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The Office of New York State Attorney General Letitia James (“NYAG”) has filed a lawsuit to shut down technology company Coinseed.  The state has accused the firm of selling unregistered securities in the form of digital tokens and operating as an unregistered broker-dealer while making material misrepresentations about the company, its management team, and fees charged to investors in connection with cryptocurrency trades.
Continue Reading New York Attorney General Sues to Shutter Cryptocurrency Trading Firm Coinseed

For the first time outside of the originating case itself, a federal appeals court was called upon to apply the principles governing disgorgement in SEC enforcement actions established by the United States Supreme Court’s high-profile decision in Liu v. Securities & Exchange Comm’n, No. 18-1501, 2020 WL 3405845 (U.S. June 22, 2020) (blog article here).  In Securities & Exchange Comm’n v. Yang, No. 19-55289, 2020 WL 4530630 (9th Cir. Aug. 6, 2020), the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reviewed a district court order, issued some eighteen months before the Supreme Court spoke in Liu, awarding the SEC disgorgement.  In an unpublished memorandum decision, the Court of Appeals reversed the disgorgement awards and remanded the case to the district court to explicitly determine whether the awards comported with the requirements for such relief under Liu.  The Yang decision drew attention because it served as an example of how the high court’s decision is impacting appellate review of disgorgement awards.  If Yang is any indication, courts of appeal will be remanding cases to district courts with instruction to reach specific findings regarding compliance with Liu’s disgorgement requirements.
Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Reverses SEC Disgorgement Award and Remands in First Decision Post-Liu

A recent enforcement action offers a glimpse of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (“FINRA”) expectations for firms conducting anti-money laundering (“AML”) due diligence and transaction monitoring.  On July 27, 2020, FINRA settled with broker-dealer JKR & Company (“JKR”) over allegations that the firm failed to detect, investigate, and report suspicious activity in four customer accounts in violation of FINRA Rules 3310(a) and 2010.  JKR agreed to a $50,000 fine and a censure to resolve the matter.  The settlement is notable in that FINRA applied transaction monitoring and due diligence expectations common in the banking industry to a broker-dealer.  It also serves as a reminder that FINRA expects member firms to not only establish written AML policies and procedures, but also to put their AML programs into practice in order to meet their regulatory obligations.
Continue Reading FINRA Settlement Highlights Importance of Anti-Money Laundering Due Diligence and Monitoring

In Liu v. Securities & Exchange Comm’n, No. 18-1501, 2020 WL 3405845 (U.S. June 22, 2020), the United States Supreme Court upheld the authority of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) to seek disgorgement as an equitable remedy under 15 U.S.C. § 78u(d)(5), so long as it “does not exceed a wrongdoer’s net profits and is awarded for victims.”  Although Liu preserved the SEC’s disgorgement powers as a general matter, it narrowed the criteria for appropriate equitable relief, effectively curtailing the SEC’s ability to pursue unduly broad disgorgement remedies.
Continue Reading Supreme Court Preserves But Limits SEC Disgorgement Power

On May 4, 2020, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued a temporary final rule easing some restrictions on small businesses seeking to raise capital pursuant to Regulation Crowdfunding (“Reg CF”).  The SEC made the move in response to feedback from its Small Business Capital Formation Advisory Committee and other outreach conducted by SEC staff regarding the industry’s urgent need for expedited access to capital while maintaining investor protections as the COVID-19 pandemic persists.
Continue Reading SEC Offers Limited Rule Relief to Spur Small Business Crowdfunding During Pandemic

In Securities & Exchange Comm. v. Gentile, No. 18-1242, 2019 WL 4686251 (3d Cir. Sept. 26, 2019), the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit took up the question of whether Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) injunctions constitute penalties subject to a five-year statute of limitations. In vacating a district court decision holding that they do, the Third Circuit held in this case of first impression that injunctions properly tailored to prevent future harm are not penalties. However, the opinion did not reach a determination as to whether the specific relief at issue had been so tailored, remanding that decision to the lower court along with the admonition that relief extending beyond the preventative into the punitive may not issue as an injunction. While the Third Circuit’s decision shielded the SEC’s injunctive powers from wholesale subjection to a five-year statute of limitations, it charted what qualifies as appropriate injunctive relief and, ultimately, may operate to curtail unduly broad injunctions.       
Continue Reading Third Circuit Reversal a Pyrrhic Win for SEC in Ongoing Statute of Limitations Saga

