Wednesday, July 27, 2016
Just in case you haven't gotten the message yet: Delaware law means fiduciary duty freedom of contract for alternative entities. In May 2016, the Delaware Chancery Court upheld a waiver of fiduciary duties in a master limited partnership. In Employees Retirement System of the City of St. Louis v. TC Pipelines GP, Inc., Vice Chancellor Glasscock upheld challenges to an interested transaction (sale of a pipeline asset to an affiliated entity) that was reviewed, according to the partnership agreement, by a special committee and found to be fair and reasonable. The waiver has been described as "ironclad" to give you a sense of how straight forward this decision was. No close call here.
Vice Chancellor Glasscock's letter opinion starts:
Delaware alternative entity law is explicitly contractual;1 it allows parties to eschew a corporate-style suite of fiduciary duties and rights, and instead to provide for modified versions of such duties and rights—or none at all—by contract. This custom approach can be value enhancing, but only if the parties are held to their bargain. Where equity holders in such entities have provided for such a custom menu of rights and duties by unambiguous contract language, that language must control judicial review of entity transactions, subject only to the cautious application of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Such is the case in the instant matter, which involves a master limited partnership (“MLP”) created with interested transactions involving the general partner as part of its business model.....
The Defendants point out that the [transaction] was approved by a special committee (the “Conflicts Committee”), which approval, in accordance with the partnership agreement, creates a conclusive presumption that the transaction is fair and reasonable to the Partnership. I find that the Conflicts Committee’s approval, in these circumstances, precludes judicial scrutiny of the substance of the transaction and grant the Defendants’ Motion.
Importantly, the contractual safe harbor for interested transactions established a process which, if followed, created a fair and reasonable transaction outside of judicial scrutiny and without recourse by the other partners. The court found that the partnership agreement precluded a good faith analysis of the Conflicts Committee's review and limited the court's review purely to matters of process.
The relevant portions of the Special Approval provision, importantly, are silent as to good faith.....According to the contractual language, the Special Approval of a duly constituted and fully informed Conflicts Committee is conclusive evidence that such transaction is fair and reasonable, and such approval is, therefore, preclusive of further judicial review. The Plaintiff does not allege that the Conflicts Committee was not duly constituted—that is, directors who are neither security holders nor employees or officers of the General Partner or its affiliates. Nor does the Plaintiff allege that the Conflicts Committee was not fully informed. Thus, the approval here is conclusive that the [transaction] is “fair and reasonable” to TCP. According to the explicit language of the LPA, when a conflicted transaction is deemed “fair and reasonable” by the terms of the agreement, such conflicted transaction is incapable of breaching the LPA.
Get the message? LOUD and CLEAR!
The opinion contains more analysis and excerpts of the relevant portions of partnership agreement. Look for an excerpt on this case in my ChartaCourse (electronic platform) Business Organizations casebook.
Tuesday, July 26, 2016
Anyone who reads this blog knows that I have issues with how people mess up the distinction between LLCs (limited liability companies) and corporations. In some instances, it is a subtle, likely careless, mistake. Other cases seem to be trolling me. Today, I present you such a case: Sky Cable, LLC v. Coley, 2016 WL 3926492 (W.D.Va., July 18, 2016). H/T: Jay D. Adkisson. The case describes the proceedings as follows:
DIRECTV asks the court to reverse-pierce the corporate veil and declare that Randy Coley is the alter ego of his three limited liability companies, such that the assets held by those LLCs are subject to the judgment in this case.
Okay, so claiming to pierce the "corporate veil" of an LLC is wrong (it doesn't have a "corporate" anything), but it's also exceedingly common for lawyers and courts to make such an assertion. This case takes the improper designation to the next level.
First, the court describes the LLCs in questios as "the Corporate Entities." It then goes on to discuss "Coley's limited liability companies." Ugh. The court further relates, "DIRECTV stated that in a forthcoming motion, it would ask the court to reverse-pierce the corporate veil given Coley's abuse of the corporate form." No such form, but perhaps we can now blame DIRECTV's counsel, in part, for this hot mess.
Here's the court's Legal Framework:
Generally, corporations are recognized as entities that are separate and distinct from their officers and stockholders. [Author's note: THERE ARE NO SHAREHOLDERS IN LLCS!] "But this concept of separate entity is merely a legal theory, 'introduced for purposes of convenience and to subserve the ends of justice,' and the courts 'decline to recognize [it] whenever recognition of the corporate form would extend the principle of incorporation "beyond its legitimate purposes and [would] produce injustices or inequitable consequences.' "" DeWitt Truck Brokers, Inc. v. W. Ray Flemming Fruit Co., 540 F.2d 681, 683 (4th Cir. 1976) (citations omitted). When appropriate, and " 'in furtherance of the ends of justice,' " a court may pierce the corporate veil and treat the corporation and its shareholders as one, id. (quoting 18 Am. Jur. 2d at 559), if it finds a corporation and its shareholders have misused or disregarded the corporate form, United States v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 926 F. Supp. 2d 794, 815 (E.D. Va. 2013). This is often referred to as an "alter ego theory."
