Monday, September 26, 2016

Diversity & Herstory in the Boardroom

Fresh from the presidential debate,** I find myself writing about board room diversity.*** Over the 2016 summer, SEC Chairwoman Mary Jo White signaled intent to revisit diversity in U.S. boardrooms.  In 2009 the SEC adopted a diversity disclosure rule requiring companies to disclose how their nominating committees considered diversity and whether the company had a diversity policy. The full rule can be viewed here.  The SEC did not define (nor did it mandate a singular definition of ) diversity, and companies have been left to define diversity individually, often without regard to gender, ethnic, racial or religious identities.  The result, criticized by Chairwoman White,  has been vague disclosures without apparent impact. 

SEC diversity rule making (past and future) was the backdrop for a recent corporate governance seminar class where I asked students:  Why should they care about board room diversity? And if the 2009 disclosure rule changes, how should it change? How do other countries approach the issue of boardroom diversity?  Can it be a mandated or legislated endeavor?  To guide our discussion we read  Aaron A Dhir's brilliant and thorough: Challenging Boardroom Homogeneity: Corporate Law, Governance and Diversity and consulted Catalyst.org to understand the panoply of diversity choices from other jurisdictions.  

Dhir's Challenging Boardroom Homogeneity was a helpful and powerful book, equipping students with facts and language to think about and discuss diversity.  Dhir engaged in a qualitative, interview-based methodology to investigate, and ultimately compare the Norwegian quota system with the U.S. diversity disclosure experience.  While noting the costs and the translation problems from Norway to the world writ-large, Dhir interpreted his results as follows: 

"female directors, present in substantial numbers, may enhance the level of cognitive diversity and constructive conflict in the boardroom.  They are more apt to critically analyze, test and challenge received wisdom.  In doing so, they appear to have harnessed for their boards the value of dissent, a key driver of effective governance."

In focusing on the U.S. experience, however, Dhir found that U.S. firms defined diversity in terms of experience not identity, and that this initiative fell short of the goal of encouraging or promoting boardroom diversity.  Dhir recommended that the SEC  define diversity as containing socio-demographic  components and encourage companies to incorporate such considerations in governance by imposing a comply or explain regime in the U.S.  While some have lamented that the SEC's primary challenge is how to define what diversity means, Dhir, through his research and analysis has a pretty good staring point.  Should someone send Chairwoman White a copy of this book? 

More than even the careful methodology, the refreshing comparative perspective and thoughtful recommendations tied to data and observable trends, the book provides a common language to explain the phenomenon of why diversity, as an initiative, is even necessary in the first place. Chapter two engages with a nuanced set of issues, irrefutable fact and explanations of bias--implicit and explicit.  Here I think, more so than even other parts of the book, students connected with the materials linking language to real experiences and observations in their own lives. The attack on the pool problem critique (there aren't enough qualified women and it variant:  we hired the most qualified candidate from our pool) alone warrants my effusive praise for its persuasive presentation and ability to generate thoughtful student debate.

-Anne Tucker

**The debate wasn't the impetus, rather writing this post is just an exercise in settling my nerves before trying to sleep.  

***I have previously written about gender-diversity issues (classroom and boardroom) on the blog here and here.  

September 26, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, International Business, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

What Do Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and 220 Law Professors Have in Common?

Lately, I’ve been researching the twelve nation Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty (“TPP”) because I am looking at investor-state dispute settlements (ISDS) in my work in progress proposing a model bilateral investment treaty between the U.S. and Cuba.

The TPP, which both Trump and Clinton oppose, has the support of U.S. business. Although President Obama has pushed the treaty as part of his legacy, just this morning, Vice-President Biden added his pessimistic views about its passage. More interestingly, over 220 law and economics academics, led by Harvard’s Laurence Tribe, have come out publicly to oppose TPP, stating:

ISDS grants foreign corporations and investors a special legal privilege: the right to initiate dispute settlement proceedings against a government for actions that allegedly violate loosely defined investor rights to seek damages from taxpayers for the corporation’s lost profits. Essentially, corporations and investors use ISDS to challenge government policies, actions, or decisions that they allege reduce the value of their investments... Through ISDS, the federal government gives foreign investors – and foreign investors alone – the ability to bypass th[e] robust, nuanced, and democratically responsive legal framework. Foreign investors are able to frame questions of domestic constitutional and administrative law as treaty claims, and take those claims to a panel of private international arbitrators, circumventing local, state or federal domestic administrative bodies and courts. Freed from fundamental rules of domestic procedural and substantive law that would have otherwise governed their lawsuits against the government, foreign corporations can succeed in lawsuits before ISDS tribunals even when domestic law would have clearly led to the rejection of those companies’ claims. Corporations are even able to re-litigate cases they have already lost in domestic courts. It is ISDS arbitrators, not domestic courts, who are ultimately able to determine the bounds of proper administrative, legislative, and judicial conduct… This system undermines the important roles of our domestic and democratic institutions, threatens domestic sovereignty, and weakens the rule of law.

Senator Warren, who also opposes TPP has argued, "“ISDS allows a small group of ultra-rich investors to extract billions of dollars from taxpayers while they undermine financial, environmental and public health rules across the world.”  I look forward to the upcoming debates to see whether either Trump, who has labeled the proposal the “rape of our country,”  or Clinton, who previously supported the deal, will cite the academics' letter as additional reason to oppose TPP. 

