Tag Archives: Sarbanes-Oxley

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.

 

 

DOL Proposes 60-Day Delay of Fiduciary Rule

The DOL has proposed an initial 15-day public comment period on the issue of whether to delay the April 10 implementation date of the DOL fiduciary rule, which, if ever effective, would subject large amounts of IRA rollover advice, and other retirement advice, to a fiduciary standard. After the 15 days, the DOL has proposed another 45 days during which the DOL is to analyze the economic impact of the Rule on investors and the marketplace.

Specifically, in his February 3, 2017 memorandum, President Trump directed the the DOL “to examine the Fiduciary Duty Rule to determine whether it may adversely affect the ability of Americans to gain access to retirement information and financial advice.” Accordingly, it is likely that the Rule, as is or amended, will not become effective for some time. Meanwhile, many broker dealers, registered investment advisers, and the representatives they employ have already spent thousands of hours in training and millions of dollars preparing to comply with the Rule.

Stay tuned.

Whistleblowers (and Companies) Beware – Court Rules That Employees Must “Report Out” to SEC in Order to Claim Whistleblower Status Under Dodd-Frank

On July 17, 2013, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an ex-employee of a regulated entity, who internally reported alleged violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) but failed to provide the information to the SEC, is not entitled to “whistleblower” status under Dodd-Frank, 15 U.S.C. § 78u-6(a)–(h), and is therefore cut-off from an anti-retaliation lawsuit and possible recovery of enhanced back pay.[1]   In rendering its decision, the Court explicitly rejected the SEC’s own interpretation of the statute, set forth in a final SEC Rule.[2]  The Court also rejected the decisions of the federal district courts that have considered the issue.[3]

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This has tremendous implications, at least in cases arising in the Fifth Circuit, both for employees and their regulated employers.  Employees who want to be treated as a Dodd-Frank whistleblower and take advantage of its enhanced protections will have to provide information to the SEC of violations by the former employer.[4]  That means that the SEC will be involved much earlier in any internal corporate investigations that may be taking place.  This is a bad idea for two reasons.

First, it undermines the extensive statutory and regulatory scheme already in place, which is designed to encourage companies to conduct rigorous internal investigation and then self-report to the SEC and/or DOJ.  For example, under the Sentencing Guidelines, the DOJ’s Principals of Federal Prosecution of Business Organizations, and the SEC’s Cooperation Initiative, “cooperation” credit may be awarded for self-reporting.  Under Asadi, however, corporations may be forced to race to the SEC or DOJ before an employee does without the benefit of knowing if something wrongful has actually occurred.

Second, the rule in Asadi, if widely adopted, has the potential to undo the detailed compliance programs painstakingly put into place by in-house counsel and compliance officers for internal reporting, review, analysis, and disclosure to the government.  If Asadi becomes the law of the land, corporate law and compliance departments will have to substantially overhaul those programs and deal with the uncertainty that it injects into the compliance realm.


[1] See Asadi v. G.E. Energy (USA), LLC, No. 12-20522, 2013 WL 3742492 (5th Cir. July 13, 2013).

[2] See 17 C.F.R. § 240.21F-2(b)(1).

[3] See, e.g., Kramer v. Trans-Lux Corp., 2012 WL 4444820, at *4 (D. Conn. Sept. 25, 2012); Nollner v. S. Baptist Convention, Inc., 852 F. Supp. 2d 986, 994 n. 9 (M.D. Tenn. 2012); Egan v. TradingScreen, Inc., 2011 WL 1672066, at **4-5 (S.D.N.Y. May 4, 2011).

[4] Such persons are still, however, entitled to a private cause of action for retaliation under Sarbanes-Oxley.  See 18 U.S.C. § 1514A.