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January 10, 2020 |
2019 Year-End German Law Update

Click for PDF Since the end of World War II, Germany’s foreign policy and economic well-being were built on three core pillars: (i) a strong transatlantic alliance and friendship, (ii) stable and influential international institutions and organizations, such as first and foremost, the EU, but also others such as the UN and GATT, and, finally, (iii) the rule of law. Each of these pillars has suffered significant cracks in the last years requiring a fundamental re-assessment of Germany’s place in the world and the way the world’s fourth largest economy should deal with its friends, partners, contenders and challengers. A few recent observations highlight the urgency of the issue: The transatlantic alliance and friendship has been eroding over many years. A recent Civey study conducted for the think tank Atlantic-Brücke showed that 57.6% of Germans prefer a “greater distance” to the U.S., 84.6% of the 5,000 persons polled by Civey described the German-American relationship as negative or very negative, while only 10.4% considered the relationship as positive. The current state of many international institutions and organizations also requires substantial overhaul, to put it mildly: After Brexit has occurred, the EU will have to re-define its role for its remaining 27 member states and its (new) relationship with the UK, which is still the fifth-largest economy on a stand-alone basis. GATT was rendered de facto dysfunctional on December 10, 2019, when its Appellate Body lost its quorum to hear new appeals. New members cannot be approved because of the United States’ veto against the appointment of new appeal judges. The UN is also suffering from a vacuum created by an attitude of disengagement shown by the U.S., that is now being filled by its contenders on the international stage, mainly China and Russia. Finally, the concept of the rule of law has come under pressure for some years through a combination of several trends: (i) the ever expanding body of national laws with extra-territorial effect (such as the FCPA or international sanction regulations), a rule-making trend not only favored by the U.S., but also by China, Russia, the EU and its member states alike, (ii) the trend – recently observed in some EU member states – that the political party in charge of the legislative and executive branch initiates legislative changes designed to curtail the independence of courts (e.g. Poland and Hungary), and (iii) the rise of populist parties that have enjoyed land-slide gains in many countries (including some German federal states) and promulgate simple solutions, not least by cutting corners and curtailing legal procedures and legal traditions. These fundamental challenges occur toward the end of a period of unprecedented rise in wealth and economic success of the German economy: Germany has reaped the benefits of eight decades of peace and the end of the Cold War after the decay of the Soviet Union. It regained efficiencies after ambitious structural changes to its welfare state in the early years of the millennium, and it re-emerged as a winner from the 2008 financial crisis benefiting (among others) from the short-term effects of the European Central Bank’s policy of a cheap Euro that mainly benefits the powerful German export machine (at the mid- and long-term cost to German individual savers). The robust economy that Germany enjoyed over the last decade resulted in record budgets, a reduction of public debt, a significant reduction in unemployment, and individual consumption at record levels. Therefore, the prospects of successfully addressing the above challenges are positive. However, unless straight forward and significant steps are identified and implemented to address the challenges ahead, the devil will be in the detail. The legislative changes across all practice areas covered in this year-end update are partly encouraging, partly disappointing in this respect. It is impossible to know whether the new laws and regulations will, on balance, make Germany a stronger and more competitive economy in 2020 and beyond. Healthy professional skepticism is warranted when assessing many of the changes suggested and introduced. However, we at Gibson Dunn are determined and committed to ensuring that we utilize the opportunities created by the new laws to the best benefit of our clients, and, at the same time, helping them in their quest to limit any resulting threats to the absolute minimum. As in prior years, in order to succeed in that, we will require your trust and confidence in our ability to support you in your most complicated and important business decisions and to help you form your views and strategies to deal with sophisticated German legal issues in times of fundamental change. Your real-world questions and the tasks you entrust us with related to the above developments and changes help us in forming our expertise and sharpening our focus. This adds the necessary color that allows us to paint an accurate picture of the multifaceted world we are living in, and on this basis, it will allow you to make sound business decisions in the interesting times to come. In this context, we are excited about every opportunity you will provide us with to help shaping our joint future in the years to come. _______________________ Table of Contents       Corporate, M&A Tax Financing and Restructuring Labor and Employment Real Estate Compliance and Litigation Antitrust and Merger Control Data Protection IP & Technology  _______________________ 1.   Corporate, M&A 1.1   ARUG II – New Transparency Rules for Listed German Corporations, Institutional Investors, Asset Managers, and Proxy Advisors In November 2019, the German parliament passed ARUG II, a long awaited piece of legislation implementing the revised European Shareholders’ Rights Directive (Directive (EU) 2017/828). ARUG II is primarily aimed at listed German companies and provides changes with respect to “say on pay” provisions, as well as additional approval and disclosure requirements for related party transactions, the transmission of information between a corporation and its shareholders and additional transparency and reporting requirements for institutional investors, asset managers and proxy advisors. “Say on pay” on remuneration of board members; remuneration policy and remuneration report In a German stock corporation, shareholders determine the remuneration of the supervisory board members at a shareholder meeting, whereas the remuneration of the management board members is decided by the supervisory board. Under ARUG II, shareholders of German listed companies must be asked to vote on the remuneration of the board members pursuant to a prescribed procedure. First, the supervisory board will have to prepare a detailed remuneration policy (including maximum remuneration amounts) for the management board, which must be submitted to the shareholders if there are major changes to the remuneration, and in any event at least once every four years. The result of the vote on the policy will only be advisory except that the shareholders’ vote to reduce the maximum remuneration amount will be binding. With respect to the remuneration of supervisory board members, the new rules require a shareholder vote at least once every four years. Second, at the annual shareholders’ meeting, the shareholders will vote ex post on the remuneration report which contains the remuneration granted to the present and former members of the management board and the supervisory board in the previous financial year. Again, the shareholders’ vote, however, will only be advisory. Both the remuneration report and the remuneration policy have to be made public on the company’s website for at least ten years. The changes introduced by ARUG II will not apply retroactively and will not therefore affect management board members’ existing service agreements, i.e. such agreements will not have to be amended in case they do not comply with the new remuneration policy. Related party transactions German stock corporation law already provides for various safeguards to protect minority shareholders in transactions with major shareholders or other related parties (e.g. the capital maintenance rules and the laws relating to groups of companies). In the future, for listed companies, these mechanisms will be supplemented by a detailed set of approval and transparency requirements for related party transactions. In particular, transactions exceeding certain thresholds will require prior supervisory board approval, provided that a rejection by the supervisory board can be overruled by shareholder vote, and a listed company must publicly disclose any such material related party transaction, without undue delay over media channels providing for European-wide distribution. Communication / Know-your-Shareholder Listed corporations will have the right to request information on the identity of their shareholders, including the name and both a postal and electronic address, from depositary banks, thus allowing for a direct communication line, also with respect to bearer shares (“know-your-shareholder”). Furthermore, depositary banks and other intermediaries will be required to pass on important information from the corporation to the shareholders and vice versa, e.g. with respect to voting in shareholders’ meetings and the exercise of subscription rights. Where there is more than one intermediary in a chain, the intermediaries are required to pass on the respective information within the chain. Increased transparency requirements for institutional investors, asset managers and proxy advisors Institutional investors and asset managers will be required to disclose their engagement policy (including how they monitor, influence and communicate with investee companies, exercise shareholders’ rights and manage actual and potential conflicts of interests). They will also have to report annually on the implementation of their engagement policy and on their voting decisions. Institutional investors will also have to disclose to which extent key elements of their investment strategy match the profile and duration of such institutional investors’ liabilities towards their ultimate beneficiaries. If they involve asset managers, institutional investors also have to disclose the main aspects of their arrangements with them. The new disclosure and reporting requirements, however, only apply on a “comply or explain” basis, i.e. investors and asset managers may choose not to comply with the transparency requirements provided that they give an explanation as to why this is the case. Proxy advisors will have to publicly disclose on an annual basis whether and how they have applied their code of conduct based again on the “comply or explain” principle. They also have to provide information on the essential features, methodologies and models they apply, their main information sources, the qualification of their staff, their voting policies for the different markets they operate in, their interaction with the companies and the stakeholders as well as how they manage conflicts of interests. These rules, however, do not apply to proxy advisors operating from a non-EEA state with no establishment in Germany. Entry into force and transitional provisions The provisions concerning related party transactions already apply. The rules relating to communications via intermediaries and know-your-shareholder information will apply from September 3, 2020. The “mandatory say on pay” resolutions will only have to be passed in shareholder meetings starting in 2021. The remuneration report will have to be prepared for the first time for the financial year 2021. It needs to be seen whether companies will already adhere to the new rules prior to such dates on a voluntary basis following requests from their shareholders or pressure from proxy advisors. In any event, both listed companies as well as the other addressees of the new transparency rules should make sure that they are prepared for the new reporting and disclosure requirements. Back to Top 1.2   Restatement of the German Corporate Governance Code – New Stipulations for the Members of the Supervisory Board and the Remuneration of the Members of the Board of Management A restatement of the German Corporate Governance Code (Deutscher Corporate Governance Kodex, “DCGK” or the “Code”) is expected for the beginning of 2020, after the provisions of the EU Shareholder Rights Directive II (Directive (EU) 2017/828 of the European Parliament and of the Council of May 17, 2017 amending Directive 2007/36/EC as regards the encouragement of long-term shareholder engagement) were implemented into German domestic law as part of the “ARUG II” reform as of January 1, 2020. This timeline seeks to avoid overlaps and potentially conflicting provisions between ARUG II and the Code. In addition to structural changes, which are designed to improve legal clarity compared to the previous 2017 version, the new Code contains a number of substantial changes which affect boards of management and supervisory boards in an effort to provide more transparency to investors and other stakeholders. Some of the key modifications can be summed up as follows: (a)   Firstly, restrictions on holding multiple corporate positions are tightened considerably. The new DCGK will recommend that (i) supervisory board members should hold no more than five supervisory board mandates at listed companies outside their own group, with the position of supervisory board chairman being counted double, and (ii) members of the board of management of a listed company should not hold more than two supervisory board mandates or comparable functions nor chair the supervisory board of a listed company outside their own group. (b)   A second focal point is the independence of shareholder representatives on the supervisory board. In this context, the amended DCGK for the first time introduces certain criteria which can indicate a lack of independence by supervisory board members such as long office tenure, prior management board membership, family or close business relationships with board members and the like. However, the Government Commission DCGK (Regierungskommission Deutscher Corporate Governance Kodex) (the “Commission”) has pointed out that these criteria should not replace the need to assess each case individually. Furthermore, at least 50% of all shareholder representatives (including the chairperson) shall be independent. If there is a controlling shareholder, at least two members of the supervisory board shall be independent of such controlling shareholder (assuming a supervisory board of six members). (c)   A third key area of reform focuses on the remuneration of members of the board of management. Going forward, it is recommended that companies should determine a so-called “target total remuneration”, i.e. the amount of remuneration that is paid out in total if 100 percent of all previously determined targets have been achieved, as well as a “maximum compensation cap”, which should not be exceeded even if the previously determined targets are exceeded. Under the new Code, the total remuneration of the management board should be “explainable to the public”. (d)  Finally, the Commission has decided to simplify corporate governance reporting and put an end to the parallel existence of (i) the corporate governance report under the Code and (ii) a separate corporate governance statement contained in the management report of the annual accounts. Going forward, the corporate governance statement in the annual financial statements will be the core instrument of corporate governance reporting. In recent years, governance topics have assumed ever increasing importance for both domestic and foreign investors and are typically a matter of great interest at annual shareholders’ meetings. Hence, we recommend that (listed) stock corporations, in a first step, familiarize themselves with the content of the new recommendations in the Code and, thereafter, take the necessary measures to comply with the rules of the revised DCGK once it takes effect . In particular, stock corporations should evaluate and disclose the different mandates of their current supervisory board members to comply with the new rules. Back to Top 1.3   Cross-Border Mobility of European Corporations Facilitated On January 1, 2020 the European Union Directive on cross-border conversions, mergers and divisions (Directive (EU) 2019/2121 of the European Parliament and of the Council of November 27, 2019) (the “Directive”) has entered into force. While a legal framework for cross-border mergers had already been implemented by the European Union in 2005, the lack of a comparable set of rules for cross-border conversions and divisions had led to fragmentation and considerable legal uncertainty. Whenever companies, for example, attempted to move from one member state to another without undergoing national formation procedures in the new member state and liquidation procedures in the other member state, they were only able to rely on certain individual court rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Cross-border asset transfers by (partial) universal legal succession ((partielle) Gesamtrechtsnachfolge) were virtually impossible due to the lack of an appropriate legal regime. The Directive now seeks to create a European Union-wide legal framework which ultimately enhances the fundamental principle of freedom of establishment (Niederlassungsfreiheit). The Directive in particular covers the following cross-border measures: The conversion of the legal structure of a corporation under the regime of one member state into a legal structure of the destination member state (grenzüberschreitende Umwandlung) as well as the transfer of the registered office from one member state to another member state (isolierte Satzungsitzverlegung); Cross-border division whereby certain assets and liabilities of a company are transferred by universal legal succession to one or more entities in another member state which are to be newly established in the course of the division. If all assets and liabilities are transferred, at least two new transferee companies are required and the transferor company ceases to exist upon effectiveness of the division. In all cases, the division is made in exchange for shares or other interests in the transferor company, the transferee company or their respective shareholders, depending on the circumstances. The Directive further amends the existing legal framework for cross-border merger procedures by introducing common rules for the protection of creditors, dissenting minority shareholders and employees. Finally, the Directive provides for an anti-abuse control procedure enabling national authorities to check and ultimately block a cross-border measure when it is carried out for abusive or fraudulent reasons or in circumvention of national or EU legislation. Surprisingly, however, the Directive does not cover a cross-border transfer of assets and liabilities to one or more companies already existing in another member state (Spaltung durch Aufnahme). In addition, the Directive only applies to corporations (Kapitalgesellschaften) but not partnerships (Personengesellschaften). Member states have until January 2023 to implement the Directive into domestic law. Through this legal framework for corporate restructuring measures, it is expected that the Directive will harmonize the interaction between national procedures. If the member states do not use the contemplated national anti-abuse control procedure excessively, the Directive can considerably facilitate cross-border activities. Forward looking member states may even consider implementing comparable regimes for divisions into existing legal entities which are currently beyond the scope of the Directive. Back to Top 1.4   Transparency Register: Reporting Obligations Tightened and Extended to Certain Foreign Entities The Act implementing the 5th EU Anti-Money Laundering Directive (Directive (EU) 2018/843) which amended the German Anti-Money Laundering Act (Geldwäschegesetz, GwG) with effect as of January 1, 2020 (see below under section 6.2) also introduced considerable new reporting obligations to the transparency register (Transparenzregister), which seeks to identify the “ultimate beneficial owner”. Starting on January 1, 2020, not only associations incorporated under German private law, but also foreign associations and trustees that have a special link to Germany must report certain information on their „beneficial owners“ to the German transparency register. Such link exists if foreign associations acquire real property in Germany. Non-compliance is not only an administrative offence (potential fines of up to EUR 150,000), but the German notary recording a real estate transaction must now check actively that the reporting obligation has been fulfilled before notarizing such transaction and must refuse notarization if it has not. Foreign trustees must in addition report the beneficial owners of the trust if a trust acquires domestic real property or if a contractual partner of the trust is domiciled in Germany. Reporting by a foreign association or trustee to the German transparency register is, however, not required if the relevant information on the beneficial owners has already been filed with a register of another EU member state. Additional requirements apply to foreign trustees. In addition, the reporting obligations of beneficial owners, irrespective of their place of residence, towards a German or, as the case may be, foreign association, regarding their interest have been clarified and extended. Associations concerned must now also actively make inquiries with their direct shareholders regarding any beneficial owners and must keep adequate records of these inquiries. Shareholders must respond to such inquiries within a reasonable time period and, in addition, must also notify the association pro-actively, if they become aware that the beneficial owner has changed as well as duly record any such notification. Furthermore, persons or entities subject to the GwG obligations (“Obliged Persons”) inspecting the transparency register to fulfil their customer due diligence requirements (e.g. financial institutions and estate agents) must now notify the transparency register without undue delay of any discrepancies on beneficial ownership between entries in the register and other information and findings available to them. Finally, the transparency register is now also accessible to the general public without proof of legitimate interest with regard to certain information about the beneficial owner (full legal name of the beneficial owner, the month and year of birth, nationality and country of residence as well as the type and extent of the economic interest of the beneficial owner). As in the past, however, the registry may restrict inspection into the transparency register, upon request of the beneficial owner, if there are overriding interests worthy of protection. In return for any disclosure, starting on July 1, 2020, beneficial owners may request information on inspections made by the general public (in contrast to inspections made by public authorities or Obliged Persons such as, e.g. financial institutions, auditing firms, or tax consultants and lawyers). Although reporting obligations to the transparency register were initially introduced more than 2.5 years ago, compliance with these obligations still seems to be lacking in practice. Therefore, any group with entities incorporated in Germany, any foreign association intending to acquire German real estate and any individual qualifying as a beneficial owner of a domestic or foreign association should check whether new or outstanding inquiry, record keeping or reporting obligations arise for them and take the required steps to ensure compliance. In this context, we note that for some time now the competent administrative enforcement authority (Bundesverwaltungsamt) has increased its efforts to enforce the transparency obligations, including imposing fines on associations that have failed to make required filings. It is to be expected that they will further tighten the reins based on this reform. Back to Top 1.5   UK LLPs with Management Seat in Germany – Status after Brexit? As things stand at present the British government is pushing to enact its Withdrawal Agreement Bill (the “WAB”) to ensure that it can take the UK out of the EU on January 31, 2020. Pursuant to the WAB such withdrawal from the EU is not intended to result in a so-called “Hard Brexit” as the WAB introduces a transition period until December 31, 2020 during which the European fundamental freedoms including the freedom of establishment would continue to apply. Freedom of establishment has, over the last decade in particular, resulted in German law recognizing that UK (and other EU) companies can have their effective seat of management (Verwaltungssitz) in Germany rather than the respective domestic jurisdiction. Until the end of the transition period, UK company structures such as UK Plc, Ltd. or LLP will continue to benefit from such recognition. But what happens thereafter if the EU and the UK (or, alternatively, Germany and the UK) do not succeed in negotiating particular provisions for the continued recognition of UK companies in the EU or Germany, respectively? From a traditional German legal perspective, such companies will lose their legal capacity as a UK company in Germany after the transition period because German courts traditionally follow the real or effective seat theory (Sitztheorie) and thus apply German corporate law to the companies in question rather than the incorporation theory (Gründungstheorie) which would lead to the application of English law. There would be a real risk that UK companies that have their effective management seat in Germany would have to be reclassified as a German company structure under the numerus clausus of German company structures. For some company structures such as the “LLP” German law does not have an equivalent LLP company structure as such, and reclassifying it as a German law limited partnership would not work either in most cases due to lack of registration in the German commercial register. In short, the only alternative for future recognition of a UK multi-person LLP, under German law, may be a German civil law partnership (GbR) or in certain cases a German law commercial partnership (OHG), with all legal consequences that flow from such structures, including, in particular, unlimited member liability. The discussion on how to resolve this issue in Germany has focused on a type of German partnership with limited liability (Partnerschaftsgesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung, PartGmbB), that has only limited scope. A PartGmbB is only open to members of the so-called liberal or free professions such as attorneys or architects. In addition, the limitation of liability in a PartGmbB applies only to liability due to professional negligence and risks associated with the profession, and would thus not benefit their members generally. Unless UK companies with an effective seat of management in Germany opted to risk reliance on the status quo – in the event there is no new framework for recognition after the transition period – affected companies should either change their seat of management to the UK (or any other EU jurisdiction that applies the incorporation theory) and establish a German branch office, or, alternatively, consider forming a suitable German legal corporate structure before the end of the transition period at the end of December 2020. Back to Top 1.6   The ECJ on Corporate Agreements and the Rome I Regulation In its decision C-272/18, of 3 October 2019, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) further clarified the scope of the EU regulation Rome I (Regulation (EC) No 593/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 June 2008 on the law applicable to contractual obligations (the “Rome I Regulation”) on the one hand, and international company law which is excluded from the scope of the Rome I Regulation on the other hand. The need for clarification resulted from Art. 1 para. 2 lit f. of the Rome I Regulation pursuant to which “questions governed by the law of companies and other bodies, corporate or unincorporated, such as the creation, by registration or otherwise, legal capacity, internal organization or winding-up of companies and other bodies […]” are excluded from the scope of the Rome I Regulation. The ECJ, as the highest authority on the interpretation of the Regulation, held that the “corporate law exception” does not apply to contracts which have shares as object of such contract only. According to the explicit statement of the Advocate General Saugmandsgaard Øe, this also includes share purchase agreements which are now held to be within the scope of the Rome I Regulation. This exception from the scope of the Rome I Regulation is thus much narrower than it has been interpreted by some legal commentators in the past. The case concerned a law suit brought by an Austrian consumer protection organization (“VKI”) against a German public instrument fund (“TVP”), and more particularly, trust arrangements for limited (partnership) interests in funds designed as public limited partnerships. The referring Austrian High Court had to rule on the validity of a choice of law clause in trust agreements concerning German limited partnership interests between the German fund TVP, as trustee over the investors’ partnership interests, and Austrian investors qualifying as consumers, as trustors. This clause provided for the application of German substantive law only. VKI claimed that this clause was, under Austrian substantive law, not legally effective and binding because pursuant to the Rome I Regulation, a contract concluded by a consumer with another person acting in the exercise of his/her trade or profession shall either be governed by the law of the country of the consumer’s habitual residence (in this case Austria) and/or, in the event the parties have made a choice as to the applicable law, at least not result in depriving the consumer of the protection offered to him/her by his/her country of residence. The contractual choice of German law could not therefore, in VKI’s view, deprive Austrian investors of rights guaranteed by Austrian consumer protection laws. TVP, on the other hand, argued that the Rome I Regulation was not even applicable as the contract in question was an agreement related to partnership interests and, thus, to corporate law which was excluded from the scope of the Rome I Regulation. The ECJ ruled that the relevant corporate law exclusion from the scope of the Rome I Regulation is limited to the organizational aspects of companies such as their incorporation or internal statutes. In turn, a mere connection to corporate law was ruled not to be sufficient to fall within the exclusion. Sale and purchase agreements in M&A transactions, or as in the matter at hand trust arrangements, are therefore covered by the Rome I Regulation. The decision provides that the choice of law principle of the Rome I Regulation is, subject to the restrictions imposed by the Regulation itself for particular groups such as consumers and employees, applicable in more cases than considered in the past with respect to corporate law related contracts. Back to Top 1.7   German Foreign Direct Investment – Further Rule-Tightening Announced for 2020 Restrictions on foreign investment is increasingly becoming a perennial topic. After the tightening of the rules on foreign direct investment in 2017 (see 2017 Year-End German Law Update under 1.5) and the expansion of the scope for scrutiny of foreign direct investments in 2018 (see 2018 Year-End German Law Update under 1.3), the German Ministry of Economy and Energy (Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Energie) in November 2019 announced further plans to tighten the rules for foreign direct investments in Germany in its policy guideline on Germany’s industrial strategy 2030 (Industriestrategie 2030 – Leitlinien für eine deutsche und europäische Industriepolitik). The envisaged amendments to the German Foreign Trade and Payments Ordinance (Außenwirtschaftsverordnung, AWV) relate to the following three key pillars: Firstly, by October 2020, the German rules shall be adapted to reflect the amended EU regulations (so-called EU Screening Directive dated March 19, 2019). This would be achieved, inter alia, by implementing a cooperation mechanism to integrate other EU member states as well as the EU Commission into the review process. Further, the criteria for public order or security (öffentliche Ordnung oder Sicherheit) relevant to the application of foreign trade law is expected to be revised and likely expanded to cover further industry sectors such as artificial intelligence, robotics, semiconductors, biotechnology and quantum technology. The threshold for prohibiting a takeover may be lowered to cover not only a “threat” but a “foreseeable impairment” of the public order or security (as contemplated in the EU directive). Secondly, if the rules on foreign direct investments cannot be relied on to block an intended acquisition, but such acquisition nonetheless affects sensitive or security related technology, another company from the German private sector may acquire a stake in the relevant target as a so-called “White Knight” in a process moderated by the government. Thirdly, as a last resort, the strategy paper proposes a “national fallback option” (Nationale Rückgriffsoption) under which the German state-owned Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau could acquire a stake in enterprises active in sensitive or security-related technology sectors for a limited period of time. Even though the details for the implementation of those proposals are not yet clear, the trend towards more protectionism continues. For non-EU investors a potential review pursuant to the rules on foreign direct investment will increasingly become the new rule and should thus be taken into account when planning and structuring M&A transactions. Back to Top 2.   Tax – German Federal Government Implements EU Mandatory Disclosure Rules On December 12, 2019 and December 20, 2019, respectively, the two chambers of the German Federal Parliament passed the Law for the Introduction of an Obligation to report Cross-Border Tax Arrangements (the “Law”), which implements Council Directive 2018/822/EU (referred to as “DAC 6”) into Germany’s domestic law effective as of July 1, 2020. DAC 6 entered into force on June 25, 2018 and requires so-called intermediaries, and in some cases taxpayers, to report cross-border arrangements that contain defined characteristics with their national tax authorities within specified time limits. The stated aim of DAC 6 is to provide tax authorities with an early warning mechanism for new risks of tax avoidance. The Law follows the same approach as provided for in DAC 6. The reporting obligation would apply to “cross-border tax arrangements” in the field of direct taxes (e.g. income taxes but not VAT). Cross-border arrangements concern at least two member states or a member state and a non-EU country. Purely national German arrangements are – contrary to previous drafts of the Law – not subject to reporting. (a)   Reportable cross-border arrangements must have one or more specified characteristics (“hallmarks”). The hallmarks are broadly scoped and represent certain typical features of tax planning arrangements, which potentially indicate tax avoidance or tax abuse. (i)    Some of these hallmarks would result in reportable transactions only if the “main benefit test” is satisfied. The test would be satisfied if it can be established that the main benefit that a person may reasonably expect to derive from an arrangement is obtaining a tax advantage in Germany or in another member state. Hallmarks in that category are, inter alia, the use of substantially standardized documentation or structures, the conversion of income into lower taxed categories of revenue or payments to an associated enterprise that are tax exempt or benefit from a preferential tax regime or arrangement. (ii)   In addition, there are hallmarks that would result in reportable transactions regardless of whether the main benefit test is satisfied. Hallmarks in this category are, for example, assets that are subject to depreciation in more than one jurisdiction, relief from double taxation that is claimed more than once, arrangements that involve hard-to-value intangibles or specific transfer pricing arrangements. (b)   The primary obligation to disclose information to the tax authorities rests with the intermediary. An intermediary is defined as “any person that promotes, designs for a third party, organizes, makes available for implementation or manages the implementation of a reportable cross-border arrangement.” Such intermediary must be resident in the EU or provides its services through a branch in the EU. Typical intermediaries are tax advisors, accountants, lawyers, financial advisors, banks and consultants. When multiple intermediaries are engaged in a cross-border arrangement, the reporting obligation lies with all intermediaries involved in the same arrangement. However, an intermediary can be exempt from reporting if he can prove that a report of the arrangement has been filed by another intermediary. In the event an intermediary is bound by legal professional privilege from reporting information, the intermediary would have to inform the relevant taxpayer of the possibility of waiving the privilege. If the relevant taxpayer does not grant the waiver, the responsibility for reporting the information would shift to the taxpayer. Other scenarios where the reporting obligation is shifted to the taxpayer are in-house schemes without involvement of intermediaries or the use of intermediaries from countries outside the EU. (c)   Reporting to the tax office is required within a 30-day timeframe after the arrangement is made available for implementation or when the first step has been implemented. The report must contain the applicable hallmark, a summary of the cross-border arrangement including its value, the applicable tax provisions and certain information regarding the intermediary and the taxpayer. The information will be automatically submitted by the competent authority of each EU member state through the use of a central directory on administrative cooperation in the field of direct taxation. (d)  The reporting obligations commence on July 1, 2020. However, the Law also has retroactive effect: for all reportable arrangements that were implemented in the interim period between June 24, 2018 and June 30, 2020 the report would have to be filed by August 31, 2020. Penalties for noncompliance with the reporting obligations are up to EUR 25,000 while there are no penalties for noncompliance with such reportable arrangements for the interim period between June 25, 2018 and June 30, 2020. Since, as noted above, the reporting obligation can be shifted to the client as the taxpayer and the client will then be responsible for complying with the reporting obligations, taxpayers should consider establishing a suitable reporting compliance process. Such process may encompass sensitization for and identification of reportable transactions, the determination of responsibilities, the development of respective DAC 6 governance and a corresponding IT-system, recording of arrangements during the transitional period after June 24, 2018, robust testing and training as well as live operations including analysis and reporting of potential reportable arrangements. Back to Top 3.   Financing and Restructuring 3.1   EU Directive on Preventive Restructuring Framework – Minimum Standards Across Europe? On June 26, 2019, the European Union published Directive 2019/1023 on a preventive restructuring framework (Directive (EU) 2019/1023 of the European Parliament and of the Council of June 20, 2019) (the “Directive”). The Directive aims to introduce standards for “honest entrepreneurs” in financial difficulties providing businesses with a “second chance” in all EU member states. While some member states had already introduced preventive restructuring schemes in the past (e.g. the UK scheme of arrangement), others, like Germany, stayed inactive, leaving debtors with the largely creditor-focused and more traditional tools set forth in the German Insolvency Code (Insolvenzordnung, InsO). By contrast, the Directive now seeks to protect workers and creditors alike in “a balanced manner”. In addition, a particular focus of the Directive are small and medium-sized enterprises, which often do not have the resources to make use of already existing restructuring alternatives abroad. The key features of the Directive provide, in particular: The preventive restructuring regime shall be available upon application of the debtor. Creditors and employee representatives may file an application, but generally the consent of the debtor shall be required in addition; Member states are required to implement early warning tools and to facilitate access to information enabling debtors to properly assess their financial situation early on and detect circumstances which may ultimately lead to insolvency; Preventive restructuring mechanisms must be set forth in domestic law in the event there is a “likely insolvency”. Debtors must be given the possibility to remain in control of the business operations while restructuring measures are implemented to avoid formal insolvency proceedings. In Germany, it will be a challenge to properly distinguish between the newly introduced European concept of “likely insolvency” which is the door opener for preventive restructuring under the Directive and the existing German legal concept of “imminent illiquidity” (drohende Zahlungsunfähigkeit) which under current insolvency law enables German debtors to proceed with a voluntary insolvency filing; A stay of individual enforcement measures for an initial period of four months (with an extension option of up to a maximum of 12 months) must be provided for, thus putting debtors in a position to negotiate a restructuring plan. During this time period, the performance of executory contracts cannot be withheld solely due to non-payment; Minimum requirements for a restructuring plan include an outline of the contemplated restructuring measures, effects on the workforce, as well as the prospects that insolvency can be prevented on the basis of such measures; Restructuring measures contemplated by the Directive are wide ranging and include a change in the composition of a debtor’s assets and liabilities, a sale of assets or of the business as a going concern, as well as necessary operational changes; Voting on the restructuring plan is generally effected by separate classes of creditors in each case with a majority requirement of not more than 75%. Cross-class cram down will be available subject to certain conditions including (i) a majority of creditor classes (including secured creditors) voted in favor and (ii) dissenting creditors are treated at least equal to their pari passu creditors (or better than creditors ranking junior). In addition, the restructuring plan must be approved by either a judicial or administrative authority in order to be binding on dissenting voting classes. Such approval is also required in the event of new financing or when the workforce is reduced by more than 25%. Member states have until July 17, 2021 to implement the Directive into domestic law (subject to a possible extension of up to one year), but considering the multiple alternative options the Directive leaves to member states, discussions on how to best align existing domestic laws with the requirements of the Directive have already started. Ultimately, the success of the Directive depends on the willingness of the member states to implement a truly effective pre-insolvency framework. The inbuilt flexibility and variety of structuring alternatives left to the member states can be an opportunity for Germany to finally enact an out-of-court restructuring scheme beyond the existing debtor in possession (Eigenverwaltung) or protective shield (Schutzschirm) proceedings which, however, currently kick in only at a later stage of financial distress after an insolvency filing has already been made. Back to Top 3.2   Insolvency Contestation in Cash Pool Scenarios One of the noticeable developments in the year 2019 was that inter-company cash-pool systems have increasingly come under close scrutiny in insolvency scenarios. There were several decisions by the German Federal Supreme Court (Bundesgerichtshof, BGH), the most notable one probably a judgment handed down on June 27, 2019 (case IX ZR 167/18) in a double insolvency case where the respective insolvency administrators of an insolvent group company and its insolvent parent and cash pool leader were fighting over the treatment of mutually granted upstream and downstream loans during the operation of a group-wide cash management system that saw multiple loan movements between the two insolvent debtors during the relevant pre-insolvency period. Under applicable German insolvency contestation laws (Insolvenzanfechtung), the insolvency administrator of the insolvent subsidiary has the right to contest any shareholder loan repayments or equivalent payments made to its parent as shareholder and pool leader within a period of one year prior to the point in time when the insolvency filing petition is lodged. The rationale of this rule is to protect the insolvent estate and regular unsecured trade creditors from pre-insolvency payments to shareholders who in an insolvency would only be ranked as subordinated creditors. The contestation right – if successful – allows the insolvency administrator to claw back from shareholders such earlier repayments to boost the funds available for distribution in the insolvency proceedings. In cases such as the one at hand where the cash pool was operated in a current account system resulting in multiple cash payments to and from the pool leader, the parent’s potential exposure could have grown exponentially if the insolvency administrator of the subsidiary could have simply added up all loan repayments made within the last year, irrespective of the fact that the pool leader, in turn, regularly granted new down-stream loan payments to the subsidiary as and when liquidity was needed. In one of the main conclusions of the judgment, the BGH confirmed the calculation mechanism for the maximum amount that can be contested and clawed back in scenarios such as this: The court, in this respect, does not simply add up all loan repayments in the last year. Instead, it uses the historic maximum amount of the loans permanently repaid within the one-year contestation period as initial benchmark and then deducts the outstanding amounts still owed by the insolvent subsidiary at the end of the contestation period. Interim fluctuations, where further repayments to the pool leader occurred, are deemed immaterial if they have been re-validated by new subsequent downstream loans. Consequently, the court limits the exposure of the pool leader in current account situations to the balance of loans, not by way of a simple addition of all repayments. In a second clarification, the BGH decreed that customary, arm’s length interest charged by the pool leader to the insolvent subsidiary for its downstream loans and then paid to the shareholder as pool leader are not qualified as a “payment equivalent to a loan repayment”, because interest is an independent compensation for the downstream loan, not capital transferred to the lender for temporary use. Beyond the specifics of the decision, the increased focus of the courts on cash pools in crisis situations should cause larger groups of companies that operate such group-wide cash management systems to revisit the underlying contractual arrangements to ensure that participating companies and the pool leader have adequate mutual early warning systems in place, as well as robust remedies and/or withdrawal rights to react as early as possible to the deterioration of the financial position of one or several cash pool participants. Even though the duration of the one-year contestation period will often mean that even carefully and appropriately drafted cash pooling documentation cannot always preempt or avoid all risk in a later financial crisis, at least, the potential personal liability risks for management which go beyond the mere contestation risk can be mitigated and addressed this way. Back to Top 4.   Labor and Employment 4.1   De-Facto Employment – A Rising Risk for Companies A widely-noticed court decision by the Federal Social Court (Bundessozialgericht) (judgment of June 4, 2019 – B12 R11 11/18 R) on the requalification of freelancers as de-facto employees has potentially increased risks to companies who employ freelancers. In this decision, the court requalified physicians officially working as “fee doctors” in hospitals as de-facto employees, because they were considered as integrated into the hospital hierarchy, especially due to receiving instructions from other doctors and the hospital management. While this decision concerned physicians, it found wide interest in the general HR community, as it tightened the leeway for employing freelancers. This aspect is particularly important for companies in Germany, as there is a war for talent, particularly with respect to engineers and IT personnel. These urgently sought-after experts are in high demand and therefore often able to dictate the contractual relationships. In this respect, they often prefer a freelancer relationship, as it is more profitable for them and gives them the opportunity to also work for other (even competing) companies. Against the background of this decision, every company would be well advised to review very thoroughly, whether a “freelancer” is really free of instructions regarding the place of work, the working hours, and the details of the work to be done. Otherwise, the potential liability for the company – both civil and criminal – is considerable if freelancers are deemed to be de-facto employees. Back to Top 4.2   New Constraints for Post-Contractual Non-Compete Covenants A recently published decision by the Higher District Court (Oberlandesgericht) of Munich has restricted the permissible scope of post-contractual non-compete covenants for managing directors (decision of August 2, 2018 – 7 U 2107/18). The court held that such restrictions are only valid if and to the extent they are based upon a legitimate interest of the company. In addition, their scope has to be explicitly limited in the respective wording tailored to the individual case. This court decision is important, because, unlike for “regular” employees, post-contractual non-compete agreements for managing directors are not regulated by statutory law. Therefore, every company should, in a first step, carefully review whether a post-contractual non-compete is really necessary for the relevant managing director. If it is deemed to be indispensable, the wording should be carefully drafted according to the above-mentioned principles. Back to Top 4.3   ECJ Judgments on Vacation and Working Hours The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has handed down two employee-friendly decisions regarding (a) the forfeiture of entitlement to vacation and (b) the control of working hours (case C-684/16, judgment of November 6, 2018 and case C-55/18, judgment of May 14, 2019). According to the first decision, employee vacation entitlement cannot simply be forfeited due to the lapse of time, even if such a forfeiture is stipulated by national statutory law. Rather, the employer has an obligation to actively notify employees of their outstanding entitlement to vacation and encourage them to take their remaining vacation. In the other decision, the ECJ demanded that the company establish a system to control and document all the working hours of its employees, not only those exceeding a certain threshold. In practical terms of the German economy, not all companies currently have such seamless time control and documentation systems in place. However, until this ECJ judgment is implemented into German statutory law, companies cannot be fined solely based upon the ECJ judgment. Thus, a legislative response to this issue and the court decision must be awaited. Back to Top 5.         Real Estate 5.1   Real Estate – Rent Price Cap concerning Residential Space in Berlin On November 26, 2019, the Berlin Senate (the government of the federal state of Berlin) passed a draft bill for the “Act on Limiting Rents on Berlin’s Residential Market” (Gesetz zur Mietenbegrenzung im Wohnungswesen in Berlin), the so-called Berlin rent price cap (Mietendeckel). It is expected that this bill will be adopted by the Berlin House of Representatives (the legislative chamber of the federal state of Berlin) and come into force in early 2020, with certain provisions of the bill having retroactive effect as of June 18, 2019. This bill shall apply to residential premises in Berlin (with a few exceptions) that were ready for occupancy for the first time before January 1, 2014. The three key instruments of this bill are (a) a rent freeze, (b) the implementation of rent caps and (c) a limit on modernization costs that can be passed on to the tenant. (a)   The rent freeze shall apply to all existing residential leases and shall freeze the rent at the level of the rent on June 18, 2019 (or, if the premises were vacant on that date, the last rent before that date). This rent freeze also applies to indexed rents and stepped rents. As of 2022, landlords shall be entitled to request an annual inflation related rent adjustment, however, capped at 1.3% p.a.. Prior to entering into a new residential lease agreement, the landlord must inform the future tenant about the relevant rent as at June 18, 2019 (or earlier, as applicable). (b)   Depending on the construction year and fit-out standards (with / without collective heating / bathroom), initial monthly base rent caps between EUR 3.92 and EUR 9.80 per square meter (m²) shall apply. These caps shall be increased by 10% for buildings with up to two apartments. Another increase of EUR 1 per m² shall apply with respect to an apartment with “modern equipment”, i.e. an apartment that has at least three of the following five features: (i) barrier-free access to a lift, (ii) built-in kitchen, (iii) “high quality” sanitary fit-out, (iv) “high quality” flooring in the majority of the living space and (v) low energy performance (less than 120 kWh/(m²a). The bill does not contain a definition of what constitutes “high quality”. For new lettings after June 18, 2019 and re-lettings after this bill has come into force, the rent must not exceed the lower of the applicable rent caps and the rent level as of June 18, 2019 (or earlier, as applicable). If the agreed monthly rent as of June 18, 2019 (or earlier) was below EUR 5.02 per m², the re-letting rent may be increased by EUR 1 per m² up to a maximum monthly rent of EUR 5.02 per m². Once the act has been in effect for nine months, the tenants may request the public authorities to reduce the rent of all existing leases to the appropriate level if the rent is considered “extortionate”, i.e. if the rent exceeds the applicable rent cap level (subject to certain surcharges / discounts for the location of the premises) by more than 20% and it has not been approved by public authorities. The surcharges / discounts amount to +74 cents per m² (good location), -9 cents per m² (medium location) and –28 cents per m² (simple location). (c)   Modernization costs shall only be passed on to tenants if they relate to (i) measures required under statutory law, (ii) thermal insulation of certain building parts, (iii) measures for the use of renewable energies, (iv) window replacements to save energy, (v) replacement of the heating system, (vi) new installation of elevators or (vii) certain measures to remove barriers. Such costs can also only be passed on to tenants to the extent that the monthly rent is not increased by more than EUR 1 per m² and the applicable rent cap is not exceeded by more than EUR 1 per m². To cover the remaining modernization costs, landlords may apply for subsidies under additional subsidy programs of the state of Berlin. Any rent increase due to modernization measures is to be notified to the state-owned Investitionsbank Berlin. Breaches of the material provisions of this bill are treated as an administrative offence and may be fined by up to EUR 500,000 in each individual case. Many legal scholars consider the Berlin rent price cap unconstitutional (at least, in parts) for infringing the constitutional property guarantee, the freedom of contract and for procedural reasons. In particular, they raise concerns about whether the state of Berlin is competent to pass such local legislation (as certain provisions deviate from the German Civil Code (BGB) as federal law) and whether the planned retroactive effect is permissible. The opposition in the Berlin House of Representatives and a parliamentary faction on the federal level have already announced that they intend to have the Berlin rent cap reviewed by the Berlin’s Regional Constitutional Court (Verfassungsgerichtshof des Landes Berlin) and the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht). In light of the severe potential fines, landlords should nonetheless consider compliance with the provisions of the Berlin rent price cap until doubts on the constitutional permissibility have been finally clarified. Back to Top 5.2   Changes to the Transparency Register affecting Real Property Transactions Certain aspects of the act implementing the 5th EU Anti-Money Laundering Directive (Directive (EU) 2018/843) which amended the German Anti-Money Laundering Act (GwG) are of particular interest to the property sector. We would, therefore, refer interested circles to the above summary in section 1.4. Back to Top 6.   Compliance and Litigation 6.1   German Corporate Sanctions Act German criminal law so far does not provide for corporate criminal liability. Corporations can only be fined under the law on administrative offenses. In August 2019, the German Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection (Bundesministerium der Justiz und für Verbraucherschutz) circulated a legislative draft of the Corporate Sanctions Act (Verbandssanktionengesetz, the “Draft Corporate Sanctions Act”) which would, if it became law, introduce a hybrid system. The main changes to the current legal situation would eliminate the prosecutorial discretion in initiating proceedings, tighten the sentencing framework and formally incentivize the implementation of compliance measures and internal investigations. So far, German law grants the prosecution discretion on whether to prosecute a case against a corporation (whereas there is a legal obligation to prosecute individuals suspected of criminal wrongdoing). This has resulted not only in an inconsistent application of the law, in particular among different federal states, but also in a perceived advantageous treatment of corporations over individuals. The Draft Corporate Sanctions Act now intends to introduce mandatory prosecution of infringements by corporations, with an obligation to justify non-prosecution under the law. The law as currently proposed would also apply to criminal offenses committed abroad if the company is domiciled in Germany. Under the current legal regime, corporations can be fined up to a maximum of EUR10 million (in addition to the disgorgement of profits from the legal violation), which is often deemed insufficient by the broader public. The Draft Corporate Sanctions Act plans to increase potential fines to a maximum of 10% of the annual—worldwide and group-wide—turnover, if the group has an average annual turnover of more than EUR100 million. Additionally, profits could still be disgorged. The Draft Corporate Sanctions Act would also introduce two new sanctions: a type of deferred prosecution agreement with the possibility of imposing certain conditions (e.g. compensation for damages and monitorship), and a “corporate death penalty,” namely the liquidation of the company to combat particularly persistent and serious criminal behavior. The Draft Corporate Sanctions Act would also allow the prosecutor to either refrain from pursuing prosecution or to positively take into account in the determination of fines the existence of an adequate compliance system. If internal investigations are carried out in accordance with the requirements set out in the Draft Corporate Sanctions Act (including in particular: (i) substantial contributions to the authorities’ investigation, (ii) formal division of labor between those conducting the internal investigation, on the one hand, and those acting as criminal defense counsel, on the other, (iii) full cooperation, including full disclosure of the investigation and its results to the prosecution, and (iv) adherence to fair trial standards, in particular the interviewee’s right to remain silent in internal investigations), the maximum fine might be reduced by 50%, and the liquidation of the company or a public announcement might be precluded. It is unclear under the current legal regime whether work product created in the context of an internal investigation is protected against prosecutorial seizure. The Draft Corporate Sanctions Act wants to introduce a clarification in this respect: only such documents will be protected against seizure that are part of the relationship of trust between the company as defendant and its defense counsel. Therefore, documents used or created in the preparation of the criminal defense would be protected. Documents from interviews in the context of an internal investigations, however, would only be protected in case they stem from the aforementioned relationship between client and defense counsel. Interestingly, and as mentioned above, the draft law requires that counsel conducting the internal investigation must be separate from defense counsel if the corporation wants to claim a cooperation bonus. How this can be achieved in practice, in particular in an international context where criminal defense counsel is often expected to conduct the internal investigation and where the protection of legal privilege may depend on this dual role, is unclear. In particular here, the draft does not seem sufficiently thought-through, and both the legal profession and the business community are voicing strong opposition. Overall, it is doubtful at the moment that the current government coalition, in its struggle for survival, will continue to pursue the implementation of this legislative project as a priority. Therefore, it remains to be seen whether, when, and with what type of amendments the German Corporate Sanctions Act will be passed by the German Parliament. Back to Top 6.2   Amendments to the German Anti-Money Laundering Act: Further Compliance Obligations, including for the Non-Financial Sector On January 1, 2020, the Act implementing the 5th EU Anti-Money Laundering Directive (Directive (EU) 2018/843) became effective. In addition to further extending the scope of businesses that are required to conduct anti-money laundering and anti-terrorist financing procedures in accordance with the German Anti-Money Laundering Act (Geldwäschegesetz, GwG), in particular in the area of virtual currencies, it introduced new obligations and stricter individual requirements for persons or entities subject to the GwG obligations (“Obliged Persons”). The new requirements must be taken into account especially in relation to customer onboarding and ongoing anti-money laundering and countering terrorist financing (“AML/CTF”) compliance. The following overview provides a summary of some key changes, in particular, concerning the private non-financial sector, which apply in addition to the specific reporting obligations to the transparency register already described above under section 1.4. The customer due diligence obligations (“KYC”) were further extended and also made more specific. In particular, Obliged Persons are now required to collect proof of registration in the transparency register or an excerpt of the documents accessible via the transparency register (e.g. shareholder lists) when entering into a new business relationship with a relevant entity. In addition, the documentation obligations with regard to the undertaken KYC measures have been further increased and clarified. Further important changes concern the enhanced due diligence measures required in the case of a higher risk of money laundering or terrorist financing, in particular with regard to the involvement of “high-risk countries”. Obliged Persons must now also notify the registrar of the transparency register without undue delay of any discrepancies on beneficial ownership between entries in the transparency register and other information and findings available to them. Obliged Persons must register with the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), regardless of whether they intend to report a suspicious activity, as soon as the FIU’s new information network starts its operations, but no later than January 1, 2024. In accordance with the findings of the First National Risk Assessment, the duties for the real estate sector were significantly extended and increased. Real estate agents are now also subject to the AML/CTF risk management requirements of the GwG and are required to conduct customer due diligence when they act as intermediaries in the letting of immovable property if the monthly rent amounts to EUR 10,000 or more. Furthermore, notaries are now explicitly required to check the conclusiveness of the identity of the beneficial owner before notarizing a real estate purchase transaction in accordance with section 1 of the German Federal Real Estate Transfer Tax Act (Grunderwerbsteuergesetz) and may even be required to refuse notarization, see also section 1.4 above on the transparency register. In an effort towards a more uniform EU-wide approach with regard to politically exposed persons (“PEPs”), EU member states must submit to the EU Commission a catalogue of specific functions and offices which under the relevant domestic law justify the qualification as PEP by January 10, 2020. The EU Commission will thereafter publish a consolidated catalogue, which will be binding for Obliged Persons when determining whether a contractual partner or beneficial owner qualifies as PEP with the consequence that enhanced customer due diligence applies. Furthermore, the new law brought some clarifications by changing or introducing definitions, including in particular a new self-contained definition for the term “financial company”. For example, the legislator made clear that industrial holdings are not subject to the duties of the GwG: Any holding companies which exclusively hold participations in companies outside of the credit institution, financial institution or insurance sector do not qualify as financial companies under the GwG, unless they engage in business activities beyond the tasks associated with the management of their participations. That said, funds are not explicitly excluded from the definition of financial companies – and since their activities generally also include the acquisition and sale of participations, it is often questionable whether the exemption for holding companies applies. Another noteworthy amendment concerns the group-wide compliance obligations in section 9 of the GwG: the amended provision now distinguishes (more) clearly between obligations applicable to an Obliged Person that is the parent company of a group and the other members of the group. The amendments to the GwG have further intensified the obligations not only for the classical financial sector but also the non-financial sector. Since the amendments entered into force on January 1, 2020, the relevant business circles are well advised to review whether their existing AML/CTF risk management system and KYC procedures need to be adjusted in order to comply with the new rules. Back to Top 6.3   First National Risk Assessment on the Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Risk for Germany – Implications for the Company-Specific Risk Analyses The first national risk assessment for the purposes of combatting money laundering and terrorist financing (“NRA”) was finally published on the website of the German Federal Ministry of Finance (Bundesministerium der Finanzen) on October 21, 2019 (currently in German only). When preparing their company-specific risk analyses under the GwG, Obliged Persons must now take into consideration also the country-, product- and sector-specific risks identified in the NRA. Germany as a financial center is considered a country with a medium-high risk (i.e. level 4 of a five-point scale from low to high) of being abused for money laundering and terrorist financing. The NRA identifies, in particular, the following key risk areas: anonymity in transactions, the real estate sector, the banking sector (in particular, in the context of correspondent banking activities and international money laundering) and the money remittance business due to the high cash intensity and cross-border activities. With regard to specific cross-border concerns, the NRA has identified eleven regions and states that involve a high risk of money laundering for Germany: Eastern Europe (particularly Russia), Turkey, China, Cyprus, Malta, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man. Separately, a medium-high cross-border threat was identified for Lebanon, Panama, Latvia, Switzerland, Italy and Great Britain, and a further 17 countries were qualified as posing a medium, medium-low or low threat with regard to money laundering. The results of the NRA (including the assessment of cross-border threats in its annex 4) need to be taken into consideration by Obliged Persons both of the financial and non-financial sector when preparing or updating their company-specific risk analyses in a way that allows a third party to assess how the findings of the NRA were accounted for. Obliged Persons (in particular, if supervised by the BaFin (Bundesanstalt für Finanzdienstleistungsaufsicht) or active in other non-financial key-risk sectors), if they have not already done so, should thus conduct a timely review, and document such a review, of whether the findings of the NRA require an immediate update to their risk assessment or whether they consider an adjustment in the context of their ongoing review. Back to Top 7.   Antitrust and Merger Control 7.1   Antitrust and Merger Control Overview 2019 Germany’s antitrust watchdog, the German Federal Cartel Office (Bundeskartellamt), has had another very active year. On the cartel enforcement side, the Bundeskartellamt concluded several cartel investigations and imposed fines totaling EUR 848 million against 23 companies or associations and 12 individuals from various industries including bicycle wholesale, building service providers, magazines, industrial batteries and steel. As in previous years, leniency applications continue to play an important role for the Bundeskartellamt‘s antitrust enforcement activities with a total of 16 leniency applications received in 2019. With these applications and dawn raids at 32 companies, it can be expected that the agency will have significant ammunition for an active year in 2020 in terms of antitrust enforcement. With respect to merger control, the Bundeskartellamt reviewed approximately 1,400 merger filings in 2019. 99% of these filings were concluded during the one-month phase 1 review. Only 14 merger filings (i.e. 1% of all merger filings) required an in-depth phase 2 examination. Of those, four mergers were prohibited and five filings were withdrawn – only one was approved in phase 2 without conditions, and four phase 2 proceedings are still pending. In addition, the Bundeskartellamt has been very active in the area of consumer protection and concluded its sector inquiry into comparison websites. The agency has also issued a joint paper with the French competition authority regarding algorithms in the digital economy and their competitive effects. For 2020, it is expected that the Bundeskartellamt will conclude its sector inquiry regarding online user reviews as well as smart TVs and will continue to focus on the digital economy. Furthermore, the Bundeskartellamt has also announced that it is hoping to launch the Federal Competition Register for Public Procurement by the end of 2020 – an electronic register that will list companies that have been involved in serious economic offenses. Back to Top 7.2   Competition Law 4.0: Proposed Changes to German Competition Act The German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Energie) has compiled a draft bill for the tenth amendment to the German Act against Restraints of Competition (Gesetz gegen Wettbewerbsbeschränkungen, GWB) that aims at further developing the regulatory framework for digitalization and implementing European requirements set by Directive (EU) 2019/1 of December 11, 2018 by empowering the competition authorities of the member states to be more effective enforcers and to ensure the proper functioning of the internal market. While it is not yet clear when the draft bill will become effective, the most important changes are summarized below. (Super) Market Dominance in the Digital Age Various amendments are designed to help the Federal Cartel Office (Bundeskartellamt) deal with challenges created by restrictive practices in the field of digitalization and platform economy. One of the criteria to be taken into account when determining market dominance in the future would be “access to data relevant for competition”. For the first time, companies that depend on data sets of market-dominating undertakings or platforms would have a legal claim to data access against such platforms. Access to data will also need to be granted in areas of relative market power. Giving up the reference to “small and medium-sized” enterprises as a precondition for an abuse of relative or superior market power takes into account the fact that data dependency may exist regardless of the size of the concerned enterprise. Last but not least, the draft bill refers to a completely new category of “super dominant” market players to be controlled by the Bundeskartellamt, i.e. undertakings with “paramount significance across markets”. Large digital groups may not have significant market shares in all affected markets, but may nevertheless be of significant influence on these markets due to their key position for competition and their conglomerate structures. Before initiating prohibitive actions against such “super dominant” market players, the Bundeskartellamt will have to issue an order declaring that it considers the undertaking to have a “paramount significance across markets”, based on the exemplary criteria set out in the draft bill. Rebuttable Presumptions Following an earlier decision of the German Federal Supreme Court (Bundesgerichtshof, BGH), the draft bill suggests introducing a rebuttable presumption whereby it is presumed that direct suppliers and customers of a cartel are affected by the cartel in case of transactions during the duration of the cartel with companies participating in the cartel. The rebuttable presumption is intended to make it easier for claimants to prove that they are affected by the cartel. Another rebuttable presumption shall apply in favor of indirect customers in the event of a passing-on. However, there is still no presumption for the quantification of damages. Another procedural simplification foreseen in the draft bill is a lessening of the prerequisites to prove an abuse of market dominance. It would suffice that market behavior resulted in an abuse of market dominance, irrespective of whether the market player utilized its dominance for abusive purposes. Slight Increase of Merger Control Threshold The draft bill provides for an increase of the second domestic turnover threshold from EUR 5 million to EUR 10 million. Concentrations would consequently only be subject to filing requirements in the future if, in the last business year preceding the concentration, the combined aggregate worldwide turnover of all the undertakings concerned was more than EUR 500 million, and the domestic turnover of, at least, one undertaking concerned was more than EUR 25 million and that of another undertaking concerned was more than EUR 10 million. This change aims at reducing the burden for small and medium-sized enterprises. The fact that transactions that provide for an overall consideration of more than EUR 400 million may trigger a filing requirement remains unchanged. Back to Top 7.3   “Undertakings” Concept Revisited – Parents Liable for their Children? Following the Skanska ruling of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) earlier this year (case C-724/17 of March 14, 2019) , the first German court decisions (by the district courts (Landgerichte) of Munich and Mannheim) were issued in cases where litigants were trying to hold parent companies liable for bad behavior by their subsidiaries. As a reminder: In Skanska, the ECJ ruled on the interpretation of Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) in the context of civil damages regarding the application of the “undertakings” concept in cases where third parties claim civil damages from companies involved in cartel conduct. The “undertakings” concept, which the ECJ developed with regard to the determination of administrative fines for violations of Article 101 TFEU, establishes so-called parental liability. This means that parent entities may be held liable for antitrust violations committed by their subsidiaries, as long as the companies concerned are considered a “single economic unit” because the parent has “decisive influence” over the offending company and is exercising that influence. The Skanska case extends parental liability to civil damages cases. The decisions by the two German courts in Mannheim and Munich denied a subsidiary’s liability for its parent company, or for another subsidiary, respectively. Back to Top 8.   Data Protection: GDPR Fining Concept Raises the Stakes While some companies are still busy implementing the requirements of the General Data Protection Regulation (the “GDPR”), the German Conference of Federal and State Data Protection Authorities has increased the pressure in October 2019 by publishing guidelines for the determination of fines in privacy violation proceedings against companies (the “Fining Concept”). Even though the Fining Concept may seem technical at first glance, it has far-reaching consequences for the fine amounts, which have already manifested in practice. The Fining Concept applies to the imposition of fines by German Data Protection Authorities within the scope of the GDPR. Since the focus for determining fines is on the global annual turnover of a company in the preceding business year, it is to be expected that fines will increase significantly. For further details, please see our client update from October 30, 2019 on this subject. In the past few months, in particular after the Fining Concept was published, several German Data Protection Authorities already issued a number of higher fines. Most notably, in November 2019 the Berlin Data Protection Authority imposed a fine against a German real estate company in the amount of EUR 14.5 million (approx. USD 16.2 million) for non-compliance with general data processing principles. The company used an archive system for the storage of personal data from tenants, which did not include a function for the deletion of personal data. In December 2019, another fine in the amount of EUR 9.5 million (approx. USD 10.6 million) was imposed by the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information against a major German telecommunications service provider for insufficient technical and organizational measures to prevent unauthorized persons from being able to obtain customer information. Many German data protection authorities have announced further investigations into possible GDPR violations and recent fines indicate that the trend towards higher fine levels will continue. This development leaves no doubt that the German Data Protection Authorities are willing to use the sharp teeth that data protection enforcement has received under the GDPR – and leave behind the rather symbolic fine ranges that were predominant in the pre-GDPR era. This is particularly true in light of the foreseeable temptation to use the concept of “undertakings” as developed under EU antitrust laws, which may include parental liability for GDPR violations of subsidiaries in the context of administrative fines as well as civil damages. For further details on the concept of “undertakings” in light of recent antitrust case law, please see above under Section 7.3. Back to Top 9.   IP & Technology On April 26, 2019, the German Trade Secret Act (the “Act”) came into effect, implementing the EU Trade Secrets Directive (2016/943/EU) on the protection of undisclosed know-how and business information (trade secrets) against their unlawful acquisition, use and disclosure. The Act aims at consolidating what has hitherto been a potpourri of civil and criminal law provisions for the protection of trade secrets and secret know-how in German legislation. Besides an enhanced protection of trade secrets in litigation matters, one of the most important changes to the pre-existing rules in Germany is the creation of a new and EU-wide definition of trade secrets. Trade secrets are now defined as information that (i) is secret (not publicly known or easily available), (ii) has a commercial value because it is secret, (iii) is subject to reasonable steps to keep it secret, and (iv) there is a legitimate interest to keeping it secret. This definition therefore requires the holder of a trade secret to take reasonable measures to keep a trade secret confidential in order to benefit from its protection. To prove compliance with this requirement when challenged, trade secret holders will further have to document and track their measures of protection. This requirement goes beyond the previous standard pursuant to which a manifest interest in keeping an information secret would have been sufficient. There is no clear guidance yet on what is to be understood as “reasonable measures” in this respect. A good indication may be the comprehensive case law developed by U.S. courts when interpreting the requirement of “reasonable efforts” to maintain the secrecy of a trade secret under the U.S. Uniform Trade Secrets Act. Besides a requirement to advise recipients that the information is a confidential trade secret not to be disclosed (e.g. through non-disclosure agreements), U.S. courts consider the efforts of limiting access to a “need-to-know” scope (e.g. through password protection). Another point that is of particular importance for corporate trade secret holders is that companies may be indirectly liable for negligent breaches of third-party trade secrets by their employees. Enhanced liability risks may therefore result when hiring employees who were formerly employed by a competitor and had access to the competitor’s trade secrets. Reverse engineering of lawfully acquired products is now explicitly considered a lawful means of acquiring information, except when otherwise contractually agreed. Previously, reverse engineering was only lawful if it did not require considerable expense. To avoid disclosing trade secrets that form part of a product or object by surrendering prototypes or samples, contracts should provide for provisions to limit the acquisition of the trade secret. In a nutshell, companies would be well advised to review their internal policies and procedures to determine whether there are reasonable and sufficiently trackable legal, technical and organizational measures in place for the protection of trade secrets, to observe and assess critically what know-how is brought into an organization by lateral hires, and to amend contracts for the surrender of prototypes and samples as appropriate. Back to Top The following Gibson Dunn lawyers assisted in preparing this client update: Birgit Friedl, Marcus Geiss, Silke Beiter, Stefan Buehrle, Lutz Englisch, Daniel Gebauer, Kai Gesing, Franziska Gruber, Selina Gruen, Dominick Koenig, Markus Nauheim, Mariam Pathan, Annekatrin Pelster, Wilhelm Reinhardt, Sonja Ruttmann, Martin Schmid, Sebastian Schoon, Benno Schwarz, Dennis Seifarth, Ralf van Ermingen-Marbach, Milena Volkmann, Michael Walther, Finn Zeidler, Mark Zimmer and Caroline Ziser Smith. Gibson Dunn’s lawyers are available to assist in addressing any questions you may have regarding the issues discussed in this update. The two German offices of Gibson Dunn in Munich and Frankfurt bring together lawyers with extensive knowledge of corporate, financing and restructuring, tax, labor, real estate, antitrust, intellectual property law and extensive compliance / white collar crime and litigation experience. The German offices are comprised of seasoned lawyers with a breadth of experience who have assisted clients in various industries and in jurisdictions around the world. Our German lawyers work closely with the firm’s practice groups in other jurisdictions to provide cutting-edge legal advice and guidance in the most complex transactions and legal matters. For further information, please contact the Gibson Dunn lawyer with whom you work or any of the following members of the German offices: General Corporate, Corporate Transactions and Capital Markets Lutz Englisch (+49 89 189 33 150), lenglisch@gibsondunn.com) Markus Nauheim (+49 89 189 33 122, mnauheim@gibsondunn.com) Ferdinand Fromholzer (+49 89 189 33 170, ffromholzer@gibsondunn.com) Dirk Oberbracht (+49 69 247 411 503, doberbracht@gibsondunn.com) Wilhelm Reinhardt (+49 69 247 411 502, wreinhardt@gibsondunn.com) Birgit Friedl (+49 89 189 33 122, bfriedl@gibsondunn.com) Silke Beiter (+49 89 189 33 170, sbeiter@gibsondunn.com) Annekatrin Pelster (+49 69 247 411 502, apelster@gibsondunn.com) Marcus Geiss (+49 89 189 33 122, mgeiss@gibsondunn.com) Finance, Restructuring and Insolvency Sebastian Schoon (+49 69 247 411 505, sschoon@gibsondunn.com) Birgit Friedl (+49 89 189 33 122, bfriedl@gibsondunn.com) Alexander Klein (+49 69 247 411 505, aklein@gibsondunn.com) Marcus Geiss (+49 89 189 33 122, mgeiss@gibsondunn.com) Tax Hans Martin Schmid (+49 89 189 33 110, mschmid@gibsondunn.com) Labor Law Mark Zimmer (+49 89 189 33 130, mzimmer@gibsondunn.com) Real Estate Peter Decker (+49 89 189 33 115, pdecker@gibsondunn.com) Daniel Gebauer (+49 89 189 33 115, dgebauer@gibsondunn.com) Technology Transactions / Intellectual Property / Data Privacy Michael Walther (+49 89 189 33 180, mwalther@gibsondunn.com) Kai Gesing (+49 89 189 33 180, kgesing@gibsondunn.com) Corporate Compliance / White Collar Matters Benno Schwarz (+49 89 189 33 110, bschwarz@gibsondunn.com) Michael Walther (+49 89 189 33 180, mwalther@gibsondunn.com) Mark Zimmer (+49 89 189 33 130, mzimmer@gibsondunn.com) Finn Zeidler (+49 69 247 411 504, fzeidler@gibsondunn.com) Markus Rieder (+49 89189 33 170, mrieder@gibsondunn.com) Ralf van Ermingen-Marbach (+49 89 18933 130, rvanermingenmarbach@gibsondunn.com) Antitrust Michael Walther (+49 89 189 33 180, mwalther@gibsondunn.com) Jens-Olrik Murach (+32 2 554 7240, jmurach@gibsondunn.com) Kai Gesing (+49 89 189 33 180, kgesing@gibsondunn.com) Litigation Michael Walther (+49 89 189 33 180, mwalther@gibsondunn.com) Mark Zimmer (+49 89 189 33 130, mzimmer@gibsondunn.com) Finn Zeidler (+49 69 247 411 504, fzeidler@gibsondunn.com) Markus Rieder (+49 89189 33 170, mrieder@gibsondunn.com) Kai Gesing (+49 89 189 33 180, kgesing@gibsondunn.com) Ralf van Ermingen-Marbach (+49 89 18933 130, rvanermingenmarbach@gibsondunn.com) International Trade, Sanctions and Export Control Michael Walther (+49 89 189 33 180, mwalther@gibsondunn.com) Richard Roeder (+49 89 189 33 122, rroeder@gibsondunn.com) © 2020 Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP Attorney Advertising:  The enclosed materials have been prepared for general informational purposes only and are not intended as legal advice.

