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Posts by: James Thompson

Insider Trading Around Private Placements: Was Tom Price’s Investment Down Under Above Board?

On February 10, the Senate confirmed Representative Tom Price (R-GA) as Secretary of Health and Human Services, where he will oversee the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). His nomination has not been without controversy, including several Senators and a coalition of public interest advocacy groups demanding an investigation into whether Price violated insider trading laws when he invested in an Australian pharmaceutical company last summer.  This highlights some basic precautionary steps that public companies can take when considering private placements.

The company Price invested in, Innate Immunotherapeutics, is working to develop a single product. The company is essentially a bet that the drug will succeed in clinical trials and receive FDA approval.  Price was introduced to the company by Representative Chris Collins (R-NY), who sits on the company’s board and is its largest shareholder.  The introduction was regarding a private placement that Innate was offering to select U.S. investors to raise additional working capital for a clinical trial and to “seek approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration for an Investigational New Drug programme in the United States,” among other purposes.  The private placement was priced at $0.18 USD per share, a 12% discount to the stock’s market price in early June 2016 (the stock is publicly traded on the Australian Securities Exchange).  Even though both Price and Collins sit on committees that oversee the health care and pharmaceutical industries, both invested in the private placement last summer.

President Trump nominated Price to head HHS on November 29, 2016.  By then, Innmate’s share price had risen to $0.58 USD.  The stock peaked at $1.39 USD on January 25, 2016, representing a 670% increase on the congressmen’s investments.  Last Friday, when the Senate confirmed Price, the stock closed at $0.71 USD.

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Keep Looking Forward: Federal Court Holds Company’s Bad Legal Predictions Protected by PSLRA’s Safe Harbor

Gavel and Hundred-Dollar Bill

In a comprehensive tour of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act’s (“PSLRA”) safe-harbor provisions, on November 22, 2016, a federal court in Massachusetts dismissed a shareholder class-action lawsuit against Neovasc, Inc.  In holding that Neovasc’s ultimately faulty predictions concerning the outcome of a trade secrets lawsuit fell within the PSLRA’s safe harbor, the court rejected the plaintiff’s attempts to import a scienter requirement into the safe-harbor inquiry, among other things, and dismissed the complaint without leave to amend.

This putative class-action came on the heels of a $70 million jury verdict against Neovasc in May 2016. In that case, a jury found that Neovasc misappropriated certain trade secrets from CardiAQ Valve Technologies after CardiAQ had severed its manufacturing relationship with Neovasc, and Neovasc had patented a competing product.  Neovasc’s stock price fell approximately 75 percent when the jury verdict was announced.  Shortly after the verdict and stock decline, shareholders filed the class action, alleging securities fraud under Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5 thereunder.  The plaintiff alleged, among other things, that prior to the verdict, Neovasc CEO Alexei Marko mischaracterized the lawsuit as “baseless,” and that Neovasc had misstated that the suit was “without merit” in the company’s SEC filings.

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It’s Hunting Season. For Unicorns? Lawsuit Against Theranos Signals Trend In Investors Going After Late-Stage Start-ups

Map and Compass

Last week brought more bad news for private blood testing company Theranos Inc., as San Francisco-based Partner Fund Management L.P. (“PFM”) launched a suit claiming that it was duped into making a $96.1 million investment in Theranos in February 2014.  The complaint, filed in Delaware Court of Chancery, alleges common law fraud, securities fraud under California’s Corporations Code, and violations of Delaware’s Consumer Fraud Act and Deceptive Trade Practices Act, among other things, against Theranos, its Chief Executive Officer, Elizabeth Holmes, and its former Chief Operating Officer, Ramesh Balwani.

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SEC Continues to Target Private Equity Firms, Entering Into $52 Million Settlement with Apollo Global Management

settlement

On August 23, 2016, the SEC entered into a settlement that reflects a continuation of its recent trend of increasingly active pursuit of private equity firms, particularly for failing to disclose conflicts of interests and other material information to investors.  The SEC entered into a $52.5 million settlement with four private equity fund advisers affiliated with Apollo Global Management LLC (collectively “Apollo”) arising out of insufficient disclosures and supervisory failures.

