Category Archives: DOJ

Supreme Court Holds 5-Year Statute of Limitations Applies to SEC Disgorgement

On June 5, 2017, by unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that disgorgement – a remedy that generated $3 billion in 2015 – is a “penalty” thereby subjecting it to the 5-year statute of limitations that applies to any “action, suit or proceeding for the enforcement of any civil fine, penalty, or forfeiture, pecuniary or otherwise.” Kokesh v. SEC, No. 16-529, slip op. at 1 (June 5, 2017) (quoting 28 U.S.C. §2462). The Court’s decision relieved Kokesh of a $30 million disgorgement order entered in the lower court.

The SEC had argued that disgorgement is a different animal – it simply places the defendant in the same position as he or she would have been but for the offense. The Court strongly disagreed noting the deterrent qualities of disgorgement, which is a hallmark of a penalty, “[s]anctions imposed for the purpose of deterring infractions of public laws are inherently punitive.” Id. at 8. The Court observed that the victims (if there are any) of a securities law violation need not participate in the enforcement action and may not even support it. In addition, money that is disgorged to the Treasury often stays there; i.e., there is no absolute requirement that the money that is recovered be distributed to the purportedly aggrieved investors.

Going forward, the SEC is faced with having to speed up its investigations and charging decisions.  That can be a challenge, especially in complex cases where the Enforcement Division would prefer to thoroughly build out a case in advance.

Here is the decision:

https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/16pdf/16-529_i426.pdf

 

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Senate Bill Would Increase SEC Penalties To $1 Million And Up

Under a Senate bill, the SEC would be able to administratively impose a maximum $1 million per violation penalty on individuals and a maximum $10 million per violation penalty on financial firms for the most serious (e.g., fraud, deceit) violations.  The current levels are substantially lower — at $181,071 for individuals and $905,353 for firms — though the SEC is empowered to go to federal court to get the equivalent of the ill-gotten gains in a given case.

Under the proposed measure, the SEC would not have to go to federal court to get large remedies, though the total remedy per violation would be capped – the maximum penalty for an individual could not exceed, for each violation, the greater of (i) $1 million, (ii) three times the gross pecuniary gain, or (iii) the losses incurred by victims as a result of the violation.  The maximum amount that could be obtained from entities could not exceed, for each violation, the greater of (i) $10 million, (ii) three times the gross pecuniary gain, or (iii) the losses incurred by victims as a result of the violation.

In addition, individuals and firms that were found civilly or criminally liable for securities law violations in the 5 years leading up to a new violation could face up to three times the new caps, e.g., penalties of $3 million/$30 million.

It is important to note that SEC administrative or “in-house” courts have faced substantial constitutional challenges recently and are often considered subject to agency bias.  At a minimum, it is clear that the SEC courts lack some of the procedural safeguards provided in federal court.  If the Senate bill becomes law, the SEC will have significantly increased leverage in negotiations with respondents not only because of the amounts involved but because the Enforcement staff would not need to go to federal court to get such amounts.

 

 

SEC Remote Tippee Cases Now Subject to Higher Newman Standard

The heightened Newman requirements for remote tippee liability apply not only in criminal cases but also in civil cases brought by the SEC.  On April 6, 2015, in SEC v. Payton, Judge Rakoff of the Southern District of New York ruled that the principles set forth in the criminal case, U.S. v. Newman (2d Circuit), apply equally in civil cases brought by the SEC.  That means, among other things, that the SEC must prove that the original tipper received a significant personal benefit from the original tippee.

As Judge Rakoff pointed out, however, there is an important distinction between a remote tippee case brought by the DOJ and one brought by the SEC.  While the DOJ must prove the remote tippee actually knew of the of the personal benefit provided to the original tipper by the original tippee, the SEC can rely on the lower “recklessness” standard.  Recklessness includes conscious avoidance of learning whether there was a direct quid quo pro between the original tipper and tippee.  Thus, in a case where a remote tippee has enough circumstantial facts at hand to raise red flags but refuses to search out whether there is a quid quo pro between the original tipper and tippee, the remote tippee may be civilly liable.

By applying Newman to SEC cases, the Court made it clear that the Government will have to be careful in bringing remote tippee cases, whether they are civil or criminal.  That said, all other things being equal, the safer path for the Government will likely be to go the SEC/civil route.

Judge Rakoff’s decision can be found here.  http://www.scribd.com/doc/261139623/SEC-v-Payton-Rakoff-Opinion-April-6-2015