The court continues: "Delaware courts take the corporate form and corporate formalities very seriously.... " Case Fin., Inc. v. Alden, No. CIV. A. 1184-VCP, 2009 WL 2581873, at *4 (Del. Ch. Aug. 21, 2009)." The opinion then states that veil piercing concepts"apply equally to limited liability companies which, like corporations, have a legal existence separate and distinct from its members." The concept may, but LLCs do not have to follow the same formalities as corporations to maintain separate existence. Even if veil piercing were appropriate here, the entire case continues to misstate the law of veil piercing LLCs. Note: Delaware courts do hold some blame here: Westmeyer v. Flynn, 382 Ill. App. 3d 952, 960, 889 N.E.2d 671, 678 (2008) ("[U]nder Delaware law, just as with a corporation, the corporate veil of an LLC may be pierced, where appropriate.").
Based on the opinion, it does seems as though the defendant here was being shady, at best, and perhaps outright fraudulent. I don't suggest that, based on the facts presented, the defendant shouldn't be held accountable for his debts. Still, in addition to the misstatements of the law, I am not sure veil piercing was necessary. As the court notes, "veil piercing is an equitable remedy and an extraordinary one, exercised only in exceptional circumstances "when 'necessary to promote justice.'" It seems to me, then, the court (and the plaintiff) should discuss other remedies first, relying only on veil piercing where "necessary."
As such, I'd like to see a discussion of fraudulent or improper transfer before veil piercing -- did the defendant improperly move assets that should have been available to the plaintiff into an entity? Before veil piercing three entities, it seems to me the court should determine what should have been available to the plaintiff -- if the answer is "nothing" then no amount of shady behavior should support veil piercing. If there should be assets, then the question should still be "which ones?" If the answer is all of the assets in all of then entities, then okay. But if the court is veil piercing three entities merely to ensure adequate recovery, that's an overreach, it seems to me. In addition, how about reviewing if there was actual fraud in how the defendant acted? That, too, could support recovery without the extraordinary veil piercing remedy.
Ultimately, it's possible the court got the outcome right here. But it clearly got the law wrong. A lot.
Monday, July 25, 2016
In a recent decision of the Tennessee Supreme Court, Keller v. Estate of Edward Stephen McRedmond, Tennessee adopted Delaware's direct-versus-derivative litigation analysis from Tooley v. Donaldson, Lufkin, & Jenrette, Inc., 845 A.2d 1031 (Del. 2004), displacing a previously applicable test (that from Hadden v. City of Gatlinburg, 746 S.W.2d 687 (Tenn. 1988)). Although this is certainly significant, I also find the case interesting as an example of the way that a court treats different types of claims that can arise in typical corporate governance controversies (especially in small family and other closely held businesses). This post covers both matters briefly.
The Keller case involves a family business eventually organized as a for-profit corporation under Tennessee law ("MBI"). As is so often the case, after the children take over the business, a schism develops in the family that results in a deadlock under a pre-existing shareholders' agreement. A court-ordered dissolution follows, and after a bidding process in which each warring side of the family bids, the trustee contracts to sell the assets of MBI to members of one of the two family factions as the higher bidder. These acquiring family members organize their own corporation to hold the transferred MBI assets ("New MBI") and assign their rights under the MBI asset purchase agreement to New MBI
Prior to the closing, the losing bidder family member, Louie, then an officer and director of MBI who ran part of its business (its grease business), solicited customers and employees, starved the MBI grease business, diverted business opportunities from MBI's grease business to a corporation he already had established (on the MBI property) to compete with MBI in that business sector, and engaged in other behavior disloyal to MBI. Louie's actions were alleged to have contravened a court order enforcing covenants in the MBI asset purchase agreement. They also were allegedly disloyal and constituted a breach of his fiduciary duty of loyalty to MBI. Finally, they constituted an alleged interference with New MBI's business relations.
Sunday, July 24, 2016
Saturday, July 23, 2016
It looks like the Fifth Circuit is becoming increasingly isolated.
After the Supreme Court decided Dura Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Broudo, 544 US 336 (2005), a circuit split developed as to how plaintiffs can satisfy the element of loss causation in a Section 10(b) action.
All circuits agree that loss causation can be shown via “corrective disclosures” – some kind of explicit communication to the market that prior statements were false, followed by a drop in stock price.
However, as I’ve discussed before, there has been an alternative theory that plaintiffs can use to show loss causation, even without an explicit corrective disclosure. The theory is usually described as “materialization of the risk.” It requires the plaintiff to show that the fraud concealed some condition or problem that, when revealed to the market, caused the stock price to drop, even if the market was not made aware that the losses were due to fraud. For example, a company may report a slowdown in sales, causing its stock price to fall, while concealing the fact that the slowdown was due to an earlier period of channel stuffing. By the time the channel stuffing is revealed, it may communicate no new information about the company’s prospects, so the stock price remains unmoved. Under a materialization of the risk theory, the price drop upon disclosure of the fall in sales would be sufficient to allege loss causation.
