Wednesday, May 18, 2016

King & Spalding Web Seminar on Corporate Political Activity

Today, I received notice of a web seminar on corporate political activity to be hosted by one of my former firms, King & Spalding.

Interested readers can register for the free web seminar here.

More information, from the notice I received, is reproduced below.

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Election 2016: What Every Corporate Counsel Must Know About Corporate Political Activity     

Thursday, May 26, 2016, 12:30 PM – 1:30 PM ET

                In this election year, corporations and their employees will be faced with historic opportunities to engage in the political arena. Deciding whether and how to do so, however, must be made carefully and based on a thorough understanding of the relevant law. In this presentation, King & Spalding experts will address this timely and important area of the law and provide the guidance that corporate counsel need when engaging in the political process.            

May 18, 2016 in Business Associations, Conferences, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Current Affairs, Haskell Murray | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

SSRN Acquired by Elsevier

Breaking academic news:

Elsevier, a world-leading provider of scientific, technical and medical information products and services, announced today the acquisition of the Social Science Research Network (SSRN)....SSRN will be further developed alongside Mendeley, a London-based free reference manager and scholarly collaboration network owned by Elsevier....

Elsevier provides web-based, digital solutions - among themScienceDirect, Scopus, Elsevier Research Intelligence and ClinicalKey - and publishes over 2,500 journals, including The Lancet and Cell, and more than 33,000 book titles, including a number of iconic reference works. Elsevier is part of RELX Group, a world-leading provider of information and analytics for professional and business customers across industries. http://www.elsevier.com

What does this change mean for publishing authors and researchers?  Content will remain free to post and download. Elsevier acquired Mendeley in 2013 creating controversy over Mendeley's continued "trustworthiness" as a part of a for-profit enterprise. Since the acquisition, Mendeley doubled its subscribers from 2.5 to 5 million.  Elsevier's interest in SSRN, a profitable site for over 13 years, is primarily in its potential for generating user data and analytics.  Integrating SSRN and Mendeley services is predicted to strengthen

"connections between SSRN author pages and Mendeley professional profiles, and workflow connections that allow Mendeley collaborative groups to submit papers for distribution and perhaps eventually review and publication.  There will also be other opportunities to strengthen SSRN for its authors, with plans to link preprints on SSRN with Scopus, bringing analytics about article “performance” to SSRN authors, and to bring improved links between working papers and preprints with their eventual published versions."

Would it be too much to hope for a cosmetic overhaul of the website too?

The acquisition raises some interesting questions for those in academics whose scholarly productivity, national reputation and other outputs are increasingly measured with data points provided from sites like SSRN.  Changes to the substance of the website may change how those metrics are generated and what they mean.  The creation of new metrics available to authors (and schools) may provide for more reportable data points for our annual faculty reports with the questions remaining how useful are those metrics and what do they tell us about the value of ideas?

-Anne Tucker

 

May 17, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Current Affairs, Research/Scholarhip | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 9, 2016

Monday Business Law Fun: Goldilocks, Consumer Protection, and Over-Caffeinating

[Please keep in mind as you read this post that my daughter is a Starbucks partner.  Any pro-Starbucks bias in this post is unintended.  But you should factor in my affiliation accordingly.]

Maybe it's just me, but the publicity around the recent suit against Starbucks for putting too much ice in their iced beverages made me think of Goldilocks and her reactions to that porridge, those chairs, and those beds.  First it was McDonald's, where the coffee was too hot.  Now it's Starbucks, where the coffee is too cold--or, more truthfully, is too watered down from frozen water . . . .  (And apparently I missed a Starbucks suit earlier this year on under-filing lattes . . . .)  

Different types of tort suits, I know.  I always felt bad about the injury to the woman in the McDonald's case, although the fault issue was truly questionable.  The recent Starbucks case just seems wrong in so many ways, however.  This is a consumer dispute that is best addressed by other means.  I admit to believing this most recent suit is actually an abuse of our court system.

How might a customer who is truly concerned about a substandard beverage attempt to remedy the wrong?

Continue reading

May 9, 2016 in Commercial Law, Current Affairs, Joan Heminway, Lawyering, Litigation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Josephine Sandler Nelson on Volkswagen

Thought Josephine Sandler Nelson's recent Oxford Business Law Blog post on Volkswagen might be of interest to our readers. It is reposted here with permission.

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Fumigating the Criminal Bug: The Insulation of Volkswagen’s Middle Management

New headlines each day reveal wide-spread misconduct and large-scale cheating at top international companies: Volkswagen’s emissions-defeat devices installed on over eleven million cars trace back to a manager’s PowerPoint from as early as 2006. Mitsubishi admits that it has been cheating on emissions standards for the eK and Dayz model cars for the past 25 years—even after a similar scandal almost wiped out the company 15 years ago. Takata’s $70 million fine for covering up its exploding air bags in Honda, Ford, and other car brands could soon jump to $200 million if a current Department of Justice probe discovers additional infractions. The government has ordered Takata’s recall of the air bags to more than double: one out of every five cars on American roads may be affected. Now Daimler is conducting an internal investigation into potential irregularities in its exhaust compliance.