September 22, 2016 in Constitutional Law, Corporations, Current Affairs, International Business, International Law, Marcia Narine | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Hermés: The Limited Liability Corporation That's Actually A Corporation

Here’s a new one on the “LLC as corporation” front.  A court in the Southern District of New York says the following:

[T]his Court has subject matter jurisdiction, since the parties are diverse and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. Hermes and Swain are “citizens” of different states; Hermes, a French limited liability corporation, has its headquarters in New York, while Swain is a New Jersey resident.

Hermés of Paris, Inc. v. Swain, 2016 WL 4990340, at *2 (S.D.N.Y., 2016)

In most such circumstances, when a court refers to a “limited liability corporation,” it meant to say “limited liability company.” See, e.g., Avarden Investments, LLC v. Deutsche Bank Nat'l Trust Co., No. 16-CV-014-LM, 2016 WL 4926155, at *2 (D.N.H. Sept. 15, 2016) (“Avarden is a limited liability company organized under the laws of New Hampshire. New Hampshire law permits a limited liability corporation to assign management responsibility of a limited liability company to a ‘manager.’ RSA 304-C:13.”). But not this time.

Bloomberg says Hermès of Paris, Inc. operates as a subsidiary of Hermes International SA.  The French version of an LLC is not an SA, it often viewed as an SARL.  

So, technically, a corporation is a “limited liability corporation” because corporations come with a grant of limited liability. The source of this language in this opinion is, in seems, the petition to compel arbitration, which states in paragraph 10: “Petitioner Hermés, an entity engaged in ‘commerce’ as defined in the FAA §1, is a limited liability corporation, with its United States headquarters in New York, New York.” 

Another interesting (to me) note is that that court and the pleadings don’t ever say where Hermés is incorporated. They just say where it is headquartered.  I see nothing that says its state of origin. I am not as up on my civil procedure (jurisdiction) as maybe I should be, but couldn’t that matter? That is, if Hermés of Paris, Inc., is a New Jersey corporation with headquarters in New York, might that not be a problem for diversity jurisdiction? (It looks like it’s not, though. I looked. But they do have a New Jersey warehouse. Still, the state of formation seems mildly important to note.)

Anyway, although I don’t like the use of the term at all, because it creates potential for confusion (is it an LLC or a corporation?), at least this time the words are correct, even if that’s not generally how we refer to the entity type. I’d still prefer the court to have just called it a corporation, though.

 

September 20, 2016 in Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, September 16, 2016

Is the Era of Conflict Minerals Disclosure Coming to an End?

Earlier this week the House Financial Services Committee voted to repeal the Dodd-Frank Conflict Minerals Rule, which I last wrote about here and in a law review article criticizing this kind of disclosure regime in general.

Under the proposed Financial Choice Act (with the catchy tagline of "Growth for All, Bailouts for None"), a number of Dodd-Frank provisions would go by the wayside, including conflict minerals because:

Title XV of the Dodd-Frank Act imposes a number of overly burdensome disclosure requirements related to conflict minerals, extractive industries, and mine safety that bear no rational relationship to the SEC’s statutory mission to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and promote capital formation. The Financial CHOICE Act repeals those requirements. There is overwhelming evidence that Dodd-Frank’s conflict minerals disclosure requirement has done far more harm than good to its intended beneficiaries – the citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo and neighboring Central African countries. SEC Chair Mary Jo White, an Obama appointee, has conceded the Commission is not the appropriate agency to carry out humanitarian policy. The provisions of Title XV of the Dodd-Frank Act are a prime example of the increasing use of the federal securities laws as a cudgel to force public companies to disclose extraneous political, social, and environmental matters in their periodic filings.

The House report cites a number of scholars and others who raise some of the same issues that I addressed in an amicus brief when the case was litigated at the trial and appellate level years ago.

This weekend I am attending the Business and Human Rights Scholars Conference co-sponsored by the University of Washington School of Law, the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, the Rutgers Business School, the Rutgers Center for Corporate Law and Governance, and the Business and Human Rights Journal. I present on Cuba, human rights, and investor-state dispute resolution, but a number of papers concern conflict minerals and disclosure in general.

As I have argued in the past, I’m not sure that repeal is the answer. I do believe that the law should be re-examined and possibly reformed to ensure that the diligence and disclosure actually leads to tangible and sustained benefits for the Congolese people. In short, I want to see some evidence of linkages between this corporate governance disclosure and reductions in rape, violence, child slavery, pillaging of villages, and forced labor. I want to see proof that the individual ethical consumers who claim in surveys to care about human rights have actually changed their buying habits because of this name and shame campaign.

Although I do not agree with many of the proposals in the House report and I am not against all disclosure, I do not believe that the SEC is the appropriate agency to address these issues. The State Department and others can and should take the lead on the very serious security and justice reform issues that I witnessed firsthand in Goma and Bukavu  when I went to the DRC to research this law five years ago. These issues and the violence perpetrated by rebel groups, police, and the military persist.  I look forward to hearing how and if proponents of the conflict minerals rule address this report during the conference.

