Environmental, social, and governance factors (“ESG”) have pushed to the forefront of the SEC’s attention in recent years.  In September, building on prior guidance, the SEC’s Division of Corporate Finance released a sample comment letter that requests additional information from companies related to climate change.  The letter does not create new substantive law, but it illustrates the SEC’s increased interest in ESG and climate-related disclosures under the Biden Administration.

Continue Reading SEC Publishes Sample Letter to Companies on Environmental Disclosures

In United Food & Commercial Workers Union & Participating Food Industry Employers Tri-State Pension Fund v. Zuckerberg, No. 404, 2020, — A.3d –, 2021 WL 3433261 (Del. Sept. 23, 2021), the Delaware Supreme Court adopted a new three-pronged test for determining whether pre-suit demand by a stockholder plaintiff would have been futile.  This new test builds up and refines the Aronson and Rales demand futility tests for derivative claims.  The Court’s decision comes on the heels of Brookfield Asset Mgmt. v. Rosson, where the Court clarified derivative standing by overruling the oft-criticized direct-and-derivative “dual-natured” claim under Gentile v. Rossette (see blog article here).  This decision is another step toward simplifying Delaware law with respect to derivative claims.

Continue Reading Delaware Supreme Court Adopts New Three-Prong Test for Demand Futility

In Brookfield Asset Mgmt. v. Rosson, No. 406, 2020, 2021 Del. LEXIS 291 (Del. Sept. 20, 2021), the Delaware Supreme Court held that claims for wrongful equity dilution may be pursued only derivatively on behalf of the corporation and not directly.  Brookfield is noteworthy because it overruled Gentile v. Rossette, 906 A.2d 91 (Del. 2006), which previously permitted stockholder plaintiffs to assert direct claims for equity dilution where a controlling stockholder orchestrated a dilutive equity issuance that expropriated both economic value and voting power from the minority stockholders.  The Delaware Supreme Court revisited the Gentile rule, in part, because it conflicts with the simple test for determining whether a claim is direct or derivative established in Tooley v. Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, Inc., 845 A.2d 1031 (Del. 2004).  Under Tooley, a court must determine whether a claim is direct or derivative based solely upon the answer to the following questions: (1) who suffered the alleged harm (the corporation or the stockholders, individually)?; and (2) who would receive the benefit of any recovery or other remedy (the corporation or the stockholders, individually)?  Applying Tooley, the Delaware Supreme Court held that a claim for wrongful equity dilution is clearly derivative irrespective of whether shares were issued to a controlling stockholder as part of the dilutive transaction.  In the sixteen years since the Delaware Supreme Court decided Gentile, the decision was subject to a steady drumbeat of criticism and proved difficult to apply, which warranted the Court’s reconsideration of Gentile.
Continue Reading Delaware Supreme Court Holds that Equity Dilution and Expropriation Claims May Only Be Brought Derivatively, Overruling Prior Precedent

Last week, Coinbase Global Inc. (“Coinbase”) headed off confrontation with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) by announcing it was shelving a much ballyhooed digital asset lending product, Lend.  The announcement came two weeks after Coinbase revealed that it had received a Wells notice from the SEC warning the company of its plans to sue over Coinbase’s planned October Lend launch.

Continue Reading A September to Remember: Coinbase Avoids SEC Clash by Dropping Crypto Lend Product

In Manti Holdings, LLC v. Authentix Acquisition Co., Inc., No. 354, 2020, 2021 WL 4165159 (Del. Sept. 13, 2021), the Delaware Supreme Court issued an important opinion affirming the use of stockholders agreements by and among Delaware corporations and its stockholders to waive stockholders’ rights of appraisal under Section 262 of the Delaware General Corporation Law.  The Manti Holdings decision further solidifies Delaware’s strong policy preference of freedom of contract and private ordering, and confirms that Delaware corporations can have its stockholders waive appraisal rights.  Note, however, that not every appraisal waiver may be valid.  It also raises the question of what other seemingly “mandatory” stockholder rights may be waived in documents that are not a charter or bylaw.