The Fifth Circuit has rejected materialization of the risk theory, requiring some kind of communication to the market that the earlier statements were false. The Ninth Circuit generally has done the same, but there’s enough wiggle room in its caselaw that it agreed to hear an interlocutory appeal in Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme, et al v. First Solar Incorporated, et al, No. 15-17282, to resolve the issue.
And this week, in Ohio Public Employees Ret. Sys. v. Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation et al. - the long-running crisis-era case alleging that Freddie Mac concealed its exposure to bad mortgage loans - the Sixth Circuit joined the vast majority of circuits in holding that materialization of the risk is sufficient to satisfy the element of loss causation (quietly glossing over earlier caselaw that had seemed to endorse the corrective disclosure standard). Among other things, the Sixth Circuit expressed concern that companies will easily be able to evade liability if liability is functionally predicated on a corporate confession of wrongdoing. That’s a reasonable concern: as Barbara A. Bliss, Frank Partnoy, and Michael Furchtgott have found, in the wake of Dura, corporations have adopted disclosure strategies aimed at masking the cause of stock price reactions, allowing them to reduce litigation risk. (I blogged about an earlier version of the paper here).
Friday, July 22, 2016
While the Olympics is sure to be heavily watched, the Games are not that lucrative for many of the participants. The average Olympian supposedly only makes around $20,000 a year from sponsorships and has significant travel, medical, and coaching costs.
For those who will be attending the SEALS Conference and are interested in crowdfunding, my co-blogger Joan Heminway is moderating a discussion group on "The Legal Aspects of Small Business Finance in the Crowdfunding Era" on Tuesday, August 9 from 9am-12pm, which promises to be interesting. Most of the Olympic athletes appear to be using gift-based crowdfunding, but in the SEALS discussion group, I will present on a proposal for firms to use equity crowdfunding in connection with building athletic communities that could include Olympic athletes.
Following on Joan's excellent post about networking letters, I wanted to share a few words about thank you letters.
- Level 1 — Email saying thanks for the time and insight.
- Level 2 — Level 1 + this is how your insight impacted my life.
- Level 3 — Handwritten thank you note.
- Level 4 — Level 3 + a small gift.
This seems right, and Kyle's entire post is well worth reading at the link above.
A mere thank you e-mail usually isn't worth much, but it is better than nothing (unless the thank you is typo-riddled, and then it might be worse than nothing). The e-mail is worth more if the author recounts meaningful specifics from your conversation or picks up on a way that he/she might be of assistance.
The handwritten note has made a comeback after interviews, but I don't think it has had the same resurgence after networking/advice meetings. This is a shame because generally the interviewer is just doing his or her job, while the person who is honoring your networking/advice request is usually the one bestowing a true gift. Due to the relative rarity, I think handwritten notes are even more appreciated after a networking/advice meeting than after an interview. For handwritten notes, I think it is worth investing in personalized stationery and trying to remember to send the notes right away so that the delay is not elongated.
As to small gifts, those obviously would not be appropriate after an interview, but might be a really nice touch after a networking/advice meeting. If any readers have good thoughts on appropriate small gifts, please share in the comments or over email. I have always had a hard time thinking of these kinds of gifts. Wine seems like a common choice, but it could be risky unless you know the person drinks alcohol.
Finally, this recent article in the Harvard Business Review entitled Stop Making Gratitude All About You struck a chord. The author suggests praising the recipient rather than just describing how the recipient benefited you or made you felt. Of course, praise should be sincere and can be overdone, but I think the author is onto something.
Thursday, July 21, 2016
Jamie Dimon (JP Morgan Chase), Warren Buffet (Berkshire Hathaway), Mary Barra (General Motors), Jeff Immet (GE), Larry Fink (Blackrock) and other executives think so and have published a set of "Commonsense Principles of Corporate Governance" for public companies. There are more specifics in the Principles, but the key points cribbed from the front page of the new website are as follows:
Truly independent corporate boards are vital to effective governance, so no board should be beholden to the CEO or management. Every board should meet regularly without the CEO present, and every board should have active and direct engagement with executives below the CEO level;
■ Diverse boards make better decisions, so every board should have members with complementary and diverse skills, backgrounds and experiences. It’s also important to balance wisdom and judgment that accompany experience and tenure with the need for fresh thinking and perspectives of new board members;
■ Every board needs a strong leader who is independent of management. The board’s independent directors usually are in the best position to evaluate whether the roles of chairman and CEO should be separate or combined; and if the board decides on a combined role, it is essential that the board have a strong lead independent director with clearly defined authorities and responsibilities;
■ Our financial markets have become too obsessed with quarterly earnings forecasts. Companies should not feel obligated to provide earnings guidance — and should do so only if they believe that providing such guidance is beneficial to shareholders;
■ A common accounting standard is critical for corporate transparency, so while companies may use non-Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (“GAAP”) to explain and clarify their results, they never should do so in such a way as to obscure GAAP-reported results; and in particular, since stock- or options-based compensation is plainly a cost of doing business, it always should be reflected in non-GAAP measurements of earnings; and
■ Effective governance requires constructive engagement between a company and its shareholders. So the company’s institutional investors making decisions on proxy issues important to long-term value creation should have access to the company, its management and, in some circumstances, the board; similarly, a company, its management and board should have access to institutional investors’ ultimate decision makers on those issues.