September 16, 2016 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Americold & Diversity Jurisdiction

Last spring, in the wake of Justice Scalia's passing, I blogged about Justice Scalia's final business law case: Americold Realty Trust v. ConAgra Ltd. The oral argument signaled that the Court's preference for a formalistic, bright line test that asked whether the entity involved was an unincorporated entity, in which case the citizenship of its members controlled the question of diversity, or whether it was formed as an corporation, in which a different test would apply.  The Supreme Court issued its unanimous (8-0) opinion in March, 2016 holding that the citizenship of an unincorporated entity depends on the citizenship of all of its members. Because Americold was organized as a real estate investment trust under Maryland law, its shareholders are its members and determine (in this case, preclude) diversity jurisdiction.   

S.I. Strong, the Manley O. Hudson Professor of Law at the University of Missouri, has a forthcoming article, Congress and Commercial Trusts: Dealing with Diversity Jurisdiction Post-Americold, forthcoming in Florida Law Review.  The article addresses the corporate constitutional jurisprudential questions of how can and should the Supreme Court treat business entities.  What is the appropriate role of substance and form in business law?  Her article offers a decisive reply:

Commercial trusts are one of the United States’ most important types of business organizations, holding trillions of dollars of assets and operating nationally and internationally as a “mirror image” of the corporation. However, commercial trusts remain underappreciated and undertheorized in comparison to corporations, often as a result of the mistaken perception that commercial trusts are analogous to traditional intergenerational trusts or that corporations reflect the primary or paradigmatic form of business association.

The treatment of commercial trusts reached its nadir in early 2016, when the U.S. Supreme Court held in Americold Realty Trust v. ConAgra Foods, Inc. that the citizenship of a commercial trust should be equated with that of its shareholder-beneficiaries for purposes of diversity jurisdiction. Unfortunately, the sheer number of shareholder-beneficiaries in most commercial trusts (often amounting to hundreds if not thousands of individuals) typically precludes the parties’ ability to establish complete diversity and thus eliminates the possibility of federal jurisdiction over most commercial trust disputes. As a result, virtually all commercial trust disputes will now be heard in state court, despite their complexity, their impact on matters of national public policy and their effect on the domestic and global economies.

Americold will also result in differential treatment of commercial trusts and corporations for purposes of federal jurisdiction, even though courts and commentators have long recognized the functional equivalence of the two types of business associations. Furthermore, as this research shows, there is no theoretical justification for this type of unequal treatment.

This Article therefore suggests, as a normative proposition, that Congress override Americold and provide commercial trusts with access to federal courts in a manner similar to that enjoyed by corporations. This recommendation is the result of a rigorous interdisciplinary analysis of both the jurisprudential and practical problems created by Americold as a matter of trust law, procedural law and the law of incorporated and unincorporated business associations. The Article identifies two possible Congressional responses to Americold, one involving reliance on minimal diversity, as in cases falling under 28 U.S.C. §§1332(d) and 1369, and the other involving a statutory definition of the citizenship of commercial trusts similar to that used for corporations under 28 U.S.C. §1332(c). In so doing, this Article hopes to place commercial trusts and corporations on an equal footing and avoid the numerous negative externalities generated by the Supreme Court’s decision in Americold.

A special thanks to Professor Strong who read the blog's coverage of Americold and shared her scholarship with me.

-Anne Tucker

September 14, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Constitutional Law, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Litigation, Shareholders, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Free Speech and Free Markets Go Together

I think, by now, most people have heard about Colin Kaepernick's protest, which he manifested by his refusal to stand for the national anthem before the 49ers' August 26 preseason game against the Green Bay Packers.  Kaepernick explained his actions as follows: 

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

Many were offended by his decision; others have applauded it.  What is it that makes people (particularly white people) so upset about someone choosing not to stand for the national anthem? I thought the anthem and flag were supposed to stand for freedom, which includes the freedom to dissent and disagree. It fascinates me that one football player could get this much press for deciding not to do something he was under no obligation to do (as his employer made clear). But it certainly explains why he did it. If nothing else, Colin Kaepernick reminded of us both of our ability to speak freely and that there are potential costs when doing so. He got people to talk about an important issue, and he used his platform to focus on a necessary conversation.

Free speech can, though, have consequences. And in many ways, it should. The Bill of Rights just protects our right to speech and limits the government's ability to impose consequences for exercising that right. The Denver Broncos' Brandon Marshall lost a credit union sponsorship for his actions in support of Kaepernick's protest. Personally, if I did business with that sponsor, they'd lose my money because I support his Marshall's right to protest and because I think the the protest, conducted in a peaceful way, raised issues worthy of discussion.  (I will note that the sponsor cut ties in what appears to be a respectful and above-board way. I just disagree with the decision).  That's the free market working in a (mostly) free country.  I don't have any problem with the sponsor acting as they did, either.  They, too, were exercising their rights (assuming they did not breach a contract, and I have seen no evidence they did). I am not mad the credit union made the decision it did; I just disagree with the decision, and I would let them know that by walking away. 

Most striking to me about this uproar is the apparently binary way so many people view protests. One can love this country and hate injustice. We can protest as we try to reach our ideals. And we can disagree about the method of protest or the ideals themselves. But let's consider the point and be respectful of one another as we try to work through our differences. Brandon Marshall stated this position especially well. He explained, "I'm not against the military. I’m not against the police or America. I’m just against social injustice.”

Businesses, like people, have the right to associate with those they choose, and consumers (in turn) have a right to respond.  That is not just free speech, it is how a free market operates. 

