Monday, May 27, 2024

Artificial Intelligence and Memorial Day

Over the years, I have written a number of blog posts here on Memorial Day that honor those who sacrificed their lives for us through national military service.  You can find the last few here, here, and here.  When practicable, I work in something about business law in those posts.

This year, as I contemplated what to write, I also was mired in grading and other teaching-related work.  On my mind throughout was generative artificial intelligence, a hot topic in law school circles and throughout education (and, of course, elsewhere, too).  The full range of benefits and burdens of generative artificial intelligence still remain to be discovered.

I wondered what a generative artificial intelligence tool would draft up as a blog post for Memorial Day.  Then, I thought, why wonder?  Why not give it a whirl?  So, I asked Google Gemini to "[w]rite a short blog post that combines business law with Memorial Day."  Set forth below is what I got back.

Honoring Heroes, Respecting Rights: Business Law and Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a time to remember the brave men and women who died serving our country. But for businesses, it also presents some legal considerations. Here's a quick look at how business law intersects with this solemn holiday.

    • Employee Rights: Federal law doesn't mandate paid time off for Memorial Day. However, some states have their own laws, and many companies offer paid holidays as part of employee contracts. Businesses must ensure they're following all applicable laws and agreements regarding employee pay and scheduling for the holiday.

    • Business Closings: If your business plans to close for Memorial Day, it's crucial to communicate this clearly to employees and customers well in advance. This helps avoid confusion and ensures smooth operations upon reopening.

    • Sales and Promotions: While Memorial Day weekend often unofficially kicks off the summer shopping season, it's important to be mindful of the true meaning of the holiday. Avoid promotions or marketing that appears disrespectful to the somber occasion.

    • Community Engagement: Businesses can choose to honor veterans and fallen soldiers by participating in local Memorial Day events or supporting veterans' charities. This demonstrates respect for the holiday's purpose while fostering positive community relations.

By understanding these legal aspects, businesses can ensure a respectful and compliant approach to Memorial Day, allowing them to honor our heroes while adhering to the law.

Honestly, it's not too far off from some of what I have posted in the past.  I am not sure whether to be sad or happy about that.  But now I no longer have to wonder . . . .

Regardless, I do want to continue to pay respect to those who have died in military service to our country.  May they rest in eternal peace knowing that their lives and work are remembered and appreciated on this Memorial Day and every Memorial Day.

May 27, 2024 in Current Affairs, Joan Heminway | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 24, 2024

What is the value of the corporate charter, a reprise

I previously posted about the proposed changes to Delaware law, the latest version of which would allow shareholder agreements insofar as they don’t go further than what a charter – including a preferred share issuance – could allow (except for the exemption from DGCL 115)

One thing I should have mentioned, though, highlighted by Marcel Kahan and Edward Rock here, is that the difference between a share issuance/charter provision, and a contract, is highly salient for purposes of an exchange listing.  Exchanges define control in terms of voting power, not contractual power; moreover, they prohibit corporate actions that would limit shareholder voting power after listing; dual class shares are fine, they just need to be established prior to listing rather than taking away shareholder voting power mid-stream.  What they don’t address, though, is power through shareholder agreements.  Which means, if the DGCL is amended as proposed, a public company could hand over additional governance powers to particular shareholders through contract, without affecting the formal voting power of existing shareholders, and very possibly remain compliant with Exchange rules.

To put it concretely: Elon Musk has vocally demanded 25% voting power of Tesla so that he can control the development of AI. He’s also admitted he can’t get that through a switch to dual-class shares, because of the listing rules.  If the DGCL changes go through, though, there is no reason the board couldn’t “contract” with him to give him outsized influence over Tesla’s governance, regardless of how existing shareholders vote. 

And that leads to the elephant in the room.  Delaware law is all about shareholder wealth – full stop.  My paper on Twitter v. Musk (which is now published and the final version is on SSRN, by the way /plug) is all about the fallacy of relying on Delaware law to advance any value other than shareholder wealth maximization.  But corporate governance does, in fact, matter to the rest of us; it matters whether single individuals wield nearly unchecked power over how corporations behave. 

Back in the 1930s, Congress actually legislated to discourage the use of holding companies, precisely in order to limit the power that individuals could wield over large corporate structures with only a small slice of equity interest.

More recently, as I talk about in my paper Beyond Internal and External, the FTC settled with Mark Zuckerberg to prevent him from exercising his rights as a shareholder to interfere with Facebook’s compliance with a privacy settlement.  Zuckerberg’s unchecked power in his shareholder capacity threatened Facebook’s ability to comply with the law.

So these proposed DGCL changes have very far reaching social consequences that simply have not been explored by Delaware lawmakers, let alone The Rest of Society.

Anyhoo, links to a recent news article here and a collection of Chancery Daily links here.

 

 

May 24, 2024 in Ann Lipton | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 17, 2024

Playtika

Earlier this month, VC Glasscock issued an opinion in Kormos v. Playtika Holding UK II, where he dismissed breach of fiduciary duty claims against the Chair/CEO and CFO of a controlled company.  The opinion made reference to an earlier bench ruling where he sustained claims against the company’s controlling shareholder, Giant/Alpha, which is what alerted me to the bench ruling – which issued in January – in the first place.  And that bench ruling is actually what has my attention.

Playtika Holding Corp is a publicly traded company with a controlling shareholder, Playtika Holding UK II Limited (“Holding”).  Holding is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Giant/Alpha.  In 2021, Giant/Alpha faced a liquidity crisis and desperately needed to raise cash, which it sought to do by selling Holding’s Playtika stock, potentially in connection with a sale of the entire company.  But the process was rushed and messy, with Playtika itself and Giant/Alpha running separate inquiries; eventually, Giant/Alpha instructed Playtika’s board to stop talking to potential buyers, but to instead cause Playtika to institute a self-tender for its own stock.  SEC rules require that tender offers treat all shares of a class equally, which meant that the public shareholders – as well as Giant/Alpha – were able to tender in to the offer.  But, with Giant/Alpha tendering, it could receive cash back from Playtika which would then solve its liquidity problems.

Plaintiffs, the public holders of Playtika, alleged that this was a conflicted transaction that was not in Playtika’s best interests, and was therefore subject to entire fairness review (though they did not claim the price paid for the shares was unfair).

