Supreme Court

Supreme Court Weighs Insider Trading: Friends, Family, and Others

US Capitol Dome

On October 5, 2016, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in US v. Salman, a closely-watched insider trading case in which the Ninth Circuit held that, where the insider had a close personal relationship with the tippee, a remote tippee could be liable for insider trading even in the absence of a pecuniary benefit to the tipper. In so holding, the Ninth Circuit declined to extend the Second Circuit’s 2014 decision in US v. Newman, which held that insider trading requires proof of “a meaningfully close personal relationship that generates an exchange that is objective, consequential, and represents at least a potential gain of a pecuniary or similarly valuable nature.”  Early analysis of the arguments in Salman suggests that the Court will, as some have previously predicted , “split the baby” by leaving Salman’s conviction in place while also adopting a rule that would not affect the result in US v. Newman.  Given the Court’s decision to grant certiorari in Salman rather than Newman, this result seems all the more likely.

Bassam Salman was convicted of insider trading after trading on information he received from Michael Kara, his brother in law, who in turn received that information from his brother, Maher Kara. Salman was aware that the information came from Maher, a Citigroup banker working on various health care deals and sharing information very openly with his brother.  Michael also traded on the information and, although he told Maher that he was not trading, Maher suspected otherwise.  Nevertheless, Maher never received any financial or other concrete benefit in the exchange, though there was evidence that he and his brother had a close relationship.

In Salman’s brief, he argued that his conviction was inconsistent with the Court’s seminal 1983 insider trading decision in SEC v. Dirks as interpreted by the Second Circuit in Newman: that insider trading requires proof of “at least a potential gain of a pecuniary or similarly valuable nature.”  That is, to the extent that Maher offered material, non-public information to his brother in violation of his confidentiality obligations to his employer, that activity did not violate insider trading laws because Maher did not receive anything concrete in exchange.

From the outset of oral argument, several justices were noticeably skeptical of Salman’s arguments. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Anthony Kennedy questioned whether Salman’s conviction was just analogous to standard accomplice liability.  Justice Kennedy observed that where the tippee does the trading and benefits thereby, as in Salman’s case, the tippee is really the recipient of the “gift” of the tip and by traditional analysis is an accomplice to the tipper’s wrongdoing.

In addition, several justices repeatedly went back to Dirks, in which the Court said that it might be possible to infer the required personal benefit “when an insider makes a gift of confidential information to a trading relative or friend.”  As Justice Kennedy observed, Dirks suggested that “there’s a benefit in making a gift,” even if there is no pecuniary exchange.  Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer both observed that Salman’s suggested approach would be a significant departure from most courts’ interpretations of the original Dirks holding.  Justice Kagan noted that Dirks seemed to indicate that “it’s not only about when there’s a quid pro quo from the tippee to the tipper, but when the tipper makes a gift to the tippee, and in particular a relative or friend.”  Justice Breyer noted outright that if the court embraced Salman’s approach, it was “really more likely to change the law that people have come to rely upon than it is to keep to it.”

The government, by contrast, had urged that there was no conflict among the reasoning upholding Salman’s conviction, SEC v. Dirks, or US v. Newman.  The government urged that Michael and Maher had the kind of “meaningfully close personal relationship” that was not present in Newman, a case that involved several levels of remote tippees, none of whom had particularly close friendships much less a family relationship as in Salman.  By this logic, the result in Salman was entirely consistent with both Dirks and Newman because the “personal relationship” was sufficiently different and satisfied the precedent established by Dirks.

When the government lawyer took the podium, the justices continued to pose challenging questions, but many justices signaled an apparent belief that the government’s position was more acceptable. Some justices did seem concerned that under the government’s proposed rule, non-relatives or non-friends might be swept into liability, but Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben seemed ready to concede some ground on that front.  Toward the end of the argument, Justice Kagan asked whether the court could “separate out that strange, unusual, hardly-ever-prosecuted situation” of non-friends or non-relatives facing liability and Dreeben said he would be “fine with that.”  As described above, his response may open the door for the Court to uphold Salman’s conviction while leaving Newman unchanged.

SDNY Prosecutors Score First Post-Newman Insider Trading Conviction


On August 17, 2016, jurors in a New York federal court convicted Sean Stewart on criminal charges of conspiracy, securities fraud, and tender offer fraud after more than five days of deliberation.  Stewart, a former investment banker for JPMorgan and Perella Weinberg Partners, was charged with leaking confidential information about health care mergers to his father, Robert Stewart, on at least five occasions over the course of four years.  The case provides a victory to Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, after a series of setbacks in the form of unfavorable decisions in the aftermath of the Second Circuit’s decision in U.S. v. Newman, the repercussions of which have been covered extensively on this blog (see here, here).  As the first conviction post-Newman, U.S. v. Stewart provides some insight into the kinds of facts that might support an insider trading charge in the Second Circuit going forward and is thus worthy of analysis.


Supreme Court Issues Two Decisions That Limit Access to Federal Courts


On May 16, 2016, the United States Supreme Court handed down two decisions that may, in practice, limit the ability to access federal district courts.  In Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, No. 13-1339, 578 U.S. ___ (2016), the Supreme Court rejected the Ninth Circuit’s conclusion that statutory violations are per se sufficient to confer Article III standing, and, in Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc. v. Manning, No. 14-1132, 578 U.S. ___ (2016), the Court concluded that jurisdiction under Section 27 of the Securities and Exchange Act (Exchange Act) is limited to suits brought under the Exchange Act and state law claims that turn on the plaintiff’s ability to prove the violation of a federal duty.