A recent case study of the 2015-16 Volkswagen (‘VW’) scandal pioneers a new way to look at these scandals by focusing on their common element: the growing insulation and entrenchment of middle management to coordinate such large-scale wrongdoing. “The Criminal Bug: Volkswagen’s Middle Management” describes how VW’s top management put pressure on the rest of the company below it to achieve results without inquiring into the methods that the agents would use to achieve those results. The willing blindness of top executives to the methods of the agents below them is conscious and calculated. Despite disclosure-based regulation’s move to strict-liability prosecutions, the record of prosecutorial failure at trial against top executives in both the U.S. and Germany demonstrates that assertions of plausible deniability succeed in protecting top executives from accountability for the pressure that they put on agents to commit wrongdoing.

Agents inside VW receive the message loud and clear that they are to cheat to achieve results. As even the chairman of the VW board has admitted about the company, “[t]here was a tolerance for breaking the rules”. And, contrary to VW’s assertion, no one believes that merely a “small group of engineers” is responsible for the misconduct. Only middle management at the company had the longevity and seniority to shepherd at least three different emissions-control defeat devices through engine re-designs over ten years, to hide those devices despite heavily documented software, and to coordinate even across corporate forms with an outside supplier of VW’s software and on-board computer.

The reason why illegal activity can be coordinated and grow at the level of middle management over all these years is rooted in the failure of the law to impose individual accountability on agents at this level of the corporation. Additional work by the same author on the way in which patterns of illegal behavior in the 2007-08 financial crisis re-occur in the 2015-16 settlements for manipulations of LIBOR, foreign currency exchange rates, and other parts of the financial markets indicates that middle management is further protected from accountability by regulators’ emphasis on disclosure-based enforcement. In addition, U.S. law has lost the ability to tie together the behavior of individuals within a corporation through conspiracy or other types of prosecutions.

Previous research has shown that the more prominent the firm is, and the higher the expectations for performance, the more likely the firm is to engage in illegal behavior. Now we understand more about the link between the calculated pressure that top executives put on their companies and the protection of middle management that supports the patterns of long-term, large-scale wrongdoing that inflict enormous damage on the public. It is not solely VW that needs to fumigate this criminal bug: the VW case study suggests that we need to re-think the insulation from individual liability for middle management in all types of corporations.

This post originally appeared on the Oxford Business Law Blog, May 5, 2016.

May 9, 2016 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Haskell Murray, Management, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Shared Ownership & Corporate Incentives

Last week, Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and CEO of Chobani, announced a 10% company stock grant to all company employees.  Chobani joined the ranks of high profile stock grants including Whole Foods, Starbucks, Apple and Twitter.  Stock grants, while more common in tech industries, are a part of hybrid corporate law-employment law conversation on shared ownership.  Employee ownership in companies can occur in several different forms such as ERISA-governed benefit plans where the company stock issued or bought as a part of a retirement saving plan. Alternatively, a stock grant may be structured as a bonus plan, a standard compensation, or a vesting employee benefit eligible after threshold years and types of service.  All of these plans fall under the rubric of shared ownership.  In 2015, the National Center for Employee Benefits estimated that over 9000 companies participated in some form of shared ownership.

In a similar vein, actors in the hit (and record-breaking with 16 Tony Nominations) musical Hamilton have entered into a profit-sharing agreement with producers.  The deal is different for these actors, but the sentiment is the same in sharing profits, aligning interests, and promoting employee loyalty.

Shared ownership plans, especially the ERISA-governed ones can have specific tax and financing benefits for companies.  Creating a shared ownership plan, however is often focused on creating certain firm-specific benefits such as recruiting and retaining talent, and improving firm performance by aligning interests between employees and the company.   The recruitment and retention aspect can be especially valuable to start-up firms that struggle to compete with mature firms on salary and reputation. Empirical studies have found improved workplace performance, on average, for firms with shared capitalism plans, with positive effects observed most strongly when combined with policies such as low supervision, decision-making participation, and competitive pay.

I note these stories with particular interest for several reasons. The first is that I am routinely embarrassed by how little play I give employees in my corporation class .  I seem all too happy to ignore this very important piece of the corporate power puzzle, engine for the machine, etc., etc.  Second, I have been looking at shared ownership in the context of a recent research project, so look for more on that topic in a separate post once the project progresses.  Third, my sense is that social enterprise movement will bring with it greater demands for shared ownership as a means to address social factors such as retirement security, employee autonomy and wage inequality. Look for more of these stories in the headlines and an emphasis on it in scholarship.

-Anne Tucker

May 4, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Business Associations, Compensation, Corporations, Current Affairs, Employment Law, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, April 29, 2016

B Lab and HB2

Earlier this month, B Lab, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that oversees the certification of B corps, announced that it will move its October 2016 retreat from North Carolina because of North Carolina’s controversial House Bill 2 (“HB2”).

In an April 12 e-mail to “Friends of the B Corp Community,” the B Lab team wrote:

Standing for inclusion, the global B Corp community has decided to relocate the 2016 B Corp Champions Retreat and related events from North Carolina in light of the newly-enacted State law HB2 which limits anti-discrimination protections, particularly for members of the LGBT community.

Immediately, B Lab will work with the North Carolina B Corp community and others to get HB2 off the books and make North Carolina more inclusive and business-friendly.

B Lab also linked to this longer statement in that e-mail.