I expect that shareholder activists, proxy advisory firms, and corporate governance nerds like myself will scrutinize the specifics against what the signatories’ companies are actually doing. Nonetheless, I commend these business leaders for at least starting a dialogue (even if a lot of the recommendations are basic common sense) and will be following this closely.
My contribution is based on my 2015 West Virginia Law Review article, An Early Report on Benefit Reports, which showed under 10% compliance with benefit corporation reporting, noted problems with the statutory framework, and suggested statutory amendments.
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Last week on the blog I featured the smart book Empire of the Fund by sharing excerpts from a conversation with author, Professor William Birdthistle. In discussing the book, he shared with me some insights on writing a book: its process, genesis and use in the classroom. I am fascinated by other's people writing process in the continual effort to improve my own.
writing a book...
[W]riting a book was more of a challenge than I expected, even though I told myself it was simply a collection of law review articles. It turns out that the blinking cursor on an empty screen is more taunting when you're obliged to fill hundreds of pages. Brief stints of productivity need to be repeated again and again and, until it all exists, nothing really exists. I developed a convoluted system of drafting notes, then sitting down with a research assistant to record a chat about those notes, then working that recording into an outline. That process still left me with plenty of writing to do, but I found it much easier to expand, polish, and revise those outlines than to fight the demon blank page.
Talking through your ideas forces you to synthesize the materials. It also retains the humanity behind the arguments. This method makes a lot of sense when you read Professor Birdthistle's book because it feels like he is talking to you— just in a way that is smarter, better organized and more pithy than most of us can muster in the average conversation. His book doesn't read like the belabored, bloated, and laborious sections that all too often find their way in law review articles (my own included).
genesis for the book...
The contents, to a large extent, have actually come from the classroom -- as these materials serve as the syllabus for a seminar I've taught for a few years. The seminar, called Investment Funds, is almost always popular: in a go-go market, all the students want to hear about private equity and hedge funds; then in downturns, I get a sober audience of students who want to know more about their 401(k)s.
application to broader classes...
I often work this material in to my BusOrg and SecReg classes too: so, I emphasize the role of funds on topics like corporate purpose (does charitable giving look different if the corporate funds might otherwise go to 401(k) holders), proxy contests (in which mutual funds are major institutional investors but often conspicuously absent from these fights), shorting (where the securities are often borrowed from mutual funds and ETFs), and behavioral versus neoclassical theory (quoting heavily from a wonderful disagreement between Judges Easterbrook and Posner in Jones v. Harris before it went to the Supreme Court).
Since almost all students will soon be figuring out their own 401(k) and mutual fund investments, I've found that it's easy to make business issues far more salient to their lives. Even to the saints who'll soon have a 403(b).
the role of behavioral work...
Finally, I highlight Professor Birdthistle's observations about changes to the corporate law landscape made space for a book like his to contribute, in a serious way, to the academic and popular debate about the efficacy of the mutual fund market.
I've been struck by the change in our intellectual and academic disposition towards investing problems. I've been in the academy for a decade now and, when I began, the rational investor model was so thoroughgoing that it was difficult to discuss problems of individual investing. Many conversations -- and job talks -- required a first-principles exegesis about how this market might possibly be anything other than highly efficient. But a tide of behavioral work in recent years has helped explain why investors might struggle, and a good deal of empirical work has concretely shown how they struggle. So conversations today focus more upon solutions rather than on whether there is even a problem.
To this last point, I wonder what ideas and principles, which seem untouchable today, will give way to the next generation's breakthrough. I think is a particularly heartening message for young scholars--not all of the work has been done! Keep at it! And it is an important message for folks who aren't writing in the mainstream. For folks who are passionate about their work, but feeling like their ideas aren't garnering the right cache with the right audiences. This is where you persevere so long as the work is thorough and well researched. Maybe you and your work are contributing to an important intellectual advancement. You could be changing the tides in ways that in presently imperceptible, but significant nonetheless. So as the August submission deadline looms and the summer hours threaten to languish, press on!
Because this post is a compilation of quotes, I now turn to Garrison Keeler to close:
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.
*Query: Are the best motivational speeches are the ones you write for yourself?
Tuesday, July 19, 2016
David Zaring, who is a professor at Wharton, has the details over at the Conglomerate.
Wharton is open to JD-only, PHD-only, or JD/PHD candidates for this position.
Applications can be submitted here and the application deadline is November 1, 2016.
Registration is now open for the Central States Law Schools Association 2016 Scholarship Conference, which will be held on Friday, September 23 and Saturday, September 24 at the University of North Dakota School of Law in Grand Forks, ND. We invite law faculty from across the country to submit proposals to present papers or works in progress.