Eighth Circuit Breathes Life Into Halliburton’s Price Impact Defense


The first Circuit Court of Appeals decision applying the Supreme Court’s landmark 2014 decision in Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund Inc., 134 S. Ct. 2398 (2014) (“Halliburton II”), favored the defendants, finding as a matter of law that Best Buy Co. and its executives successfully rebutted the presumption of reliance set forth in Basic v. Levinson, 485 U.S. 224 (1988) at the class certification stage through evidence of a lack of price impact from their alleged misstatements.  See IBEW Local 98 Pension Fund et al. v. Best Buy Co., Inc. et al., Case No. 14-3178 (8th Cir. Apr. 12, 2016).  By reversing the district court and holding that a class could not be certified, the Eighth Circuit showed that Halliburton II provides defendants with a meaningful opportunity to challenge the fraud on the market presumption.  The plaintiffs’ bar, however, will be eager to highlight Best Buy’s unique pattern in trying to limit the impact of the decision beyond this case.  Whether other federal courts follow the Eighth Circuit’s lead and deny class certification motions based on Halliburton II in greater numbers, and outside the Best Buy fact pattern, remains to be seen.


BREAKING NEWS: Supreme Court Declines to Address the Constitutionality of Securities and Exchange Administrative Forum

US Supreme Court

On March 28, 2016, the Supreme Court denied a petition for certiorari review brought by Laurie Bebo, the former CEO of Assisted Living Concepts Inc., who challenged the constitutionality of proceedings conducted in an SEC administrative tribunal.  Although the Court denied review, there are many more cases like it winding their way through the federal system, and in the likely event a split develops among the circuits, the Supreme Court may be inclined to address the issue, especially given the amount of attention the issue has received.  Indeed, Bebo’s petition itself attracted the notice of celebrity entrepreneur Mark Cuban, who filed an amicus brief in her case arguing that the SEC’s administrative tribunal is a “farce” and unconstitutional.


Supreme Court Affirms Class Certification and Judgment Predicated upon “Representative Evidence”


On March 22, 2016, the Supreme Court issued a decision permitting class plaintiffs to rely on “representative” or “sample” evidence to satisfy the prerequisites to class certification and certain elements of their claims.  See Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo, No. 14-1146, 2016 WL 1092414 (Mar. 22, 2016).  This is one of the relatively few recent class action decisions by the Court that could be construed as something other than a victory for class defendants.  As Justice Thomas stated in dissent, the decision arguably is inconsistent with the Court’s pro-defendant decisions in Wal-Mart and Comcast.  We have previously discussed the Supreme Court’s recent class action jurisprudence, including the Wal-Mart and Comcast decisions.


To Hall(iburton) and Back: Will Third Time Be a Charm as Fifth Circuit Grants Another Appeal in Halliburton?


In what is now the third interlocutory appeal in the course of class certification  proceedings spanning more than a decade, the case of Erica P. John Fund, Inc. v. Halliburton Co. will head back to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, with perhaps another trip to the Supreme Court to follow.  The Fifth Circuit’s eventual decision on this latest interlocutory appeal could clarify—at least in the Fifth Circuit—just how far a defendant in a securities class-action can go in presenting indirect evidence of (a lack of) price impact to defeat class certification.


Carrying the Halli-burden: District Court Takes Up Price Impact at Class Certification in the Wake of Halliburton v. Erica P. John Fund


In a lengthy ruling containing a detailed analysis of dueling economic expert reports, a federal court in Texas held on July 25, 2015 that defendant Halliburton Company demonstrated a lack of price impact at the class-certification stage on nearly all of the plaintiffs’ claims, thus rebutting the presumption of reliance.  This action has twice been to the Supreme Court, most recently in Halliburton, Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 2398 (2014) (“Halliburton II”), which held that the fraud-on-the-market presumption of reliance may be rebutted by showing a lack of price impact from the alleged misrepresentation.  The district court’s recent decision is significant because it is one of the first to consider the issue of price impact post-Halliburton II, and because the decision suggests that lower courts may be willing to wade deep into the complications of event studies and economic analysis in order to determine price impact at the class-certification stage.


Keep Your Unreasonable Opinions to Yourselves: The Supreme Court Hears Argument in Omnicare

US Supreme Court

On November 3, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court held oral argument in Omnicare v. Laborers District Council Construction Industry Pension Fund. As discussed in earlier posts, from March 18, 2014 and July 22, 2014, the Supreme Court in Omnicare has been asked to resolve a circuit split regarding the scope of liability under Section 11 of the Securities Act: does an issuer violate Section 11 if it makes a statement of opinion that is objectively false, or must the issuer also have known that the statement was false when made?


For Now, The Broad Interpretation of “Foreign Officials” Under the FCPA Is Here to Stay

Blue Globe

In recent years, the DOJ and SEC have significantly increased their Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement efforts, and in the process, have successfully advocated the theory that state-owned or state-controlled entities should qualify as instrumentalities of a foreign government under the FCPA. The FCPA defines a foreign official as “any officer or employee of a foreign government or any department, agency or instrumentality thereof.” In August 2014, the government’s broad definition of who constitutes a “foreign official” came into question for the first time when two individuals (Joel Esquenazi and Carlos Rodriguez) filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court to challenge their convictions under the FCPA and argued for the high court to limit the FCPA’s definition of the term. However, on October 6, 2014, the Supreme Court declined to consider the potential landmark case effectively upholding the government’s broad view of the term “foreign official.” READ MORE