The Model Benefit Corporation Legislation and the laws following the Model require that a third-party standard be used by benefit corporations to measure their social and environmental impact. B Lab’s standard is currently the most popular standard, but it is not required or even mentioned by the benefit corporation statutes. Allowing for various third-party standards helps prevent the benefit corporation law from being overly political. I do wonder, however, if B Lab’s public stand on this issue will make the benefit corporation laws harder to pass in more conservative states, because of B Lab’s large role in cultivating both the certified B corp and benefit corporation communities.

Further, this situation leads to a question I asked in 2012 --- would B Lab exercise their veto power and deny certification to Chick-fil-A, if Chick-fil-A applied for certification and managed the required social score? As I wrote in 2012, I don’t see anything in the benefit corporation laws that would prevent Chick-fil-A from becoming a benefit corporation, but I am less sure if Chick-fil-A would be successful in obtaining certification from B Lab. B Corp certification is separate from the entity formation process, and the certification is under the control of B Lab rather than the government. 

Also, I am not a nonprofit expert, but I wonder whether B Lab is flirting with the lobbying restrictions for 501(c)(3)s, especially when it promises to “work with the North Carolina B Corp community and others to get HB2 off the books.” They also seem to be involved in the attempts to pass benefit corporation laws in states across the country. (Thoughts from nonprofit lawyers or professors welcomed in the comments or by e-mail...I am told that 501(c)(3)s are allowed to do an "insubstantial" amount of lobbying).

In any event, in seems that non-profits, social enterprises, and traditional for-profits are becoming more and more active in social and political debates. And these organizations are often powerful, influential players. 

April 29, 2016 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Current Affairs, Ethics, Haskell Murray | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Can Consumer or Investor Pressure Make a Difference on Corporate Actions? The Carnival Conundrum

Today in my Business and Human Rights class I thought about Ann's recent post where she noted that socially responsible investor Calpers was rethinking its decision to divest from tobacco stocks. My class has recently been discussing the human rights impacts of mega sporting events and whether companies such as Rio Tinto (the medal makers), Omega (the time keepers), Coca Cola (sponsor), McDonalds (sponsor), FIFA (a nonprofit that runs worldwide soccer) and the International Olympic Committee (another corporation) are in any way complicit with state actions including the displacement of indigenous peoples in Brazil, the use of slavery in Qatar, human trafficking, and environmental degradation. I asked my students the tough question of whether they would stop eating McDonalds food or wearing Nike shoes because they were sponsors of these events. I required them to consider a number of factors to decide whether corporate sponsors should continue their relationships with FIFA and the IOC. I also asked whether the US should refuse to send athletes to compete in countries with significant human rights violations. 

Because we are in Miami, we also discussed the topic du jour, Carnival Cruise line's controversial decision to follow Cuban law, which prohibits certain Cuban-born citizens from traveling back to Cuba on sea vessels, while permitting them to return to the island by air. Here in Miami, this is big news with the Mayor calling it a human rights violation by Carnival, a County contractor. A class action lawsuit has been filed  seeking injunctive relief. This afternoon, Secretary of State John Kerry weighed in saying Carnival should not discriminate and calling upon Cuba to change its rules. 

So back to Ann's post. In an informal poll in which I told all students to assume they would cruise, only one of my Business and Human Rights students said they would definitely boycott Carnival because of its compliance with Cuban law. Many, who are foreign born, saw it as an issue of sovereignty of a foreign government. About 25% of my Civil Procedure students would boycott (note that more of them are of Cuban descent, but many of the non-Cuban students would also boycott). These numbers didn't surprise me because as I have written before, I think that consumers focus on convenience, price, and quality- or in this case, whether they really like the cruise itinerary rather than the ethics of the product or service. 

Tomorrow morning (Friday), I will be speaking on a panel with Jennifer Diaz of Diaz Trade Law, two members of the US government, and Cortney Morgan of Husch Blackwell discussing Cuba at the ABA International Law Section Spring Meeting in New York. If you're at the meeting and you read this before 9 am, pass by our session because I will be polling our audience members too. And stay tuned to the Cuba issue. I'm not sure that the Carnival case will disprove my thesis about the ineffectiveness of consumer pressure because if the Secretary of State has weighed in and the Communist Party of Cuba is already meeting next week, it's possible that change could happen that gets Carnival off the hook and the consumer clamor may have just been background noise. In the meantime, Carnival declared a 17% dividend hike earlier today and its stock was only down 11 cents in the midst of this public relations imbroglio. Notably, after hours, the stock was trading up.

April 14, 2016 in Ann Lipton, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Human Rights, International Law, Law School, Marcia Narine, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A CEO Goes to Jail- Is This the Start of A Trend?

Five years ago I blogged about Massey Energy, one of most tragic mining disasters in US history. Just a few minutes ago its CEO Donald Blankenship was sentenced to the maximum one year in prison. The prison term is unusual for a corporate executive, but should it be?

The Department of Justice under Eric Holder came under fire for prosecuting thousands of low level mortgage brokers and analysts but no C-Suite individuals after the financial crisis. Perhaps in response to that, the DOJ released the Yates Memo, which I blogged about in September. There are already some interesting takeaways on the Memo, which you can read about here or you can hear about when I present if you attend the International Legal Ethics Conference in New York in July.  