January 6, 2020 |
SEC Releases Statement on Key Reminders for Audit Committees

Click for PDF On December 30, 2019, the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) released a statement (the “Statement”) from Chairman Jay Clayton, Chief Accountant Sagar Teotia and the Director of the Division of Corporation Finance, William Hinman, addressing the role of the audit committee in financial reporting and highlighting key reminders regarding oversight responsibilities (available here).  The Statement is intended to “assist audit committees [in] carrying out their year-end work, including promoting efficient and constructive dialogue among audit committees, management and independent auditors.” The observations included in the Statement do not introduce new requirements for audit committees, but the Statement is a helpful reminder for audit committees, management and outside auditors about audit committee practices that help to promote healthy oversight over financial reporting.  Although the Statement covers a range of topics, a theme that runs through the observations is an emphasis on active engagement by the audit committee and on the benefits of clear communication among the audit committee, management and the outside auditor. Below are the observations and reminders highlighted in the Statement.  The Statement styles the first five topics as “general observations” and the last three as “more specific observations.”  Although most of the observations in the Statement speak for themselves in terms of next steps and practice pointers, we have provided some additional commentary in italicized text below on a few of the topics. Tone at the Top: The Statement emphasizes the role of the audit committee in “setting the tone for the company’s financial reporting and the relationship with the independent auditor.”  As part of this, the Statement notes that it is important for the audit committee to “set an expectation for clear and candid communications to and from the auditor” and an expectation with management and the auditor that the audit committee will engage as financial reporting and control issues arise.  Additionally, the Statement highlights the audit committee should proactively communicate with the independent auditor to understand the audit strategy and status, and raise questions regarding issues identified and understand the resolution of such issues. Although “tone at the top” is an amorphous concept, this is a helpful reminder for audit committees to consider the steps they are taking to reinforce effective messaging about the need to have an environment that supports integrity in the financial reporting process.  For example, as audit committees go through their own annual self-assessment processes, it would be worthwhile to incorporate this topic as an element of that process and then to evaluate and implement action steps, as appropriate, based on that self-assessment. Auditor Independence: The Statement notes that audit committees play a critical role in an auditor’s compliance with the auditor independence rules and encourages “audit committees to consider periodically the sufficiency of the auditor’s and the issuer’s monitoring processes.” As part of this, the Statement notes that audit committees should consider the processes that are in place to facilitate the timely communication to the auditor of corporate changes and other events at the company that could affect auditor independence, including changes or events that may result in new affiliate relationships. Periodic review of processes in place at the company to monitor auditor independence matters – such as audit committee pre-approval policy and policies for hiring former audit firm personnel – is standard practice, but this is a helpful reminder to ensure those reviews take place.  In light of this observation in the Statement, audit committees also should inquire of management and the auditor to make sure the committee understands the steps that are in place to communicate to the auditor about new affiliate relationships. GAAP: The Statement also addresses the audit committee’s role in implementing new Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (“GAAP”) standards, noting that the audit committee should promote “an environment for management’s successful implementation of new standards.”  Specifically, the Statement observes that audit committees should proactively engage with management and the auditors to understand how management plans to implement new accounting standards, including “whether the plan provides sufficient time and resources to develop well-reasoned judgments and accounting policies.”  The Statement also encourages audit committees to take the time to understand the processes for establishing and monitoring internal controls related to adoption and transition to new GAAP standards. Internal Control Over Financial Reporting: In discussing the audit committee’s responsibility for overseeing internal control over financial reporting (“ICFR”), the Statement notes that audit committees should have “a detailed understanding of identified ICFR issues and engage proactively to aid in their resolution.” Additionally, the Statement observes that when there is a material weakness, audit committees should understand and monitor management’s remediation plans and emphasizes that audit committees need to set an appropriate tone that prompt, effective remediation of the material weakness is a high priority. Here, the Statement serves as a helpful reminder that where internal control issues are “identified” for the audit committee, the committee should proactively engage in seeking to resolve the issue.  Even though the Statement focuses on steps audit committees should take when a material weakness is identified, the observations about understanding and monitoring remediation plans also serve as helpful reminders to consider when significant deficiencies are identified given that management has to bring both material weaknesses and significant deficiencies to the audit committee’s attention. Communications to the Audit Committee from the Auditor: PCAOB AS 1301, Communications with Audit Committees, requires the auditor to communicate with the audit committee regarding certain matters related to the conduct of the audit and to obtain certain information from the audit committee relevant to the audit, including matters related to certain accounting policies and practices, estimates and significant unusual transactions.  The Statement reminds audit committees of this process and encourages them to be active participants in this dialogue with the auditor. Non-GAAP Measures: The Statement encourages audit committees to actively engage in the review of non-GAAP measures and metrics to understand: how management uses them to evaluate performance; whether they are consistently presented from period to period; and the company’s related policies and disclosure controls and procedures in place for monitoring use of non-GAAP measures. LIBOR: The Statement also discusses the audit committee’s role in monitoring risks associated with the discontinuation of LIBOR and encourages audit committees to understand how management plans to identify and address any such risks, including the “impact on accounting and financial reporting and any related issues associated with financial products and contracts that reference LIBOR.” This observation continues the SEC’s push to have public companies focus on managing their transition away from LIBOR and identifying relevant risks.  Additionally, this reminds the audit committee that it should be involved in this process and discuss the transition away from LIBOR with management.  For more information on the SEC staff’s views on the LIBOR transition, see our previous blog post.   Critical Audit Matters: With respect to critical audit matters (“CAMs”), the Statement encourages audit committees to engage in a “substantive dialogue” with auditors regarding the audit and expected CAMs in order to “understand the nature of each CAM, the auditor’s basis for the determination of each CAM and how each CAM is expected to be described in the auditor’s report.” Gibson Dunn’s lawyers are available to assist with any questions you may have regarding these issues. To learn more about these issues, please contact the Gibson Dunn lawyer with whom you usually work in the Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance practice group, or any of the following lawyers: Michael J. Scanlon – Washington, D.C. (+1 202-887-3668, mscanlon@gibsondunn.com) Elizabeth Ising – Washington, D.C. (+1 202-955-8287, eising@gibsondunn.com) James J. Moloney – Orange County, CA (+ 949-451-4343, jmoloney@gibsondunn.com) Ronald O. Mueller – Washington, D.C. (+1 202-955-8671, rmueller@gibsondunn.com) Michael A. Titera – Orange County, CA (+1 949-451-4365, mtitera@gibsondunn.com) Gillian McPhee – Washington, D.C. (202-955-8201, gmcphee@gibsondunn.com) David C. Ware – Washington, D.C. (+1 202-887-3652, dware@gibsondunn.com) Thanks to associate Rob Kelley in New York for his assistance in the preparation of this client update. © 2020 Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP Attorney Advertising:  The enclosed materials have been prepared for general informational purposes only and are not intended as legal advice.

