As the U.S. Supreme Court commenced a new term last week, one issue of substantial interest to many readers of this blog is whether the Court will address the constitutionality of the Securities & Exchange Commission’s use of administrative law judges (“ALJs”) to adjudicate enforcement proceedings. The issue, which we have covered extensively in past posts, essentially comes down to whether SEC ALJs are Officers subject to the Constitution’s Appointments Clause, or whether they are merely employees, who do not require appointment by the President or a Presidential appointee. The SEC currently selects ALJs through an internal administrative process, pursuant to 5 USC 3105.
Advocates on both sides of a clear circuit split have already filed petitions for writ of certiorari. Most recently, on September 29, 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice Solicitor General’s office filed a certiorari petition on behalf of the SEC asking the Court to review the Tenth Circuit’s December 2016 holding in Bandimere v. SEC. That holding, which was denied en banc review by the Tenth Circuit in May, found that SEC ALJs were “inferior Officers” and thus are subject to the Appointments Clause. After the Tenth’s Circuit ruling in Bandimere, the SEC stayed all administrative ALJ proceedings that could be appealed to the Tenth Circuit pending resolution of the issue by the Supreme Court or further order of the Commission.
On September 26, 2017, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton testified before the Senate’s Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee regarding the direction of the SEC under his Chairmanship. He also took the opportunity to address the 2016 cyberattack on EDGAR, the agency’s electronic filing system.
As in his first public speech as SEC Chair, in July 2017, Chairman Clayton’s testimony reveals his focus on issues related to cybersecurity, capital formation, and enforcement actions addressing traditional forms of fraud and misconduct. His testimony further reveals his position that regulations should be retroactively evaluated and relaxed as necessary, in order to account for the direct and indirect costs of compliance.
Below are key highlights of Chairman Clayton’s testimony:
Last Wednesday, former SAC Capital Advisors manager Mathew Martoma lost a bid to overturn his 2014 insider trading conviction in the Second Circuit. United States v. Martoma, No. 14-3599, 2017 WL 3611518 (2d Cir. Aug. 23, 2017). Martoma, the latest in a string of important insider trading decisions, is significant because the Second Circuit departed from the “relationship test” that had been central to Second Circuit insider trading cases in recent years. See United States v. Newman, 773 F.3d 438 (2d Cir. 2014). The departure was based on a 2016 Supreme Court decision, Salman v. U.S., in which the Court rejected the “relationship test” as set forth in Newman, and reaffirmed the standard set in Dirks v. SEC, 463 U.S. 646, 103 S. Ct. 3255, 77 L. Ed. 2d 911 (1983), holding that where a close relationship exists between the tipper and tippee, the government is not required to show that the insider received a benefit of a “pecuniary or similarly valuable nature.” Martoma had appealed his conviction before Salman was issued, and relied heavily on the Second Circuit’s relationship test outlined in Newman.
In Newman, the Second Circuit overturned the insider trading convictions of two portfolio managers who were “remote tippees,” individuals who traded on inside information but with one or more layers of individuals between them and the insider who originally provided the information. The insiders in Newman were friends with the tippees but did not gain any personal benefit in exchange for the information provided. The government argued in that case that it only needed to show that the tippees traded on “material, nonpublic information they knew insiders had disclosed in breach of a duty of confidentiality.” However, the Second Circuit rejected that argument, explaining that the government was required to show that the insider shared confidential information in exchange for a personal benefit, and that the remote tippees were aware of that fact. The Second Circuit also held that where there is no quid pro quo exchange for confidential information given by a tipper to a tippee, such information only amounts to a “personal benefit” when the tipper has a “meaningfully close personal relationship” with the tippee. To meet the test, that relationship must “generat[e] an exchange that is objective, consequential, and represents at least a potential gain of a pecuniary or similarly valuable nature.” (Emphasis added.) Essentially, if there was no potential for financial gain resulting from the gift of information, no personal benefit existed under Newman. In the immediate aftermath of Newman, many insider trading prosecutions within the Second Circuit became untenable and were dropped.
On May 24, 2017, the SEC for the first time brought charges based on allegations of insider trading on confidential government information. The alleged insider trading scheme involved tips related to three announcements by the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) regarding non-public rate changing decisions affecting the stock of issuers in the healthcare industry.
