Friday, June 10, 2022

Why Transactional Lawyers Need to Educate Themselves on Compliance

Prior to joining academia, I served as a compliance officer for a Fortune 500 company and I continue to consult on compliance matters today. It's an ever changing field, which is why I'm glad so many students take my Compliance, Corporate Governance, and Sustainability course in the Fall. I tell them that if they do transactional or commercial litigation work, compliance issues will inevitably arise. Here are some examples: 

  • In M&A deals, someone must look at the target's  bribery, money laundering, privacy, employment law, environmental, and other risks
  • Companies have to complete several disclosures. How do you navigate the rules that conflict or overlap?
  • What do institutional investors really care about? What's material when it relates to ESG issues?
  • What training does the board need to ensure that they meet their fiduciary duties?
  • How do you deal with cyberattacks and what are the legal and ethical issues related to paying ransomware?
  • How do geopolitical factors affect the compliance program?
  • Who can be liable for a compliance failure?
  • What happens when people cut corners in a supply chain and how can that affect the company's legal risk?
  • What does a Biden DOJ/SEC mean compared to the same offices under Trump?
  • Who is your client when representing an organization with compliance failures?
  • and so much more

I'm thrilled to be closing out the PLI Compliance and Ethics Essentials conference in New York with my co-panelist Ben Gruenstein of Cravath, Swaine, & Moore. It's no fun being the last set of presenters, but we do have the ethics credits, so please join us either in person or online on June 28th. Our areas of focus include:

  • Risk assessment, program assessment, and attorney-client privilege
  • Ethical obligations for lawyers and compliance officers
  • Which compliance program communications can (and should) be privileged?

In addition to discussing the assigned issues, I also plan to arm the compliance officers with more information about the recent trend(?) of Caremark cases getting past the motion to dismiss stage and compliance lessons learned from the Elon Musk/Twitter/Tesla saga. 

Here's the description of the conference, but again, even if you're not in compliance, you'll be a better transactional lawyer from learning this area of the law. 

Compliance and ethics programs are critically important to the success of any organization. Effective programs allow organizations to identify and mitigate legal risks. With an increasingly tough enforcement environment, and greater demands for transparency and accountability, an effective compliance program is no longer just “nice-to-have.” It’s essential. 

Whether you are new to the area or a seasoned compliance professional, PLI’s program will give you the tools you need to improve your organization’s compliance program.  We will review the principal elements of compliance programs and discuss best practices and recent developments for each.  Our distinguished faculty, drawn from major corporations, academia, law firms and the government, can help you improve your program, increase employee awareness and decrease legal risk.  Compliance and Ethics Essentials 2022 is highly interactive and includes case studies, practical tools and real-time benchmarking.

What You Will Learn 

  • Designing and conducting effective compliance risk assessments that enhance your program
  • Structuring your program for appropriate independence and authority
  • The evolving role of the board
  • ESG and your compliance program
  • Using data analytics to improve your program
  • Encouraging reporting and investigating allegations of wrongdoing
  • Best practices in compliance codes, communications, training and tools
  • Ethics for compliance professionals

Who Should Attend

If you are involved in any aspect of corporate compliance and ethics as in-house counsel, a compliance and ethics officer, human resources executive, outside counsel, or risk management consultant, this event should be on your annual calendar.

Special Feature: Special luncheon presentation with guest speaker

If you do come to the conference, I would love to grab a cup of coffee with you, so reach out.

June 10, 2022 in Compliance, Conferences, Consulting, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Lawyering, Legislation, M&A, Marcia Narine Weldon | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 11, 2022

The Federalization of Corporate Governance - Heminway on Karmel

Last May, I posted on a wonderful two-day event--a symposium hosted over Zoom by Brooklyn Law School celebrating the career of Professor Roberta Karmel.  As I noted then, I was honored to be invited to speak at the event. It was so inspiring.

I have just posted the essay that I presented at the symposium, "Federalized Corporate Governance: The Dream of William O. Douglas as Sarbanes-Oxley Turns 20" (recently published by the Brooklyn Journal of Corporate, Financial & Commercial Law), on SSRN.  It can be found here

The roadmap paragraph from the essay's introduction offers a brief description of the essay's contents.

This essay focuses on the federalization of U.S. corporate governance since Sarbanes-Oxley—and, more specifically, since Roberta’s article was published in 2005 [Realizing the Dream of William O. Douglas — The Securities and Exchange Commission Takes Charge of Corporate Governance, 30 DEL. J. CORP. L. 79 (2005)]—pulling forward key aspects of Roberta’s work in Realizing the Dream. To accomplish this purpose, the essay first briefly reviews the contours of Roberta’s article. It then offers observations on corporate governance in the wake of (among other things) the public offering reforms adopted by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in 2005, the SEC’s 2010 adoption of Rule 14a-11, the 2010 enactment of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank), the 2012 enactment of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS Act), and recent adoptions of corporate charter and bylaw provisions that constrain aspects of shareholder-initiated federal securities and derivative litigation. Finally, before briefly concluding, the essay provides brief insights on the overall implications for future corporate governance regulation of these and other occurrences since the publication of Realizing the Dream.

I found it great fun to build on the architecture of Roberta's earlier work in writing this piece.  Work on the essay allowed me to appreciate in new ways the many linkages between corporate governance and corporate finance--an appreciation that will no doubt continue to infuse my teaching with new ideas over time.  I hope some of you will take time out to read the essay and that you gain some insight from it.   Comments are, of course, always welcomed.

April 11, 2022 in Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Joan Heminway, Legislation, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 28, 2022

2022 Online Symposium – Mainstreet vs. Wallstreet: The Democratization of Investing Friday, March 4 12:30-3:30

2022 Online Symposium – Mainstreet vs. Wallstreet: The Democratization of Investing

I'm thrilled to moderate two panels this Friday and one features our rock star BLPB editor, Ben Edwards. 

                                                                     REGISTER HERE

The University of Miami Business Law Review is hosting its 2022 online symposium on Friday, March 4, 2022. The symposium will run from 12:30 PM to 3:30 PM. The symposium will be conducted via Zoom. Attendees can apply to receive CLE credits for attending this event—3.5 CLE credits have been approved by the Florida Bar. 

The symposium will host two sessions with expert panelists discussing the gamification of trading platforms and the growing popularity of aligning investments with personal values.

The panels will be moderated by Professor Marcia Narine Weldon, who is the director of the Transactional Skills Program, Faculty Coordinator of the Business Compliance & Sustainability Concentration, and a Lecturer in Law at the University of Miami School of Law.

Panel 1: Gamification of Trading 

This panel will focus on the role of social media and “gamification” of trading apps/platforms in democratizing investing, and the risks that such technology may influence investor behavior (i.e., increase in trading, higher risk trading strategies like options and margin use, etc.).

Gerri Walsh:

Gerri Walsh is Senior Vice President of Investor Education at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). In this capacity, she is responsible for the development and operations of FINRA’s investor education program. She is also President of the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, where she manages the Foundation’s strategic initiatives to educate and protect investors and to benchmark and foster financial capability for all Americans, especially underserved audiences. Ms. Walsh was the founding executive sponsor of FINRA’s Military Community Employee Resource Group. She serves on the Advisory Council to the Stanford Center on Longevity and represents FINRA on IOSCO’s standing policy committee on retail investor education, the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy, NASAA’s Senior Investor Advisory Council and the Wharton Pension Research Council.

Prior to joining FINRA in May 2006, Ms. Walsh was Deputy Director of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of Investor Education and Assistance (OIEA) and, before that, Special Counsel to the Director of OIEA. She also served as a senior attorney in the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, investigating and prosecuting violators of the federal securities laws. Before that, she practiced law as an associate with Hogan Lovells in Washington, D.C.

Ari Bargil:

Ari Bargil is an attorney with the Institute for Justice. He joined IJ’s Miami Office in September of 2012, and litigates constitutional cases protecting economic liberty, property rights, school choice, and free speech in both federal and state courts.

In 2019, Ari successfully defended two of Florida’s most popular school choice programs, the McKay Program for Students with Disabilities and the Florida Tax Credit Program, before the Florida Supreme Court. As a direct result of the victory, over 120,000 students in Florida have access to scholarships that empower them to attend the schools of their choice.

Ari also regularly defends property owners battling aggressive zoning regulations and excessive fines in state and federal court nationwide and litigates on behalf of entrepreneurs in cutting-edge First Amendment cases. He was co-counsel in a federal appellate court victory vindicating the right of a Florida dairy creamery to tell the truth on its labels, and he is currently litigating in federal appellate court to secure a holistic health coach’s right to share advice about nutrition with her clients. In 2017, Ari was honored by the Daily Business Review as one of South Florida’s “Most Effective Lawyers.”

In addition to litigation, Ari regularly testifies before state and local legislative bodies and committees on issues ranging from occupational licensing to property rights regulation. Ari has also spearheaded several successful legislative campaigns in Florida, including the effort to legalize the sale of 64-ounce “growlers” by craft breweries and the Florida Legislature’s passage of the Right to Garden Act—a reform which made it unlawful for local governments to ban residential vegetable gardens throughout the state.

Ari’s work has been featured by USA Today, NPR, Fox News, Washington Post, Miami Herald, Dallas Morning News and other national and local publications.

Christine Lazaro:

Christine Lazaro is Director of the Securities Arbitration Clinic at St. John’s University School of Law. She joined the faculty at St. John’s in 2007 as the Clinic’s Supervising Attorney. She is also a faculty advisor for the Corporate and Securities Law Society.

Prior to joining the Securities Arbitration Clinic, Professor Lazaro was an associate at the boutique law firm of Davidson & Grannum, LLP.  At the firm, she represented broker-dealers and individual brokers in disputes with clients in both arbitration and mediation.  She also handled employment law cases and debt collection cases.  Professor Lazaro was the primary attorney in the firm’s area of practice that dealt with advising broker-dealers regarding investment contracts they had with various municipalities and government entities.  Professor Lazaro is also of Counsel to the Law Offices of Brent A. Burns, LLC, where she consults on securities arbitration and regulatory matters.

Professor Lazaro is a member of the New York State and the American Bar Associations, and the Public Investors Arbitration Bar Association (PIABA). Professor Lazaro is a past President of PIABA and is a member of the Board of Directors.  She is also a co-chair of PIABA’S Fiduciary Standards Committee, and is a member of the Executive, Legislation, Securities Law Seminar, and SRO Committees. Additionally, Professor Lazaro is the co-chair of the Securities Disputes Committee in the Dispute Resolution Section of the New York State Bar Association and serves on the FINRA Investor Issues Advisory Committee. 

Panel 2: ESG Investing

The second panel will address the growing popularity of ESG funds among investors that want to align their investments with their personal values, and the questions/concerns that arise with ESG funds, including: 1) explaining what they are; 2) discussing the varying definitions and disclosure issues; 3) exploring if investors really give up better market performance if they invest in funds that align with their values; and 4) asking if the increased interest in ESG funds affect corporate change? 

Thomas Riesenberg:

Mr. Riesenberg is Senior Regulatory Advisor to Ceres, working on climate change issues. He previously worked as an advisor to EY Global’s Office of Public Policy on ESG regulatory issues. Before that he worked as the Director of Legal and Regulatory Policy at The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board pursuant to a secondment from EY. At SASB he worked on a range of US and non-US policy matters for nearly seven years. He served for more than 20 years as counsel to EY, including as the Deputy General Counsel responsible for regulatory matters, primarily involving the SEC and the PCAOB. Previously he served for seven years as an Assistant General Counsel at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission where he handled court of appeals and Supreme Court cases involving issues such as insider trading, broker-dealer regulation, and financial fraud. While at the SEC he received the Manuel Cohen Outstanding Younger Lawyer Award for his work on significant enforcement cases. He also worked as a law clerk for a federal district court judge in Washington, D.C., as a litigator on environmental matters at the U.S. Department of Justice, and as an associate at a major Washington, D.C. law firm.