December 23, 2019 |
Gibson Dunn Named Among Top 100 Law Firms in Germany

German publication Kanzleimonitor 2019/2020 listed Gibson Dunn among the top 100 law firms in Germany. In the categories of Stock Corporation and Corporate Governance Law, Munich partner Ferdinand Fromholzer was one of two most recommended lawyers, Munich of counsel Silke Beiter was frequently recommended, and the firm was ranked among the top 10 in Germany and fourth in Munich. Partners who are also frequently recommended were Munich partner Mark Zimmer in the area of Labor Law and Frankfurt partner Dirk Oberbracht in M&A. Gibson Dunn’s German offices were also recommended overall for Labor Law, Compliance, Corporate Law, IP, Capital Markets and Litigation & ADR. The study, based on approximately 11,500 recommendations by 800 in-house legal departments and set up by Deutsches Institut fuer Rechtsabteilungen und Unternehmensjuristen GmbH, was published on November 15, 2019.

November 20, 2019 |
Gibson Dunn Promotes 13 Lawyers to Partnership

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP is pleased to announce that the firm has elected 13 new partners, effective January 1, 2020. “We congratulate our new partners on this important and well-deserved professional achievement,” said Ken Doran, Chairman and Managing Partner of Gibson Dunn.  “Each of them exemplifies the core values of the firm – excellence, professionalism and collegiality – and I know that they will continue to uphold these principles as our partners.” The new partners are: Amer S. Ahmed (Litigation / New York) – Ahmed’s practice focuses on representing both institutional and individual clients in high-stakes, complex investigation and litigation matters at all stages of disputes.  He has significant experience with ERISA, defamation and other First Amendment claims, product liability actions, and white-collar criminal defense.  In addition to his frontline trial experience, Ahmed has successfully handled several appeals in state and federal courts.  Ahmed graduated in 2005 from Columbia Law School, where he was an articles editor for the Columbia Law Review, a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar, and a Tony Patino Fellow. Brian C. Ascher (Litigation, Media, Entertainment and Technology / New York) – Ascher has represented corporate and individual clients in a wide range of commercial litigation in both federal and state court and administrative proceedings.  Ascher graduated in 2009 from New York University School of Law, where he served as an articles editor for the New York University Environmental Law Journal.  He clerked for Judge Faith S. Hochberg in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. Attila Borsos (Litigation, Competition and Antitrust / Brussels) – Borsos is an experienced competition lawyer who advises on a broad range of complex competition and antitrust issues, including global merger control and cartel enforcement.  Borsos represents clients before the European Commission, national competition authorities in Europe as well as regulatory authorities worldwide.  His experience spans many industry sectors, with recent experience particularly in the consumer goods, chemicals, energy, airline, media and entertainment, insurance, and financial services industries.  In addition, he advises clients on EU State aid, anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigations and on EU sanctions. Borsos graduated summa cum laude from Eötvös Loránd University in 2004. Elaine Chao (Corporate, Power and Renewables / Singapore) – Chao’s areas of practice include renewable energy and infrastructure projects, cross-border mergers and acquisitions, and general corporate/commercial transactions.  She has advised developers, investors and government agencies in connection with the development, financing, construction and operation of infrastructure and energy-related projects.  Chao received her LL.M. from King’s College London in 2000. Evan M. D’Amico (Corporate, Mergers and Acquisitions / Washington, D.C.) – D’Amico advises companies, private equity firms, boards of directors and special committees in connection with a wide variety of complex corporate matters, including mergers and acquisitions, asset sales, leveraged buyouts, spin-offs and joint ventures.  He also advises public companies on federal securities laws and corporate governance matters.  D’Amico graduated cum laude in 2008 from Harvard Law School, where he served as an executive technical editor for the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. Joshua D. Dick (Litigation / San Francisco) – Dick has significant experience litigating a broad range of matters in both state and federal courts, at the trial and appellate levels.  He has successfully represented clients throughout the United States and abroad in multiple areas of the law including, antitrust, unfair competition law, false advertising, products liability, constitutional challenges, the securities and commodities acts, regulatory enforcement and compliance, the Stored Communications Act, the Communications Decency Act, trade secrets misappropriation, tort claims, legal malpractice, and general business disputes.  He graduated cum laude in 2004 from University of Michigan Law School, where he served as an associate and articles editor for the Journal of Law Reform. Russell H. Falconer (Litigation, Appellate / Dallas) – Falconer has extensive experience representing clients who operate in heavily regulated industries, including broker-dealers, airlines, electric utilities, investment firms, and pharmaceutical companies.  He has played a substantial role in a wide range of high-stakes appeals, trials, and litigation.  Falconer graduated in 2009 with highest honors from The University of Texas at Austin School of Law, where he was the Grand Chancellor of his class and served as a member of the Texas Law Review. Nancy Hart (Litigation / New York) – Hart is a complex commercial litigator principally focused on law firm defense matters, and has successfully defended high-stakes legal malpractice cases and disqualification motions for law firms across the United States.  She also has significant experience representing clients in a wide range of matters including complex contract disputes, corporate control contests, securities litigation, and shareholder actions alleging breaches of fiduciary duties, in state and federal courts, at both the trial and appellate levels, as well as in domestic and international arbitrations.  She graduated magna cum laude in 2003 from Boston College Law School, where she was elected to the Order of the Coif. Michael Holecek (Litigation, Class Actions / Los Angeles) – Holecek’s practice focuses on complex commercial litigation both in the trial court and on appeal.  He has first-chair trial experience and has successfully tried to verdict both jury and bench trials, and he has successfully argued numerous appeals.  Holecek graduated with high honors in 2011 from the University of Chicago Law School, where he was a member of the University of Chicago Law Review and elected to the Order of the Coif. Dhananjay S. Manthripragada (Litigation / Los Angeles) – Manthripragada has extensive experience defending companies in complex litigation in state and federal courts throughout the country, from pre-trial demands through trial, arbitration, or settlement, and on appeal.  Manthripragada graduated in 2007 from the UCLA School of Law, where he served as chief comments editor and an articles editor for the UCLA Journal of Environmental Law and Policy. Ilissa Samplin (Litigation, Media, Entertainment and Technology / Los Angeles) – Samplin is a complex commercial litigator who focuses on high-stakes entertainment and technology disputes.  She has extensive experience representing entertainment and technology companies in breach of contract, copyright, trademark, and trade secret matters, and also maintains a robust intellectual property counseling practice.  Samplin graduated in 2011 from Stanford Law School, where she served as a managing editor for the Stanford Journal of Law, Business & Finance.  She clerked for Judge Joseph F. Bianco, then of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Michael A. Titera (Corporate, Securities Regulation / Orange County) – Titera’s practice focuses on advising public companies regarding securities disclosure and compliance matters, financial reporting, and corporate governance.  Titera often advises clients on accounting and auditing matters and the use of non-GAAP financial measures.  He graduated in 2009 from the UCLA School of Law, where he was elected to the Order of the Coif. Lorna Wilson (Tax / Los Angeles) – Wilson’s practice focuses on federal income tax matters, including corporate and partnership tax matters in both the United States and international contexts.  She has extensive experience in tax planning for real estate transactions, including advising on investments in real estate by U.S. and non-U.S. investors.  She graduated in 2007 from the UCLA School of Law, where she was elected to the Order of the Coif.

November 12, 2019 |
Law360 Names Nine Gibson Dunn Partners as 2019 MVPs

Law360 named nine Gibson Dunn partners among its 2019 MVPs and noted that Gibson Dunn was one of two law firms with the most MVPs this year.  Law360 MVPs feature lawyers who have “distinguished themselves from their peers by securing hard-earned successes in high-stakes litigation, complex global matters and record-breaking deals.” The list was published on November 12, 2019. Gibson Dunn’s MVPs are: Richard J. Birns, a Private Equity MVP [PDF] – Rich is a partner in the New York office and Co-Chair of the Sports Law Practice Group. He focuses his practice on U.S. and cross-border mergers, acquisitions, divestitures, joint ventures and financings for both corporations and leading private equity firms.  He also advises private investment funds on a variety of corporate issues, including securities law and shareholder activism matters.  He has extensive experience advising clients on significant transactional matters in media, sports and entertainment. Michael P. Darden, an Energy MVP [PDF] – Mike is Partner-in-Charge of the Houston office and Chair of the Oil & Gas practice group. His practice focuses on International and U.S. oil and gas ventures (including LNG, deep-water and unconventional resource development projects), international and U.S. infrastructure projects, asset acquisitions and divestitures, and energy-based financings (including project financings, reserve-based loans and production payments). Scott A. Edelman, a Trials MVP [PDF] – Scott is a partner in the Century City office and Co-Chair of the Media, Entertainment and Technology Practice Group. He has first-chaired numerous jury trials, bench trials and arbitrations, including class actions, taking well over 25 to final verdict or decision. He has a broad background in commercial litigation, including antitrust, class actions, employment, entertainment and intellectual property, real estate and product liability. Theane Evangelis, a Class Action MVP [PDF] – Theane is a partner in the Los Angeles office, Co-Chair of the firm’s Class Actions Practice Group and Vice Chair of the California Appellate Practice Group. She has played a lead role in a wide range of appellate, constitutional, media and entertainment, and crisis management matters, as well as a variety of employment, consumer and other class actions. Mark A. Kirsch, a Securities MVP [PDF] – Mark is Co-Partner-in-Charge of the New York office. His practice focuses on complex securities, white collar, commercial and antitrust litigation. He is routinely named one of the leading litigators in the United States. Joshua S. Lipshutz, a Cybersecurity MVP [PDF] – Josh is a partner in the Washington, D.C. and San Francisco offices. His practice focuses primarily on constitutional, class action, data privacy, and securities-related matters.  He represents clients before the Supreme Court of the United States, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the California Supreme Court, the Delaware Supreme Court, the D.C. Court of Appeals, and many other state and federal courts. Jane M. Love, a Life Sciences MVP [PDF] – Jane is a partner in the New York office. Her practice spans four areas: patent litigation, Patent Office trial proceedings including inter partes reviews (IPRs), strategic patent prosecution advice and patent diligence in transactions. She is experienced in a wide array of life sciences areas such as pharmaceuticals, biologics, biosimilars, antibodies, immunotherapies, genetics, vaccines, protein therapies, blood factors, medical devices, diagnostics, gene therapies, RNA therapies, bioinformatics and nanotechnology. Matthew D. McGill, a Sports & Betting MVP [PDF] – Matthew is a partner in the Washington, D.C. office. He has participated in 21 cases before the Supreme Court of the United States, prevailing in 16.  Spanning a wide range of substantive areas, those representations have included several high-profile triumphs over foreign and domestic sovereigns. Outside the Supreme Court, his practice focuses on cases involving novel and complex questions of federal law, often in high-profile litigation against governmental entities. Jason C. Schwartz, an Employment MVP [PDF] – Jason is a partner in the Washington, D.C. office and Co-Chair of the Labor & Employment Practice Group. His practice includes sensitive workplace investigations, high-profile trade secret and non-compete matters, wage-hour and discrimination class actions, Sarbanes-Oxley and other whistleblower protection claims, executive and other significant employment disputes, labor union controversies, and workplace safety litigation.

October 28, 2019 |
UK Regulators Make Further Strides in Responsible Stewardship & Investing

Click for PDF The UK’s Financial Reporting Council (“FRC”)[1] published on 24 October 2019[2], a revised version of its stewardship code – the UK Stewardship Code 2020 (the “ New Code”) which takes effect in January 2020. On the same day, the UK Financial Conduct Authority (“FCA”) published the results of the feedback from its joint initiative with the FRC, seeking views of the market on a minimum standards regulatory framework for stewardship for financial services firms that invest for clients and beneficiaries[3]. The New Code (which covers a broader asset class than just listed equity) firmly entrenches the UK as a leader in shareholder engagement and stewardship – with a strong focus on outcomes (and not just policy statements) of stewardship, and lays out new expectations on how investment and stewardship is integrated, including environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) issues. The FCA has concluded that at this stage, given other recent new regulatory requirements, it does not propose to introduce further (stewardship-related) regulatory requirements on regulated asset managers and insurers, however it has flagged a number of key areas where it considers that barriers to effective stewardship remain and should be addressed. This alert summarises the key changes in the New Code impacting investors and asset managers, the outcomes from the FCA/FRC discussion paper and related recent and forthcoming UK and EU legal and regulatory developments. A. The UK Stewardship Code – Background and Developments The UK Stewardship Code was first published in 2010 following the 2009 Walker Review[4] on governance of financial institutions in the wake of the global financial crisis, with a view to enhancing the quantity and quality of engagement between investors and companies. At the time, it was the first and only Stewardship Code[5] calling for responsible and engaged investment behaviours by asset managers and owners. In 2012, following the Kay Review of UK equity markets[6], the Code was revised to expand the role of stewardship and require investors to engage with companies on strategy as well as corporate governance. Since the revision of the Code in 2012 (the “Current Code”), the UK has continued to be seen as a market which upholds high standards of corporate governance and therefore attract international investors. By 2016, there were 305 signatories to the Code however upon evaluation by the FRC of the signatories’ statements against the Current Code, the FRC noted a huge variation in quality of the signatories’ stewardship statements. In that year, the FRC introduced a two tier/ranking system – signatories to the Code in Tier 1 were recognised as having achieved the status of reporting well and those in Tier 2 were flagged as signatories whose statements required improvement. Notwithstanding these enhancements and resulting improvements in stewardship, examples of poor governance practice, short-termism in equity markets and misalignment of incentives leading to under-performance and corporate failures persisted. The FRC has also recognised that the investment market has materially altered since the first Code was published with increased investment flows into assets other than listed equity and environmental (particularly climate change) and social factors becoming more material issues for investors, in addition to the pre-existing focus on governance. Alongside this, there have been a number of developments in the UK, EU and global level aimed at enhancing resources for stewardship, increasing transparency and engagement between asset owners and asset managers, enhancing climate change and other non-financial disclosures and incorporating ESG considerations into the mainstream. These drivers and developments collectively led to the FRC to consult on some fundamental revisions to the Current Code. It has done this in parallel with its related joint initiative with the FCA seeking views on how best to encourage the institutional investment community to engage more actively in stewardship, the outcomes of which are summarised in section C below. The FRC issued its consultation paper in January 2019[7] and received 110 responses to its consultation which closed in March of this year. In preparing for the consultation it reached out and sought feedback from 170 members of the global investment community (including the UN PRI, ShareAction, the Investment Association and the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association). It also met with circa 240 stakeholders as part of and following the launch of the consultation process. The consultation responses reflected strong support for the key changes (summarised in section B below). B. The New UK Stewardship Code 2020 Who does it apply to? Who should be interested in it? The New Code is a voluntary code which sets higher standards than minimum UK regulatory requirements for asset owners[8] and managers and for the service providers[9] who support them. What does the New Code do/say? The New Code is structurally and substantially very different from the Current Code. First and fundamentally, the New Code sets out a new definition of stewardship[10]. Stewardship is now defined as “the responsible allocation, management and oversight of capital to create long-term value for clients and beneficiaries leading to sustainable benefits for the economy, the environment and society.” This new definition links the primary purpose of stewardship to looking after the assets of beneficiaries entrusted to other, equating long-term value creation for this cohort with sustainable benefits to a wider group of interests (i.e., the “economy, environment and society). The New Code consists of 12 “apply or explain” Principles for asset managers and asset owners (see Annex 1). These are supported by reporting expectations which indicate the information that should be publicly reported in order to become a signatory. The Current Code has seven “comply or explain” principles that are aimed at protecting and enhancing the value that accrues to the ultimate beneficiary. There is a strong focus on the activities and outcomes of stewardship, not just policy statements. There are new expectations about how investment and stewardship is integrated, including ESG issues – note in particular Principle 7. The New Code[11] asks investors to explain how they have exercised stewardship across asset classes. For these purpose, the New Code extends the scope across asset classes beyond listed equity for example fixed income, private equity, infrastructure investments, and in investments outside the UK. The New Code also sets out six separate Principles for service providers. These now include principles addressing the assurance and the role service providers play in responding to market and systemic risks. The FRC has also used the New Code as an opportunity to be clearer about its expectations on the role played by service providers in the supporting their clients to meet their stewardship and investment responsibilities “taking into account material ESG issues, and communicating what activities have been undertaken”. When does it apply from? The New Code will take effect from 1 January 2020. Organisations will remain signatories to the UK Stewardship Code until the first list of signatories to the New Code is published. To be included in the first list of signatories, organisations must submit a final report to the FRC by 31 March 2021. How do firms apply to become signatories and what happens upon becoming a signatory? The New Code contains various reporting requirements. Organisations who wish to become signatories should produce a single[12] Stewardship Report explaining how they have applied the New Code in the previous 12 months for approval by the FRC. The Report should be reviewed and approved by the organisation’s governing body and signed by the chair, CEO or CIO. Existing signatories[13] to the Code will also need to submit a Stewardship Report that meets the reporting expectations in the New Code, in order to be listed as signatories to the UK Stewardship Code. Throughout 2020, the FRC has said that it will work with organisations seeking to be listed as signatories (in particular asset owners) to explain their expectations in relation to reporting. Once an organisation has been accepted as a New Code signatory and the report is approved by the FRC, the report will be a public document and must be published on the organisation’s website or in some other accessible form. C. FCA & FRC Feedback On & Outcomes From the “Building a Regulatory Framework for Effective Stewardship” Discussion Paper The FCA is the conduct regulator for 59,000 financial services firms and financial markets in the UK and the prudential regulator for over 18,000 of those firms. One of its primary objectives is to make markets work well – for individuals, for business, large and small, and for the economy as a whole. Specifically, the FCA aims to ensure that firms such as asset managers and life insurers deliver good outcomes for their customers. For many firms, the exercise of stewardship will be key to ensuring this outcome. The FCA has also stated that it expects “effective stewardship to have wider economic, environmental and social benefits”. In delivering on its regulatory responsibility to ensure effective stewardship, in January 2019, the FCA issued a Discussion Paper (closely co-ordinating with the FRC), ‘Building a Regulatory Framework for Stewardship’. The objective of the Discussion Paper was to secure feedback on barriers to effective stewardship, the minimum expectations on effective stewardship that should be imposed on financial services firms investing on behalf of clients and how to achieve them. On 24 October, the FCA published the feedback from the Discussion Paper exercise[14]. In summary, the FCA agreed with the feedback from the majority of respondents that it would be premature to impose more stewardship obligations or requirements of asset managers and life insurers at this stage and that it should let firms first adapt to the FCA’s new rules on shareholder engagement (implementing SRD II – see section D below) which took effect in June. Further, the FCA noted that many firms were already making significant investments to improve their stewardship capabilities with an enhanced focus on ESG matters. Notwithstanding this general finding, the FCA also concluded that there were other things that it could do to address some “remaining barriers to effective stewardship”, including: (i) examining how asset owners set and communicate their stewardship objectives; (ii) helping to address regulatory, informational and structural barriers to effective stewardship practices; (iii) considering further the role of firms’ culture, governance and leadership in both the management of climate risks and the exercise of stewardship; and (iv) pursuing a number of actions to promote better disclosure of firms’ stewardship practices and outcomes. Some of the specific actions the FCA are proposing to take and/or areas they intend to give greater attention and focus to relate to the following:- Climate-change related & other sustainability disclosures by issuers: The FCA is intending to consult in early 2020 on proposals for new ‘comply or explain’ rules requiring climate change-related disclosures by certain listed issuers aligned with the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). Alongside this, the FCA will continue to consider whether issuer disclosures on other sustainability factors, beyond climate change, are adequate to support investors’ business, risk and investment decisions. Climate-change related disclosures by regulated firms: The FCA will consider how best to enhance climate change disclosures by regulated firms, such as asset managers and life insurers, so that they provide transparency on how their activities align with clients’ sustainability objectives ESG Data Service Providers: The FCA will assess the role played by specialist providers of ESG data services looking initially at the nature and quality of these services, how investors use them and how much reliance they place on them. Tackling “Greenwashing”: The FCA intends to do more to promote consumers’ access to genuinely green products and services; will “challenge firms” where it sees potential evidence of misleading marketing or “greenwashing”; carry out further policy analysis on greenwashing and publish new guidance as appropriate. D. Recent Related UK/ EU Developments As noted above, one of the key drivers to the review undertaken by the FRC of the Stewardship Code and the FCA of stewardship more generally, has been the link to the growing interest in how companies and investment firms manage climate change and other ESG risks and opportunities and related legal and regulatory developments in this area. A brief overview of some of these developments are noted below: UK Law Commission Review of Fiduciary Duties of Investment Intermediaries: In 2014, the Law Commission reviewed the legal concept of fiduciary duty with regards to investment. It stated that ‘there is no impediment to trustees taking account of ESG factors where they are, or may be, financially material’ and recommended that the government should clarify that it is part of trustees’ duties to consider long-term systemic risks such as climate change. In 2017, the Law Commission issued a further report – ‘Pension Funds and Social Investment’ which identified a critical distinction between ESG and ethical factors, and began to explore options for regulatory reform. Pensions Regulator & UK Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) Strengthen Pension Trustees Investment Duties: In 2016 and 2017, the UK Pensions Regulator updated its guidance for defined contribution and defined benefit schemes, advising that trustees need to take all factors that are financially material to investment performance into account, including ESG factors. Then in 2018, in response to the Law Commission’s report, the DWP issued amendments to the Occupational Pension Schemes Regulations[15] requiring trustees of funds to document in their Statement of Investment Principles how they have taken ESG factors in making investment decisions and their policy towards stewardship. Shareholders Rights Directive II (“SRD II”): The EU Shareholder Rights Directive 2007 (SRD) aimed to improve corporate governance in EU companies by setting minimum EU standards on shareholder rights in relation to general meetings (including viz notice periods, information rights, requisitions, voting) and other matter such as website disclosures and proxy appointments. SRD II substantially amends SRD broadening its scope and remit to include rules to encourage long-terms shareholder engagement and transparency between traded companies and investors. The key changes introduced by SRD II which recently came into force in the UK (June 2019) include provisions relating to identification of shareholders, transmission of information between companies and their shareholders via intermediaries, obligations on intermediaries to facilitate stewardship or the exercise of rights by shareholders, disclosure obligations on proxy advisers, obligations relating to related party transactions, rights of shareholders to vote on remuneration policies and remuneration reports and (of particular relevance to the work of the FRC and FCA outlined above) new provisions on the transparency of engagement policies of institutional investors and asset managers as well as their investment strategies. In particular, SRD II includes three key requirements relevant to transparency of engagement policies and investment strategies. First, institutional investors and asset managers are required to develop and disclose a shareholder engagement policy, as well as disclosing annually how they implement the policy and how they have voted in general meetings of companies of which they hold shares. The matters to be covered by the engagement policy are extensive including how institutional investors and asset managers integrate shareholder engagement in their investment strategy, monitor investee companies on relevant matters, conduct dialogues with investee companies, exercise voting and other rights, co-operate with shareholders, communicate with investee company stakeholders, and manage actual and potential conflicts of interest. In the UK, these rules apply to asset managers and insurers who have the UK as their home state regulator or investment firms authorized by the FCA. Secondly, where an asset manager invests on behalf of an institutional investor, the institutional investor must disclose certain information regarding its arrangement with the asset manager (or explain why the information is not disclosed).The disclosure should include, for example, how the arrangement incentivises the asset manager to align its investment strategy and decisions with the profile and duration of the liabilities of the institutional investor, in particular long-term liabilities. This information must be made freely available on the institutional investor’s website. Thirdly, asset managers disclose annually to the institutional investors for whom they invest how their investment strategy and implementation of that strategy complies with the arrangement with the institutional investor; and contributes to the medium to long-term performance of the assets of the institutional investor or fund. The disclosure must include key material medium to long-term risks associated with investments. The disclosures can be made publicly (e.g. in annual reports) or otherwise provided directly to the institutional investor. UK Government Greenhouse Gas & Plastics Commitments: The UK Government has made a legally binding commitment to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. It has also signed up to the UK Plastics Pact aimed at achieving four world-leading plastic packaging elimination targets by 2025. UK Government Green Finance Strategy: In July 2019, the UK Government published its Green Finance Strategy[16] to support, amongst other things, its economic policy for strong, sustainable and balanced growth and its domestic and international commitments on climate change, the environment and sustainable development. European Commission Sustainable Finance Action Plan: In 2015, the European Commission committed to the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals agenda and to achieving the 2030 Paris Agreement targets (including a 40% cut in greenhouse gas emission). The EC recognised that substantial investment would be required to achieve these targets and fulfil on its commitments. Accordingly, in 2016, it established a High Level Expert Group on Sustainable Finance which made a series of recommendations as set out in a wide-ranging Sustainable Finance Action Plan[17] which was formally adopted in May 2018. This includes work on sustainable finance disclosures, sustainable climate benchmarks, and a taxonomy to promote a common understanding of what constitutes sustainable activity. In May 2018, the EC adopted a package of measures implementing several key actions announced in its action plan on sustainable finance (see Section E below) and in August 2018, the European Commission mandated the European Securities and Markets Association (“ESMA”) to prepare technical advice on how to require asset managers and advisers to integrate ESG risks in their investment decisions or advisory processes, as part of their duties towards investors and/or clients. E. Upcoming UK/ EU Developments of Note In addition to the various initiatives that the FCA has outlined in its Feedback Statement on the New Regulatory framework for Effective Stewardship (see section C above) and the actions flowing out of the EU’s Sustainable Finance Action Pan (as summarised in section D above) there are a number of other initiatives and developments underway both in the UK and at an EU level. Some developments to keep an eye out for include the following: FCA Consultation on Extending the Remit of Independent Governance Committees (“IGCs”)[18] ESG Duties: The FCA is currently consulting[19] on imposing a new duty for IGCs to report on their firm’s policies on ESG issues, consumer concerns and stewardship, for the products that IGCs oversee. The FCA is also proposing related guidance for providers of pension products and investment-based life insurance products which sets out how these firms should consider factors such as ESG risks and opportunities that can have an impact on financial returns, and to non-financial consumer concerns, when making investment decisions on behalf of consumers. EU Sustainable Finance Action Plan – Specific Upcoming Regulations. Under the EU’s Action Plan a number of legislative proposals have been made. These include: ESG Taxonomy Regulation – A proposal for the establishment of a framework to facilitate sustainable investment[20]: This regulation establishes the conditions and the framework to gradually create a unified classification system or ‘taxonomy’ on what can be considered an environmentally sustainable economic activity. To be environmentally sustainable, an economic activity must: contribute substantially to one or more of six specified environmental objectives: (i) climate change mitigation; (ii) climate change adaption; (iii) sustainable use and protection of water and marine resources; (iv) transition to a circular economy, waste prevention and recycling; (v) pollution prevention and control; and (vi) protection of healthy ecosystems. Financial market participants offering financial products as environmentally-sustainable would be impacted by the proposed Taxonomy Regulation as they would have to disclose information on the criteria used to determine the environmental sustainability of the investment. ESG Disclosure Regulation – A proposal on disclosures relating to sustainable investments and sustainability risks[21]: This regulation will introduce disclosure obligations on how institutional investors and asset managers integrate ESG factors into their risk management processes. The proposed regulation would cover all financial products offered and services (individual portfolio management and advice) provided by the entities listed below, regardless of whether they pursue sustainability investment objectives or not. The rules would impact the following entities: (i) asset managers, regulated under the directive on undertakings for collective investment in transferable securities (UCITS), the alternative investment fund managers (AIFM) directive, the European venture capital funds (EuVECA) and European social entrepreneurship funds (EuSEF) regulations; (ii) institutional investors (being insurance undertakings regulated by Solvency II and occupational pension funds regulated by the institutions for occupational retirement provision directive; (iii) insurance distributors regulated by the insurance distribution directive (“IDD”); and (iv) investment advisors and individual portfolio managers regulated by Markets in financial instruments directive (“MiFID II”). ESG Benchmark Regulation – A proposal amending the benchmarks regulation[22]: This amendment will create a new category of benchmarks comprising two new categories: (i) a low-carbon benchmark – this is a filtered version of a standard benchmark in which the underlying assets are selected so that the resulting portfolio has lower carbon emissions than the ‘parent’ standard benchmark; and (ii) a positive carbon impact benchmark – this is a more sustainability-focused benchmark, in which the underlying assets are selected on the basis that their carbon emissions savings exceed their carbon footprint. In addition, the regulation will require benchmark administrators to methodologies for the assessment, selection and weighting of the underlying assets comprising their individual versions of these benchmarks, and explain how such benchmarks reflect ESG objectives. MiFID II & IDD:  The European Commission has also launched a consultation to assess how best to include ESG considerations into the advice that investment firms and insurance distributors offer to individual clients. The aim is to amend Delegated Acts under the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID II)[23] and the Insurance Distribution Directive (IDD)[24]. The Commission is of the view that when assessing if an investment product meets their clients’ needs, firms should also consider the sustainability preferences of each client, according to the proposed rules. This should help a broader range of investors access sustainable investments. By way of reminder, under the existing MiFID II “suitability framework”, firms providing investment advice and portfolio management services are required to obtain information from clients about their knowledge and experience, ability to bear losses, their investment objectives including risk tolerance, to ensure that such firms recommend and/or trade products that are suitable for the client. The proposed changes to MiFID II would incorporate ESG considerations in the suitability framework. This would mean that portfolio managers and investment advisers will have to take steps to ensure that their clients’ ESG considerations are captured and embedded in their investment decision and recommendations framework. Although clients would not be obliged to provide or specify their ESG considerations, firms would be required to proactively seek this information from clients and accordingly they will need to give consideration as to how best to ascertain and capture this information. Timing & Conclusion: The EC hopes that the first delegated act covering the climate change adaptation and mitigation objectives could be adopted by the end of this year. The objective would be to adopt the second and third delegated acts by mid-2021 and mid-2022 respectively covering other four other environmental objectives (protection of water and marine resources, circular economy and waste management, pollution prevention and control, protection of water and marine resources, healthy ecosystems). The EU environmental taxonomy (which is the bedrock of a number of the current and proposed new measures under the EU’s Action Plan) would then be completed. In a timing set-back, late in September 2019, member states of the EU voted to delay the application of the taxonomy to end 2022 – almost two years later than the Commission originally planned. Whilst the full package of proposals will take a few years to develop and be fully implemented, asset managers and investors are advised to start reviewing the impact of the new reporting and disclosure frameworks at an early stage to consider how these can be best embedded into existing frameworks and procedures. ANNEX 1 UK Stewardship Code 2020 – New “Apply or Explain” Principles Principles for Asset Owners and Asset Managers Purpose and Governance Signatories’ purpose, investment beliefs, strategy, and culture enable stewardship that creates long term value for clients and beneficiaries leading to sustainable benefits for the economy, the environment and society Signatories’ governance, resources and incentives support stewardship. Signatories manage conflicts of interest to put the best interests of clients and beneficiaries first. Signatories identify and respond to market-wide and systemic risks to promote a well-functioning financial system. Signatories review their policies, assure their processes and assess the effectiveness of their activities. Investment approach Signatories take account of client and beneficiary needs and communicate the activities and outcomes of their stewardship and investment to them. Signatories systematically integrate stewardship and investment, including material environmental, social and governance issues, and climate change, to fulfil their responsibilities. Signatories monitor and hold to account managers and/or service providers. Engagement Signatories engage with issuers to maintain or enhance the value of assets. Signatories, where necessary, participate in collaborative engagement to influence issuers. Signatories, where necessary, escalate stewardship activities to influence issuers. Exercising rights and responsibilities Signatories actively exercise their rights and responsibilities. PRINCIPLES FOR SERVICE PROVIDERS Signatories’ purpose, strategy and culture enable them to promote effective stewardship. Signatories’ governance, workforce, resources and incentives enable them to promote effective stewardship. Signatories identify and manage conflicts of interest and put the best interests of clients first. Signatories identify and respond to market-wide and systemic risks to promote a well-functioning financial system. Signatories support clients’ integration of stewardship and investment, taking into account, material environmental, social and governance issues, and communicating what activities they have undertaken. Signatories review their policies and assure their processes. ____________________________    [1]   The FRC sets the UK Corporate Governance and Stewardship Codes and UK standards for auditing, accounting and actuarial work. It monitors and takes action to promote the quality of corporate reporting; and operates independent enforcement arrangements for accountants and actuaries and enforces audit quality.    [2]  Revised version of stewardship code, here.    [3]  Results of feedback from joint initiative with the FRC, here.    [4]   A Review of Corporate Governance in UK Banks and Financial Institutions (26 June 2009) led by Sir David Walker, here.    [5]   NB: There are now over 20 stewardship codes globally many of which have been based on the original UK Code.    [6]   The Kay Review UK Equity Markets and Long-Term Decision Making: Final Report June 2012, here.    [7]   FRC consultation paper issued January 2019, here.    [8]   These include pension funds, endowment funds and charities.    [9]   These include investment consultants, proxy advisers and data and research providers. [10]   The Current Code states that the aim of stewardship is “promote the long term success of companies in such a way that the ultimate providers of capital also prosper. Effective stewardship benefits companies, investors and the economy as a whole.” [11]   Principle 12. [12]   The Code does not require disclosure of stewardship activities on a fund-by-fund basis or for each investment strategy but does require the report to indicate how stewardship differs across funds, asset class and geographies. [13]  For list of existing (i) asset manager signatories, click here; (ii) asset owner signatories, click here; and (iii) service provider signatories, click here. [14]   FCA published feedback from Discussion Paper exercise, here. [15]   Pension Protection Fund (Pensionable Service) and Occupational Pension Schemes (Investment and Disclosure) (Amendment and Modification) Regulations 2018 (the “Amending Regulations”) [16]   July 2019 UK Government Green Finance Strategy, here. [17]   Sustainable Finance Action Plan, here. [18]   IGCs provide independent oversight of the value for money of workplace personal pensions provided by firms such as life insurers and some self-invested personal pension operators. They also oversee workplace personal pensions in accumulation, i.e., before pension savings are accessed. [19]   The FCA is currently consulting on imposing a new duty for IGCs to report on their firm’s policies on ESG issues, consumer concerns and stewardship, for the products that IGCs oversee, here. [20]   ESG Taxonomy Regulation – A proposal for the establishment of a framework to facilitate sustainable investment, here. [21]   ESG Disclosure Regulation – A proposal on disclosures relating to sustainable investments and sustainability risks, here. [22]   For text of EU Low Carbon Benchmarks Regulation published on 25 October 2019, click here. [23]   Draft Amending Delegated Acts under MiFID II, here. [24]   Draft Amending Delegated Acts under the Insurance Distribution Directive, here. To learn more about the issues covered in this alert, please contact the author of this alert, Selina Sagayam, or the Gibson Dunn lawyer with whom you usually work in the Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance practice group, or any of the following lawyers: Selina S. Sagayam – London (+44 020 7071 4263, ssagayam@gibsondunn.com) Elizabeth Ising – Washington, D.C. (+1 202-955-8287, eising@gibsondunn.com) Amy Kennedy – London ( +44 020 7071 4283, akennedy@gibsondunn.com) Jean-Philippe Robé – Paris (+33 1 56 43 13 00, jrobe@gibsondunn.com) Lori Zyskowski – New York (+1 212-351-2309, lzyskowski@gibsondunn.com) © 2019 Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP Attorney Advertising:  The enclosed materials have been prepared for general informational purposes only and are not intended as legal advice.