I'm not sure whether the Yates memo will prevent corporate crime or get the "right" people to go to jail. Actually, I am pretty sure that it won't. According to news reports, the Massey CEO was unusually involved in daily operations, which made convicting him easier (that along with hours of taped conversations). I do believe that the Yates Memo (if it's even constitutional) will fundamentally change the relationship between attorneys, compliance officers, and their internal clients. I will blog more about that in coming months. In the meantime, I hope that today's sentencing provides some measure of comfort to the families of the fallen miners.

April 6, 2016 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Marcia Narine | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Six Years and $20B Later: Revisiting BP and the Role of Government

AP reported yesterday:

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal judge in New Orleans granted final approval Monday to an estimated $20 billion settlement over the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, resolving years of litigation over the worst offshore spill in the nation's history.

The settlement, first announced in July, includes $5.5 billion in civil Clean Water Act penalties and billions more to cover environmental damage and other claims by the five Gulf states and local governments. The money is to be paid out over roughly 16 years. The U.S. Justice Department has estimated that the settlement will cost the oil giant as much as $20.8 billion, the largest environmental settlement in U.S. history as well as the largest-ever civil settlement with a single entity.

The settlement with the government (private claims remain) reminds me of a post I made almost six years ago, where I argued that it was not the federal government's job to avoid the harm of such an oil spill, and it was neither advisable nor reasonable to expect that the government could handle such an event.  I explained my thinking

Just imagine what would have happened six months [before the oil spill] if the President had suggested a new agency that would be trained and funded to clean up disasters like this, granted the authority to take over an oil well at the first sign of trouble, and this agency would be funded by a large tax on oil companies. You can be sure that the response would have been that the government shouldn’t be in this business because the oil companies are better trained, better prepared, and better able to respond to such problems. I guarantee it.

Yes, perhaps the federal government could have been swifter than it has been, especially with regard to protecting the coast. However, in this situation, President Obama’s primary mistake was likely listening to BP when they said they could, and would, handle the problem. I find it curious that many of the same people who often argue that government should stay out of the way of big businesses now want to lay blame at the feet of a president who did just that.

In this political era where candidates suggest that the government should be in business of building big walls (funded, and perhaps also built, by other governments) and free college tuition, I think it's worth taking another close look at what we really should expect of government.  (For the record, of the two ideas proposed above, I hate the first idea, and I am skeptical of the second. I appreciate the sentiment behind the free college tuition idea, but highly question the wisdom or feasibility in practice, even if I would prefer that someone else pay my law school loans.) 

The reality is that, where we allow highly specialized industrial activity, we cannot ensure there will be no harm.  We can try create protections, and we can enact penalties for failures to follow the rules and remediate harm. This is not to say everything was done correctly leading up to the Deepwater Horizon spill.  There were significant regulatory failures to accompany BP's failures. But when we look for solutions, we still need to be realistic about what role the government can and should take. About one thing I am confident: it is still not a good use of government funding to put a fleet of government-funded, oil-well plugging submarines at the ready. 

April 5, 2016 in Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee, Legislation, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 25, 2016

Will a Change in Executive Compensation Lead to Safer Food? A Chipotle Shareholder Thinks So

I feel badly for Chipotle. When I have taught Business Associations, I have used the chain’s Form 10-K to explain some basic governance and securities law principles. The students can relate to Chipotle and Shake Shack (another example I use) and they therefore remain engaged as we go through the filings. Chipotle has recently been embroiled in a public relations nightmare after a spate of food poisonings occurred last fall and winter, a risk it pointed out in its February 2015 10-K filings. The stock price has fluctuated from $750 a share in October to as low as $400 in January and then back to the mid $500 range. After some disappointing earnings news the stock is now trading at around $471.

Clean Yield Group, concerned that the company will focus only on bringing its stock back to “pre-crisis levels,” filed a shareholder proposal March 17th asking the company to link executive compensation with sustainability efforts. The proposal claims that the CEO was overpaid by $40 million in 2014 and states in part:

A number of studies demonstrate a firm link between superior corporate sustainability performance and financial outperformance relative to peers. Firms with superior sustainability performance were more likely to tie top executive incentives to sustainability metrics.

Leading companies are increasingly taking up this practice. A 2013 study conducted by the Investor Responsibility Research Institute and the Sustainable Investments Institute found that 43.4% of the S&P 500 had linked executive pay to environmental, social and/or ethical issues. These companies traverse industry sectors and include Pepsi, Alcoa, Walmart, Unilever, National Grid, Intel and many others…

Investor groups focusing on sustainable governance such as Ceres, the UN Global Compact, and the UN Principles for Responsible Investment (which represents investors with a collective $59 trillion AUM) have endorsed the establishment of linkages between executive compensation and sustainability performance.

Even with the adjustments to executive pay incentives announced this week in reaction to Chipotle’s ongoing food-borne illness crisis, Chipotle shareholders have consistently approved excessively large pay packages to our company’s co-chief executives that dangerously elide accountability for sustainability-related risks. This proposal provides the opportunity to rectify this situation.

If shareholders approve the compensation package on our company’s 2016 proxy ballot, by year-end, Mr. Ells and Mr. Moran will have pocketed nearly $211 million for their services since 2011. Shareholders have not insisted upon direct oversight of sustainability matters as a condition of employment or compensation, and the present crisis illustrates the probable error in that thinking.

