Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Thanks for your informative post, Anne. I started drafting this post as a comment to yours, and then I realized it was its own post. [sigh]
It seems to me that the U.S. Department of HHS and any commentators must grapple with what has been a difficult, fact-based question in determining how to define “closely held” to effectuate the Supreme Court’s intent in as expressed in the Hobby Lobby opinion. That question? What "control" means in this context.
The Court said in the Hobby Lobby opinion: “The companies in the cases before us are closely held corporations, each owned and controlled by members of a single family, and no one has disputed the sincerity of their religious beliefs.” More specifically, the Court notes that the Hahns (owners of shares in Conestoga) “control its board of directors and hold all of its voting shares” and notes that Hobby Lobby and Mardel “remain closely held, and David, Barbara, and their children retain exclusive control of both companies.” [Emphasis has been added by me in each quote.]
The definition of “control” primarily has been a question of fact in business law, making the task of defining it here somewhat difficult. Some questions and considerations to grapple with are set forth below the fold. I am sure that others can come up with more. I am posting these as a way of getting the collective juices flowing.
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
As I have pointed out in earlier posts on this blog, the June decision in Hobby Lobby failed to define closely-held business for purposes of the religious exemption. On August 22nd, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued proposed rules, open for comments for 60 days, that include a definition of closely-held under one of two approaches borrowed from state law definitions like with S corporations and from IRS regulations.
In common understanding, a closely held corporation – a term often used interchangeably with a “close” or “closed” corporation – is a corporation the stock of which is owned by a small number of persons and for which no active trading market exists. ....Under the first proposed approach, a qualifying closely held for-profit entity would be an entity where none of the ownership interests in the entity is publicly traded and where the entity has fewer than a specified number of shareholders or owners....
Under a second, alternative approach, a qualifying closely held entity would be a forprofit entity in which the ownership interests are not publicly traded, and in which a specified fraction of the ownership interest is concentrated in a limited and specified number of owners.
HHS invites comments on the proposed definitions, the preferred approach, and the threshold cut offs for ownership concentration or numbers of owners.
Importantly, and answering a question raised in several posts in the on line symposium at The Conglomerate, the proposed rules would require a valid corporate action, taken in accordance with state law, to assert that the owners' religious views form the basis of the entity's objection. HHS also invites comments "on whether to require documentation of the decision-making process and disclosure of the decision."
Call for Papers - UNEP Research Convening on Design Options for a Sustainable Financial System (abstracts due Aug. 31)
Call for papers cosponsored by the United Nations Environment Programme (http://www.unep.org/) - abstract deadline is Aug. 31 with the event in Dec. The emphasis is on empirical work with clear policy proposals.
"The event is a research symposium that the Canadian-based Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) is co-hosting with the UNEP Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System in early December. The Convening is intended to address key pertinent theoretical and empirical questions that support the broader applied, policy research agenda concerning the contours of a sustainable financial system.
....The symposium will be for a limited number of people, primarily those who have submitted papers. We will be in a position to provide some support to attend the symposium, which will take place from 1-3 December 2014 in Waterloo, Ontario."
Friday, August 22, 2014
I love a good debate and appreciate the opportunity (provided by Professor Bainbridge’s thoughtful post yesterday) to engage a bit more deeply on the thesis of Wednesday’s post suggesting an approach for how to incorporate Citizens United and Hobby Lobby into the survey BA/Corporations course.
By way of recap and ruthless summary, Stephen Bainbridge wants nothing to do with these issues (or other constitutional law questions) in his course because of the:
- Existing emphasis of public law over private law and resulting imbalance in law school curriculum;
- False impression that constitutional law is the holy grail of law teaching and practice;
- These cases present a hornet’s nest of controversial and divisive topics; and
- Coverage constraints. The menu options of what we can (should) teach is already more ambitious than time allows.
And to no surprise to anyone, anywhere: Stephen Bainbridge is right on the money with all of these points.
As a survey course and one that almost every student in my law school (Georgia State) takes, I feel a responsibility to provide context for the subject matter that we teach and to do my best to “hook” students who didn’t come to my class with an interest in corporate law.
First, hear me now when I say that corporate law matters. It matters to the business owners who form and operate a firm. It matters to the individuals and other businesses who interact with the firm as a supplier or customer or creditor or employee. These first two points are significantly incorporated into the traditional BA syllabus. Corporate law also matters to general members of society because corporations wield tremendous power in elections, in lobbying (regulatory capture anyone?), in shaping retirement savings, in religious and reproductive rights debates and setting other cultural norms around issues like corruption, sustainability, living wage, etc. Multi-national corporations with ubiquitous brand recognition aren’t the only powerful actors. The Hobby Lobby ruling tells us that those creatures governed largely by private law—the closely held corporation—also play a major role. To teach corporate law in a vacuum that ignores this broader context is to teach nuclear physics without discussing the atom bomb and its consequences (if I can use hyperbole). Should the broader context be the focus of the class? Absolutely not. Can it be woven into context setting discussions or used as a way to elicit student participation? In my class at least.