October 1, 2019 |
Everyone Jump In! All Issuers Will Be Allowed to “Test-the-Waters”

Click for PDF On September 26, 2019, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC” or the “Commission”) announced[1] that it has adopted a new rule, Rule 163B[2] under the Securities Act of 1933 (the “Securities Act”), that allows all issuers to “test-the-waters.” This accommodation, which had previously been available only to emerging growth companies (“EGCs”), allows issuers or authorized persons (e.g., underwriters) to engage in discussions with, and provide written offering material to, certain institutional investors prior to, or following, the filing of a registration statement, to determine market interest in potential registered securities offerings. Rule 163B will become effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. In connection with the adoption of Rule 163B, Chairman Jay Clayton noted in a public statement[3] that test-the waters communications “have proven to be a popular and cost-effective means for evaluating market interest before incurring the costs associated with an initial public offering.” Chairman Clayton contended that Rule 163B will provide “both Main Street and institutional investors with more opportunities to invest in public companies.” This is consistent with one of the tenets of the SEC’s current Strategic Plan[4] to increase the number of public companies for the benefit of Main Street investors. The SEC initially proposed a new rule allowing all issuers to test-the-waters (the “Proposed Rule”) on February 19, 2019.[5] Under the Proposed Rule, any issuer or authorized person (e.g., an underwriter) would be permitted to engage in oral or written communications with potential investors that the issuer reasonably believes are qualified institutional buyers (“QIBs”), as that term is defined in Rule 144A, or institutional accredited investors (“IAIs”). In the Proposed Rule, the SEC stated that the new rule would “help issuers better assess the demand for and valuation of their securities,” which may in turn “enhance the ability of issuers to conduct successful offerings and lower their cost of capital.” Summary of Rule 163B The key provisions of Rule 163B are outlined below. Rule 163B in the form adopted by the SEC is largely consistent with the Proposed Rule, with few exceptions as noted. The requirements and liability associated with Rule 163B are also generally consistent with Section 5(d) of the Securities Act, which allows EGCs to engage in testing-the-waters. It expands on, and modifies the provisions of, Rule 163, which is available only to well-known seasoned issuers (“WKSIs”). Exemption Allowing Test-the-Waters Communications 163B communications considered “offers.” Test-the-waters communications under Rule 163B will be considered “offers” under Section 2(a)(3) of the Securities Act, and as a result, will still be subject to Section 12(a)(2) liability, as well as the anti-fraud provisions of the Federal securities laws. No filing requirement. In contrast to Rule 163, issuers will not be required to file Rule 163B test-the-waters communications with the SEC or include any special legend on the communication. The SEC noted that it could request copies of test-the-waters communications when reviewing a registration statement, and we would expect offering-related comment letters to include such requests consistent with the current practice. Also, written communications used in reliance on Rule 163B will not constitute free writing prospectuses, and the SEC clarified that Section 5(d) written communications also are not “free writing prospectuses” under Rule 405 and are exempt from the prospectus filing requirement under Rule 424(b). Inconsistency with the registration statement. Information in a test-the-waters communication must not conflict with material information in the related registration statement. In response to commenters’ concerns related to the possibility of having materials in the pre-filing test-the-waters communications that are different from the information in the registration statement, the SEC clarified in the proposing release for Rule 163B that its statement regarding issuers having consistent information in the Rule 163B communications and the registration statement is “intended to provide guidance to issuers” and is not a condition to determine the availability of Rule 163B. The SEC, however, emphasized the importance of not having any material misstatements or omissions in the Rule 163B communications. Regulation FD applies to test-the-waters communications. When providing test-the-waters communications to potential or current investors, issuers subject to Regulation FD must consider whether any information in such communication triggers any obligations under Regulation FD where material nonpublic information needs to be publicly disclosed or shared only on a confidential basis. General solicitation. In response to commenters’ concerns related to the possibility of the Rule 163B communications being viewed as a general solicitation that could disqualify an issuer from conducting a private placement instead of a registered offering, the SEC stated that whether such communications would constitute a general solicitation depends on the facts and circumstances, which issuers must evaluate when contemplating a subsequent private placement. Elimination of “anti-evasion” language in the Proposed Rule. The SEC has removed “anti-evasion” language in the Proposed Rule that would make the rule unavailable for any communication that are “in technical compliance with the rule,” but “is part of a plan or scheme to evade the requirements of the Section 5 of the [Securities] Act.” The SEC noted that this removal was in light of concerns expressed by certain commenters that the anti-evasion language creates more confusion and may deter issuers from using Rule 163B. Scope of Eligible Issuers All issuers—including non-reporting issuers, EGCs, non-EGCs, WKSIs and investment companies (including registered investment companies and business development companies (“BDCs”))—are eligible to rely on Rule 163B. Under Rule 163B as adopted, any issuer, or person authorized to act on behalf of the issuer, is permitted to engage in exempt oral or written communications with qualified potential investors.In a significant expansion from Rule 163, which permitted communications only by the issuer, Rule 163B also applies to communications by “persons authorized to act on behalf of” the issuer, which means that it can be relied on by an issuer’s investment bankers and other advisors. Investor Status Consistent with the Proposed Rule, Rule 163B permits an issuer to engage in pre- and post-filing solicitations of interest with potential investors that are, or that the issuer reasonably believes to be, QIBs or IAIs. A QIB generally is a specified institution that, acting for its own account or the accounts of other QIBs, in the aggregate, owns and invests on a discretionary basis at least $100 million in securities of unaffiliated issuers. An IAI is any institutional investor that is also an accredited investor, as defined in paragraph (a) of Rule 501 of Regulation D. Under Rule 163B, any potential investor solicited must meet, or issuers must reasonably believe that the potential investor meets, the requirements of the rule. Limiting communications to QIBs and IAIs. Despite recommendations from several commenters that the SEC consider expanding the class of eligible investors that may be engaged with in test-the-waters communications, the Commission limited the class of eligible investors to QIBs and IAIs in Rule 163B, which is consistent with the Proposed Rule. Reasonable belief standard. Rule 163B does not specify the steps that an issuer could or must take to establish a reasonable belief regarding investor status or require the issuer to verify investor status. In response to comments regarding this standard, the SEC stated that “by not specifying the steps an issuer could or must take to establish a reasonable belief as to investor status, this approach is intended to provide issuers with the flexibility to use methods that are cost-effective but appropriate in light of the facts and circumstances of each contemplated offering and each potential investor.” Non-Exclusivity of Rule 163B The Commission explicitly stated that Rule 163B is non-exclusive and an issuer is able to rely concurrently on other Securities Act communications rules or exemptions when determining how, when, and what to communicate related to a contemplated securities offering. Use by Investment Companies Issuers that are, or that are considering becoming, registered investment companies or BDCs (collectively, “funds”) are also eligible to engage in test-the-waters communications under Rule 163B. The Commission will not require any different filing, legending, or content requirements for funds’ test-the-waters communications under Rule 163B. Considerations When Using New Rule 163B While the SEC is hopeful that Rule 163B “will allow issuers to consult effectively with investors as they evaluate market interest in a contemplated registered securities offering before incurring the costs associated with such an offering, while maintaining adequate investor protections,” issuers must still be wary of certain restrictions and use the test-the-waters communications with caution. As the SEC emphasized in Rule 163B, issuers must ensure that there are no material misstatements or omissions in any test-the-waters communications. Even though the SEC acknowledged concerns regarding possible inconsistencies between materials in Rule 163B communications and information in the corresponding registration statements, such communications are still subject to Section 12(a)(2) liability, as well as anti-fraud provisions. In addition, given that Rule 163B communications will be subject to the requirements of Regulation FD, issuers that are subject to Regulation FD will need to determine whether Rule 163B communications will trigger Regulation FD’s requirements and whether to share the information only on a confidential basis through a wall-cross approach (subject to possible need for cleansing), similar to current practice in confidentially marketed offerings. _________________________ [1] https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-188 [2] https://www.sec.gov/rules/final/2019/33-10699.pdf [3] https://www.sec.gov/news/public-statement/clayton-2019-09-26-three-rulemakings [4] For more information on the Strategic Plan, see Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, “The SEC Adopts Strategic Plan for 2018-2022,” available at http://SecuritiesRegulationMonitor.com/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=340 [5] For more information on the Proposed Rule, see Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, “SEC Proposes Long-Awaited Expansion of “Test-the-Waters” to All Issuers – Use With Caution,” available at https://www.securitiesregulationmonitor.com/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=352 Gibson Dunn’s lawyers are available to assist in addressing any questions you may have regarding these developments. Please contact any member of the Gibson Dunn team, the Gibson Dunn lawyer with whom you usually work in the firm’s Capital Markets practice group, or the authors: Andrew L. Fabens – New York (+1 212-351-4034, afabens@gibsondunn.com) Hillary H. Holmes – Houston (+1 346-718-6602, hholmes@gibsondunn.com) Glenn R. Pollner – New York (+1 212-351-2333, gpollner@gibsondunn.com) Jenny J. Choi – New York (+1 212-351-2385, jchoi@gibsondunn.com) Melanie E. Gertz – San Francisco (+1 415-393-8243, mgertz@gibsondunn.com) Please also feel free to contact any of the following practice leaders: Capital Markets Group: Stewart L. McDowell – San Francisco (+1 415-393-8322, smcdowell@gibsondunn.com) Peter W. Wardle – Los Angeles (+1 213-229-7242, pwardle@gibsondunn.com) Andrew L. Fabens – New York (+1 212-351-4034, afabens@gibsondunn.com) Hillary H. Holmes – Houston (+1 346-718-6602, hholmes@gibsondunn.com) © 2019 Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP Attorney Advertising:  The enclosed materials have been prepared for general informational purposes only and are not intended as legal advice.

September 17, 2019 |
Ronald Mueller and Lori Zyskowski Elected Fellows by American College of Governance Counsel

Washington, D.C. partner Ronald O. Mueller and New York partner Lori Zyskowski were elected as Fellows of the American College of Governance Counsel. The American College of Governance Counsel is a professional, educational, and honorary association of lawyers widely recognized for their achievements in the field of governance. The newly elected fellows were announced in July 2019. Ronald Mueller advises public companies on a broad range of SEC disclosure and regulatory matters, executive and equity-based compensation issues, and corporate governance and compliance issues and practices. He advises some of the largest U.S. public companies on SEC reporting, proxy disclosures and proxy contests, shareholder engagement and shareholder proposals, and Section 16 reporting and compliance. Lori Zyskowski is Co-Chair of the Firm’s Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance Practice Group. She advises clients, including public companies and their boards of directors, on corporate governance and securities disclosure matters, with a focus on Securities and Exchange Commission reporting requirements, proxy statements, annual shareholders meetings, director independence issues, and executive compensation disclosure best practices.

September 9, 2019 |
SEC Staff Announces Significant Changes to Shareholder Proposal No-Action Letter Process

Click for PDF On September 6, 2019, the Division of Corporation Finance (the “Staff”) of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced[1] two significant procedural changes for responding to Exchange Act Rule 14a-8 no-action requests that will be applicable beginning with the 2019-2020 shareholder proposal season: Oral Response by Staff: The Staff may now respond orally instead of in writing to shareholder proposal no-action requests.  The Staff’s oral response will inform both the company and the proponent of its position with respect to the company’s asserted Rule 14a-8 basis for exclusion expressed in the no-action request.  The Staff stated that it intends to issue a written response letter to a no-action request “where it believes doing so will provide value such as more broadly applicable guidance about complying with Rule 14a-8.” No Definitive Response by Staff: The Staff may now more frequently decline to state a view on whether or not it concurs that a company may properly exclude a shareholder proposal under Rule 14a-8.  Importantly, the Staff stated that if it declines to state a view on any particular no-action request, the interested parties should not interpret that position as indicating that the proposal must be included in the company’s proxy statement.  Instead, the Staff stated that in these circumstances, the company requesting exclusion may have a valid legal basis to exclude the proposal under Rule 14a-8. In the announcement, the Staff also reiterated that—in the situations described in prior Staff Legal Bulletins[2]—it continues to find an analysis by the board of directors useful when a company seeks to exclude a proposal on grounds of either ordinary business (Rule 14a-8(i)(7)) or economic relevance (Rule 14a-8(i)(5)).  The Staff also noted that parties continue to be able to seek formal, binding adjudication on the merits of Rule 14a-8 issues in court. Background of the Staff’s Announcement Under Rule 14a-8(j), if a company intends to exclude a shareholder proposal from its proxy materials, it must notify the SEC no later than 80 calendar days before it files its definitive proxy statement, and must simultaneously provide the shareholder proponent with a copy of its submission.  The company’s submission must include an explanation of why the company believes that it may exclude the proposal under Rule 14a-8, and the explanation “should, if possible, refer to the most recent applicable authority, such as prior [Staff] letters issued under the rule.”[3]  This mandatory process has evolved into the practice of companies submitting no-action requests that ask the Staff to concur with their view that shareholder proposals are properly excludable under one of the procedural requirements or substantive bases set forth in Rule 14a-8. Rule 14a-8 contemplates that the Staff will respond to these requests.  For example, Rule 14a-8(k) states that a shareholder proponent can respond to a company’s exclusion notice, but states that proponents should make such submissions as quickly as possible so that the Staff “will have time to consider fully your submission before it issues its response.”  In Staff Legal Bulletin No. 14, the Staff stated, “Although we are not required to respond [to a no-action request], we have, as a convenience to both companies and shareholders, engaged in the informal practice of expressing our enforcement position on these submissions through the issuance of no-action responses.  We do this to assist both companies and shareholders in complying with the proxy rules.”[4]  Thus, for the past several decades, the Staff has responded to almost every shareholder proposal no-action request, except in limited situations (discussed below).  Similarly, the Staff has treated Rule 14a-8 no-action requests differently than no-action requests in other contexts by publicly disclosing the Rule 14a-8 no-action requests promptly following submission, whereas most no-action requests not involving Rule 14a-8 are publicly disclosed only after the Staff has responded to the request.[5] Following the 2018-2019 shareholder proposal season, during which the Staff performed the Herculean task of timely responding to hundreds of shareholder proposal no-action requests notwithstanding the month-long partial government shutdown, the Staff stated in a number of forums that it was considering changing its practice of expressing its views in writing in response to every no-action request.  For example, Division of Corporation Finance Director William Hinman was quoted as stating, “Going forward . . . we are going to be thinking about whether every request for a no-action letter need[s] a formal response from us.”[6]  Director Hinman added, “If we don’t think we have something to add, we may not issue a letter.  Something we are thinking about.  We may actively monitor the area and not necessarily give a response.”[7] As a result of these reports, a number of groups met with and/or wrote to the Staff regarding its proposal, raising concerns with the proposed change.[8] Perspectives on the Staff’s Announcement The Staff’s announcement provides few details on how and in what circumstances its new policy will be implemented.  While the full implications of the Staff’s announcement thus are difficult to assess, some initial observations follow. No Immediate Relief for Companies or Proponents: While the number of Rule 14a-8 no-action requests submitted to the Staff has been trending downward,[9] the new procedures may further relieve some of the burdens on the Staff of the shareholder proposal process.  However, they do not appear to lessen the costs and burdens of the shareholder proposal process on companies.  Under Rule 14a-8(j), a company must still notify the Staff if it intends to exclude a shareholder proposal from its proxy statement under Rule 14a-8, and it must still explain why the company believes that it may do so.  Because the Staff’s announcement provides no clear standards on when the Staff will apply its new procedures, companies likely will conclude that they should continue to request no-action relief and fully explain and cite support for their position.  Likewise, shareholder proponents may continue to conclude that it is worthwhile for them to submit responses seeking to refute companies’ positions on the excludability of proposals. Uncertainty over Effect of Staff’s Decisions to Decline to State its Views: The Staff historically has only rarely declined to state its views on a no-action request under Rule 14a-8, typically adopting that position when a proposal topic was subject to pending litigation.[10]  Importantly, the Staff announcement noted that its determination to not state its views on a no-action request does not mean that it disagrees with a company’s analysis or conclusion and that, in fact, the company requesting exclusion may have a valid legal basis to exclude the proposal under Rule 14a-8.  Nevertheless, a company faced with this situation will have the dilemma of determining whether in fact to exclude the proposal.  As noted by the Council of Institutional Investors (“CII”) in its letter to the Staff,[11] the result may be that some companies include proposals in their proxy statements that, in the past, the Staff would have concurred could be excluded.  That result would require all of the company’s shareholders (many of whom already have been overburdened with assessing how to vote on proposals during proxy season) to expend valuable time and resources on such proposals, even though, in CII’s words, “[s]ome of these proposals are likely to be misguided or on trivial issues.”[12]  In considering whether to omit a proposal in such situation, a company will need to consider the potential reaction of its shareholders, the risk of adverse publicity, possible reactions from proxy advisory firms (discussed below), the risk of litigation, and the possibility that including the proposal in its proxy statement will attract more proposals in future years. Response of Proxy Advisors: Both Institutional Shareholder Services (“ISS”) and Glass Lewis have policies under which they may recommend votes against directors if a company excludes a proposal without having received a Staff response or court order agreeing that the proposal is excludable or withdrawal from the proponent.[13]  However, these policies were issued before the Staff’s announcement and statement that their declining to state a view on a no-action request does not mean that a company has failed to state a valid basis to exclude the proposal.  Given concerns that have been expressed over burdens imposed on all shareholders if the Staff’s new policies result in an increase in the number of proposals included in company proxy statements, it will be important to watch whether the proxy advisory firms adopt a more nuanced approach to their analyses of company decisions to omit shareholder proposals when the Staff has declined to state a view, particularly in light of the SEC’s recent interpretive guidance on the applicability of Rule 14a-9 to the firms’ voting recommendations and cautions regarding the fiduciary duties of investment advisors relying on such recommendations.[14] Increased Risk of Litigation and Related Costs: Although Staff no-action letter responses reflect only informal views of the Staff and not binding adjudications, both companies and proponents have tended to defer to the Staff’s views, and litigation under Rule 14a-8 has been rare.[15]  Shareholder proposal litigation is costly (especially compared to the costs of obtaining a no-action letter response), and federal district courts cannot be relied upon to consider and adjudicate shareholder proposal disputes on the expedited schedule required during proxy season.  Nevertheless, it has always been the case, as noted in the Staff’s announcement, that “the parties may seek formal, binding adjudication on the merits of [a Rule 14a-8 interpretive] issue in court.”  The Staff’s announcement increases the risk to both proponents and companies that they may find themselves in court addressing the excludability of a shareholder proposal under Rule 14a-8. Greater Uncertainty in Rule 14a-8 Interpretations: A number of questions remain on the potential impact of the Staff’s new policies on the long-term transparency around and dynamics of the Rule 14a-8 process. For example, the Staff currently maintains two Rule 14a-8-related websites for shareholder proposal no-action requests: one where it posts incoming no-action requests, and one where it posts Staff responses to no-action requests.  The Staff could effectively maintain the same level of transparency as in the past by maintaining this practice and, when it issues an oral response, including some indication on the website where it posts decided no-action letters, indicating the nature of its oral response (Concur, Unable to concur, or No View) and, if it concurs, the basis of its concurrence.  However, the Staff announcement does not indicate whether the Staff intends to inform the company and proponent of the basis of its decision when issuing an oral response to a no-action request that makes multiple exclusion arguments (including, for example, that it concurs with the company on the basis of its Rule 14a-8(i)(7) argument), much less whether it will include some public indication on its website in such instances. Clearly there will be less definitive guidance on the application of Rule 14a-8 when the Staff declines to state a view on whether a proposal may properly be excluded from a company’s proxy statement. Nevertheless, depending on the frequency, context, and disclosure (if any) around the Staff’s determinations not to state a view, we expect that participants will seek to interpret or read meaning into the situation, rightly or wrongly. The Staff announcement indicates that one instance in which the Staff will issue response letters will be to provide “more broadly applicable guidance about complying with Rule 14a-8.” Although the Staff has on occasion used a Rule 14a-8 no-action response to elaborate on its interpretation of the rule, historically the Staff has utilized Staff Legal Bulletins to provide “more broadly applicable guidance” regarding its interpretation of Rule 14a-8.  The Staff’s announcement appears to suggest that it now will more commonly spring guidance on the shareholder proposal community in the middle of the season and in the context of specific factual situations, which may make such guidance harder to apply in other contexts than if the Staff addressed such issues more generally. In light of the foregoing, there is concern that the Staff’s procedural changes will result in companies and proponents being less able to easily or accurately determine the Staff’s views on the applicability of Rule 14a‑8 to a certain proposal.[16] In the absence of any written record, third parties may not know whether a proposal that was challenged in a no-action letter was excluded, and on what grounds, or if the Staff declined to state its position (the Staff’s announcement did not indicate that it would cease to disclose when a no-action request was withdrawn).  If that does occur, over time this may (ironically) result in an increase in the number of shareholder proposals submitted to companies and the number of no-action exclusion requests submitted to the Staff, as proponents and companies have less guidance on when and on what grounds proposals are excludable. Conclusions Although the shareholder proposal landscape is constantly evolving, the Staff’s announcement heralds a more significant shift in the landscape.  Combined with the implications of the SEC’s recent guidance for proxy advisory firms and investment advisers engaged in the proxy voting process,[17] it means that the 2019-2020 shareholder proposal season could be particularly tumultuous.  Moreover, it remains likely that the SEC will propose amendments to Rule 14a-8 in the near future,[18] although any such rules are unlikely to be in effect for much of the 2019-2020 shareholder proposal season.  Nevertheless, shareholder proponents likely will be mindful of these dynamics when evaluating whether to submit novel proposals, and companies should consider now how these changes may bear on their approaches in seeking no-action exclusion of shareholder proposals and engaging with their shareholders in advance of and during the upcoming proxy season. [1]   Available at https://www.sec.gov/corpfin/announcement/announcement-rule-14a-8-no-action-requests. [2]   See, e.g., Staff Legal Bulletin No. 14I (Nov. 1, 2017), available at https://www.sec.gov/interps/legal/cfslb14i.htm, and Staff Legal Bulletin No. 14J (Oct. 23, 2018), available at https://www.sec.gov/corpfin/staff-legal-bulletin-14j-shareholder-proposals. [3]   Rule 14a-8(j)(2)(ii). [4]   Staff Legal Bulletin No. 14, Shareholder Proposals (July 13, 2001), available at https://www.sec.gov/interps/legal/cfslb14.htm.  As stated in the Division of Corporation Finance’s “Informal Procedures Regarding Shareholder Proposals” (Nov. 2, 2011), which in the past the Staff has attached to each of its Rule 14a-8 no-action letter responses, “The Division of Corporation Finance believes that its responsibility with respect to matters arising under Rule 14a-8 [17 C.F.R. § 240.14a-8], as with other matters under the proxy rules, is to aid those who must comply with the rule by offering informal advice and suggestions and to determine, initially, whether or not it may be appropriate in a particular matter to recommend enforcement action to the Commission.”  Available at https://www.sec.gov/divisions/corpfin/cf-noaction/14a-8-informal-procedures.htm. [5]   See 17 C.F.R. § 200.82 (providing for public availability of materials filed pursuant to Rule 14a-8(d)). [6]   The Deal, “SEC’s Clayton Eyes Tougher Rules for Proxy Firms, Proposals” (July 16, 2019).  See also Bloomberg Law, “SEC May Curb Review of Contested Shareholder Proposals” (July 16, 2019). [7]   Id. [8]   For example, see Council of Institutional Investors, Letter to Staff: SEC Corporation Finance 14a-8 Process (August 12, 2019), available at  https://www.cii.org/files/issues_and_advocacy/correspondence/2019/ August%2012%202019%2020190812%2014a-8%20No-Action%20Process%20letter.pdf. [9]   The following statistics are based on information we have compiled from the SEC’s website and the Institutional Shareholder Services shareholder proposals and voting analytics databases. No-Action Request Statistics   2019* 2018* 2017* Total number of proposals submitted 792 788 827 Total no-action requests submitted 228 256 288 No-action submission rate 29% 32% 35% Staff responses 180 194 242 Exclusions granted 119 (66%) 125 (64%) 189 (78%) Exclusions denied 61 (34%) 69 (36%) 53 (22%) *   Year references are to each year’s shareholder proposal season, which we define to mean the period from October 1 of the preceding year through June 1 of the indicated year.  The number of Staff responses is lower than the number of no-action requests submitted due to withdrawals and also reflects no-action letters submitted late in the season that are responded to after our June 1 measurement date. [10]   See, e.g., Electronic Arts Inc. (avail. May 23, 2008) (“We note that litigation is pending in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York with respect to EA’s intention to omit the proposal from EA’s proxy materials.  In light of the fact that arguments raised in your letters and that of the proponent are currently before the court in connection with the litigation between EA and the proponent concerning this proposal, in accordance with staff policy, we will not comment on those arguments at this time.  Accordingly, we express no view with respect to EA’s intention to omit the instant proposal from the proxy materials relating to its next annual meeting of security holders.”). [11]   See note 8. [12]   Id. [13]   ISS, U.S. Proxy Voting Research Procedures & Policies (Excluding Compensation-Related) Frequently Asked Questions (Aug. 13, 2018), FAQ 67 (available at https://www.issgovernance.com/file/policy/active/americas/US-Procedures-and-Policies-FAQ.pdf): [U]nder our governance failures policy, ISS will generally recommend a vote against one or more directors (individual directors, certain committee members, or the entire board based on case-specific facts and circumstances), if a company omits from its ballot a properly submitted shareholder proposal when it has not obtained: 1) voluntary withdrawal of the proposal by the proponent; 2) no-action relief from the SEC; or 3) a U.S. District Court ruling that it can exclude the proposal from its ballot. … If the company has taken unilateral steps to implement the proposal, however, the degree to which the proposal is implemented, and any material restrictions added to it, will factor into the assessment. Glass Lewis, 2019 Proxy Paper™ Guidelines, An Overview Of The Glass Lewis Approach To Proxy Advice – United States (2019) (available at https://www.glasslewis.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Guidelines_US.pdf.): In instances where companies have excluded shareholder proposals . . . Glass Lewis will take a case-by-case approach, taking into account the following issues: . . . The company’s overall governance profile, including its overall responsiveness to and engagement with shareholders . . . Glass Lewis will make note of instances where a company has successfully petitioned the SEC to exclude shareholder proposals.  If after review we believe that the exclusion of a shareholder proposal is detrimental to shareholders, we may, in certain very limited circumstances, recommend against members of the governance committee.   [14]   Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, “SEC Issues New Guidance for Proxy Advisors and Investment Advisers Engaged in the Proxy Voting Process,” available at https://www.gibsondunn.com/sec-issues- new-guidance-for-proxy-advisors-and-investment-advisers-engaged-in-proxy-voting-process/. [15]   But see TransDigm Group Incorporated (avail. Jan. 28, 2019) (New York City Office of the Comptroller commenced litigation over the proposed exclusion of its proposal prior to the Staff issuing its no-action letter response). [16]   Agenda, “SEC Launches ‘Brand New’ Changes to No-Action Process” (Sept. 6, 2019) (quoting the New York City Comptroller and representatives from the Council of Institutional Investors and As You Sow expressing concern with the Staff announcement). [17]   See note 14. [18]   See Commission Elad L. Roisman, “Statement at the Open Meeting on Commission Guidance and Interpretation Regarding Proxy Voting and Proxy Voting Advice” (Aug. 21, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/public-statement/statement-roisman-082119 (“As our Regulatory Flexibility Agenda notes, in the near future the Commission expects to consider . . . proposed rules to amend the submission and resubmission thresholds for shareholder proposals under Rule 14a-8 under the Exchange Act . . . .”); Gibson Dunn Securities Regulation Monitor, “SEC To Propose Shareholder Proposal and Proxy Advisory Firm Rule Amendments” (May 24, 2019), available at  https://www.securitiesregulationmonitor.com/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=367. Gibson Dunn’s lawyers are available to assist with any questions you may have regarding these issues. To learn more about these issues, please contact the Gibson Dunn lawyer with whom you usually work in the Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance practice group, or any of the following lawyers: Ronald O. Mueller – Washington, D.C. (+1 202-955-8671, rmueller@gibsondunn.com) Elizabeth Ising – Washington, D.C. (+1 202-955-8287, eising@gibsondunn.com) Lori Zyskowski – New York (+1 212-351-2309, lzyskowski@gibsondunn.com) © 2019 Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP Attorney Advertising:  The enclosed materials have been prepared for general informational purposes only and are not intended as legal advice.

September 9, 2019 |
Law360 Names Seven Gibson Dunn Lawyers as 2019 Rising Stars

Seven Gibson Dunn lawyers were named among Law360’s Rising Stars for 2019 [PDF], featuring “attorneys under 40 whose legal accomplishments transcend their age.”  The following lawyers were recognized: Washington D.C. partner Chantale Fiebig in Transportation, San Francisco partner Allison Kidd in Real Estate, Washington D.C. associate Andrew Kilberg in Telecommunications, New York associate Sean McFarlane in Sports, New York partner Laura O’Boyle in Securities, Los Angeles partner Katherine Smith in Employment and Century City partner Daniela Stolman in Private Equity. Gibson Dunn was one of three firms with the second most Rising Stars. The list of Rising Stars was published on September 8, 2019.