Mr. Riesenberg graduated from the New York University School of Law, where he was a member of the Law Review and a Root-Tilden Scholar (full-tuition scholarship). He received a bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College, where he graduated with honors and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He is a former chair of the Law and Accounting Committee of the American Bar Association, former president of the Association of SEC Alumni, former treasurer of the SEC Historical Society, and a current member of the Advisory Board of the BNA Securities Regulation and Law Report. For seven years he was an adjunct professor of securities law at the Georgetown University Law Center. He is an elected member of the American Law Institute. He serves on the boards of several nonprofit organizations, including the D.C. Jewish Community Relations Council and the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation. He is the author of numerous articles on securities law and ESG disclosure issues.

Benjamin Edwards:

Benjamin Edwards joined the faculty of the William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 2017. In addition to being the Director of the Public Policy Clinic, he researches and writes about business and securities law, corporate governance, arbitration, and consumer protection. Prior to teaching, Professor Edwards practiced as a securities litigator in the New York office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP. At Skadden, he represented clients in complex civil litigation, including securities class actions arising out of the Madoff Ponzi scheme and litigation arising out of the 2008 financial crisis.

Max Schatzow:

Max Schatzow is a co-founder and partner of RIA Lawyers LLC—a boutique law firm that focuses almost exclusively on representing investment advisers with legal and regulatory issues. Prior to RIA Lawyers, Max worked at Morgan Lewis representing some of the largest financial institutions in the United States and at another law firm where he represented investment advisers and broker-dealers. Max is a business-minded regulatory lawyer that always tries to put himself in the client’s position. He assists clients in all aspects of forming, registering, owning, and operating an investment adviser. He prides himself in preparing clients and their compliance programs to avert regulatory issues, but also assists clients through examinations and enforcement issues. In addition, Max assists advisers that manage private investment funds. In his little spare time, Max enjoys the Peloton (both stationary and road), golf, craft beer, and spending time with his wife and two children.

February 28, 2022 in Compliance, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Law Reviews, Law School, Lawyering, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Research/Scholarhip, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 31, 2021

New Year's Resolution for Lawyers

People rarely keep resolutions, much less ones they don’t make for themselves, but here are some you may want to try.

  1. Post information about the law and current events that lay people can understand on social media. You don’t need to be a TikTok lawyer and dance around, but there’s so much misinformation out there by “influencers” that lawyers almost have a responsibility to correct the record.
  2. Embrace legal tech. Change is scary for most lawyers, but we need to get with the times, and you can start off in areas such as legal research, case management, accounting, billing, document automation and storage, document management, E-discovery, practice management, legal chatbots, automaton of legal workflow, contract management, artificial intelligence, and cloud-based applications. Remember, lawyers have an ethical duty of technological competence.
  3. Learn about legal issues related to the metaverse such as data privacy and IP challenges.
  4. Do a data security audit and ensure you understand where your and your clients’ data is and how it’s being transmitted, stored, and destroyed. Lawyers have access to valuable confidential information and hackers know that. Lawyers also have ethical obligations to safeguard that information. Are you communicating with clients on WhatsApp or text messages? Do you have Siri or Alexa enabled when you’re talking about client matters? You may want to re-think that. Better yet, hire a white hat hacker to assess your vulnerabilities. I'll do a whole separate post on this because this is so critical. 
  5. Speaking of data, get up to speed on data analytics. Your clients use data every day to optimize their business performance. Compliance professionals and in-house lawyers know that this is critical. All lawyers should as well.
  6. Get involved with government affairs. Educate legislators, write comment letters, and publish op-ed pieces so that people making the laws and influencing lawmakers can get the benefit of your analytical skills. Just make sure you’re aware of the local, state, and federal lobbying laws.
  7. Learn something completely new. When you do your CLE requirement, don’t just take courses in your area of expertise. Take a class that has nothing to do with what you do for a living. If you think that NFTs and cryptocurrency are part of a fad waiting to implode, take that course. You’ll either learn something new or prove yourself right.
  8. Re-think how you work. What can you stop, start, and continue doing in your workplace and family life?
  9. Be strategic when thinking about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Lawyers talk about it, but from what I observe in my lawyer coaching practice and the statistics, the reality is much different on the ground and efforts often backfire.
  10. Prioritize your mental health and that of the members on your team. Do you need to look at billable hours requirements? What behavior does your bonus or promotion system incentivize? What else can you do to make sure that people are valued and continually learning? When was the last time you conducted an employee engagement survey and really listened to what you team members are saying? Whether your team is remote or hybrid, what can you do to make people believe they are part of a larger mission? There are so many resources out there. If you do nothing else on this list, please focus on this one. If you want help on how to start, send me an email.

Wishing you a safe, healthy, and happy 2022.

December 31, 2021 in Compliance, Contracts, Corporations, Current Affairs, Ethics, Film, Intellectual Property, Jobs, Law Firms, Lawyering, Legislation, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Technology, Wellness | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 24, 2021

Ten Ethical Traps for Business Lawyers

I'm so excited to present later this morning at the University of Tennessee College of Law Connecting the Threads Conference today at 10:45 EST. Here's the abstract from my presentation. In future posts, I will dive more deeply into some of these issues. These aren't the only ethical traps, of course, but there's only so many things you can talk about in a 45-minute slot. 

All lawyers strive to be ethical, but they don’t always know what they don’t know, and this ignorance can lead to ethical lapses or violations. This presentation will discuss ethical pitfalls related to conflicts of interest with individual and organizational clients; investing with clients; dealing with unsophisticated clients and opposing counsel; competence and new technologies; the ever-changing social media landscape; confidentiality; privilege issues for in-house counsel; and cross-border issues. Although any of the topics listed above could constitute an entire CLE session, this program will provide a high-level overview and review of the ethical issues that business lawyers face.

Specifically, this interactive session will discuss issues related to ABA Model Rules 1.5 (fees), 1.6 (confidentiality), 1.7 (conflicts of interest), 1.8 (prohibited transactions with a client), 1.10 (imputed conflicts of interest), 1.13 (organizational clients), 4.3 (dealing with an unrepresented person), 7.1 (communications about a lawyer’s services), 8.3 (reporting professional misconduct); and 8.4 (dishonesty, fraud, deceit).  

Discussion topics will include:

  1. Do lawyers have an ethical duty to take care of their wellbeing? Can a person with a substance use disorder or major mental health issue ethically represent their client? When can and should an impaired lawyer withdraw? When should a lawyer report a colleague?
  2. What ethical obligations arise when serving on a nonprofit board of directors? Can a board member draft organizational documents or advise the organization? What potential conflicts of interest can occur?
  3. What level of technology competence does an attorney need? What level of competence do attorneys need to advise on technology or emerging legal issues such as SPACs and cryptocurrencies? Is attending a CLE or law school course enough?
  4. What duties do lawyers have to educate themselves and advise clients on controversial issues such as business and human rights or ESG? Is every business lawyer now an ESG lawyer?
  5. What ethical rules apply when an in-house lawyer plays both a legal role and a business role in the same matter or organization? When can a lawyer representing a company provide legal advice to an employee?
  6. With remote investigations, due diligence, hearings, and mediations here to stay, how have professional duties changed in the virtual world? What guidance can we get from ABA Formal Opinion 498 issued in March 2021? How do you protect confidential information and also supervise others remotely?
  7. What social media practices run afoul of ethical rules and why? How have things changed with the explosion of lawyers on Instagram and TikTok?
  8. What can and should a lawyer do when dealing with a businessperson on the other side of the deal who is not represented by counsel or who is represented by unsophisticated counsel?
  9. When should lawyers barter with or take an equity stake in a client? How does a lawyer properly disclose potential conflicts?
  10. What are potential gaps in attorney-client privilege protection when dealing with cross-border issues? 

If you need some ethics CLE, please join in me and my co-bloggers, who will be discussing their scholarship. In case Joan Heminway's post from yesterday wasn't enough to entice you...

Professor Anderson’s topic is “Insider Trading in Response to Expressive Trading”, based upon his upcoming article for Transactions. He will also address the need for business lawyers to understand the rise in social-media-driven trading (SMD trading) and options available to issuers and their insiders when their stock is targeted by expressive traders.

Professor Baker’s topic is “Paying for Energy Peaks: Learning from Texas' February 2021 Power Crisis.” Professor Baker will provide an overview of the regulation of Texas’ electric power system and the severe outages in February 2021, explaining why Texas is on the forefront of challenges that will grow more prominent as the world transitions to cleaner energy. Next, it explains competing electric power business models and their regulation, including why many had long viewed Texas’ approach as commendable, and why the revealed problems will only grow more pressing. It concludes by suggesting benefits and challenges of these competing approaches and their accompanying regulation.

Professor Heminway’s topic is “Choice of Entity: The Fiscal Sponsorship Alternative to Nonprofit Incorporation.” Professor Heminway will discuss how for many small business projects that qualify for federal income tax treatment under Section 501(a) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended, the time and expense of organizing, qualifying, and maintaining a tax-exempt nonprofit corporation may be daunting (or even prohibitive). Yet there would be advantages to entity formation and federal tax qualification that are not available (or not easily available) to unincorporated business projects. Professor Heminway addresses this conundrum by positing a third option—fiscal sponsorship—and articulating its contextual advantages.

Professor Moll’s topic is “An Empirical Analysis of Shareholder Oppression Disputes.” This panel will discuss how the doctrine of shareholder oppression protects minority shareholders in closely held corporations from the improper exercise of majority control, what factors motivate a court to find oppression liability, and what factors motivate a court to reject an oppression claim. Professor Moll will also examine how “oppression” has evolved from a statutory ground for involuntary dissolution to a statutory ground for a wide variety of relief.

Professor Murray’s topic is “Enforcing Benefit Corporation Reporting.” Professor Murray will begin his discussion by focusing on the increasing number of states that have included express punishments in their benefit corporation statutes for reporting failures. Part I summarizes and compares the statutory provisions adopted by various states regarding benefit reporting enforcement. Part II shares original compliance data for states with enforcement provisions and compares their rates to the states in the previous benefit reporting studies. Finally, Part III discusses the substance of the benefit reports and provides law and governance suggestions for improving social benefit.

All of this and more from the comfort of your own home. Hope to see you on Zoom today and next year in person at the beautiful UT campus.

September 24, 2021 in Colleen Baker, Compliance, Conferences, Contracts, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Delaware, Ethics, Financial Markets, Haskell Murray, Human Rights, International Business, Joan Heminway, John Anderson, Law Reviews, Law School, Lawyering, Legislation, Litigation, M&A, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Nonprofits, Research/Scholarhip, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, Social Enterprise, Teaching, Unincorporated Entities, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Gensler and Michalski's The Million Dollar Diversity Docket

"I'm no civ-pro geek," I confessed today at a research presentation by OU College of Law colleagues Professors Steven Gensler and Roger Michalski on their recent article, The Million Dollar Diversity Docket. But I also shared having been immediately intrigued by their paper after reading its abstract.  And I am even more so now after today's presentation.  Diversity of citizenship jurisdiction is, of course, a tremendously important subject for both business lawyers and business litigation. So, even if like me, civil procedure generally isn't your thing, check out their fascinating project!  Here's the article's Abstract: 

What would happen if Congress raised the jurisdictional amount in the diversity jurisdiction statute? Given that it has been almost 25 years since the last increase, we are probably overdue for another one. But to what amount? And with what effect? What would happen if Congress raised the jurisdictional amount from the current $75,000 to $250,000 or, say, $1 million?

