Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Securities Law
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The First Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law and for a new trial in this civil enforcement action brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission, holding that the evidence was sufficient to support the verdict.At issue was whether Defendant, the CFO of AVEO Pharmaceuticals, knowingly misled investors by the manner in which he responded to investor inquiries about the substance of AVEO's discussions with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the results of AVEO's clinical trial for tivozanib, a kidney cancer drug candidate. A jury found against Defendant. On appeal, Defendant argued (1) he was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because he had no duty to disclose the substance of the FDA discussions and because the evidence of scienter was insufficient, and (2) he was entitled to a new trial because the district court improperly instructed the jury. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the evidence of fraud and scienter was sufficient to support the verdict; and (2) the challenged instructions were not given in error. View "Securities & Exchange Commission v. Johnston" on Justia Law

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The Alaska Division of Banking and Securities civilly fined Sitnasuak Native Corporation shareholder Austin Ahmasuk for submitting a newspaper opinion letter about Sitnasuak’s shareholder proxy voting procedures without filing that letter with the Division as a shareholder proxy solicitation. Ahmasuk filed an agency appeal, arguing that the Division wrongly interpreted its proxy solicitation regulation to cover his letter and violated his constitutional due process and free speech rights. An administrative law judge upheld the Division’s sanction in an order that became the final agency decision, and the superior court upheld that decision in a subsequent appeal. Ahmasuk raised his same arguments on appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court. After review, the Supreme Court concluded Ahmasuk’s opinion letter was not a proxy solicitation under the Division’s controlling regulations, therefore reversing the superior court’s decision upholding the Division’s civil sanction against Ahmasuk without reaching the constitutional arguments. View "Ahmasuk v. Division of Banking and Securities" on Justia Law

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Between 1983-2015, Heneghan was an associated person (AP) of 14 different National Futures Association (NFA)-member firms. Troyer invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in financial derivatives through NFA Members. The first interaction between Troyer and Heneghan was in 2008. After receiving an unsolicited phone call from Heneghan, Troyer invested more than $160,000. Despite changes in Heneghan’s entity affiliation, his working relationship with Troyer remained constant. At one point, Heneghan’s then-firm, Statewide, withdrew from the NFA following an investigation. Heneghan was the subject of a four-month NFA approval-hold in 2012. Troyer began sending money to Heneghan personally in 2013, allegedly to obtain trading firm employee discounts; these investments totaled $82,000. Troyer neither received nor asked for any investment documentation for this investment. In 2016-2015, NFA investigated Heneghan’s then-firm, PMI, Despite Troyer’s alleged substantial investment, no PMI accounts were listed for either Troyer or Heneghan. In 2015, Troyer directed Heneghan to cash out the fund; “all hell broke loose.” In 2016, the NFA permanently barred Heneghan from NFA membership. Troyer filed suit under the Commodities Exchange Act. 7 U.S.C. 25(b).The Seventh Circuit affirmed the summary judgment rejection of Troyer’s claim. NFA Bylaw 301(a)(ii)(D), which bars persons from becoming or remaining NFA Members if their conduct was the cause of NFA expulsion, is inapplicable. Statewide’s agreement not to reapply represented a distinct sanction from expulsion and did not trigger Bylaw 301(a)(ii)(D). View "Troyer v. National Futures Association" on Justia Law

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Mohlman became a licensed securities professional in 2001. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a not-for-profit member organization, regulates practice in the securities industry and enforces disciplinary actions against its members. In 2012, Mohlman had conversations with several individuals concerning WMA. Mohlman did not attempt to sell WMA investments and did not receive compensation from WMA. Mohlman learned in 2014 that WMA was a Ponzi scheme and immediately informed all persons who had invested in WMA. Mohlman appeared for testimony as part of FINRA’s investigation. Another day of testimony was scheduled but instead of appearing, Mohlman and his counsel signed a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent, agreeing to a permanent ban from the securities industry. FINRA agreed to refrain from filing a formal complaint against him. Mohlman waived his procedural rights under FINRA’s Code of Procedure and the Securities Exchange Act, 15 U.S.C. 78a and agreed to “not take any position in any proceeding brought by or on behalf of FINRA, or to which FINRA is a party, that is inconsistent with any part of [the Letter].” FINRA accepted the Letter in 2015.In 2019, Mohlman filed suit, alleging that FINRA fraudulently avoided considering mitigating factors in administering the sanction. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit without addressing the merits. Mohlman failed to exhaust administrative remedies under the Exchange Act by appealing to the National Adjudicatory Council and petitioning the SEC for review. View "Mohlman v. Financial Industry Regulatory Authority" on Justia Law

