On April 25, 2018, a jury in the United States District Court in Connecticut acquitted former UBS AG (“UBS”) trader Andre Flotron of conspiring to manipulate the precious metals futures market through “spoofing.” The verdict, the first acquittal in a criminal spoofing-related case since the practice was outlawed by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank”) in 2010, reflects the difficulties the government faces in cracking down on the practice. Continue Reading Acquittal of Former UBS Trader Signals Potential Challenges for Government’s Anti-Spoofing Initiative
Matthew C. Solomon has significant experience in complex and high-stakes civil and criminal matters, having served for 15 years with the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission—including most recently as the SEC’s Chief Litigation Counsel.
On April 24, 2018, Altaba, formerly known as Yahoo, entered into a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”), pursuant to which Altaba agreed to pay $35 million to resolve allegations that Yahoo violated federal securities laws in connection with the disclosure of the 2014 data breach of its user database. The case represents the first time a public company has been charged by the SEC for failing to adequately disclose a cyber breach, an area that is expected to face continued heightened scrutiny as enforcement authorities and the public are increasingly focused on the actions taken by companies in response to such incidents. Altaba’s settlement with the SEC, coming on the heels of its agreement to pay $80 million to civil class action plaintiffs alleging similar disclosure violations, underscores the increasing potential legal exposure for companies based on failing to properly disclose cybersecurity risks and incidents.
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On Wednesday, the Supreme Court resolved a question that had created significant uncertainty concerning the scope of the anti-retaliation protections provided by Section 922 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank”).
In Digital Realty Trust, Inc. v. Somers, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rejected the expansive interpretation of Dodd-Frank’s anti-retaliatory protections established by relevant Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) regulations and previously accepted by the Second and Ninth Circuits. In so doing, the Court held that employees who report potential securities law violations internally but not to the SEC fall outside the definition of a “whistleblower” under Dodd-Frank and accordingly do not benefit from its anti-retaliation protections. Instead, the Court held that the plain text and purpose of Dodd-Frank make clear that its anti-retaliatory protections – and not just Dodd-Frank’s whistleblower bounty incentives – apply only to whistleblowers who report securities law violations to the SEC.
The decision provides an additional incentive for whistleblowers to report to the SEC, and limits some remedies that might otherwise be available to whistleblowers who face retaliation. However, the decision should not generally cause companies to change their whistleblower policies and practices.
Please click here to read the full alert memorandum.
As the Securities and Exchange Commission Division of Enforcement signaled in its recent annual report, policing the asset management industry will be a key priority in its continuing focus on protecting retail investors. This renewed emphasis reaffirms the view that if a significant error or misconduct is detected, firms generally should not wait for SEC scrutiny to take corrective steps and mitigate investor harm. Voluntary remediation must be considered as part of any strategy for managing regulatory exposure as well as reputational and litigation risk. Where a firm does decide to remediate, it must proceed carefully to avoid pitfalls that could lead to fresh scrutiny from regulators or even private civil litigation.
This post provides guidance to regulated firms on managing risks once they determine to voluntarily remediate – as distinct from the fact-specific issue of whether to “self-report” errors or misconduct – in the SEC context. It begins with an overview of the benefits and risks of voluntary remediation and common types of remedial measures. It then identifies potential issues that can arise when undertaking remediation. Finally, it advises on structuring and implementing remedial measures to minimize risks of regulatory or litigation exposure. Continue Reading Voluntary Remediation in the SEC Context: Avoiding Common Pitfalls
On January 12, 2018, the Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari in Raymond J. Lucia Cos., Inc. v. SEC, No. 17 130, a case raising a key constitutional issue relating to the manner in which the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC or Commission) appoints its administrative law judges (ALJs). The Court will decide “[w]hether administrative law judges of the [SEC] are Officers of the United States within the meaning of the Appointments Clause.” The answer to this question matters because if SEC ALJs are “officers,” then they should have been appointed by the Commission itself instead of hired through traditional government channels—and the Commission only exercised its ALJ appointment authority in late-2017. Although the question is limited to SEC ALJs, any decision could also impact ALJs at other agencies government-wide. Continue Reading Supreme Court Grants Certiorari on the Constitutionality of SEC ALJ Appointments– What This Means for the Securities Industry
More than six months have passed since the Supreme Court held, in Kokesh v. SEC, 137 S. Ct. 1635 (2017), that the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC or Commission) disgorgement power constitutes a penalty subject to a five-year statute of limitations. As expected, the Supreme Court’s holding on the penal nature of SEC disgorgement has spurred defendants to seek to broaden its application to other contexts. Most fundamentally, this includes whether the SEC has the statutory authority to seek disgorgement at all. To date, courts have mostly turned aside these challenges. At the same time, however, litigants have grown more creative in their attacks, evidenced by a class action suit seeking reimbursement of nearly $15 billion from the SEC of certain historical disgorgement payments.
Below, we look back at how the lower courts have handled post-Kokesh challenges to the SEC’s disgorgement power and other so-called equitable remedies to date. Continue Reading Kokesh v. SEC: Half a Year On
On November 15, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission Division of Enforcement released its annual report detailing its priorities for the coming year and evaluating enforcement actions that occurred during Fiscal Year (“FY”) 2017. The Report captures the SEC during a period of transition—Chairman Jay Clayton assumed the helm of the Commission in May 20172 and Stephanie Avakian and Steven Peikin were named co-directors of the Enforcement Division soon thereafter.3 The Report provides insight into changes in the SEC’s approach to enforcement actions and a glimpse into its priorities for the coming year. The following summarizes key shifts from FY 2016, outlines the Enforcement Division’s current priorities, and, in view of its stated focus on the conduct of investment professionals and protection of retail investors, provides guidance to the investment management industry as it gears up for the coming year.
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Following the 2016 election, it has been widely assumed that the SEC’s Division of Enforcement would no longer pursue the “broken windows” policy implemented under then-SEC Chair Mary Jo White. Under that approach, the Division of Enforcement intentionally pursued smaller, non-fraud cases in an attempt to improve the overall compliance culture within the securities industry. Pronouncements this fall by the Co-Directors of the Division of Enforcement, Stephanie Avakian and Steven Peikin, on their face confirm that assumption, suggesting an end to “broken windows” as a broad-based strategy focused on street-wide sweeps for strict liability and other non-scienter conduct. However, signs persist that the Enforcement Division will continue to pursue some varieties of non-scienter cases, particularly where there exists, even indirectly, the potential for harm to retail investors.