There’s just one problem with that argument, doctrinally: ever since Sinclair Oil Corp. v. Levien, 280 A.2d 717 (Del. 1971), we know that in order to be a conflicted transaction, implicating the duty of loyalty, the controller must receive a nonratable benefit, i.e., some benefit not available to the other stockholders – and arguably, it has to be a benefit that specifically comes at the minority’s expense.  In Sinclair itself, for example, the controlling shareholder caused the company to pay out massive dividends that allegedly robbed the company of the ability to take advantage of alternative opportunities, and it did so for its own private reasons.  Still, the dividend payments weren’t a conflict transaction – and were therefore subject only to business judgment review – because all shareholders got the same dividends, controller and noncontrollers alike.  The controlling shareholder did not receive a special benefit at the expense of the minority (As the Delaware Supreme Court put it, “a proportionate share of this money was received by the minority shareholders of Sinven. Sinclair received nothing from Sinven to the exclusion of its minority stockholders. As such, these dividends were not self-dealing”).

Similarly, in Playtika, the self-tender may have been motivated by Giant/Alpha’s need for cash, but all shareholders could participate in the tender on equal terms, meaning, it wasn’t a conflict transaction, and was therefore subject only to business judgment review.

Except! 

There was a twist.

Giant/Alpha did not want to risk tendering so many shares that it actually lost control of Playtika.  So, it negotiated a provision whereby Playtika would have to announce the number of shares tendered publicly, which would allow Giant/Alpha to keep close tabs on the status of the offer.  Giant/Alpha could also withdraw shares that it previously tendered – which I gather was a negotiated term of the agreement, but also, by the way, required under SEC rules for all tendering shareholders.  So, because Giant/Alpha was able to monitor the shares tendered, and withdraw its own shares, it could adjust its tender and maintain control of the company.

Those provisions, according to VC Glasscock – as he explained in his bench ruling in January, and again in his recent opinion earlier this month, were a nonratable benefit to Giant/Alpha, because they uniquely allowed Giant/Alpha to maintain control, which was not something the minority could share.  And that was enough to transform the Playtika self-tender into a conflict transaction, subject to entire fairness review.

So here’s the thing.

Treating the right to monitor the number of public shares tendered as a nonratable benefit to Giant/Alpha – let alone one that comes at the expense of minority shareholders – strikes me as a bit of a reach.  SEC rules require that tendering shareholders be able to withdraw before the tender offer closes; that wasn’t a benefit unique to Giant/Alpha.  And if Playtika publicly announced how many shares had been tendered, that meant everyone could see what the status was.   

That said, the whole scenario was obviously hinky from the get-go.  There was an awful initial search for alternative transactions; the self-tender itself was designed to benefit Giant/Alpha, and you can see why a judge might be looking for a reason to at least scrutinize the arrangement more closely.  Hence, a nonratable benefit was identified – Giant/Alpha’s ability to modulate the number of shares it tendered. 

And it matters because, as I’ve written two papers about, and also blogged repeatedly (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), the more that Delaware makes it very easy to insulate deals from review unless they involve a controlling shareholder conflict, the more that courts are motivated to identify a controlling shareholder conflict in order to give themselves the opportunity to review problematic transactions.  As my papers discuss, that’s often exhibited in the definition of what it means to be a controlling shareholder in the first place – but, as we can also see here, it exhibits itself in the definition of conflict, as well.

Anyway, that kind of morass is exactly why the Delaware Supreme Court granted interlocutory review of TripAdvisor, i.e., to address the definition of a conflict transaction.  But TripAdvisor involves a reincorporation from Delaware to Nevada; I have no idea whether the court will address just that scenario – which obviously involves questions of comity not present for other kinds of potential conflicts – or whether it will take a broader view of the problem.

May 17, 2024 in Ann Lipton | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 13, 2024

Celebrating Law Leadership!

IPL(Symposium2024-SaveDate)

I have written in the past about the intersections of leadership and law, including business law.  See, for example,  here, here, here, here, and here.  And I was privileged to be the Interim Director, for over three years, of the institute for Professional Leadership at The University of Tennessee College of Law.  I find there is such a strong connection between leadership and business law teaching and practice . . . .

We are celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Institute for Professional Leadership this fall.  The celebration, which will take place on Thursday, October 24 and Friday, October 25, will include a gala dinner and a symposium featuring workshops, a call-for-papers panel, and a series of expert panels.  The "save the date" notice is included above.  I hope you will consider responding to the forthcoming call for proposals and papers.  But regardless, I hope you will consider attending. Feel free to reach out to me with any questions.

May 13, 2024 in Joan Heminway, Law School | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 10, 2024

What is the Value of the Corporate Charter?

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the proposed amendments to the DGCL, and the questions they raised.  Well, I wasn’t the only one who had concerns, and so, now, there are new amendments to the amendments (which The Chancery Daily has posted here).  And once again, I just got these last night and I read quickly (in the middle of end-of-semester grading) so I reserve the right to be completely wrong, but, here is my quick reaction.

As I explained in my prior post , many of the original amendments were intended as a response to VC Laster’s decision in West Palm Beach Firefighters’ Pension Fund v. Moelis & CoMoelis struck down a shareholder agreement that functionally conveyed management power on a particular stockholder, by giving him veto power over most board decisions.  VC Laster held that a board’s authority can only be cabined to such a degree in the charter, including through a preferred share issuance – and he also suggested that there may be some outer limits on how far even a charter provision could go in restricting board authority.

The original proposed DGCL amendments would have overruled Moelis in both respects.  They would have authorized stockholder agreements that usurped board authority and would not have placed any limits on the degree of authority that could be usurped.  The latter point struck me as particularly important, because traditionally, the corporate form is defined by its board-centric model.  If that can be contractually avoided, does the corporate form have any value at all?

The new amendments are a little different, in that they do not permit contracts that would confer governance powers beyond what could be included in the charter, or would be contrary to Delaware law.  In other words, if there are certain core powers that must remain with the board and can’t be visited in someone else via the charter, then, these amendments to the amendments would not allow those powers to be transferred via stockholder contracts.  The new language provides:

no provision of such contract shall be enforceable against the corporation to the extent such contract provision is contrary to the certificate of incorporation or would be contrary to the laws of this State … if included in the certificate of incorporation.

But also, in determining what these “core” board powers are, courts can’t rely on the fact that the power is one that is statutorily conferred on the board.  As the amendments put it, “a restriction, prohibition or covenant in any such contract that relates to any specified action shall not be deemed contrary to the laws of this State or the certificate of incorporation by reason of a provision of this title or the certificate of incorporation that authorizes or empowers the board of directors (or any one or more directors) to take such action.”

Now, the first thing that leaps out at me is how these new amendments interact with VC Laster’s decision in McRitchie v. Zuckerberg.  There, Laster held that the directors of a Delaware corporation have a duty to maximize the value of the equity, and do not have a duty to maximize the value of a diversified portfolio. (I blogged about the case when the complaint was first filed).  But Laster went on to hold that corporations could adopt charter provisions that would change directors’ fiduciary duties, so that they are obligated to consider diversified shareholders.   That’s contestable; Steve Bainbridge, for example, has suggested that Delaware corporations cannot by private ordering depart from shareholder wealth maximization and I personally would ask what’s the difference between Laster’s proposal and a charter provision that waives the duty of loyalty – which has long been assumed to be unwaivable, except as otherwise statutorily provided (like, opportunity waivers). 