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The Idaho Department of Finance ("Department") filed a civil enforcement action against appellant appellant, Sean Zarinegar, Performance Realty Management LLC ("PRM") and other nominal defendants, alleging Zarinegar and PRM committed securities fraud. The Department moved for summary judgment; Zarinegar and PRM responded with their own motion for partial summary judgment and a motion to strike several documents submitted by the Department in support of its motion for summary judgment. A few days before the district court was set to hear arguments on the motions, counsel for Zarinegar and PRM moved the district court for leave to withdraw as counsel of record. At the hearing, the district court preliminary denied the motion to withdraw, entertained the parties’ arguments, and took all matters under advisement. The district court later issued a memorandum decision and order denying, in part, Zarinegar’s, and PRM’s motions to strike. The district court also denied Zarinegar’s and PRM’s motion for partial summary judgment. The district court granted summary judgment for the Department after finding Zarinegar and PRM had misrepresented and omitted material facts in violation of Idaho Code section 30-14-501(2) and fraudulently diverted investor funds for personal use in violation of section 30-14-501(4). The district court then granted the motion to withdraw. The district court entered its final judgment against Zarinegar and PRM September 30, 2019. Zarinegar, representing himself pro se, appealed the judgment, arguing: (1) the district court lacked jurisdiction to enter judgment against him; (2) the district court violated his constitutional right to a jury trial and right to proceed pro se; (3) the district court’s denial of Zarinegar’s motions to strike as to certain documents was an abuse of discretion; and (4) the district court erroneously granted summary judgment for the Department. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Idaho v. Zarinegar" on Justia Law

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The SEC investigated Gentile for his role in a penny-stock manipulation scheme in 2007-08 and civilly sued Gentile, who was indicted for securities fraud violations. The criminal prosecution was dismissed as untimely. The SEC separately investigated securities transactions through an unregistered broker-dealer in violation of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. 78o(a): Traders Café, a day-trading firm, maintained an account with Gentile’s Bahamian broker-dealer, which was not registered in the U.S. The SEC issued a Formal Order of Investigation into Café in 2013. Without issuing a new Formal Order, the SEC informed Gentile that he was a target in that investigation.The SEC subpoenaed Gentile for testimony. He refused to comply. The SEC did not seek enforcement against Gentile but subpoenaed Gentile’s attorney and an entity affiliated with Gentile’s Bahamian broker-dealer, which also refused to comply. The SEC commenced enforcement actions against those entities. Gentile unsuccessfully moved to intervene; the Florida district court ordered compliance. Gentile filed suit in New Jersey, seeking a declaration that the Café investigation was unlawful, requesting the quashing of the subpoenas, and seeking an injunction to prevent the SEC from using the fruits of that investigation against him.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The APA’s waiver of sovereign immunity, 5 U.S.C. 702, includes an exception for “agency action committed to agency discretion by law,” section 701(a)(2); sovereign immunity prevents judicial review of the Formal Order of Investigation. View "Gentile v. Securities and Exchange Commission" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-investors appealed the dismissal of their claims against the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) and current and former state employees arising from the operation of a federally licensed regional center in the United States Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) EB-5 program. USCIS designated ACCD as a regional center in 1997, and ACCD began operating the Vermont Regional Center (VRC). It was not the only state-affiliated regional center, but it was the only one that represented itself as a “state-run agency.” The VRC billed itself as an attractive option for development and foreign investment due to its superlative “oversight powers,” the overwhelming investor confidence that came from its “stamp of approval,” and the State of Vermont’s backing that would result in a “faster path to approval.” ACCD employees represented to prospective investors, including plaintiffs, that the added protections of state approval and oversight made the "Jay Peak Projects" a particularly sound investment. They told prospective investors that the VRC conducted quarterly reviews to ensure that projects complied with all applicable laws and regulations and “engag[ed] in the financial monitoring and auditing of projects to ensure legitimacy,” and they represented that MOUs imposed “strict covenants and obligations on the project to ensure compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.” Unbeknownst to the investors, but known to the VRC officials, no such state oversight by the VRC existed. The VRC never issued any of the quarterly reports contemplated in the MOUs. In April 2016, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed a lawsuit alleging securities fraud, wire fraud, and mail fraud against the Jay Peak Projects developers. On the basis of these and other allegations, plaintiffs, all foreign nationals who invested in the Jay Peak Projects, filed a multi-count claim against ACCD and several individual defendants. The trial court granted plaintiffs’ motion to amend their complaint for a third time to a Fourth Amended Complaint, and then dismissed all thirteen counts on various grounds. Plaintiffs appealed. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court reversed the dismissal of plaintiffs’ claims of negligence against ACCD, gross negligence against defendants Brent Raymond and James Candido, and breach of contract and the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing against ACCD. The Court affirmed the dismissal of plaintiffs' remaining claims. View "Sutton et al. v. Vermont Regional Center et al." on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit denied a petition for review, under the Administrative Procedure Act, of Regulation Best Interest, which creates new standards of conduct for broker-dealers providing investment services to retail customers. Petitioners claimed that Regulation Best Interest is unlawful under the 2010 Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.The court held that Ford Financial Solutions has Article III standing to bring its petition for review. The court also held that the SEC lawfully promulgated Regulation Best Interest pursuant to Congress's permissive grant of rulemaking authority under Section 913(f) of the Dodd-Frank Act. Finally, the court held that Regulation Best Interest is not arbitrary and capricious, holding that the SEC's interpretation of the scope of the broker-dealer exemption was not so fundamental to Regulation Best Interest as to make the rule arbitrary and capricious, or otherwise not in accordance with law. Furthermore, the SEC gave adequate reasons for its decision to prioritize consumer choice and affordability over the possibility of reducing consumer confusion, and it supported its findings with substantial evidence. View "XY Planning Network, LLC v. Securities Exchange Commission" on Justia Law

