SCOTUS

“It’s Complicated:” The Evolving Case Law on How Relationships Impact Insider Trading Liability

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.

Martoma’s appeal relied heavily on Newman, which was decided after his original conviction.  He claimed that he and the tipper, a doctor, did not have a “meaningfully close personal relationship,” and that the doctor had not received any personal benefit in exchange for the confidential information he provided Martoma.  Martoma also argued that even if the evidence was sufficient to uphold his conviction, the district court’s jury instructions were insufficient because they did not instruct the jury regarding the “personal benefit” requirement under Newman.  However, while Martoma’s appeal was pending, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Salman v. United States, 137 S. Ct. 420, 196 L. Ed. 2d 351 (2016).  Salman explicitly rejected Newman’s requirement that the tipper must receive something of a “pecuniary or similarly valuable nature” in exchange for a gift to family or friends.  The Court held that providing information to a relative or friend who later trades on it is sufficient to satisfy the personal benefit requirement, although it did not specify how close the relationship must be.  After Salman was decided, Martoma offered supplemental briefing in the Second Circuit, arguing that his conviction still should be reversed because Salman did not overrule Newman’s “meaningfully close personal relationship” requirement.

The Second Circuit rejected Martoma’s argument and held that Salman overruled Newman to the extent Newman required a “meaningfully close personal relationship” between the tipper and tippee.  The court further held that there was no clear error in the jury instructions, and that any alleged error would not have changed the outcome of the trial because the government presented “overwhelming evidence that at least one tipper had received a financial benefit from providing confidential information to Martoma.”

While on its face Martoma appears to have opened the door to a broader range of insider trading prosecutions than were possible under preexisting Second Circuit case law, Judge Pooler’s 44-page dissent calls into question what the effect of the decision will be.  Her dissent argues that the Second Circuit panel went far beyond the limitation previous Supreme Court precedent set, which she said had not been disturbed by Salman.  That limitation was that an insider only receives a personal benefit from gifting information when it is gifted to family or friends—as these people are very unlikely to use the information for valid commercial reasons.  Furthermore, in the dissent’s view, the majority opinion “radically alters insider-trading law for the worse.”  Judge Pooler’s scathing dissent could indicate that the Second Circuit will convene an en banc panel to review the decision.  If en banc review is denied or if the panel affirms the decision, it is expected that Martoma will appeal to the Supreme Court.  In any event, the Martoma opinion may not be the final word on this topic.

Supreme Court Unanimously Limits the SEC’s Ability to Seek Disgorgement

This week, the United State Supreme Court finally resolved a circuit split and unanimously held that SEC actions seeking to disgorge ill-gotten gains are subject to a five-year statute of limitations on civil fines, penalties or forfeitures under 28 U.S.C. § 2462.  This decision is expected to dramatically reduce the SEC’s ability to collect disgorgement in enforcement actions.

The decision arose out of an SEC enforcement action brought in 2009 that alleged between 1995 and 2006, Charles Kokesh, a New Mexico-based investment adviser, misappropriated $35 million from two investment advisory companies he owned and controlled, thereby squandering the money of tens of thousands of small investors. Kokesh was ultimately found liable at trial and the trial court ordered him to disgorge the entire $35 million he was found to have misappropriated plus interest, and pay a civil monetary penalty.  Kokesh subsequently challenged the disgorgement order before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, arguing that the SEC’s claim for disgorgement was subject to the five year statute of limitations period codified in Section 2462, and therefore the $35 million disgorgement amount should be significantly reduced by eliminating any ill-gotten gains received prior to 2004—five years prior to the initiation of the SEC enforcement action.  A three judge circuit court panel of the Tenth Circuit unanimously disagreed, and upheld the disgorgement order on the basis that disgorgement is not a “penalty” or “forfeiture” as defined in Section 2462, but rather was “remedial” and “does not inflict punishment” because it leaves the wrongdoer “in the position he would have occupied had there been no misconduct.”  On this basis, the Tenth Circuit held that Section 2462’s limitations period was inapplicable to disgorgement. READ MORE

Changing the Game, Again: Supreme Court Could Limit SEC’s Authority to Seek Disgorgement

This week, the Supreme Court heard argument regarding whether the SEC’s actions to disgorge ill-gotten gains are subject to a five-year statute of limitations for “any civil fine, penalty, or forfeiture.”

