The Supreme Court held today that constitutional challenges to administrative agencies’ structure can be brought in federal district court and need not be raised through an administrative proceeding with subsequent appellate review.  The decision in Axon Enterprise, Inc. v. Federal Trade Commission (U.S. Apr. 14, 2023) – which involved challenges to two federal agencies’ use of Administrative Law Judges (“ALJs”) for enforcement proceedings – considered only the issue of where such challenges can be brought.  The Court did not address substantive questions about whether the ALJ process or the agency structure itself is constitutional – hot topics that could come before the Court in other matters.

A federal district court in Virginia recently held that the federal securities laws can apply to transactions in a foreign issuer’s unsponsored American Depositary Receipts (“ADRs”) that traded over the counter in the United States.  However, the court ruled that statements by the foreign issuer’s U.S. subsidiary had not been sufficiently attributed to the foreign parent so that they could be deemed to have been made “in connection with” purchases of the parent’s ADRs.

On February 23, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed a mid-trial grant of judgment as a matter of law against the Securities and Exchange Commission in a jury trial for insider trading.  The decision in SEC v. Clark is a reminder that the SEC can meet its burden of proof by presenting merely circumstantial, rather than direct, evidence of insider trading and that a trial court must not weigh evidence, determine witnesses’ credibility, or substitute its judgment for the jury’s in deciding whether to grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled last week that the securities-law requirement to plead a “strong inference” of scienter does not apply to claims under § 14(e) of the Securities Exchange Act even where the challenged statement is a statement of opinion.  The decision in Grier v. Finjan Holdings, Inc. (In re Finjan Holdings, Inc. Securities Litigation) (9th Cir. Jan. 20, 2023) held that, because § 14(e) claims – which arise in connection with tender offers – can be based on mere negligence instead of knowing or reckless misconduct, a plaintiff needs to plead only a “reasonable inference,” rather than a “strong inference,” of an opinion’s subjective falsity.

Last week, the Fifth Circuit reversed a decision from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas that had dismissed a class action against Six Flags Entertainment Corporation.  The complaint in Oklahoma Firefighters Pension and Retirement System v. Six Flags Entertainment Corp., et al., alleged Six Flags and its former CEO and CFO violated federal securities laws in connection with statements regarding the construction of new theme parks in China.  In overturning the lower court’s decision, the Fifth Circuit provided important guidance regarding the weight of confidential witness allegations in securities class actions, as well as evaluating legal doctrines on forward-looking statements, puffery, and scienter. 

The crimes charged against SBF are simple — old-fashioned fraud through a Ponzi scheme.  His conviction seems inevitable. For the government, the challenging part of this case will be the forfeiture proceedings.  Under the Mandatory Victim Restitution Act (MVRA), federal prosecutors have an affirmative obligation to use their “best efforts” to

SEC Division of Enforcement Director Gurbir Grewal and several high-ranking officials from the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York and the FBI spoke on November 29, 2022 at a conference sponsored by Sandpiper Partners LLC concerning hot topics in SEC and DOJ enforcement.  The panelists all made clear that the views they expressed were their own, but those views are worth hearing.