This week, the Compensation Committee of the Board announced that it would withhold 2015 bonuses for executive officers. It has also announced that executive officers’ 2016 performance bonuses will be solely tied to bringing CMG stock back, over a three-year period, to its pre-crisis level.

This is a shortsighted approach that skirts the underlying issues that may have contributed to the E. coli and norovirus outbreaks that have left hundreds of people sickened, injured sales, led to ongoing investigations by health authorities and the federal government, damaged our company’s reputation, and will likely lead to expensive litigation. For years, Chipotle has resisted calls by shareholders to implement robust and transparent management and reporting systems to handle a range of environmental, social and governance issues that present both risks to operations as well as opportunities. While no one can know for certain whether a more rigorous management approach to food safety might have averted the current crisis, moving forward, shareholders can insist upon a proactive approach to the management of sustainability issues by altering top executives’ compensation packages to incentivize it.

The last sentence of the paragraph above stuck out to me. The shareholder does not know whether more rigorous sustainability practices would have prevented the food poisonings but believes that compensation changes incentivizing more transparency is vital. I’m not sure that there is a connection between the two, although there is some evidence that requiring more disclosure on environmental, social, and governance factors can lead to companies uncovering operational issues that they may not have noticed before. Corporate people are fond of saying that “what gets measured gets treasured.” Let’s see what Chipotle’s shareholders treasure at the next annual meeting.

March 25, 2016 in Business Associations, Compensation, Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (0)

Olympics, Rule 40, Law, and Social Media

I usually look forward to the Olympics for months, if not years, before they start.

This year, however, all of the doping news, and buzz around Rule 40 has left me less enthusiastic.

For now, I am going to leave the doping news to one side, and focus on Rule 40.

From July 27 to August 24, 2016, Rule 40, prohibits Non-Olympic Commercial Partners from using the word "Olympics" and (depending on context) "Olympic-related terms," including:

  • 2016
  • Rio/Rio de Janeiro
  • Gold
  • Silver
  • Bronze
  • Medal
  • Effort
  • Performance
  • Challenge
  • Summer
  • Games
  • Sponsors
  • Victory
  • Olympian

Now, I understand why the International Olympic Committee ("IOC") and the U.S. Olympic Committee ("USOC") might want these restrictions (given the large sums of money official sponsors pay), and from what I understand from experts in this specific area, the IOC & USOC may have a defensible legal stance.

This, however, seems one of the many areas where (1) the law has not kept up with advances in technology, namely social media, and (2) even if the IOC & USOC are right on the law, they may lose in the court of public opinion. Here, it seems, there is a good bit of difference between a company running a detailed TV-ad noting that it sponsors an Olympian and simply wishing an athlete "Good luck in Rio" on Twitter. Also, even if the law treats social media the same as other forms of advertising, I could see the public (including me) judging the IOC & USOC harshly if it punishes brands and/or their athletes for minor violations. Outside of the most popular Olympic athletes, significant sponsorships are difficult to secure and outlawing short displays of appreciation on social media seems like overreaching. Adding to the problem, I think, is that this rule makes the IOC & USOC look like single bottom line, money-hungry organizations, when most of us would like to associate the Olympics with a broader, higher purpose.      

March 25, 2016 in Business Associations, Current Affairs, Haskell Murray, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Judge Merrick Garland Opinions on "Business" Law

Legal commentators and the media have been abuzz with news of President Obama's nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.  If there was ever reason to be abuzz, in the world of legal news, this is it.  Try to find a summary of Judge Garland's record in dealing with business law issues, however, and you are met with a silent, dark internet.  Aside from mentions of Judge Garland having taught anti-trust at Harvard there is little discussion of his business jurisprudence.  The D.C. Circuit court hears an administratively heavy caseload, but Judge Garland has been on the bench for nearly 20 years! I set out to uncover his business law barometer.   My initial searches produced  19 opinions that he authored on business law matters, which are mostly securities cases but also include a piercing the corporate veil and contracts claims among others.  While I am no online search wizard and am positive that I have missed some relevant cases, this is what I produced after such wide-net casting as "business law", "corporations", "partnership", "board of directors", "shareholders" etc.  You get the idea, I ran several undeniably broad searches.  The initial case list is provided below, and was generated (along with annotations) through WestLaw.  Please comment if you have relevant cases to add.  I may add commentary on the cases in a future post if there is interest... (and time).

Securities Law Cases 

  1. Horning v. S.E.C., 570 F.3d 337 (D.C. Cir. 2009)

SECURITIES REGULATION - Brokers and Dealers. Mid-trial correction of sanction the SEC sought did not deprive broker-dealer firm’s former director of due process.

  1. Graham v. S.E.C., 222 F.3d 994 (D.C. Cir. 2000)

SECURITIES REGULATION - Fraud. Registered representative aided and abetted customer’s fraud.

  1. Katz v. S.E.C., 647 F.3d 1156 (D.C. Cir. 2011)

SECURITIES REGULATION - Brokers and Dealers. Former registered representation made unsuitable investment recommendations for her customers.

