Saturday, April 11, 2015
In Dura Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Broudo, 544 US 336 (2005), the Supreme Court held that to bring a fraud-on-the-market action under Section 10(b), shareholders would have to plead and prove the element of “loss causation,” namely, that disclosure of the fraud caused the company's stock price to drop, resulting in plaintiffs’ losses.
Since Dura was decided, there has been concern that companies might try to avoid liability by strategically disclosing information in a manner that would make it more difficult for plaintiffs to establish stock price effects.
In their new paper, Disclosure Strategies and Shareholder Litigation Risk, Michael Furchtgott and Frank Partnoy take significant steps toward establishing that these fears are well-grounded.
[More under the cut]
Friday, April 10, 2015
From the Faculty Lounge:
This just in:
The Penn State Law Review is conducting an exclusive spring-cycle article review. Any article submitted to this exclusive review between now and April 19th will be evaluated by April 27th. If you have submitted an article to the Penn State Law Review previously, you must resubmit your article for consideration in the exclusive article review.
By submitting your article, you agree to accept an offer for publication, should one be extended. Any articles accepted will be published in Volume 120: Issue 1 or Issue 2 of this review—both of which are slated for publication in summer of 2015.
If you have an article that you would like to submit, please e-mail an attached copy of the article, along with your cv and cover letter, to email@example.com . Please include “Exclusive Spring 2015 Article Review” in the subject line.
The following comes to us from Lee Epstein, Ethan A.H. Shepley Distinguished University Professor at Washington University in St. Louis.
The 14th annual workshop on Conducting Empirical Legal Scholarship, co-taught by Lee Epstein and Andrew D. Martin, will run from June 15-June 17 at Washington University in St. Louis. The workshop is for law school faculty, lawyers, political science faculty, and graduate students interested in learning about empirical research and how to evaluate empirical work. It provides the formal training necessary to design, conduct, and assess empirical studies, and to use statistical software (Stata) to analyze and manage data.
Participants need no background or knowledge of statistics to enroll in the workshop. Registration is here. For more information, please contact Lee Epstein.
I attended this workshop a few years ago, and thought it was excellent.
As I have previously mentioned, unlike law schools, business schools appear to hire virtually year-round. While most of the business schools have filled their open positions by this late date, there have been some recently posted positions.
Thursday, April 9, 2015
It’s that time of year again where I have my business associations students pretend to be shareholders and draft proposals. I blogged about this topic last semester here. Most of this semester’s proposals related to environmental, social and governance factors. In the real world, a record 433 ESG proposals have been filed this year, and the breakdown as of mid-February was as follows according to As You Sow:
Environment/Climate Change- 27%
Political Activity- 26%
Summaries of some of the student proposals are below (my apologies if my truncated descriptions make their proposals less clear):
1) Netflix-follow the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the core standards of the International Labour Organization
2) Luxottica- separate Chair and CEO
3) DineEquity- issue quarterly reports on efforts to combat childhood obesity and the links to financial risks to the company
4) Starbucks- provide additional disclosure of risks related to declines in consumer spending and decreases in wages
5) Chipotle- issue executive compensation/pay disparity report
6) Citrix Systems-add board diversity
7) Dunkin Donuts- eliminate the use of Styrofoam cups
8) Campbell Soup- issue sustainability report
9) Shake Shack- issue sustainability report
10) Starbucks- separate Chair and CEO
11) Hyatt Hotels- institute a tobacco-free workplace
12) Burger King- eliminate GMO in food
13) McDonalds- provide more transparency on menu changes
14) Google-disclose more on political expenditures
15) WWE- institute funding cap
One proposal that generated some discussion in class today related to a consumer products company. As I skimmed the first two lines of the proposal to end animal testing last night, I realized that one of my friends was in-house counsel at the company. I immediately reached out to her telling her that my students noted that the company used to be ”cruelty-free,” but now tested on animals in China. She responded that the Chinese government required animal testing on these products, and thus they were complying with applicable regulations. My students, however, believed that the company should, like their competitors, work with the Chinese government to change the law or should pull out of China. Are my students naïve? Do companies actually have the kind of leverage to cause the Chinese government to change their laws? Or would companies fail their shareholders by pulling out of a market with a billion potential customers? This led to a robust debate, which unfortunately we could not finish.