Using a novel hand-coded data set of pleadings in 2900 cases, we show that the jurisdictional amount is not a neutral throttle. Instead, different areas of law, different parts of the country, and different litigants are more affected by changes in the jurisdictional amount than others. Our findings thus provide new guidance for Congress to consider when evaluating proposed changes to the amount threshold.

We build from our data to explore different ways Congress could use the amount in controversy lever to adjust the diversity docket, ranging from traditional techniques like incremental inflation-adjustments to radical experiments with lotteries or replacing the amount in controversy minimum with a maximum. Our analysis of the options highlights the normative choices Congress makes when deciding which cases to bless and curse with a federal forum. Thus, our study also provides a new window into the longstanding debates about the existence and reach of diversity jurisdiction. We hope our empirical work will inform these debates and enable a new wave of scholarship on the basic functions and functioning of the federal diversity docket.

March 10, 2021 in Colleen Baker, Legislation, Litigation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 18, 2020

Ten Business Questions for the Biden Administration

If you read the title, you’ll see that I’m only going to ask questions. I have no answers, insights, or predictions until the President-elect announces more cabinet picks. After President Trump won the election in 2016, I posed eleven questions and then gave some preliminary commentary based on his cabinet picks two months later. Here are my initial questions based on what I’m interested in -- compliance, corporate governance, human rights, and ESG. I recognize that everyone will have their own list:

  1. How will the Administration view disclosures? Will Dodd-Frank conflict minerals disclosures stay in place, regardless of the effectiveness on reducing violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo? Will the US add mandatory human rights due diligence and disclosures like the EU??
  2. Building on Question 1, will we see more stringent requirements for ESG disclosures? Will the US follow the EU model for financial services firms, which goes into effect in March 2021? With ESG accounting for 1 in 3 dollars of assets under management, will the Biden Administration look at ESG investing more favorably than the Trump DOL? How robust will climate and ESG disclosure get? We already know that disclosure of climate risks and greenhouse gases will be a priority. For more on some of the SEC commissioners’ views, see here.
  3. President-elect Biden has named what is shaping up to be the most diverse cabinet in history. What will this mean for the Trump administration’s Executive Order on diversity training and federal contractors? How will a Biden EEOC function and what will the priorities be?
  4. Building on Question 3, now that California and the NASDAQ have implemented rules and proposals on board diversity, will there be diversity mandates in other sectors of the federal government, perhaps for federal contractors? Is this the year that the Improving Corporate Governance Through Diversity Act passes? Will this embolden more states to put forth similar requirements?
  5. What will a Biden SEC look like? Will the SEC human capital disclosure requirements become more precise? Will we see more aggressive enforcement of large institutions and insider trading? Will there be more controls placed on proxy advisory firms? Is SEC Chair too small of a job for Preet Bharara?
  6. We had some of the highest Foreign Corrupt Practices Act fines on record under Trump’s Department of Justice. Will that ramp up under a new DOJ, especially as there may have been compliance failures and more bribery because of a world-wide recession and COVID? It’s more likely that sophisticated companies will be prepared because of the revamp of compliance programs based on the June 2020 DOJ Guidance on Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs and the second edition of the joint SEC/DOJ Resource Guide to the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. (ok- that was an insight).
  7. How will the Biden Administration promote human rights, particularly as it relates to business? Congress has already taken some action related to exports tied to the use of Uighur forced labor in China. Will the incoming government be even more aggressive? I discussed some potential opportunities for legislation related to human rights abuses abroad in my last post about the Nestle v Doe case in front of the Supreme Court. One area that could use some help is the pretty anemic Obama-era US National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct.
  8. What will a Biden Department of Labor prioritize? Will consumer protection advocates convince Biden to delay or dismantle the ERISA fiduciary rule? Will the 2020 joint employer rule stay in place? Will OSHA get the funding it needs to go after employers who aren’t safeguarding employees with COVID? Will unions have more power? Will we enter a more worker-friendly era?
  9. What will happen to whistleblowers? I served as a member of the Department of Labor’s Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee for a few years under the Obama administration. Our committee had management, labor, academic, and other ad hoc members and we were tasked at looking at 22 laws enforced by OSHA, including Sarbanes-Oxley retaliation rules. We received notice that our services were no longer needed after the President’s inauguration in 2017. Hopefully, the Biden Administration will reconstitute it. In the meantime, the SEC awarded record amounts under the Dodd-Frank whistleblower program in 2020 and has just reformed the program to streamline it and get money to whistleblowers more quickly.
  10. What will President-elect Biden accomplish if the Democrats do not control the Congress?

There you have it. What questions would you have added? Comment below or email me at mweldon@law.miami.edu. 

December 18, 2020 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Human Rights, International Business, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, December 4, 2020

Did A Child Slave Help Make Your Chocolate Bar and If So, Who Should Be Responsible? The Supreme Court and Nestle v. Doe

If you’re sipping some hot chocolate while reading this post or buying your Hanukah or Christmas candy, chances are you’re consuming a product made with cocoa beans harvested by child slaves in Africa. Almost twenty years ago, the eight largest chocolate companies, a US Senator, a Congressman,  the Ambassador to the Ivory Coast, NGOs, and the ILO pledged through the Harkin Engel Protocol to eliminate “the worst forms of” child slavery and forced labor in supply chains. In 2010, after seeing almost no progress, government representatives fom the US, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast released a Framework of Action to support the implementation and to reduce the use of child and forced labor by 70% by 2020. But, the number of child slaves has actually increased.

2020 has come and almost gone and one of the Harkin Engel signatories, Nestle, and another food conglomerate, Cargill, had to defend themselves in front of the Supreme Court this week in a case filed in 2005 by former child slaves. The John Does were allegedly kidnapped in Mali and forced to work on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast, where they worked 12-14 hours a day in 100-degree weather, spoke a different language from the farmers, lived off dirty water and bowls of rice, and were never paid. According to counsel for the Respondents who gave a debrief earlier this week, the children were locked up at night, told to work or starve, whipped, and when one tried to escape, his feet were slashed and then hot chilis were rubbed into his soles. Respondents sued under the Alien Tort Statute, which Congress passed in 1789 to allow foreign citizens to sue in US federal courts for violations of “the law of nations” to avoid international tensions. In two recent cases, the Court has limited the use of the ATS against foreign corporations sued for acts against foreign plaintiffs because of jurisdictional grounds and ruled that foreign corporations were not subject to the ATS. But the Nestle and Cargill case is different. Respondents sued a US company and the US arm of a Swiss company. (Click here for access to the briefs and here to listen to the oral argument.) For an excellent symposium on the issues see here.

Respondents claim that the companies provided money and resources to the farmers in Africa and knew that child slaves harvested their cocoa. The two questions before the Court were:

  1. May an aiding and abetting claim against a domestic corporation brought under the Alien Tort Statute overcome the extraterritoriality bar where the claim is based on allegations of general corporate activity in the United States and where the Respondents cannot trace the alleged harms, which occurred abroad at the hands of unidentified foreign actors, to that activity?
  1. Does the judiciary have the authority under the Alien Tort Statute to impose liability on domestic corporations?

To those who obsess about business and human rights and ESG issues like I do, this case has huge potential implications. Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve written more than half a dozen posts, law review articles, and an amicus brief on the Dodd-Frank conflict minerals disclosures, which purport to inform consumers about the use of forced labor and child slaves in the harvesting of tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold. I’ve been skeptical of those disclosure rules that don’t have real penalties. The Nestle case could change all of that by crafting a cognizable cause of action.

To my surprise, the Justices weren’t completely hostile to the thought of corporate liability under the ATS. Here are some of the more telling questions to the counsel for the companies:

Justice Alito: Mr. Katyal, many of your arguments lead to results that are pretty hard to take. So suppose a U.S. corporation makes a big show of supporting every cause de jure but then surreptitiously hires agents in Africa to kidnap children and keep them in bondage on a plantation so that the corporation can buy cocoa or coffee or some other agricultural product at bargain prices. You would say that the victims who couldn't possibly get any recovery in the courts of the country where they had been held should be thrown out of court in the United States, where this corporation is headquartered and does business?

Justice Breyer: …I don't see why exempt all corporations, including domestic corporations, from this -- the scope of the statute.

Justice Kagan: If you could bring a suit against 10 slaveholders, when those 10 slaveholders form a corporation, why can’t you bring a suit against the corporation?

Justice Kavanaugh: The  Alien  Tort  Statute was once an engine of international human rights protection. Your position, however, would allow suits by aliens only against individuals, as you've said, and only for torts international law recognized that occurred in the United States. And Professor Koh's amicus brief on behalf of former government officials, for example, says that your position would "gut the statute." So why should we do that?

Here are some of the more interesting questions to the government, which supports the companies’ positions against application of the ATS to corporations:

Chief Justice Roberts: We don't have objections from foreign countries in this case. As far as we can tell, they're perfectly comfortable having U.S. citizens, U.S. corporations hailed into their U -- in U.S. courts. What should we make of that, and doesn't that suggest we ought to be a little more -- a little less cautious about finding a cause of action here?

Justice Breyer: …what’s new about suing corporations? When I looked it up once, there were 180 ATS lawsuits against corporations. Most of them lost but on other grounds. So why not sue a domestic corporation? You can't sue the individual because, in my hypothetical, the individuals have all moved to Lithuania. All you have is the corporate assets in the bank and minutes that prove it was a corporate decision. What's new about it? Why is it creating a form of action?

Justice Alito: Won't your arguments about aiding and abetting and extraterritoriality all lead to essentially the same result as holding that a domestic corporation cannot be sued under the ATS? Corporations always act through natural persons, so if a corporation can't aid and abet, there -- there will be only a sliver of activity where they could be responsible under respondeat superior, isn't that true?

Justice Amy Coney Barrett:  You say that the focus of the tort should be the primary conduct, so, here, what was happening in Cote d'Ivoire, rather than the aiding and abetting, which you characterize as secondary. But why should that be so? I mean, let's imagine you have a U.S. corporation or even a U.S. individual that is making plans to facilitate the use of child slaves, you know, making phone calls, sending money specifically for that purpose, writing e-mails to that effect.Why isn't that conduct that occurs in the United States something that touches and concerns, you know, or should be the focus of conduct, however you want to state the test?

Finally, here are some of the tough questions posed to counsel for the Respondents:

Justice Thomas: The TVPA [Trafficking Victims Protection Act] seems to suggest that Congress does not see the ATS the way you do. Obviously, there, you don't have corporate liability and you don't have aiding and abetting liability. So why shouldn't we take that as an indication that Congress sought limitations on -- on the ATS jurisdiction?

Justice Breyer: Assume that there is corporate liability for domestic corporations. Assume that there is aiding and abetting liability. Now what counts as aiding and abetting for purposes of this statute? When I read through your complaint, it seemed to me that all or virtually all of your complaint amount to doing business with these people.They help pay for the farm. And that's about it.And they knowingly do it. Well, unfortunately, child labor, it's terrible, but it exists throughout the world in many, many places. And if we take this as the norm, particularly when Congress is now working in the area, that will mean throughout the world this is the norm. And I don't know, but I have concern that treating this allegation, the six that you make here, as aiding and abetting falling within that term for purposes of this statute, if other nations do the same, and we do the same, could have very, very significant effects. I'm just saying I'm worried about that.

