Articles Posted in Securities Law

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Kohl’s operates more than 1000 stores, 65 percent of which are leased. In 2011, Kohl’s announced that it was correcting several years of its financial filings because of multiple lease accounting errors. Plaintiffs, led by the Pension Fund, filed suit under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. 78j(b), SEC Rule 10b-5, and the “controlling person” provisions of 15 U.S.C. 78t(a), alleging that Kohl’s and two executives defrauded investors by publishing false and misleading information prior to the corrections. The Fund argued that one can infer that the defendants knew that these statements were false or recklessly disregarded that possibility because Kohl’s recently had made similar lease accounting errors. Despite those earlier errors, it was pursuing aggressive investments in leased properties, and at the same time, company insiders sold considerable amounts of stock. The district court dismissed the complaint with prejudice for failure to meet the enhanced pleading requirements for scienter imposed by the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, reasoning that the complaint fell short and the Fund did not suggest how an amendment might help. The Fund made a strong case that many of Kohl’s disclosures regarding its lease accounting practices were false but that is not enough. The Fund provided very few facts that would point either toward or away from scienter. View "Pension Trust Fund for Operating Engineers v. Kohl's Corp." on Justia Law

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In “Citadel” the Seventh Circuit held that “the district court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing [the] case [of certain securities firms] for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.” After that decision, Securities Firms filed a petition before the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) seeking damages, claiming the Exchanges improperly imposed fees under Payment for Order Flow programs. The SEC dismissed that petition for lack of jurisdiction. The Exchanges, citing CitadeI, maintained the SEC had jurisdiction under Section 19(h)(1) of the Securities Exchange Act because the petition sought a determination that the Exchanges had violated their own rules. The SEC reasoned that Section 19(d), which authorizes it to review allegations that a national exchange has unduly “prohibit[ed] or limit[ed] … access to services,” 15 U.S.C. 78s(d)(1), did not apply; the petition did not allege that the Exchanges had denied or limited access to any service. The SEC further stated that seeking damages was “incongruous with” the SEC’s Section 19(d) remedial authority and that section 78s(h)(1) does not authorize claims by private parties. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, “the Petition alleges, in effect, a billing dispute” between two private parties, and requests the SEC order the Exchanges to pay damages for improperly charging fees under their PFOF programs. View "Chicago Board Options Exchange v. Securities and Exchange Commission" on Justia Law

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Wilson was the Director, Chairman of the Board, President, and CEO of Imperial, which acquired e-Bio, which ran a fraud scheme, "Alchemy." It involved purchasing biodiesel from a third party and reselling it as though it had been produced by e-Bio, to take advantage of government incentives for renewable-energy production without expending production costs. Wilson was convicted of 21 counts: fraud in connection with the purchase or sale of securities, 15 U.S.C. 78j(b) and 78ff; fraud in the offer or sale of securities, 15 U.S.C. 77q(a) and 77x, and 18 U.S.C. 2; material false statements in required SEC filings, 15 U.S.C. 78ff and 18 U.S.C. 2; wrongful certification of annual and quarterly reports by a corporate officer, 18 U.S.C. 1350(c)(1); material false statements by a corporate officer to an accountant, 15 U.S.C. 78m(b)(5) and 78ff, and 18 U.S.C. 2; and false statements to government investigators, of 18 U.S.C. 1001. The dcourt sentenced Wilson to 120 months’ imprisonment and to pay $16,468,769.73 in restitution. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. None of Wilson’s contentions reach the high threshold of showing that a reasonable jury could not have found him guilty. Viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution, the evidence adequately supports the jury’s finding that Wilson knowingly and willfully made false statements to investors, regulators, an outside accountant, and government agents, and the reasonable inference that Wilson participated in “Alchemy.” View "United States v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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In 2009, Lopez created financial investment business entities and solicited funds from family and friends. He received approximately $450,000 total from five people, stating that he intended to invest in companies such as Coca-Cola, ExxonMobil, Wells Fargo, Visa, American Express, and Procter & Gamble. Documents the investors signed reserved Lopez’s discretion to invest where he saw fit. Lopez deposited their funds into accounts that he controlled and never invested in the companies listed in his advertising materials. Lopez used much of the money for personal expenses. Lopez unilaterally changed the terms of each investors’ promissory note; they were not aware of these changes, did not give Lopez permission to make them, and did not sign documents. After an investor complained to the Indiana Secretary of State and the IRS investigated Lopez’s businesses, Lopez was convicted of 15 counts of wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1343; four counts of money laundering, 18 U.S.C. 1957; and securities fraud, 15 U.S.C. 78j(b), 77ff(a). The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting claims that the district court erred in allowing a government witness to testify that payments Lopez made to his investors were “lulling payments,” that the government’s references to Bernie Madoff in its closing argument denied him a fair trial, that the court erred in denying Lopez’s request to label his witness an “expert” in front of the jury, that the court improperly prevented him from introducing extrinsic evidence of a government witness's prior inconsistent statement. View "United States v. Lopez" on Justia Law