But if Laster is right, then, of course, that represents a very broad view of how far charters can go to alter the board’s authority, which would also mean that stockholder agreements, under the amended proposed amendments, could go very far in altering board authority. 

Which then raises the question: Is there value to requiring that restrictions on board authority be placed in the charter rather than a separate shareholder agreement?

One obvious value is transparency; at least if the company is not subject to SEC reporting, shareholder agreements may not be available to the public or even to other shareholders.  Another value may concern the ease with which an agreement versus a charter could be amended, though I still think that if you conferred special rights to preferred shareholders, you could also confer the right to vote on amendments to those rights to the same preferred shareholders, which would make ease of amendment roughly equivalent.

Another value, though, concerns choice of law.  As I previously blogged, shareholder agreements are subject to ordinary choice of law principles; charter provisions and preferred share terms are subject to the internal affairs doctrine.  (Read my paper addressing this!)

The comments to the amendments to the amendments now discuss choice of law, but I don’t think they change the landscape.  The comments say:

Notwithstanding any choice of law provision in the contract, the reference in the last sentence of § 122(18) to the law “governing” the contract shall be deemed to refer to the laws of this State if and to the extent choice of law principles (such as the internal affairs doctrine) so require.

In other words, it’ll be another state’s law if choice of law principles so require, which, for stockholder agreements, they often do.

But further muddying the waters is this:  The new amendments say that stockholder contracts can’t go beyond what a charter amendment would permit except with respect to DGCL §115, which can be waived in a stockholder contract.

DGCL §115 requires that a Delaware forum be available for claims that “(i) that are based upon a violation of a duty by a current or former director or officer or stockholder in such capacity, or (ii) as to which this title confers jurisdiction upon the Court of Chancery.”

So, as I understand it, let’s say a stockholder agreement conferred extraordinary governance powers on a single stockholder.  Let’s say those powers arguably made the stockholder a “controller” subject to fiduciary obligations.  The contract could also provide that claims against the stockholder for breach of fiduciary duty must be brought in an arbitral or non-Delaware forum.  Presumably, this would include derivative claims – a shareholder would sue derivatively claiming self-dealing by a controller, the corporation would be bound by the forum selection clause, and so, the claim would be heard outside of Delaware.

I also assume that disputes regarding compliance with, or even the interpretation of, a stockholder agreement could be heard in a non-Delaware forum.  So, if someone wanted to claim that a particular stockholder agreement was unenforceable because it conferred power on a stockholder that went beyond what Delaware law permits, and it turned out that the agreement selected another state’s courts as the forum for disputes, that argument – that Delaware law does not permit delegation of such-and-such power – would not be heard in a Delaware court.

As far as I can tell, this provides an incentive for stockholders to enter into these agreements – even if they have hard control over the board and don’t really need them – because it allows them to opt out of DGCL 115, and possibly even the statutory limits on the agreements themselves, which will no longer be policed in Delaware.

Well, I have no idea how this ends but, I gotta tell you, all this drama fascinated my corpgov seminar students, so I suppose I will have much to discuss with my classes next year.

May 10, 2024 in Ann Lipton | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

ESG Greenwashing

ESG greenwashing has been getting attention among legal academics.  In Rainbow-Washing, 15 Ne. U. L. Rev. 285 (2023), LMU Law's John Rice explores the

increasingly common, but destructive, practice in which corporations make public-facing statements espousing their support of the LGBTQIA+ community . . . to draw in and retain consumers, investors, employees, and public support, but then either fail to fulfill the promises implicit in those statements or act in contravention to them. 

My own forthcoming article in the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Business Law, presented at the November 2023 ILEP-Penn Carey Law symposium honoring Jill Fisch, mentions the increasing notoriety of ESG greenwashing and cites to John's article.

Last week, UVA Law Professor Naomi Cahn called out ESG greenwashing in Forbes, citing to a study to be published in the Journal of Accounting Research that finds "firms’ ESG rhetoric may not match their reality."  She suggests that "a meaningful analysis of a firm’s ESG commitment requires much further digging, and ultimately it requires meaningful oversight from outside the ESG community on what should be disclosed and the accuracy of the reports."  The article references a forthcoming book coauthored by Cahn, June Carbone (Minnesota Law) ,and Nancy Levit (UMKC Law) and quotes Minnesota Law Professor Claire Hill.  (Hat tip to Claire for leading me to this Forbes piece.)  It's a solidly good read.  I added a citation to it in my forthcoming article.

I suspect more will be done in this space academically and practically as ESG continues to occupy the minds of legal academics, lawyers, and business principals.  I will be continuing to work in this area, focusing next on corporate compliance issues.  Stay tuned for news on that project (and for a notification about the publication of my forthcoming University of Pennsylvania Journal of Business Law article referenced above).

May 7, 2024 in Compliance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Joan Heminway, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 6, 2024

2024 Corporate & Securities Litigation Workshop

Corporate & Securities Litigation Workshop: 

Call for Papers 

UCLA School of Law, in partnership with the University of Illinois College of Law, University of Richmond School of Law, and Vanderbilt Law School invites submissions for the Eleventh Annual Workshop for Corporate & Securities Litigation. This workshop will be held on September 20-21, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. 

Overview 

This annual workshop brings together scholars focused on corporate and securities litigation to present their scholarly works. Papers addressing any aspect of corporate and securities litigation or enforcement are eligible, including securities class actions, fiduciary duty litigation, and SEC enforcement actions. We welcome scholars working in a variety of methodologies, as well as both completed papers and works-in-progress at any stage. Authors whose papers are selected will be invited to present their work at a workshop hosted by UCLA School of Law. Participants will pay for their own travel, lodging, and other expenses. 

Submissions 

If you are interested in participating, please send the paper you would like to present, or an abstract of the paper, to [email protected] by Friday, June 7, 2024 Please include your name, current position, and contact information in the e-mail accompanying the submission. Authors of accepted papers will be notified in early July. 

Questions 

Any questions concerning the workshop should be directed to the organizers: Jim Park ([email protected]), Jessica Erickson ([email protected]), Amanda Rose ([email protected]), and Verity Winship ([email protected]). 