Continue Reading Delaware Supreme Court Affirms the Use of Stockholders Agreements to Waive Appraisal Rights

The American Rescue Plan Act (“ARPA”) requires the full cost of COBRA premiums to be subsidized for COBRA continuation coverage during the period from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021 (“Subsidy Period”) of certain assistance-eligible individuals (“AEI“) whose COBRA qualifying event was due to an involuntary termination or reduction in hours. Our prior blog post, COBRA Premium Assistance Under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 – What Employers Should Know, provides information about the ARPA COBRA subsidy and associated notice requirements. ARPA also required employers to comply with certain notice obligations, first at the outset of the Subsidy Period to make the AEIs aware of the subsidy, and now to inform AEIs that the subsidy is nearing expiration through what is known as the Notice of Expiration of Period of Premium Assistance (“Expiration Notice”).

Continue Reading Reminder: ARPA COBRA Subsidy Expiration Notice Due by September 15

On August 6, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) approved Nasdaq’s Board Diversity Rule (Nasdaq Stock Market LLC Rules 5605(f) and 5606), which requires listed companies to have at least two diverse board members or to explain their failure to meet the requirement, with some exceptions.  The Board Diversity Rule also requires companies to publish statistics on the diversity of their board members.  The rule is intended to increase transparency into the diversity of corporate boards, giving investors more information to consider when deciding which companies are worthy of investment.  As investors have increasingly voiced concern over enhanced diversity in corporate leadership, the Board Diversity Rule may not only increase board transparency, but also cause Nasdaq-listed companies to increase board diversity.

Continue Reading SEC Approves Nasdaq Diversity Rule

Many have been wondering when FTC and DOJ will resume granting early termination of the HSR waiting period in deals that present no anticompetitive concerns.  Early termination does not appear to be coming back anytime soon.

Continue Reading FTC, Under Pressure from “Tidal Wave” of HSR Filings, To Begin Issuing Close-At-Your-Own-Risk Letters

In Securities & Exchange Comm’n v. Fowler, No. 20-1081, 2021 WL 3083655 (2d Cir. July 22, 2021), the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld a lower court judgment awarding the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) civil penalties, disgorgement, and injunctive relief in a securities fraud action against a broker engaged in unsuitable and unauthorized high-frequency trading.  The district court entered its judgment following a jury trial finding the defendant guilty of violations of Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, Rule 10b-5 promulgated thereunder, and Sections 17(a)(1), 17(a)(2), and 17(a)(3) of the Securities Act of 1933.  On appeal, defendant asserted that the action was subject to a five-year statute of limitations imposed by 28 U.S.C. § 2462 despite the parties having entered into tolling agreements.  Defendant also argued that the civil penalties assessed against him were excessive, and the disgorgement award failed to properly account for legitimate business expenses as required by Liu v. Securities & Exchange Comm’n, 140 S. Ct. 1936 (2020).  After reviewing its text and legislative history, the Second Circuit concluded in this matter of first impression that § 2462 is non-jurisdictional and, therefore, the district court had the power to hear the case in light of the parties’ tolling agreements.  The decision is important because it reaffirms the enforceability of tolling agreements between the SEC and its investigative quarries.  The court also rejected defendant’s arguments alleging improper civil penalty and disgorgement calculations.

Continue Reading Second Circuit Upholds Enforceability of SEC Tolling Agreements

On July 16, 2021, Governor Newsom signed California Assembly Bill 150 into law, allowing certain owners of passthrough entities to find a way around the current $10,000 federal cap on state and local tax (SALT) deductions for individuals.  The new law, applicable to tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2021 and ending before January 1, 2026, allows for many partnerships, limited liability companies taxed as partnerships, and S-Corporations to pay an entity level tax based on electing individual owners’ share of income, and then grants the owners a credit against California personal income tax for the full amount of tax paid at the entity level on their distributive share of California taxable income.

Continue Reading California Passes “Workaround” To Federal Limit on State Tax Deduction For Certain Owners of Pass-Through Entities