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Patel saved $560,000, enough to purchase a 7-Eleven franchise. He kept the money with Portfolio; the contract gave Wagha discretion over the funds’ deployment. Wagha invested much of the money in options. By the time Patel needed the funds (four months later), the market was down and he had lost a considerable sum. A jury concluded that Wagha and Portfolio had broken their promise to invest the money conservatively and awarded Patel $136,000 for breach of contract plus $64,000 for securities fraud. The district court remitted the $64,000 award, ruling that Patel has not shown loss causation, but entered judgment on the $136,000 award. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court retained jurisdiction after it resolved the federal law claim. In addition, the federal-law claim should not have been dismissed. The premise of that holding—that the securities laws are concerned only with inaccurate pricing—was incorrect. Securities laws forbid fraud in all aspects of securities transactions, whether or not the fraud affects the instruments’ prices. One kind of fraud is procuring securities known to be unsuitable to a client’s investment goals, after promising to further those goals. View "Patel v. Portfolio Diversification Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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During October 2008 the Trust lost $3.6 million trading futures contracts. Contending that errors by Dorman, a futures commission merchant, caused some of these losses, in October 2011 the Trust asked the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to order Dorman to make reparation, 7 U.S.C. 18(a)(1). The Commission dismissed the claim as untimely. The Trust had made a claim within the two-year limitations period, but with the National Futures Association, which referred it to arbitration. The arbitrators awarded the Trust $500,000 against several defendants but ruled in favor of Dorman because the Trust’s contract with that entity set a one‐year time limit for financial claims. The Commission rejected the Trust’s claim of equitable tolling. The Seventh Circuit denied a petition for review. The Trust knew about the trading losses as soon as they occurred but did nothing for almost two years; it did not diligently pursue the Commission’s processes. The Trust did not say that any circumstance, let alone an extraordinary one, prevented timely filing. The court reasoned that the arbitral award, right or wrong, has nothing to do with equitable tolling. View "Conway Family Trust v. Commodity Futures Trading Commission" on Justia Law

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JPMorgan offers to manage clients’ securities portfolios. Its affiliates sponsor mutual funds in which the funds can be placed. Plaintiffs in a putative class action under the Class Action Fairness Act, 28 U.S.C. 1332(d)(2), alleged that customers invested in these mutual funds believing that, when recommending them as suitable vehicles, JPMorgan acts in clients’ best interests (as its website proclaims), while JPMorgan actually gives employees incentives to place clients’ money in its own mutual funds, even when those funds have higher fees or lower returns than third-party funds. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal under the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act, 15 U.S.C. 78bb(f), which requires the district court to dismiss any “covered class action” in which the plaintiff alleges “a misrepresentation or omission of a material fact in connection with the purchase or sale of a covered security.” Under SLUSA, securities claims that depend on the nondisclosure of material facts must proceed under the federal securities laws exclusively. The claims were framed entirely under state contract and fiduciary principles, but necessarily rest on the “omission of a material fact,” the assertion that JPMorgan concealed the incentives it gave its employees. View "Holtz v. J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, N.A." on Justia Law

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If a LaSalle Bank custodial account had a cash balance at the end of a day, the cash would be invested in (swept into) a mutual fund chosen by the client. The Trust had a custodial account with a sweeps feature. After LaSalle was acquired by Bank of America, clients were notified that a particular fee was being eliminated. The trustee, who had not known about the fee, brought a putative class action in state court, claiming breach of the contract (which did not mention this fee) and violation of fiduciary duties. The bank removed the suit to federal court, relying on the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act, 15 U.S.C. 78bb(f), which authorizes removal of any “covered class action” in which the plaintiff alleges “a misrepresentation or omission of a material fact in connection with the purchase or sale of a covered security.” The statute requires that such state‑law claims be dismissed. The district court held that the suit fit the standards for removal and dismissal. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The complaint alleged a material omission in connection with sweeps to mutual funds that are covered securities; no more is needed. The Trust may have had a good claim under federal securities law, but chose not to pursue it; the Act prohibits use of a state-law theory. View "Goldberg v. Bank of America, N.A." on Justia Law

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Witter contends that in August 2007 he telephoned Skelton, an employee of his broker, TransAct, with instructions to cancel several standing orders. Skelton did not do so, and Witter lost $23,000 on the resulting market position. Skelton claims that Witter never told him to cancel all seven of the working orders at issue. Witter filed a complaint with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, 7 U.S.C. 18(a), which found no violation. The judgment officer refused to draw an adverse inference based on TransAct’s failure to produce a recording of the “one crucial conversation” because TransAct was not required to record the call; he found that Skelton’s version was more plausible and Witter had a “propensity to confuse trading terms” like “position” and “order.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding the Commission’s decision was supported by the evidence. Federal regulations require that, before buying or selling a commodity, a merchant must receive either “specific authorization” or “authorization in writing,” 17 C.F.R. 166.2. No regulation requires the merchant to record phone calls to cancel previously authorized orders to buy or sell. View "Witter v. Commodity Futures Trading Comm'n" on Justia Law

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Stevens, an insurance salesman, wanted to sell investment products. Because he was not registered with the SEC, Stevens needed to associate himself with a registered investment advisor, 15 U.S.C. 80b-3(a). In 2003, he associated with IFA, a loosely confederated investment advisory firm. In exchange for sharing clientele and fees with IFA, Stevens had access to IFA’s market resources and proprietary information, including access to a cloud-based data system. Stevens uploaded sensitive nonpublic information, concerning both investment clients and insurance clients (who were not IFA clients). IFA did not know that Stevens had entered the non-IFA client information into the database. IFA learned that Stevens was involved in a Ponzi scheme, severed its association with Stevens, and blocked Stevens from accessing the database. Stevens sued, alleging conversion, violation of the Illinois Trade Secrets Act, and tortious interference with business expectancy. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for IFA on claims relating to securities clients. Federal law prevents a financial institution from disclosing nonpublic information of its clients to a nonaffiliated third party like Stevens. The court also affirmed a verdict in favor of IFA concerning insurance clients, upholding the trial court’s response to a question sent by the jury during deliberations, “Can we consider [filing] the lawsuit a demand for property?” The court stated that filing did not constitute a demand for the purposes of an Illinois law conversion claim. View "Stevens v. Interactive Fin. Advisors, Inc." on Justia Law