May 6, 2024 in Call for Papers, Corporations, Joan Heminway, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 3, 2024

Hu, Malenko, and Zytnick on Proxy Advice

I very much enjoyed Edwin Hu, Nadya Malenko, and Jonathon Zytnick’s new paper, Custom Proxy Voting Advice.   They find that most institutional investors who buy proxy voting advice from ISS and Glass Lewis don’t use their benchmark recommendations, but instead create a tailored set of preferences and get recommendations that are based on those preferences.  Then, in particular cases, they may depart from those recs and vote another way – which in fact appears to happen quite a bit for shareholders who use customized recommendations, because, the authors speculate, the customized recommendations free up attention from less contentious votes, and permit shareholders to focus on the more contentious ones.

The point is important because, first, it may mean that headlines like “ISS recommends XXX” may be less meaningful than we think, because the benchmark recommendation may not be what many clients receive.  And second, these findings continue to demonstrate the folly of the perennial corporate complaints that proxy advisors have too much power and/or shareholders “robovote” in response to proxy advisor recommendations.   The real complaint is that shareholders have too much power and too many preferences, and if that’s the problem – well, management should take it up with them.

The final thing to note is that much of the differential comes, unsurprisingly, environmental/social proposals.  Which makes me want to draw attention to this paper by Roni Michaely, Guillem Ordonez-Calafi, and Silvina Rubio, Mutual Funds’ Strategic Voting on Environmental and Social Issues.  They find that ESG-themed mutual funds within larger mainstream families engage in a subtle form of greenwashing, whereby funds within larger families tend to vote for the E/S proposals when the proposals are very likely to pass, or very likely not to pass – and they deviate and vote with the family for the closer votes.  So they vote E/S more than regular-themed funds, but only when those votes won’t make a difference in outcome.  Which is consistent, I think, with Hu, Malenko, and Zytnick’s findings regarding how institutions use custom proxy voting advice, and deviate from it.

May 3, 2024 in Ann Lipton | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

This Friday - SMU Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources Colloquium

I'm delighted to share that I'll be presenting this Friday at the SMU Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources Colloquium.  Anyone interested in attending can register here.  A description of the event is below.  I'm excited to be working on my third (one and two) article with SMU energy law Professor James W. Coleman. It's at the intersection of energy and financial regulation, and I look forward to sharing more about it with readers soon!  I'm particularly grateful to co-blogger Joan Heminway and the University of Tennessee Law School for hosting the Connecting the Threads CLE series, the forum in which we first shared our initial papers! 

Description

"The SMU Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources Colloquium is an annual program, in its second year, which focuses on the interdisciplinary connections between the fields of energy, environment, and natural resources (“EENR”). It promises to be a pivotal gathering for academics, students, practitioners, and other stakeholders in the fields of law, science, engineering, business, and the humanities. The conference will delve into crucial topics like environmental justice initiatives, natural resource management using law and markets, carbon management, and interdisciplinary solutions to environmental challenges, featuring a mix of talks, panel discussions, and followed by graduate student presentations."

 

 

  

May 1, 2024 in Colleen Baker, Conferences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 26, 2024

The Delaware contretemps continues

Previously, I posted about the grumbles of discontent from the corporate bar regarding several recent Delaware Court of Chancery rulings, resulting in proposals for statutory amendments that seemed somewhat hasty and poorly thought-out.  Sujeet Indap had a piece in the Financial Times about it; before that, there was coverage in a local Delaware outlet.

Now, Law360 reports on a new memo issued by Wilson Sonsini, reminiscent of Martin Lipton's famous Interco memo, warning that Delaware may no longer be as friendly to business.  From the memo:

In recent months, a conversation has emerged as to whether Delaware should remain the favored state of incorporation for business entities. Indeed, many of our clients have asked us whether they should remain in Delaware or choose Delaware as the state of incorporation for their new ventures. In this discussion, we provide our reflections on that question and various factors that entrepreneurs, investors, and companies should consider when weighing incorporation in Delaware against incorporation in another state. ...

In the conversations that we have had with clients, businesspeople, and others in the corporate bar, we have heard the following reasons given for reconsidering incorporation in Delaware:

  • A growing number of cases that have addressed technical issues, in the M&A context and elsewhere, and reached unexpected results in a manner that has impacted corporate structuring and transaction planning
  • A perception that Delaware judges have in several opinions adopted an increasingly suspicious or negative tone toward corporate boards and management, and toward the corporate bar
  • The challenges that the case law can pose for companies with influential founders or significant stockholders, the process mechanisms that such companies are expected to use, and the remedies that have been reached in those cases
  • A sense that Delaware judges can be skeptical of the governance of venture-backed private companies and many Silicon Valley-based companies
  • The increasingly active, and successful, plaintiffs’ bar in both technical and fiduciary claims, which can leave boards and management with the sense that they are planning around “gotcha” litigation driven by plaintiffs’ lawyers more than those lawyers’ individual clients

Obviously, the third point here regarding influential founders/significant stockholders is a reference to the MFW process, which the Delaware Supreme Court just reaffirmed.  But the Delaware Supreme Court also just granted interlocutory review in TripAdvisor, which raises the possibility that some of the tension will be ratcheted down through a narrowed definition of what counts as a conflicted transaction that triggers the need for entire fairness review/MFW cleansing in the first place.

What's more interesting to me are points 2 and 4.  I assume that some of those objections are about Moelis, which struck down the type of shareholder agreement that seems to have become common in VC-backed firms and was carried over to the public space, and maybe even go as far back as decisions like Trados, which held that in a VC backed firm, the directors' fiduciary obligations run to the common over the preferred (even though Trados itself did not grant any damages to the common shareholders).

But I also suspect that some of the sturm und drang has its antecedents in In re Oracle Corp. Derivative Litig., 824 A.2d 917 (Del. Ch. 2003), when then-Vice Chancellor Strine held that the independence of a special committee was compromised by close professional and networking ties.  The case was a break from prior Delaware jurisprudence, which treated directors as independent in almost all situations that didn't involve either blood or money, and the Delaware Supreme Court rejected his approach in Beam v. Stewart, 845 A.2d 1040 (Del. 2004).  Once Strine ascended to the Delaware Supreme Court, though, the caselaw started inching back his way, starting with Sanchez, continuing on with Sandys v. Pincus, and culminating in Marchand v. BarnhillThe thing about these more nuanced tests for dependence/independence is that they may, in fact, hit Silicon Valley companies particularly hard, because of the chumminess of the tech world, and it's not surprising that once independence is questioned, the tone of the opinions is going to come off as skeptical, in a manner that defendants do not like.  

Anyway, I'll just conclude by echoing the comments in the Law360 article, namely, that whatever the correct direction of Delaware law, this kind of open warfare (and, frankly, attempted deployment of political muscle) challenges the reputation Delaware has built for comity and a technocratic approach to lawmaking. That's the kind of thing that undermines Delaware's legitimacy as, in a sense, a de facto federal agency.  It's the kind of thing that invites more intrusion from federal regulators, and less respect from other jurisdictions - not just other states, but around the world.