I look forward to Tuesday’s class when we will continue these discussions and I will show them the sobering statistics of how often these proposals tend to fail. Hopefully we can also touch on the Third Circuit decision, which may be out on the Wal-Mart/Trinity Church shareholder proposal issue.These are certainly exciting times to be teaching about business associations and corporate governance.
April 9, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Law School, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (1)
Wednesday, April 8, 2015
For thirty years, I have had a pet peeve about the media's routine reporting on mergers and acquisitions. I have kept this to myself, for the most part, other than scattered comments to law practice colleagues and law students over the years. Today, I go public with this veritable thorn in my side.
From many press reports (which commonly characterize business combinations as mergers), you would think that every business combination is structured as a merger. I know I am being picky here (since there are both legal and non-legal common parlance definitions of the verb "merge"). But a merger, to a business lawyer, is a particular form of business combination, to be distinguished from a stock purchase, asset purchase, consolidation, or statutory share exchange transaction.
The distinction is meaningful to business lawyers for whom the implications of deal type are well known. However, imho, it also can be meaningful to others with an interest in the transaction, assuming the implications of the deal structure are understood by the journalist and conveyed accurately to readers. For instance, the existence (or lack) of shareholder approval requirements and appraisal rights, the need for contractual consents, permit or license transfers or applications, or regulatory approvals, the tax treatment, etc. may differ based on the transaction structure.
In December, 2014 the Second Circuit in US v. Newman addressed liability of remote tippees. In Newman, a lawyer told a friend who told a roommate information regarding the sale of SPSS Inc. to IBM that found its way into later trades by a cohort of analysts at hedge funds and investment firms. (Op. at 5-7). The Second Circuit in Newman vacated insider trading convictions and narrowed the standard for "improper benefit", reconsideration of which was denied last week, and thus stands pending review by the U.S. Supreme Court. To qualify as an improper benefit under Newman, there must be proof of a meaningfully close relationship, where the "the personal benefit received in exchange for confidential information must be of some consequence." (Op. at 22). Newman also made clear that liability standards are the same whether the tippee's liability arises under the classical or the misappropriate theories. (Op. at 11).
Judge Jed S. Rakoff, of Federal District Court in Manhattan, issued an order denying a motion to dismiss the SEC's civil charges against Daryl Payton and Benjamin Durrant III, defendants in Newman who received their information from the roommate of the friend of the lawyer. This is the first case to examine the impact of the Newman opinion in the civil context. Judge Rakoff wrote:
Significantly while a person is guilty of criminal insider trading only if that person committed the offense “willfully,” i.e., knowingly and purposely, a person may be civilly liable if that person committed the offense recklessly, that is, in heedless disregard of the probable consequences. (Op. at 2)
Judge Rakoff concluded that the SEC's "Amended Complaint more than sufficiently alleges that defendants knew or recklessly disregarded that Martin received a personal benefit in disclosing information to Conradt, and that Martin in doing so breached a duty of trust and confidence to the owner of the information. (Op. at 16).
Peter J. Henning, a professor at Wayne State University Law School, writes in his article in the DealB%k that:
Judge Rakoff’s analysis provides at least some guidance on how to assess the new landscape under the Newman opinion. Courts tend to apply securities law decisions interchangeably in criminal and civil cases, so the Justice Department can cite his opinion as a favorable precedent in other cases involving tippees.
This and other insider trading enforcement actions by the SEC can be tracked here.
Tuesday, April 7, 2015
So, Duke is the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball champion. As a Michigan State basketball fan, this was at least mildly gratifying because the Spartans final losses the past two seasons have been to the eventual champion. (MSU's final two losses this season: Wisconsin and Duke.) Hardly the same as winning the whole thing, but after a loss, one takes what one can get.
This semester I am teaching Sports Law for the first time, and it has been an interesting and rewarding experience. As our recent guest, Marc Edelman, recently noted, there is a lot going on right now in college sports (there probably always is), with questions about paying NCAA players and players' rights to unionize, among other things, leading the way.