CSLSA is an organization of law schools dedicated to providing a forum for conversation and collaboration among law school academics. The CSLSA Annual Conference is an opportunity for legal scholars, especially more junior scholars, to present on any law-related topic in a relaxed and supportive setting where junior and senior scholars from various disciplines are available to comment. More mature scholars have an opportunity to test new ideas in a less formal setting than is generally available for their work. Scholars from member and nonmember schools are invited to attend.
Please click here to register. The deadline for registration is September 2, 2016.
Hotel rooms are now available for pre-booking. The conference hotel is the Hilton Garden Inn in Grand Forks. The hotel phone number is (701) 775-6000. When booking, identify yourself as part of the “UND School of Law” block to receive a daily rate of $89. Please note that conference participants are responsible for all of their own travel expenses including hotel accommodations.
For more information about CSLSA and the 2016 Annual Conference please subscribe to our blog.
We look forward to seeing you in Grand Forks!
The 2016 CSLSA Board
For more information about CSLSA, visit our website at http://cslsa.us/ or contact a board member.
Today I will pose a simple question: Is Entity Type Material?
Of course, context matters, so here's where this is coming from: On July 1, 2016, Canterbury Park Holding Corporation filed an 8-K making the following announcement:
SHAKOPEE, Minnesota (July 1, 2016) - Canterbury Park Holding Corporation, a Minnesota corporation (Nasdaq Global Market: CPHC) (the “Company”), today announced that it has completed its previously announced reorganization of the Company’s business into a holding company structure (the “Reorganization”), pursuant to which a recently-formed Minnesota corporation with the same name, Canterbury Park Holding Company (“New Canterbury”), has replaced the Company as the publicly held corporation owned by the Company’s shareholders. At the market open today, July 1, 2016, the shares of common stock of New Canterbury will commence trading on the Nasdaq Global Market under the ticker symbol “CPHC,” the same ticker symbol previously used by the Company.
As a result of the Reorganization, the Company has been merged into a limited liability company subsidiary, Canterbury Park Entertainment LLC. In addition, the Company’s shareholders have automatically become shareholders of New Canterbury on a one-for-one basis, holding the same number of New Canterbury shares and the same ownership percentage after the Reorganization as they held immediately prior to the Reorganization. The business operations, directors and executive officers of the company will not change as a result of the Reorganization.
The exhibits list, though, provides:
Exhibit No. Description 2.1 Agreement and Plan of Merger, dated March 1, 2016, among Canterbury Park Holding Corporation, a Minnesota corporation, New Canterbury Park Holding Corporation, a Minnesota corporation, Canterbury Park Entertainment LLC, a Minnesota limited liability corporation. (Incorporated by reference to Exhibit 2.1 to the Registration Statement on Form S-4 (File No. 333-210877) filed with the SEC on April 22, 2016.)
A what? You probably guessed it: a "Minnesota limited liability corporation." No, it's a limited liability company, as properly noted in the press release.
Okay, so I suspect it's not really material to the SEC or most other investors in the sense that this is a mistake, as long as the filing and exhibit are otherwise accurate. I looked at the May 27, 2016, DEF 14A, which did list the LLC correctly. However, in searching that document I found this was part of the 14A:
GGCP Holdings is a Delaware limited liability corporation having its principal business office at 140 Greenwich Avenue, Greenwich, CT 06830.
Sigh. Well, it may not matter to the SEC, but it's material to me.
Monday, July 18, 2016
As an adjunct to my posts (here and here) on law placement cover letters, I commend to you this blog post on networking letters, correspondence that seeks to establish a career or job-related connection--maybe even a longer-term relationship--rather than apply for a specific position. Truth be told, in some form or another, four of the five tips in the post also apply to job-seeking cover letters. The outlier? Tip #2: "Don't ask for an interview or a job."
My take on the relevance of the other four tips for job placement cover letters is as follows:
- Respect your reader's time. Always a good idea when you are asking for anything. Do not demand. Ask graciously. But also be careful not to fall over yourself in being respectful. It's just not attractive. It's usually sufficient to use a pair of sentences like these after making an "ask" to show your respect: "I know that you have a busy schedule. Accordingly, if this request is unduly burdensome, please just let me know."
- Sell your strengths. This is important and seems obvious. But folks still miss this prompt! Why would someone want to meet with a person they don't know well or at all unless the person was interesting to them in some respect? As readers may recall, I recommend using the PAR method in sharing professional and personal strengths--using a short, pointed narrative, rather than merely describing knowledge, experience, or skills with adjectives and adverbs.
- Consider the timing of your letter. I just had a request from a student on this very issue--when to get back in touch with folks he had positive connections with last year who asked him to "stay in touch" about his permanent job search. These questions (as to timing) are highly contextual and can be tough to navigate. I recommend consulting with multiple people to get their views about particularly sticky timing questions. For example, with respect to my student, the timing of/participation of the firms in on-campus interviews plays a role. So, I recommended that he also consult with folks in our Career Services office.