 

 

April 26, 2024 in Ann Lipton | Permalink | Comments (0)

Another paper from me

In September, I was honored to deliver the Boden Lecture at Marquette Law School; a video of that lecture is available here.  (I also gave a vaguely similar, but not identical, talk at College of the Holy Cross earlier this month, which is available here).

Anyway, the Boden Lecture, in a more formalized form, will be published in the Marquette Law Review.  Here is the abstract:

Of Chameleons and ESG

Ever since the rise of the great corporations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, commenters have debated whether firms should be run solely to benefit investors, or whether instead they should be run to benefit society as a whole. Both sides have claimed their preferred policies are necessary to maintain a capitalist system of private enterprise distinct from state institutions. What we can learn from the current iteration of the debate—now rebranded as “environmental, social, governance” or “ESG” investing—is that efforts to disentangle corporate governance from the regulatory state are futile; governmental regulation has an inevitable role in structuring the corporate form.

The paper is available on SSRN at this link.

April 26, 2024 in Ann Lipton | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 25, 2024

DOL | Fiduciary Rule Out

The Department of Labor recently released its new fiduciary rule.  I covered the initial announcement here.  These are direct links to the parts of the rulemaking package:

FINAL RULE: https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/EBSA/laws-and-regulations/laws/erisa/retirement-security/final-rule.pdf

PTE 2020-02: https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/EBSA/laws-and-regulations/laws/erisa/retirement-security/prohibited-transaction-exemption-2020-02.pdf

PTE 84-24: https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/EBSA/laws-and-regulations/laws/erisa/retirement-security/prohibited-transaction-exemption-84-24.pdf

Other PTE Amendments: https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/EBSA/laws-and-regulations/laws/erisa/retirement-security/prohibited-transaction-exemptions-75-1-77-4-80-83-83-1-and-86-128.pdf

The New York Times has also covered the release.  I contributed my view to the piece.  As I see it, if printing a financial adviser's disclosers will run your printer out of toner, you should just find a different financial adviser.  

The simplest way to buy advice is to hire a “fee-only” independent certified financial planner who is a registered investment adviser, which means they are required to act as fiduciaries when providing investment advice about securities (stocks, mutual funds and the like). As part of that fiduciary duty, they must eliminate conflicts or disclose them.

“Your odds of conflicts go up, the longer their disclosures are,” said Benjamin Edwards, a professor at the William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Las Vegas.

There will be much more on this to come.  The rule is great for ordinary people because it uniformly raises standards for advice about their retirement account money.  One of the major problems in this space is that lots of different people offer "financial advice" to retirement savers under different standards.  Insurance producers are probably the most loosely regulated and also the most likely to oversell complex financial products for a quick payday.  The rule applies whether someone is a broker, registered adviser, or an insurance producer.  It's the same standard for people doing the same basic thing.

Some of the industry opposition and litigation defense strategies often revolve around "personal responsibility."  And there is something to that.  People should understand what's going on when they invest significant sums.  But the reality is that people hire or work with financial advisers because they need advice.  If they knew what they were doing, they wouldn't need any help.  We need to make it safer for people to trust their financial advisers.  This rule goes a long way to help get us there.

April 25, 2024 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Open Full-Time Lecturer Position - Texas State University

Dear BLPB Readers:

"The Department of Finance and Economics at Texas State University is seeking a full-time lecturer to start in the Fall semester 2024. A JD from an ABA-accredited law school is required. Job duties include teaching onsite sections of Legal Environment of Business (and perhaps other classes as needed) as well as engaging in department, college, and university service. The contracts are annual but renewable. Because the position is non-tenure-track, there is no search committee; accordingly, if you are interested in the position or want to know more, you can contact Jeff Todd ([email protected]) directly."

April 24, 2024 in Colleen Baker, Jobs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 22, 2024

Fiduciary Duties: A Tale of Two Families

Check out the third issue of volume 73 of the DePaul Law Review!  It includes a series of papers emanating from the HBO series Succession.  As you may recall, I posted a call for papers for this issue about a year ago.  Most of the papers in the issue came from a venture originated and organized by Susan Bandes and Diane Kemker called the Waystar Royco School of Law.  I wrote about that enterprise here.  

I participated in the Waystar Royco School of Law Zoom meetings as the “Roy/Demoulas Distinguished Professor of Law and Business.”  I presented on fiduciary duty issues comparing the principals of two family businesses--The Demoulas family from Northern Massachusetts and Succession's Roy family from New York.  You can find my Zoom session here (Passcode: #hN+7J5N).  That presentation resulted in an essay that I wrote for the DePaul Law Review issue as well as an advanced business associations course based on the Succession series. I finish teaching that course this week.  I also presented on the topic of my Succession essay at the Popular Culture Association conference back in March.  I include a screenshot of my cover slide below.

I just posted the essay to SSRN.  The piece is entitled What the Roys Should Learn from the Demoulas Family (But Probably Won’t).  The SSRN abstract is set forth below.

This essay offers a comparison of the actions taken by members of two families: the Demoulas family, best known as owner-operators of northeastern regional supermarkets, and the Roy family featured in HBO's series "Succession." The comparative appraisal focuses principally on the selfish pursuit of individualized financial, social, and familial status by key members of both the Demoulas and Roy families as they relate to the law of business associations (principally corporate law). At the heart of the matter is the legal concept of fiduciary duty. A comparison of the two families’ exploits reveals that lessons earlier learned by the Demoulas family (and observers of the multifaceted, multi-year litigation involving them and their business undertakings) fail to positively impact the destiny and legacy of Succession’s Roy family—at least as far as the Roy family story has been told to date. Although hope may be limited, there is still time for the remaining Roy family members to take heed and make changes.

To execute and comment on the comparison of these two families, the essay starts by outlining relevant information concerning legally recognized fiduciary duties in the corporate (and, to a lesser degree, partnership) contexts. Next, the essay offers background information about the Demoulas and Roy families and their respective businesses (both organized as corporations) and selected business dealings and governance, noting actual and potential breaches of fiduciary duty in each case. A brief conclusion offers comparative observations about the actions taken by members of the Demoulas and Roy families that contravene or challenge applicable fiduciary duties and the opportunity for general reflection. Of particular note is the observation that the ability of corporate directors and officers to comply with their fiduciary duties may become more difficult and complicated when integrating family dynamics and business succession issues into business decisions in a family business context.

