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

Second Circuit Upholds Insider Trading Conviction, Finding Sufficient Confidentiality Duty and Personal Benefit

The Second Circuit yesterday affirmed the insider trading conviction of the principal of a potential acquiror who, in breach of a nondisclosure agreement with a potential target company, had provided a tippee with nonpublic information about an impending acquisition of the target. The decision in United States v. Chow held that:

  • The nondisclosure agreement (“NDA”) between the transaction parties created a duty to keep information about the potential transaction confidential and not to use it for any purpose other than the transaction;
  • The defendant tipper violated that agreement by providing information to the tippee, who purchased significant amounts of the target’s shares before the transaction was announced;
  • The evidence supported the jury’s finding that the tipper had intentionally provided material, nonpublic information (“MNPI”) to the tippee; and
  • The tipper had received a sufficient personal benefit in exchange for providing MNPI.

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Polarizing Panel Suggests No Easy Road to Final ESG Regulatory Scheme

While the SEC staff tends to be of the broad view that ESG warrants serious consideration, there are a breadth of different opinions regarding what ultimate disclosure requirements should look like.  This discord came to a head during a virtual SEC panel last Friday.

The panelists included both SEC staff and industry leaders.  One-by-one, the panelists provided their views on the SEC’s ESG subcommittee’s December recommendation of new standards for issuers to disclose “material ESG risks.”  In particular, the ESG subcommittee recommended that material ESG risks be disclosed pursuant to “standard setters’ frameworks,” and “in a manner consistent with the presentation of other financial disclosures.” Continue Reading

Post-SPAC Technology Company Hit with Securities Class Action

Private companies with cutting-edge technology have become particularly attractive targets for special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs). These private companies may choose to go public via SPAC for a number of reasons that include the ability to share projections with investors, better valuation prospects and deal execution certainty. Much like companies that go public by way of a traditional IPO, however, companies that go public via SPAC can also become subject to Section 10(b) securities class actions. The risk for this type of company may be particularly acute given its high growth prospects or the volatility that may accompany its securities. An example of a company that went public via SPAC that was quickly confronted with this type of action is Velodyne. Continue Reading

Diversity Derivative Suit Dismissed

A shareholder derivative action which had alleged that Facebook’s lack of diversity caused a negative effect on its stock price was rejected by a California federal magistrate judge last week.

The court held that the shareholder plaintiff had not pled demand futility with particularity, as required by Fed. R. Civ. P. 23.1, because she had not “plausibly alleged any facts about the directors’ actual or constructive knowledge . . . their failure to act, or their lack of independence.” Labeling the plaintiff’s allegations as “conclusory,” the court held that the complaint contained inaccurate factual allegations and that the plaintiff “did not plead plausible facts about discriminatory practices,” of the Company. Because the allegations that Facebook’s directors ignored red flags were “contradicted by the record,” and the alleged events occurred before four of the directors joined Facebook’s board, the court held the complaint was unsustainable. Continue Reading

Decision Diagnostics Saga Continues as Investors Bring Suit

In December, the SEC filed a complaint against Decision Diagnostics and its CEO, Keith Berman, for falsely claiming the company had developed a finger prick blood test that could instantaneously detect COVID-19.  As stated in its complaint, the SEC temporarily suspended trading of Decision Diagnostics’ securities on April 23, 2020.

Now, investors have brought suit as well.  Three institutional investors claim the company – which was already in financial distress as a result of alleged misappropriations by Berman – falsely disclosed it was developing an at-home COVID-19 test nearing regulatory authorization and then denied investors their right to convert their shares, which were worth millions at the time.  The complaint alleges Berman also falsely announced a distribution partnership with a company owned by members of the plaintiff companies.  Once the alleged fraud became known to the market, the company’s stock took a nosedive.  Through their lawsuit, the investor companies seek, among other things, to restrain defendants’ assets pending the appointment of a receiver, a complete accounting, and restitution to the investors.

Check back here for updates on this case, as well as others on securities claims relating to companies’ COVID-19 disclosures.

The Government May Not Hold on to Illegally Seized Rent, Says the Second Circuit

The Second Circuit has recently held that the Government must account for rental income it denied a property owner during a period of illegal seizure even though the Government was able to establish probable cause at a post-seizure hearing. The appeal stemmed from a decades-long sanctions and civil forfeiture action in which the U.S. Department of Justice has sought to forfeit, among others, a 36-story skyscraper located at 650 Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan co-owned by the Alavi Foundation, an entity accused of laundering money for Iran.

Read the full post on Proskauer’s Minding Your Business blog.

So Nice They Did It Twice: SEC Continues to Examine ESG Disclosure Requirements

On Monday, the SEC asked for public comments on a new, standardized ESG disclosure framework that would require issuers to disclose certain climate and other ESG-related risks. The comment request—which encapsulates public and private company disclosures—includes 15 questions with the goal of providing a “consistent, comparable, and reliable” framework to allow investors to use ESG considerations in their decision-making. Continue Reading

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