August 23, 2019 |
SEC Issues New Guidance for Proxy Advisors and Investment Advisers Engaged in the Proxy Voting Process

Click for PDF On August 21, 2019, the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “Commission”) issued new guidance regarding two elements of the proxy voting process[1] that are influenced by proxy advisory firms: proxy voting advice issued by proxy advisors and proxy voting by investment advisers who use that proxy voting advice. The guidance, in the words of Commissioner Elad L. Roisman, “reiterate[s] longstanding Commission rules and positions that remain applicable and very relevant in today’s marketplace.” Notably, the two releases issued by the Commission are not subject to notice and comment and will instead become effective upon publication in the Federal Register. Specifically, the Commission approved issuing both: a Commission interpretation that the provision of proxy voting advice by proxy advisory firms generally constitutes a “solicitation” under federal proxy rules and new Commission guidance about the availability of exemptions from the federal proxy rules and the applicability of the proxy anti-fraud rule to proxy voting advice (the “Proxy Voting Advice Release”);[2] and new Commission guidance intended to facilitate investment advisers’ compliance with the fiduciary duties owed to each client in connection with the exercise of investment advisers’ proxy voting responsibilities, including in connection with their use of proxy advisory firms (the “Proxy Voting Responsibilities Release”[3] and together, the “Releases”). The Commission approved both Releases by a vote of 3-2, with Commissioners Robert J. Jackson, Jr. and Allison Herren Lee dissenting from each Release. In their statements explaining their opposition, Commissioners Jackson and Lee expressed concern that neither was subject to a notice and comment period, which prevented the Commission from fully considering the consequences of the new guidance.[4] Both Commissioners also questioned whether the Releases will increase costs associated with the provision and use of proxy voting advice, and Commissioner Lee expressed concern that greater issuer involvement in the proxy voting recommendation process could “undermine the reliability and independence of voting recommendations.” Background Over the past several years, the Commission and its staff (the “Staff”) have issued statements and held public forums to discuss issues related to voting advice issued by proxy advisory firms and investment advisers’ reliance on that advice. For example, in July 2010, the Commission issued a concept release[5] that sought public comment on, among other topics, the legal status and role of proxy advisory firms.[6] And in June 2014, the staff of the Divisions of Investment Management and Corporation Finance issued Staff Legal Bulletin No. 20 (“SLB 20”),[7] which provided guidance on investment advisers’ responsibilities in voting client proxies and retaining proxy advisory firms and the availability and requirements of two exemptions to the federal proxy rules often relied upon by proxy advisory firms.[8] Subsequently the Staff held a roundtable in November 2018 to provide an opportunity for market participants to engage with the Staff on various aspects of the proxy process (the “2018 Roundtable”).[9] The 2018 Roundtable included panels addressing each of the regulation of proxy advisory firms, proxy voting mechanics and technology, and shareholder proposals. Participants on the proxy advisory firms panel discussed investor advisers’ reliance on voting advice provided by proxy advisory firms, how proxy advisory firms address conflicts of interest and challenges issuers face in correcting factual errors in voting recommendations published by proxy advisory firms.[10] Following the 2018 Roundtable, Chairman Jay Clayton announced that Commissioner Roisman would lead the Commission’s efforts to improve the proxy voting process and infrastructure.[11] In his opening remarks at the Commission’s August 21 meeting, Commissioner Roisman indicated that the Releases were the first of several matters that the Commission may consider in the near future relating to its proxy voting rules.[12] Other matters that Commissioner Roisman mentioned would likely be considered “in the near future” include proposed reforms to the rules addressing proxy advisory firms’ reliance on proxy solicitation exemptions and the rules regarding the thresholds for shareholder proposals announced as part of the Commission’s Spring 2019 Regulatory Flexibility Agenda.[13] Summary of the Proxy Voting Advice Release The Proxy Voting Advice Release, developed by the Commission’s Division of Corporation Finance, addresses two topics: the Commission articulates its view that proxy voting advice provided by proxy advisory firms generally constitutes a “solicitation” subject to the federal proxy roles, and the Commission provides an interpretation and additional guidance on the applicability of the federal proxy rules to proxy voting advice that is designed to influence the voting decisions of a proxy advisory firm’s clients. Proxy Voting Advice Constitutes a Solicitation Under the Federal Proxy Rules As explained in the Proxy Voting Advice Release, under Rule 14a‑1(l) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the “Exchange Act”), a “solicitation” includes “a communication to security holders under circumstances reasonably calculated to result in the procurement, withholding or revocation of a proxy.” This includes communications seeking to influence the voting of proxies, even if the person issuing the communication does not seek authorization to act as a proxy and may be indifferent to its ultimate outcome. Communications that constitute “solicitations” under Rule 14a‑1(l) are subject to the information and filing requirements of the federal proxy rules. However, Exchange Act Rule 14a-2(b)(1) provides an exemption from the Commission’s information and filing requirements (but not from the anti-fraud rules) for “any solicitation by or on behalf of any person who does not, at any time during such solicitation, seek directly or indirectly, either on its own or another’s behalf, the power to act as a proxy for a security holder and does not furnish or otherwise request, or act on behalf of a person who furnishes or requests, a form of revocation, abstention, consent or authorization.” Based on this background, in the Proxy Voting Advice Release the Commission explains that its interpretation is informed by the purpose, substance and circumstances under which the proxy voting advice is provided. Where a proxy advisory firm markets its expertise in the research and analysis of voting matters to assist a client in making proxy voting decisions by providing voting recommendations, the proxy advisory firm is not “merely performing administrative or ministerial services.” Instead, the Commission believes that providing such proxy voting recommendations constitutes a solicitation because the recommendations are “designed to influence the client’s voting decision.” Importantly, the Commission believes that such recommendations constitute a solicitation even where a proxy advisory firm bases its recommendations on its client’s own tailored voting guidelines or the client ultimately decides not to follow the proxy voting recommendations.[14] The Commission makes clear that its interpretation does not prevent a proxy advisory firm from relying on the exemptions from the federal proxy rules information and filing requirements under Exchange Act Rule 14a-2(b)(1).[15] Nevertheless, the Commission’s interpretation is an important foundational basis for any subsequent regulation of proxy advisory firms that addresses conditions for the availability of Rule 14a-2(b)(1). Proxy Voting Advice Remains Subject to Exchange Act Rule 14a-9 In the second part of the Proxy Voting Advice Release, the Commission emphasizes that even where a proxy advisory firm’s voting advice is otherwise exempt from the information and filing requirements of the federal proxy rules under Exchange Act Rule 14a-2(b)(1), that voting advice remains subject to the anti-fraud provisions of Exchange Act Rule 14a-9. Accordingly, when issuing proxy voting advice, proxy advisory firms may not make materially false or misleading statements or omit material facts that would be required to make the voting advice not misleading. Exchange Act Rule 14a-9 prohibits any solicitation from containing any statement which, at the time and in the light of the circumstances under which it is made, is false or misleading with respect to any material fact. In addition, solicitations may not omit any material fact necessary in order to make the solicitation false or misleading. Of particular importance for proxy voting advice based on the research and analysis of proxy advisory firms, Exchange Act Rule 14a-9 also extends to opinions, reasons, recommendations or beliefs that are disclosed as part of a solicitation. Where such opinions, recommendations or similar views are provided, disclosure of the underlying facts, assumptions, limitations and other information may need to be disclosed so that these views do not raise concerns under the rule. Depending on the materiality of the information and the particular circumstances, the Commission indicates that proxy advisory firms may need to disclose additional information to avoid issues under Exchange Act Rule 14a-9, including: an explanation of the firm’s methodology used to formulate its voting advice on a particular matter; non-public information sources and the extent to which the information from these sources differs from the publicly available disclosures; and any material conflicts of interest that arise in connection with providing the proxy voting advice in reasonably sufficient detail so that the client can assess the relevance of those conflicts. Summary of the Proxy Voting Responsibilities Release Developed by the Commission’s Division of Investment Management, the Proxy Voting Responsibilities Release clarifies how an investment adviser’s fiduciary duties to its clients inform the investment adviser’s proxy voting responsibilities, particularly where investment advisers retain proxy advisory firms to assist in some aspect of their proxy voting responsibilities. Under Rule 206(4)-6 of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, an investment adviser that assumes proxy voting authority must implement policies and procedures that are reasonably designed to ensure it makes voting decisions in the best interest of clients. The Commission reiterates throughout the Proxy Voting Responsibilities Release that proxy voting must be consistent with the investment adviser’s fiduciary duties and in compliance with Rule 206(4)-6. The Proxy Voting Responsibilities Release sets forth six examples of considerations investment advisers should evaluate when discharging their fiduciary duties in connection with proxy voting. The Commission emphasizes that this list of considerations is non-exhaustive, and while its guidance is generally phrased as considerations or actions investment advisers “should” evaluate, the Commission further indicates that these examples are not the only way for investment advisers to discharge their fiduciary duties when voting proxies. 1. Determine the scope of the investment adviser’s proxy voting authority and responsibilities If an investment adviser agrees to assume proxy voting authority, the scope of the voting arrangements should be determined between the investment adviser and each of its clients on an individual basis.  The Commission emphasizes that any proxy voting arrangements must be subject to full and fair disclosure and informed consent. Among the variety of potential approaches to proxy voting arrangements, the Commission provides several examples to which an investment adviser and its client may appropriately agree, including the investment adviser exercising proxy voting authority pursuant to specific parameters designed to serve the best interests of the client based on the client’s individual investment strategy, the investment adviser refraining from exercising proxy voting authority under agreed circumstances or the investment adviser voting only on particular types of proposals based on the client’s express preferences. 2. Demonstrate that the investment adviser is making voting determinations in its clients’ best interests and in accordance with its proxy voting policies and procedures The Commission indicates that investment advisers must at least annually review and document the adequacy of its proxy voting policies and procedures, including whether the policies and procedures are reasonably designed to result in proxy voting in the best interest of the investment adviser’s clients. Because clients often have differing investment objectives and strategies, if an investment adviser has multiple clients then it should consider whether voting all of its clients’ shares under a uniform voting policy is in the best interest of each individual client.  Alternatively, an investment adviser should consider whether it should implement voting policies that are in line with the particular investment strategies and objectives of individual clients.  An investment adviser should also consider whether its voting policy or policies should be tailored to permit or require more detailed analysis for more complex matters, such as a corporate event or a contested director election. In addition, where an investment adviser retains a proxy advisory firm to provide voting advice or execution services, the investment adviser should consider undertaking additional steps to evaluate whether its voting determinations are consistent with its voting policies and in the best interests of its clients. 3. Evaluate any proxy advisory firm in advance of retaining it Before retaining a proxy advisory firm, investment advisers should consider whether the proxy advisory firm has the capacity and competency to adequately analyze the matters for which it is providing voting advice.  The Commission indicates that the scope of the investment adviser’s proxy voting authority and the services for which the proxy advisory firm has been retained should inform the considerations that the investment adviser undertakes. Such consideration could include an assessment of the adequacy and quality of the proxy advisory firm’s staffing, personnel and/or technology.  In addition, investment advisers should consider the proxy advisory firm’s process for obtaining input from issuers and other clients with respect to its voting polices, methodologies and peer group design. 4. Evaluate processes for addressing potential factual errors, incompleteness or methodological weakness in a proxy advisory firm’s analysis An investment adviser should have policies and procedures in place to ensure that its proxy voting decisions are not based on materially inaccurate or incomplete information provided by a proxy advisory firm.  By way of example, the Commission suggests that an investment adviser should consider periodically reviewing its ongoing use of the proxy advisory firm’s research or voting advice, including whether any potential errors, incompleteness or weaknesses materially affected the research or recommendations that the investment adviser relied on. In addition, the Commission indicates that investment advisers should consider the proxy advisory firm’s policies and procedures to obtain current and accurate information, including the firm’s engagement with issuers, efforts to correct identified material deficiencies, disclosure regarding its sources of information and its methodologies for issuing voting advice and the firm’s consideration of facts unique to the issuer or proposal. 5. Adopt policies for evaluating proxy advisory firms’ services Where an investment adviser has retained a proxy advisory firm to assist with its proxy voting responsibilities, the investment adviser should adopt policies and procedures that are designed to evaluate the services of the proxy advisory firm to ensure that votes are cast in the best interests of the investment adviser’s clients. The Commission indicates that investment advisers should consider implementing policies and procedures to identify and evaluate a proxy advisory firm’s conflicts of interest on an on-going basis and evaluate the proxy advisory firm’s “capacity and competency” to provide voting advice and execute votes in accordance with the investment adviser’s instructions. In addition, investment advisers should consider how and when the proxy advisory firm updates its methodologies, guidelines and voting advice. 6. Determine when to exercise proxy voting opportunities An investment adviser is not required to exercise every opportunity to vote in either of two circumstances—where the investment adviser and its client have agreed in advance that the investment adviser’s proxy voting authority is limited under certain circumstances and where the investment adviser and its client have agreed in advance that the investment adviser has authority to cast votes based on the best interests of the client. In both situations, the investment adviser’s action must be in accordance with its prior agreement with its client. Moreover, where an investment adviser may refrain from voting because doing so is in the best interest of its client, the investment adviser should first consider its duty of care to its client in light of the scope of services it has agreed to assume. Practical Considerations Just as the Commission was divided in approving the Releases, reactions to the Releases are likely to vary among participants in the proxy process. For example, public companies may both view the Releases as a positive step and believe that additional Commission action is needed to address the errors, conflicts of interests and other challenges with proxy advisory firms. The Commission was limited in the actions it could take via interpretation and issuing guidance in the Releases. However, the Commission signaled that the Staff is working on proposed rules “to address proxy advisory firms’ reliance on the proxy solicitation exemptions in Exchange Act Rule 14a‑2(b).” Given that the rulemaking process can be time-consuming, the Releases provide helpful immediate guidance heading into the 2020 proxy season. That said, it remains to be seen whether and to what extent the proxy advisory firms and their investment adviser-clients will adjust their practices in response to the Releases. For example, the proxy advisory firms may increase the disclosures included in their reports, particularly when they are relying on debated premises such as studies asserting that certain corporate governance or sustainability actions increase shareholder value. They may also be less willing to rely on information provided either by proponents or activists unless that information has been filed with the Commission. Investment advisers inclined to vote lock-step with proxy advisory firm recommendations may be more willing to engage with companies in advance of voting. Similarly, the Commission’s statements on the application of Rule 14a-9 to proxy advisory firm reports and recommendations[16] may affect various proxy advisory firm practices due to the threat (real or perceived) of public companies commencing litigation against these firms in the event that statements in a proxy advisory firm’s report are viewed as materially false or misleading. For example, it is common to see parties in contested solicitations commence litigation under Rule 14a‑9 challenging the other side’s solicitation materials. It is not hard to envision similar litigation playing out in the future when there are differences of opinion as to whether a proxy advisory report contains information that is either inaccurate or misleading, or where it simply omits information that leaves the disclosed information materially misleading. As a result, proxy advisory firms may change their practices for vetting and issuing their voting recommendation reports; for example, the firms may be more inclined to provide drafts of their reports to public companies in advance of the reports being issued. ________________________ [1]   The two most influential proxy advisory firms are Institutional Shareholder Services (“ISS”) and Glass, Lewis & Co. [2]   Commission Interpretation and Guidance Regarding the Applicability of the Proxy Rules to Proxy Voting Advice, Exchange Act Release No. 34-86721 (Aug. 21, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/rules/interp/2019/34-86721.pdf. [3]   Commission Guidance Regarding Proxy Voting Responsibilities of Investment Advisers, Investment Advisers Act Release No. IA-5325 and Investment Company Act Release No. IC-33605 (Aug. 21, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/rules/interp/2019/ia-5325.pdf. [4]   See Commissioner Robert J. Jackson, Jr., “Statement on Proxy-Advisor Guidance” (Aug. 21, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/public-statement/statement-jackson-082119; Commissioner Allison Herren Lee, “Statement of Commissioner Allison Herren Lee on Proxy Voting and Proxy Solicitation Releases” (Aug. 21, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/public-statement/statement-lee-082119. [5]   Concept Release on the U.S. Proxy System, Release No. 34-62495, 75 FR 42982 (July 22, 2010), available at https://www.sec.gov/rules/concept/2010/34-62495.pdf. [6]   For additional information on the 2010 concept release, please see our client alert dated July 22, 2010, available at https://www.gibsondunn.com/securities-and-exchange-commission-issues-concept-release-seeking-public-comment-on-u-s-proxy-system/. [7]   Staff Legal Bulletin No. 20 (June 30, 2014), available at http://www.sec.gov/interps/legal/cfslb20.htm. [8]   For additional information regarding SLB 20, please see our client alert dated July 1, 2015, available at https://www.gibsondunn.com/sec-staff-releases-guidance-regarding-proxy-advisory-firms/. [9]   See Securities and Exchange Commission, “Spotlight on Proxy Process” (Nov. 15, 2018), available at https://www.sec.gov/proxy-roundtable-2018. [10]   See Securities and Exchange Commission Webcast Archive, “Roundtable on the Proxy Process” (Nov. 15, 2018), available at https://www.sec.gov/video/webcast-archive-player.shtml?document_id=111518roundtable. [11]   See Chairman Jay Clayton, “Remarks for Telephone Call with SEC Investor Advisory Committee Members” (Feb. 6, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/public-statement/clayton-remarks-investor-advisory-committee-call-020619. [12]   See Commission Elad L. Roisman, “Statement at the Open Meeting on Commission Guidance and Interpretation Regarding Proxy Voting and Proxy Voting Advice” (Aug. 21, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/public-statement/statement-roisman-082119. [13]   See Agency Rule List – Spring 2019, available here. [14]   In contrast, ISS previously asked the Commission to confirm that “a registered investment adviser who is contractually obligated to furnish vote recommendations based on client-selected guidelines does not provide ‘unsolicited’ proxy voting advice, and thus is not engaged in a ‘solicitation’ subject to the Exchange Act proxy rules.” Letter from Gary Retelny, President and CEO, ISS, to Brent J. Fields, Secretary, Commission (Nov. 7, 2018), available at https://www.sec.gov/comments/4-725/4725-4629940-176410.pdf. [15]   For additional information regarding the Staff’s views on the availability of such exemptions for proxy advisory firms, please see our client alert regarding SLB 20 dated July 1, 2015, available at https://www.gibsondunn.com/sec-staff-releases-guidance-regarding-proxy-advisory-firms/. [16]   The solicitation exemption in Rule 14a-2(b)(3) explicitly does not also provide an exemption from Rule 14a-9. Thanks to associate Geoffrey Walter in Washington, D.C. for his assistance in the preparation of this client update. Gibson Dunn’s lawyers are available to assist with any questions you may have regarding these issues. To learn more about these issues, please contact the Gibson Dunn lawyer with whom you usually work, or any of the following lawyers: Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance: Elizabeth Ising – Washington, D.C. (+1 202-955-8287, eising@gibsondunn.com) James J. Moloney – Orange County, CA (+ 949-451-4343, jmoloney@gibsondunn.com) Ronald O. Mueller – Washington, D.C. (+1 202-955-8671, rmueller@gibsondunn.com) Brian J. Lane – Washington, D.C. (+1 202-887-3646, blane@gibsondunn.com) Lori Zyskowski – New York (+1 212-351-2309, lzyskowski@gibsondunn.com) Shareholder Activism: Eduardo Gallardo – New York (+1 212-351-3847, egallardo@gibsondunn.com) © 2019 Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP Attorney Advertising:  The enclosed materials have been prepared for general informational purposes only and are not intended as legal advice.

August 16, 2019 |
Delaware Court of Chancery Issues Important Ruling on Validity of Advance Notice Bylaws

Click for PDF In an important transcript ruling issued this week,[1] the Delaware Court of Chancery upheld the validity and vitality of advance notice bylaw provisions, which govern the timing and disclosure requirements of stockholder nominations of board candidates. The ruling should give further comfort to boards of public corporations in enforcing reasonable and customary safeguards commonly imposed on the critical director nomination process. The recent transcript ruling was issued in connection with the unsolicited efforts by Bay Financial Capital to acquire Barnes & Noble Education, Inc. (BNED). BNED operates physical and virtual bookstores for educational institutions, sells textbooks wholesale, and provides digital educational solutions. BNED was spun off from Barnes & Noble, Inc. in 2015. BNED’s bylaws require that director nominations be submitted by stockholders no earlier than 120 days and no later than 90 days prior to the anniversary date of the prior year’s annual meeting of stockholders. As customary, under BNED’s bylaws a stockholder must be a record holder as of the notice deadline in order to nominate directors. Between February and June 2019, Bay Capital submitted three unsolicited proposals to acquire BNED. The BNED Board rejected all three proposals, primarily for two reasons. First, the Board determined the financial consideration to be inadequate. Second, the Board believed that Bay Capital was not a credible potential acquirer, having doubts of its ability to finance an acquisition of a public company. On June 27, 2019, the last day to submit director nominations for the 2019 annual meeting of stockholder, Bay Capital noticed the nomination of a slate of director candidates. Although the notice was timely, as of June 27 Bay Capital was just a beneficial owner of BNED stock and not a record holder. BNED’s Board of Directors therefore rejected the notice as invalid. Two weeks later, Bay Capital filed a complaint in Delaware Court of Chancery seeking injunctive relief to run its slate of directors at the upcoming annual meeting of stockholders. The Court found that despite being reminded no fewer than four times by its advisor of the record holder requirement set forth in the BNED bylaws, Bay Capital did not acquire shares until three days before the nomination deadline. And when the shares were acquired, it was done through a broker such that there was not sufficient time to get the shares transferred in Bay Capital’s record name. The Court dismissed various arguments advanced by Bay Capital in seeking an injunction, including a purported ambiguity in the BNED bylaws as to the need for the nominating stockholder to be a holder of record at the time it delivered the notice of nomination. Ultimately, the Court noted: “Needless to say, not even Delaware’s strong public policy favoring the stockholder franchise will save Bay Capital from its dilatory conduct. Bay Capital blew the deadline. It then made up excuses for doing so. No record evidence suggests that the company is in any way at fault for that mistake. If this Court required the company to accept the nomination in these circumstances, advance notice requirements would have little meaning under Delaware law.” In light of the continuing prevalence of shareholder activism and hostile takeover activity, public corporations should continuously review their advance notice bylaw with counsel to confirm that they include state-of-the-art guardrails that can ensure an orderly and timely nomination process. And, more importantly, well-informed boards should feel comfortable uniformly enforcing those provisions, and not be intimidated by efforts by activist shareholders and hostile bidders to try to bypass their requirements due to carelessness or ignorance. Gibson Dunn represents Barnes & Noble Education, Inc. in this matter. ________________________    [1]   Bay Capital Finance, LLC v. Barnes & Noble Education, Inc. (August 14, 2019), available here. Gibson Dunn’s lawyers are available to assist with any questions you may have regarding these issues.  For further information, please contact the Gibson Dunn lawyer with whom you usually work, or the following authors: Eduardo Gallardo – New York (+1 212-351-3847, egallardo@gibsondunn.com) Adam H. Offenhartz – New York (+1 212-351-3808, aoffenhartz@gibsondunn.com) Aric H. Wu – New York (+1 212-351-3820, awu@gibsondunn.com) © 2019 Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP Attorney Advertising:  The enclosed materials have been prepared for general informational purposes only and are not intended as legal advice.