- Stick to it. The advice the blog post author (Miriam Salpeter) gives here is dead-on right. Key sentence: "You don't want to stalk the person, but it's okay to touch base a few times before you consider the door closed." Again, I advise using advisors from various "walks" to help determine what crosses the line. It's very important to those consultations that the letter writer keep accurate and complete records of contacts with the proposed letter recipient and others in the same workplace that can be shared with the consultants so that they can best advise.
As another interview season is on the horizon (although interviewing never seems to stop these days, does it?), some of this advice may come in handy for folks soon. I also recommend in this regard, btw, Haskell Murray's great post on resumes and interviews. I cite to it in my initial cover letter post, but I want to note its value again here.
Sunday, July 17, 2016
"the standard-model event study used in most court proceedings can lead to biased inferences" 68 Stan. L. Rev. 1207 (2016) #corpgov— Stefan Padfield (@ProfPadfield) July 13, 2016
Saturday, July 16, 2016
You may have seen the news that Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox News anchor, is suing Roger Ailes, the Fox News Chair and CEO, for sexual harassment and retaliation. One of the interesting things about the case is that – like a lot of people – Carlson has an arbitration clause in her contract requiring her to arbitrate all claims arising out of her employment
So how is she able to bring this case?
Well, Carlson is suing Ailes personally – not Fox News. Her argument is that her arbitration agreement is with Fox News alone; Ailes is not a signatory to the agreement, and cannot benefit from it.
I first have to note that this argument is only available to Carlson at all because Ailes is wealthy, and (I assume) covered by insurance; most employees in similar situations don’t have the option of suing only their harasser (rather than their employer), because most individual harassers are likely to be judgment proof.
Beyond that, is Carlson right? Is this a way around her arbitration agreement?
Well, according to Richard Frankel, there is a split of authority as to whether arbitration agreements to extend to agents of the signatories in their individual capacities, even when those agents were never parties to the agreement. See Richard Frankel, The Arbitration Clause as Super Contract, 91 Wash. U. L. Rev. 531 (2014). So there’s a real question as to whether Ailes has the right to enforce Carlson’s arbitration agreement, even though he was not a party to it.
Carlson’s attorneys are not giving up the fight so quickly, though. They claim – with at least some support, see Arnold v. Arnold Corp., 920 F.2d 1269 (6th Cir. 1990) – that even when arbitration clauses extend to corporate agents, they only extend to actions taken by the agent in their capacity as agent; they do not cover actions taken by the agent on their own behalf. In this case, Carlson’s attorneys apparently intend to claim that Ailes was not acting on Fox News’s behalf when he harassed Carlson, even though he may have been an agent of Fox for the purposes of retaliation. Thus, the former claims need not be arbitrated, even if the latter claims must be.
Now, at least some courts have endorsed a concept of “concerted misconduct” that might preclude this kind of claim-splitting. See Christopher Driskill, Note, A Dangerous Doctrine: The Case Against Using Concerted-Misconduct Estoppel to Compel Arbitration, 60 Ala. L. Rev. 443 (2009). But more generally, I am concerned about the argument that employees are acting for their own gratification, and not on behalf of the employer, when they harass. Courts have long been suspicious of respondeat superior in the context of harassment claims, suggesting (as Carlson apparently intends to argue) that harassment represents a personal frolic rather than a mechanism for maintaining institutional barriers to the advancement of underprivileged groups. See Burlington Indus. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742 (1998). That means that a court could accept Carlson's argument – particularly a court hostile to arbitration clauses – but perversely end up creating a lot of mischief for the many employees who rely on respondeat superior for any relief at all.
That said, there’s another aspect to this dispute that I find interesting. According to the rumour mill, Roger Ailes has long been targeted for ouster by Rupert Murdoch’s sons. If Fox News had been named as a defendant in Carlson’s suit, the company might have been forced to close ranks around Ailes. But – ironically – because Fox News is not a defendant, the company appears to have the option of leaving Ailes twisting in the wind, and Murdoch’s sons in particular may use the lawsuit as an excuse to get rid of Ailes once and for all.
Friday, July 15, 2016
Robert Esposito (Drinker Biddle) passed along his firm's interesting report on early crowdfunding offerings. The report is available here. Be sure to download the firm level detail spreadsheet available via the data download on the top right of the page.
The report shows that social enterprise and breweries/distilleries account for outsized portions of the early offerings. A group of us (including co-blogger Joan Heminway) predicted, at the University of Colorado's business school in July 2013, that social entrepreneurs would gravitate to equity crowdfunding. Separately, in my social enterprise law seminar, I was surprised by how many students presented on breweries that were social enterprises, and looking at this list it appears that there is at least one company (Hawaiian Ola Brewing Corporation - a Certified B Corporation) that falls into both the social enterprise and brewery categories highlighted below. It may be that both areas appeal to younger entrepreneurs who may also be eager to try this new form of capital raising.
Go read the entire report, but I provide a teaser quote below the dotted line with some emphasis added.