Continue reading

March 22, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Constitutional Law, Corporations, Current Affairs, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Lisa Fairfax SEC Commissioner Nominee

Being near to celebrity, even academic celebrity, can be exciting.  I feel unjustifiable pride and exhilaration in the nomination of George Washington Law School professor Lisa Fairfax to be a SEC commissioner. The White House announced her nomination last October, and the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs held hearings yesterday for Lisa Fairfax (democratic nominee) and Hester Peirce (republican nominee).  Professor Fairfax is being heralded as having "written extensively in favor of shareholder rights, shareholder activism, and gender and racial diversity on corporate boards."  Her scholarship is available on her SSRN page. Hester Peirce, another academic of sorts, is a senior fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University researching financial markets and an adjunct professor.  The Mercatus Center is a "university-based research center... advanc[ing] knowledge about how markets work to improve people’s lives by training graduate students, conducting research, and applying economics to offer solutions to society’s most pressing problems." Her writing is available here.

The hearing process was reported by the WSJ as "tough" for both nominees. The confirmation process is by no means a given in the current political climate. A video of the hearing is available for viewing.  Additionally, each nominee submitted a statement and financial records as a part of the confirmation process.    Download FairfaxStatement   Download FairfaxFinancialDisclosure  Download PeirceStatement   Download PeirceFinancialDisclosure  

Lisa Fairfax summarized her credentials to be a Commissioner: 

As a law professor, over the last fifteen years I have had the privilege of teaching Corporations and Securities Law to the next generation of practitioners, judges, and regulators, so that they can understand the increasingly complex world in which companies must operate, markets must perform, and regulators must monitor. My teaching, along with my research and writing in these areas, have given me a deep understanding of the issues confronting the SEC, as well as a strong desire to help tackle those issues head on.

Fairfax's statement also stated her view of the SEC:

[I] believe deeply in the SEC’s three part mission to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitate capital formation. ... I believe that the SEC’s three-part mission statement is more than a statement; it is a set of guiding principles that should shape every aspect of the agency’s activities. ...I believe the SEC’s work must be aimed at ensuring that investors are protected at all times, and that investors have confidence in the markets and the financial system.

The SEC also has a responsibility to facilitate access to needed capital for all participants in the market, from the corporation and small business owner in need of cash and credit, to the individual investing to support a family, finance a child’s education, or ensure a comfortable retirement.

Hester Peirce, who previously worked with the SEC’s Division of Investment Management, Commissioner Paul Atkins, and the SEC Investor Advisory Committee wrote:

My desire to serve at the SEC is motivated by the conviction that the capital markets help unlock people’s potential. Investors build their retirement nest eggs, their down payments, and their children’s college funds. Vibrant capital markets find and fund individuals and companies with brilliant ideas that can enhance people’s lives and the nation’s prosperity.

My belief in the capital markets’ ability to enrich our communities is built on lessons I have learned at the Peirce family dinner table, in classrooms at Case Western Reserve and Yale, and from mentors and colleagues throughout my career.

I am academically (and personally) interested in the role of retirement investors in capital markets so I noted with interest that both nominees spoke of the relevance of capital markets and the SEC to individual (retirement) investors.

The Committee is expected to vote on April 7, 2016.

-Anne Tucker

March 16, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Law School, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, March 11, 2016

Sharapova, Sponsors, and Morals Clauses

If you follow sports related news, you know that tennis star Maria Sharapova recently tested positive for a banned performance enhancing drug called Meldonium. Details here and here and here.  According to one source, over 60 athletes have tested positive for Meldonium this year; the drug was just recently added the banned substances list. Sharapova claims she was unaware that she was taking a banned substance. 

A number of Sharapova's biggest sponsors have suspended or ended their relationship with her and/or delayed planned events. These sponsors include, Nike, Porsche, and TAG Heuer. Head and Evian appear to be sticking with her. Head chairman Johan Eliasch claimed that Sharapova simply made an "honest mistake."

The companies that have cut ties with Sharapova have likely been able to do so through what is often called a morals clause or a morality clause in the endorsement contract. Some background on morals clauses can be found here and here and here. And here is an interesting contract law question from Eric Goldman that involves morals clauses

March 11, 2016 in Business Associations, Current Affairs, Haskell Murray, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Does the bar exam test students on the skills and subjects they need to be effective lawyers?

Some of our December graduates haven just taken the Florida bar exam. As always, I asked them about the business associations questions. Florida drastically changed its LLC rules in 2014, but still hasn’t asked any questions about LLCs, focusing instead on partnerships and corporations (at least according to the students). From a review of the released questions, the bar didn’t ask about LLCs before the amendments either.

I teach BA again next year and I’m struggling with what to emphasize. Business Associations is not required in many Florida law schools, but it is at St. Thomas, and many students enter the class with trepidation. Most will only take the one required course and won’t go on to advanced classes in securities regulation, corporate taxation, or other drafting courses. I try to focus the required BA class on skills that graduates will need in the workplace in addition to preparing them for the bar by using released test questions. Now I wonder how to balance the tension between the rise of LLCs and the many changes in laws related to securities regulation with the bar’s continued focus on partnerships and traditional corporations.