The appeal stems from an SEC action alleging that between 1995 and 2006, Charles Kokesh, a New Mexico-based investment adviser, misappropriated a staggering $35 million from two investment advisory companies that he owned and controlled, squandering the money of tens of thousands of small investors. While Kokesh moved into a gated mansion and bought himself a personal polo court (complete with a stable of 50 horses), he allegedly concealed his massive ill-gotten earnings by distributing false proxy statements to investors and filing dozens of false reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In 2009, the SEC brought a civil enforcement action against Kokesh in the District of New Mexico alleging violations of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, and the Investment Company Act of 1940. The jury found violations of all three acts, and the district court ordered Kokesh to disgorge the $35 million he misappropriated (plus interest) and pay a $2.4 million civil monetary penalty for the “egregious” frauds he committed within the prior five years.  While the district court ordered disgorgement of all of Kokesh’s ill-gotten gains since 1995, the civil monetary penalty it imposed was constrained by the five-year statute of limitations found in 28 U.S.C. § 2462, which applies to claims throughout the U.S. Code for “any civil fine, penalty, or forfeiture.” READ MORE

Salman v. U.S.: Supreme Court Resolves Insider Trading Split

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

Storm Warning for Safe Harbor

On February 29, 2016, the Supreme Court denied certification in Harman International Industries Inc. et al. v. Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System et al., thereby leaving unanswered a number of questions related to the Safe Harbor provision of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (PSLRA).  The petitioners, defendant Harman International Industries Inc. (“Harman” or “the Company”) and related individual defendants, argued that the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals erred when it reversed the district court’s decision granting Harman’s motion to dismiss.  In declining to hear the case, the Supreme Court failed to resolve a circuit split concerning the relevance of state of mind to the efficacy of cautionary language.

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The Ripple Effects of U.S. v. Newman Continue: SEC Lifts Administrative Bar on Downstream Insider Trading Tippee and Tipper Requests that Third Circuit Vacate SEC Settlement

The ripple effects of the Second Circuit’s landmark insider trading decision, United States v. Newman, 773 F.3d 438 (2d Cir. 2014), were felt again last week.  On Tuesday, February 23, 2016, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC” or the “Commission”) ruled that Former Neuberger Berman Analyst Sandeep “Sandy” Goyal, whom the SEC previously barred from the securities industry after he pled guilty to insider trading, could participate in the industry again. The SEC’s rare decision to lift an administrative bar order resulted from Newman, (previously discussed at length here), which led to Goyal’s criminal conviction being vacated and the civil claims against him being dropped by the SEC.  Newman raised the bar for what prosecutors in tipper/tippee insider trading cases have to show by holding that tipper/tippee liability requires the tipper to receive a “personal benefit” amounting to a quid pro quo or pecuniary benefit in exchange for the tip and the tippee to know of that benefit.  Despite the SEC’s decision to drop the administrative bar against Goyal in light of Newman, as recently as SEC Speaks on February 19-20, 2016, SEC Deputy of Enforcement Stephanie Avakian affirmed that insider trading cases “continue[] to be a priority” for the Commission.   Nonetheless, the ripple effects of Newman continue to call the government’s ability to successfully bring both criminal and civil cases into question.

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Merrill Lynch v. Manning: SCOTUS to Decide Scope of Federal Jurisdiction in Certain Securities Cases

On December 1, 2015, the Supreme Court heard argument in Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc. v. Manning.  In that case, the Court will resolve the split in the Circuits as to whether Section 27 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“the ’34 Act”) provides federal jurisdiction over claims that are asserted under state law but are based on violations of regulations adopted under the ’34 Act.

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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

Better Keep Your Opinions to Yourselves for Now: Second Circuit Doubles Down in Deutsche Bank Ruling in Advance of Supreme Court Review of Omnicare

Gavel and Hundred-Dollar Bill

On July 16, 2014, a three-judge Second Circuit panel affirmed the dismissal of a securities class action against Deutsche Bank AG and several underwriters.  The case was brought on behalf of investors who purchased approximately $5.5 billion in preferred Deutsche Bank shares in 2007, and who alleged that defendants misled them about the bank’s exposure to mortgage-backed securities and other risks in a registration statement filed in October of 2006.  Plaintiffs alleged that the registration statement omitted details about Deutsche Bank’s business, including that the company failed to properly record provisions for RMBS, commercial real estate loans and exposure to monoline insurers.

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Supreme Court Narrows the Scope of SLUSA Preemption, Green-Lighting State Law Class Action Claims Alleging Ponzi Scheme

On February 26, 2014, the U. S. Supreme Court (“the Court”) held that the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998 (“SLUSA”) did not preclude Stanford Ponzi scheme plaintiffs’ state-law class action claims because the claims did not involve covered securities.  The 7-2 majority opinion in Chadbourne & Parke, LLC v. Troice was written by Justice Breyer, joined by Justices Kagan, Sotomayor, Ginsburg, Scalia and Chief Justice Roberts.  Justice Thomas concurred, and Justices Kennedy and Alito dissented.

The Court’s decision is significant because it resolves a long-standing circuit split over the interpretation of the “in connection with” requirement in SLUSA.  As a result of the decision, plaintiffs may increasingly bring state law claims based on investment vehicles that are not covered securities themselves but whose performance implicates or is backed by covered securities.  Investment managers and entities that market such investments, as well as lawyers and accountants, may face an increased risk of liability as a result of this decision. READ MORE