Corporate Defense and Disputes

Important developments in U.S. securities law, white collar criminal defense, regulatory enforcement and other emerging issues impacting financial services institutions, publicly traded companies and private investment funds

June 2021 Update of the SEC’s Covered Actions for Potential Whistleblower Claims

On June 30, 2021, the SEC posted six Notices of Covered Actions, for which individuals have 90 calendar days to apply for a whistleblower award.  As discussed in our prior post, the SEC publishes Notices for cases in which the final judgment or order, by itself or together with other prior judgments or orders in the same action issued after July 21, 2010, results in monetary sanctions exceeding $1 million.

In this post, we briefly survey the six June 2021 Notices of Covered Actions.

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FINRA Lives Up To Its Name, Announces Regulatory Inquiries into SPACs

While 2021 has been exceptionally lucrative for SPAC sponsors – even more so than 2020’s “Year of the SPAC” – U.S. regulators appear emphatic that 2021 be the year of SPAC supervision.  In April, the SEC released guidance on SPACs and related risks, highlighted by its novel argument that the entire lifespan of the SPAC – from IPO to deSPAC transaction – may be considered part of the offering for purposes of securities law liability.  After this bombshell, it appears other regulators do not want to miss out on making their voices heard. Continue Reading

SEC’s Coinschedule Settlement Offers Mere “Clue-By-Enforcement” Into Whether Cryptocurrencies are Securities

On July 14, 2021 the SEC issued a consented-to Cease and Desist Order against U.K.-based cryptocurrency review website owner Blotics Ltd. (formerly doing business as Coinschedule Ltd.) for violating Section 17(a) of the Securities Act. According to two SEC Commissioners, the decision should have but didn’t clarify the Commission’s position as to whether and when cryptocurrencies qualify as securities.

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A New Strain of COVID-19 Shareholder Suit

While we are growing accustomed to pandemic-based shareholder actions relating to improper health and safety disclosures or misrepresentations relating to COVID-19 treatments and tests, this month brings a novel variant of the COVID-19 lawsuit. A Universal Health Services Inc. investor has filed a derivative suit against company officers and directors, claiming they took advantage of a pandemic-related drop in the company’s stock price to grant and receive certain stock options that were unfair to the company and its stockholders. The plaintiff investor claims that “company insiders took advantage of the temporary drop in the company’s stock price to grant and receive options to buy the company’s stock at rock bottom prices, thereby showering themselves in excessive compensation.” The complaint alleges that the drop in stock price was “not caused by any changes in the company’s fundamentals or business prospects,” but instead was entirely attributable to the effect of the pandemic on the markets writ large. Continue Reading

District Court Takes Judicial Notice of SEC Order in Denying Motion to Dismiss Shareholder Claims

In our previous post, Under Armour Inc. Pulls Sales Forward, SEC and Stockholders Push Back, we discussed Under Armour Inc.’s recent settlement with the SEC, under which Under Armour agreed to pay $9 million for alleged violations of federal securities laws. While that settlement marked the end of a two year investigation into Under Armour’s “pull forward” practices, it also was the basis on which a U.S. District Court permitted similar (but not identical) shareholder claims against Under Armour to proceed. Continue Reading

Smooth Sailing: Another Securities Class Action Against a Cruise Line Dismissed

On May 27, 2021, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida dismissed a securities class action against Carnival Corp. (“Carnival”), which operates the world’s largest cruise company, relating to the company’s health and safety disclosures made prior to and as the COVID-19 pandemic spread.  This decision follows a dismissal of another securities fraud class action against a major cruise operator six weeks earlier by the same court.

Like in the prior case against Norwegian, the Carnival court dismissed the suit upon finding the plaintiffs failed to plead the existence of any statements that were materially false or misleading, and failed to sufficiently allege scienter.  In so doing, it applied traditional principles of federal securities laws to the anything-but-traditional circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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CytoDyn Faces Continued Shareholder Pressure

The spate of shareholder actions against biotech companies relating to COVID-19 treatments shows no signs of stopping, and now, derivative lawsuits are following the initial wave of securities class actions.  For example, late last week, a shareholder of CytoDyn, Inc., brought a derivative action against certain officers and directors of the company.  CytoDyn is a biotechnology company that has focused on the development and commercialization for a drug called “Leronlimab,” what was promoted as a potential therapy for HIV.  According to the complaint, in 2020, CytoDyn began promoting Leronlimab as a treatment for COVID-19, causing its stock price to rise.  But when it came out that marketing Leronlimab as a COVID-19 treatment was not a commercially viable development for the company, the complaint alleges CytoDyn’s shares dropped significantly. Continue Reading

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