Justice Alito: So, after 15 years, is it too much to ask that you allege specifically that the -- the defendants involved -- the defendants who are before us here specifically knew that forced child labor was being used on the farms or farm cooperatives with which they did business? Is that too much to ask?

 

To be fair, Nestle and Cargill have worked to remedy these issues. Nestle’s 2019 Shared Values Report tracks its commitments to individuals and families, communities, and the planet to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Among other things, the report highlights Nestle's work to reduce human rights abuses and links to its December 2019 report on child labor and cocoa farms. The company touts its progress but admits it has a long way to go. Cargill has a separate Cocoa Sustainability Progress Report, which describes its 2012 Cargill Cocoa Promise for capacity building and a more transparent supply chain. But is it enough?

In any event, we won’t know what the Court decides until Spring. In the meantime, despite the best efforts of the companies, almost two million children still work in the cocoa harvesting business and most aren’t kidnapped anymore. They need the work. The local governments have taken notice in part due to the terrible publicity from the media. Allegedly, however, Hershey and Mars are trying to avoid the $400 a ton premium that the West African governments are levying to provide more funding for the farmers. The companies deny these allegations. But there’s now a chocolate war. This means your chocolate may get more expensive, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

How will this all shake out? There’s a chance that the Court could find for the Respondents. More likely, though advocates will focus on convincing Congress to expand the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to include corporations. Some NGOs are already talking about increasing consumer awareness and spurring boycotts. Perhaps, advocates will put pressure on the Biden administration to ban the import on chocolate harvested with child labor, similar to the ban on some products produced by Uighurs in China.I expect that there will be a lot of lobbying at the state and federal level to deal with the larger issue of whether corporations that have some of the rights of natural persons should also have the responsibilities. Boards and companies should get prepared. In the meantime, do you plan to give up chocolate?

December 4, 2020 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Human Rights, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 23, 2020

When Wall Street Talks, Does Washington Listen?

It’s hard to believe that the US will have an election in less than two weeks. Three years ago, a month after President Trump took office, I posted about CEOs commenting on his executive order barring people from certain countries from entering the United States. Some branded the executive order a “Muslim travel ban” and others questioned whether the CEOs should have entered into the political fray at all. Some opined that speaking out on these issues detracted from the CEOs’ mission of maximizing shareholder value. But I saw it as a business decision - - these CEOs, particularly in the tech sector, depended on the skills and expertise of foreign workers.

That was 2017. In 2018, Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, told the largest companies in the world that “to prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society…Without a sense of purpose, no company, either public or private, can achieve its full potential. It will ultimately lose the license to operate from key stakeholders.” Fink’s annual letter to CEOs carries weight; BlackRock had almost six trillion dollars in assets under management in 2018, and when Fink talks, Wall Street listens. Perhaps emboldened by the BlackRock letter, one year later, 181 CEOs signed on to the Business Roundtable's Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation, which “modernized” its position on the shareholder maximization norm. The BRT CEOs promised to invest in employees, deal ethically and fairly with suppliers, and embrace sustainable business practices. Many observers, however, believed that the Business Roundtable statement was all talk and no action. To see how some of the signatories have done on their commitments as of last week, see here.

Then came 2020, a year like no other. The United States is now facing a global pandemic, mass unemployment, a climate change crisis, social unrest, and of course an election. During the Summer of 2020, several CEOs made public statements on behalf of themselves and their companies about racial unrest, with some going as far as to proclaim, “Black Lives Matter.” I questioned these motives in a post I called “"Wokewashing and the Board." While I admired companies that made a sincere public statement about racial justice and had a real commitment to look inward, I was skeptical about firms that merely made statements for publicity points. I wondered, in that post, about companies rushing to implement diversity training, retain consultants, and appoint board members to either curry favor with the public or avoid the shareholder derivative suits facing Oracle, Facebook, and Qualcomm. How well had they thought it out? Meanwhile, I noted that my colleagues who have conducted diversity training and employee engagement projects for years were so busy that they were farming out work to each other. Now the phones aren’t ringing as much, and when they are ringing, it’s often to cancel or postpone training.

Why? Last month, President Trump issued the Executive Order on Combatting Race and Sex Stereotyping. As the President explained:

today . . .  many people are pushing a different vision of America that is grounded in hierarchies based on collective social and political identities rather than in the inherent and equal dignity of every person as an individual. This ideology is rooted in the pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country; that some people, simply on account of their race or sex, are oppressors; and that racial and sexual identities are more important than our common status as human beings and Americans ... Therefore, it shall be the policy of the United States not to promote race or sex stereotyping or scapegoating in the Federal workforce or in the Uniformed Services, and not to allow grant funds to be used for these purposes. In addition, Federal contractors will not be permitted to inculcate such views in their employees.

The Order then provides a hotline process for employees to raise concerns about their training. Whether you agree with the statements in the Order or not -- and I recommend that you read it -- it had a huge and immediate effect. The federal government is the largest procurer of goods and services in the world. This Order applies to federal contractors and subcontractors. Some of those same companies have mandates from state law to actually conduct training on sexual harassment. Often companies need to show proof of policies and training to mount an affirmative defense to discrimination claims. More important, while reasonable people can disagree about the types and content of diversity training, there is no doubt that employees often need training on how to deal with each other respectfully in the workplace. (For a thought-provoking take on a board’s duty to monitor diversity  training by co-blogger Stefan Padfield, click here.)

Perhaps because of the federal government’s buying power, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce felt compelled to act. On October 15th, the Chamber and 150 organizations wrote a letter to the President stating:

As currently written, we believe the E.O. will create confusion and uncertainty, lead to non-meritorious investigations, and hinder the ability of employers to implement critical programs to promote diversity and combat discrimination in the workplace. We urge you to withdraw the Executive Order and work with the business and nonprofit communities on an approach that would support appropriate workplace training programs ...  there is a great deal of subjectivity around how certain content would be perceived by different individuals. For example, the definition of “divisive concepts” creates many gray areas and will likely result in multiple different interpretations. Because the ultimate threat of debarment is a possible consequence, we have heard from some companies that they are suspending all D&I training.  This outcome is contrary to the E.O.’s stated purpose, but an understandable reaction given companies’ lack of clear guidance. Thus, the E.O. is already having a broadly chilling effect on legitimate and valuable D&I training companies use to foster inclusive workplaces, help with talent recruitment, and remain competitive in a country with a wide range of different cultures. … Such an approach effectively creates two sets of rules, one for those companies that do business with the government and another for those that do not. Federal contractors should be left to manage their workforces and workplaces with a minimum amount of interference so long as they are compliant with the law.

It’s rare for the Chamber to make such a statement, but it was bold and appropriate. Many of the Business Roundtable signatories are also members of the U.S. Chamber, and on the same day, the BRT issued its own statement committing to programs to advance racial equity and justice. BRT Chair and WalMart CEO Doug McMillon observed,  “the racial inequities that exist for many Black Americans and people of color are real and deeply rooted . .  These longstanding systemic challenges have too often prevented access to the benefits of economic growth and mobility for too many, and a broad and diverse group of Americans is demanding change. It is our employees, customers and communities who are calling for change, and we are listening – and most importantly – we are taking action.” Now that's a stakeholder maximization statement if I ever heard one.

Those who thought that some CEOs went too far in protesting the Muslim ban, may be even more shocked by the BRT’s statements about the police. The BRT also has a subcommittee to address racial justice issues and noted that “For Business Roundtable CEOs, this agenda is an important step in addressing barriers to equity and justice . . . This summer we took on the urgent need for policing reform. We called on Congress to adopt higher federal standards for policing, to track whether police departments and officers have histories of misconduct, and to adopt measures to hold abusive officers accountable. Now, with announcement of this broader agenda, CEOs are supporting policies and undertaking initiatives to address several other systems that contribute to large and growing disparities.”

Now that stakeholders have seen so many of these social statements, they have asked for more. Last week, a group of executives from the Leadership Now Project issued a statement supporting free and fair elections. However, as Bennett Freeman, former Calvert executive and Clinton cabinet member noted, no Fortune 500 CEOs have signed on to that statement. Yesterday, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) sent a letter to 200 CEOs, including some members of the BRT asking for their support. ICCR asked that they endorse:

  1. Active support for free and fair elections
  2. A call for a thorough and complete counting of all ballots
  3. A call for all states to ensure a fair election
  4. A condemnation of any tactics that could be construed as voter intimidation
  5. Assurance that, should the incumbent Administration lose the election, there will be a peaceful transfer of power
  6. Ensure that lobbying activities and political donations support the above

Is this a pipe dream? Do CEOs really want to stick their necks out in a tacit criticism of the current president’s equivocal statements about his post-election plans? Now that JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon has spoken about the importance of respect for the democratic process and the peaceful transfer of power, perhaps more executives will make public statements. But should they? On the one hand, the markets need stability. Perhaps Dimon was actually really focused on shareholder maximization after all. Nonetheless, Freeman and others have called for a Twitter campaign to urge more CEOs to speak out. My next post will be up on the Friday after the election and I’ll report back about the success of the hashtag activism effort. In the meantime, stay tuned and stay safe.

October 23, 2020 in Contracts, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Employment Law, Ethics, Financial Markets, Human Rights, Legislation, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Nonprofits, Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, April 6, 2020

The Defense Production Act?!

In my post last week, I mentioned the President's invocation of the Defense Production Act during the current COVID-19 crisis.  I was immediately curious about this law when news of the President's March 27 memorandum focused on General Motors and ventilator production hit my radar screen (a/k/a, my laptop, which has effectively become my lap these days).  Surely, it must be unusual for the U.S. government, I thought, to direct the nature, means, and timing of production and supply.  That seems antithetical to the spirit, if not the letter, of U.S. capitalism.  However, the more I read, the less curious and concerned I am, at least for the moment.  Perhaps some of the reporting in this area is more geared to generating a splashy news item than, well, alerting us to something truly unusual or troubling.  Nevertheless, I will make a few foundational points on the Act here.  I may have more to say later.

The Defense Production Act of 1950 can be found in Chapter 55 of Title 50 of the U.S. Code.  The Act recognizes that "the security of the United States is dependent on the ability of the domestic industrial base to supply materials and services for the national defense and to prepare for and respond to military conflicts, natural or man-caused disasters, or acts of terrorism within the United States."  50 U.S.C. § 4502(a)(1). To meet these and other requirements, the Defense Production Act "provides the President with an array of authorities to shape national defense preparedness programs and to take appropriate steps to maintain and enhance the domestic industrial base."  Id. at § 4502(a)(4).

The President's highly publicized General Motors memorandum referenced above is only one of a number of formalized presidential actions citing to or using the Defense Production Act in the war against COVID-19.  That memorandum directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to "use any and all authority available under the Act to require General Motors Company to accept, perform, and prioritize contracts or orders for the number of ventilators that the Secretary determines to be appropriate."  The General Motors memorandum follows on a March 16 executive order delegating specified presidential powers under Section 101 of the Act to the Secretary of Health and Human Services.  An April 2 memorandum directs the Secretary of Homeland Security "through the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Administrator), . . . [to] use any and all authority available under the Act to acquire, from any appropriate subsidiary or affiliate of 3M Company, the number of N-95 respirators that the Administrator determines to be appropriate."  A second April 2 memorandum directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services, "in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, . . . [to] use any and all authority available under the Act to facilitate the supply of materials to the appropriate subsidiary or affiliate of the following entities for the production of ventilators: General Electric Company; Hill-Rom Holdings, Inc.; Medtronic Public Limited Company; ResMed Inc.; Royal Philips N.V.; and Vyaire Medical, Inc."  Finally, an April 3 memorandum directs the Secretary of Homeland Security "through the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, . . . [to] use any and all authority available under section 101 of the Act to allocate to domestic use, as appropriate, . . . [specified] scarce or threatened materials designated by the Secretary of Health and Human Services . . . ."  The President also issued a related statement on April 3 that decries "wartime profiteering."

