The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held yesterday that the U.S. securities laws apply to foreign brokers’ solicitations of securities purchases by foreign investors if the purchasers or sellers incurred irrevocable liability within the United States to pay for or deliver the securities. The decision in SEC v. Morrone follows the “irrevocable liability” test that the Second, Third, and Ninth Circuits previously adopted to determine whether the federal securities laws apply to transactions in securities not listed on a U.S. exchange. However, the First Circuit disagreed with other Second Circuit precedent holding that, even if a domestic transaction has occurred under the “irrevocable liability” standard, the transaction still might be too foreign for U.S. law to apply.
In what appears to be the first appellate decision since the Supreme Court’s December 2016 ruling in Salman v. United States, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed an insider-trading conviction based on a tip of material, nonpublic information. The February 24, 2017 decision in United States v. Bray held that the jury had sufficient evidence to conclude that, in soliciting and receiving a trading tip surreptitiously written on a pub-room napkin, the tippee had known that the tipper had provided the information in breach of his duty of confidentiality and in expectation of a personal benefit.
However, the court also made clear that a tippee cannot be criminally convicted for insider trading if he merely “should have known” of the tipper’s breach of duty. The court further held that a “willful blindness” or “conscious avoidance” standard cannot be based on mere negligence (at least in a criminal case).