock merger that closed Jan. 1, 2007. On Dec. 18, 2008, the plaintiff, the sole shareholder of Better Business, sent a letter to the defendant corporation stating that he intended to sue the defendant corporation for breaching its representations and warranties. However, the lawsuit was not filed until September 2009. Continue Reading

Late Form 4s aren’t just embarrassing anymore

Posted in Corporate Governance, SEC Enforcement Cases, SEC News

Yesterday, the SEC announced penalties totaling approximately $2.6 million against directors, officers, beneficial owners and issuers for failure to promptly report information about holdings and transactions in company stock.

The primary enforcement weapon for these types of failures historically has been public shaming: Rule 405 of Regulation S-K requires issuers to identify insiders who failed to file Section 16 reports on time during the previous year. But, apparently, based on yesterday’s announcement, the SEC also will levy fines against issuers and individual insiders for chronic filing failures.

Settled fines for individuals ranged from approximately $25,000 to $100,000. Six publicly-traded companies settled claims that they contributed to the filing delinquencies of their insiders and paid fines ranging from $75,000 to $150,000.

U.S. Commerce Department acknowledges that conflict minerals are too hard to track

Posted in Dodd-Frank Act, SEC News

According to a Wall Street Journal article reported by Emily Chasen, Senior Editor at The Wall Street Journal‘s CFO Journal, on Sept. 5, 2014, the U.S. Commerce Department acknowledged “it cannot determine which refiners and smelters around the world are financially fueling violence in the war-torn Congo region.”

The WSJ article noted that companies including Intel Corp. and Apple have spent a substantial amount of time and millions of dollars “investigating their supply chains to figure out which components might contain gold, tin, tungsten and tantalum from mining operations blamed for funding armed militia groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” According to Tom Quaadman, vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness, “[a]t the end of the day, the conflict minerals rule creates the worst outcome — it has not helped lessen the conflicts in the Congo and creates economic harm in the U.S.”

The SEC final rules on conflict minerals, adopted Aug. 22, 2012, pursuant to Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, require companies to publicly disclose their use of conflict minerals that originated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or an adjoining country. See SEC Adopts Final Rules for Disclosing Use of Conflict Minerals (posted Aug. 24, 2012). Additionally, the conflict mineral rules have been the subject of much litigation during the past two years, which has provided no clarity to companies as to their compliance obligations.

Editor’s note: Though the basis for the conflict mineral rules is a worthy and noble exercise, the execution has been costly and time-consuming for U.S. companies with very little benefit. If the U.S. Commerce Department cannot track the source of these minerals, how can companies be expected to do the same to comply with the disclosure rules? The SEC needs to step back and reassess the cost-benefit of the conflict mineral disclosure obligations.

Porter Wright launches Antitrust Law Source

Posted in Antitrust, Porter Wright News

We wanted to take a moment to announce our newest endeavor, Antitrust Law Source. Antitrust Law Source is a new site designed for visitors to quickly and easily learn about developments in this growing arena. The site will focus primarily on news and legal updates related to antitrust in a podcasting format. The podcasts will feature a variety of insights, educational offerings, discussions and interviews with thought leaders across a variety of industries.

The site is prepared by members of our firm’s Antitrust Practice Group and will feature news and information on a range of areas, including:

  • Agriculture
  • Civil litigation
  • Compliance programs/audits
  • Consumer protection
  • Criminal and civil government enforcement
  • Distribution, pricing and promotional allowance programs
  • Healthcare
  • Intellectual property/Technology
  • International issues
  • Legislative matters
  • Mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures
  • Privacy and data security

We encourage you to share your thoughts with us.

Merging? Making an acquisition? Be careful out there.

Posted in Antitrust, Corporate Governance

Almost 40 years ago, Congress passed the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976 (the “HSR Act”). The HSR Act provided a mechanism pursuant to which parties to an acquisition of assets or voting securities would be required, if certain thresholds were met, to file a notification form with the antitrust enforcement agencies — the Federal Trade Commission (the FTC”) and the Department of Justice, Antitrust Division (the DOJ) — and observe a waiting period before they consummated the transaction. The HSR Act empowered the FTC to promulgate rules and regulations governing the circumstances under which the parties would be required to submit an HSR Act filing.