Although the use of the Defense Production Act in directing production during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis may be novel in its nature or scale, Fortune reports that the Act is used "routinely" to prioritize contracts relating to military procurements and in response to natural disasters.  Other past uses also are mentioned in that Fortune article.  None of the President's actions to date invoking the Act as to production by specific firms is in the form of an executive order.  However, the President is afforded many powers under the Act, see 50 U.S.C. § 4554(a) (providing in relevant part that "the President may prescribe such regulations and issue such orders as the President may determine to be appropriate"), although they are subject to certain limitations (including, e.g., broad-based restrictions relating to "wage or price controls" and "chemical or biological weapons" under 50 U.S.C. § 4514).

Even without the issuance of enforceable presidential orders, however, those charged with manufacturing under the various presidential memoranda are (and in some cases, prior to presidential action, were) scrambling to make up for lost time.  A report published over the weekend in The Washington Post describes the status of some of their efforts.  CNBC's similar report is here.  Time weighed in a few days earlier with its story.  Finally, an earlier report from The New York Times offers historic details relevant at that time.  Private industry has been stepping up in so many ways during the pandemic.  With all the hullabaloo around the Defense Production Act, we all should know about and be proud of that.

As for the actual COVID-19 business operational effects of the powers afforded to the President under the Defense Production Act, they remain to be seen.  My interest has been whetted, however, and I will be paying attention to future invocations of the Act not only in the COVID-19 crisis, but also in other contexts.  My perception is that it is one of the lesser-known laws that can impact business in a significant ways if the full force of its provisions is employed.  It is legislation--even 70 years out--that all of us business lawyers and law professors should be aware of.

April 6, 2020 in Current Affairs, Joan Heminway, Legislation | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, March 30, 2020

When Your Former Students Make You Proud . . . And Make You Laugh

COVID-19's effects on financings and M&A, as well as contracts more generally (as covered here, here, and here among many other places), the rapid adoption of the Coronavirus Act, Relief, and Economic Security Act, a/k/a the “CARES Act” (key terms summarized briefly here and elsewhere), and the President's invocation of the Defense Production Act have me feeling like I am drinking business law water out of a fire hose this past week.  Anyone else feeling that way?  Whew!

I am still sorting through it all.  I am sure that I will have more to say on some of this as time passes.  However, earlier today, in the process of reading online resources and watching and listening to others talk about the many legal aspects of the current pandemic, I came across this YouTube video, done by one of my former students, a local attorney who works with entrepreneurs, start-ups, and small businesses.

I have not fact-checked this video.  And he jumps in to correct himself.  But what I like about it is that it represents unvarnished, even humorous, boots-on-the-ground legal public service.  He does not want businesses in the local community to miss out or waste time/money shooting in the dark--or in the wrong direction.  

Sometimes, our students do great things after they leave the hallowed halls of law school.  Many times, those good deeds go unrecognized.  Haseeb has always been passionate.  It makes me so happy to see him using his passion to help the local business community.  I want to offer a "shout out" to him here.  (And his dog, Simon, is the cutest! ♥)

March 30, 2020 in Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, Joan Heminway, Legislation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Beyond Bitcoin: Leveraging Blockchain to Benefit Business and Society

Have you ever wanted to learn the basics about blockchain? Do you think it's all hype and a passing fad? Whatever your view, take a look at my new article, Beyond Bitcoin: Leveraging Blockchain to Benefit Business and Society, co-authored with Rachel Epstein, counsel at Hedera Hashgraph.  I became interested in blockchain a year ago because I immediately saw potential use cases in supply chain, compliance, and corporate governance. I met Rachel at a Humanitarian Blockchain Summit and although I had already started the article, her practical experience in the field added balance, perspective, and nuance. 

The abstract is below:

Although many people equate blockchain with bitcoin, cryptocurrency, and smart contracts, the technology also has the potential to transform the way companies look at governance and enterprise risk management, and to assist governments and businesses in mitigating human rights impacts. This Article will discuss how state and non-state actors use the technology outside of the realm of cryptocurrency. Part I will provide an overview of blockchain technology. Part II will briefly describe how public and private actors use blockchain today to track food, address land grabs, protect refugee identity rights, combat bribery and corruption, eliminate voter fraud, and facilitate financial transactions for those without access to banks. Part III will discuss key corporate governance, compliance, and social responsibility initiatives that currently utilize blockchain or are exploring the possibilities for shareholder communications, internal audit, and cyber security. Part IV will delve into the business and human rights landscape and examine how blockchain can facilitate compliance. Specifically, we will focus on one of the more promising uses of distributed ledger technology -- eliminating barriers to transparency in the human rights arena thereby satisfying various mandatory disclosure regimes and shareholder requests. Part V will pose questions that board members should ask when considering adopting the technology and will recommend that governments, rating agencies, sustainable stock exchanges, and institutional investors provide incentives for companies to invest in the technology, when appropriate. Given the increasing widespread use of the technology by both state and non-state actors and the potential disruptive capabilities, we conclude that firms that do not explore blockchain’s impact risk obsolescence or increased regulation.

Things change so quickly in this space. Some of the information in the article is already outdated and some of the initiatives have expanded. To keep up, you may want to subscribe to newsletters such as Hunton, Andrews, Kurth's Blockchain Legal Resource. For more general information on blockchain, see my post from last year, where I list some of the videos that I watched to become literate on the topic. For additional resources, see here and here

If you are interested specifically in government use cases, consider joining the Government Blockchain Association. On September 14th and 15th,  the GBA is holding its Fall 2019 Symposium, “The Future of Money, Governance and the Law,” in Arlington, Virginia. Speakers will include a chief economist from the World Bank and banking, political, legal, regulatory, defense, intelligence, and law enforcement professionals from around the world.  This event is sponsored by the George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government, Criminal Investigations and Network Analysis (CINA) Center, and the Government Blockchain Association (GBA). Organizers expect over 300 government, industry and academic leaders on the Arlington Campus of George Mason University, either in person or virtually. To find out more about the event go to: http://bit.ly/FoMGL-914.

Blockchain is complex and it's easy to get overwhelmed. It's not the answer to everything, but I will continue my focus on the compliance, governance, and human rights implications, particularly for Dodd-Frank and EU conflict minerals due diligence and disclosure. As lawyers, judges, and law students, we need to educate ourselves so that we can provide solid advice to legislators and business people who can easily make things worse by, for example, drafting laws that do not make sense and developing smart contracts with so many loopholes that they cause jurisdictional and enforcement nightmares.

Notwithstanding the controversy surrounding blockchain, I'm particularly proud of this article and would not have been able to do it without my co-author, Rachel, my fantastic research assistants Jordan Suarez, Natalia Jaramillo, and Lauren Miller from the University of Miami School of Law, and the student editors at the Tennessee Journal of Business Law. If you have questions or please post them below or reach out to me at mweldon@law.miami.edu. 

 

 

September 7, 2019 in Compliance, Conferences, Contracts, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Human Rights, Law Reviews, Lawyering, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 24, 2019

Scooters and the Difficulty of Measuring Social Value

Bird

"Bird Scooter" by mikecogh is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

Here in Nashville, Mayor David Briley announced that he is seeking to ban scooters. This announcement follows the first scooter-related death in the city.

Currently, I am working on a project that looks at how social value is measured and reported. As I dig deeper, I am becoming even more convinced that measuring social value may be too difficult for us to do well.

Let’s take scooters as an example. How would you measure (and report) the social value of these scooter companies? How many points should a “third-party standard” assign for the jobs created, for the gasoline saved, for the affordable transportation provided, for the fun produced? How many points should you subtract for a death, for injuries, for obstructing sidewalks? In the language of the Model Benefit Corporation Legislation, how do you know if a scooter company is producing “[a] material positive impact on society and the environment, taken as a whole”?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been diving into the B Impact Assessment, (which is the top third-party standard used by benefit corporations) and, frankly, the points assigned seem somewhat arbitrary and easy for companies to manipulate. In my opinion, almost any company, including a scooter company, could get the 80+ points needed to qualify as a certified B corp. if they learned and worked the system a bit (and, as most readers know, you don’t even have to be certified to become a benefit corporation under the state statutes.)

I know bright people who would emphatically argue that scooter companies create a “material positive impact,” and I know bright people who think scooter companies are socially destructive. Social reporting does not have to be totally useless; it would be interesting to have the data on scooter usage (how many people are using them for their commute, what is the injury rate relative to cars, etc?). But the total amount of social value is not easily reduced to numbers and social reports. Given the nuance of each decision, the various externalities, and the difficulty in quantifying the social impact, I have previously suggested giving stakeholder representatives certain governance rights (such as the ability to elect and sue the board of directors). This way, directors will be more likely to consider each stakeholder group when making decisions.

May 24, 2019 in Business Associations, CSR, Haskell Murray, Legislation, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

WV Proposal to Eliminate LLC Veil Piercing: Reasonable Concept, Needs A Lot of Work

Back in 2011, I wrote, in a Harvard Business Law Review Online article, that the default rule in analyzing all LLC questions should be one taken from CML V, LLC v. Bax, 6 A.3d 238 (Del. Ch. Nov. 3, 2010): “[T]here is nothing absurd about different legal principles applying to corporations and LLCs.” I still believe that. I further argued:

Where legislatures have decided that distinctly corporate concepts should apply to LLCs—such as allowing piercing the veil or derivative lawsuits—those wishes (obviously) should be honored by the courts. And where state LLC laws are silent, the court should carefully consider the legislative context and history, as well as the policy implications of the possible answers to the questions presented. Courts should put forth cogent reasons for their decisions, rather than blindly applying corporate law principles in what are seemingly analogous situations between LLCs and corporations. [footnotes omitted]

In 2014, I discussed a case West Virginia case in a post here at Business Law Prof Blog, More LLC Veil Piercing Forced into State Statutes. In that post, I was critical of a West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals decision reading veil piercing into the state's LLC statute.  My main issue with that case, Kubican v. The Tavern, LLC, 232 W.Va. 268, 752 S.E. 2d 299 (2013), was that" Virginia’s veil-piercing test stated more clearly than other states . . .  that corporate formalities are the main issue for the unity of interest test" for veil piercing an LLC. This is problematic because, of course, LLCs don't have many formalities, and none of them are "corporate" (because LLCs are not corporations). 

To be fair, the opinion wisely directed that, for LLC veil piercing, courts  “disregard of formalities requirement.” But the overlay of corporate formalities and corporate traditions remain in the numerous other factors courts are to consider, and thus analysis of the factors are likely to occur with through a decidedly corporate filter.  That's not reasonable or fair for LLCs. 

The West Virginia legislature is looking to remedy this, and overrule the Supreme Court of Appeals, has proposed Senate Bill 258

ARTICLE 3. RELATIONS OF MEMBERS AND MANAGERS TO PERSONS DEALING WITH LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY.

§31B-3-303. Liability of members and managers.

(a) Except as otherwise provided in §31B-3-303(c) of this code, the debts, obligations, and liabilities of a limited liability company, whether arising in contract, tort, or otherwise, are solely the debts, obligations, and liabilities of the company. A member or manager is not personally liable for a debt, obligation, or liability of the company solely by reason of being or acting as a member or manager. It is the intent and policy of the Legislature that for any claim against a limited liability company arising after the effective date of the reenactment of this section during the regular session of the Legislature, 2019, common law corporate “veil piercing” claims may not be used to impose personal liability on a member or manager of a limited liability company, and that the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals decision in Joseph Kubican v. The Tavern, LLC, 232 W.Va. 268, 752 S.E. 2d 299 (2013) be nullified.