Second, not every student in BA enrolled out of pure self-interest; not everyone has a business background. I consider my course to be a great equalizer in law school: we take the health sciences majors, the B-schoolers, the political science and the anthropology kids and at the end of the semester everyone can explain basic financial concepts, the different menu options of firms, proxy fights, and even poison pills. We do this best when we can engage all of the students, which sometimes means helping students see why it might matter to them and how the subject connects with the things that they care about. For some that will be the clever ways you can use private agreements to shape outcomes and hedge against risk, for others it will be seeing why corporate law matters even if you don’t care about corporations (see paragraph above).
My last point is that being an effective classroom teacher generally requires a sense of self-awareness about your comfort zone, your strengths, and your weaknesses (among other things). I have lots of colleagues, at GSU and other institutions (many of them BLPB editors), whom I admire, but if I tried to teach class the way that they did, I would fall short of the mark. We teach to our own strengths and infuse classes with a sense of our own personality and passion. I don’t think I have convinced anyone not previously inclined to incorporate these materials; and I wonder if Stephen has caused any course corrections with his thoughts. We may have just reinforced the positions that you already held. Either way, happy teaching to all readers who have started or are preparing to start the new semester and the new school year.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Alternative mutual funds, with assets under management reported from $300-500 billion, mimic riskier investment strategies employed by hedge funds such as investing in commodities, private debt, shorting assets and complex derivatives. The trading strategies, as you can guess, are funded through higher fees charged to investors. The funds are touted as a new way for mainstream investors to diversify their assets. Forbes ran a great, short piece back in February describing the investment advantages and disadvantages of alternative mutual funds.
These alternative mutual funds are now in the cross hairs of the SEC and FINRA, the self-regulatory branch of the securities industries. FINRA issued an Investor Alert on "alt" funds in June, available here. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the SEC will conduct a limited scope (15-20 funds) national sweep to identify fund oversight, ready assets, and disclosure of investment strategies. Included in the funds sweep are large investment firms such as BlackRock and AQR Capital Management, as well smaller firms that are new market entrants.
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Last week on this blog, I wrote about the revived trend of corporate inversions where, through a merger transaction a US company re-domiciles outside of the US for business reasons, including the desire to avoid paying US corporate taxes. Walgreens was rumored to be negotiating with Alliance Boots, a UK company in which the US drugstore chain already held 45%. The merger announcement today, in a deal valued at $5.27 billion for the other 55% of Alliance Boots will keep the merged company's headquarters in Chicago. Citing, in part to public reaction and the drug store's brand here in the US, "The company concluded it was not in the best long-term interest of our shareholders to attempt to re-domicile outside the U.S."
The full article in the DealBook is available here.
Monday, August 4, 2014
"[P]ushing its students to understand business and technology so that they can advise entrepreneurs in coming fields. The school wants them to think of themselves as potential founders of start-ups as well, and to operate fluidly in a legal environment that is being transformed by technology."
The article also highlights University of Colorado's Tech Lawyer Accelerator.
Fascinating stuff. What is your school doing, if anything, on this front?
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
There is a new face on an old problem — American companies “moving” overseas in part to avoid U.S. taxes — that has increased in popularity in the last several years and recently gained political attention. Last week President Obama and Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew called for tax reform to encourage economic patriotism and to deter corporate defectors, calling the overseas moves legal, but immoral.
Two structural features of the U.S. tax code incentivize corporations to move abroad. The U.S. corporate tax rate, at 35 percent, is high compared to the average Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) rate of 25 percent, and the average European Union rate of 21 percent. Many corporations effectively pay much less than 35 percent, after factoring in loopholes and deductions, policies that cost approximately $150 billion in untaxed revenue last year. But the reported tax rate is high compared to other jurisdictions and the complexity required to reduce that rate in practice also is a deterrent.
Second, other countries like the United Kingdom become attractive foreign tax locations because they operate under a territorial system that does not tax profits earned outside of the home country. Under the U.S. system, however, returning foreign-earned corporate profits home is a taxable event at high corporate tax rates. As a result, it is estimated that $2 trillion in foreign-earned profits of U.S. corporations sit in foreign bank accounts unavailable for use absent paying taxes.