Th United States, to me, is a great, yet greatly flawed, nation. The flag (and our national anthem) can represent the best of this nation and its people. The song and flag, like almost anything related to this nation that is more than 200 years old, also has ties to some of our very worst history, including slavery. That is also a reality. We have real and significant remaining institution problems related to race and gender, even if we're better than we used to be.  

No matter what, the national anthem and the flag are neither bigger than, nor more important than, the citizens they are intended to represent. Speaking freely, even when it is not popular, is honoring the best of what the flag should represent, the best of this nation’s history, and (I sincerely hope) a sign of a great future. Free speech is not a liberal or conservative issue, and exercising our right to speak should be celebrated, whether you agree with the speech or not.  Free speech begets free markets. 

“All we say to America is, ‘Be true to what you said on paper.’ If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I . . . could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn’t committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr., Civil Rights Leader

 

“We are so concerned to flatter the majority that we lose sight of how very often it is necessary, in order to preserve freedom for the minority, let alone for the individual, to face that majority down.”
— William F. Buckley Jr., founder of National Review magazine

 

“We cannot have a society half slave and half free; nor can we have thought half slave and half free. If we create an atmosphere in which [people] fear to think independently, inquire fearlessly, express themselves freely, we will in the end create the kind of society in which [people] no longer care to think independently or to inquire fearlessly.”
— Henry Steele Commager, U.S. historian

 

September 13, 2016 in Corporations, Current Affairs, Human Rights, Joshua P. Fershee, Law and Economics, Sports | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Private Ordering in the Uncorporation: Modified and Eliminated Fiduciary Duties Are Often the Same Thing

What does it mean to opt out of fiduciary duties?  In follow-up to my co-blogger Joan Heminway's post, Limited Partnership Law: Should Tennessee Follow Delaware's Lead On Fiduciary Duty Private Ordering?, I will go a step further and say all states should follow Delaware's lead on private ordering for non-publicly traded unincorporated business associations. 

Here's why:  At formation, I think all duties between promoters of an unincorporated business association (i.e., not a corporation) are always, to some degree, defined at formation. This is different than the majority of other agency relationships where the expectations of the relationship are more ingrained and less negotiated (think employee-employer relationship).  

As such, I'd make fiduciary duties a fundamental right by statute that can be dropped (expressly) by those forming the entity.  I'd put an additional limit on the ability to drop fiduciary duties: the duties can only be dropped after formation if expressly stated in formation documents (or agreed unanimously later). That is, if you didn't opt out at formation, tell all those who could potentially join the entity how you can change fiduciary duties later. This helps limit some (though not all) freeze-out options, and I think it would encourage investors to check the entity documents closely (as they should).

At formation, the concerns we might have of, for example, an employee without fiduciary duties, are not the same as they are for co-venturers. Those starting an entity have long negotiated what is a breach of the duty of loyalty, for example.  In contrast, I think fiduciary duties in most employer-employee (and similar) relationships reflect the majoritarian default and they facilitate the relationship existing at all. For LLCs and partnership entities, I think that's less clear. Entity formation is relatively rare compared to how often we enter other agency relationships, and they almost always involve significant negotiation (if not planning).  And if they don't, the rules we expect traditionally should be the default. But where the parties talk about it, and they usually do, allowing a more robust sense of freedom of contract has value.  

Even in Delaware, where one can negotiate out of fiduciary duties, there remains the duty of good faith and fair dealing. I think of that as meaning that the parties still have a right to the essence of the contract.  That is, the contract has to mean something.  It has to have had a purpose and potential value at formation, and no party can eliminate that.  But, the parties only have a right to what was bargained for.  As such, what we might traditionally consider a breach of the duty of loyalty could also breach the duty of good faith and fair dealing, but a traditional breach of the duty of loyalty might not be sufficient to find liability where there is expressly no duty of loyalty. Instead, the act must so contradict the purpose of the contract that it rises to the level of a breach the duty of good faith and fair dealing. 

Part of the reason I support this option is that I think case law has already validated it, but in such an inartful manner that it confuses existing doctrine. See, e.g.McConnell v. Hunt Sports Enterprises132 Ohio App. 3d 657, 725 N.E.2d 1193 (Ct. App. 1999) (“An LLC, like a partnership, involves a fiduciary relationship. Normally, the presence of such a relationship would preclude direct competition between members of the company. However, here we have an operating agreement that by its very terms allows members to compete with the business of the company.”).

In closing, I will note that I am all for express provisions that require investors to pay attention at the outset. I don't believe in helping cheaters hide the ball. I just think law that encourages investors and others joining new ventures to pay attention is useful and will provide long-term value to entities.  I don't think that eliminated fiduciary duties at formation raise any more of a risk than we already have with limited or modified fiduciary duties at formation. With the more limited protections described above, freedom of contract should reign. 