I have enjoyed the research and teaching I have done in this area over the past year.  It always is nice to take a fresh approach to familiar concepts.  I daresay my students have felt the same way in covering business associations topics through the lens of the happenings in the series.  They certainly have been attentive and communicative, which is what I had been shooting for in teaching corporate and other business associations law through the course.  I am happy to answer questions about the course and provide my syllabi to anyone who wants to see what I assigned and did for the course.  Just ask.

Screen Shot 2024-04-21 at 6.42.58 PM

April 22, 2024 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Family Business, Joan Heminway, Research/Scholarhip, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 19, 2024

Clawbacks and 401(k) Vesting Schedules

Samantha Prince, Timothy G. Azizkhan, Cassidy R. Prince, and Luke Gorman recently released an interesting paper on the effects of 401(k) vesting schedules. With defined-contribution plans, employees always get to keep the contributions withheld from their paychecks.  Whether the employee will always keep the employer contributions depends on the vesting schedule in play, if any.

And vesting schedules really matter.  The authors found that in the 909 2022 filings they reviewed at least 1.8 million employees lost out on at least a portion of their employer contributions.  After the employees forfeit employer contributions on termination, the employers get to recycle the funds within the plan, avoiding the need for additional contributions. The filings indicated that employer contributions that were recycled were over $1.5 billion. This large sum represents money failing to follow the employee out the door because employment terminated before employees "vested" under the plans.

The analysis shows a partial picture of the broader American landscape because they analyzed 909 different single employer plans.  Still, the plans analyzed covered some major employers such as Amazon and Home Depot.

There are two main types of vesting schedules--graded vesting and cliff vesting.  In graded plans, the employee gradually gets to keep more and more of the employer contribution over time on their departure. In cliff vesting, employees who don't make it a set number of years (often three) lose all of the employer contributions to their retirement. The employers with employees losing the most money on departure generally use cliff schedules.

What happens to the money that gets left behind?  The employer gets to put it to work.  Usually, this means that it won't make more contributions for other employees.  Instead it'll just allocate some of the forfeited funds to cover its obligation to make an employer contribution.  Sometimes, they'll also use the money to offset other expenses.  In any event, employers with these vesting schedules benefit significantly when someone's employment ends before the vesting deadline.

Marketwatch recently covered the draft article and made some follow up calls to employers.  The responses were 

Almost as absurdly, several teams of flacks tried to deny that the companies themselves benefited from this clawback in 401(k) contributions. No, no, they insisted. We don’t benefit. It goes to the other employees in the 401(k) plan.

No, it doesn’t. If this money really went to the other employees, it would appear as a separate bonus. Instead, as Prince and her team’s investigation has shown, most of the money clawed back is used to cut the company’s contributions.

In other words, it’s a shell game. The employers don’t get that $1.5 billion. It just cuts the amount they have to spend on 401(k) contributions next year. By how much? Oh … er … $1.5 billion.

Amazon and Home Depot led the pack with the most employees affected by these plans.  In 2022, Amazon employees forfeited $102 million in employer contributions. Home Depot had the second most affected employees, but the total forfeiture amount came to around $7 million.

Interestingly, immediate competitors now often use different vesting schedules.  Prospective employees considering whether to work at firm A or firm B probably do not have the sophistication or access to information to understand vesting schedule differences and what it will mean for them in practical terms.

Although vesting schedules result in lower overall American retirement savings, employers may face some market pressure to adopt them.  If they face no real negative repercussions in the labor market for a three-year cliff vesting schedule, shifting their retirement vesting could allow them to delay or avoid millions in annual expenses over time. 

Absent some government intervention, I expect more employers will probably move to vesting schedules.  It's not hard to imagine how a management consultant could take the paper's data and then use it to go from company to company selling retirement plan adjustments that will more than pay for millions in consulting fees.

April 19, 2024 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Tesla and Waste

Yup, we have another opportunity for Elon Musk to make new law.

This time, it comes in the form of an extraordinary proxy statement recommending that shareholders vote to ratify the compensation package that Chancellor McCormick invalidated in Tornetta v. Musk, and that they vote to reincorporate the company in Texas.

There are many many questions raised and I’m sure I’ll be revisiting a bunch of them over the next couple of months, but I’m zeroing in on one in particular: the pay package ratification vote.  Can they really do that?

And hoo boy did this get long, so behind a cut it goes; however, I personally find the most interesting part to be the realpolitik of it all if it ends up in a courtroom, so knowledgeable readers may want to skip to that part at the end.

More under the jump

Continue reading

April 18, 2024 in Ann Lipton | Permalink | Comments (5)

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

American Business Law Journal Accepting Editorial Board Applications

Dear BLPB Readers:

"The American Business Law Journal invites ALSB members who are interested in serving on the Editorial Board of the ABLJ to apply for the position of Articles Editor.

The ABLJ is widely regarded, nationally and internationally, as a premier peer-reviewed journal. Serving as an Articles Editor provides an opportunity to serve the Academy of Legal Studies in Business and broader academic discipline at the highest levels of service. 

The incoming Articles Editor will begin to serve on the Board in August 2024. Board members commit to serve for three years: two years as Articles Editor and one year as Senior Articles Editor. After that, Articles Editors have the option of continuing to serve two more years—one as Managing Editor and another as Editor-in-Chief. 

Articles Editors supervise the review of articles that have been submitted to the ABLJ to determine which manuscripts to recommend for publication. If a manuscript is accepted, the Articles Editor is responsible for working with the author to oversee changes in both style and substance. If a manuscript is believed to be publishable but in need of further work, the Articles Editor outlines specific revisions and further lines of research that the author should pursue. The Articles Editor’s recommendations for works-in-process are perhaps the most important and creative aspect of the job because they provide the guidance necessary for works to blossom into publishable manuscripts.  

An applicant for the position of Articles Editor should have an established track record of publications. We prefer applicants who have previously published with the ABLJ and have familiarity with our peer review process. However, we also welcome applicants, including international applicants, who have published with high quality law journals and/or peer reviewed law journals that adhere to the Harvard Bluebook style.  Experience serving as a Reviewer for the ABLJ or as a Staff Editor is helpful. 

The ABLJ is committed to ensuring that financial resources, including the support of a research assistant, are not an obstacle to service on the Board. 

Applicants are encouraged to contact us to learn more about the position and financial assistance that may be available.

Please send a resume and letter of interest to Inara Scott, ABLJ Editor-in-Chief, at [email protected] by May 31, 2024, for full consideration."

April 17, 2024 in Colleen Baker | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 15, 2024

I Still Think My Disclosure Advice to Clients is the Same After Macquarie

I appreciate Ann's super helpful post on omissions liability after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Macquarie Infrastructure Corp. et al. v. Moab Partners, L. P., et al.  The hair splitting in that opinion is, in my view, dubious at best.  The Court's creation of a legally significant concept of "pure omissions" in a public company disclosure context is doctrinally counterfactual.  The omission to state a fact required to be disclosed under a mandatory disclosure rule like Item 303 of Regulation S-K necessarily occurs in a veritable river of disclosures in SEC filings and more generally and has the potential of making those disclosures misleading.  If material, such an omission should be actionable as deceptive or manipulative conduct under Section 10(b) of and Rule 10b-5 under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended.  Period.