There are two main ways to achieve an overseas move. A transaction called an inversion where a U.S. company reincorporates overseas becoming, say, a Bermuda corporation, which was popular in the 2000s. Inversions also can happen when a U.S. company forms an overseas affiliate and the original company becomes a subsidiary of the foreign affiliate. The 2004 American Jobs Creation Act prevented companies pursuing inversions from reaping tax benefits of the transactions if the original stockholders retained 80 percent or more of the new company or if there was not substantial business operation in the new location. Treasury regulations have defined “substantial business operations” as meaning 25 percent of corporate activity thus effectively stopping these so-called “naked” inversions as a means to transfer corporate profits overseas.
Another vehicle to move a U.S. company overseas is through a merger with a foreign company, and this is where the recent uptick has occurred. If a larger foreign company buys the U.S. one then both profits and control effectively move overseas in the newly combined company. If, however, a larger U.S. company buys a smaller overseas one, then control may stay effectively in the United States, with only the profits moved overseas.
For example, in 2012 Cleveland-based Eaton purchased Cooper Industries PLC in an $11.8 billion merger. After the merger, the new company Eaton Corporation PLC, incorporated in Ireland and headquartered in Cleveland, projected savings of $160 million a year as a result of not being subject to U.S. corporate taxes. So far this year, there have been more than a dozen of similar tax-motivated foreign mergers announced including companies like Chiquita, Pfizer and even some interest behind the drug-store chain Walgreens moving to the United Kingdom.
See the following discussion of foreign mergers in the DealBook earlier this month following the announcement of two multibillion dollar health care mergers:
“With a[n]…. offer worth $53 billion, AbbVie, a big Chicago-based pharmaceutical company, has succeeded in winning tentative approval to buy the Irish drug maker Shire . If completed, it would be the biggest deal of the year. Also on Monday, Mylan Laboratories, based in Canonsburg, Pa., said it would acquire the international generic drug business from Abbott Laboratories in an all-stock deal valued at $5.3 billion and reincorporate in the Netherlands.”
Solutions to curb corporate flight include lowering corporate taxes to a more competitive rate, decreasing the ownership thresholds for inversions from 80 percent to 50 percent, and excluding tax benefits for foreign-based mergers. Congressional Democrats have circulated several proposals, but Republicans have not expressed interest without comprehensive tax reform. Obama included proposals targeted at foreign mergers in his proposed 2015 budget, which includes decreasing the corporate tax rate, decreasing the ownership threshold for inversions and closing some corporate tax loopholes. While congressional action before the end of the year is unlikely, the strong rhetoric of economic patriotism and corporate defectors has the issue primed for the 2014 election debates.
For a great summary on the issue, see the following report issued earlier this summer by the congressional research service.
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Steven Davidoff Solomon, a professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley, has an interesting article on antitrust in the DealBook today: Changing Old Antitrust Thinking for a New Gilded Age. Professor Solomon argues that a new wave of mergers in the tech and telecommunications industries mirror the consolidation wave of the Gilded Age a century ago which lead to our current antitrust laws. These mergers leave competition in tact, albeit among a few huge companies, and therefore facially meet the competition requirements under antitrust law. He argues that "[t]his calculus, however, excludes the political and other power that a concentrated industry can wield with government and regulators." Citing to industry-based nonprofits and the ability to participate in political spending in a post-Citizens United world, professor Solomon concludes that antitrust may become a question of power, not just competition.
"[R]ight now there is simply no real government ability to review the industry consolidation that is occurring today in which industries become dominated by a handful of major players. Yet it is becoming increasingly apparent that size and industry concentration affect American society even if competition still exists."
I think that this is an interesting lens through which to view, and teach, current market trends in mergers and acquisitions and related questions of antitrust law.
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
FOR ACADEMIC EYES ONLY (practicing readers may be deeply offended by my self-indulgence)
By my count we are in week 7 (out of 12) of "summer"--the time between graduation and when the fall semester resumes. We are more than half-way through this shimmering mirage, this beacon of hopeful productivity, balance, and reprieve. All year long, I think, THIS summer I will...... And now this THIS summer is here, I am feeling concerned about all that hasn't been tended to at work or at home. At least not yet. (And it isn't for lack of trying--75 exams graded, 3 conferences attended, 1 article draft complete, 3 unexpected child illnesses, and 1 empirical study bogged down in the details.)