In general. As of June 30, 2016, 50 companies have filed a Form C with the SEC to offer securities under the Regulation Crowdfunding exemption. Minimum target offering amounts range from $20,000 to $500,000 per offering, with a median of $55,000. All but one of these issuers, however, have disclosed that they will accept offers in excess of the target amount, including 27 issuers that say they will accept investments at or near the maximum permitted offering amount of $1,000,000. In contrast, 18 of the first 50 issuers elected to cap their offering at just $100,000, with the remainder setting an offering cap of between $200,000 and $500,000. In the aggregate, if this first wave of retail crowdfundings is successful, 50 small companies will raise an aggregate of $6 to $30 million in new capital to fund their businesses.
While announced offering durations range from 21 days to one year, the median period that issuers say they will keep their offerings open is just under six months, with about half electing an offering duration between 166 and 182 days.
Eighteen different jurisdictions of incorporation are represented among the first 50 issuers; however, nearly half of the initial filers (24) are Delaware entities. Early data shows that issuers tend to be early-stage startups, with a median issuer age of just 354 days. Nevertheless, nine of the issuers were more than five years old, and the oldest was incorporated in 2003. . . .
While a total of 12 funding portals have registered with FINRA to date, the early mover Wefunder portal hosts more than half (26) of the first 50 offerings. The StartEngine portal has secured eight offerings, with the remainder split among other portals, including SeedInvest, Next Seed, Flashfunders, and Venture.co.
- Social Enterprises. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor’s Special Topic Report on Social Entrepreneurship, social enterprises account for only 5.7 percent of entrepreneurial activity in the United States. However, early crowdfunding data shows that social enterprises are strongly represented among crowdfunding issuers. Seven issuers, representing 14 percent of the first 50 offerings, are either registered as benefit corporations or benefit LLCs, or are certified by B Lab as B Corps, and at least an additional nine issuers operate within traditional corporate forms with strong social and/or environmental missions. Combined, these issuers represent 32 percent of the first 50 offerings.
- Raise a Glass. Craft breweries, distilleries, and licensed establishments are also disproportionately represented among the first 50 issuers. Eight issuers, representing 16 percent of the first 50 offerings, fall into this category, including 2 distilleries, 2 craft breweries, 2 bars, as well as a frozen alcohol producer and a producer of ginger liqueur.
Thursday, July 14, 2016
Two weeks ago, I blogged about the potential unintended consequences of (1) Dodd-Frank whistleblower awards to compliance officers and in-house counsel and (2) the Department of Justice’s Yates Memo, which requires companies to turn over individuals (even before they have determined they are legally culpable) in order to get any cooperation credit from the government.
Today at the International Legal Ethics Conference, I spoke about the intersection of state ethics laws, common law fiduciary duties, SOX §307 and §806, and the potential erosion of the attorney-client relationship. I posed the following questions regarding lawyer/whistleblowers and the Yates Memo at the end of my talk:
- How will this affect Upjohn warnings? (These are the corporate Miranda warnings and were hard enough for me to administer without me having to tell the employee that I might have to turn them over to the government after our conversation)
- Will corporate employees ask for their own counsel during investigations or plead the 5th since they now run a real risk of being criminally and civilly prosecuted by DOJ?
- Will companies have to pay for separate counsel for certain employees and must that payment be disclosed to DOJ?
- Will companies turn people over to the government before proper investigations are completed just to save the company?
- Will executives cooperate in an investigation? Why should they?
- What’s the intersection with the Responsible Corporate Officer Doctrine (which Stephen Bainbridge has already criticized as "running amok")?
- Will there be more claims/denials for D & O coverage?
- Will individuals who cooperate get cooperation credit in their own cases?
- Will employees turn on their superiors without proper investigation?
- How will individuals/companies deal with parallel civil/criminal enforcement proceedings?
- What about indemnification clauses in employment contracts?
- Will there be more trials because there is little incentive for a corporation to plead guilty?
- What about data privacy restrictions for multinationals who operate in EU?
- How will this affect voluntary disclosure under the US Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Organizational Defendants, especially in Foreign Corrupt Practices Act cases?
- What ‘s the impact on joint defense agreements?
- As a lawyer for lawyers who want to be whistleblowers, can you ever advise them to take the chance of losing their license?
I didn’t have time to talk about the added complication of potential director liability under Caremark and its progeny. During my compliance officer days, I used Caremark’s name in vain to get more staff, budget, and board access so that I could train them on the basics on the US Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Organizations. I explained to the Board that this line of cases required them to have some level of oversight over an effective compliance program. Among other things, Caremark required a program with “timely, accurate information sufficient to allow management and the board, each within its scope, to reach informed judgments concerning the [company’s] compliance with law and its business performance.”
I, like other compliance officers, often reviewed/re-tooled our compliance program after another company had negotiated a deferred or nonprosecution agreement with the government. These DPAs had an appendix with everything that the offending company had to do to avoid prosecution. Rarely, if ever, did the DPA mention an individual wrongdoer, and that’s been the main criticism and likely the genesis of the Yates Memo.