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Shareholder Derivative Suit Following Data Breach Misses Target

On July 7, 2016, Judge Paul A. Magnuson of the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota granted Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss a shareholder class action that had been initiated following a 2013 holiday season data breach involving customers of Target Corporation (“Target,” or “the Company”).  The data breach, which resulted in the release of information of approximately 70 million consumer credit and debit cards, made headlines as one of the biggest privacy hacks at the time.  Initially disclosed to the public in December 2013, with an estimated 40 million credit and debit cards affected, Target subsequently revealed a little less than a month later that additional consumer data, including customers’ names, mailing addresses, phone numbers and email addresses, were also stolen, and increased its initial estimate to 110 million.

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Pro-Golfer Phil Mickelson Pays $1M to SEC to Settle Civil Insider Trading Claims, But Escapes Criminal Charges in Light of Newman

On Thursday, May 19, 2016, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced the arrest of renowned sports bettor William “Billy” T. Walters on an alleged years-long insider trading scheme conducted with his friend and business partner, Thomas C. Davis.  According to the indictment, from 2008 to 2014, Mr. Walters executed a series of profitable stock trades in Dean Foods and Darden Restaurants based on inside information repeatedly and systematically provided to him by Mr. Davis.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office alleges that these trades netted Mr. Walters over $40 million and charged him with conspiracy, securities fraud, and wire fraud.

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SEC Chair Warns Silicon Valley That Unicorns Need To Be Watched and Monitored

Speaking last week at the SEC’s and Rock Center’s Silicon Valley Initiative at Stanford Law School, SEC Chair Mary Jo White cautioned Silicon Valley’s start-up companies regarding their potential lack of internal controls.  In particular, she warned that unicorns—nonpublic start-up companies valued north of one billion dollars—may warrant special scrutiny into whether their corporate governance and investor disclosures are keeping pace with their growing valuations.  Ms. White repeatedly warned that the prestige of obtaining “unicorn” status may drive companies to inflate their valuations.

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Mark Cuban Challenges the Referee: the Constitutionality of SEC In-House Courts

in-house courts

After the repeated challenges to the SEC’s in-house courts as previously reported, Mark Cuban joined the debate by filing an amicus curiae brief in support of petitioners Raymond J. Lucia Companies, Inc. and Raymond J. Lucia (collectively “Lucia”) in Lucia v. SEC.  Cuban, describing himself as a “first-hand witness to and victim of SEC overreach” in a 2013 insider trading case brought against him in an SEC court, argued that the D.C. Circuit should grant the petitioners’ appeal because SEC in-house judges are unconstitutionally appointed.

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Exchanges Prevail in Flash Boys-Inspired Suits

The practice of high frequency trading has been a hot-button issue of late, thanks in part to Michael Lewis’ 2014 book Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, which examines the rise of this phenomenon throughout U.S. markets.  Several class action lawsuits have alleged that various private and public stock and derivatives exchanges entered into agreements and received undisclosed fees to favor high frequency traders (“HFTs”), conferring timing advantages that damaged other market participants.  Two courts have recently addressed the merits of claims for damages against such exchanges and both ruled that plaintiffs failed to state a claim for relief.

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Investing in the Next “Big Thing” Just Got Easier – SEC Promulgates New Crowdfunding Rules

On October 30, 2015, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) moved forward in implementing Title III of the JOBS Act and adopted new rules permitting companies to offer and sell securities to all potential investors through crowdfunding.  Crowdfunding is the use of small amounts of capital from a large number of investors to finance new business ventures.  This method of investment, typically conducted over the internet, is aimed at assisting smaller companies with capital formation by accessing a greater pool of potential investors.  The SEC had previously opened crowdfunding investment to “accredited investors” (investors meeting certain net worth and/or investment experience criteria) but these rules permit non-accredited investors, i.e., everyone else, to participate while providing them with additional protection under the federal securities laws.  Title III and these rules come in response to the enormous growth of equity crowdfunding through financing platforms such as GoFundMe, Kickstarter or Indiegogo.

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