August 15, 2019 |
2019 Mid-Year Securities Litigation Update

Click for PDF The rate of new securities class action filings appears to be stabilizing, but that does not mean 2019 has been lacking in important developments in securities law. This mid-year update highlights what you most need to know in securities litigation trends and developments for the first half of 2019: The Supreme Court decided Lorenzo, holding that, even though Lorenzo did not “make” statements at issue and is thus not subject to enforcement under subsection (b) of Rule 10b-5, the ordinary and dictionary definitions of the words in Rules 10b-5(a) and (c) are sufficiently broad to encompass his conduct, namely disseminating false or misleading information to prospective investors with the intent to defraud. Because the Supreme Court dismissed the writ of certiorari in Emulex as improvidently granted, there remains a circuit split as to whether Section 14(e) of the Exchange Act supports an implied private right of action based on negligent misrepresentations or omissions made in connection with a tender offer. We explain important developments in Delaware courts, including the Court of Chancery’s application of C & J Energy, as well as the Delaware Supreme Court’s (1) application and extension of its recent precedents in appraisal litigation to damages claims, (2) elaboration of its recent holding on MFW’s “up front” requirement, and (3) rare conclusion that a Caremark claim—“possibly the most difficult theory in corporation law upon which a plaintiff might hope to win a judgment”—survived a motion to dismiss. Finally, we continue to monitor significant cases interpreting and applying the Supreme Court’s decisions in Omnicare and Halliburton II. I.   Filing And Settlement Trends New federal securities class action filings in the first six months of 2019 indicate that annual filings are on track to be similar to the number of new cases filed in each of the prior two years. According to a newly released NERA Economic Consulting study (“NERA”), 218 cases were filed in the first half of this year. While there was a relative surge in new cases in the first quarter of the year, this higher level of new cases did not persist in the second quarter. Filing activity in the first half of 2019 indicates a continuation of the shift in the types of cases observed in 2018—an increase in the number of Rule 10b-5, Section 11, or Section 12 cases, and a decrease in the number of merger objection cases. If the filing composition and levels observed in the first half of 2019 are indicative of the pattern for the rest of the year, we will see a 15% increase in Rule 10b-5, Section 11, and Section 12 cases compared to the approximate 1% growth in this category of filings in 2018. On the other hand, merger objection cases filed in 2019 are on pace to be more than 16% lower than similar cases filed in the prior year. While the median settlement values for the first half of 2019 are roughly equivalent to those in 2018 (at $12.0 million, down from $12.70 million in 2018), average settlement values are down over 50% from 2018 (at $33 million, down from $71 million in 2018).  That said, this discrepancy is due predominantly to one settlement in 2018 exceeding $1 billion.  Excluding such outliers, we actually see a slight increase in average settlement values compared to the prior two years. The industry sectors most frequently sued thus far in 2019 continue to be healthcare (22% of all cases filed), tech (20%), and finance (15%). Cases filed against healthcare companies in the first half of 2019 are showing the continuation of a downward trend from a spike in 2016, while cases filed against tech and finance companies are on pace with 2018. A.   Filing Trends Figure 1 below reflects filing rates for the first half of 2019 (all charts courtesy of NERA). So far this year, 218 cases have been filed in federal court, annualizing to 436 cases, which is on pace with the number of filings in 2017 and 2018, and significantly higher than the numbers seen in years prior to 2017. Note that this figure does not include the many class suits filed in state courts or the rising number of state court derivative suits, including many such suits filed in the Delaware Court of Chancery. B.   Mix Of Cases Filed In First Half Of 2019 1.   Filings By Industry Sector As seen in Figure 2 below, the split of non-merger objection class actions filed in the first half of 2019 across industry sectors is fairly consistent with the distribution observed in 2018, with few indications of significant shifts or increases in particular sectors. As in 2018, the Health Technology and Services and the Electronic Technology and Technology Services sectors accounted for over 40% of filings. The two sectors reflecting the largest changes from 2018 thus far are Consumer Durables and Non-Durables (at 9%, up from 6% in 2018) and Consumer and Distribution Services (at 5%, down from 9% in 2018). See Figure 2, infra. 2.   Merger Cases As shown in Figure 3, 83 “merger objection” cases have been filed in federal court in the first half of 2019 —below the pace of 109 cases at this point in 2018. If the 2019 trend continues, the 166 merger objection cases projected to be filed in 2019 will be about 16% fewer than the 198 merger objection cases filed in the prior year. C.   Settlement Trends As Figure 4 shows below, during the first half of 2019, the average settlement declined to $33 million, more than 50% lower than the average in 2018 but higher than the average in 2017. This phenomenon is primarily driven by one settlement in 2018 exceeding $1 billion, heavily skewing the average for that year.  If we limit our analysis to cases with settlements under $1 billion, there is actually a slight increase in the average settlement value in 2019 compared to the prior years. Finally, as Figure 5 shows, the median settlement value for cases was $12 million, which is in line with the median in 2018 and almost double the median value in 2017. II.   What To Watch For In The Supreme Court A.   Lorenzo Affirms That Disseminators Of False Statements May Be Held Liable Under Rules 10b-5(a) And 10b-5(c) Even If Janus Shields Them From Liability Under Rule 10b-5(b) We discussed the Supreme Court’s decision to grant review of Lorenzo v. Securities and Exchange Commission, No. 17-1077, in our 2018 Mid-Year Securities Litigation Update, and our 2018 Year-End Securities Litigation Update. Readers will recall that the question presented in Lorenzo was whether a securities fraud claim premised on a false statement that was not “made” by the defendant can be actionable as a “fraudulent scheme” under Section 17(a)(1) of the Securities Act and Exchange Act Rules 10b-5(a) and 10b-5(c), even though it would not support a claim under Rule 10b-5(b) pursuant to the Court’s ruling in Janus Capital Group, Inc. v. First Derivative Traders, 564 U.S. 135 (2011). On March 27, 2019, the Supreme Court affirmed the D.C. Circuit in a 6–2 opinion by Justice Breyer (Justice Kavanaugh took no part in the decision because he participated in the panel decision while a judge on the court of appeals).  The Court held that the ordinary and dictionary definitions of the words in Rules 10b-5(a) and 10b-5(c) are sufficiently broad to encompass Lorenzo’s conduct, namely disseminating false or misleading information to prospective investors with the intent to defraud, even if the disseminator did not “make” the statements and is thus not subject to enforcement under subsection (b) of the Rule.  Lorenzo v. SEC, 587 U.S. ___ (2019), slip op. at 5–7. Underlying the Court’s opinion is the principle that the securities laws and regulations work together as a whole. The Court rejected Lorenzo’s argument that Rule 10b-5 should be read to mean that each provision of the Rule governs different, mutually exclusive spheres of conduct. Under Lorenzo’s reading, he could be liable for false statements only if his conduct violated provisions that specifically refer to such statements, such as Rule 10b-5(b), and could therefore not be liable under other provisions of the Rule, which do not specifically mention misstatements. The Court noted, however, that it has “long recognized considerable overlap among the subsections of the Rule” and related statutory provisions.  Id. at 7–8.  The opinion further noted that Lorenzo’s conduct “would seem a paradigmatic example of securities fraud,” making it difficult for the majority to reconcile Lorenzo’s argument with the basic purpose and congressional intent behind the securities laws.  Id. at 9. The majority also adopted the SEC’s argument that Janus concerned only Rule 10b-5(b), and thus does not operate to shield those who disseminate false or misleading information from scheme liability, even if they do not “make” the statement.  In response to Lorenzo’s contention that imposing primary liability here would weaken the distinction between primary and secondary liability, the Court drew what it characterized as a clear line:  “Those who disseminate false statements with intent to defraud may be held primarily liable under Rules 10b-5(a) and (c),” as well as Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act and Section 17(a)(1) of the Securities Act, “even if they are secondarily liable under Rule 10b-5(b).”  Id. at 10–11.  Finally, the Court identified a flaw in Lorenzo’s suggestion that he should only be held secondarily liable.  Under that theory, someone who disseminated false statements (even if knowingly engaged in fraud) could not be held to have aided and abetted a “maker” of a false statement if the maker did not violate Rule 10b-5(b). That is because the aiding and abetting statute requires that there be a violator to whom the secondary violator provides “substantial assistance.” Id. at 12. And if, under Lorenzo’s theory, the disseminator did not primarily violate other subsections (perhaps because the disseminator lacked the necessary intent), the fraud might go unpunished altogether.  Id. at 12–13. We noted in our 2018 Year-End Securities Litigation Update that Justice Gorsuch appeared accepting of Lorenzo’s positions during the oral argument, and he did join Justice Thomas (the author of Janus) in dissent. The dissent contended that the majority “eviscerate[d]” the distinction drawn in Janus between primary and secondary liability by holding that a person who did not “make” a fraudulent misstatement “can nevertheless be primarily liable for it.” Id. at 1 (Thomas, J., dissenting).  The dissent faulted the Court for holding, in essence, that the more general provisions of other securities laws each “completely subsumes” the provisions that specifically govern false statements, such as Rule 10b-5(b). Id. at 3.  Instead, the dissenters argued that these specific provisions must be operative in false-statement cases, and that the more general provisions should be applied only to cases that do not fall within the purview of these more specific provisions. B.   Pending Certiorari Petitions Regular readers of these updates will recall that we wrote about the Supreme Court’s pending decision in Emulex Corp. v. Varjabedian, No. 18-459, in the 2018 Year-End Securities Litigation Update. In April, the Supreme Court heard oral argument and then dismissed the writ of certiorari as improvidently granted. Emulex Corp. v. Varjabedian, 587 U.S. ___ (2019), slip op. at 1. As is common in such dismissals, the Justices offered no explanation of why they dismissed the case. Therefore, there remains a circuit split as to whether Section 14(e) of the Exchange Act supports an implied private right of action based on negligent misrepresentations or omissions made in connection with a tender offer. There is also at least one notable securities case in which a petition for certiorari is pending. Putnam Investments, LLC v. Brotherston, No. 18-926, an ERISA case, presents the question whether the plaintiff or defendant must prove that an alleged fiduciary breach related to investment option selection caused a loss to participants or the plan. The case also raises the issue of whether the First Circuit correctly held that showing that particular investment options did not perform as well as a set of index funds, selected by the plaintiffs with the benefit of hindsight, suffices as a matter of law to establish “losses to the plan.” The Supreme Court has entered an order requesting the Solicitor General file a brief expressing the views of the United States. The government has not yet filed its brief in this case. We will continue to monitor the petition and provide an update if the Supreme Court grants certiorari. III.   Delaware Developments A.   Delaware Supreme Court Affirms Deal Price Is Best Evidence Of Fair Value In Appraisal, And Of Damages In Entire Fairness Regular readers of these updates will recall that, since our 2017 Year-End Securities Litigation Update, we have been reporting on the significant shift in Delaware appraisal law resulting from the Delaware Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Dell, Inc. v. Magnetar Global Event Driven Master Fund Ltd., 177 A.3d 1 (Del. 2017), where it directed the Court of Chancery to use market factors to determine the fair value of a company’s stock. In our 2018 Mid-Year Securities Litigation Update, we wrote about the Delaware Court of Chancery’s decision in Verition Partners Master Fund v. Aruba Networks, Inc., where the trial court interpreted Dell as endorsing a company’s unaffected market price and deal price as reliable indicators of fair value under certain circumstances. 2018 WL 2315943, at *1 (Del. Ch. May 21, 2018). In April, however, the Delaware Supreme Court reversed the trial court, clarifying that, although the “unaffected market price” of a seller’s stock “in an efficient market is an important indicator of its economic value that should be given weight” under appropriate circumstances, Dell “did not imply that the market price of a stock was necessarily the best estimate of the stock’s so-called fundamental value at any particular time.” Verition Partners Master Fund v. Aruba Networks, Inc., 210 A.3d 128, 2019 WL 1614026, at *6 (Del. Apr. 16, 2019). Eschewing remand, the Supreme Court instead ordered the trial court to enter judgment awarding deal price less synergies as the company’s “fair value.” Id. at *8–9. Then, in May, the Delaware Supreme Court extended the same market-based deference from the appraisal context to damages claims in its affirmance of In re PLX Technology Inc. Stockholders Litigation, 2018 WL 5018535 (Del. Ch. Oct. 16, 2018), aff’d, 2019 WL 2144476, at *1 (Del. May 16, 2019) (TABLE). Late last year, the Delaware Court of Chancery determined in a post-trial opinion that an activist hedge fund aided and abetted a breach of fiduciary duties by directors in connection with their sale of the target company. 2018 WL 5018535, at *1. This was a pyrrhic victory, however, as the Court of Chancery concluded that the plaintiffs failed to prove their allegation that, had the company remained a stand-alone entity, its value would have exceeded the deal price by more than 50%. Id. at *2. Instead, the Court of Chancery found that “[a] far more persuasive source of valuation evidence is the deal price that resulted from the Company’s sale process.” Id. at *54; see also id. & n.605 (citing Dell, 177 A.3d at 30). In affirming the Court of Chancery’s decision on appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that “the Court of Chancery erred . . . by importing principles from . . . appraisal jurisprudence to give deference to the deal price.” In re PLX Tech. Inc. Stockholders Litig., 2019 WL 2144476, at *1 (Del. May 16, 2019) (TABLE). B.   Joint Valuation Exercise Constitutes Substantive Economic Negotiations Under Flood, Fails MFW’s “Up Front” Requirement In our 2018 Year-End Securities Litigation Update, we reported on the Delaware Supreme Court’s decision in Flood v. Synutra International, Inc., where it held that the element of Kahn v. M & F Worldwide Corp. (“MFW”), 88 A.3d 635, 644 (Del. 2014) that requires a transaction to be conditioned “ab initio” or “up front” on the approval of both a special committee and a majority of the minority stockholders, in turn “require[s] the controller to self-disable before the start of substantive economic negotiations, and to have both the controller and Special Committee bargain under the pressures exerted on both of them by these protections.” Flood v. Synutra Int’l, Inc., 195 A.3d 754, 763 (Del. 2018). In Olenik v. Lodzinski, 208 A.3d 704 (Del. 2019), the Delaware Supreme Court added color to its holding in Flood that “up front” means “before the start of substantive economic negotiations,” Flood, 195 A.3d at 763. In the decision underlying Olenik, the Court of Chancery found that, although the parties to the merger had “worked on the transaction for months” before implementing MFW’s “up front” conditions, those “preliminary discussions” were “entirely exploratory in nature” and “never rose to the level of bargaining.” Olenik, 208 A.3d at 706, 716–17. Disagreeing with and reversing the Court of Chancery, the Delaware Supreme Court held that “preliminary discussions transitioned to substantive economic negotiations when the parties engaged in a joint exercise to value” the merging entities. Id. at 717. In particular, the Delaware Supreme Court found it reasonable to infer that two presentations valuing the target “set the field of play for the economic negotiations to come by fixing the range in which offers and counteroffers might be made.” Id. Thus, the parties could not invoke MFW’s protections because they did not condition the transaction on approval of both a special committee and a majority of the minority stockholders until after these “substantive economic negotiations.” Id. C.   Under C & J Energy, Curative Shopping Process “Cannot Be Granted” To Remedy Deal Subject To Entire Fairness Recently, the Court of Chancery declined to “blue-pencil” a merger agreement resulting from a flawed process based on the Delaware Supreme Court’s decision in C & J Energy Services v. City of Miami General Employees’ & Sanitation Employees’ Retirement Trust, 107 A.3d 1049 (Del. 2014). See FrontFour Capital Grp. LLC v. Traube, 2019 WL 1313408, at *33 (Del. Ch. Mar. 22, 2019). Recall that, in C & J Energy, the Delaware Supreme Court cautioned the Court of Chancery against depriving “adequately informed” stockholders of the “chance to vote on whether to accept the benefits and risks that come with [a flawed] transaction, or to reject the deal,” 107 A.3d at 1070, where (1) “no rival bidder has emerged to complain that it was not given a fair opportunity to bid,” id. at 1073, and (2) a preliminary injunction would “strip an innocent third party [buyer] of its contractual rights while simultaneously binding that party to consummate the transaction,” id. at 1054. In FrontFour, the plaintiff proved that the deal at issue was not entirely fair because conflicted insiders tainted the sale process; the special committee failed to inform itself adequately; standstill agreements prevented third parties from coming forward; and other deal protections prevented an effective post-signing market check, among other things. 2019 WL 1313408, at *32. Nevertheless, the Court of Chancery declined to grant “the most equitable relief” available—“a curative shopping process, devoid of [management] influence, free of any deal protections, plus full disclosures.” Id. at *33. The Court of Chancery reasoned that it had “no discretion” to do so under C & J Energy because the injunction sought would “strip an innocent third party of its contractual rights” under the merger agreement. Id. D.   Delaware Supreme Court Holds Caremark Claim Adequately Pleaded As we reported in our 2017 Year-End Securities Litigation Update, a Caremark claim generally seeks to hold directors personally accountable for damages to a company arising from their failure to properly monitor or oversee the company’s major business activities and compliance programs. On June 19, 2019, the Delaware Supreme Court reversed the Court of Chancery’s dismissal of a derivative suit against key executives and the board of directors of Blue Bell USA, carrying implications for both determinations of director independence and fiduciary duties under Caremark. See Marchand v. Barnhill, 2019 WL 2509617 (Del. June 19, 2019). In its demand futility analysis, the Court held that a combination of a “longstanding business affiliation” and “deep . . . personal ties” cast reasonable doubt on a director’s ability to act impartially. Id. at *2. Notably, the reversal turned on the length and depth of one director’s relationship with the CEO of Blue Bell and his family. Although being “social acquaintances who occasionally have dinner or go to common events” does not per se preclude one’s independence, the current CEO’s father and predecessor had hired, mentored, and quickly promoted the director in question to senior management. Id. at *11. The director maintained a close relationship with the CEO’s family that spanned more than three decades and the family even spearheaded a campaign to name a college building after the director. Id. at *10. This combination of facts persuaded the Court that this director was not independent for demand futility purposes. Id. at *10–11. The Court also held that a board’s failure to implement oversight systems related to a “compliance issue intrinsically critical to the business operation” gives rise to a duty of loyalty claim under Caremark. Id. at *13. The Court concluded that because food safety compliance was critical to the operation of a “single-product food company,” id at *4, neither the Company’s nominal compliance with some applicable regulations, nor management’s discussion of general compliance matters with the board were sufficient to satisfy the board’s oversight responsibilities, id. at *13–14. IV.   Loss Causation Developments The first half of 2019 saw several notable developments regarding loss causation, including continued developments relating to Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 2398 (2014), discussed below in Section VI. Separately, on June 24, 2019, the Supreme Court rejected a petition for a writ of certiorari filed in First Solar, Inc. v. Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme, which we discussed in the 2018 Mid-Year Securities Litigation Update. First Solar involved a perceived ambiguity in prior precedent regarding the correct test for loss causation under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the “Exchange Act”). Readers will recall that the Ninth Circuit held in First Solar that loss causation can be established even when the corrective disclosure did not reveal the alleged fraud on which the securities fraud claim is based. Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme v. First Solar, Inc., 881 F.3d 750, 754 (9th Cir. 2018), cert. denied, No. 18-164, 2019 WL 2570667 (U.S. June 24, 2019). First Solar filed its petition for writ of certiorari in August 2018, arguing that loss causation can be proven only if the market learns of, and reacts to, the underlying fraud. In May 2019, the Solicitor General filed an amicus brief recommending that certiorari be denied, arguing that the Ninth Circuit correctly rejected a “revelation-of-the-fraud” requirement for loss causation, pursuant to which a stock-price drop comes immediately after the revelation of a defendant’s fraud. Following the Ninth Circuit’s decision in First Solar, some courts have found that a plaintiff adequately pleaded loss causation for the purposes of stating a claim under the Exchange Act when the revelation that caused the decline in a company’s stock price could be tracked back to the facts allegedly concealed, thus establishing proximate cause at the pleadings phase. See, e.g., In re Silver Wheaton Corp. Sec. Litig., 2019 WL 1512269, at *14 (C.D. Cal. Mar. 25, 2019) (denying motion to dismiss); Maverick Fund, L.D.C. v. First Solar, Inc., 2018 WL 6181241, at *8–10 (D. Ariz. Nov. 27, 2018) (denying motion to dismiss and finding that plaintiffs had adequately pleaded facts that, if proven, would establish that disclosures related to misstatements were “casually related” to fraudulent scheme). We will continue to monitor these and other developments regarding loss causation. V.   Falsity Of Opinions – Omnicare Update In the first half of 2019, courts continued to define the boundaries of Omnicare, Inc. v. Laborers District Council Construction Industry Pension Fund, 135 S. Ct. 1318 (2015), the case in which the Supreme Court addressed the scope of liability for false opinion statements under Section 11 of the Securities Act. In Omnicare, the Court held that “a sincere statement of pure opinion is not an ‘untrue statement of material fact,’ regardless whether an investor can ultimately prove the belief wrong.” Id. at 1327. Under that standard, opinion statements give rise to liability under only three circumstances: (1) when the speaker does not “actually hold[] the stated belief;” (2) when the statement contains false “embedded statements of fact;” and (3) when the omitted facts “conflict with what a reasonable investor would take from the statement itself.” Id. at 1326–27, 1329. Consistent with past years, Omnicare remains a high bar to pleading the falsity of opinion statements. See, e.g, Plaisance v. Schiller, 2019 WL 1205628, at *11 (S.D. Tex. Mar. 14, 2019) (dismissing complaint that was “[m]issing . . . allegations of fact capable of proving that [the company] did not subjectively believe its audit opinions when they were issued”); Teamsters Local 210 Affiliated Pension Tr. Fund v. Neustar, Inc., 2019 WL 693276, at *5 (E.D. Va. Feb. 19, 2019) (finding that plaintiffs did not “allege facts that create a strong inference that at the time they [made the alleged misstatement], the Defendants could not have reasonably held the opinion” proffered). For example, in Neustar, plaintiffs alleged that defendants’ opinion that a certain transition “would occur by September 30, 2018” was false or misleading. 2019 WL 693276, at *5. Even though defendants were in possession of a “Transition Report, which warned that the transition might not occur” by that date, the court found that “[t]hese statements were far from definitive pronouncements that the transition date would occur later than September 2018.” Id. In addition, courts have continued to flesh out the contours of when a plaintiff has alleged that a company is in possession of sufficient information cutting against its statements to render it liable for an omission. In In re Ocular Therapeutix, Inc. Securities Litigation, the court found that a CEO’s statement that the company “think[s]” it had remedied deficiencies leading to the FDA’s denial of its New Drug Application was inactionable, even where the FDA later rejected the resubmitted application. 2019 WL 1950399, at *8 (D. Mass. Apr. 30, 2019). Not only did the CEO’s language “signal[] to investors that his statement was an opinion and not a guarantee,” but he also cautioned that it was up to the FDA to determine whether or not those deficiencies were corrected. Id. In Securities & Exchange Commission v. Rio Tinto plc, the SEC alleged that Rio Tinto violated securities laws by overstating the valuation of its newly acquired coal business when there had been certain adverse developments concerning the ability to transport coal and the quality of coal in the ground. 2019 WL 1244933, at *9 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 18, 2019). The court dismissed the claim based on early valuation statements because those statements were opinions that “‘fairly align[ed] with’” information known at the time: namely, the main transportation option had not been entirely rejected, and the SEC did not “allege that Rio Tinto had come to fully appreciate the difficulties” concerning other transportation options and coal reserves by the time of those statements. Id. The SEC has moved to amend its complaint. Gibson Dunn represents Rio Tinto in this and other litigation. This year, courts also weighed in on the question of whether Omnicare applies to claims other than those brought under Section 11. Specifically, a Northern District of California court found that “[t]he Ninth Circuit has only extended Omnicare to Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5 claims, not to Section 14 claims,” and therefore “decline[d] to extend Omnicare past the Ninth Circuit’s guidance.” Golub v. Gigamon Inc., 372 F. Supp. 3d 1033, 1049 (N.D. Cal. 2019) (citing City of Dearborn Heights Act 345 Police & Fire Ret. Sys. v. Align Tech., Inc., 856 F.3d 605, 616 (9th Cir. 2017)). Gibson Dunn represents several defendants in that matter. In contrast, the Fourth Circuit applied Omnicare to dismiss a Section 14 claim without any discussion about Omnicare’s limitations, determining that a forward-looking statement was still actionable as an omission. Paradise Wire & Cable Defined Benefit Pension Plan v. Weil, 918 F.3d 312, 322–23 (4th Cir. 2019). Rather, the court emphasized the importance of context when evaluating opinion statements, noting that “words matter” and, as in Paradise Wire, can “render the claim for relief implausible.” Id. at 323. “When the words of a proxy statement, like the ones in this case, . . . contain tailored and specific warnings about the very omissions that are the subject of the allegations, those words render the claim for relief implausible.” Id. Additionally, a District of Delaware court recently declined to apply Omnicare to Section 10(b) claims: “Because the Third Circuit has twice declined to decide that Omnicare applies to Exchange Act claims, the Court is reluctant to decide that issue of first impression in connection with a motion to dismiss.” Lord Abbett Affiliated Fund, Inc. v. Navient Corp., 363 F. Supp. 3d 476, 496 (D. Del. 2019) (citing Jaroslawicz v. M & T Bank Corp., 912 F.3d 96 (3d Cir. 2018); In re Amarin Corp. PLC Sec. Litig., 689 F. App’x 124, 132 n.12 (3d Cir. 2017)). The Southern District of New York also considered whether Omnicare required broad disclosure of attorney-client privileged communications that might bear on whether omitted information rendered an opinion misleading. Pearlstein v. BlackBerry Ltd., 2019 WL 1259382, at *16 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 19, 2019). In Pearlstein, plaintiffs argued that under Omnicare, a company’s “decision to include a legal opinion in [a] press release waived all attorney-client communications” related to the issuance of that release. Id. at *15. The court noted that Omnicare did not mandate a wholesale waiver, but “[a]t best . . . suggest[ed] that communications specific to a particular subject allegedly omitted or misrepresented within a securities filing may be subject to disclosure and, if the communications happen to be privileged, those communications may be subject to a finding of waiver.” Id. at *16. Accordingly, the company could not insulate itself with the privilege—documents containing relevant factual information were discoverable. However, privilege was not waived over the “side issue” of the company’s legal exposure, including as to documents on the strength and likelihood of any legal claims and “communications conducted solely for purposes of document preservation in connection with anticipated legal claims.” Id. VI.   Courts Continue To Define “Price Impact” Analysis At The Class Certification Stage We are continuing to monitor significant decisions interpreting Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc., 573 U.S. 258 (2014) (“Halliburton II”), but the one federal circuit court of appeal decision issued in the first half of 2019 did little to resolve outstanding questions regarding what it will mean for securities litigants. Recall that in Halliburton II, the Supreme Court preserved the “fraud-on-the-market” presumption, permitting plaintiffs to maintain the common proof of reliance that is required for class certification in a Rule 10b-5 case, but also permitting defendants to rebut the presumption at the class certification stage with evidence that the alleged misrepresentation did not impact the issuer’s stock price. There are three key questions we have been following in the wake of Halliburton II. First, how should courts reconcile the Supreme Court’s explicit ruling in Halliburton II that direct and indirect evidence of price impact must be considered at the class certification stage, Halliburton II, 573 U.S. at 283, with the Supreme Court’s previous decisions holding that plaintiffs need not prove loss causation or materiality until the merits stage? See Erica P. John Fund, Inc. v. Halliburton Co., 563 U.S. 804, 815 (2011); Amgen Inc. v. Conn. Ret. Plans & Trust Funds, 568 U.S. 455 (2013). Second, what standard of proof must defendants meet to rebut the presumption with evidence of no price impact? Third, what evidence is required to successfully rebut the presumption? As noted in our 2018 Year-End Securities Litigation Update, the Second Circuit addressed the first two questions in Waggoner v. Barclays PLC, 875 F.3d 79 (2d Cir. 2017) (“Barclays”) and Arkansas Teachers Retirement System v. Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., 879 F.3d 474 (2d Cir. 2018) (“Goldman Sachs”). Those decisions remain the most substantive interpretations of Halliburton II. Barclays addressed the standard of proof necessary to rebut the presumption of reliance and held that after a plaintiff establishes the presumption of reliance applies, the defendant bears the burden of persuasion to rebut the presumption by a preponderance of the evidence. This puts the Second Circuit at odds with the Eighth Circuit, which cited Rule 301 of the Federal Rules of Evidence when reversing a trial court’s certification order on price impact grounds, see IBEW Local 98 Pension Fund v. Best Buy Co., 818 F.3d 775, 782 (8th Cir. 2016), because Rule 301 assigns only the burden of production—i.e., producing some evidence—to the party seeking to rebut a presumption, but “does not shift the burden of persuasion, which remains on the party who had it originally.” Fed. R. Evid. 301. Nonetheless, that inconsistency was not enough to persuade the Supreme Court to review the Second Circuit’s decision.  Barclays PLC v. Waggoner, 138 S. Ct. 1702 (Mem.) (2018) (denying writ of certiorari). In Goldman Sachs, the Second Circuit vacated the trial court’s ruling certifying a class and remanded the action, directing that price impact evidence must be analyzed prior to certification, even if price impact “touches” on the issue of materiality.  Goldman Sachs, 879 F.3d at 486. On remand, the district court again certified the class. In re Goldman Sachs Grp. Sec. Litig., 2018 WL 3854757, at *1–2 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 14, 2018). Plaintiffs argued on remand that because the company’s stock price declined following the announcement of three regulatory actions related to the company’s conflicts of interest, previous misstatements about its conflicts had inflated the company’s stock price.  See id. at *2. Defendants’ experts testified that correction of the alleged misstatements could not have caused the stock price drops, both because thirty-six similar announcements had not impacted the company’s stock price and because alternative news (i.e., news of regulatory investigations), in fact, caused the price drop. Id. at *3. The court found the plaintiffs’ expert’s “link between the news of [the company]’s conflicts and the subsequent stock price declines . . . sufficient,” and defendants’ expert testimony insufficient to “sever” that link. Id. at *4–6. In January, however, the Second Circuit agreed to review Goldman Sachs for a second time.  See Order, Ark. Teachers Ret. Sys. v. Goldman Sachs, Case No. 18-3667 (2d Cir. Jan. 31, 2019) (“Goldman Sachs II”). In Goldman Sachs II, the Second Circuit is poised to address what evidence is sufficient to rebut the presumption and how the analysis is affected by plaintiffs’ assertion that the alleged misstatements’ price impact is evidenced not by a price increase when the alleged misstatement is made, but by a price drop when the alleged misstatements are corrected, known as “price maintenance theory.” Defendants-appellants challenged the district court’s finding in two primary ways. First, they argued that the district court impermissibly extended price maintenance theory. See Brief for Defendants-Appellants, Goldman Sachs II, at 28–52 (2d Cir. Feb. 15, 2019). They reasoned that a price maintenance theory is unsupportable where the alleged corrective disclosures revealed no concrete financial or operational information that had been hidden from the market for the purpose of maintaining the stock price, see id. at 28–40, and where the challenged statements are too general to have induced reliance (and thus impacted the stock’s price), see id. at 40–50. Second, defendants-appellants argued that the district court misapplied the preponderance of the evidence standard by considering plaintiffs-appellees’ allegations as evidence and misconstruing defendants-appellants’ evidence of no price impact. See id. at 53–67. Plaintiffs-appellees responded that defendants-appellants’ price-maintenance arguments are not supported by law and that such arguments regarding the general nature of the statements are, in essence, a materiality challenge in disguise and thus not appropriate at the class certification stage. Brief for Plaintiffs-Appellees, Goldman Sachs II, at 20–30 (2d Cir. Feb. Apr. 19, 2019). Plaintiffs-appellees further argued that the district court did not abuse its discretion in weighing the evidence. Id. at 36–61. Defendants-appellants submitted their reply brief in May, Reply Brief for Defendants-Appellants, Goldman Sachs II (2d Cir. May 3, 2019), and the Second Circuit heard the case in June. Seven amicus briefs were filed in this case, including by the United States Chamber of Commerce and a number of securities law experts supporting defendants-appellants, and by the National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems supporting plaintiffs-appellees. Our 2018 Year-End Securities Litigation Update also noted that the Third Circuit was poised to address price impact analysis in Li v. Aeterna Zentaris, Inc. in the coming months. Briefing there invited the Third Circuit to clarify the type of evidence defendants must present, including the burden of proof they must meet, to rebut the presumption of reliance at the class certification stage and whether statistical evidence regarding price impact must meet a 95% confidence threshold. The district court had rejected defendants’ argument that plaintiff’s event study rebutted the presumption, and criticized defendants for not offering their own event study. See Li v. Aeterna Zentaris, Inc., 324 F.R.D. 331, 345 (D.N.J. 2018). With limited analysis, the Third Circuit affirmed, finding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in its consideration of conflicting expert testimony. Vizirgianakis v. Aeterna Zentaris, Inc., 2019 WL 2305491, at *2–3 (3d Cir. May 30, 2019). We will continue to monitor developments in Goldman Sachs II and other cases. The following Gibson Dunn lawyers assisted in the preparation of this client update:  Jefferson Bell, Monica Loseman, Brian Lutz, Mark Perry, Shireen Barday, Lissa Percopo, Lindsey Young, Mark Mixon, Emily Riff, Jason Hilborn, Andrew Bernstein, Alisha Siqueira, Kaylie Springer, and Collin James Vierra. Gibson Dunn lawyers are available to assist in addressing any questions you may have regarding these developments.  Please contact the Gibson Dunn lawyer with whom you usually work, or any of the following members of the Securities Litigation practice group steering committee: Brian M. Lutz – Co-Chair, San Francisco/New York (+1 415-393-8379/+1 212-351-3881, blutz@gibsondunn.com) Robert F. Serio – Co-Chair, New York (+1 212-351-3917, rserio@gibsondunn.com) Meryl L. Young – Co-Chair, Orange County (+1 949-451-4229, myoung@gibsondunn.com) Jefferson Bell – New York (+1 212-351-2395, jbell@gibsondunn.com) Jennifer L. Conn – New York (+1 212-351-4086, jconn@gibsondunn.com) Thad A. Davis – San Francisco (+1 415-393-8251, tadavis@gibsondunn.com) Ethan Dettmer – San Francisco (+1 415-393-8292, edettmer@gibsondunn.com) Barry R. Goldsmith – New York (+1 212-351-2440, bgoldsmith@gibsondunn.com) Mark A. Kirsch – New York (+1 212-351-2662, mkirsch@gibsondunn.com) Gabrielle Levin – New York (+1 212-351-3901, glevin@gibsondunn.com) Monica K. Loseman – Denver (+1 303-298-5784, mloseman@gibsondunn.com) Jason J. Mendro – Washington, D.C. (+1 202-887-3726, jmendro@gibsondunn.com) Alex Mircheff – Los Angeles (+1 213-229-7307, amircheff@gibsondunn.com) Robert C. Walters – Dallas (+1 214-698-3114, rwalters@gibsondunn.com) Aric H. Wu – New York (+1 212-351-3820, awu@gibsondunn.com) © 2019 Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP Attorney Advertising:  The enclosed materials have been prepared for general informational purposes only and are not intended as legal advice.

August 15, 2019 |
Gibson Dunn Lawyers Recognized in the Best Lawyers in America® 2020

The Best Lawyers in America® 2020 has recognized 158 Gibson Dunn attorneys in 54 practice areas. Additionally, 48 lawyers were recognized in Best Lawyers International in Belgium, Brazil, France, Germany, Singapore, United Arab Emirates and United Kingdom.

August 13, 2019 |
Delaware Bankruptcy Court Rules That Liquidation Trustee Controls the Privilege of Board of Directors’ Special Committee

Click for PDF A Delaware bankruptcy court has held that a special committee’s advisors cannot withhold privileged documents from a liquidation trustee appointed pursuant to a chapter 11 plan. This decision serves as an important reminder that a bankruptcy trustee, including a trustee appointed to manage a liquidating trust established pursuant to a chapter 11 plan, may have exclusive control over a company’s privilege and that executives, board members, and their advisors may be unable to withhold documents from the trustee. Importantly, this decision highlights that even a company’s establishment of a special, independent committee with its own advisors may not be effective in shielding otherwise privileged communications from disclosure. I. Background In In re Old BPSUSH Inc.,[1] a company’s board of directors formed an audit committee (the “Audit Committee”), which investigated questions surrounding senior management’s financial reporting. The Audit Committee retained separate legal counsel, and its legal counsel retained financial advisors.[2] The Audit Committee’s advisors reviewed millions of documents, conducted multiple interviews, and generated a substantial amount of work product.[3] The company subsequently filed bankruptcy.[4] In bankruptcy, the company confirmed a chapter 11 plan that created a liquidation trust and vested the trust with all of the company’s “rights, titles, and interests in any Privileges,” which the plan defined to include “any privilege or immunity” of the company.[5] After the chapter 11 plan was confirmed and a trust was established, the liquidation trustee filed a motion to compel the Audit Committee’s legal and financial advisors to turn over all records related to the investigation.[6] The Audit Committee’s advisors objected to the trustee’s motion, arguing that the Audit Committee “was organized as an independent body, created and governed by a separate charter, with the right and power to engage independent counsel with separate attorney-client privileges and other protections”; therefore, the advisors argued that the liquidation trustee did not acquire the Audit Committee’s privileges.[7] Accordingly, the advisors withheld attorney notes of employee interviews, draft memoranda, the financial advisors’ internal analytics and work papers, and communications/emails with Audit Committee members.[8] II. Bankruptcy Court’s Analysis The Delaware bankruptcy court began its analysis by recognizing the longstanding principle established by the Supreme Court in Commodity Futures Trading Commission v. Weintraub, which held that a “trustee of a corporation in bankruptcy has the power to waive the corporation’s attorney-client privilege with respect to prebankruptcy communications.”[9] The Audit Committee’s advisors attempted to distinguish Weintraub, relying primarily on a Southern District of New York decision in In re BCE West, L.P. In BCE West, the court held, under similar circumstances, that a trustee appointed pursuant to a chapter 11 plan could not access privileged documents held by the advisors of a special committee appointed by the company’s board of directors.[10] The BCE West court reasoned that “[i]t is counterintuitive to think that while the Board permitted the Special Committee to retain its own counsel, the Special Committee would not have the benefit of the attorney-client privilege inherent in that relationship or that the Board of Directors or management, instead of the Special Committee, would have control of such privilege.”[11] Accordingly, the BCE West court determined that the special committee was a “separate and distinct group” from the remainder of the board of directors and that the trustee did not control the privilege.”[12] The Delaware bankruptcy court disagreed with BCE West and instead followed a subsequent Southern District of New York case, Krys v. Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton, & Garrison LLP (In re China Medical Technologies), which addressed a similar situation and refused to follow BCE West.[13] In China Medical, the court considered whether a foreign representative in a chapter 15 bankruptcy could obtain documents related to an internal investigation conducted by the foreign debtor’s audit committee.[14] The court first determined that an audit committee is not completely separate from the board of directors; rather, it is a committee of the board and a “critical component of [the company’s] management infrastructure.”[15] The court also discussed the policy considerations in Weintraub and that “corporate management is deposed in favor of the trustee, and there is no longer a need to insulate committee-counsel communications from managerial intrusion.”[16] Based on these considerations, the China Medical court rejected BCE West and held that the foreign representative controlled the audit committee’s privilege. The Delaware bankruptcy court agreed with the China Medical court’s reasoning that “it is appropriate to extend the Supreme Court’s analysis in Weintraub and recognize that the trustee appointed as the representative of a corporate debtor controls the privileges belonging to the independent committee established by the corporate debtor.”[17] Accordingly, the court held that the liquidation trustee controlled the Audit Committee’s privileges and that its advisors were required to turn over all documents, communications, and work product, including any “draft factual memoranda and draft legal memoranda,” but excluding the legal advisor’s “firm documents intended for internal law office review and use.”[18] III. Implications of Decision It remains to be seen whether other courts will likewise reject BCE West and instead follow China Medical and Old BPSUSH. Although there does not appear to be much case law specifically addressing the issue, China Medical and Old BPSUSH serve as a warning that a special committee’s documents and communications may very well be discoverable by a trustee (including a trustee of a liquidating trust created pursuant to a chapter 11 plan) and/or company representative in bankruptcy. Therefore, members of a company’s board of directors, special committee, management, and all outside advisors should assume that any communications and work product will be discoverable by and subject to the exclusive control of a trustee if the company ultimately files for bankruptcy. More broadly, Old BPSUSH serves as a reminder, particularly to companies in financial distress, that communications assumed by the parties to be protected by privilege may ultimately be discoverable by a bankruptcy trustee. ______________________    [1]   In re Old BPSUSH Inc., 2019 WL 2563442, at *1 (Bankr. D. Del. June 20, 2019).    [2]   Id.    [3]   Id.    [4]   Id.    [5]   Id. at *4.    [6]   Id. at *1.    [7]   Id. at *2.    [8]   Id. at *8.    [9]   Id. at *4 (quoting Commodity Futures Trading Comm’n v. Weintraub, 471 U.S. 343, 358 (1985)). [10]   In re BCE W., L.P., 2000 WL 1239117, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 31, 2000). [11]   Id. at *2. [12]   Id. [13]   See Krys v. Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton, & Garrison LLP (In re China Med. Techs.), 539 B.R. 643, 654-55 (S.D.N.Y. 2015). [14]   Id. at 646. [15]   Id. at 655. [16]   Id. at 656. [17]   In re Old BPSUSH Inc., 2019 WL 2563442, at *6. [18]   Id. at *7. The court recognized that an exception applies to “documents intended for internal law office review and use” because lawyers must “be able to set down their thoughts privately in order to assure effective and appropriate representation,” and such documents “are unlikely to be of any significant usefulness to the client or to a successor attorney.” Id. (quoting Sage Realty Corp. v. Proskauer Rose Goetz & Mendelsohn, L.L.P., 91 N.Y.2d 30, 37-38 (1997)). Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s lawyers are available to assist with any questions you may have regarding these issues.  For further information, please contact the Gibson Dunn lawyer with whom you usually work, any member of the firm’s Business Restructuring and Reorganization or Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance practice groups, or the following authors: Michael A. Rosenthal – New York (+1 212-351-3969, mrosenthal@gibsondunn.com) Robert B. Little – Dallas (+1 214-698-3260, rlittle@gibsondunn.com) Matthew G. Bouslog – Orange County, CA (+1 949-451-4030, mbouslog@gibsondunn.com) Please also feel free to contact the following practice group leaders: Business Restructuring and Reorganization Group: David M. Feldman – New York (+1 212-351-2366, dfeldman@gibsondunn.com) Robert A. Klyman – Los Angeles (+1 213-229-7562, rklyman@gibsondunn.com) Jeffrey C. Krause – Los Angeles (+1 213-229-7995, jkrause@gibsondunn.com) Michael A. Rosenthal – New York (+1 212-351-3969, mrosenthal@gibsondunn.com) Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance Group: Elizabeth Ising – Washington, D.C. (+1 202-955-8287, eising@gibsondunn.com) James J. Moloney – Orange County, CA (+1 949-451-4343, jmoloney@gibsondunn.com) Lori Zyskowski – New York (+1 212-351-2309, lzyskowski@gibsondunn.com) © 2019 Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP Attorney Advertising:  The enclosed materials have been prepared for general informational purposes only and are not intended as legal advice.

July 29, 2019 |
Delaware Supreme Court Revisits Oversight Liability

Click for PDF In a recent decision applying the famous Caremark doctrine, the Delaware Supreme Court confirmed several important legal principles that we expect will play a central role in the future of derivative litigation and that serve as important reminders for boards of directors in performing their oversight responsibilities.  In particular, the Delaware Supreme Court held that a claim for breach of the duty of loyalty is stated where the allegations plead that “a board has undertaken no efforts to make sure it is informed of a compliance issue intrinsically critical to the company’s business operation.”[1] Although the case addressed extreme facts that will have no application to most mature corporations, the plaintiffs’ bar can be expected to attempt to weaponize the decision.  With all the benefits that hindsight provides, derivative plaintiffs will more frequently contend that a board lacked procedures to monitor “central compliance risks” that were “essential and mission critical.”[2]  The Supreme Court’s decision reinforces that directors need to implement controls that enable them to monitor the most serious sources of risk, and may even caution in favor of a special discussion each year around critical risks. The Decision Marchand involved problems at Blue Bell Creameries USA, Inc., “a monoline company that makes a single product—ice cream.”[3] After several years of food-safety issues known by management, the company suffered a listeria outbreak. This outbreak led to a product recall, a complete operational shutdown, the layoff of one-third of employees, and three deaths.[4] The operational shutdown, in turn, caused the company to accept a dilutive investment to meet its liquidity needs.[5] After obtaining books and records, a stockholder sued derivatively alleging breach of fiduciary duties under Caremark.[6] That theory requires sufficiently pleading that “the directors utterly failed to implement any reporting or information system or controls” or “having implemented such a system or controls, consciously failed to monitor or oversee its operations thus disabling themselves from being informed of the risks or problems requiring their attention.”[7] The plaintiff, though, chose not to make a demand on the board before suing on behalf of the company, so he was subject to the burden of pleading that making a demand would have been futile. In an effort to do so, he tried to allege that a majority of the board was not independent because it could not act impartially in considering a demand and that the directors also faced liability under Caremark. The Delaware Court of Chancery rejected both arguments, holding that the plaintiff came up one director short on his independence theory and that the plaintiff failed to plead liability under Caremark.[8] The Delaware Supreme Court reversed both holdings.[9] On independence, Chief Justice Strine continued his instruction from Delaware County Employees Retirement Fund v. Sanchez, 124 A.3d 1017 (Del. 2015) and Sandys v. Pincus, 152 A.3d 124 (Del. 2016) that Delaware law “cannot ignore the social nature of humans or that they are motivated by things other than money, such as love, friendship, and collegiality.”[10] “[D]eep and long-standing friendships are meaningful to human beings,” the Chief Justice reasoned, and “any realistic consideration of the question of independence must give weight to these important relationships and their natural effect on the ability of parties to act impartially towards each other.”[11] The director at issue, although recently retired from his role as CFO at the company, owed his “successful career” of 28 years at the company to the family of the CEO whom the director would be asked to sue.[12] And that family “spearheaded” an effort to donate to a local college that resulted in the college naming a new facility after the director.[13] These facts “support[ed] a pleading-stage inference” that the director could not act independently.[14] This was so despite the director’s previously voting against the CEO on whether to split the company’s CEO and Chairman position. Although the Court of Chancery reasoned that this militated against holding that the director was not independent, the Delaware Supreme Court held it was irrelevant to the demand futility analysis.[15] Voting to sue someone, the Supreme Court explained, is “materially different” than voting on corporate-governance issues.[16] The Supreme Court thus held that the number of directors incapable of acting impartially was sufficient to excuse demand. On Caremark liability, the Court focused on the first prong of the Caremark test: whether the board had made any effort to implement a reporting system. It explained that a director “must make a good faith effort” to oversee the company’s operations. “Fail[ing] to make that effort constitutes a breach of the duty of loyalty”[17] and can expose a director to liability. To meet this standard, the board must “try”[18] “to put in place a reasonable system of monitoring and reporting about the corporation’s central compliance risks.”[19] For Blue Bell, food safety was “essential and mission critical”[20] and “the obviously most central consumer safety and legal compliance issue facing the company.”[21] Despite its importance, the complaint contained sufficient facts to infer that no system of board-level compliance monitoring and reporting over food safety existed at the company. For example: “no board committee that addressed food safety existed”; “no regular process or protocols that required management to keep the board apprised of food safety compliance practices, risks, or reports existed”; “no schedule for the board to consider on a regular basis, such as quarterly or biannually, any key food safety risks existed”; “during a key period leading up to the deaths of three customers, management received reports that contained what could be considered red, or at least yellow, flags, and the board minutes of the relevant period revealed no evidence that these were disclosed to the board”; “the board was given certain favorable information about food safety by management, but was not given important reports that presented a much different picture”; and “the board meetings [we]re devoid of any suggestion that there was any regular discussion of food safety issues.”[22] These shortcomings convinced the Delaware Supreme Court that the plaintiff had pleaded sufficient allegations that Blue Bell’s “board ha[d] undertaken no efforts to make sure it [wa]s informed of a compliance issue intrinsically critical to the company’s business operation.” Id. at 33. So the Court could infer that the board “ha[d] not made the good faith effort that Caremark requires.”[23] That management “regularly reported” to the board on “operational issues” was insufficient to demonstrate that the board had made a good faith effort to put in place a reasonable system of monitoring and reporting about Blue Bell’s central compliance risks.[24] So, too, was “the fact that Blue Bell nominally complied with FDA regulations.”[25] Neither of these facts showed that “the board implemented a system to monitor food safety at the board level.”[26] In light of these facts, the Supreme Court held that the plaintiff met his “onerous pleading burden” and was entitled to discovery to prove out his Caremark claim.[27] Key Takeaways Independence: Close Personal Ties Increase Litigation Risk Directors should be aware that the greater the level of close personal or business relationships amongst themselves, management, and even each other’s families, the greater risk they face of being held incapable of exercising their business judgment in a demand futility analysis, even in circumstances where they have plainly demonstrated independent or dissenting judgment on corporate-governance matters. Caremark Increased Litigation Risk over Compliance Efforts Derivative Litigation. Although Caremark claims will remain “the most difficult theory in corporation law upon which a plaintiff might hope to win a judgment,”[28] we expect an increase in attempted derivative litigation over a purported lack of board-level monitoring systems for specific risks as plaintiffs try to shoehorn as many standard business and non-business risks as possible into Marchand’s “essential and mission critical” risk category. Whereas to date many Caremark claims have focused on the second prong of the standard—alleging that a board consciously failed to monitor or oversee the operation of its reporting system or controls and by ignoring red flags disabled themselves from being informed of risks or problems requiring their attention—Marchand likely will focus plaintiffs on the first prong: whether in particular areas a board failed to implement any reporting or information system or controls. The plaintiffs’ bar is bound to focus on the full array of corporate risks, including many that are not correctly characterized as “central compliance risks” for most companies. These areas could range from risks disclosed in the company’s SEC filings to cultural issues, like harassment or bullying, and more broader environmental, social, and governance (“ESG”) issues. Books and Records Litigation. Similarly, we expect a rise in Section 220 books and records demands seeking to investigate a board’s specific oversight of central compliance risks. Assessing Central Compliance Risks Marchand does not change the core principle that a company’s board of directors is responsible for seeing that the company has systems in place to provide the board with information that is sufficient to allow directors to perform their oversight responsibilities. This includes information about major risks facing the company. The Delaware Supreme Court emphasized in Marchand that these systems can be “context- and industry-specific approaches tailored to . . . companies’ business and resources.”[29] Accordingly, boards have wide latitude in designing systems that work for them. In light of this, boards should be comfortable that they understand the “central compliance risks” facing their companies. They should satisfy themselves that they are receiving, on an appropriate schedule, reports from management and elsewhere on these central risks and what management is doing to manage those risks. In recent years, many boards have devoted significant time to thinking about how best to allocate responsibility for risk oversight at the board level. Boards should be comfortable that there is adequate coverage, among the full board and its committees, of the major compliance and other risks facing the corporation, and that the full board is receiving appropriate reports from responsible committees, as well as from management. They also should periodically evaluate the most effective methods for monitoring “essential and mission critical” risk to their companies, even where these risks do not relate directly to operational issues, and whether the current committee structure, charters, and meeting schedules are appropriate. These efforts, reports, and discussions should be documented. Boards should establish systems so that management provides them with an adequate picture of compliance risks. In Marchand, although management received many reports about food-safety issues, “this information never made its way to the board.”[30] Boards should remain mindful of the second prong in Caremark by overseeing the company’s response when they are informed of risks or problems requiring their attention. When reporting systems or other developments demonstrate that risks are becoming manifest, directors should assess whether a need exists to implement a heightened system of monitoring, such as setting additional meetings and requiring additional reports from management about the steps the company is taking to address the risk. Boards should hesitate to leave the response entirely to management. Documenting the Board’s Work Minutes of board meetings, and board materials, should not just reflect the “good news.” Instead, they should demonstrate that the board received appropriate information about issues and challenges facing the company, and that the board spent time discussing those issues and challenges. The goal should be to create a balanced record demonstrating diligent oversight by the board, while recognizing that those minutes could be produced in litigation. ________________________    [1]   Marchand v. Barnhill, No. 533, 2018, slip op. at 33 (Del. June 18, 2019).    [2]   Id. at 36.    [3]   Id. at 5.    [4]   Id. at 1.    [5]   Id.    [6]   Id. at 19.    [7]   Stone v. Ritter, 911 A.2d 362, 370 (Del. 2006).    [8]   Marchand, No. 533, 2018, slip op. at 20-23.    [9]   Id. at 3. [10]   Id. at 25. [11]   Id. at 28. [12]   Id. at 26. [13]   Id. [14]   Id. at 29. [15]   Id. at 27. [16]   Id. [17]   Id. at 37. [18]   Id. at 30. [19]   Id. at 36 (emphasis added). [20]   Id. [21]   Id. at 37. [22]   Id. at 32-33. [23]   Id. [24]   Id. at 35-36. [25]   Id. at 34. [26]   Id. [27]   Id. at 37. [28]   Stone v. Ritter, 911 A.2d 362, 372 (Del. 2006). [29]   Marchand, No. 533, 2018, slip op. at 30. [30]   Id. at 12. Gibson Dunn’s lawyers are available to assist with any questions you may have regarding these issues. For further information, please contact the Gibson Dunn lawyer with whom you usually work, any member of the firm’s Securities Litigation or Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance practice groups, or the authors in Washington, D.C.: Securities Litigation Group: Andrew S. Tulumello (+1 202-955-8657, atulumello@gibsondunn.com) Jason J. Mendro (+1 202-887-3726, jmendro@gibsondunn.com) Jason H. Hilborn (+1 202-955-8276, jhilborn@gibsondunn.com) Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance Group: Elizabeth Ising (+1 202-955-8287, eising@gibsondunn.com) Ronald O. Mueller (+1 202-955-8671, rmueller@gibsondunn.com) Gillian McPhee (+1 202-955-8201, gmcphee@gibsondunn.com) Please also feel free to contact any of the following leaders of the Securities Litigation group: Brian M. Lutz – Co-Chair, San Francisco/New York (+1 415-393-8379/+1 212-351-3881, blutz@gibsondunn.com) Robert F. Serio – Co-Chair, New York (+1 212-351-3917, rserio@gibsondunn.com) Meryl L. Young – Co-Chair, Orange County (+1 949-451-4229, myoung@gibsondunn.com) © 2019 Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP Attorney Advertising:  The enclosed materials have been prepared for general informational purposes only and are not intended as legal advice.

