The Second Circuit held yesterday that a government agency’s nonpublic, pre-decisional regulatory information does not constitute “property” for purposes of the federal insider-trading and wire-fraud statutes. The decision in United States v. Blaszczak (2d Cir. Dec. 27, 2022) (“Blaszczak II”) effectively vacated convictions under those statutes for defendants who had traded on nonpublic, market-moving information that had been obtained from a government agency.
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.
The Second Circuit held earlier this week that the criminal statute proscribing securities fraud permits convictions for insider trading without proof that the provider of material, nonpublic information received a personal benefit in exchange for that information, even though proof of a personal benefit would be required under the general securities-law statute prohibiting insider trading. The decision in United States v. Blaszczak could ease prosecutors’ burden in obtaining convictions for insider trading by enabling the government to avoid the potentially complicated “personal benefit” issue, which has generated much litigation in recent years. The ruling would not affect civil cases, to which the criminal statute does not 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).
The Supreme Court confirmed today that the “personal benefit” required to establish a claim for insider trading can consist of making a gift of material, nonpublic information to a family member or friend and that an exchange of “something of a pecuniary or similarly valuable nature” is not required. The…