Yesterday the Obama administration added Miami to the list of tech hire jurisdictions. The Kauffman Index ranks Miami as second in the country for startups. Last month, a blogger highlighted my city’s proximity to Latin America and our emerging tech scene. With these realities in mind, should I add even more to what I already teach about legal issues that entrepreneurs and startups face even if that’s not what the Florida bar tests? I never want to “teach to the test” but I also want to make sure that I am responsible in my pedagogy, which for me includes marking up operating agreements, spending time demystifying IPO filings, and introducing them to hybrid entities that entrepreneurs ask about.

Unlike 20 other states, Florida has not adopted the Uniform Bar Exam, but I believe that any test that asks students to do the kind of critical analysis they would have to do in practice is a good thing. This week the Florida bar established a new committee to consider the issue, but I don’t have high hopes for a quick change to the bar exam. Lawyers here recently killed a proposal for reciprocity, and some see the UBE as a back door effort to flood Florida with out of staters.

So I have a conflict. How do other professors tackle the coverage issue? Comment below or feel free to email me at mnarine@stu.edu.

March 11, 2016 in Business Associations, Corporations, Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, Law School, Lawyering, Marcia Narine | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, March 4, 2016

What do Donald Trump and Al Sharpton Have in Common? The Failed Boycott Movement

Presidential candidate Donald Trump has repeatedly stated that he never plans to eat Oreo cookies again because the Nabisco plant is closing and moving to Mexico. Trump, who has starred in an Oreo commercial in the past, is actually wrong about the nature of Nabisco’s move, and it’s unlikely that he will affect Nabisco’s sales notwithstanding his tremendous popularity among some in the electorate right now. Mr. Trump has also urged a boycott of Apple over how that company has handled the FBI’s request over the San Bernardino terrorist’s cell phone.

Strangely, I haven’t heard a call for a boycott of Apple products following shareholders’ rejection of a proposal to diversify the board last week. I would think that Reverend and former candidate Al Sharpton, who called for the boycott of the Oscars due to lack of diversity would call for a boycott of all things Apple. But alas, for now Trump seems to be the lone voice calling for such a move (and not because of diversity). In fact, I’ve never walked past an Apple Store without thinking that there must be a 50% off sale on the merchandise. There are times when the lines are literally out the door. Similarly, despite the #Oscarssowhite controversy and claims from many that the boycott worked because the Oscars had historically low ratings, viewership among black film enthusiasts was only down 2% this year.

So why do people constantly call for boycotts? According to a Freakonomics podcast from January, they don’t actually work. Historians and economists made it clear in interviews that they only succeed as part of an established social movement. In some cases they can backfire leading to a "buycott," as it did for Chik Fil A. The podcast also put into context much of what we believe are the boycott “success stories,” including the Montgomery Bus Boycott with Rosa Parks and the sit in movement related to apartheid in the 1980s.

I have spent much of my time looking at disclosure legislation that is based in part on the theory that informed consumers and socially-responsible investors will boycott or divest holdings (see here, here, and here). In particular, I have focused on the Dodd-Frank conflict minerals corporate governance disclosure and why I don’t think that using name and shame laws work—namely because consumers talk a good game in surveys but actually don’t purchase based on social criteria nearly as much as NGOs and legislators believe.

The SEC was supposed to decide whether to file a cert petition to the Supreme Court on the part of the conflict minerals legislation that was struck down on First Amendment grounds by March 9th but they now have an extension until April. Since I wrote an amicus brief in the case at the lower level, I have a particular interest in this filing. I had planned my business and human rights class on disclosures and boycotts around that cert. filing to make it even more relevant to my students, who will do a role play simulation drafted by Professor Erika George representing civil society (NGOs, investors, and other stakeholders), the electronics industry, the US government (state department, Congress, and SEC), Congolese militia, the Congolese government, and the Congolese people. The only group they won’t represent is US consumers, even though that’s the target group of the Dodd-Frank disclosure. I did tweak Professor George’s materials but purposely chose not to add in the US consumer group. After my students step out of their roles, we will have the honest discussions about their own views and buying habits. I’ll try not to burst any boycott bubbles.

March 4, 2016 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Human Rights, International Business, International Law, Law School, Legislation, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Binging on Billions

Next week is our Spring Break and I plan to catch up on some television and movie watching. Many of my former business associations students have raved about the show Billions, described online as follows:

Wealth, influence and corruption collide in this drama set in New York. Shrewd U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades is embroiled in a high-stakes game of predator vs. prey with the ambitious hedge-fund king, Bobby Axelrod. To date, Rhoades has never lost an insider trading case -- he's 81-0 -- but when criminal evidence turns up against Axelrod, he proceeds cautiously in building the case against Axelrod, who employs Rhoades' wife, psychiatrist Wendy, as a performance coach for his company. Wendy, who has been in her position longer than Chuck has been in his, refuses to give up her career for her husband's legal crusade against Axelrod. Both men use their intelligence, power and influence to outmaneuver the other in this battle over billions.

Now that my students are watching it, I feel compelled to do so as well, and not just because Australian papers play up the copious amounts of money and sex depicted in the series. I’m glad that my students are watching any television show that deals with the financial industry but even more gratified that they are emailing me telling me that now they understand some of the concepts that they see in this show and others such as HBO’s Silicon Valley.

Are there any other television shows or movies I should catch up on during Spring Break in between grading, writing, and watching Suits (for my Civil Procedure students)? I like to keep up with what my students watch because I use some of the story lines for in class hypos and exam questions. I also ask students to write reflection papers applying what they have learned in class and analyzing what Hollywood got wrong. I look forward to your suggestions.

