As reflected in the most recent dismissal motion rulings in the Countrywide subprime securities lawsuit, the proper use of a Rule 10b5-1 trading plan can provide a substantial defense to allegations of securities law violations. In her April 6, 2009 opinion (here), Central District of California Mariana Pfaelzer dismissed the insider trading allegations against certain individual defendants whose trading plans were in order. However, she refused to dismiss the insider trading allegations against Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozillo, whose plan was ‘unusually modified," demonstrating that merely having a plan is by itself not enough, if the plan is not structured properly or has been altered.
This difference in outcome underscores the need for certainty about what plan features and practices will afford the desired protection under the Rule. In a March 25, 2009 update (here), the SEC’s Division of Corporate Finance updated its Exchange Rules Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations (C&DI) to provide additional guidance on Rule 10b5-1.
As reflected in an April 17, 2009 DLA Piper memo (here) discussing the SEC’s recent updated guidance, the update "comes at a time of heightened and well-publicized scrutiny by the Enforcement Division of the SEC regarding trading activity in and around Rule 10b5-1 plans." According to the law firm memo, the updated C&DI includes "some important new guidance."
As discussed in the memo, the updated guidance clarifies that "the cancellation of one of more plan transactions" affects the availability of the affirmative defense under the Rule, because the cancellations represent an alteration of or deviation from the plan. Similarly, the facts and circumstances surrounding the creation of a new plan after the cancellation of a prior plan needs to be evaluated to determine the "good faith" intent of the person creating the plan.
The updated guidance also clarifies that the affirmative defense is not available if a person establishes a plan while in the possession of material nonpublic information, even if the plan is structured so that the transactions will not begin until after the information is made public.
The SEC’s issuance of updated guidance is instructive and helpful, because Rule 10b5-1 plans can be a very important tool for individuals to use to try to limit their liability when they trade in the personal shares in company stock. As discussed at greater length here, the Eighth Circuit’s October 16, 2008 opinion in the Centene Corporation securities litigation underscored the fact that these plans are still a good idea, notwithstanding some of the concerns that recently have been raised. In that case, the court held that there could be no inference of scienter from insider sales made pursuant to Rule 10b5-1 plans.
Melissa Klein Aguilar has an April 21, 2009 article in Compliance Week (here) discussing the SEC’s updated guidance. Hat tip to Bruce Carton at the Securities Docketfor the tweet that alerted me to Aguilar’s article.
New ERISA Litigation Study: A frequently recurring question is whether I know where to find good statistical information about ERISA litigation. Unfortunately, the publicly available resources in this area are limited.
However, as reflected on the Susan Mangiero’s Pension Risk Matters blog (here), on April 15, 2009, Pension Governance Incorporated and its partner Michael-Shaked Group debuted a new study of over 2,400 ERISA cases that were filed between January 1, 2005 and August 31, 2008. A copy of the study can be found here.
The study reports a number of interesting findings, including in particular the fact that "ERISA lawsuits are increasing in number and complexity in terms of combinations of allegations." The study also breaks down the ERISA cases in the study database by type of allegation; by Circuit; by disposition; and by distribution of outcomes. The study also analyzes top litigated ERISA Code sections.
This new study is a great resource, which I hope the authors will continue to update and publish. I also hope that in future updates, the authors might consider publishing aggregate settlement data, along the lines that NERA and Cornerstone publish with respect to securities class action cases.
And Finally: At least according to a story that is making the rounds on the Internet (here), Demitrius Soupolos of Stuttgart, Germany, and his former beauty queen wife, Traute, were unable to have children because, as he was advised by his doctor, Soupolos is sterile. So Soupolos paid $2,500 to his neighbor, Frank Maus, already the father of two children, to impregnate Traute.
About three times a week over the course of six months -- a total of 72 different times -- Maus "attempted to impregnate" Traute. When Traute did not become pregnant, Maus had his own medical exam.
Turns out that Maus, too, is sterile, which "shocked everyone but his wife, who was forced to confess that Maus was not the real father of their two children." Soupolos has now sued Maus to get his money back. Maus’s defense? He did not guarantee conception, only that he would give it "an honest effort." The news articles do not report on how things stand now between Maus and his wife.
All of which makes me wonder, shouldn’t somebody look into whether there is something in the water supply that is causing the men in the neighborhood to become sterile? And do you suppose Soupolos will ask Maus’s wife for the name of the father of her children?