(b) The failure of a limited liability company to observe the usual company formalities or requirements relating to the exercise of its company powers or management of its business is not a ground for imposing personal liability on the members or managers for liabilities of the company.

(c) All or specified members of a limited liability company are liable in their capacity as members for all or specified debts, obligations, or liabilities of the company if:

(1) A provision to that effect is contained in the articles of organization; and

(2) A member so liable has consented in writing to the adoption of the provision or to be bound by the provision.

As noted above, I have supported legislative action to allow or disallow LLC veil piercing. Where LLC veil piercing is to be allowed, I have advocated for a clearly stated LLC-specific test. And were veil piercing to be eliminated, I have advocated for legislation making that clear, too.  This proposal has this last option right. 

That said, I have a couple significant objections to the proposed statute, as written.  First, and most significant, the statute could be read to eliminate the possibility of personal liability for any company debt for any member of an LLC.  The proposed legislation seeks to modify the following: "A member or manager is not personally liable for a debt, obligation, or liability of the company solely by reason of being or acting as a member or manager."  By dropping "solely," this proposal appears to limit other potential sources of liability (that are not veil piercing), which are traditionally considered liability related to the actions or a member.  By analogy, the Model Business Corporation Act provides, "(b)  A shareholder of a corporation is not personally liable for any liabilities of the corporation (including liabilities arising from acts of the corporation) except (i) to the extent provided in a provision of the articles of incorporation permitted by section 2.02(b)(2)(v), and (ii) that a shareholder may become personally liable by reason of the shareholder’s own acts or conduct." § 6.22 Liability of Shareholders (emphasis added).  

Where an individual LLC member acts in a way that should lead to liability (promises to pay individually, seek to deceive, etc.), the possibility for direct liability to the member is proper and is generally recognized by even the most ardent advocates of abolishing veil piercing. For example, the most prominent scholar on this front, Prof. Bainbridge, in his article, Abolishing LLC Veil Piercing, "advocates a regime of direct liability: Did the defendant-members do anything for which they are appropriately held personally liable?" I concur.  

[Author's note: the proposed statute was amended today adding "solely" back into the statute.  That amendment occured after I wrote this, but before it posted, so someone else was on it.]

Next, 

It is the intent and policy of the Legislature that for any claim against a limited liability company arising after the effective date of the reenactment of this section during the regular session of the Legislature, 2019, common law corporate “veil piercing” claims may not be used to impose personal liability on a member or manager of a limited liability company, and that the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals decision in Joseph Kubican v. The Tavern, LLC, 232 W.Va. 268, 752 S.E. 2d 299 (2013) be nullified.

This is problematic because it applies to all prior negotiated relationships, meaning that contracts would have been negotiated with veil piercing available. This may, in some way, impacted how people negotiated guarantees in contracts.  In a prior post, I criticized the Wyoming high court for making  LLC veil piercing easy and suggesting that laws should not encourage parties to seek guarantees: 

The court cites potential abuse of LLC laws if they were to adopt such a rule that motivates companies to ask for guarantees. instead adopting a rule that could incentivize companies like Western actively avoid ask ingfor guarantees. Why? Because if you ask for a guarantee and are refused, it could be used against you later.  But if you don’t ask, you may get to piece the veil and seek a windfall recovery by getting a post hoc guarantee that was not available via negotiation. 

This West Virginia proposed legislation would likely lead more parties to seek guarantees, which I see as a good thing.  But this is a significant change to the legal landscape, and it seems to me the whole thing should be prospective.  Thus, new interactions, new contracts or renewals, etc., should be under the new law, but that there should be at least some look-back period.  One could argue that a "claim against a limited liability company arising after the effective date" related to a 2014 contract is a claim that "arose" before the effective date because a "claim" is different from a "lawsuit." For me, I would probably amend it to say something like, for events leading to a lawsuit against a limited liability company arising after the effective date . . . .." This would have the added benefit of preserving claims for events preceding the effective date that were not filed or discovered but are still within the statute of limitations.  This seems more equitable to me.  

Anyway, I am intrigued by the concept of eliminating LLC veil piercing, but I think this needs more thought. 

[Author's note 2: The amended language mentioned above added substantial changes to part (c), which I am inserting below.]

An additional amendment now adjusts part (c) t0 read (my comments inserted in  bold):

(c) All or specified members of a limited liability company are liable in their capacity as members for all or specified debts, obligations or liabilities of the company if:

(1) A provision to that effect is contained in the articles of organization; and

 

(2) A member so liable has consented in writing to the adoption of the provision or to be bound by the provision.

(1) A provision to that effect is contained in the articles of organization, and a member so liable has consented in writing to the adoption of the provision or to be bound by the provision; [This is currently item 12 of the West Virginia Secretary of State Articles of Organization of Limited Liability form.] 

(2) The member against whom liability is asserted has personally guaranteed the liability or obligation of the limited liability company in writing; [Good to make this clear, I suppose, though that is a personal obligation that attaches to the indidvudal. This is less necessary with "solely" added back to part (a).]

(3) As to a tax liability of the limited liability company, the law of the state or of the United States imposes liability upon the member; or [Also a personal obligation that attaches to the indidvudal.]

(4) The member commits actual fraud which causes injury to an individual or entity. [True before this law was proposed as a personal obligation that attaches to the indidvudal. The potential problem with this list of items 1-4 is that it may serve to limit or eliminate other forms of personal liablity that existed under prior law.  Hopefully, the "solely" langauge keeps all direct liability intact, but sometimes when a list like this is created, it is also read to mean it is the exclusive list of direct liability available.]

(d) Enterprise liability. — In circumstances where the members of a limited liability company are, in whole or in part, corporations, limited  liability companies, or other entities which are not human beings, then  if a jury shall determine that the liability of a limited liability company sounding in tort arose as part of the activities of a joint enterprise, those entities which are part of the joint enterprise with the limited liability company may be liable for the liability  of the limited liability company which arose as part of the business operations of the joint enterprise, not as a piercing of the veil, but instead under the doctrine of joint enterprise liability. [This is an attempt at preserving the concept of enterprise liability as introduced in Walkovsky v. Carlson. I rather like the idea, but I think this language could be more clear.  I hope to have time to draft proposed changes soon.]

(e) Member as tortfeasor. — Nothing in this section shall immunize or shield a member of a limited liability company, solely because he or she is a member of a limited liability company, from liability for his or her own tortious conduct that proximately causes injury to another party while the member is acting on behalf of the limited liability company.  In such circumstance, the liability of a member is not through veil piercing, but rather primary, as against any tortfeasor. [I like this and think it is critical to make clear. It does run the risk of including things I don't think it always should, such as providing indivdual liablity for a company's business tort claims, such as a toritious interference with contract.] 

(f) Clawback authority. — If a member is proved to have committed any of the following acts, then a creditor of the limited liability company whose judgment the limited liability company cannot satisfy may seek clawback from the member under this subsection: Provided, That the limited liability company’s judgment creditor may proceed in the shoes of the limited liability company [like a derivative suit?] to clawback funds from the member in order to reimburse the limited liability company for either the amount of the judgment against the limited liability company or the amount transferred from the limited liability company to the member in bad faith, whichever is less. [This may work for a business that is on going, but lacks funds for a particular creditor. However, where the LLC is in the zone of insolvency, it could be used to prioritize one creditor over another, possibly improperly.  That is, it appears this intends for the clawback funds to go to the creditor.  Once the funds come back to the LLC, though, it seems to me those funds should still need to be disbursed properly in consideration of all creditors with outstanding claims.]  

 The wrongful acts which will justify clawback (but not veil piercing) are:

(1) Conflicted exchange;

(2) Insolvency distribution; or

(3) Siphoning of funds. 

            (g) Definitions. — As used in this section:

“Conflicted exchange” means a transfer of money or other property from a limited liability company to a member of the limited liability company (or to any other organization in which the member has a material financial interest) in exchange for services, goods, or other tangible or intangible property of less than reasonable equivalent value.

“Insolvency distribution” means a transfer of money or other property from a limited liability company to a member of that limited liability company (or to any other organization in which the member has a material financial interest), in respect of the member’s ownership interest, that renders the limited liability company insolvent.

“Insolvent” means, with respect to a limited liability company, that the limited liability company is unable to pay its debts in the ordinary course of business. Claims that are unusual in nature or amount, including tort claims in claims for consequential damages, are not to be considered claims in the ordinary course of business for the purposes of this section.

“Siphoning of funds” means whether the manager or majority member has siphoned funds from the limited liability company in violation of the articles of organization, the operating agreement, or this article. [I would have hoped that all avenues to recover for improper distributions would remain. I am okay with listing them, as long as none are excluded by creation of the list.]

 That's all for now. This is a pretty big proposal, and it won't surprise me if it passes. If they are committed to it, I sure hope they take the time to get it right. 

January 29, 2019 in Joshua P. Fershee, Legislation, LLCs | Permalink | Comments (5)

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Has the Dodd-Frank Conflict Minerals Rule Really Made a Difference and is Blockchain The Answer?

Last week Dr. Denis Mukwege won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on gender-based violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This short video interview describes what I saw when I went to DRC in 2011 to research the newly-enacted Dodd-Frank disclosure rule and to do the legwork for a non-profit that teaches midwives ways to deliver babies safely. For those unfamiliar with the legislation, U.S. issuers must disclose the efforts they have made to track and trace tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold from the DRC and nine surrounding countries. Rebels and warlords control many of the mines by controlling the villages. DRC is one of the poorest nations in the world per capita but has an estimated $25 trillion in mineral reserves (including 65% of the world's cobalt). Armed militia use rape and violence as a weapon of war in part so that they control the mineral wealth. 

The stated purpose of the Dodd-Frank rule was to help end the violence in DRC and to name and shame companies that do not disclose or that cannot certify that their goods are DRC-conflict free (although that labeling portion of the law was struck down on First Amendment grounds). I  wrote a law review article in 2013 and co-filed an amicus brief during the litigation arguing that the law would not help people on the ground. I have also blogged here about legislation to end the rulehere about the EU's version of the rulehere about the differences between the EU and US rule, and half a dozen times since 2013.

I had the honor of meeting Dr. Mukwege in 2011, who at the time did not support the conflict minerals legislation. He has since endorsed such legislation for the EU. During our trip, we met dozens of women who had been raped, often by gangs. On our way to meet midwives and survivors of a massacre, I saw five corpses of villagers lying in the street. They were slain by rebels the night before. I saw children mining gold from a river with armed soldiers only a few feet away.  That trip is the reason that I study, write, and teach about business and human rights. I had only been in academia for three weeks when I went to DRC, and I decided that my understanding of supply chains and corporate governance from my past in-house life could help others develop more practical solutions to intractable problems. I believed then and I believe now that using a corporate governance disclosure to solve a human rights crisis is a flawed and incomplete solution. It depends on the belief that large numbers of consumers will boycott companies that do not do enough for human rights. 

What does the data say about compliance with the rule? The General Accounting Office puts out a mandatory report annually on the legislation and the state of disclosures. According to the 2018 report:

Similar to the prior 2 years, almost all companies required to conduct due diligence, as a result of their country-of-origin inquiries, reported doing so. After conducting due diligence to determine the source and chain of custody of any conflict minerals used, an estimated 37 percent of these companies reported in 2017 that they were able to determine that their conflict minerals came from covered countries or from scrap or recycled sources, compared with 39 and 23 percent in 2016 and 2015, respectively. Four companies in GAO’s sample declared their products “DRC conflict-free,” and of those, three included the required Independent Private Sector Audit report (IPSA), and one did not. In 2017, 16 companies filed an IPSA; 19 did so in 2016. (emphasis added).