The HSR Act rules and regulations are extensive and extremely complex; therefore, it is prudent for investors — both companies and individual — to have compliance procedures in place to ensure compliance with the HSR Act. Every so often, the FTC reminds us of this fact when it brings an enforcement action to penalize those who do not abide by their rules and regulations. That happened last week with an action, and consent decree, filed against Berkshire Hathaway. Continue Reading

SEC adopts money market fund reform

Posted in SEC News

On July 23, 2014, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced that it adopted amendments to the rules governing money market mutual funds. Read a copy of the final rules.

These amendments complete some long-awaited steps to make structural and operational reforms to address risks of investor runs in money market funds to address investor runs out of funds as occurred during the 2008 financial crisis. Specifically, the new rules require institutional prime money market funds to value the funds on a floating net asset value rather than a fixed $1 share price. Additionally, the rules allow money market funds boards to impose liquidity fees and redemption gates during periods of financial stress.

The final rules provide a two-year transition period to enable both funds and investors time to fully adjust their systems, operations and investing practices.

Should entrepreneurs care about crowdfunding? It depends on the crowd.

Posted in Executive Officer Matters, General Business News, JOBS Act, SEC News

It has been more than two years since the JOBS Act was passed and almost nine months since the SEC proposed crowdfunding rules — but still no final rules. Should entrepreneurs care? Probably not. The proposed SEC rules are burdensome. The rules limit the total amount raised to $1 million in any rolling 12-month period, and moderate-income investors would be limited to a $5,000 investment (at the most). Additional proposed rules require audited financials (for some offerings), limits on advertising, and filings with the SEC, among other requirements. Entrepreneurs with great ideas should not settle for these types of investments.

Crowdfunding for accredited investors already exists, and it may fill an important funding gap for growing businesses that have not attracted angel investors and are not ready for venture capital or private equity. Not all startups are tech based, and not all angel investors in a particular entrepreneur’s community know what a good investment looks like. But a well-curated accredited crowdfunding platform can provide exposure to a lot of potential accredited investors. Continue Reading

Citigroup’s $7 billion settlement allows them to “focus on the future”

Posted in General Business News, Market Crisis Cases, Shareholder News

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Citigroup announced today that Citigroup will pay
$7 billion to settle a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation into allegations that it defrauded investors by selling shoddy mortgages ahead of the financial crisis. The civil settlement does not rule out future criminal charges again Citigroup or individual employees. Citigroup stock rose 1.49% Monday in early trading following the announcements.

Citigroup will pay a $4 billion civil penalty to the DOJ, $500 million to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and will set aside $2.5 billion in “consumer relief” to assist struggling mortgage holders. The settlement covers not only residential mortgage-backed securities but also collateral debt obligations (CDOs) issued between 2003 and 2008. The relief to consumers will include Citigroup receiving credit for modifying mortgages for struggling borrowers. The settlement marks a reversal from mid-June when the DOJ had threatened filing suit unless Citigroup significantly raised its offer. Continue Reading

Beware of antitrust laws’ extraterritorial reach

Posted in General Business News, Trends

In an increasingly global economy, it is becoming more and more common for a product to be sold outside of the U.S., yet find its way back into the states, either as a resale product or as part of a finished downstream product. The question then becomes, does U.S. antitrust law apply to that foreign sale? The answer largely depends on the scope of the Foreign Trade Antitrust Improvements Act (FTAIA), the law that governs such conduct. Not surprisingly, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and plaintiffs’ bar have been pushing for an expansive reading of the law, so more such sales would be governed by American antitrust law. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals just gave them a boost in a case recently decided — Lotes Co., Ltd. v. Hon Hai Precision Industry, Co., Ltd. A quick background on FTAIA and the Lotes case will help you understand why all of this matters to you.

Background

The FTAIA governs the extraterritorial reach of U.S. antitrust laws. Its original, ostensible purpose was to limit the extraterritorial reach, so the U.S. did not play the role of a global antitrust cop. According to the FTAIA, any non-domestic commerce that is not a direct import to the U.S. is outside the scope of U.S. antitrust laws — unless the foreign sale:

(a) has a “direct, substantial, and reasonably foreseeable effect” on the U.S. domestic market or the U.S. export market and

(b) “gives rise to” an antitrust claim by the plaintiff.

 The problem, though, is the definition of the terms “direct” and “substantial” and they are at the heart of an interpretative debate among the federal courts of appeals. Continue Reading