Boards will now likely have to take more of a proactive leadership role in demanding investigations at an early stage rather than relying on the GC or compliance officer to inform them of what has already occurred. Boards may need to hire their own counsel to advise on them on this and/or require the general counsel to have outside counsel conduct internal investigations at the outset. This leads to other interesting questions. For example, what happens if executives retain their own counsel and refuse to participate in an investigation that the Board requests? Should the Board designate a special committee (similar to an SLC in the shareholder derivative context) to make sure that there is no taint in the investigation or recommendations? At what point will the investigation become a reportable event for a public company? Will individual board members themselves lawyer up?
I will definitely have a lot to write about this Fall. If you have any thoughts leave them below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
This is just me musing a bit, but in following up my post on how LLCs can choose to “be corporations” for federal tax purposes, meaning they get C corp tax treatment, I was thinking that maybe the IRS could just stop using state-law designations at all. That is, stop having “corporate” tax treatment at all.
My proposal is not abolishing corporate tax – that’s a much longer post and one I am not sure I’d agree with. Instead, the proposal is to have entities choose from options that are linked the Internal Revenue Code, and not to a particular entity. Thus, we would have (1) entity taxation, called C Tax, where an entity chooses to pay tax at the entity level, which would be typical C Corp taxation; (2) pass-through taxation, called K Tax, which is what we usually think of as partnership tax; and (3) we get rid of S corps, which can now be LLCs, anyway, which would allow an entity to choose S Tax.
This post deals with the tax code, which means I am in over my head, and because this is tax related, it means the solution is a lot more complicated than this proposal. But now that the code provisions are not really linked to the state law entity, I think we should try refer to state entities as state entities, and federal tax status with regard to federal tax status. Under such a code, it would be a little easier for people to understand the concept behind state entity status, and it would make more sense to people that a “C Corp” does mean “publicly traded corporation” (a far-too common misunderstanding). Thus, we could have C Tax corporations, S Tax LLCs, K Tax LLCs, for example. We'd know tax status and state-entity status quite simply and we'd separate the concepts.
A guy can dream, right?
Professor William Birdthistle at Chicago-Kent College of Law is publishing his new book, Empire of the Fund with Oxford University Press. A brief introductory video for the book (available here) demonstrates both Professor Birdthistle’s charming accent and talent for video productions (this is obviously not his first video rodeo). Professor Birdthistle has generously provided our readers with a window into the book’s thesis and highlights some of its lessons. I’ll run a second feature next week focusing on the process of writing a book—an aspiration/current project for many of us.
Empire of the Fund is segmented into four digestible parts: anatomy of a fund describing the history and function of mutual funds, diseases & disorders addressing fees, trading practices and disclosures, alternative remedies introducing readers to ETFs, target date funds and other savings vehicles, and cures where Birdthistle highlights his proposals. For the discussion of the Jones v. Harris case alone, I think I will assign this book to my corporate law seminar class for our “book club”. As other reviewers have noted, the book is funny and highly readable, especially as it sneaks in financial literacy. And now, from Professor Birdthistle:
Things that the audience might learn:
The SEC does practically zero enforcement on fees. [pp. 215-216] Even though every expert understands the importance of fees on mutual fund investing, the SEC has brought just one or only two cases in its entire history against advisors charging excessive fees. Section 36(b) gives the SEC and private plaintiffs a cause of action, but the SEC has basically ignored it; even prompting Justice Scalia to ask why during oral arguments in Jones v. Harris? Private plaintiffs, on the other hand, bring cases against the wrong defendants (big funds with deep pockets but relatively reasonable fees). So I urge the SEC to bring one of these cases to police the outer bounds of stratospheric fund fees.
The only justification for 12b-1 fees has been debunked. [pp. 81-83] Most investors don't know much about 12b-1 fees and are surprised by the notion that they should be paying to advertise funds in which they already invest to future possible investors. The industry's response is that spending 12b-1 fees will bring in more investors and thus lead to greater savings for all investors via economies of scale. The SEC's own financial economist, however, studied these claims and found (surprisingly unequivocally for a government official) that, yes, 12b-1 fees certainly are effective at bringing in new investment but, no, funds do not then pass along any savings to the funds' investors. I sketch this out in a dialogue on page 81 between a pair of imaginary nightclub denizens.
Target-date funds are more dangerous than most people realize. [pp. 172-174] Target-date funds are embraced by many as a panacea to our investing problem and have been extremely successful as such. But I point out some serious drawbacks with them. First, they are in large part an end-of-days solution in which we essentially give up on trying to educate investors and encourage them simply to set and forget their investments; that's a path to lowering financial literacy, not raising it (which may be a particularly acute issue if my second objection materializes). Second, TDFs rely entirely on the assumption that the bond market is the safety to which all investors should move as they age; but if we're heading for a historic bear market on bonds (as several intelligent and serious analysts have posited), we'll be in very large danger with a somnolent investing population