July 18, 2019 |
2019 Mid-Year Securities Enforcement Update

Click for PDF I.  Introduction: Themes and Notable Developments A.  Continued Focus on Protection of Main Street Investors The first half of 2019 has seen a continuation of the Commission’s emphasis on protecting the interests of Main Street investors. Chairman Clayton reiterated these themes in his testimony in May before the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations.[1] In addition to the no less than 43 references to Main Street investors, the Chairman’s testimony highlighted: (1) the Retail Strategy Task Force, formed in 2017, to use data-driven strategies to generate leads for investigation of industry practices that could harm retail investors, as well as (2) the mutual fund share class initiative as an example of returning funds to retail investors through a program to incentivize self-reporting and cooperation. To be sure, the Commission brought a number of enforcement actions focusing on various offering frauds, often with themes related to some form of cryptocurrency or digital asset.[2] The Chairman also noted in his Congressional testimony that the Commission’s FY 2020 budget request contemplates adding add six positions to the Commission’s investigations of conduct affecting Main Street investors. On June 5, 2019, the SEC adopted a set of rules intended to enhance the quality and transparency of retail investors’ relationships with investment advisers and broker-dealers.[3] The new “Regulation Best Interest” requires broker-dealers to act in the best interest of a customer when making recommendations for securities transactions or investment strategies to a retail consumer. This means broker-dealers may not place the financial or other interests of the broker-dealer ahead of the customer. In order to satisfy the fiduciary obligations required by Regulation Best Interest, broker-dealers must: (1) make certain disclosures regarding any conflicts of interest; (2) exercise reasonable diligence, care, and skill in making recommendations; (3) maintain policies and procedures designed to address conflicts of interest; and (4) maintain policies designed to achieve compliance with the regulation.[4] Regulation Best Interest takes effect on September 10, 2019. Firms will have until June 30, 2020 to comply with the regulation. B.  Full Commission and other Senior Staffing Updates During the first six months of this year, there were a number of leadership changes, several of which reflect the advancement of lawyers with many years of experience in the Division of Enforcement to positions of senior leadership. On June 20, the U.S. Senate confirmed Allison Lee to serve as the fifth Commissioner with a term ending in 2022. Commissioner Lee was sworn in on July 8, bringing the Commission back to its full complement of Commissioners. Commissioner Lee replaces prior Democratic Commissioner Kara Stein. Commissioner Lee previously served at the Commission for over a decade, including as counsel to Commissioner Stein, as well as a Senior Counsel in the Complex Financial Instruments Unit of the Division of Enforcement. How long the full Commission will last is uncertain as there have been reports that Commissioner Robert Jackson, the only other Democratic Commissioner, may be stepping down in the near future to return to teaching and NYU Law School. Commissioner Jackson has not commented on his plans. Other changes in the senior staffing of the Commission include: In June, David Peavler was appointed Director of the Fort Worth Regional Office. Mr. Peavler rejoined the SEC after serving two years as the General Counsel of HD Vest Inc. He previously worked for 15 years in the Division of Enforcement in the SEC’s Fort Worth Regional Office. In May, Erin Schneider was appointed Director of the San Francisco Regional Office. Ms. Schneider joined the Commission in 2005 as a Staff Attorney in the Division of Enforcement in the San Francisco Office, became an Assistant Director in the Asset Management Unit in 2012 and an Associate Director in the San Francisco Office in 2015. Also in May, Adam Aderton was appointed Co-Chief of the Asset Management Unit of the Division of Enforcement. Mr. Aderton joined the Commission as a staff attorney in the Division of Enforcement in 2008, joined the Asset Management Unit in 2010, and became an assistant Director of the Unit in 2013. More broadly, until recently, the Commission had been subject to a hiring freeze which led to an approximately 10% decline in staffing both in the Enforcement Division and the Commission overall. Under its FY 2019 budget, the Commission has been able to resume some hiring, but not sufficient to restore staffing levels to their prior levels. Accordingly, the Enforcement Division will continue to endeavor to accomplish more with less for the foreseeable future. C.  Change to Commission Practice on Consideration of Settlement Offers with Waiver Requests On July 3, Chairman Jay Clayton announced a change in the process by which the Commission will consider settlement offers from prospective defendants who are also seeking a waiver from a regulatory disqualification that would be triggered by the settlement.[5]  In effect, the new policy actually restores Commission practice to what it had been historically, prior to a change under the last administration, and represents a much-needed, common sense improvement to the Commission’s settlement process. The issue arises when negotiating a settlement that triggers a regulatory disqualification.  The client can request a waiver from the disqualification.  However, the last administration had revoked the authority previously delegated to the regulatory divisions to decide waivers and required a party to make an unconditional offer of settlement without assurance as to whether the Commission would grant the waiver.  This meant that a party could be bound to a settlement that triggered a disqualification without assurance of receiving a waiver.  In some cases, the risk was significant. Under the new policy, the Commission will still be the decision-maker on waivers, but will consider the settlement offer and waiver request simultaneously and as a single recommendation.  Most important, if the Commission approves the settlement offer, but not the waiver, the party could withdraw the settlement offer and will not be bound by the offer. As the Chairman’s statement explains: … an offer of settlement that includes a simultaneous waiver request negotiated with all relevant divisions . . . will be presented to, and considered by, the Commission as a single recommendation from the staff. . . . [I]n a matter where a simultaneous settlement offer and waiver request are made and the settlement offer is accepted but the waiver request is not approved in whole or in part, the prospective defendant would need to promptly notify the staff (typically within a matter of five business days) of its agreement to move forward with that portion of the settlement offer that the Commission accepted. In the event a prospective defendant does not promptly notify the staff that it agrees to move forward with that portion of the settlement offer that was accepted (or the defendant otherwise withdraws its offer of settlement), the negotiated settlement terms that would have resolved the underlying enforcement action may no longer be available and a litigated proceeding may follow. In sum, under the new procedure, parties will simply receive the same benefit as any settling party – certainty, finality and the clarity of knowing the full consequences of their offer to settle. D.  Whistleblower Awards Continue The Commission continued to issue significant awards to whistleblowers for providing information that led to financial recoveries in enforcement actions. As of June 2019, the SEC has awarded over $384 million to 64 whistleblowers since the program began in 2012.[6] In March, the Commission announced a pair of awards totaling $50 million to two whistleblowers (one for $37 million and another for $13 million).[7] The $37 million award was the Commission’s third highest award. One of the awards was notable because the Commission finding in its order that the claimant had “unreasonably delayed in reporting the information to the commission,” and had “passively financially benefitted from the underlying misconduct during a portion of the period of delay.”[8] In May, for the first time, the SEC issued an award under a provision of the whistleblower rules which permits claims by whistleblowers who first report a tip to a company if the whistleblower also reports the same tip to the SEC within 120 days.[9] In this case, the whistleblower sent an anonymous tip to the company, as well as to the SEC. The whistleblower’s report triggered an internal investigation by the company, which resulted in the company reporting its findings to the SEC, resulting in an SEC investigation and action. In calculating the award, the SEC credited the whistleblower “for the company’s internal investigation, because the allegations were reported to the Commission within 120 days of the report to the company.” The whistleblower was awarded more than $4.5 million. In June, the SEC announced an award of $3 million to whistleblowers for a tip that led to the successful enforcement action related to “an alleged securities law violation that impacted retail investors.”[10] The key takeaway from these awards is that they provide powerful financial incentives to would be whistleblowers to report suspicions of misconduct – real or perceived – to the Commission staff. The financial incentives and anti-retaliation protections for whistleblowers put a premium on companies implementing a rigorous, proactive and documented response to internal complaints to protect against second-guessing by regulators and prosecutors. Last year, in Digital Realty Trust v. Somers, the Supreme Court held that Dodd-Frank’s anti-retaliation measures protect only whistleblowers who report their concerns to the SEC and not those who only report internally.[11] In response to the Supreme Court’s decision, on May 8, 2019, the House Committee on Financial Services passed the Whistleblower Protection Reform Act of 2019, H.R. 2515, which would extend the anti-retaliation protections in Dodd-Frank to whistleblowers who report alleged misconduct to a superior.[12] E.  Notable Litigation Developments There were a number of litigation developments of note during the first half of this year. In Lorenzo v. SEC, the Supreme Court held that an individual who is not a “maker” of a misstatement may nonetheless be held primarily liable under Rule 10b-5(a) and (c) for knowingly “disseminating” a misstatement made by another person.[13]  The decision refines the Court’s 2011 decision in Janus v. First Derivative Traders, in which the Court held that liability under Rule 10b-5(b) for a misstatement only extent to the “maker” of a statement which is the “person or entity with ultimate authority over the statement.” The impact of the Lorenzo decision for Commission enforcement actions may be more academic than practical because the Commission has the ability to bring actions for secondary liability for aiding and abetting or causing a violation by another party.  Nevertheless, Commissioner Hester Peirce has cautioned against the Commission’s use of Lorenzo to expand so-called “scheme” liability beyond the bounds of secondary liability.[14]  The practical import of the decision for private civil litigation may be more significant, since, in the absence of secondary liability, private plaintiffs may be able to craft broader allegations of primary liability against defendants based on their participation in a “device, scheme, or artifice to defraud” under Rule 10b-5(a) or an “act, practice or course of business” that “operates … as a fraud or deceit” under Rule 10b-5(c). In Robare Group, Ltd. v. SEC, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. held that a “willful” violation of Section 207 of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 requires more than proof of mere negligence, even though negligence may be sufficient to establish a violation under Section 206(2) of the Advisers Act.  The decision represents a change from the holding in a 2000 decision by the same court in Wonsover v. SEC, which held that “willfully” means “intentionally committed the act with constitutes the violation” but does not require that “the actor…be aware that he is violating” the law.  In Robare, the court clarified that the willfulness standard could not be met by proof of merely negligent conduct. Historically, in cases in which parties settle to Commission orders finding willful violations, the settled order often contained a footnote articulating the Wonsover standard of willfulness.  Notably, despite the decision in Robare, the Commission has continued to use the Wonsover formulation.[15]  In the long term, the Commission will likely seek to reconcile the Robare and Wonsover decisions.  In the near term, the Robare decision potentially provides prospective defendants with additional arguments to oppose alleged violations of statutory provisions that require proof of willfulness, and as a consequence, to avoid forms of relief that turn on findings of willful violations. Finally, over the years, the Commission been continually challenged to conduct investigations and either resolve or commence actions in a timely manner.  In addition, all investigative and prosecutorial agencies have been subject to criticism at various times for “piling on” with seemingly duplicative investigations and enforcement actions in high profile matters.  This year, the Commission’s late arrival to an already crowded regulatory party has become the subject of an unusually pointed judicial inquiry in the Commission’s litigation against Volkswagen.  The Commission filed the action in March 2019, years after the company had already resolved actions by other federal and state governments as well as private civil actions.  In a quote that will likely resonate for some time to come, the court questioned the Commission’s delay in bringing the action and reminded counsel that “the symbol of the SEC is the symbol … of the eagle, not a carrion hawk that simply descends when everything is all over and sees what it can get from the defendant.”  In an unusual step, the court order the Commission to file a declaration stating when the Commission learned of the facts alleged in each paragraph of the 69-page complaint.  On July 8, the Commission filed its submission which seeks to explain the various challenges the Commission faced in its investigation, including delays in obtaining evidence from abroad, that led to the timing of the agency’s action.  Regardless of the outcome of this particular case, perhaps the court’s commentary will lead investigative agencies to undertake a more thoughtful approach to the need to add to multi-agency investigations. F.  Legislative Response to Supreme Court’s Kokesh Decision In 2018, in Kokesh v. SEC, the Supreme Court held that a 5-year statute of limitations applies to the Commission’s ability to recover disgorgement of ill-gotten gains from defendants.  In a footnote to the unanimous decision, the Court somewhat cryptically suggested that the Commission’s authority to obtain disgorgement may not be entirely without question.  In particular the Court stated that the decision was limited to the applicability of the statute of limitations, and not reaching the issue of “whether courts possess authority to order disgorgement in SEC enforcement proceedings….”  In its 2018 annual report, the Enforcement Division estimated the Kokesh decision may cause the Commission may forego up to $900 million in disgorgement claims. The issue of the SEC’s ability to obtain disgorgement is a question that continues to play out in lower courts.  Thus far, the Second Circuit and district courts within the Second Circuit have upheld disgorgement awards post-Kokesh, finding disgorgement to be a proper equitable remedy.[16]  The meaning of Kokesh is also being hashed out in cases involving regulators other than the SEC, such as the CFTC.  For example, in a case from May of this year, a district court found that, contrary to the defendants’ reading of Kokesh, the amount of disgorgement to be paid to the CFTC did not need to be reduced based on costs incurred by the defendants in the commission of their violations.[17] In March of this year, Senators Mark Warner (D-Va) and John Kennedy (R-La) introduced a bipartisan bill designed to address the concerns sounded by the Commission in the wake of Kokesh.  Titled the Securities Fraud and Investor Compensation Act, the bill would provide explicit statutory authority for the Commission to obtain disgorgement for gains actually received or obtained by a defendant, subject to a 5-year statute of limitations.  Of potentially greater consequence, however, the bill would also authorize the Commission to obtain restitution of losses sustained by investors caused by defendants in the securities industry, such as broker-dealers and investment advisers, and create a 10-year statute of limitations for equitable relief, including restitution, injunctions, bars and suspensions. Historically, the Commission has not sought to advance an argument for restitution in court.  It is not uncommon for the financial benefit to a defendant to be far less that the alleged harm incurred by an arguable class of victims.  Consequently, for many defendants, the risk of restitution could represent a substantial increase in the potential exposure created by an enforcement action.  As of this writing, the bill has not advanced. G.  Litigation Challenge to the “Neither-Admit-Nor-Deny” Settlement The “neither admit nor deny” settlement has long been a staple of the Commission’s enforcement program.  Specifically, prospective defendants typically settle enforcement actions by consenting to either issuance of a Commission order containing findings, or the entry of a civil judgment based on a complaint containing allegations, to which the proposed defendant neither admits nor denies.  Under the prior administration, the Commission had adopted a policy of requiring admissions in certain exceptional cases.  Nevertheless, the neither admit nor deny formulation remained the predominant settlement formulation. Importantly, as a corollary to not being required to admit to any findings or allegations, parties are also prohibited from denying the findings or allegations.  The requirement is spelled out in a regulation adopted in 1972: The Commission has adopted the policy that in any civil lawsuit brought by it or in any administrative proceeding of an accusatory nature pending before it, it is important to avoid creating, or permitting to be created, an impression that a decree is being entered or a sanction imposed, when the conduct alleged did not, in fact, occur. Accordingly, it hereby announces its policy not to permit a defendant or respondent to consent to a judgment or order that imposes a sanction while denying the allegations in the complaint or order for proceedings. In this regard, the Commission believes that a refusal to admit the allegations is equivalent to a denial, unless the defendant or respondent states that he neither admits nor denies the allegations. 17 C.F.R. § 202.5(e). The requirement is also contained in the form of settlement offer executed by a settling party: Defendant understands and agrees to comply with the Commission’s policy “not to permit a defendant or respondent to consent to a judgment or order that imposes a sanction while denying the allegation in the complaint or order for proceedings.” 17 C.F.R. § 202.5. In compliance with this policy, Defendant agrees not to take any action or to make or cause to be made any public statement denying, directly or indirectly, any allegation in the complaint or creating the impression that the complaint is without factual basis. . . . .  If Defendant breaches this agreement, the Commission may petition the Court to vacate the Final Judgment and restore this action to its active docket. In a lawsuit filed in January of this year, the Cato Institute is challenging the constitutionality of the so-called “gag rule” as a violation of a defendant’s right to free speech under the First Amendment.[18]  The Cato Institute’s interest in the issue is grounded on its desire to publish a manuscript by a party who settled a Commission enforcement action.  According to the Cato Institute’s complaint, the manuscript describes what the author believes to be the Commission’s overreach in coercing the author into a settlement despite the author’s belief that the charges were without merit in order to avoid crippling litigation expenses.  The complaint alleges that the regulation and policy constitutes an unconstitutional content-based restriction on speech. Not surprisingly, the Commission filed a motion to dismiss the complaint in May, arguing, among other things, that the plaintiff’s action was flawed in three key ways: (1) the Cato Institute lacked standing under Article III because it was challenging a contract reviewed, approved and entered by a district court—a contract to which the plaintiff was neither a party nor an intended beneficiary; (2) the court lacked jurisdiction on ripeness grounds because the plaintiff’s claims were premised upon speculation about future events that would implicate other courts’ authority, in effect asking the court to invalidate no-deny provisions in every single past consent judgment, regardless of whether all past settling defendants wanted this outcome;  and (3) the Cato Institute did not state a First Amendment claim because the no-deny provisions were negotiated provisions and were not imposed against a defendant’s free will.  The Commission further asserted that there were compelling interests that would justify these no-deny provisions, such as avoiding investor and market confusion and deterring future defendants. The Cato Institute opposed the Commission’s motion to dismiss, arguing that the Commission’s no-deny provisions amounted to a lifetime ban on speech, and former SEC defendants who want to complain about the SEC’s conduct in their cases are unable to do so because of these provisions.  The Cato Institute asserted three main arguments in response to the Commission’s motion to dismiss: (1) the Cato Institute has standing as a would-be publisher because it is currently required to abstain from constitutionally protected speech; (2)  the court could adjudicate the instant claims without invading the jurisdiction of any other court; and (3) the unconstitutional-conditions doctrine applies to this matter and therefore the Cato Institute has properly pleaded a justiciable claim under the First Amendment. Needless to say, the lawsuit has had no impact whatsoever on the Commission’s continued practice of settling actions on a neither-admit-nor-deny basis. II.  Public Company Disclosure, Accounting and Audit Cases A.  Internal Controls In late January, the SEC announced a settlement with four public companies based on the companies’ alleged failure to maintain adequate internal controls over financial reporting (“ICFR”).[19]  The SEC alleged that, although the companies disclosed material weaknesses in their ICFR, the took months or years to remedy the issues, including after SEC staff notified the companies of the issues.  Without admitting or denying the allegations, all four companies agreed to a cease and desist order and to pay civil penalties Ranging from $35,000 to $200,000.  One company, a Mexican steel manufacturer and processor, continues to remediate material weaknesses and, as part of the settlement, has undertaken to have an independent consultant to review the remediation. B.  Company Disclosures Concerning the Business In March, the SEC instituted a settled action against a U.S. home improvement company based on allegations that the company made misstatements regarding its products’ compliance with regulatory standards.[20]  Following a media report on certain of the company’s products in 2015, the company stated that third-party test results demonstrated its products were in compliance with regulatory standards.  The company also stated that individuals featured in the media reporting were not employees of the company’s suppliers.  The SEC alleges that the company knew that one of its Chinese suppliers had failed third-party testing and had evidence that the individuals featured in the media reporting were employees of the company’s suppliers.  Without admitting or denying the findings in the SEC’s order, the company agreed to pay a $6 million penalty.  On the same day the SEC instituted its settled action, the Department of Justice announced that the company entered into a deferred prosecution agreement and agreed to pay $33 million in forfeiture and criminal fines. As discussed above in our introductory section, in March of this year, the SEC filed an unsettled complaint against a car manufacturer, two of its subsidiaries, and its former CEO for alleged misstatements concerning the compliance of the company’s vehicles with emissions standards at a times when the company issues bonds and asset backed securities.[21]  The complaint alleges that the misstatements enabled the company to issue bonds as a lower interest rate than otherwise.  As discussed above, the litigation remains pending. C.  Financial Reporting Cases In early April, the SEC brought a settled action against the founder and former CEO of a Silicon Valley mobile payment startup based on allegations that he overstated the company’s revenues and then sold shares he owned to investors in the secondary market.[22]  The former CEO agreed to settle the charges without admitting wrongdoing, agreeing to pay more than $17 million in disgorgement and penalties and to be barred from serving as an officer or director of a publicly traded U.S. company.  The SEC instituted a separate settled administrative action against the company’s former CFO for based on allegations that he failed to exercise reasonable care in the company’s financial statements and signed stock transfer agreements that inaccurately implied that the company’s board of directors had approved the CEO’s stock sales.  The CFO, who had also sold some of his shares in the company, entered into a cooperation agreement with the SEC and, in connection with his settlement, agreed to pay approximately $420,000 in disgorgement and prejudgment interest. Also in April, the SEC filed an unsettled action against the former CFO and two former employees of a publicly traded transportation company.[23]  The SEC’s complaint alleges that the former CFO hid expenses and manipulated the company’s finances, while the other two employees failed to write-off overvalued assets and overstated receivables at one of the company’s operating companies.  The complaint also alleges that the defendants misled the company’s outside auditor, causing the company to misstate financial results in periodic reports filed with the SECs.  The U.S. Department of Justice’s Fraud Section also filed parallel criminal charges against the three individuals. Later in April, the SEC instituted a settled proceeding against a Silicon Valley market place lender that, through its website, sold securities linked to performance of its consumer credit loans.[24]  According to the SEC’s administrative order, the company excluded certain non-performing charged off loans from its performance calculations reported to investors, and as a result, overstated its net returns.  Pursuant to the settlement, the company agreed to pay $3 million. Also in April, the SEC filed a settled action against a U.S. truckload carrier with accounting fraud, books and records, and internal control violations.[25]  The SEC’s complaint alleges that the company avoided recognizing impairment charges and losses by selling and buying used trucks at inflated prices from third-parties, which enabled the company to overstate its pre-tax and net income and earnings per share in one annual and two quarterly reports.  In the settlement, the company agreed to pay $7 million in disgorgement, which is deemed satisfied by the company’s payment of restitution in settlement of a parallel action brought by the Department of Justice.  This is also one of the few settled SEC actions under this administration in which the defendant admitted to the violations alleged in the SEC’s complaint. In May, the SEC instituted settled administrative proceedings against a New Hampshire-based manufacturer and its former CEO based on allegations that the company misled investors regarding the company’s ability to supply “sapphire glass” for Apple’s iPhones.[26]  According to the SEC’s orders, the company entered into an agreement with Apple to provide sapphire glass that met certain standards, but that the company failed to meet the standards required by the Apple contract, which triggered Apple’s right to withhold payment and accelerate a large repayment from the New Hampshire company.  Despite Apple’s exercise of this withholding and repayment, the company reported that it expected to meet performance targets and receive payment from Apple.  In settlement, the former CEO agreed to pay approximately $140,000 in disgorgement and penalties.  The company, which had since filed for, and exited from, bankruptcy as a private company, was not assessed a penalty. D.  Cases Against Audit Firms In February, the SEC instituted a settled administrative proceeding against a large Japanese accounting firm and two of the firm’s former executives (the former CEO and the former Reputation and Risk Leader and Director of Independence) based on allegations that the firm violated certain provisions of the SEC’s audit independence rules.[27]  The SEC’s order alleges that the firm issued audit reports for a client notwithstanding that certain personnel within the accounting firm were aware that the client’s subsidiary maintained dozens of bank accounts for employees of the accounting firm with balances that exceeded depositary insurance limits.  The SEC’s order alleges that the firm’s quality control system did not provide reasonable measures to help ensure the firm was independent from its audit clients.  Without admitting or denying the allegations, the firm agreed to pay a $2 million penalty.  The former executives agreed to be suspended from appearing or practicing before the SEC as accountants with a right to apply for reinstatement after two years in the case of the former CEO and one year in the case of the former Reputation Risk Leader and director of Independence, In June, the SEC instituted a settled administrative proceeding against an international accounting firm based on allegations that certain former firm personnel obtained confidential lists of inspection targets from a now former employee of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) and used the information to alter past audit work papers to reduce the likelihood of deficiencies being found during the PCAOB inspections.[28]  Last year, the SEC had previously instituted enforcement actions against the former personnel of the audit firm and the PCAOB.  The SEC’s settled order against the firm also alleges that a number of the firm’s audit professionals engaged in misconduct in connection with internal training exams.  Pursuant to the settlement, the firm agreed to pay a $50 million penalty, to retain an independent consultant to review and evaluate the firm’s quality controls relating to ethics and integrity, and other remedial measures.  The firm also admitted the facts in the SEC’s order and acknowledged that its actions violated a PCAOB rule requiring integrity. III.  Cases Against Investment Advisers A.  Representation Concerning Brokerage Commissions In March, the SEC instituted a settled action against a dually registered broker-dealer and investment adviser in connection with the activity of a firm it had acquired.[29]  According to the SEC, the firm represented to advisory clients that they were receiving a discount off the firm’s retail commission rates.  However, according the SEC’s order, the firm did not adequately disclose that clients could have chosen other outside brokerage options at lower commission rates.  The SEC alleged that the firm charged commissions on average 4.5 times more than what clients would have paid using other brokerage options, but did not provide any additional services to advisory clients using its in-house brokerage than it did to advisory clients who chose other brokerages with considerably lower commission rates.  Without admitting or denying the findings, the firm agreed to pay approximately $5.2 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest, and a $500,000 civil penalty. B.  Conflicts of Interest In March, the SEC instituted settled proceedings against a registered investment adviser and its former Chief Operating Officer, alleging they manipulated the auction of a commercial real estate asset on behalf of one client for the benefit of another client.[30]  According to the SEC, instead of identifying bona fide bidders, the COO used the firm’s affiliated private fund client for one bid and assured two other bidders that they would not win if they participated.  According to the SEC, the selling client was thereby deprived of the ability to receive multiple genuine offers which could maximize its profit.  Without admitting or denying the findings in the order, the investment adviser agreed to pay approximately $83,000 in disgorgement and prejudgment interest, and a $325,000 civil penalty.  The former COO, without admitting or denying the findings in the order, agreed to pay a $65,000 civil penalty and a 12-month industry suspension. C.  Advisory Fees In March, the SEC filed an unsettled complaint against the former Chief Operating Officer of an investment adviser for allegedly aiding and abetting the advisory firm’s overbilling of advisory clients in order to generate additional revenue and improperly inflate his own pay.[31]  The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York brought accompanying criminal charges on the same day the SEC action was announced. In May, the SEC announced a settled action against a now-defunct registered investment adviser in North Carolina alleging that the adviser overcharged clients for advisory fees, misrepresented the reason the adviser’s custodian arrangement ended (the custodian observed irregular billing practices), and overstated assets under management in Commission filings.[32]  Without admitting or denying the findings in the SEC’s order, the owner agreed to pay approximately $400,000 in disgorgement and prejudgment interest, and a $100,000 civil penalty. D.  Misuse of Client Funds In March, the SEC instituted a settled administrative proceeding against a Seattle-based registered investment adviser and its principal.[33]  According to the SEC, the company’s principal misused more than $3 million from a private client fund to pay business and personal expenses, sent fraudulent account statements and tax documents to investors, overstated assets in the fund and falsely represented that the fund had undergone an independent audit.  The settled order provides that the investment adviser’s registration is revoked, the principal is barred from the securities industry, and the company and owner are liable jointly and severally for disgorgement and prejudgment interest of approximately $1.2 million, but with an allowance for offset as to the principal by the amount of any restitution ordered against him in a parallel criminal action in which he agreed to plead guilty. E.  Compliance Policies and Procedures In June, the SEC instituted a settled administrative proceeding against a private fund manager and its Chief Investment Officer alleging that the manager failed to adopt and implement policies and procedures to address the risk that the traders’ pricing of illiquid mortgage-backed bonds may not conform to generally accepted accounting principles.[34]    Without admitting or denying the findings in the SEC’s order, the fund manager agreed to a civil penalty of $5,000,000 and the CIO agreed to pay a civil penalty of $250,000. IV.  Cases Against Broker-Dealers A.  Cases Concerning ADRs The SEC continued a 2018 initiative focused on investigating practices related to American Depositary Receipts (“ADR”)—U.S. securities that represent foreign shares of a foreign company and that require foreign shares in the same quantity to be held in custody at a depositary bank.  Pre-released ADRs are issued without the deposit of foreign shares, but require that either a customer owns the number of foreign shares in equal amounts to the number of shares represented by the ADRs, or that the broker receiving the shares has an agreement with a depository bank.  The SEC settled three cases involving pre-released ADRs in the first half of 2019—one in March and two in June. In March, a broker-dealer agreed to pay more than $8 million in disgorgement and penalties to settle charges of improperly handling pre-released ADRs.[35]  According to the SEC’s order, the broker-dealer improperly borrowed pre-released ADRs from other brokers when it should have known that the middlemen did not own the foreign shares required to support the ADRs.  As a result of borrowing these pre-released ADRs, there was inappropriate short selling and other improper trading activity. In June, the SEC settled with a broker-dealer subsidiary of a large bank, and the $42 million that the broker-dealer agreed to pay in disgorgement and penalties resulted in the largest recovery against a broker in connection with ADRs to date.[36]  In that matter, the broker-dealer improperly bought pre-released ADRs.  The SEC alleged that the broker-dealer falsely represented that the company or its customers owned the requisite number of foreign shares to justify pre-release transactions. A few days later in June, the SEC instituted settled proceedings against a broker-dealer.  The SEC Order alleged that, for approximately two years, the firm failed to take reasonable steps to ensure that the parties who received pre-released ADRs owned the corresponding shares.  Without admitting or denying the charges, the broker-dealer agreed to pay $7.3 million in disgorgement and penalties.[37]  The Commission noted that the firm undertook voluntary remediation efforts by discontinuing pre-release activity even before the staff began its investigation. B.  Other Broker-Dealer Cases The SEC also instituted several proceedings against broker-dealers unrelated to ADRs in the first half of 2019.  The SEC has filed a number of enforcement actions relating to “blank check” companies, the most recent of which was in February.  In February, the SEC announced charges against a broker-dealer, three of the firm’s principals, and a transfer agent, alleging that the firm and transfer agent helped create and sell at least 19 sham companies, and that the individuals signed the false applications and failed to investigate.[38]  According to the SEC, those charged created these “blank check” companies from 2009 to 2014. In March, the SEC settled charges with a broker-dealer headquartered in California for allegedly failing to take appropriate measures to supervise one of its registered representatives, who was found to be involved in a pump-and-dump scheme.[39]  The SEC instituted proceedings in March 2018, since which time the firm undertook remedial measures such as revising its policies and procedures, and changes to senior leadership.  Without admitting or denying the charges, to settle the pending administrative proceeding, the firm agreed to pay a $250,000 penalty and be censured. In May, a Manhattan jury ruled in favor of the SEC in a case in which the SEC had charged a brokerage firm and its indirect owner and president with fraud and related charges for making material misrepresentations and omissions in a financial company’s private placement offering and continuing to use the offering documents to solicit sales despite knowing they were inaccurate.[40]  The jury found the firm and individuals liable on all counts. V.  Insider Trading Cases A. Cases Involving Lawyers In the first half of 2019, the SEC and Department of Justice twice brought insider trading charges against attorneys who traded on nonpublic information regarding upcoming financial disclosures.  In February, the SEC filed an unsettled insider trading action against a former senior attorney at a major technology company, alleging that he traded securities in the company after reviewing confidential information regarding upcoming earnings announcements.[41]  The SEC characterized the alleged conduct as particularly serious because the attorney’s prior responsibilities included executing the company’s insider trading compliance program.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey announced a parallel criminal complaint on the same day. In April, the SEC filed a partially-settled insider trading action against a former senior attorney of an entertainment company, for allegedly trading on nonpublic information after reviewing confidential drafts of an earnings release showing better than expected revenues.[42]  The attorney consented to a permanent injunction, with penalties and disgorgement to be determined by the district court.  The Department of Justice filed a parallel criminal complaint on the same day. In May, the SEC filed a settled insider trading action against a defendant who had been a houseguest of the general counsel of a company.  According to the complaint, the defendant misappropriated nonpublic information, misappropriated from the general counsel’s home office, concerning a pending merger involving the general counsel’s company, and then traded on the basis of that information in accounts in the name of his ex-wife and an ex-girlfriend.[43]  The defendant agreed to a settlement including a penalty of $253,000.  The SEC also named as relief defendants the defendant’s ex-wife and ex-girlfriend in whose accounts he had traded.  They agreed to disgorge the alleged profits of $250,000, along with prejudgment interest. B.  Continued Fallout from Newman Decision In criminal insider trading cases, the impact of the Second Circuit’s 2014 ruling in United States v. Newman,[44] since abrogated in part by the Supreme Court in United States v. Salman,[45] continues to have an impact.  In Newman, the Court held that, in cases against a defendant who is a downstream tippee, the government must prove the defendant knew the insider source of the information received a personal benefit in exchange for the tip in breach of their duty of confidentiality.  In June of this year, the District Court for the Southern District of New York overturned the 2012 guilty plea and conviction of a tippee in light of Newman, finding the record plea factually insufficient because “nothing in the record . . . speaks directly or indirectly to [the defendant’s] knowledge of any personal benefit the corporate insiders received as a result of divulging confidential information.”[46]  By contrast, in January of this year, the Second Circuit upheld the 2012 conviction of a former executive, finding inter alia that he was not prejudiced by the pre-Newman jury instructions in that case.[47] C.  Other Cases Involving Tipper and Tippee Liability The SEC filed several other insider trading actions involving tipper/tippee liability.  In April, the SEC instituted a settled administrative proceedings against a respondent who purchased options in a grocery store chain after learning about its impending acquisition from his wife, who had in turn learned about it from a family member who was a corporate insider.[48]  In the settlement, the respondent agreed to pay approximately $57,000 in disgorgement and prejudgment interest. In June, the SEC obtained final judgments by consent against three defendants — an executive and two of his friends.[49]  The executive had been entrusted by a friend, an employee at Concur Technologies, with confidential information of a forthcoming merger.  The executive then tipped one of his friends, who then tipped his brother.  The two brothers and other family members then placed short-term trades in call options in Concur, resulting in over $500,000 in profits, a portion of which they gave to their executive friend.  The three defendants agreed to pay disgorgement and prejudgment interest all of which was deemed satisfied by orders of forfeiture entered against each of the three individuals in parallel criminal actions in which they pleaded guilty and were sentenced to prison terms ranging from six to twenty-four months. Also in June, the SEC obtained consent judgments against two defendants, an executive at a pharmaceutical company and a business associate of the executive, in an insider trading case filed last year.[50]  The SEC’s complaint alleged that the executive tipped the business associate regarding nonpublic negotiations of a licensing agreement, and that the business associate then tipped other defendants who traded on the information, resulting in $1.5 million in gains.  Without admitting or denying the allegations in the complaint, the pharmaceutical executive consented to a civil monetary penalty of $750,000 and a five-year officer and director bar.  The amount of monetary relief as to the business associate remains to be determined by the court.  All but one of other defendants have agreed to partial settlements with the SEC. Also in June, the SEC filed an amended complaint adding a Swiss businessman as a defendant to an insider trading case filed last year.[51]  The defendant allegedly purchased out of the money call options in the target company based on a tip regarding a pending merger from the son of a senior executive of the acquirer.  The proceeds of the transaction were previously frozen in the United States and Switzerland.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced a parallel criminal action against the defendant on the same day the SEC filed the amended complaint. Also in June, the SEC filed a settled insider trading action against a defendant who allegedly sold shares in an energy company after learning about a proposed secondary offering from individuals either at the company or affiliated with an investment bank that endeavored to participate in the offering.[52]  According to the complaint, after acquiring the information and before the public announcement, the defendant sold over 9,000 shares of company stock, avoiding approximately $46,000 in losses.  The defendant, without admitting or denying the allegations, agreed to pay disgorgement, prejudgment interest, and a one-time civil penalty. D.  Trading by Insiders In February, the SEC filed a settled insider trading action against a former employee of a biotech company, alleging he sold stock in the company after learning the FDA had recommended withdrawal of two of the company’s products, thereby avoiding a loss of approximately $70,000.[53]  In the settlement, the defendant agreed to pay approximately $146,000 in disgorgement, prejudgment interest, and a civil penalty. VI.  Cases Concerning Cryptocurrency and Cybersecurity The SEC has focused on cybersecurity and cryptocurrency issues throughout the first half of the year.  In addition to bringing enforcement actions, in May, the SEC’s Strategic Hub for Innovation and Financial Technology (“FinHub”)[54] hosted a public forum on distributed ledger technology and digital assets.[55]  The forum focused on engagement with market participants on new financial technologies, including initial coin offerings. A.  Cybersecurity In January, the SEC brought its first enforcement action of the year alleging that a Ukrainian hacker along with eight persons and entities engaged in a scheme to extract nonpublic information from the SEC’s EDGAR filing system.[56]  The SEC alleged that by hacking into the EDGAR system, the accused were able to access documents that had been filed with the SEC, but that had not yet been released publicly, and pass the documents to traders who traded on the nonpublic information to the benefit of $4.1 million.  This action follows 2015 charges against the same hacker and other traders for engaging in a similar scheme involving hacking into newswire services for nonpublic information about impending corporate earnings announcements.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey brought accompanying criminal charges on the same day the SEC action was announced. B.  Failure to Register Initial Coin Offerings In February, the SEC continued its recent trend of enforcement actions against companies who fail to register an initial coin offering (“ICO”) pursuant to federal securities law.[57]  Unlike the two ICO-related actions the SEC settled last year,[58] the company at issue in February self-reported its late-2017 unregistered ICO.  The company had raised $12.7 million from the sale of these instruments after the Commission had publicly articulated its position that ICOs can constitute securities offerings.  The company agreed to fully cooperate with the investigation, to register the token offering, and to compensate any investors who request a return of funds.  Because of its self-reporting and remediation measures, the SEC did not impose a penalty. C.  Other Offerings Involving Digital Assets In May, the SEC obtained a temporary restraining order, asset freeze, and appointment of a receiver against several related companies engaged in an alleged international Ponzi scheme involving cryptocurrency and diamond mines.[59]  The principal is accused of using $10 million of the proceeds from an unregistered cryptocurrency offering by one of his companies to repay the investors in his previous diamond company and to fund his personal expenses. Also in May, the SEC filed a civil injunctive action charging an individual with operating a $26 million pyramid scheme.[60]  The complaint alleges that for over a year the individual conducted an unregistered securities offering where investors purchased instructional business packages as well as “points” that could be converted into a digital asset.  Investors earned more of these points through cash investments and by recruiting new investors to purchase digital assets and join the pyramid scheme. In June, the SEC filed a complaint alleging the defendant company raised $55 million from U.S. investors through an unregistered offering of a digital currency.[61]  Investors were allegedly told that the currency’s value would increase when the company created a transaction service based on the currency that would be available within and without the company.  The SEC alleges these services were never offered and that the value of the currency has decreased by nearly half since it was initially offered. In June, the SEC filed an amended complaint against a company and its CEO for allegedly conducting a fraudulent IPO and for engaging in accounting fraud by recording more than $66 million in excess revenue.[62]  In connection with the original complaint filed last year, the court granted the SEC’s request for preliminary relief freezing more than $27 million raised from the allegedly fraudulent offering.[63]  Also in June, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey brought parallel criminal charges against the CEO. VII.  Municipal Securities Cases A.  New Actions In March, the SEC filed a settled action against a former County Manager, alleging that he provided an unfair advantage to an investment adviser who was selected to manage county pension funds.[64]  The complaint alleges the County Manger, who allegedly had a romantic interest in an associate of the adviser, provided access to competitor’s proposals, and also failed to disclose the conflict of interest in selecting the adviser.  The County Manager consented to a judgment enjoining him from further violations of the Investment Advisers Act and from involvement with the management of public pensions, the selection of underwriters and municipal advisers, and the offering of municipal securities, as well as a $10,000 civil penalty. Also in March, the SEC announced partially settled charges against the former controller of a not-for-profit college, alleging he misrepresented the college’s finances in statements published in connection with its continuing disclosure obligations to investors pursuant to a bond issuance in 1999.[65]  According to the SEC’s complaint, the former controller created false financial records, and his actions resulted in overstating the college’s net assets by almost $34 million in the 2015 fiscal year.  The former controller agreed to a permanent injunction, with monetary relief to be determined at a later date.  In a parallel criminal action, the former controller agreed to plead guilty.  The college was not charged, in light of its cooperation and efforts to remediate the misconduct. In June, the SEC filed an unsettled action against a municipal adviser and managing partner based on allegations of breach of fiduciary duty in connection with a municipal bond offering for a public library.[66]  The complaint alleges the adviser failed to provide sufficient advice on selecting the underwriter for the offering and on pricing bonds, resulting in mispriced bonds which will cost the library additional interest over the life of the bonds.  In a related action, the SEC also instituted a settled administrative proceeding against the broker-dealer that underwrote the bonds based on allegations of a failure to act with reasonable care in underwriting the offering.  The broker-dealer agreed to a $50,000 civil penalty and to engage an independent compliance consultant. B.  Settlements in Previously Filed Actions In March, in an action previously filed in 2016, the SEC resolved litigation against a financial institution that had been the placement agent for a municipal bond offering intended to finance a finance startup video game company.[67]  The SEC alleged that the institution had failed to disclose that the project faced a shortfall in financing and that the institution was receiving compensation tied to the issuance of the bonds from the startup.  Pursuant to the settlement, without admitting or denying the allegations in the complaint, the financial institution agreed to pay approximately $800,000 in civil penalties.  The SEC’s litigation against the lead banker on the deal is ongoing. In June, the SEC announced a settlement of a 2017 action against the Town of Oyster Bay, New York for allegedly failing to disclose an agreement to guarantee $20 million of loans to a third-party restaurant and concession stand operator in connection with certain municipal securities offerings.[68]  In addition to consenting to an injunction, the Town agreed to retain an independent compliance consultant to advise on its disclosures for securities offerings.  The litigation against the former town supervisor is continuing. __________________________     [1]  Testimony of Chairman Jay Clayton before the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations, (May 8, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/testimony/testimony-financial-services-and-general-government-subcommittee-us-senate-committee.    [2]   See, e.g., SEC Charges Issuer With Conducting $100 Million Unregistered ICO, Press Rel. No. 2019-87 (June 4, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-87; SEC Sues alleged Perpetrator of Fraudulent Pyramid Scheme Promising investors Cryptocurrency Riches, Press Rel. No. 2019-74 (May 23, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-74; SEC Obtains Emergency Order Halting Alleged Diamond Related ICO Scheme Targeting Hundreds of Investors, Press Rel. No. 2019-72 (May 21, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-72.    [3]   SEC Press Release, SEC Adopts Rules and Interpretations to Enhance Protections and Preserve Choice for Retail Investors in Their Relationships with Financial Professionals (June 5, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-89.    [4]   SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION, Regulation Best Interest: The Broker-Dealer Standard of Conduct, Rel. No. 34-86031 (June 5, 2019) (to be codified at 17 CFR §§ 240.15l-1, 240.17a-3, and 240.17a-4), available at https://www.sec.gov/rules/final/2019/34-86031.pdf (“Final Rule”). [5] See Statement by Chairman Jay Clayton Regarding Offers of Settlement (July 3, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/public-statement/clayton-statement-regarding-offers-settlement.    [6]   SEC Press Release, SEC Awards $3 Million to Joint Whistleblowers (June 3, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-81.    [7]   SEC Awards $50 Million to Two Whistleblowers, Press Rel. 2019-42 (Mar. 26, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-42.    [8]   In the Matter of the Claims for Award in connection with [redacted] Notice of Covered Action [redacted], Order Determining Whistleblower Award Claims, Rel. No. 85412 (Mar. 26, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/rules/other/2019/34-85412.pdf.    [9]   SEC Press Release, SEC Awards $4.5 Million to Whistleblower Whose Internal Reporting Led to Successful SEC Case and Related Action (May 24, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-76. [10]   SEC Press Release, SEC Awards $3 Million to Joint Whistleblowers (June 3, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-81. [11]   See Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP 2018 Mid-Year Securities Enforcement Update (July 30, 2018), available at https://www.gibsondunn.com/2018-mid-year-securities-enforcement-update/. [12]   House Financial Services Committee Passes Bill to Expand Dodd-Frank Whistleblower Protection to Internal Whistleblowers (May 30, 2019), available at https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/house-financial-services-committee-88658/. [13]   Lorenzo v. SEC, 587 U.S. ___, No. 17-1077 (U.S. Mar. 27, 2019). [14]   See Speech by Commissioner Hester M. Peirce, “Reasonableness Pants,” (May 8, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/speech/speech-peirce-050819 (“Congress defined aiding and abetting liability to be the provision of ‘substantial assistance’ to a securities law violator. It is important for us and the courts not to ascribe primary liability to every violation and thus write aiding and abetting out of the statute.”) (footnote omitted). [15]   See, e.g., Matter of Deer Park Road Management Company, LP, Rel. No. 5245 (June 4, 2019), n. 7 (“A willful violation of the securities laws means merely ‘that the person charged with the duty knows what he is doing…. There is no requirement that the actor ‘also be aware that he is violating one of the Rules or Acts.’”) (citations omitted). [16]   See, e.g., SEC v. Rio Tinto plc and Rio Tinto Limited, Thomas Albanese, and Guy Robert Elliott, No. 17 Civ. 7994 (AT), 2019 WL 1244933, at *22 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 18, 2019) (collecting cases). [17]   CFTC v. Southern Trust Metals, Inc., 2019 WL 2295488, at *4-5 (S.D. Fla. May, 30, 2019). [18]   Cato Institute v. SEC, et al., Case 1:19-cv-00047 (D.D.C. Jan. 9, 2019). [19]   SEC Press Release, SEC Charges Four Public Companies with Longstanding ICFR Failures (Jan. 29, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-6. [20]   SEC Press Release, SEC Charges Lumber Liquidators with Fraud (Mar. 12, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-29. [21]   SEC Press Release, SEC Charges Volkswagen, Former CEO with Defrauding Bond Investors During “Clean Diesel” Emissions Fraud (Mar. 14, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-34. [22]   SEC Press Release, SEC Charges Former CEO of Silicon Valley Startup with Defrauding Investors (Apr. 2, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-50. [23]   SEC Press Release, SEC Charges Transportation Company Executives with Accounting Fraud (Apr. 3, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-51. [24]   SEC Press Release, Silicon Valley Company Settles Fraud Charge for Misstating Returns to Investors (Apr. 19, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-58. [25]   SEC Press Release, SEC Charges Truckload Freight Company with Accounting Fraud (Apr. 25, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-60. [26]   SEC Press Release, SEC Charges Sapphire Glass Manufacturer and Former CEO with Fraud (May 2, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-66. [27]   SEC Press Release, Deloitte Japan Charged with Violating Auditor Independence Rules (Feb. 13, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-9. [28]   SEC Press Release, KPMG Paying $50 Million Penalty for Illicit Use of PCAOB Data and Cheating on Training Exams (June 17, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-95. [29]   SEC Press Release, BB&T to Return More Than $5 Million to Retail Investors and Pay Penalty Relating to Directed Brokerage Arrangements (Mar. 5, 2019), available at www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-26. [30]   SEC Press Release, SEC Charges Registered Investment Adviser and Former Chief Operating Officer With Defrauding Client (Mar. 15, 2019), available at www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-36. [31]   SEC Press Release, SEC Charges New Jersey Man With Fraudulently Causing Advisory Firm to Overbill Clients (Mar. 28, 2019), available at www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-44. [32]   SEC Press Release, SEC Charges Investment Adviser With Fraud (May 28, 2019), available at www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-77. [33]   SEC Press Release, Investment Adviser Charged With Stealing Millions From Private Fund (Mar. 28, 2019), available at www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-45. [34]   SEC Press Release, Hedge Fund Adviser to Pay $5 Million for Compliance Failures Related to Valuation of Fund Assets (June 4, 2019), available at www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-86. [35]   SEC Press Release, Merrill Lynch to Pay Over $8 Million for Improper Handling of ADRs (Mar. 22, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-40. [36]   SEC Press Release, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Affiliate to Pay More Than $42 Million for Improper Handling of ADRs (June 14, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-94. [37]   Admin. Proc. File No. 3-19205, In re Wedbush Securities, Inc. (June 18, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/litigation/admin/2019/33-10650.pdf. [38]   SEC Press Release, SEC Charges Broker-Dealer and Transfer Agent in Microcap Shell Factory Fraud (Feb. 20, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-16. [39]   SEC Press Release, Wedbush Settles Failure to Supervise Charge (Mar. 13, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-32. [40]   SEC Press Release, Jury Rules in SEC’s Favor, Finds Brokerage Firm and Two of Its Executives Liable for Fraud (May 15, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-70. [41]   SEC Press Release, SEC Charges Former Senior Attorney at Apple with Insider Trading (Feb. 13, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-10. [42]   SEC Press Release, SEC Charges Former SeaWorld Associate General Counsel with Insider Trading (Apr. 9, 2019) available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-53. [43]   SEC Press Release, SEC Charges Nevada Man Who Traded on Confidential Information Taken from Lifetime Friend (May 7, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-67. [44]   773 F.3d 438 (2d Cir. 2014). [45]   137 S. Ct. 420 (2016). [46]   United States v. Lee, No. 13-cr-539 (S.D.N.Y. June 21, 2019); see also Jody Godoy, Newman Cited in Tossing Ex-SAC Capital Exec’s Guilty Plea, Law 360 (June 21, 2019), available at https://www.law360.com/articles/1171838/newman-cited-in-tossing-ex-sac-capital-exec-s-guilty-plea. [47]   Gupta v. United States, No. 15-2707 (2d. Cir. Jan 7, 2019) (affirming district court denial of motion to vacate conviction). [48]   Admin. Proc. File No. 3-19134, In re Yang, (Apr. 5, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/litigation/admin/2019/34-85525.pdf. [49]   SEC Litigation Release, SEC Obtains Final Judgments in Insider Trading Case Against Former Software Executive and Two Friends (June 12, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/litigation/litreleases/2019/lr24499.htm. [50]   SEC Litigation Release, SEC Obtains Judgements Against Insider Trading Ring Defendants (June 11, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/litigation/litreleases/2019/lr24498.htm. [51]   SEC Litigation Release, SEC Charges Swiss Resident in Insider Trading Case Involving Bioverativ Acquisition (June 13, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/litigation/litreleases/2019/lr24500.htm. [52]   SEC Litigation Release, SEC Charges New Jersey Investor with Insider Trading (June 18, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/litigation/litreleases/2019/lr24503.htm. [53]   SEC Litigation Release, SEC Settles with Biotech Insider Trader (Feb. 21, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/litigation/litreleases/2019/lr24406.htm. [54]   SEC Press Release, FINHUB Strategic Hub for Innovation and Financial Technology (last modified June 13, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/finhub. [55]   SEC Press Release, SEC Staff to Hold Fintech Forum to Discuss Distributed Ledger Technology and Digital Assets (Mar. 15, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-35; SEC Press Release, SEC Staff Announces Agenda for May 31 FinTech Forum (April 24, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-59. [56]   SEC Press Release, SEC Brings Charges in EDGAR Hacking Case (Jan. 15, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-1. [57]   SEC Press Release, Company Settles Unregistered ICO Charges After Self-Reporting to SEC, available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-15. [58]   See Gibson Dunn 2018 Year-End Review (Jan. 15, 2019), available at https://www.gibsondunn.com/2018-year-end-securities-enforcement-update/#_edn1; SEC Press Release, Two ICO Issuers Settle SEC Registration Charges, Agree to Register Tokens as Securities (Nov. 16, 2018), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2018-264. [59]   SEC Press Release, SEC Obtains Emergency Order Halting Alleged Diamond-Related ICO Scheme Targeting Hundreds of Investors (May 21, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-72. [60]   SEC Press Release, SEC Sues Alleged Perpetrator of Fraudulent Pyramid Scheme Promising Investors Cryptocurrency Riches (May 23, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-74. [61]   SEC Press Release, SEC Charges Issuer With Conducting $100 Million Unregistered ICO (June 4, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-87. [62]   SEC Press Release, SEC Adds Fraud Charges Against Purported Cryptocurrency Company Longfin, CEO, and Consultant (June 5, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-90. [63]   SEC Litigation Release, SEC Obtains Emergency Freeze of $27 Million in Stock Sales of Purported Cryptocurrency Company Longfin (May 2, 2018), available at https://www.sec.gov/litigation/litreleases/2018/lr24130.htm. See also Gibson Dunn 2018 Mid-Year Review (July 30, 2018), available at https://www.gibsondunn.com/2018-mid-year-securities-enforcement-update/; SEC Press Release, SEC Obtains Emergency Freeze of $27 Million in Stock Sales of Purported Cryptocurrency Company Longfin (Apr. 6, 2018), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2018-61. [64]   SEC Press Release, SEC Charges Former Municipal Officer with Fraud in Connection with Public Pension Funds (Mar. 15, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/litigation/litreleases/2019/lr24424.htm. [65]   SEC Press Release, SEC Charges College Official for Fraudulently Concealing Financial Troubles from Municipal Bond Investors (Mar. 28, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2019-46. [66]   SEC Litigation Release, SEC Charges Municipal Advisor with Breaching Fiduciary Duty (June 27, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/litigation/litreleases/2019/lr24520.htm. [67]   SEC Press Release, Court Penalizes Wells Fargo Securities for Disclosure Failures in 38 Studios Bond Offering (Mar. 20, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/litigation/litreleases/2019/lr24428.htm. [68]   SEC Litigation Release, Town of Oyster Bay, New York, Agrees to Settle SEC Charges (June 7, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/litigation/litreleases/2019/lr24494.htm. The following Gibson Dunn lawyers assisted in the preparation of this client update:  Mark Schonfeld, Amy Mayer, Lindsey Geher, Alyssa Ogden, Zoey Goldnick, Erin Galliher and Trevor Gopnik. Gibson Dunn is one of the nation’s leading law firms in representing companies and individuals who face enforcement investigations by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Department of Justice, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, the New York and other state attorneys general and regulators, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the New York Stock Exchange, and federal and state banking regulators. Our Securities Enforcement Group offers broad and deep experience.  Our partners include the former Directors of the SEC’s New York and San Francisco Regional Offices, the former head of FINRA’s Department of Enforcement, the former United States Attorneys for the Central and Eastern Districts of California, and former Assistant United States Attorneys from federal prosecutors’ offices in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., including the Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force. Securities enforcement investigations are often one aspect of a problem facing our clients. Our securities enforcement lawyers work closely with lawyers from our Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance Group to provide expertise regarding parallel corporate governance, securities regulation, and securities trading issues, our Securities Litigation Group, and our White Collar Defense Group. Gibson Dunn’s lawyers are available to assist in addressing any questions you may have regarding these developments. Please contact the Gibson Dunn lawyer with whom you usually work or any of the following: New York Reed Brodsky (+1 212-351-5334, rbrodsky@gibsondunn.com) Joel M. Cohen (+1 212-351-2664, jcohen@gibsondunn.com) Lee G. Dunst (+1 212-351-3824, ldunst@gibsondunn.com) Barry R. Goldsmith (+1 212-351-2440, bgoldsmith@gibsondunn.com) Laura Kathryn O’Boyle (+1 212-351-2304, loboyle@gibsondunn.com) Mark K. Schonfeld (+1 212-351-2433, mschonfeld@gibsondunn.com) Alexander H. Southwell (+1 212-351-3981, asouthwell@gibsondunn.com) Avi Weitzman (+1 212-351-2465, aweitzman@gibsondunn.com) Lawrence J. Zweifach (+1 212-351-2625, lzweifach@gibsondunn.com) Tina Samanta (+1 212-351-2469, tsamanta@gibsondunn.com) Washington, D.C. Stephanie L. Brooker (+1 202-887-3502, sbrooker@gibsondunn.com) Daniel P. Chung(+1 202-887-3729, dchung@gibsondunn.com) Stuart F. Delery (+1 202-887-3650, sdelery@gibsondunn.com) Richard W. Grime (+1 202-955-8219, rgrime@gibsondunn.com) Patrick F. Stokes (+1 202-955-8504, pstokes@gibsondunn.com) F. Joseph Warin (+1 202-887-3609, fwarin@gibsondunn.com) San Francisco Winston Y. Chan (+1 415-393-8362, wchan@gibsondunn.com) Thad A. Davis (+1 415-393-8251, tadavis@gibsondunn.com) Charles J. Stevens (+1 415-393-8391, cstevens@gibsondunn.com) Michael Li-Ming Wong (+1 415-393-8234, mwong@gibsondunn.com) Palo Alto Michael D. Celio (+1 650-849-5326, mcelio@gibsondunn.com) Paul J. Collins (+1 650-849-5309, pcollins@gibsondunn.com) Benjamin B. Wagner (+1 650-849-5395, bwagner@gibsondunn.com) Denver Robert C. Blume (+1 303-298-5758, rblume@gibsondunn.com) Monica K. Loseman (+1 303-298-5784, mloseman@gibsondunn.com) Los Angeles Michael M. Farhang (+1 213-229-7005, mfarhang@gibsondunn.com) Douglas M. Fuchs (+1 213-229-7605, dfuchs@gibsondunn.com) © 2019 Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP Attorney Advertising:  The enclosed materials have been prepared for general informational purposes only and are not intended as legal advice.