This is a common refrain of conversations had with fellow academics. It all goes by too quickly and with self-imposed pressure to make the most of it professionally (write two articles for August submission!) and personally (go on exotic travel adventure with family!). By my personal count, I am failing on both fronts. While this is a unique schedule for academics, I think that the promise of summer lures most people from all walks of life into an unrealistic vision of this time that is inevitably filled with the juggling act of travel and work and family and fun. So with 5-6 weeks left, I am taking stock of my writing expectations (maybe that short piece won't get finished THIS summer) and re-prioritizing because I want to feel good when I walk back into the classroom on day 1. Mostly, I just want to avoid feeling like this:
Monday, June 30, 2014
From Anne Tucker (who is off filming academic videos this afternon--whatever that means!):
Today’s Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. et al. exempted closely held corporations from complying with the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act. There is plenty to debate about the opinion—corporations are persons under RFRA and can exercise religion as well as a host of choice quotes from the SCOTUS about “modern corporate law”—and I will leave that fun for another time. I want to highlight three initial reactions:
- There is no definition of closely held in today’s opinion. Will we draw lines based on state corporate codes and elections to be S corp? Will we rely upon the IRS definition of a closely held company? It is unclear. There is NOTHING in the opinion that prevents today’s ruling from applying to publically traded, closely held corporations like Wal-Mart. The line drawing engaged by the SCOTUS in Hobby Lobby is not such a neatly drawn, tight circle, but is a wide net. I discussed this briefly in a HuffPost Live segment earlier today—here.
- This is a statutory, not a constitutional ruling. On its face. Of course Congress could amend RFRA and exclude corporations, but there are exactly zero people holding out hope for that solution, at least in our present climate. The language of the opinion, however, gives strong dicta supporting religious rights and identities of corporations, whether for profit or not. [“Any suggestion that for-profit corporations are incapable of exercising religion because their purpose is simply to make money flies in the face of modern corporate law.”]
- Today, the Court weighed in on the moral dilemma of performing an “innocent” act (i.e., providing health care coverage) that enables an “immoral” act (i.e., using an IUD whether for family planning or medical reasons). May companies object to coverage that includes screening for sexually transmitted diseases because unwed employees may use it ensure safe, premarital sex? The answer would seem to be yes. Of course, we can imagine that the Court would find a compelling interest here like they did with contraceptives, but what about the least restrictive means? In Hobby Lobby, the Court found the existing program for the government to pay for contraceptives (for exempted nonprofit entities) as evidence of a less restrictive alternative. So the government pays for the thing that for-profit corporations don’t want to pay for. In other words, we now subsidize corporate religious beliefs. And if you are a corporation do you want to pay for something that competitors don’t have to? The sincerity of the belief might be an issue, but if corporate law teaches us one thing, it is how to build a record.
Formatting changes/errors are all mine.
Great work, Anne!
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Tomorrow kicks off the 2014 Law & Society Annual meeting in Minneapolis, MN. Law & Society is a big tent conference that includes legal scholars of all areas, anthropologists, sociologists, economists, and the list goes on and on. A group of female corporate law scholars, of which I am a part, organizes several corporate-law panels. The result is that we have a mini- business law conference of our own each year. Below is a preview of the schedule...please join us for any and all panels listed below.
0575 Corp Governance & Locus of Power
U. St. Thomas MSL 458
Participants: Tamara Belinfanti, Jayne Barnard, Megan Shaner, Elizabeth Noweiki, and Christina Sautter
1412 Empirical Examinations of Corporate Law
U. St. Thomas MSL 458
Participants: Elisabeth De Fontenay, Connie Wagner, Lynne Dallas, Diane Dick & Cathy Hwang
1468 Theorizing Corp. Law
U. St. Thomas MSL 458
Participants: Elizabeth Pollman, Sarah Haan, Marcia Narine, Charlotte Garden, and Christyne Vachon
1:00 Business Meeting Board Rm 3
Roundtable on SEC Authority
Participants: Christyne Vachon, Elizabeth Pollman, Joan Heminway, Donna Nagy, Hilary Allen
1473 Emerging International Questions in Corp. Law
U. St. Thomas MSL 458
Participants: Sarah Dadush, Melissa Durkee, Marleen O'Conner, Hilary Allen, and Kish Vinayagamoorthy
1479 Examining Market Actors
U. St. Thomas MSL 321
Participants: Summer Kim, Anita Krug, Christina Sautter, Dana Brackman, and Anne Tucker
1474 Market Info. & Mandatory Disclosures
U. St. Thomas MSL 321
Participants: Donna Nagy, Joan Heminway, Wendy Couture, and Anne Tucker
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Proxy issues are an interesting gauge of current and emerging corporate governance issues. Even if the proposals don't pass, they provide a tool to take investors' and companies' temperature on controversial issues. Alliance Advisors issued a detailed report on 2014 proxy season trends and expectations, which is available for download here. A few highlights are discussed below.
