Two victories for employers last week in Dodd-Frank and SOX whistleblower cases may provide a basis for at least a sliver of optimism among employers and whistleblower defense lawyers hammered by a recent series of employee-favorable decisions under the two main federal statutes covering whistleblowing activity.
Banko v. Apple
In Banko v. Apple Inc., Case No. 3:13-cv-02977-RS, a Northern District of California judge dismissed a Dodd-Frank retaliation claim where the employee only made a complaint internally to management and never complained to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The court followed the reasoning of the Fifth Circuit in Asadi v. G.E. Energy (USA), L.L.C. (see Orrick’s prior blog post on Asadi) and rejected a broader interpretation of the Act adopted by four district courts and the SEC that Dodd-Frank covers internal reporting protected by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) as well as reports to the SEC. READ MORE
A Texas federal judge denied defendants ArthoCare CEO Michael A. Baker and CFO Michael T. Gluk’s motion to dismiss the SEC’s claim against them under Sarbanes-Oxley (“SOX”) Section 304’s clawback provision. Section 304 requires CEOs and CFOs to reimburse their company for any bonus or similar compensations, or any profits realized from the sale of company stock, for the 12-month period following a financial report, if the company is required to prepare an accounting restatement due to material noncompliance committed as a result of misconduct.
Baker and Gluk, who were not alleged to have participated in the misconduct that led to ArthoCare’s restatement, challenged Section 304 as unconstitutional, arguing that the SEC could not require them to repay bonus compensation and profits from stock sales for merely holding CEO and CFO positions during the time of the alleged misconduct. In particular, they argued that Section 304 is vague and is unconstitutional because it does not require a reasonable relationship between the triggering conduct and the penalty as is required by the Due Process Clause.
Judge Sam Sparks of the Western District of Texas rejected the Officer-Defendants’ constitutional arguments. Judge Sparks first held that Section 304 was not vague because it clearly referred to misconduct on behalf of the issuer of the allegedly false financial statement. Judge Sparks noted that Defendants “should have been monitoring the various internal controls to guard against such misconduct; they signed the SEC filings in question, and represented they in fact were actively guarding against noncompliance. As such, they shouldered the risk of Section 304 reimbursement when noncompliance nevertheless occurred.” READ MORE
On October 10, 2012, a federal district judge in Missouri granted in part and denied in part class action plaintiffs’ motion to compel certain documents that KPMG had supplied to the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (“PCAOB”) in a 2006 investigation.
Judge Ortrie D. Smith held that KPMG was not required to produce the bulk of its withheld documents relating to a 2006 PCAOB inspection because those documents were privileged under SOX. Specifically, SOX provides that documents and information prepared or received by or specifically for the PCAOB are confidential and privileged and not subject to disclosure. Not all documents fell under the privilege, the court held: documents from the underlying transaction and work that was the subject of the investigation were not prepared for the PCAOB and so could not claim the privilege protection.
The court rejected plaintiffs’ arguments that the SOX privilege only covers documents “in the hands” of the PCAOB and not third parties, like KPMG, because the privilege covered materials both prepared for, and received by, the PCAOB. Finally, KPMG had not waived the privilege when it shared some of the information with Sprint employees or defendants in the litigation.
On May 15, 2012, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the district court finding in favor of the Securities Exchange Commission (“SEC”) on allegations that Carl Jasper, the former Chief Financial Officer of Maxim Integrated Products, Inc., violated various provisions of the securities laws in connection with the company’s stock options backdating scheme. SEC v. Jasper, Case No. 10-17064 (9th Cir. May 15, 2012). The court found that for ten consecutive quarters, Maxim granted backdated options with an exercise price equal to the lowest price of Maxim stock for each quarter. READ MORE
Earlier this month, President Obama signed the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (the “JOBS Act”) into law. The JOBS Act, which had strong bipartisan and business support, is aimed at stimulating economic growth by allowing U.S. and foreign startup and emerging companies to more easily raise capital and transition to public companies.
The JOBS Act works by reducing a number of regulatory burdens that were imposed by the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act. It directs the Securities and Exchange Commission to revise Rule 506 under the 1933 Securities Act to allow general advertising and solicitation for private placements, with no limit on the number of securities that are bought and sold, so long as they are sold only to accredited investors. It also amends Rule 144A(d)(1) of the Securities Act, which allows private resales of securities to qualified institutional buyers (“QIBs”), to permit such securities to be generally advertised to persons other than QIBs—as long as they are only later sold to QIBs. These changes have the effect of allowing firms to market themselves to a greatly expanded base of potential investors. READ MORE