September 6, 2016 in Corporations, Delaware, Joan Heminway, Joshua P. Fershee, Legislation, LLCs, Negotiation, Partnership, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, September 2, 2016

EpiPen Price Hikes and Corporate Law

In his article, Making It Easier for Directors to "Do the Right Thing?" 4 Harv. Bus. L. Rev. 235, 237–39 (2014), Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Leo Strine wrote:

[E]ven if one accepts that those who manage public corporations may, outside of the corporate sales process, treat the best interests of other corporate constituencies as an end equal to the best interests of stockholders, and believes that stockholders should not be afforded additional influence over those managers, those premises do very little to actually change the managers’ incentives in a way that would encourage them to consider the interests of anyone other than stockholders. . . . even if corporate law supposedly grants directors the authority to give other constituencies equal consideration to stockholders outside of the sale context, it employs an unusual accountability structure to enable directors to act as neutral balancers of the diverse, and not always complementary, interests affected by corporate conduct. In that accountability structure, owners of equity securities are the only constituency given any rights. Stockholders get to elect directors. Stockholders get to vote on mergers and substantial asset sales. Stockholders get to inspect the books and records. Stockholders get the right to sue. No other constituency is given any of these rights. (emphasis added, citations omitted)

There has been a lot of anger and shock in the reporting over the price increases by EpiPen-maker Mylan. See, e.g., here, here, here, and here, but I think Chief Justice Strine's observation about the general accountability structure of corporate law is at least a partial explanation. (To be sure, there also appears to be an executive compensation story, though the executive compensation structure may be driven by the shareholder-centric accountability structure. That said, Mylan appears to be a Netherlands-incorporate company, and I know very little about the structure of its corporate law.)

The price for an EpiPen has increased a staggering amount since 2007 when pharmaceutical company Mylan acquired the product – wholesaling for $100 in 2007; $103.50 in 2009; $264.50 in 2013; $461 in 2015; $608.61 in 2016.

The general tone of the reporting in the mainstream media is one of outrage.

But isn't this to be expected? Granted, the business judgment rule provides a lot of leeway, and I would not argue that Mylan was "forced" to hike prices, even if Mylan were incorporated in Delaware. But if we give shareholders virtually all of the significant corporate governance tools, isn't it obvious that directors and officers will often seek shareholder interests even when it is harmful to communities? The bigger story here may be that certain norms and the fear of negative press have been able to keep plenty of other companies from following suit.

My article Adopting Stakeholder Advisory Boards, due out next semester in the American Business Law Journal, suggests giving some of the corporate governance accountability tools (such as certain voting rights) to a stakeholder advisory board made up of stakeholder representatives. The article argues that adoption of stakeholder advisory boards should be mandatory for large social enterprises (because they both chose a social entity form and have the resources) and should be voluntarily adopted by other serious socially-conscious companies. An accountability change of this sort might bring public expectations and the corporate law accountability structure into line.

Separately, are there certain industries - like the health care industry - that we want to be less profit-focused than others? For those industries, perhaps requiring (or making attractive through regulations/taxes) the choice of a social enterprise form (like benefit corporation) may make some sense. However, as noted in my article, the benefit corporation accountability structure is quite shareholder-centric, similar to the structure for traditional corporations. Granted, socially-motivated shareholders may exert some pressure on benefit corporations and the benefit corporation law may give them a somewhat better chance to do so, but if we want real change, I think the corporate accountability structure needs to be more completely redesigned.

Personal Note: When I was a child, my mom carried an EpiPen for me, following an incident involving plastic armor, a tennis racket, and whacking a big bee nest. 

September 2, 2016 in Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Haskell Murray, Shareholders, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Glass Lewis on Corporate Governance

I previously wrote on the Commonsense Principles of Corporate Governance released by high profile investors and corporate titans such as Jamie Dimon and Warren Buffet. Others, such as Steve Bainbridge have also weighed in. Now proxy advisory firm Glass Lewis has spoken, stating in part:

While the Principles may disappoint investors expecting a more comprehensive and robust approach similar to that found in the UK and other countries, there are a few areas where the principles promote forward-thinking stances. For example, the Principles criticize dual class voting structures and state that companies should consider specific sunset provisions based upon time or a triggering event to eventually eliminate dual class structures. This is notwithstanding the dual class structure at signatory Warren Buffet’s company Berkshire Hathaway…

There are several areas the Principles do not address, including key anti-takeover defenses such as poison pills, supermajority vote requirements and classified boards. The Principles generally address some issues such as special meeting rights and term/age limits for directors but do not recommend specific thresholds or tenure limits…

Despite the Principles’ relatively narrow scope and high level, we believe they contain enough substance to spark a dialogue inside boardrooms, which could lead to increased shareholder engagement from boards that traditionally have relied on executives and investor relations departments to lead those efforts. In our view, direct engagement between investors and boards leads to greater transparency and fosters mutual understanding of the company and its strategy, promoting long-term value creation. As a result, the Principles could have a salutary effect on companies, shareholders and the market.

Given the concern expressed by some in the business community and Congress about the "undue influence" of proxy advisory firms, the Glass Lewis statement is worth a read.

September 2, 2016 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Volcker Rule Data Collection Under Congressional Scrutiny

House Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York, sent a formal request to a slew of federal agencies to share trading data collected in connection with the Volcker Rule. The Volcker Rule prohibits U.S. banks from engaging in proprietary trading (effective July 21, 2015), while permitting legitimate market-making and hedging activities.  The Volcker Rule restricts commercial banks (and affiliates) from investing investing in certain hedge funds and private equity, and imposes enhanced prudential requirements on systemically identified non-bank institutions engaged in such activities.

Representative Maloney requested  the Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Securities and Exchange Commission to analyze seven quantitative trading metrics that regulators have been collecting since 2014 including: (1) risk and position limits and usage; (2) risk factor sensitivities; (3) value-at-risk (VaR) and stress VaR; (4) comprehensive profit and loss attribution; (5) inventory turnover; (6) inventory aging; and (7) customer facing trade ratios.