- Majority Voting. A trend towards majority voting proposals with support from ISS and Vanguard means that many companies will be facing pressure to consider changes to director elections.
- Declassified Boards. While the Harvard Law School Shareholder Rights Project has been successful in obtaining declassification of 23 of 13 target companies, the academic and industry debate continues about the efficacy or harm of classified boards.
- Board Tenure & Diversity. These initiatives seek to turn the tide against board compositions that are dominated by white men who hold director positions for extended periods of time.
"ISS’s fall policy survey revealed that 74% of investor respondents consider board service over 10 years to be problematic. Similarly, a recent academic study of S&P 1500 companies found that firm value peaks when average director tenure reaches nine years, and then drops off by as much as 10%.
According to a 2013 Catalyst Census of Fortune 500 companies, the percentage of board seats held by women remained flat between 2012 (16.6%) and 2013 (16.9%)."
- Proxy Voting Mechanisms. Shareholder activist John Chevedden is pushing proposals such as enhanced confidential voting and uniform vote reporting to reform the proxy process.
- Social Issues. Under this diverse category of issues, a few standouts have potential significance in the 2014 season.
- Political Spending. Shareholder proposals for disclosures of political spending will increase in the wake of the SEC's decision not to pursue these disclosures as a part of its upcoming agenda. The Center for Political Accountability has 60 proposals pending and another coalition is sponsoring 48.
- Human Rights. In the wake of the SEC's attention to conflict mineral disclosures, additional shareholder proposals are expected on the issue.
- Climate Change. Citing to the midterm elections and the flagging climate change reform occuring at the federal level, increased climiate change proposals are expected, many of which will employ creative strategies to apply pressure on corporations.
"As part of a broader climate strategy, social and environmental activists are challenging companies’ political activities on energy and climate change, particularly their involvement with certain trade associations and legislative groups whom the proponents feel are obstructing progress on climate-related legislation."
Wednesday, May 7, 2014
I am generating my summer reading list--both business and pleasure. At the top of my list is Other People's Houses, by Jennifer Taub (Vermont Law School), which will be available from Yale Press on May 27th. The official website for the book describes the project as:
Drawing on wide-ranging experience as a corporate lawyer, investment firm counsel, and scholar of business law and financial market regulation, Taub chronicles how government officials helped bankers inflate the toxic-mortgage-backed housing bubble, then after the bubble burst ignored the plight of millions of homeowners suddenly facing foreclosure.
Focusing new light on the similarities between the savings and loan debacle of the 1980s and the financial crisis in 2008, Taub reveals that in both cases the same reckless banks, operating under different names, received government bailouts, while the same lax regulators overlooked fraud and abuse. Furthermore, in 2013 the situation is essentially unchanged. The author asserts that the 2008 crisis was not just similar to the S&L scandal, it was a severe relapse of the same underlying disease. And despite modest regulatory reforms, the disease remains uncured: top banks remain too big to manage, too big to regulate, and too big to fail.
The following are a few excepts of the book review just posted on Kirkus:
Taub's narrative recounts a couple who "innocently" purchased a Dallas-area condo and were deemed “too small to save.” "Meanwhile, all the decision-makers who, in a dizzying series of transactions, fueled the Nobelman mortgage received government support, and very few suffered negative consequences." With "5 million homes lost to foreclosure and another 10 million still left underwater," Taub "blisters the 'legal enablers' who, by their acts or omissions, failed to corral predatory practices and wild speculation." The review concludes that Other People's Houses is "[m]eticulously argued and guaranteed to raise the blood pressure of the average American taxpayer."
That last line is the hook--guaranteed to raise my blood pressure? Sign me up.
Leave a comment if you have a book, business or pleasure, that is topping your list. I would love to start a BLPB summer reading list...
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
In March, the Fourth Circuit held in Carnell Construction Corp. v. Danville Redevelopment & Housing Authority, that racial identity can be imputed to a corporation for purposes of standing under Title VI, citing to case precedent from the several circuits allowing 1981 claims to be raised by corporations.
“[W]e observe that several other federal appellate courts have considered this question, and have declined to bar on prudential grounds race discrimination claims brought by minority-owned corporations that meet constitutional standing requirements.”
The Fourth Circuit had to deal with the following language in Arlington Heights, 429 U.S. 252, 263 (1977): “As a corporation, MHDC has no racial identity and cannot be the direct target of the petitioners' alleged discrimination. In the ordinary case, a party is denied standing to assert the rights of third persons.” In Arlington Heights, the Supreme Court however did not need to “decide whether the circumstances of this case would justify departure from that prudential limitation and permit MHDC to assert the constitutional rights of its prospective minority tenants. For we have at least one individual plaintiff who has demonstrated standing to assert these rights as his own.” (citations omitted). The dicta in Arlington Heights was not a barrier to imputing a racial identity to the corporation in the Fourth Circuit case.
