Well – this took four months. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ordered en banc rehearing of an unsuccessful challenge to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s approval of the Nasdaq Stock Market’s rules concerning diversity of directors on boards of Nasdaq-listed companies. The rules – which a panel of the Fifth Circuit upheld in October 2023 – require listed companies to disclose director-diversity information and either to have a certain number of diverse directors or to explain why not. We blogged about that decision here.
A federal district court in Missouri recently denied a motion to dismiss the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association’s (“SIFMA’s”) challenge to Missouri Securities Division rules that require financial firms and professionals to obtain clients’ signatures on state-prescribed documents before providing advice that “incorporates a social or nonfinancial objective.” The decision – Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association v. Ashcroft – upholds a noteworthy response from the securities industry to the anti-ESG backlash that has emerged in the past few years and has politicized investment decisionmaking.
The Delaware Court of Chancery recently held that claims for breach of the fiduciary duty of oversight are not easier to plead against corporate officers than against corporate directors. The decision in Segway Inc. v. Cai emphasizes the high burden for pleading oversight claims against officers as well as directors, and it repeats the admonition that the oversight doctrine “is not a tool to hold fiduciaries liable for everyday business problems.”
The SEC defeated a motion for summary judgment brought by a defendant whom the SEC accused of engaging in insider trading based on news about a not-yet-public corporate acquisition when he purchased securities of a company not involved in that deal. The November 20, 2023 decision in SEC v. Panuwat (N.D. Cal.) keeps alive the SEC’s theory of “shadow trading,” which involves trading the securities of a public company that is not the direct subject of the material nonpublic information (“MNPI”) at issue.
The Panuwat decision does not appear to break new ground under the misappropriation theory of insider trading in light of the particular facts alleged. But the “shadow trading” theory warrants attention because it can potentially have wide-ranging ramifications for traders by broadening the scope of the types of nonpublic information that might be deemed material.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denied review of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s approval of proposed rules promulgated by the Nasdaq Stock Market concerning the diversity of directors on Nasdaq-listed companies’ boards. The rules require listed companies to disclose director-diversity information and either to have a certain number of diverse directors or to explain why not. The decision in Alliance for Fair Board Recruitment v. SEC held that the rules do not violate the Constitution and that the SEC did not violate its statutory obligations in approving them.
The Nasdaq rules do not require board diversity; they require only disclosures and explanations. But the need to comply with the rules could have the practical effect of increasing diversity on boards of Nasdaq-listed companies.
A federal District Court in Washington recently dismissed a shareholder derivative action by a conservative advocacy group challenging Starbucks’ initiatives relating to diversity, equity, and inclusion (“DEI”). The decision in National Center for Public Policy Research v. Schultz held that the plaintiff did not fairly and adequately represent the interests of Starbucks and its shareholders in launching the challenge and had not pled particularized facts showing that Starbucks’ Board of Directors had wrongfully refused the plaintiff’s demand to dismantle the company’s DEI initiatives.
In an era of politicization of DEI and other ESG-related concerns, the ruling sends a signal that at least some courts will refuse to become “political attachés” in the culture wars and will not involve themselves with partisan attacks on “reasonable and legal decisions made by the board of directors of public corporations.” Decisions of this type should provide some comfort to corporations and boards as they consider how to address those complicated social and workplace issues.
The en banc Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a shareholder derivative action in light of an exclusive-forum bylaw requiring assertion of derivative claims in the Delaware Court of Chancery, even though the plaintiff had pled a federal claim that was subject to exclusive federal jurisdiction and could not have been litigated in the Delaware court. The June 1, 2023 ruling in Lee ex rel. The Gap, Inc. v. Fisher could further encourage the adoption of similar forum-selection provisions and could discourage shareholders’ efforts to circumvent state-forum provisions by filing derivative actions alleging federal-law proxy claims in federal court.
A California federal court held that a California statute requiring California-based corporations to have a minimum number of directors from designated under-represented groups violates the federal Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. The decision in Alliance for Fair Board Recruitment v. Weber (E.D. Cal. May 16, 2023) is one of the latest skirmishes in the culture wars raging around diversity and other ESG-related matters. The ruling addresses the same law that a California state court previously invalidated in a decision that is currently on appeal.