Representative Maloney requested the agencies analyze the data and respond to the following questions:

  • The extent to which the data showed significant changes in banks’ trading activities leading up to the July 21, 2015 effective date for the prohibition on proprietary trading. To the extent that the data did not show a significant change in the banks’ trading activities leading up to the July 21, 2015 effective date, whether the agencies believe this is attributable to the banks having ceased their proprietary trading activities prior to the start of the metrics reporting in July 2014.
  • Whether there are any meaningful differences in either overall risk levels or risk tolerances — as indicated by risk and position limits and usage, VaR and stress VaR, and risk factor sensitivities — for trading activities at different banks.
  • Whether the risk levels or risk tolerances of similar trading desks are comparable across banks reporting quantitative metrics. Similarly, whether the data show any particular types of trading desks (e.g., high-yield corporate bonds, asset-backed securities) that have exhibited unusually high levels of risk.
  • How examiners at the agencies have used the quantitative metrics to date.
  • How often the agencies review the quantitative metrics to determine compliance with the Volcker Rule, and what form the agencies’ reviews of the quantitative metrics take.
  • Whether the quantitative metrics have triggered further reviews by any of the agencies of a bank’s trading activities, and if so, the outcome of those reviews
  • Any changes to the quantitative metrics that the agencies have made, or are considering making, as a result of the agencies’ review of the data received as of September 30, 2015.

The agencies' response to the request may provide insight into Dodd-Frank/Volcker Rule, the role of big data in the rule-making process (and re-evaluation), and bigger issues such as whether systemic financial risk is definable by regulation and quantifiable in data collection.  I will post regulatory responses, requested by October 30th, here on the BLPB.

-Anne Tucker

August 31, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Investment Banking, Legislation, Private Equity, Securities Regulation, Venture Capital | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Criminal LLC Law: Shares in a What?

So, I am very anti-fraud, and I think cheaters should not prosper.  But I also think courts should know what they are talking about, especially in criminal cases. The following is from a new Second Circuit case: 
Although we review claims of insufficiency de novo, United States v. Harvey, 746 F.3d 87, 89 (2d Cir. 2014), it is well recognized that “a defendant mounting such a challenge bears a heavy burden” because “in assessing whether the evidence was sufficient to sustain a conviction, we review the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, drawing all inferences in the government's favor and deferring to the jury's assessments of the witnesses' credibility.”  . . . 
[W]e reject Jasmin's challenge to her Hobbs Act conviction. The evidence presented at trial more than sufficiently describes the consideration received by Jasmin in exchange for her official actions as Mayor, including the $5,000 in cash from Stern, “advance” cash for their partnership, and shares in the limited liability corporation that would develop the community center.
United States v. Jasmin, No. 15-2546-CR, 2016 WL 4501977, at *2 (2d Cir. Aug. 29, 2016). 
 
I can't actually figure out exactly what's going on here, but I know a few things: (1) "advance" cash for a partnership probably needs to be assessed more closely because, what partnership? and (2) there should not be shares in a "limited liability corporation." Or maybe there should be, if they just mean "corporation." But I think they mean an LLC, which should provide membership interests.  At a minimum, I would love to see a court call people out in such situations for perpetrating frauds with incorrect entity forms. Yeah, I'm that kind of law nerd. 

August 30, 2016 in Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs, Shareholders, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

"Business Law" Earn Spot as 2016 Law Job Hiring "Trend"

Increasing business demands are prompting companies to expand into new products and markets. Businesses also are engaging in mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures; issuing  securities; and performing other transactions associated with business growth, which results in larger corporate teams. Many companies have a need for additional in-house legal professionals who are readily available to help manage mounting financial and industry-related regulations. Moreover, corporate legal departments often prefer to handle more routine legal work in-house and retain the services of outside counsel for specialized legal work.

Real estate, IP, health care and compliance were also mentioned along with the noted strong growth in litigation.  The full report/study is available here:  Download Legal_2016_job_salary_guide.

 

-Anne Tucker

August 24, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Compliance, Corporations, Jobs, M&A, Real Property | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 19, 2016

A Look at Investor Risk and Community Risk In Private Prisons

The concept of private prisons has always seemed off to me.  Prisons have a role in society, but the idea of running such institutions for profit, it seems to me, aligns incentives in an improper way. The U.S. Justice Department apparently agrees and said yesterday that it plans to end the use of private prisons.  The announcement sent stocks tumbling for two private prison companies, Corrections Corp. of America (CCA) and GEO.  Both dropped as much as 40% and remain down more than 30% from where they were before the announcement.   

Obviously, this can't make shareholders happy, but I figured this had to be a known risk. I was right -- CCA's 10-K makes clear that such government decisions related to future contracts could lead to a reduction in their profitability.  So, the disclosure seems proper from a securities regulation perspective. Still, reading the disclosure raises some serious questions for me about the proper role of government.  I frankly find this kind of outsourcing chilling.  For example, CCA states: 

Our results of operations are dependent on revenues generated by our jails, prisons, and detention facilities, which are subject to the following risks associated with the corrections and detention industry.

We are subject to fluctuations in occupancy levels, and a decrease in occupancy levels could cause a decrease in revenues and profitability.  . . . We are dependent upon the governmental agencies with which we have contracts to provide inmates for our managed facilities.