In a clear statement, the Fourth Circuit concluded that:
“We agree with the Ninth Circuit that a minority-owned corporation may establish an “imputed racial identity” for purposes of demonstrating standing to bring a claim of race discrimination under federal law. We hold that a corporation that is minority-owned and has been properly certified as such under applicable law can be the direct object of discriminatory action and establish standing to bring an action based on such discrimination.”
Chief Justice Roberts was concerned about the connection of racial identities for corporations and corporate free exercise of religion as raised in the Hobby Lobby and related cases. Note that fellow BLPB blogger Josh Fershee wrote about the racial identity of a corporation on BLPB here arguing why religious discrimination claims by corporations should be allowed and how the analysis would work. Professor Bainbridge weighed in on the issue as well.
Here is my best response as to why holding that corporations can have a racial identity is not necessarily fatal to the claim that corporations cannot have a religious identity for purposes of free exercise under the 1st Amendment, and why religious discrimination cases for corporations may also be more difficult than racial discrimination cases.
Line drawing. In the Carnell case as well as in others, the corporations at issue had been certified as a minority/women owned business at the state level, which is treated as a form of pre-requisite for such standing to assert a racial discrimination claim. There is no similar bright line test or religious entity process for a for-profit corporations. Indeed the very process of such a certification may implicate other 1st Amendment protections for freedom of speech and association.
Third Parties & Equity. Second, imputing the racial identity to the corporation for purposes of a Title VI claim of racial discrimination upholds the minimum anti-discrimination standard against third parties. So in the race cases, the identity of the owners is imputed to the corporation to prevent third parties from evading a legal standard. In the corporate free exercise of religion context, the owners are requesting that their individual religious beliefs be imputed to the corporation to allow it to evade compliance with a law. Anti-discrimination laws are applied generally and don’t allow a person to discriminate whether it is with an individual or through a corporation rather than exempting a corporation from a neutrally-applied, generally applicable law.
This last points get to the debate, in part, about the relevance of reverse veil piercing (RVP) on which Professor Stephen Bainbridge has advocated as a framework to resolve the mandate issue in Hobby Lobby. The corporate veil is rejected in both CVP and RVP when equity requires and that is usually dependent upon a third party interest that is best protected by rejecting the legal fiction of a separate corporate form. In the anti-discrimination/racial identity there is an equitable argument that the third party cannot discriminate against the corporation simply because it is owned by minorities. What is the equitable argument in Hobby Lobby? The fairness rationale is weakened here, especially in light of the interests of the 13.5K employees receiving health care coverage as a form of compensation for their work for the company. Instead RVP, it must rest, if at all, on the public policy justification advanced by Professor Bainbridge. But again, the public policy argument cuts both for and against RVP. There is a public policy argument in protecting/promoting religious freedom as there is in facilitating access to health care, including forms of health care that Congress has determined to be necessary for women (and families) under the ACA.
Monday, April 14, 2014
In an opinion released earlier today, the D.C. Circuit Court struck down the SEC's Dodd-Frank Conflict Mineral Rule under the compelled speech doctrine for failing the least restrictive alternative prong.
We therefore hold that 15 U.S.C. § 78m(p)(1)(A)(ii) & (E), and the Commission’s final rule, 56 Fed. Reg. at 56,362-65, violate the First Amendment to the extent the statute and rule require regulated entities to report to the Commission and to state on their website that any of their products have “not been found to be ‘DRC conflict free.’”
Not striking down the need for information about conflict minerals, but rather the required approach, the Court suggested that:
[A] centralized list compiled by the Commission in one place may even be more convenient or trustworthy to investors and consumers. The Commission has failed to explain why (much less provide evidence that) the Association’s intuitive alternatives to regulating speech would be any less effective.
In August, 2012, the SEC released final Dodd-Frank rules for conflict minerals "requir[ing] companies to publicly disclose their use of conflict minerals that originated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) or an adjoining country."
Thursday, April 10, 2014
Continuing with the theme, I want to highlight a new hybrid resource, JURIFY, which is a mostly-free, online transactional law resource.
“Jurify provides instant access to high-credibility, high-relevance legal content, including forms and precedent in Microsoft Word® format written by the world’s best lawyers, white papers and webinars from top-tier law firms, articles in prestigious law journals, reliable blog posts and current versions of statutory, regulatory and case law, all organized by legal issue.”