I am a big fan of college sports, and I generally prefer college sports to professional sports. I don't, however, have any illusion that big-time college sports are, in any real sense, pure or amateur. (For that matter, I don't know what "pure" means, but I hear complaints that colleges sports are "no longer pure," so it appears there is some benchmark somewhere.) College sports are a modified form of professional sports or, as the term I used to hear from time to time in other contexts, semi-pro sports.
What College Sports Are
College sports, in the simplest sense, are highly talented young people competing on behalf of educational institutions in exchange for the opportunity to pursue a mostly funded college education, if they so choose and can make it fit in with their athletic obligations. The athletes are compensated for their efforts with opportunities that are varied and wide ranging, depending on the athlete and the institution for which they compete.
Obviously, the experience for the high-profile college athlete -- generally football and men's and women's basketball -- is different from that of the less-watched sports, such as gymnastics, track, and golf. But in all instances, the athletes represent their institution on and off the field, and they all have significant obligations that come along with their participation on their team. (Not all athletes have full or even partial scholarships, which can vary the obligations, though often all athletes have similar requirements.)
(To read more, please click below)
Monday, April 6, 2015
Yesterday was the third anniversary of the JOBS Act. President Obama signed it into law on April 5, 2012. The JOBS Act, as regular readers of this blog know, requires the SEC to adopt rules to enact an exemption for crowdfunded securities offerings. The statutory deadline for the SEC to do so was December 31, 2012. The SEC proposed the required rules on October 23, 2013, but it still has not adopted them.
It is now
- 1096 days since Congress passed the JOBS Act
- 826 days since the deadline for the SEC to adopt the required rules
- 530 days since the SEC proposed the rules
. . . and still no crowdfunding exemption.
If I treated my tax returns like the SEC has treated the crowdfunding rules, I would be in jail.
SEC Chair Mary Schapiro has recently said that the SEC hopes to finalize the rules by the end of the year. I certainly hope so.
Recently, I received the following conference announcement via e-mail:
Understanding the Modern Company
Organised by the Department of Law, Queen Mary University of London,
in cooperation with University College London
Saturday 9 May 2015, 09.00 to 17.00
Centre for Commercial Law Studies
Queen Mary University of London
67-69 Lincoln’s Inn Fields
London WC2A 3JB
From their origin in medieval times to their modern incarnation as transnational bodies that traverse nations, the company remains an important, yet highly misunderstood entity. It is perhaps not surprising then that understanding what a company is and to whom it is accountable remains a persistent and enduring debate across the globe.
Today, the company is viewed in a variety, and often contradictory, ways. Some see it as a public body; others view it as a system of private ordering, while still others see it as a hybrid between these two views. Companies have also been characterized as the property of their shareholders, a network, a team, and even akin to a natural person. Yet the precise nature of the company and its role in society remain a modern mystery.
This conference brings together a wealth of scholars from around the world to explore the nature and function of companies. By drawing from different backgrounds and perspectives, the aim of this conference is to develop a normative approach to understanding the modern company.
Professor William Bratton, University of Pennsylvania
Professor Christopher Bruner, Washington & Lee University
Professor Karin Buhmann, Roskilde University
Dr Barnali Choudhury, Queen Mary University of London
Professor Janet Dine, Queen Mary University of London
Professor Luca Enriques, University of Oxford
Professor Brandon Garrett, University of Virginia
Professor Martin Gelter, Fordham Law School
Professor Paddy Ireland, University of Bristol
Dr Dionysia Katelouzou, King’s College London
Professor Andrew Keay, University of Leeds
Professor Ian Lee, University of Toronto
Dr Marc Moore, University of Cambridge
Dr Martin Petrin, University College London
Professor Beate Sjåfjell, University of Oslo
Professor Lynn Stout, Cornell University
To register, please visit: www.bit.ly/QM-Modern-Company
Sunday, April 5, 2015
"a survey experiment aimed at testing some of the factual claims made by the Supreme Court in Citizens United" http://t.co/02pziild2P— Stefan Padfield (@ProfPadfield) March 30, 2015
Saturday, April 4, 2015
Emory Law School seeks an Assistant Director of the Center for Transactional Law and Practice to teach in and share the administrative duties associated with running the largest program in the Law School. Each candidate should have a J.D. or comparable law degree and substantial experience as an attorney practicing or teaching transactional law. Significant contacts in the Atlanta legal community are a plus.