. . . .

We are dependent on government appropriations and our results of operations may be negatively affected by governmental budgetary challenges. . . . [and] our customers could reduce inmate population levels in facilities we own or manage to contain their correctional costs. . . .

The idea of "customers" in this contest simply does not sit well with me.  It suggests a desire for something that is not a positive. CCA's 10-K continues: 

Competition for inmates may adversely affect the profitability of our business. We compete with government entities and other private operators on the basis of bed availability, cost, quality, and range of services offered, experience in managing facilities and reputation of management and personnel. While there are barriers to entering the market for the ownership and management of correctional and detention facilities, these barriers may not be sufficient to limit additional competition. In addition, our government customers may assume the management of a facility that they own and we currently manage for them upon the termination of the corresponding management contract or, if such customers have capacity at their facilities, may take inmates currently housed in our facilities and transfer them to government-run facilities. . . .

Competition is a good thing in many (I think most), but this is not one of them. These companies are responding to the existing demand for prison services, but there can be no question the real opportunity for market growth is to increase demand for such services (e.g., increase the number of prisoners, seek longer sentences).  This, too, is made clear in the disclosures:

Our growth is generally dependent upon our ability to obtain new contracts to develop and manage new correctional and detention facilities. This possible growth depends on a number of factors we cannot control, including crime rates and sentencing patterns in various jurisdictions, governmental budgetary constraints, and governmental and public acceptance of privatization. The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them. Immigration reform laws are currently a focus for legislators and politicians at the federal, state, and local level. Legislation has also been proposed in numerous jurisdictions that could lower minimum sentences for some non-violent crimes and make more inmates eligible for early release based on good behavior. Also, sentencing alternatives under consideration could put some offenders on probation with electronic monitoring who would otherwise be incarcerated. Similarly, reductions in crime rates or resources dedicated to prevent and enforce crime could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities. 

CCA does note that their "policy prohibits [them] from engaging in lobbying or advocacy efforts that would influence enforcement efforts, parole standards, criminal laws, and sentencing policies." These disclosures, though, sure make clear what kind of policies their shareholders would want to support.  

I don't have any illusion that government run prisons are much (if any) better, but I do think that government's incentives are at least supposed to be aligned with the public good when it comes to the prison system.  I often think government should take a more limited role than it does when it comes to regulations.  That is especially true when it comes to criminal law. But privatizing prisons is not reducing the role of government in our lives -- it is simply outsourcing one key portion of the government's role.  Private prisons do not equate to smaller government. Fewer laws, or relaxed enforcement and punishment, do. If the government is paying for it, it's still a government program.  

Here's hoping that the reduction in use of private prisons leads to a reduction in the use of all prisons.  Let's save those for truly the dangerous folks.  

August 19, 2016 in Corporations, Current Affairs, Human Rights, Joshua P. Fershee, Securities Regulation, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Guest Post: Tides May Be Slowly Turning in Delaware Appraisal Arbitrage

If it is true that “a good thing cannot last forever,” the recent turn of events concerning appraisal arbitrage in Delaware may be a proof point. A line of cases coming out of the Delaware Court of Chancery, namely In re Appraisal of Transkaryotic Therapies, Inc., No. CIV.A. 1554-CC (Del. Ch. May 2, 2007), In re Ancestry.Com, Inc., No. CV 8173-VCG (Del. Ch. Jan. 5, 2015), and Merion Capital LP v. BMC Software, Inc., No. CV 8900-VCG (Del. Ch. Jan. 5, 2015), have made one point clear: courts impose no affirmative evidence that each specific share of stock was not voted in favor of the merger—a “share-tracing” requirement. Despite this “green light” for hedge funds engaging in appraisal arbitrage, the latest case law and legislation identify some new limitations.

What Is Appraisal Arbitrage?

Under § 262 of the Delaware General Corporation Law (DGCL), a shareholder in a corporation (usually privately-held) that disagrees with a proposed plan of merger can seek appraisal from the Court of Chancery for the fair value of their shares after approval of the merger by a majority of shareholders. The appraisal-seeking shareholder, however, must not have voted in favor of the merger. Section 262, nevertheless, has been used mainly by hedge funds in a popular practice called appraisal arbitrage, the purchasing of shares in a corporation after announcement of a merger for the sole purpose of bringing an appraisal suit against the corporation. Investors do this in hopes that the court determines a fair value of the shares that is a higher price than the merger price for shares.

In Using the Absurdity Principle & Other Strategies Against Appraisal Arbitrage by Hedge Funds, I outline how this practice is problematic for merging corporations. Not only can appraisal demands lead to 200–300% premiums for investors, assets in leveraged buyouts already tied up in financing the merger create an even heavier strain on liquidating assets for cash to fund appraisal demands. Additionally, if such restraints are too burdensome due to an unusually high demand of appraisal by arbitrageurs seeking investment returns, the merger can be completely terminated under “appraisal conditions”—a contractual countermeasure giving potential buyers a way out of the merger if a threshold percentage of shares seeking appraisal rights is exceeded. The article also identifies some creative solutions that can be effected by the judiciary or parties to and affected by a merger in absence of judicial and legislative action, and it evaluates the consequences of unobstructed appraisal arbitrage.