Here are the stats: Jurify, launched in 2012, covers 5 broad transactional areas: General Corporate, Governance, Mergers & Acquisitions, Securities and Startup Companies. The 11,000+ sources that the website currently contains have been verified by transactional attorneys and generated from free on-line platforms or submitted by private attorneys who are voluntarily sharing their work. Documents are organized according to 586 tags. Three transactional attorneys started this website (husband/wife duo and their former law-firm colleague); none take compensation from editors, publishers or law firms.
Jurify is a unique transactional law resource for the following reasons:
- FREE (mostly). Website contents including primary law, secondary sources and template agreements and forms. All content is searchable; most is free; some templates/forms, available in Microsoft word version, require either a fee or a paid membership. In the future, Jurify founders hope to generate revenue by providing performance metrics and career services components.
- Emphasis on Primary Sources—collecting the most current and complete versions of governing statutes, and here is the important part—putting relevant sources together. Want to find out registration obligations? A search on Jurify will pull from several different sources to give you a comprehensive look at the governing law.
- Organization. The website resources are organized in a consumer-friendly, vertically integrated platform (like the searching functions on YouTube). If you search for one term of art, (the example used was break-up fees), the search results pull all related terms of art (i.e., termination fees, reverse break-up fees, etc.). The data base has been encoded with 1600 corporate law synonyms in the platform to facilitate more robust natural language searches.
- Multiple search modes (i.e., accessible for the novice). Non-experts can search for information using tags and drop down boxes to sort information by source type (news articles, videos, journals, statutes and regs, etc.). The site also includes a glossary of terms, and those terms serve as searchable categories that have documents associated with them.
- Narrowing the field. You don’t need every document- you just need the right document. Researchers can narrow search results through subcategories, which include definitions on all of the subcategories to assist the non-expert (i.e., students, generalist attorneys like some in-house teams). Within general categories, researchers can also conduct granular searches within a topic and can narrow by specific fields (i.e., M&A).
- Sorting the results. Search results are displayed in order of relevance. Relevance, in Jurify, is determined by the tags assigned by Jurify attorneys reviewing and labeling each document in the database. While a document may have 15 tags, 2 or 3 tags will be the primary tag, and the document will be flagged as “noteworthy” for that particular topic. The idea is that you review the most relevant documents first not just any document that contains any reference to your search fields.
- Networking Component. Some of the documents are voluntarily provided by practicing attorneys and their names remain associated with the document(s). If an attorney wants to establish herself as an expert in an area, she may do so in part, by contributing high-quality documents on that topic. Top contributors are highlighted on the website, using in part, a Credibility Score. In the future, a ranking/review feature will be added so that users can provide feedback on the quality/relevance of a document as well.
Erik Lopez, co-founder of Jurify, contacted the BLPB editors earlier this spring. As a result, I test drove the site with Erik a few weeks ago, which formed the basis of my comments above. Thanks Erik! (Note: Neither BLPB nor I, individually, received any compensation as a result of this post. I am passing it along because I genuinely am intrigued by the platform, business model, and potential for the website to be a valuable transactional resource.)
If anyone currently uses Jurify, or test drives the site after reading this post, please share your experience in the comments.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
On March 27th, SEC commissioner Daniel M. Gallagher’s delivered the keynote address at the 26th Annual Corporate Law Institute at Tulane University Law School. Addressing the intersection of governance and securities disclosure, Commissioner’s Gallagher’s remarks (available here) are summarized below:
Dodd Frank increased the federalization of corporate law.
“This mandated intrusion into corporate governance will impose substantial compliance costs on companies, along with a one-size-fits-all approach that will likely result in a one-size-fits-none model instead.”
Shareholder proposals are costly, problematic and used by only a small group of shareholders with particular interests and agendas that may not be alligned with other shareholders. Citing first to the 41% increase in shareholder proposals post Dodd-Frank, and the meager 7% passage rate, Commission Gallagher outlined which shareholders use the proposal process and the punch line is that only 1% are brought by ordinary institutional investors.
- 34% are from organized labor;
- 25% are from social, policy or religious institutions; and
- 24% of the proposals were brought by just two individuals whom the Commissioner described as “corporate gadflies.”
The shareholder proposal process should be reformed by narrowing the scope of those eligible to bring proposals and the subject matter of the proposals.
- Increase holding amounts and time (specifics not provided);
- Clarify the application guidelines for the “ordinary business operations” exclusion and the “significant policy issue” exception to the exclusion;
- Have commissioners vote on exclusions, not leave it to the staff;
- Create greater authority to exclude misstatements; and
- Substantially strengthen resubmission thresholds (suggesting a three strikes you are out rule).