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Petitioners solicited foreign nationals to invest in a cancer-treatment center. A Securities and Exchange Commission investigation revealed they misappropriated the funds. The SEC may seek “equitable relief” in civil proceedings, 15 U.S.C. 78u(d)(5). The SEC brought a civil action for disgorgement equal to the amount raised from investors. Petitioners argued that the remedy failed to account for their legitimate business expenses. The Ninth Circuit affirmed an order holding Petitioners jointly and severally liable for the full amount.The Supreme Court vacated A disgorgement award that does not exceed a wrongdoer’s net profits and is awarded for victims is equitable relief authorized under section 78u(d)(5). Equity practice has long authorized courts to strip wrongdoers of their ill-gotten gains; to avoid transforming that remedy into a punitive sanction, courts restrict it to an individual wrongdoer’s net profits to be awarded for victims. These long-standing equitable principles were incorporated into section 78u(d)(5).If on remand the court orders the deposit of the profits with the Treasury, the court should evaluate whether that order would be for the benefit of investors, consistent with equitable principles. Imposing disgorgement liability on a wrongdoer for benefits that accrue to his affiliates through joint-and-several liability runs against the rule in favor of holding defendants individually liable but the common law permitted liability for partners engaged in concerted wrongdoing. On remand, the court may determine whether Petitioners can, consistent with equitable principles, be found liable for profits as partners in wrongdoing or whether individual liability is required. The court must deduct legitimate expenses before awarding disgorgement. View "Liu v. Securities and Exchange Commission" on Justia Law

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Petitioners filed suit challenging the SEC's adoption of a Pilot Program, Rule 610T, which was designed to gather data so that the Commission might be able to determine in the future whether regulatory action was necessary.The DC Circuit granted the petitions for review, holding that the SEC acted without delegated authority from Congress when it adopted Rule 610T. The court explained that the Pilot Program emanates from an aimless "one-off" regulation, i.e., a rule that imposes significant, costly, and disparate regulatory requirements on affected parties merely to allow the Commission to collect data to determine whether there might be a problem worthy of regulation. In this case, the Commission acted solely to "shock the market" to collect data so that it might ponder the "fundamental disagreements" between parties affected by Commission rules and then consider whether to regulate in the future. The court held that this was an unprecedented action that clearly exceeded the SEC's authority under the Exchange Act. Accordingly, the court vacated the rule and remanded. View "New York Stock Exchange LLC v. Securities and Exchange Commission" on Justia Law