The Issue Is the “Fungible Bulk” of Modern Trading Practices

In the leading case, Transkaryotic, counsel for a defending corporation argued that compliance with § 262 required shareholders seeking appraisal prove that each of its specific shares was not voted in favor of the merger. The court pushed back against this share-tracing requirement and held that a plain language interpretation of § 262 requires no showing that specific shares were not voted in favor of the merger, but only requires that the current holder did not vote the shares in favor of the merger. The court noted that even if it imposed such a requirement, neither party could meet it because of the way modern trading practices occur.

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August 17, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Business Associations, Case Law, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Delaware, Financial Markets, Private Equity, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Corporate Bystanders at the Rio Olympics

Greetings from SEALS in lovely Amelia Island. On Wednesday I presented on a proposed bilateral investment treaty between the US and Cuba, and tomorrow I am part of a discussion group on Sustainable Business. I will focus on the roles and responsibilities of corporate sponsors of the Rio Olympics. According to the official Olympics website, “[m]ore than just providing products and services for the event, [the sponsors] ensure that sport always comes first and that the whole world is inspired alongside us.”

Sponsors can spend up to $200 million for the privilege to inspire us. For many sponsors, the chance to have over a billion people watch their commercials and logos appear repeatedly over a period of a few weeks on television is worth the tens of millions of dollars. They often invest in slick YouTube campaigns that show their real or imagined connections to young athletes finally achieving their lifelong dream of bringing home the gold for their country. Apparently, 54% of consumers surveyed felt more positive about Nike after the company sponsored the Olympics based on how it chose to advertise. Many companies use these kinds of sponsorships as part of their corporate social responsibility initiatives. Dow is the official “carbon” partner of the games.

As anyone who watches the news knows, the $12 billion Rio Olympics has been fraught with controversy. According to reports, the crime rate is soaring and the bay is so filthy that the athletes have been warned to keep their mouths closed during water events. Brazil was one of the ten largest economies in the world when it was awarded the games years ago and now is in free fall. As part of the deal to get the games, Brazil promised the IOC and its citizens gleaming new transportation systems, hospitals, and infrastructure but one in seven of Rio’s citizens still live in one of the 1,000 favelas and those have not improved at all. A number of people have actually lost their homes to make way for Olympic venues. Rio’s street children have asked the head of the IOC for assurances that their human rights will be respected.

Human Rights Watch prepared a report last year that outlines some key concerns about the human rights abuses that typically occur at mega sporting events. Although the Olympic Charter states at p. 14 that “the practice of sport is a human right,” the HRW report identified violations that typically occur at these kinds of events. Many have already been documented in Rio including: forced evictions without due process or compensation due to massive new infrastructure construction; environmental activism; threats, intimidation, and arrests of journalists; silencing of civil society and rights activists, and discrimination.What does any of this have to do with business? I have some questions about the role of business that I will explore tomorrow and in my research.

West Virginia Professor Jena Martin has written about the concept of the “corporate bystander.” She notes that, “TNCs often get involved in relationships with state actors who violate international human rights. TNCs then argue that they cannot be held accountable for the violations because they merely observed the underlying atrocities and did not participate in the acts that caused them.” The large corporate sponsors who tout their corporate social responsibility initiatives and who vehemently oppose human rights shareholder proposals because they already have a program in place will likely distance themselves from what is going on in Brazil. They are just sponsors after all. But is that an appropriate response? Should the IOC do more to require human rights safeguards? Should corporate sponsors conduct impact assessments or is their involvement too attenuated? Do the consumers who felt better about Nike after watching the Olympics commercials care about the street children in Brazil or the women who are displaced from their homes? Would they think twice about buying sneakers if they read some of the links in this blog? Does any of this move the share price in either direction?  What is the actual business case for balancing the corporate sponsorship with the human rights impact?

The head of the IOC has signed on to work with the UN on the Sustainable Development Goals--seventeen economic, environmental, social, and governance initiatives that the private sector, government, and civil society aim to achieve by 2030. How does that square with conducting the Olympics in locales with human rights and environmental violations? Should the IOC only hold the Olympics in host countries with "perfect" human rights records and what would that even look like?

I will be discussing these issues tomorrow and will explore it more firsthand when I head to Rio on Saturday. In the meantime, corporate sponsors may hope that the press coverage on Friday evening focuses on panoramic shots of Sugarloaf and Copacabana Beach and not the planned protests before the opening ceremonies.

August 4, 2016 in Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Games, Human Rights, International Law, Marcia Narine | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Slow Down on the Reverse Veil Piercing of LLCs (Which Are STILL Not Corporations)

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.  

 

July 26, 2016 in Corporations, Delaware, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, July 25, 2016

Direct v. Derivative under the Tennessee Business Corporation Act

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.  

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July 25, 2016 in Business Associations, Corporations, Delaware, Joan Heminway, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Is Good Corporate Governance Just a Matter of Common Sense?

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.

July 21, 2016 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Management, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Observations from Writing a Book that May Help You Finish Your Next Article

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.

Anne Tucker*

*Query:  Are the best motivational speeches are the ones you write for yourself?

July 20, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Behavioral Economics, Business Associations, Corporations, Financial Markets, Law School, Research/Scholarhip, Teaching, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Caremark, Compliance, and Cooperation

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 mnarine@stu.edu.

July 14, 2016 in Compliance, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Ethics, Lawyering, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (1)