The complaint alleges that from May 2012 to November 2013, Christopher Worrall, a health insurance specialist in the Center for Medicare (“CM”), the CMS component that administers Medicare’s national payment systems and determines Medicare reimbursement rates, tipped his long-time friend David Blaszczak about internal deliberations and planned actions of CMS. Blaszczak is a consultant specializing in healthcare policy issues and a former CMS employee. READ MORE
The Financial CHOICE Act (or “CHOICE Act 2.0”), which would significantly narrow the SEC’s ability to bring enforcement actions and make it more challenging for it to prevail in such actions, is inching its way towards becoming law. On May 4, 2017, the Financial Services Committee passed the Act and it is now slated to be introduced to the House in the coming weeks. As part of the push by the current administration to deregulate, this bill aims to repeal key provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, including those directed towards the SEC. Although the Act has a long way to go before it is enacted, many of its provisions would have far-reaching consequences and would change the way the SEC operates as we know it.
Should the CHOICE Act 2.0 become law, the following are some of the more important effects it would have on the SEC’s enforcement abilities:
Last Thursday, Jay Clayton was officially sworn in as the new Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. As the new Chairman takes office, here are a few things we’re keeping an eye on:
Will Chairman Clayton take a position on the recently introduced bipartisan bill that would increase civil monetary penalties in SEC enforcement actions? The “Stronger Enforcement of Civil Penalties Act of 2017” would significantly increase civil monetary penalties in enforcement actions to as much as $1 million per violation for individuals and $10 million per violation for entities, or three times the money gained in the violation or lost by the victims. The current maximum civil monetary penalties are $181,071 and $905,353 per violation for individuals and entities, respectively.
Will the new Chairman preserve the directive reportedly issued by former Acting Chairman Michael Piwowar to re-centralize authority to issue formal orders of investigation? In 2009, the SEC adopted a rule that delegated authority to issue formal orders initiating investigations to the Director of Enforcement, who then “sub-delegated” it to regional and associate directors and unit chiefs within the Enforcement Division. In February, Piwowar reportedly revoked the “sub-delegated” authority, ordering it re-centralized exclusively with the Director of Enforcement.
Will enforcement actions against public companies increase or decrease after hitting their highest level since 2009 last year? A recent report issued by the NYU Pollack Center for Law & Business and Cornerstone Research found that the 92 actions the SEC brought against public companies and their subsidiaries in 2016 is more than double the level of enforcement activity from just three years prior. READ MORE
Judge Jed S. Rakoff (S.D.N.Y.) recently made headlines after urging lawyers to draft and advocate for a more straightforward insider trading statute to replace judicially-created insider trading law. During his keynote speech at the New York City Bar’s annual Securities Litigation & Enforcement Institute, Judge Rakoff explained that the law has become overly-complicated since courts were forced to define insider trading by shoehorning the concept into the fraud provisions of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. As a result, increasingly suspect theories have been developed to address potential insider trading in an expanding variety of scenarios.
In promoting a statutory solution for insider trading law, Judge Rakoff pointed to the Europe Union (“EU”) as an example. He explained that the EU defined insider trading by statute in simple and broad terms, and avoided relying on the framework of fraud. Considering Judge Rakoff’s influence and expertise in securities law, inquiry into the EU’s approach to insider trading is warranted.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the acting Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission has centralized authority to issue formal orders of investigation – a critical authority that triggers the ability of SEC staff attorneys to issue subpoenas. The move, which was not publicized by the SEC, would curb existing powers of the Commission’s enforcement staff.
Since 2009, the power to issue formal orders of investigation had been “sub-delegated” to about 20 senior attorneys within the SEC’s Enforcement Division. However, according to the Journal report, acting SEC Chairman Michael Piwowar ordered the authority to be centralized exclusively with the Director of Enforcement. READ MORE
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.
On December 6, 2016, the United States Supreme Court affirmed an insider trading conviction in a case where the “insider” obtained no direct pecuniary benefit from the disclosure. Justice Samuel Alito, writing for a unanimous court, held that a recipient of insider information may still be criminally liable where the insider initially gave the information to a trading relative or friend and thereby received a “personal benefit.” The court heard oral arguments in October.
Salman v. United States concerned the prosecution of Bassam Salman, a recipient of insider tips from Michael Kara, his brother in law, who in turn received insider information from his brother, Maher Kara. Salman knew that Michael, who also traded on the information, was getting tips from Maher, a Citigroup banker working on various health care deals. Maher, the “tipper,” never received any financial or other concrete benefit in the exchange, but testified that he suspected Michael was trading on the information he provided and there was evidence the brothers had a close relationship. READ MORE