In O’Donnell v. AXA Equitable Life Insurance Co., No. 17-cv-1085, 2018 WL 1720808 (2d Cir. Apr. 10, 2018), the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed an order dismissing a variable annuity policyholder’s putative class action against AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company (“AXA”) as precluded by the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998 (“SLUSA”), 15 U.S.C. § 78bb(f). Plaintiff alleged that AXA breached its contractual duties by employing a new strategy for its variable annuity policies without obtaining proper approval from the New York State Department of Financial Services (“DFS”). AXA allegedly misled the regulator by failing to adequately inform and explain the significance of the changes to its insurance product in documentation submitted to DFS. The Court held that because the plaintiff and putative class members were unaware of the defendant’s alleged misrepresentation to DFS, the misrepresentation could not have been “in connection with” a purchase or sale of securities, and thus could not be governed by SLUSA. This decision establishes important limits on SLUSA preclusion and the scope of the United States Supreme Court’s seminal SLUSA decision, Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc. v. Dabit, 547 U.S. 71 (2006).
Continue Reading Second Circuit Limits Reach of SLUSA Preclusion in State Law Variable Annuity Class Action

In In re Investors Bancorp, Inc. Stockholder Litigation, No. 169, 2017, 2017 WL 6374741 (Del. Dec. 13, 2017), the Delaware Supreme Court limited the ability of directors to assert the stockholder ratification defense when facing a challenge to their implementation of equity incentive plans (“EIP”). When properly invoked, the stockholder ratification defense entitles directors to have a court review their conduct under the more deferential business judgment rule standard, rather than the more stringent “entire fairness” standard. The Delaware Supreme Court held that where stockholders approve an EIP containing general parameters that afford directors discretion to determine specific awards, and their exercise of discretion is properly challenged as a breach of fiduciary duty due to alleged self-dealing, a board must prove that its actions were entirely fair to the corporation and its stockholders. This ruling has the important effect of shifting the burden from complainant stockholders to defending directors and subjects their awards of grants to stricter scrutiny.
Continue Reading Delaware Supreme Court Imposes New Limits on Stockholder Ratification Defense In Connection With Equity Incentive Plans

In In re Lehman Bros. Holdings Inc. 855 F.3d 459 (2d Cir. 2017), the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed a district court order subordinating the claims of former Lehman Bros. (“Lehman”) employees for undelivered equity-based compensation to those of the defunct bank’s general creditors. The Court determined the compensation benefits were securities that had been purchased by the former employees when they agreed to receive them in exchange for their labor and the asserted damages arose from those purchases, requiring the claims’ subordination under the Bankruptcy Code. The decision is important to employees and employers weighing the value of hybrid compensation packages and creditors seeking to safeguard their priority position among bankruptcy claimants.  
Continue Reading Second Circuit Holds that Contingent Equity-Based Compensation of Former Lehman Employees are Subordinate to Creditor Claims

In Gordon v. Verizon Communications, Inc., No. 653084/13, 2017 WL 442871 (N.Y. App. Div. Feb. 2, 2017), the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, First Judicial Department (the “First Department”), reversed an order denying plaintiffs’ motion for final approval of a proposed non-monetary settlement in a shareholder class action litigation related to Verizon Communication Inc.’s (“Verizon”) acquisition of Vodafone Group PLC’s (“Vodafone”) stake in Verizon Wireless (“VZW”).  With its decision, the New York Appellate Division breathed new life into beleaguered disclosure-only class action settlements, and modernized what it believed had become an outdated analytical framework for approving class action settlement agreements.  It also appeared to accord special weight to provisions in such agreements whereby corporations promise to obtain fairness opinions in connection with future transactions in determining the overall fairness of the agreements.  Thus, while non-monetary class action settlements are increasingly disfavored in other courts — most notably, in the Delaware Court of Chancery — New York courts remain receptive to their utility.
Continue Reading New York Appellate Division Revives Non-Monetary Class Action Settlement in M&A Class Action with Revised Standard of Review

If the New York State Department of Financial Services (“DFS”) has its way, come January 1, 2017, financial services companies that require a form of authorization to operate under the banking, insurance, or financial services laws (“Covered Entities”) will be required to comply with a new set of comprehensive cybersecurity regulations aimed at safeguarding information systems and nonpublic information.
Continue Reading New York State Department of Financial Services Proposes Cybersecurity Regulations for Financial Services Companies