Monday, October 30, 2017

Leidos - Trick, Not Treat?

The title of this post is hyperbole on some level.  But with Halloween being tomorrow, I couldn't resist the temptation to use a festive greeting to introduce today's post.  And there is a bit of a method to my titling madness . . . .

I admit that I do feel a bit tricked by the removal of the Leidos, Inc. v. Indiana Public Retirement System case (about which co-blogger Ann Lipton and I each have written--Ann most recently here and I most recently here) from the U.S. Supreme Court's calendar.  It was original scheduled to be heard a week from today.  Apparently, based on the related filings with the Court, the parties are documenting a settlement of the case.  Kevin LaCroix offers a nice summary here.  How cunning and skillful!  Just when I thought resolution of important duty-to-disclose issues in Section 10(b)/Rule 10b-5 litigation was at hand . . . .

Indeed, I had hoped for a treat.  What pleasure it would have given me to see this matter resolved consistent with my understanding of the law!  The issue before the Court in Leidos is somewhat personal for me (in a professional sense) for a simple reason--a reason consistent with the amicus brief I co-authored on the case.  I share that reason briefly here to further illuminate my interest in the case.

In my 15 years of practice before law teaching, I often advised public company issuers on mandatory disclosure documents--periodic filings and offering documents, most commonly.  I also counseled investment banks serving as public offering underwriters, placement agents for private securities offerings, and financial advisors in transactions.  Even in those days, I was a bit of a rule-head (self-labeled)--a technically engaged legal advisor who tried to stick to the law and regulations, determine their meaning, and implement them consistent with their meaning in practice.  I drove colleagues to distraction and boredom, on occasion, with my explanations of the appropriate interpretation of various rules, including specifically mandatory disclosure rules.  (This may be why I love the work of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, which is looking at mandatory disclosure rules in context.)  I teach my students from that same nerdy vantage point.

In advising issuers and others on mandatory disclosure (and in training junior lawyers in the firm), I always noted that facial compliance with the specific line-item disclosure requirements for a Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC") form is not enough.  I advised that two additional legal constraints also govern the appropriate content of the public disclosures required to be made in those forms--constraints that required them to inquire about (among other things) missing information.  

  • First, I noted the existence of the general misstatements and omissions disclosure (gap-filler) rules under the Securities Act of 1933 or the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (as applicable in the circumstances)--Rule 408 under the 1933 Act and Rule 12b-20 under the 1934 Act.  Each of these rules provides for the disclosure of "such further material information, if any, as may be necessary to make the required statements, in the light of the circumstances under which they are made not misleading" in addition to the information expressly required to be included in the relevant disclosure document under applicable line-item disclosure rules.  
  • Second, I noted that anti-fraud law--and, in particular, Section 10(b) of, and Rule 10b-5 under, the 1934 Act--provides an even more comprehensive basis for interrogating the contents of disclosure that facially complies with line-item mandatory disclosure rules.  The overall message?  No one wants a fraud suit, and if they get one, they should be able to get out of it fast!  If a business and its principals were to be sued under Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5, I wanted to ensure that the relevant disclosures were accurate and complete in all material respects.

Thus, the existence of the line-item and gap-filling disclosure rules--and the potential for fraud liability based on failed compliance with them--are, taken together, important motivators to the best possible disclosure.  In my business lawyering, I believe I used these regulatory principles to my clients' advantage.  I would hate to see lawyers lose the important leverage that potential fraud liability gives them in fostering accurate and complete disclosures, fully compliant with law.  Hence, my position on the Leidos litigation--that mandatory disclosure rules do give rise to a duty to disclose that may form the basis for a securities fraud claim under Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5.  (The ultimate success of any such claim would be, of course, based on the satisfaction of the other elements of a Section 10(b)/Rule 10b-5 claim.)

So, no treat for me--at least not just yet.  But perhaps this post will forestall any real trickery--the trickery involved with avoiding securities fraud liability for misleading omissions to state material information expressly required to be stated under line-item mandatory disclosure rules.  For me, that is what is at stake in Leidos and in disclosure lawyering generally.  Let's see what transpires from here.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/business_law/2017/10/leidos-trick-not-treat.html

Ann Lipton, Joan Heminway, Lawyering, Securities Regulation | Permalink

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