One issue with which courts dealing with insider trading cases have struggled is how to interpret and apply the personal benefit element of the liability standard. The personal benefit standard was in fact an important part of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in Salman v. United States (as discussed here). Last week, the Second Circuit issued an important decision in the United States v. Martoma, in which the appellate court provided important additional perspective on the personal benefit test. In the following guest post, Brad S. Karp, Geoffrey R. Chepiga, Daniel J. Kramer, Lorin L. Reisner, Audra J. Soloway, and Richard C. Tarlowe of the Paul Weiss law firm take a look at the Second Circuit’s decision in the Martoma case and the appellate court’s discussion of the personal benefit test. I would like to thank the authors for their willingness to allow me to publish their article as a guest post on this site. I welcome guest post submissions from responsible authors on topics of interest to this site’s readers. Please contact me directly if you would like to submit a guest post. Here is the authors’ guest post.
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paul-weiss-large-300x53On December 6, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in Salman v. United States (here), a case in which the court was asked to consider what is sufficient to establish a “personal benefit” in order to support an insider trading conviction, as I discussed here. In the following guest post, attorneys from the Paul Weiss law firm take a look at the Court’s Salman decision. I would like to thank the attorneys from Paul Weiss for their willingness to allow me to publish their article here. I welcome guest post submissions from responsible authors on topics of interest to this blog’s readers. Please contact me directly if you would like to submit a guest post. Here is the Paul Weiss attorneys’ guest post.
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Justice Samuel Alito

In one of the most watched business cases on the U.S. Supreme Court’s docket this term, the Court on December 6, 2016 unanimously affirmed the Ninth Circuit’s ruling upholding the insider trading conviction of Bassam Salman. Salman had traded on tips he received from the brother of a former Citigroup investment banker; Salman himself was married to the sister of the Citigroup banker. The case raised the question of whether or not the “personal benefit” that the tipper received from passing along the trading information must be pecuniary in nature in order to support an insider trading conviction for the tippee.

The Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, held that a jury could infer that the tipper personally benefited from making a gift of confidential information to a trading relative. The Court rejected the Second Circuit’s suggestion in its 2014 opinion in U.S. v. Newman that the tipper must also have received something of a “pecuniary or similarly valuable nature.” The Supreme Court’s December 6, 2016 opinion in the Salman case can be found here.
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sec sealThe SEC promulgated Rule 10b5-1 nearly 16 years ago to allow executives (whose wealth often is entirely locked up in company shares) to trade in their company’s stock without incurring possible liability under the securities laws. The Rule provides an affirmative defense against allegations of improper trading. In many cases defendants have  relied on the existence of a Rule 10b5-1 trading plan in order to have the securities claims against them dismissed (for example,  here and here). However, the Rule has also been subject to criticism, and some have questioned whether corporate executives are abusing their plans in order to shield questionable trading.

A recent academic study corroborates the view that the plans “are being abused to hide more informed insider trading.” The study, by Gothenburg University Professor Taylan Mavruk and  University of Michigan Business School Professor H. Nejat Seyhun and entitled “Do SEC’s 10b5-1 Safe Harbor Rules Need to Be Rewritten?” (here) concludes that “safe harbor plans are being abused to hide profitable trades made while in possession of material non-public information.” The authors suggest a number of revisions to the Rule in order to “prevent further abuse.” The authors summarized their findings in a short June 2, 2016 post on the CLS Blue Sky Blog (here).
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paul weiss largeThe U.S. government’s petition for writ of certiorari in the case of United States v. Newman had been very closely watched. The government hoped to have the Supreme Court set aside the Second Circuit’s 2014 decision in the case (here), which had overturned the convictions of two hedge fund managers accused of insider trading. In an unexpected development, on the first day of the Supreme Court’s 2015-16 term, the Court declined take up the case.

The following guest post from the Paul Weiss law firm takes a look at this development and analyzes the implications. I would like to that the authors for their willingness to publish their article on this blog. I welcome guest post submissions from responsible authors on topics of interest to this blog’s readers. Please contact me directly if you would like to submit a guest post. Here is the Paul Weiss firm’s guest post.

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Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear the petition for a writ of certiorari (the “Petition”)  filed by the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) in United States v. Newman, 773 F.3d 438 (2d Cir. 2014), a landmark decision that dismissed indictments against two insider trading defendants.  By declining to hear the Petition, the Supreme Court ensured that the Second Circuit’s decision in Newman will remain binding in the Second Circuit and influential across the country.

As we explain below, two of Newman’s holdings are particularly important: first, that the government must prove that a remote tippee knew or should have known of the personal benefit received by a tipper in exchange for disclosing nonpublic information; and second, that the benefits alleged by the government in United States v. Newman were not sufficient to support a conviction, as they were not sufficiently “consequential.”
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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

Most of the focus on Rule 10b5-1 plans lately has been on possible abuses (refer, for example here). Indeed, one of the reasons the court cited in the dismissal motion denial in the Countrywide derivative lawsuit pending in California was concern about Angelo Mozillo’s possible manipulation of his 10b5-1 plan (refer here).