Of course. civil liability would require proof of all elements of the claim, including (even for public enforcement officials) the requisite state of mind or scienter.  Private class action plaintiffs also would have heightened pleading burdens.  And a criminal prosecution can only be sustained if the predicate conduct is willful, as provided in Section 32(a) of the Exchange Act.

The point is that there is no such thing as a "pure omission."  Investors logically rely on the interplay between and among public statements made in filings and elsewhere.  If X exists for Public Company A, and Public Company A is required to disclose X in a public filing but does not do so, investors will view and assess all of the relevant public information about Public Company A assuming X does not exist for Public Company A.  If the omission makes existing disclosures misleading, is material, is made withe the action-appropriate state of mind, and deceives or manipulates, the basis for a Rule 10b-5 cause of action against Public Company A plainly exists based on the language of Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5.  Back in January, wben I first wrote about Macquarie and an amicus brief I coauthored for the case (which you can fined here), I stated as much.  It seems Ann agrees when she says that "whatever the language of 10b-5(b), it seems entirely unobjectionable that it should be considered a “manipulative or deceptive device or contrivance” within the broader meaning of Section 10(b) to intentionally withhold information you have a duty to disclose – from some other source – in order to mislead someone else."  (Her further analysis follows.)

As Ann's post notes, much remains to be seen and said about the impact of Macquarie, and the Court has signaled that the true wisdom we can gain from its opinion in Macquarie may be constrained to actions brought under Rule 10b-5(b) and to certain factual contexts.  As a result, I have determined it is still appropriate--and wise--to caution public company clients that their failure to comply with mandatory disclosure requirements may make them subject to, among other things, Section 10(b)/Rule 10b-5 litigation.  One should, of course, note (among other things) that the omission would have to be material, make other disclosed facts misleading, and be made recklessly or willfully in order for liability to attach. 

Do you disagree?  Do you believe there are "pure omissions" in a public company disclosure context? Let me know.

 

April 15, 2024 in Ann Lipton, Joan Heminway, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 12, 2024

Macquarie Infrastructure Corp. v. Moab Partners, L. P.

I’ve frequently posted about omissions liability under the federal securities laws; you can read many of those posts, in reverse chronological order, here, here, and here.  But, here’s the CliffsNotes version of where we are now, after the Supreme Court’s decision today in Macquarie Infrastructure Corp. v. Moab Partners, L. P..

 

Once upon a time, there was a statute, Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act. That statute made it unlawful:

 

To use or employ, in connection with the purchase or sale of any security registered on a national securities exchange or any security not so registered, or any securities-based swap agreement any manipulative or deceptive device or contrivance in contravention of such rules and regulations as the Commission may prescribe as necessary or appropriate in the public interest or for the protection of investors.

The Commission did, in fact, adopt those rules and regulations, in the form of Rule 10b-5, which made it unlawful:

 

(a) To employ any device, scheme, or artifice to defraud,

(b) To make any untrue statement of a material fact or to omit to state a material fact necessary in order to make the statements made, in the light of the circumstances under which they were made, not misleading, or

(c) To engage in any act, practice, or course of business which operates or would operate as a fraud or deceit upon any person,

in connection with the purchase or sale of any security.

These subparts, collectively, were intended to prohibit the full extent of conduct prohibited by Section 10(b) itself.  See SEC v. Zandford, 535 U.S. 813 (2002).   That is, if it could fall into the category of a “manipulative or deceptive device or contrivance” in connection with the purchase or sale of a security, then it must be prohibited by at least one of Rule 10b-5’s subparts.

 

Back in kinder, simpler times, U.S. courts throughout the land interpreted Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5 to prohibit not only “manipulative or deceptive device[s] or contrivance[s]”, but also conduct that aids and abets the “manipulative or deceptive device or contrivance” of someone else.  But, alas, in Central Bank of Denver, N. A. v. First Interstate Bank of Denver, N. A., 511 U.S. 164 (1994), the Supreme Court said – nay!  Section 10(b) prohibits “only the making of a material misstatement (or omission) or the commission of a manipulative act”; mere “aiding” someone else’s “manipulative or deceptive device or contrivance” is not prohibited.

 

That, of course, kicked off years of litigation over the distinction between aiding a “manipulative or deceptive device or contrivance” and actually participating in one.

 

Which brought us to Janus Capital Group, Inc. v. First Derivative Traders, 564 U.S. 135 (2011).  There, investment adviser Janus Capital Management caused its affiliated mutual funds to file false prospectuses about those funds’ policies. The Supreme Court held that the investment adviser had not violated Rule 10b-5(b), because it had not actually “made” a false statement.  The funds made false statements.  Though the funds’ statements had been drafted by its investment adviser, the statements had been filed under the funds’ name, making the funds – and only the funds – responsible for their contents.  This highly technical definition of the word “make,” the Court further explained, was necessary to preserve the line between primary liability and aiding and abetting liability.

 

Oh no.

 

Because, aiding and abetting, we learned from Central Bank, is outside the scope of the Section 10(b) statute.  But the Janus holding was based on a technical definition of the word “make,” which appears only in one subpart of Rule 10b-5.  Was the Court seriously proposing that intentionally causing a captured entity to issue false statements is not a “manipulative or deceptive device or contrivance” within the meaning of Section 10(b)?  Or was the Court merely holding that such conduct does not run afoul of Rule 10b-5(b), but still could run afoul of Rule 10b-5(a) or (c)?

 

In Lorenzo v. SEC, 587 U.S. 71 (2019), we got an answer.  Janus was about Rule 10b-5(b); there may well be conduct – including distributing false statements that someone else made, with an intent to deceive – that falls within Section 10(b), but not Rule 10b-5(b) (i.e., that falls within Rule 10b-5(a) or 10b-5(c)).

 

Which brings us to Moab v. Macquarie, wherein the Supreme Court decided that the Central Bank to Janus to Lorenzo journey was so much fun, it was worthwhile to do it again.

 

In Moab, shareholders of Macquarie Infrastructure Corp. brought a fraud on the market class action, alleging that Macquarie filed its 10-K without including certain information required to be disclosed under Item 303.  The shareholders contended that omitting required information was prohibited by Rule 10b-5(b).