Initially, the Assistant Director will be responsible for leading the charge to further develop the Deal Skills curriculum. (In Deal Skills – one of Emory Law’s signature core transactional skills courses – students are introduced to the business and legal issues common to commercial transactions.) The Assistant Director will co-teach at least one section of Deal Skills each semester, supervise the current Deal Skills adjuncts, and recruit, train, and evaluate the performance of new adjunct professors teaching the other sections of Deal Skills.
As the faculty advisor for Emory Law’s Transactional Law Program Negotiation Team, the Assistant Director will identify appropriate competitions, select team members, recruit coaches, and supervise both the drafting and negotiation components of each competition. The Assistant Director will also serve as the host of the Southeast Regional LawMeets® Competition held at Emory every other year.
Additionally, the Assistant Director will be responsible for the creation of two to three new capstone courses for the transactional law program. (A capstone course is a small, hands-on seminar in a specific transactional law topic such as mergers and acquisitions or commercial real estate transactions.) The Assistant Director will identify specific educational needs, recruit adjunct faculty, assist with curriculum design, and monitor the adjuncts’ performance.
Besides the specific duties described above, the Assistant Director will assist the Executive Director with the administration of the transactional law program and the Transactional Law and Skills Certificate program. This will involve publicizing the program to prospective and current students, monitoring the curriculum to assure that students are able to satisfy the requirements of the Certificate, and counselling students regarding their coursework and careers. The Assistant Director can also expect to participate in strategic planning, marketing, fundraising, alumni outreach, and a wide variety of other leadership tasks.
Emory University is an equal opportunity employer, committed to diversifying its faculty and staff. Members of under-represented groups are encouraged to apply. For more information about the transactional law program and the Transactional Law and Skills Certificate Program, please visit our website at:
To apply, please mail or e-mail a cover letter and resumé to:
Emory University Law School
1301 Clifton Road, N.E.
Atlanta, GA 30322-2770
APPLICATION DEADLINE: April 30, 2015
[Hat tip to Bobby Ahdieh for this post]
When forum selection bylaws first became a thing, the response from the plaintiffs’ bar was a bit muted. This is because at least some plaintiffs’ firms viewed forum selection bylaws as beneficial, in that they had the potential to cut down on competition among plaintiffs’ firms for control over a given case. No longer would a firm filing a case in Delaware have to fear that a competing firm, filing a case in another jurisdiction, would settle on sweetheart terms – or worse, end up getting dismissed, with collateral estoppel effects – before the Delaware firm had a chance litigate.
Which brings us to the Walmart litigation and a dispute between two plaintiffs’ firms.
[More under the jump]
Friday, April 3, 2015
If you pay attention to college sports news, you know that Shaka Smart is leaving VCU to coach men's basketball at the University of Texas.
As a professor, my interest, of course, is in the coaching contract.
Like most coaching contracts, Shaka Smart's contract with VCU includes a buy-out provision, which is currently $500,000. (The buy-out was set at $600,000, with a $100,000 reduction per year. This is the second year of this VCU-Smart contract, hence the $500,000 amount).
More interestingly, the contract includes a provision that requires a home-and-home series with VCU and Smart's new team or payment of an additional $250,000 to VCU. Smart took VCU to the Final Four in 2011, so in 2013 when this new contract between Smart and VCU was signed, VCU knew that Smart was one of the most sought after coaches in the country. As such, this seems like an excellent (and creative) clause to include; if Smart left VCU, he would likely be headed to a top-program and games with that top-progam could be quite valuable.
All of the above has been reported in other outlets. What I haven't seen reported (though I obviously haven't read all the reports) is the required timing of the home-and-home series. The VCU-Smart contract states that the series is "to commence at [VCU's] venue within one year of the resignation." I am not an expert on college basketball, but I believe the schedules are usually finalized well in advance. To comply with the contract and avoid the additional $250,000 buyout, it appears that Texas would have to agree to play VCU this coming season. If VCU prefers the $250,000 payout to the home-and-home series, then maybe this tight time table makes sense. If VCU prefers the home-and-home series, then this seems like it might be an impractically tight deadline. Perhaps VCU will attempt to negotiate with Texas and give Texas another year to comply if they need it.