While not a heading of the remarks, another clear take away is the Commissioner’s stance against viewing climate change as a serious policy issue and that conflict mineral reports do not “provide investors with the information they need to make informed investment decisions.” To further this point, he discredited third parties, like the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, as having no role in shaping disclosure requirements.
You should read the full remarks, if nothing else, for this line: “Mike D. of the Beastie Boys—who, by helping to bring the proposal to a vote, at least succeeded in his fight for the right to proxy.”
Wednesday, April 2, 2014
Fellow BLPB contributor and friend, Haskell Murray, bravely posted his view of FOMA and Family yesterday. I am contributing to the conversation with my own view of the issues he raised. Both of our posts are born of conversations we have been having off line for the past several months.
We are approaching (if not there already) the point in the semester when I typically feel overloaded by remaining materials for class and year-end administrative responsibilities, fatigue from spring writing deadlines and travel, and a little puzzled by how a summer that isn’t even here yet, already feels “full”. I know that I haven’t struck the right balance, especially not with an infant at home. And yet, if the phone rang tomorrow with an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up, I would instantly add it into the mix subtracting from “free” time and further bloating the scheduled column. I know that I am not alone.
I want to explore two ideas: “opportunities that can’t be passed up” and “free time”.
The bottom line is that I am grateful to have a job that is rewarding, engaging, flexible, and ultimately fun. I look at the pool of candidates we bring in each fall and consider myself immeasurably lucky to be on this side of the vote. At the base of my gratitude is a sneaking suspicion that maybe I don’t belong and that a mistake or an oversight was made in hiring me. So I work very hard to hide that unscratchable itch of doubt in myself and to allay it, should it arise, in any colleagues. From this place of uncertainty all opportunities, any opportunity, can look like one that can’t be passed up or turned down. I have confessed to Haskell that I feel like if I say no that it will turn the tide of good fortune against me, and I will lose all of the good luck that brought me to this profession, and to my school. And so I say yes. To everything.
I want to adopt a lens that helps me view opportunities as what they are—a potential path, not a destination. Opportunities and invitations are not things to be hoarded, gobbling up as many as I can count. Invitations are not validation. [Note that as I write this, I am gripped with the fear that someone reading this was thinking about inviting me to something and now they won’t…is it too contradictory to ask that you still consider inviting me?]. Invitations to present or to collaborate are an opportunity to move in a direction. But we can’t move in all directions at once: we must focus on where it is we actually want to go.
And this brings me to free time. Leaving personal free time aside (and my desire to spend one morning a week with my son over the summer), I want to focus on something even less discussed: professional free time. I want to carve out space to be contemplative about my direction and the steps that I need to take in order to develop my scholarship. I don’t mean setting a writing deadline for my next article, but I mean thinking broadly about what I want to do with my research. Of course we all want to do good work, and outside of tenure standards, individually we make our own value judgments about what “good work” means. Instead of writing the next article as an act of self-propelling force driven by submission cycles and symposiums, I want to revisit the notion of a scholarly agenda like the ones provided by candidates each fall. I want to map out where I need to go and the skills necessary to get there. I think that if I let my FOMA drive me to commit to everything that I will remain a slave to the schedule and fail to stake out my own path, set my own course, and pick the right opportunities to take me where I want to go. Only if I regain a bit of control over my schedule, can I ever hope to strike the right balance professionally and for my family.
So I turn the question to you—do you experience professional FOMA and how do you counter it?
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
A hearing in the Delaware Court of Chancery highlights the question raised in my earlier post of institutional shareholder activism and provides a timely example of one brand of shareholder activism: issue activism.
Yesterday, Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster denied Hershey's motion to dismiss a books-and-records suit brought by shareholder Louisiana Municipal Police Employees' Retirement System. The suit seeks inspection of corporate books to investigate claims that the chocolate company knowingly used suppliers violating international child labor laws. A full description of the hearing is available here.
UPDATE, Kent Greenfield who has been involved in the case, provided me with a copy of the Hershey hearing & ruling ( Download Hershey Ruling) as well as some context for the case. Yesterday's hearing did two things. First, it clarified the standard of review for motions to dismiss section 220 books and records demands. Citing to Seinfeld v. Verizon Commc'ns, Inc., 909 A.2d 117, 118 (Del. Supr. 2006), the proper standard is whether a shareholder has provided "some evidence to suggest a 'credible basis' from which a court can infer that mismanagement, waste or wrongdoing may have occurred." Second, the books and record request was brought on the novel theory that corporate violations of law (domestic and international) are ultra vires and within the scope of shareholder enforcement. The ultra vires corporate enforcement theory is discussed in more detail in this 2005 article by Professors Greenfield and Sulkowski.