But what about the effect on forced labor and rape? The 2017 GAO Report indicated that in 2016, a study in DRC estimated that 32 percent of women and 33 percent of men in these areas had been exposed to some form of sexual and gender-based violence in their lifetime. Notably, just last month, a coalition of Congolese civil society organizations wrote the following to the United Nations seeking a country-wide monitoring system:

... Armed groups and security forces have attacked civilians in many parts of the country...Today, some 4.5 million Congolese are displaced from their homes. More than 100,000 Congolese have fled abroad since January 2018, raising the risk of increased regional instability... Since early this year, violence intensified in various parts of northeastern Congo’s Ituri province, with terrifying incidents of massacres, rapes, and decapitation. Armed groups launched deadly attacks on villages, killing scores of civilians, torching hundreds of homes, and displacing an estimated 350,000 people. Armed groups and security forces in the Kivu provinces also continue to attack civilians. According to the Kivu Security Tracker, assailants, including state security forces, killed more than 580 civilians and abducted at least 940 others in North and South Kivu since January 2018. (emphasis added)

The U.S. government provides $500 million in aid to the DRC and runs an app called Sweat and Toil for people who are interested in avoiding goods produced by exploited labor. As of today, DRC has seven goods produced with exploitative labor: cobalt (used in electric cars and cell phones), copper, diamonds, and, not surprisingly, tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold- the four minerals regulated by Dodd-Frank. The app notes that "for the second year in a row, labor inspectors have failed to conduct any worksite inspections... and [the] government also separated as many as 2,360 children from armed groups...[t]here were numerous reports of ongoing collaboration between members of the [DRC] Armed Forces and non-state armed groups known for recruiting children... The Armed Forces carried out extrajudicial killings of civilians including children, due to their perceived support or affiliation with non-state armed groups. .."

For these reasons, I continue to ask whether the conflict minerals legislation has made a difference in the lives of the people on the ground. The EU, learning from Dodd-Frank's flaws, has passed its own legislation, which goes into effect in 2021.  The EU law applies beyond the Democratic Republic of Congo and defines conflict areas as those in a state of armed conflict, or fragile post-conflict area, areas with weak or nonexistent governance and security such as failed states, and any state with a widespread or systematic violation of international law including human rights abuses. Certain European Union importers will have to identify and address the actual potential risks linked to conflict-affected areas or high-risk areas during the due diligence of their supply chains. 

Notwithstanding the statistics above, many investors, NGOs, and other advocates believe the Dodd-Frank rule makes sense. A coalition of investors with 50 trillion worth of assets under management has pushed to keep the law in place. It's no surprise then that many issuers have said that they would continue the due diligence even if the law were repealed. I doubt that will help people in these countries, but the due diligence does help drive out inefficiencies and optimize supply chains.

Stay tuned for my upcoming article in UT's business law journal, Transactions, where I will discuss how companies and state actors are using blockchain technology for due diligence related to human rights. Blockchain will minimize expenses and time for these disclosure requirements, but it probably won't stop the forced labor, exploitation, rapes, and massacres that continue in the Democratic Republic of Congo. (See here for a Fortune magazine article with a great video discussing how and why companies are exploring blockchain's uses in DRC). The blockchain technology won't be the problem-- it's already being used for tracing conflict diamonds. The problem is using the technology in a state with such lawlessness. This means that blockchain will probably help companies, but not the people the laws are meant to protect. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 13, 2018 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, International Business, International Law, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Everyone Wants to Make Non-Corporate Things Corporate: It's Sen. Warren's Turn

Senator Elizabeth Warren last week released her Accountable Capitalism Act. My co-blogger Haskell Murray wrote about that here, as have a number of others, including Professor Bainbridge, who has written at least seven posts on his blogCountless others have weighed in, as well.

There are fans of the idea, others who are agnostic, and still other who thinks it’s a terrible idea. I am not taking a position on any of that, because I am too busy working through all the flaws with regard to entity law itself to even think about the overall Act.

As a critic of how most people view entities, my expectations were low. On the plus side, the bill does not say “limited liability corporation” one time.  So that’s a win. Still, there are a number of entity law flaws that make the bill problematic before you even get to what it’s supposed to do.  The problem: the bill uses “corporation” too often where it means “entity” or “business.”

Let’s start with the Section 2. DEFINITIONS.  This section provides:

 (2) LARGE ENTITY.—

(A) IN GENERAL.—The term ‘‘large entity’’ means an entity that—

(i) is organized under the laws of a State as a corporation, body corporate, body politic, joint stock company, or limited liability company;

(ii) engages in interstate commerce; and

(iii) in a taxable year, according to in- formation provided by the entity to the Internal Revenue Service, has more than $1,000,000,000 in gross receipts.

Okay, so it does list LLCs, correctly, but it does not list partnerships.  This would seem to exclude Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs). The Alerian MLP Indexlist about 40 MLPs with at least a $1 billion market cap.  It also leaves our publicly traded partnerships(PTPs). So, that’s a miss, to say the least. 

Section 2 goes on to define a  

(6) UNITED STATES CORPORATION.—The term “United States corporation’’ means a large entity with respect to which the Office has granted a charter under section 3.

The bill also creates an “Office of United States Corporations,” in Section 3, even though the definitions section clear says a “large entity” includes more than just corporations. 

Next is Section 4, which provides the “Requirement for Large Entities to Obtain Charters.”

LARGE ENTITIES.—

(1) IN GENERAL.— An entity that is organized as a corporation, body corporate, body politic, joint stock company, or limited liability company in a State shall obtain a charter from the Office . . . .”

So, again, the definition does not include MLPs (or any other partnership forms, or coops for that matter) as large entities.  I am not at all clear why the Act would refer to and define “Large Entities,” then go back to using “corporations.”  Odd. 

Later in section 4, we get the repercussions for the failure to obtain a charter: 

An entity to which paragraph (1) applies and that fails to obtain a charter from the Office as required under that paragraph shall not be treated as a corporation, body corporate, body politic, joint-stock company, or limited liability company, as applicable, for the purposes of Federal law during the period beginning on the date on which the entity is required to obtain a charter under that paragraph and ending on the date on which the entity obtains the charter.

Here, the section chooses not to use the large entity definition or the corporation definition and instead repeats the entity list from the definitions section. As a side note, does this section mean that, for “purposes of Federal law,” any statutory “large entity” without a charter is a general partnership or sole proprietorship? I would hope not for the LLC, which isn’t a corporation, anyway.

Finally, in Section 5, the Act provides:

(e) APPLICATION.—

(1) RULE OF CONSTRUCTION REGARDING GENERAL CORPORATE LAW.—Nothing in this section may be construed to affect any provision of law that is applicable to a corporation, body corporate, body politic, joint stock company, or limited liability company, as applicable, that is not a United States corporation.

Again, I will note that “general corporate law” should not apply to anything but corporations, anyway. LLCs, in particular. 

The Act further contemplates a standard of conduct for directors and officers.  LLCs do not have to have either, at least not in the way corporations do, nor do MLPs/PTPs, which admittedly do not appear covered, anyway. The Act also contemplates shareholders and shareholder suits, which are not a thing for LLCs/MLPs/PTPs because they don’t have shareholders.

This is not an exhaustive list, but I think it’s a pretty good start. I will concede that some of my critiques could be argued another way.  Obviously, I'd disagree, but maybe some of this is not as egregious as I see it. Still, there are flaws, and if this thing is going to move beyond even the release, I sure hope they take the time to get the entity issues figured out. I’d be happy to help.

August 21, 2018 in Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Joshua P. Fershee, Legislation, LLCs, Management, Partnership, Shareholders, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Why Lawyers, Law Professors, and Judges Should Care About Blockchain

We’re a month away from our second annual Business Law Professor Blog CLE, hosted at the University of Tennessee on Friday, September 14, 2018. We’ll discuss our latest research and receive comments from UT faculty and students. I’ve entitled my talk Beyond Bitcoin: Leveraging Blockchain for Corporate Governance, Corporate Social Responsibility, and Enterprise Risk Management, and will blog more about that after I finish the article. This is a really long post, but it’s chock full of helpful links for novices and experts alike and highlights some really interesting work from our colleagues at other law schools.

Two weeks ago, I posted some resources to help familiarize you with blockchain. Here’s a relatively simple definition from John Giordani at Forbes:

Blockchain is a public register in which transactions between two users belonging to the same network are stored in a secure, verifiable and permanent way. The data relating to the exchanges are saved inside cryptographic blocks, connected in a hierarchical manner to each other. This creates an endless chain of data blocks -- hence the name blockchain -- that allows you to trace and verify all the transactions you have ever made. The primary function of a blockchain is, therefore, to certify transactions between people. In the case of Bitcoin, the blockchain serves to verify the exchange of cryptocurrency between two users, but it is only one of the many possible uses of this technological structure. In other sectors, the blockchain can certify the exchange of shares and stocks, operate as if it were a notary and "validate" a contract or make the votes cast in online voting secure and impossible to alter. One of the greatest advantages of the blockchain is the high degree of security it guarantees. In fact, once a transaction is certified and saved within one of the chain blocks, it can no longer be modified or tampered with. Each block consists of a pointer that connects it to the previous block, a timestamp that certifies the time at which the event actually took place and the transaction data.

These three elements ensure that each element of the blockchain is unique and immutable -- any request to modify the timestamp or the content of the block would change all subsequent blocks. This is because the pointer is created based on the data in the previous block, triggering a real chain reaction. In order for any alterations to happen, it would be necessary for the 50%-plus-one of the network to approve the change: a possible but hardly feasible operation since the blockchain is distributed worldwide between millions of users.

In case that wasn’t clear enough, here are links to a few of my favorite videos for novices. These will help you understand the rest of this blog post.

To help prepare for my own talk in Tennessee, I attended a fascinating discussion at SEALS on Thursday moderated by Dean Jon Garon of Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad College of Law called Blockchain Technology and the Law.

For those of you who don’t know how blockchain technology can relate to your practice or teaching, I thought I would provide a few questions raised by some of the speakers. I’ve inserted some (oversimplified)links for definitions. The speakers did not include these links, so if I have used one that you believe is incomplete or inaccurate, do not attribute it to them.

Professor Del Wright, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law;

Del started the session by talking about the legal issues in blockchain consensus models. He described consensus models as the backbones for users because they: 1) allow users to interact with each other in a trustless manner; 2) ensure the integrity of the ledger in both normal and adversarial situations; and 3) create a “novel variety of networks with extraordinary potential” if implemented correctly. He discussed both permissioned (e.g. Ripple) and permissionless (Bitcoin) systems and how they differ. He then explained Proof of Work blockchains supported by miners (who solve problems to add blocks to the blockchain) and masternodes (who provide the backbone support to the blockchain). He pointed out how blockchains can reduce agency costs and problems of asymmetrical information and then focused on their utility in financial markets, securities regulation, and corporate governance. Del compared the issues related to off-chain governance, where decisionmaking first takes place on a social level and is then actively encoded into the protocol by the developers (used by Bitcoin and Ethereum) to on-chain governance, where developers broadcast their improvement protocols on-chain and then, once approved, those improvements are implemented into the code. He closed by listing a number of “big unanswered issues” related to regulatory guidance, liability for the performance of the technology and choice of consensus, global issues, and GDPR and other data privacy issues.