Also of possible interest, it appears that if Texas had waited from March 29 until April 1 to fire their former coach (Rick Barnes...who we are welcoming to Tennessee) they could have possibly saved $250,000. If Smart would have waited until May 1 to resign from VCU, Texas could have saved $100,000 on Smart's buyout. But perhaps time was of the essence in this case. If Texas would have waited, maybe Smart would not have been available, or maybe the time is needed for other things like recruiting, media promotion, and fundraising.
In related news, football coach John Chavis, LSU, and Texas A&M are litigating over the date that Chavis "resigned," which impacts his buyout. Like the VCU-Smart-Texas situation, careful attention to the wording of contracts is quite important.
*Creative Commons photograph
Amanda Rose (Vanderbilt) was one of the many distinguished speakers at the law and business conference I attended last week. She spoke about her forthcoming article in the Northwestern University Law Review, which focuses on the SEC’s new whistleblower program in relation to Fraud- on-the-Market class action lawsuits. I have added her article to my reading list and the abstract is reproduced below for interested readers.
The SEC’s new whistleblower bounty program has provoked significant controversy. That controversy has centered on the failure of the implementing rules to make internal reporting through corporate compliance departments a prerequisite to recovery. This Article approaches the new program with a broader lens, examining its impact on the longstanding debate over fraud-on-the-market (FOTM) class actions. The Article demonstrates how the bounty program, if successful, will replicate the fraud deterrence benefits of FOTM class actions while simultaneously increasing the costs of such suits — rendering them a pointless yet expensive redundancy. If instead the SEC proves incapable of effectively administering the bounty program, the Article shows how amending it to include a qui tam provision for Rule 10b-5 violations would offer several advantages over retaining FOTM class actions. Either way, the bounty program has important and previously unrecognized implications that policymakers should not ignore.
Many thanks to Marc Edelman (Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College, City University of New York) for guest blogging with us in March.
His posts are linked to below:
Thursday, April 2, 2015
In connection with the current legislative debate on benefit corporations in Tennessee (which has been gathering momentum since I last wrote on the topic), I have repeatedly asked about the impetus for the bill. Of course, there is the obvious "push" for benefit corporation legislation by the B Lab folks, who have gotten the ear of folks at the Chamber, convincing them that the legislation is needed in Tennessee to protect social enterprise entities from the application of a narrow version of the shareholder wealth maximization norm (a conclusion that I dispute in my earlier post). But what else? What real parties in interest in Tennessee, if any, have expressed a desire that Tennessee adopt this form of business entity?
There is anecdotal information from one venture attorney that some Tennessee entrepreneurs have indicated a preference for the benefit corporation form and have specifically requested that their business be organized as a Delaware benefit corporation. Leaving aside the Delaware versus Tennessee question, why are these entrepreneurs looking to organize their businesses as benefit corporations? Where does this idea come from?
Earlier this week I went to a really useful workshop conducted by the Venture Law Project and David Salmon entitled "Key Legal Docs Every Entrepreneur Needs." I decided to attend because I wanted to make sure that I’m on target with what I am teaching in Business Associations, and because I am on the pro bono list to assist small businesses. I am sure that the entrepreneurs learned quite a bit because I surely did, especially from the questions that the audience members asked. My best moment, though was when a speaker asked who knew the term "right of first refusal" and the only two people who raised their hands were yours truly and my former law student, who turned to me and gave me the thumbs up.
Their list of the “key” documents is below:
1) Operating Agreement (for an LLC)- the checklist included identity, economics, capital structure, management, transfer restrictions, consent for approval of amendments, and miscellaneous.
2) NDA- Salmon advised that asking for an NDA was often considered a “rookie mistake” and that venture capitalists will often refuse to sign them. I have heard this from a number of legal advisors over the past few years, and Ycombinator specifically says they won't sign one.
3) Term Sheets- the seminar used an example for a Series AA Preferred Stock Financing, which addressed capitalization, proposed private placement, etc.
4) Independent Contractor Agreement- the seminar creators also provided an IRS checklist.
6) Employment Agreement- as a former employment lawyer, I would likely make a lot of tweaks to the document, and vey few people have employment contracts in any event. But it did have good information about equity grants.