February 25, 2016 in Business Associations, Current Affairs, Film, Law School, Marcia Narine, Teaching, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 22, 2016

Walch on Bitcoin Blockchain as Financial Market Infrastructure

I was fortunate to hear Angela Walch (St. Mary's) present on this paper at SEALS last summer. Her article, The Bitcoin Blockchain as Financial Market Infrastructure: A Consideration of Operational Risk, has now been published in the NYU Journal of Legislation and Public Policy and is available on SSRN. The abstract is reproduced below:

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“Blockchain” is the word on the street these days, with every significant financial institution, from Goldman Sachs to Nasdaq, experimenting with this new technology. Many say that this remarkable innovation could radically transform our financial system, eliminating the costs and inefficiencies that plague our existing financial infrastructures, such as payment, settlement, and clearing systems. Venture capital investments are pouring into blockchain startups, which are scrambling to disrupt the “quadrillion” dollar markets represented by existing financial market infrastructures. A debate rages over whether public, “permissionless” blockchains (like Bitcoin’s) or private, “permissioned” blockchains (like those being designed at many large banks) are more desirable.

Amidst this flurry of innovation and investment, this paper enquires into the suitability of the Bitcoin blockchain to serve as the backbone of financial market infrastructure, and evaluates whether it is robust enough to serve as the foundation of major payment, settlement, clearing, or trading systems.

Positing a scenario in which the Bitcoin blockchain does serve as the technology enabling significant financial market infrastructures, this paper highlights the vital importance of functioning financial market infrastructure to global financial stability, and describes relevant principles that global financial regulators have adopted to help maintain this stability, focusing particularly on governance, risk management, and operational risk.

The paper then moves to explicate the operational risks generated by the most fundamental features of Bitcoin: its status as decentralized, open-source software. Illuminating the inevitable operational risks of software, such as its vulnerability to bugs and hacking (as well as Bitcoin’s unique 51% Attack vulnerability), uneven adoption of new releases, and its opaque nature to all except coders, the paper argues that these technology risks are exacerbated by the governance risks generated by Bitcoin’s ambiguous governance structure. The paper then teases out the operational risks spawned by decentralized, open-source governance, including that no one is responsible for resolving a crisis with the software; no one can legitimately serve as “the voice” of the software; code maintenance and repair may be delayed or imperfect because not enough time is devoted to the code by volunteer software developers (or, if the coders are paid by private companies, the code development may be influenced by conflicts of interest); consensus on important changes to the code may be difficult or impossible to achieve, leading to splits in the blockchain; and the software developers who “run” the Bitcoin blockchain seem to have backgrounds in software coding rather than in policy-making or risk-management for financial market infrastructure.

The paper concludes that these operational risks, generated by Bitcoin’s most fundamental, presumably inalterable, structures, significantly undermine the Bitcoin blockchain’s suitability to serve as financial market infrastructure.

February 22, 2016 in Business Associations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Haskell Murray, Private Equity, Venture Capital | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 19, 2016

Strine as Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States?

Strine

I haven't seen his name on any of the short lists to replace Justice Scalia, but I would love to see the current Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court, Leo Strine, get the nomination.

The benefits of nominating Chief Justice Strine include:

  • Promise of an entertaining nomination process. With all that he has said and written, there would be a lot of fodder, but he would be sure to hold his own. 
  • A nominee whose wit and writing style could rival Justice Scalia's.
  • Diversity. Chief Justice Strine went to Penn for law school, not Harvard or Yale. (Granted, he does teach at Harvard).
  • Serious corporate law knowledge, and, at least on this blog, we know the Supreme Court of the United States needs help in this area.
  • Extremely bright, curious, and widely read. He likely has knowledge of and an opinion on most areas of law, well outside of just corporate law.

Anyway, I am sure President Obama will go with a more conventional pick, but I do hope to see a Supreme Court justice with corporate law expertise on the court eventually.

February 19, 2016 in Business Associations, Constitutional Law, Current Affairs, Delaware, Haskell Murray | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, February 12, 2016

Running, The Olympic Trials for the Marathon, and the Practice of Law

Even though I have never participated in a single Yoga class, I enjoyed my co-editor Joan Heminway’s Yoga Analogy Post from a couple weeks ago. Her post inspired this analogy post about running and the law.

While I am not the most consistent runner among the BLPB editors---that title goes to Josh Fershee---I have been running 3+ times a week consistently for the last 6 months or so, following a few very inconsistent years.

Below the break, I discuss some parallels between running (particular long-distance running) and the practice of law. Due to these parallels, as a hiring partner, I believe I would look favorably on an applicant who was a distance runner.

Also about distance running, is anyone else really excited about watching the Olympic Trials for the Marathon on NBC tomorrow? Not a great spectator sport, to be sure, but I love that so many people with normal jobs are running. Nashville-area elementary school teacher Scott Wietecha qualified for the Trials (though he has chosen not to run, due, at least in part, the some health issues). Scott has details and predictions here; after reading his long post, I can quickly see that he is even much more excited about watching the race than I am. 

Continue reading

February 12, 2016 in Current Affairs, Haskell Murray, Lawyering | Permalink | Comments (2)