May 23, 2019 |
With Enactment of The Pacte Statute, All French Companies Must Be Managed in Their Corporate Interest and Management Must Consider Social and Environmental Issues Deriving from Their Activities

Click for PDF The French Civil Code provides as a general principle that every company must have a lawful corporate purpose and be constituted in the common interest of its partners.[1]  These provisions, which are applicable to all forms of partnership or public or private corporations, have been supplemented by the so-called “Pacte Statute” on the Development and Transformation of Businesses.  Each French company must now be managed “in furtherance of its corporate interest” and “while taking into consideration the social and environmental issues arising from its activity”.[2] These changes, which affect millions of legal entities from the smallest partnership to the largest public corporation, are a direct consequence of the recommendations of the so-called Notat-Senard Report (“l’entreprise, objet d’intérêt collectif”, available at https://www.ladocumentationfrancaise.fr/var/storage/rapports-publics/184000133.pdf).  Lawyers of Gibson Dunn’s Paris office have been heavily involved in the work having led to this Report. The Pacte Statute provides that non-compliance with these new obligations is not sanctioned by the nullity of the company.[3]  The intent is to protect companies from the most adverse consequences of a breach of what may appear as a loose obligation. The Pacte Statute enshrines for the first time in statutory law the concept of “corporate interest” which, until now, had only been set forth by case law.  The Pacte Statute, however, does not define the notion of “corporate interest” because “its practical interest rests on its great flexibility, which makes it restive to any confinement in pre-established criteria.  The elements necessary to determine whether or not a decision is contrary to the corporate interest are too closely dependent on the multifaceted and changing characteristics of the activity and environment of each company.”(Explanatory Memorandum) In the minds of the promoters of the Pacte Statute, the acknowledgement of the concept of “corporate interest” implies the endorsement at the legislative level of a fundamental goal in the management of companies, i.e. “the fact that these are not managed in the interest of particular persons, but in their self-interest and in pursuit of their own ends.” (Explanatory Memorandum) The introduction of social and environmental issues in the management of companies is the most striking innovation.  Measuring social and environmental issues in decision-making is meant to force company managers to question themselves about these issues and to “consider them carefully” (Explanatory Memorandum).  This consideration must of course be adapted to each company, including in particular depending on its size and activity. Ignoring social and environmental issues is not sanctioned by a specific regime of liability.  Any court action seeking damages for failure to take into account these matters continues to require the meeting of the standard conditions of liability (existence of a fault, a damage and a causal link between the two).  The mere finding of social or environmental damage will therefore not suffice to bring into play the liability of a company or a corporate executive if it is not established that the damage resulted from the misconstruction of such issues. Ignoring these matters, however, could be a ground for dismissal of the company executive. The Pacte Statute also provides the possibility for companies to introduce in their by-laws (statuts) the pursuit of a raison d’être (which conveys, inter alia, the notions of founding principles and core values). The by-laws “may specify a raison d’être, constituted of the principles which the company is endowed with and for the respect of which it intends to allocate means in the performance of its activity”.[4] According to the promoters of the Pacte Statute, the raison d’être “aims to bring entrepreneurs and businesses closer to their long-term environment”.  The formulation of a raison d’être is to be strategically used, providing a framework of reference for the most important decisions. Numerous alternative phrasings have been considered in the formulation of these new principles, and Gibson Dunn has been privy to most of the debates on these alternatives and their legal consequences.  They do enlighten the legislative intent behind these very significant legislative evolutions and can usefully guide the practical implementation of these new rules. Several large French multinationals already had adopted a raison d’être (like Michelin – “A Better Way Forward”[5]) and since the parliamentary discussions around the Pacte Statute, many more (like Veolia, Atos or Alstom) have publicly stated their intent to do so.    [1]   Article 1833 of the French Civil Code.    [2]   “dans son intérêt social et en prenant en considération les enjeux sociaux et environnementaux de son activité”.  Identical provisions have been introduced in the Commercial Code regarding the powers of the Board of Directors and of the Management Board [directoire] of a corporation [société anonyme],  both of which must determine the orientations of the corporation’s activity in accordance with its corporate interest and taking into consideration social and environmental issues.    [3]   Civil Code, Article 1844-10, amended Paragraph 1.    [4]   Article 1835 of the French Civil Code.  The Pacte Statute also complements the Commercial Code in this respcet.  When a raison d’être is provided for by the by-laws, the Board of Directors and the Management Board of a corporation [société anonyme] must “consider, where appropriate, the raison d’être of the company defined in compliance with Article 1835 of the Civil Code”.  Articles L 225-35, paragraph 1 and L 225-64, paragraph 1 of the French Commercial Code.    [5]   “Offrir à chacun une meilleure façon d’avancer”. Gibson Dunn’s lawyers are available to assist in addressing any questions you may have regarding the issues discussed in this update. For further information, please contact the Gibson Dunn lawyer with whom you usually work or any of the following members of the Paris office by phone (+33 1 56 43 13 00) or by email (see below): Jean-Philippe Robé – jrobe@gibsondunn.com Bertrand Delaunay – bdelaunay@gibsondunn.com Benoît Fleury – bfleury@gibsondunn.com © 2019 Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP Attorney Advertising:  The enclosed materials have been prepared for general informational purposes only and are not intended as legal advice.

April 25, 2019 |
Gibson Dunn Earns 79 Top-Tier Rankings in Chambers USA 2019

In its 2019 edition, Chambers USA: America’s Leading Lawyers for Business awarded Gibson Dunn 79 first-tier rankings, of which 27 were firm practice group rankings and 52 were individual lawyer rankings. Overall, the firm earned 276 rankings – 80 firm practice group rankings and 196 individual lawyer rankings. Gibson Dunn earned top-tier rankings in the following practice group categories: National – Antitrust National – Antitrust: Cartel National – Appellate Law National – Corporate Crime & Investigations National – FCPA National – Outsourcing National – Real Estate National – Retail National – Securities: Regulation CA – Antitrust CA – Environment CA – IT & Outsourcing CA – Litigation: Appellate CA – Litigation: General Commercial CA – Litigation: Securities CA – Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations CA – Real Estate: Southern California CO – Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations CO – Natural Resources & Energy DC – Corporate/M&A & Private Equity DC – Labor & Employment DC – Litigation: General Commercial DC – Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations NY – Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite NY – Media & Entertainment: Litigation NY – Technology & Outsourcing TX – Antitrust This year, 155 Gibson Dunn attorneys were identified as leading lawyers in their respective practice areas, with some ranked in more than one category. The following lawyers achieved top-tier rankings:  D. Jarrett Arp, Theodore Boutrous, Jessica Brown, Jeffrey Chapman, Linda Curtis, Michael Darden, William Dawson, Patrick Dennis, Mark Director, Scott Edelman, Miguel Estrada, Stephen Fackler, Sean Feller, Eric Feuerstein, Amy Forbes, Stephen Glover, Richard Grime, Daniel Kolkey, Brian Lane, Jonathan Layne, Karen Manos, Randy Mastro, Cromwell Montgomery, Daniel Mummery, Stephen Nordahl, Theodore Olson, Richard Parker, William Peters, Tomer Pinkusiewicz, Sean Royall, Eugene Scalia, Jesse Sharf, Orin Snyder, George Stamas, Beau Stark, Charles Stevens, Daniel Swanson, Steven Talley, Helgi Walker, Robert Walters, F. Joseph Warin and Debra Wong Yang.

March 27, 2019 |
Supreme Court Holds That Securities Fraud Liability Extends Beyond “Maker” Of False Statements

Click for PDF Decided March 27, 2019 Lorenzo v. SEC, No. 17-1077 Today, the Supreme Court held 6-2 that an individual who knowingly disseminates false statements, even if the individual did not “make” the statements under SEC Rule 10b-5(b), can be held liable under other subdivisions of Rule 10b-5 and related securities laws. Background: Francis Lorenzo sent emails to prospective investors containing false statements about the sale of securities.  He sent the emails at the direction of his boss, who wrote their content.  Under Janus Capital v. First Derivative Traders, 564 U.S. 135 (2011), Lorenzo could not be held liable for making false statements under Rule 10b-5(b) because he was not the “maker” of the statements—his boss retained “ultimate authority” over their content.  Id. at 142.  The SEC nonetheless charged Lorenzo with violating other parts of Rule 10b-5 and related statutes.  For example, the SEC alleged that Lorenzo had “employ[ed] any device, scheme, or artifice to defraud” under Rule 10b-5(a), and also had “engage[d] in any act, practice, or course of business which operates or would operate as a fraud or deceit upon any person” under Rule 10b-5(c).  The D.C. Circuit rejected Lorenzo’s contention that, because he was not the “maker” of the misstatements, he could not be held liable under Rule 10b-5(a) and (c) and related statutes. Issue:  Whether someone who is not a “maker” of a misstatement under Rule 10b-5(b) can nevertheless be held liable for dissemination of misstatements under other subsections of Rule 10b-5 and related securities laws. Court’s Holding:  Yes.  The prohibitions of fraudulent schemes and fraudulent practices in Rule 10b-5(a) and (c), as well as related prohibitions in securities laws, are broad enough to encompass the knowing dissemination of false or misleading statements directly to investors with the intent to defraud, even if the person who disseminates them did not “make” them under Rule 10b-5(b). “[W]e conclude that . . . dissemination of false or misleading statements with intent to defraud can fall within the scope of subsections (a) and (c) of Rule 10b-5 . . . even if the disseminator did not ‘make’ the statements and consequently falls outside subsection (b) of the Rule.” Justice Breyer, writing for the majority What It Means: The Court read the language of Rule 10b-5 broadly, relying on dictionary definitions to hold that an individual need not “make” false statements in order to be liable for “employ[ing]” a scheme to defraud under Rule 10b-5(a) or for “engag[ing]” in an act that operates as a fraud under Rule 10b-5(c) based on the individual’s knowing dissemination of false statements with intent to deceive. The Court declined to read the subdivisions of Rule 10b-5 as mutually exclusive, reasoning that their prohibitions involve “considerable overlap” to ensure coverage for multiple forms of fraud. The Court suggested some limits to its broad reading of Rule 10b-5, observing that “liability would typically be inappropriate” for individuals “tangentially involved” in disseminating false statements, such as “a mailroom clerk.” The Court reaffirmed its precedent holding that private suits are not permitted against secondary violators of Section 10(b), 15 U.S.C. § 78j(b).  For example, private plaintiffs cannot sue defendants for undisclosed actions that investors could not have relied upon.  Therefore, the Court’s ruling should be limited to claims involving the dissemination of false information directly to investors. The Court did not address what intent (scienter) is required to establish violations of Rule 10b-5 and related securities laws, as Lorenzo did not challenge the D.C. Circuit’s holding that he had the requisite scienter.  The Court also reaffirmed that the SEC, “unlike private parties, need not show reliance in its enforcement actions.” The decision may result in the SEC and private plaintiffs increasingly relying on provisions other than Rule 10b-5(b) when alleging violations of the securities laws. Gibson Dunn’s lawyers are available to assist in addressing any questions you may have regarding developments at the Supreme Court.  Please feel free to contact the following practice leaders: Appellate and Constitutional Law Practice Mark A. Perry +1 202.887.3667 mperry@gibsondunn.com Related Practice: Securities Litigation Brian M. Lutz +1 415.393.8379 blutz@gibsondunn.com Robert F. Serio +1 212.351.3917 rserio@gibsondunn.com Meryl L. Young +1 949.451.4229 myoung@gibsondunn.com