 

The Supreme Court rejected the claim.  According to the Court, Rule 10b-5(b)’s language is limited solely to affirmatively false or misleading statements – not “pure” omissions.  The Court contrasted the language of Rule 10b-5(b) with the language of Section 11 of the Securities Act of 1933.  The latter prohibits not only false statements and misleading omissions, but also failure to disclose required information; Rule 10b-5(b), however, says nothing about failure to disclose required information.  Therefore, concluded the Court, absent an affirmative false or misleading statement, Rule 10b-5(b) does not create liability.

 

Except, we know that Section 10(b) prohibits “pure” omissions.  We know that because the Supreme Court has said so.  See Chiarella v. U.S., 445 U.S. 222 (1980) (“the Commission recognized a relationship of trust and confidence between the shareholders of a corporation and those insiders who have obtained confidential information by reason of their position with that corporation. This relationship gives rise to a duty to disclose because of the ‘necessity of preventing a corporate insider from . . . tak[ing] unfair advantage of the uninformed minority stockholders.’”); SEC v. Zandford, 535 U.S. 813 (2002) (“each [sale] was deceptive because it was neither authorized by, nor disclosed to, the Woods”); Affiliated Ute Citizens of Utah v. United States, 406 U.S. 128, 152-53 (1972) (“The individual defendants, in a distinct sense, were market makers, not only for their personal purchases constituting 8 1/3% of the sales, but for the other sales their activities produced. This being so, they possessed the affirmative duty under the Rule to disclose this fact to the mixed-blood sellers.”).  

 

Which makes perfect sense!  Because whatever the language of 10b-5(b), it seems entirely unobjectionable that it should be considered a “manipulative or deceptive device or contrivance” within the broader meaning of Section 10(b) to intentionally withhold information you have a duty to disclose – from some other source – in order to mislead someone else.

 

The inescapable conclusion, then, is that if pure omissions are not prohibited under 10b-5(b), they must be prohibited under either 10b-5(a) or 10b-5(c).

 

Except Moab included this curious footnote:

 

The Court granted certiorari to address the Second Circuit’s pure omission analysis, not its half-truth analysis. See Pet. for Cert. i (“Whether . . . a failure to make a disclosure required under Item 303 can support a private claim under Section 10(b), even in the absence of an otherwise-misleading statement” (emphasis added)) …The Court does not opine on issues that are either tangential to the question presented or were not passed upon below, including what constitutes “statements made,” when a statement is misleading as a half-truth, or whether Rules 10b–5(a) and 10b–5(c) support liability for pure omissions.

It also included such language as:

 

Neither Congress in §10(b) nor the SEC in Rule 10b–5(b) mirrored §11(a) to create liability for pure omissions…

 So … either pure omissions – even if the omissions were part of an intentional effort to deceive someone to whom there was a duty of disclosure – do not count as “manipulative or deceptive device[s] or contrivance[s]”, which will come as a pleasant surprise to various insider traders and faithless brokers, or Rules 10b-5(a) and (c) prohibit conduct outside the scope of Section 10(b).

 

Or … we’ll be walking all this back in a couple of years.

 

Okay, fine, here’s the actual way out: The Court didn’t exactly say omissions aren’t prohibited; it said “A pure omission occurs when a speaker says nothing, in circumstances that do not give any particular meaning to that silence.”  Only these “pure omissions” are not prohibited.

 

Presumably, circumstances that give meaning to the silence are when one acts as a broker, or a market maker, or trades on the information provided in the context of a trusting relationship.  Or, it is not a “pure” omission – it is an omission coupled with conduct – when one misuses a brokerage account, or acts as a market maker, or trades in stock.

 

Without explanation – or even an acknowledgment of the inferential leap – the Supreme Court apparently concluded that no conduct is involved, or no “circumstances … giv[ing] any particular meaning to that silence” exist, when a defendant engages in the action of filing an official document with the SEC that omits required information. 

 

So I assume that the next smartass who tries to cite Moab as a defense to insider trading will be told “but that’s a circumstance that gives particular meaning to the silence!”

 

In other words, the rule, such as it is, appears to be that it’s not fraud if it’s in connection with a fraud on the market class action, and it is fraud anywhere else.  Which means, we must ask – is it a circumstance that gives particular meaning if someone doesn’t merely leave required information out of a form but fails to file a form at all? 

 

I guess we’ll soon find out. 

 

Finally, as I previously mentioned, the SEC can fix this – or most of this – by adding a line item to every filed form declaring that it is not only accurate, but also complete.  That would be the explicit statement rendered false by a failure to include required information.  Still, such a certification is not a complete panacea – there would still be uncertainty around entire failures to file a form, and over whose scienter would be attributed to the company for a false certification, but it would solve some of the problem.

 

Also, icymi, earlier today I posted a plug about stuff I've done recently.

April 12, 2024 in Ann Lipton | Permalink | Comments (0)

New Stuff From Me

Just posting the obligatory plug of a couple of new things.  First up, I reviewed Stephen Bainbridge's book, The Profit Motive: Defending Shareholder Value Maximization for the Harvard Law Review.  Here is the abstract:

Professor Stephen Bainbridge’s new book, The Profit Motive: Defending Shareholder Value Maximization, uses the Business Roundtable’s 2019 statement of corporate purpose as a jumping off point to offer a spirited defense of shareholder wealth maximization as the ultimate end of corporate governance. Beginning with an analysis of classroom standards like Dodge v. Ford Motor Co., and continuing through the modern era, Bainbridge argues both that shareholder value maximization is the legal obligation of corporate boards, and that it should in fact be so, partly because of wealth maximization’s prosocial tendencies, but also because of the lack of a viable alternative. Drawing on his decades of work as one of America’s most influential corporate governance theorists, Bainbridge offers up sharp critiques of the kind of enlightened managerialism reflected in the Business Roundtable’s statement, and advocated by academics like Professor Lynn Stout and practitioners like Martin Lipton. Along the way, he also has harsh words for trendy alternatives such as “environmental, social, and governance” (ESG) investing and proposals to reform the structure of the corporation itself.

In many ways, The Profit Motive is an essential resource for any theorist, or student, in this field. Deftly intertwining economic theory with sharp anecdotes and historical retrospectives, Bainbridge offers an entertaining account of the realpolitik of corporate functioning and the major legal developments that brought us to where we are today. However, as I argue in this book review, there are many facets to stakeholderism and the ESG movement, and the very features Bainbridge identifies as flaws could, in fact, turn out to be hidden virtues.

Second, last week, I spoke to students at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts about ESG and the social responsibility of business.  The talk was somewhat similar to one I gave at Marquette Law School a few months ago, but this was the first time I had the opportunity to present to undergraduate students rather than law-type people.  Anyway, there's video:

 

 

April 12, 2024 in Ann Lipton | Permalink | Comments (0)