Professor Catherine Christopher, Texas Tech University School of Law;

Catherine wants to help judges think about smart contracts. She asked, among other things, how judges should address remedies, what counts as substantial performance, and how smart contract audits would work. She questioned whether judges should use a consumer protection approach or instead follow a draconian approach by embracing automation and enforcing smart contracts as drafted to discourage their adoption by those who are not sophisticated enough to understand how they work.

Professor Tonya Evans, University of New Hampshire School of Law (follow her on Twitter; see her blog on blockchain here);

Tonya focuses on blockchain and intellectual property. Her talked raised the issues of non-fungible tokens generated through smart contracts and the internet of value. She used the example of cryptokitties, where players have the chance to collect and breed digital cats. She also raised the question of what kind of technology can avoid infringement. For more on how blockchain can disrupt copyright law, read her post here.

Professor Rebecca Bratspies, CUNY School of Law;

In case you didn’t have enough trust issues with blockchain and cryptocurrency, Rebecca’s presentation focused on the “halo of immutability” and asked a few central questions: 1) why should we trust the miners not to collude for a 51% attack 2) why should we trust wallets, which aren’t as secure as people think; and 3) why should we trust the consensus mechanism? In response, some members of the audience noted that blockchain appeals to a libertarian element because of the removal of the government from the conversation.

Professor Carla Reyes, Michigan State University College of Law- follow her on Twitter at Carla Reyes (@Prof_CarlaReyes);

Carla talked about crypto corporate governance and the potential fiduciary duties that come out of thinking of blockchains as public trusts or corporations. She explained that governance happens on and off of the blockchain mechanisms through social media outlets such as Redditt. She further noted that many of those who call themselves “passive economic participants” are actually involved in governance because they comment on improvement processes. She also noted the paradox that off chain governance doesn’t always work very well because participants don’t always agree, but when they do agree, it often leads to controversial results like hard forks. Her upcoming article will outline potential fiduciaries (miner and masternode operators for example), their duties, and when they apply. She also asked the provocative question of whether a hard fork is like a Revlon event.

Professor Charlotte Tschider, William Mitchell College of Law (follow her on Twitter);

As a former chief privacy officer, I have to confess a bias toward Charlotte’s presentation. She talked about blockchain in healthcare focusing on these questions: will gains in cybersecurity protection outweigh specific issues for privacy or other legal issues (data ownership); what are the practical implications of implementing a private blockchain (consortium, patient-initiated, regulatory-approved); can this apply to other needed uses, including medical device applications; how might this technology work over geographically diverse regulatory structures; and are there better applications for this technology (e.g. connected health devices)? She posited that blockchain could work in healthcare because it is decentralized, has increased security, improves access controls, is more impervious to unauthorized change, could support availability goals for ransomware attacks and other issues, is potentially interoperable, could be less expensive, and could be controlled by regulatory branch, consortium, and the patient. She closed by raising potential legal issues related to broad data sharing, unanswered questions about private implementations, privacy requirements relating to the obligation of data deletion and correction (GDPR in the EU, China’s cybersecurity law, etc); and questions of data ownership in a contract.

Professor Eric Chason, William & Mary Marshall-Wythe School of Law;

Eric closed by discussing the potential tax issue for hard forks. He explained that after a hard fork, a new coin is created, and asked whether that creates income because the owner had one entitlement and now has two pieces of ownership. He then asked whether hard forks are more like corporate reorganizations or spinoffs (which already have statutory taxation provisions) or rather analogous to a change of wealth. Finally, he asked whether we should think about these transactions like a contingent right to do something in the future and how that should be valued.

Stay tuned for more on these and other projects related to blockchain. I will be sure to post them when they are done. But, ignore blockchain at your peril. There’s a reason that IBM, Microsoft, and the State Department are spending money on this technology. If you come to UT on September 15th, I’ll explain how other companies, the UN, NASDAQ, and nation states are using blockchain beyond the cryptocurrency arena.

 

August 12, 2018 in Commercial Law, Compliance, Conferences, Contracts, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, Human Rights, Law School, Lawyering, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Research/Scholarhip, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, Teaching, Technology, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Energy and Business Nexus: Decarbonizing Light-Duty Vehicles

I am both a business law professor and an energy law professor, which is sometimes surprising to people. That is, some folks are surprised that have a research focus in two areas that are seemingly very distinct.  In one sense, that's true, at least in the academic realm.  Most energy law scholars tend to have a focus on more close related disciplines, such as environmental law, administrative law, and property law.  And business law scholars tend to trend toward things like commercial law, bankruptcy, tax, and contracts.  

There is substantial overlap, though, in the energy and business law spaces, as I have noted on this blog before. I am even working on some research that looks specifically at the role laws and regulations have on business and economic development.   My work with the WVU Center for Innovation in Gas Research and Utilization builds on this energy and business nexus. 

I am pleased to share a newly published article I wrote with Amy Stein from the University of Florida's Levin College of Law. The piece is called Decarbonizing Light-Duty Vehicles, and it appears in the July issue of Environmental Law Reporter. It is available here. This article is based on our forthcoming book chapter that will appear in Legal Pathways to Deep Decarbonization in the United States (Michael B. Gerrard & John C. Dernbach eds.) and published by the Environmental Law Institute.  The book expands on the U.S. work of the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project, and was prepared in collaboration with that organization. Following is an excerpt that gives a sense of how energy and business law and policy sometimes intersect. 

    A last challenge surrounds the existing business models that revolve around the [internal combustion vehicle (ICV)]. First, a number of states have a strong incentive to maintain a core of ICVs due to their heavy reliance on the gasoline tax to fund highway infrastructure in their respective states. The gasoline tax has been in place since 1956 to help pay for construction of the interstate highway system.  Since that time, Congress has directed the majority of the revenues from this tax to the Highway Trust Fund (HTF).  At the federal level, Congress has not increased the tax in more than 20 years, leaving it at 18.4 cents a gallon.  As of July 2015, state taxes on gasoline averaged 26.49 cents a gallon, bringing the total tax on gasoline to about 45 cents per gallon.  All efforts to reduce reliance on gas-dependent vehicles therefore stand in sharp contrast to efforts to maintain a healthy highway fund. The interplay between fuel economy and the dependence on gasoline tax revenues should not be overlooked, as well as the conflicting demands placed on legislators.

    Second, dealers, mechanics, and gas stations have a strong incentive to maintain the dominance of ICVs. Dealers may not be as familiar with [alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs)] and so are less likely to be able to demonstrate specifics about available incentives, nor be able to exude confidence about charging, range, and battery life-span.  More importantly, dealers may also be hesitant to sell AFVs for some of the same reasons that customers may be inclined to purchase them—specifically, the expectation of reduced maintenance costs. These misaligned incentives exist because an essential part of a dealer’s business model relies on post-sale revenues related to the sale of used cars, oil changes, and engine maintenance repairs, avoided costs for AFV owners.  More car dealers may need to explore options that evolve with the technology, including maintaining and repairing fleets of autonomous vehicles.

    In short, although the United States has begun the transition to AFVs, there are a number of obstacles, financial, psychological, and cultural, that stand in the way of a greater shift to AFVs.

Amy L. Stein & Joshua Fershée, Decarbonizing Light-Duty Vehicles, 48 Environmental Law Reporter 10596 (2018) (footnotes omitted). 

July 10, 2018 in Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, Joshua P. Fershee, Legislation, Research/Scholarhip | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Language Matters (Non-LLC edition): "Fiduciary" Does Not Mean "Financial"

I often use my space here to complain about courts and lawmakers being imprecise with regard to limited liability companies (LLCs).  Today, I will focus on my home state of West Virginia, which recently passed a bill to support (and provide loans for cooperatives designed to provide) much-needed broadband development in the state. I applaud the effort, but the execution was not great.  

Here's an example from the West Virginia Code

12-6C-11. Legislative findings; loans for industrial development; availability of funds and interest rates.

. . . .

(f) The directors of the board shall bear no fiduciary responsibility with regard to any of the loans contemplated in this section.

This applies to a cooperative board that takes on loans for broadband projects.  But it doesn't make sense. I think they used "fiduciary" when they meant "financial," as I assume they meant to say that the board members of the organization would not have “financial liability.”  I am pretty sure they did not mean to remove fiduciary duties.  Then again, who knows. Maybe they are fine with the directors using loans for personal vacations.  (Just kidding. I am pretty sure they'd care.)  I know that in finance, the term fiduciary can be used to describe money (meaning some that that relies on public trust for value), but that does not make sense here, either. 

When the legislature returns for the next session, I plan to see if I can get this amended to track the LLC liability defaults. Maybe something like: 

"(f) The directors of the board are not personally liable for any of the loans contemplated in this section."

I won't hold my breath, but it's worth a try.  

April 10, 2018 in Corporate Finance, Joshua P. Fershee, Legislation, Nonprofits | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, April 6, 2018

The Effect of Mandatory Arbitration in the Employment Law Context

Within the next few weeks, the Supreme Court will decide a trio of cases about class action waivers, which I wrote about here. The Court will decide whether these waivers in mandatory arbitration agreements violate the National Labor Relations Act (which also applies in the nonunion context) or are permissible under the Federal Arbitration Act

I wonder if the Supreme Court clerks helping to draft the Court's opinion(s) are reading today's report by the Economic Policy Institute about the growing use of mandatory arbitration. The author of the report reviewed survey responses from 627 private sector employers with 50 employees or more. The report explained that over fifty-six percent of private sector, nonunion employees or sixty million Americans must go to arbitration to address their workplace rights. Sixty-five percent of employers with more than one thousand employees use arbitration provisions. One-third of employers that require mandatory arbitration include the kind of class action waivers that the Court is looking at now. Significantly, women, low-wage workers, and African-Americans are more likely to work for employers that require arbitration. Businesses in Texas, North Carolina, and California (a pro-worker state) are especially fond of the provisions. In most of the highly populated states, over forty percent of the employers have mandatory arbitration policies.

 

Employers overwhelmingly win in arbitration, and the report proves that the proliferation of these provisions has significantly reduced the number of employment law claims filed. According to the author:

The number of claims being filed in employment arbitration has increased in recent years. In an earlier study, Colvin and Gough (2015) found an average of 940 mandatory employment arbitration cases per year being filed between 2003 and 2013 with the American Arbitration Association (AAA), the nation’s largest employment arbitration service provider. By 2016, the annual number of employment arbitration case filings with the AAA had increased to 2,879 (Estlund 2018). Other research indicates that about 50 percent of mandatory employment arbitration cases are administered by the AAA (Stone and Colvin 2015). This means that there are still only about 5,758 mandatory employment arbitration cases filed per year nationally. Given the finding that 60.1 million American workers are now subject to these procedures, this means that only 1 in 10,400 employees subject to these procedures actually files a claim under them each year. Professor Cynthia Estlund of New York University Law School has compared these claim filing rates to employment case filing rates in the federal and state courts. She estimates that if employees covered by mandatory arbitration were filing claims at the same rate as in court, there would be between 206,000 and 468,000 claims filed annually, i.e., 35 to 80 times the rate we currently observe (Estlund 2018). These findings indicate that employers adopting mandatory employment arbitration have been successful in coming up with a mechanism that effectively reduces their chance of being subject to any liability for employment law violations to very low levels.

This data makes the Court's upcoming ruling even more critical for American workers- many of whom remain unaware that they are even subject to these provisions.  

 

April 6, 2018 in Corporate Personality, Corporations, Employment Law, Legislation, Litigation, Marcia Narine Weldon | Permalink | Comments (0)