7) Convertible Promissory Note Purchase Agreement- here's where the audience members probably all said, "I need an attorney" and can't do this from some online form generator or service like Legal Zoom or Rocket Lawyer.
8) Stock Purchase Agreement- the sample dealt with Series AA preferred stock.
9) IRS 83(b) form- for those who worry that they may have to pay taxes on "phantom income" if the value of their stock rises.
10) A detailed checklist dealing with basic incorporation, personnel/employee matters, intellectual property, and tax/finance/administration with a list of whether the responsible party should be the founders, attorney, officers, insurance agent, accountant, or other outside personnel.
What’s missing in your view? The speakers warned repeatedly that business people should not cut and paste from these forms, but we know that many will. So my final question- how do we train future lawyers so that these form generators and workshops don't make attorneys obsolete to potential business clients?
Wednesday, April 1, 2015
On March 25, 2015, the SEC Commissioners unanimously adopted final rules amending Regulation A, effective in 60 days, extending an existing exemptions for smaller issues as required under Title IV of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act. SEC information on the new regulations are available here and commentary is available here.
The SEC Release states that:
The updated exemption will enable smaller companies to offer and sell up to $50 million of securities in a 12-month period, subject to eligibility, disclosure and reporting requirements.
The final rules, often referred to as Regulation A+, provide for two tiers of offerings: Tier 1, for offerings of securities of up to $20 million in a 12-month period, with not more than $6 million in offers by selling security-holders that are affiliates of the issuer; and Tier 2, for offerings of securities of up to $50 million in a 12-month period, with not more than $15 million in offers by selling security-holders that are affiliates of the issuer. Both Tiers are subject to certain basic requirements while Tier 2 offerings are also subject to additional disclosure and ongoing reporting requirements.
The final rules pre-empt states from reviewing and approving Tier 2 offerings to "qualified purchasers." For a further discussion on merit review and preemption, see The SEC's New 'Regulation A+' and the States' 'M' Word, posted on JDSupra.
Supporters have commended the change as decreasing reliance on costly gate keepers to capital such as investment bankers, and facilitating an easier path to raise capital by allowing qualifying companies to offer their stock directly to the public. Initial reaction quotes in the alternative finance world are available here.
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
In a later footnote, he noted that he was not sure what I meant by my statement: "I believe that public companies should be able to plan like private companies . . . ." I thought I'd try to explain.
My intent there was to address my perception that there is a prevailing view that private companies and public companies must be run differently. Although there are different disclosure laws and other regulations for such entities that can impact operations, I'm speaking here about the relationship between shareholders and directors when I'm referencing how public and private companies plan.
Public companies generally have far more shareholders than private companies, so the goals and expectations of those shareholders will likely be more diverse than in a private entity. Therefore, a public entity may need to keep multiple constituencies happy in a way many private companies do not. However, that is still about shareholder wishes, and not the public or private nature of the entity itself. A private company with twenty shareholders could crate similar tensions for a board of directors.
As an example, consider Investopedia's description of Advantages of Privatization in an article called "Why Public Companies Go Private" (emphasis added):
Private-equity firms have varying exit time lines for their investments depending on what they have conveyed to their investors, but holding periods are typically between four and eight years. This horizon frees up management's prioritization on meeting quarterly earnings expectations and allows them to focus on activities that can create and build long-term shareholder wealth. Management typically lays out its business plan to the prospective shareholders and agrees on a go-forward plan.
This is often a practical reality, but I disagree (or at least believe it should not be the case) that a company must be private to "free up management's prioritization on meeting quarterly earnings expectations and allows them to focus on activities that can create and build long-term shareholder wealth."
This, I think, connects with Prof. Bainbridge's point in his footnote annotation 4, where he says, "I think too many hedge funds are pressing too many boards to pursue short-term gains at the expense of sustainable long-run shareholder wealth maximization and, accordingly, that boards need more insulation from shareholder pressure." I agree completely with his point there, and that's the kind of issue facing public companies that I was intending to address in my assertion.
Ultimately, director primacy means ensuring a large measure of director autonomy (or insulation). This works in both directions, whether it relates to short- versus long-term planning or providing workplace benefits (or not). Ensuring a robust business judgment rule as an abstention doctrine preserves director primacy, and in the long run, will benefit corporate governance and shareholder choice.