Due to an increase in the number of enforcement actions resulting from an agency initiative during the year, the number of enforcement actions brought by the SEC against public companies was at the highest level in at least ten years, according to a recent report. The report, entitled “SEC Enforcement Activity: Public Companies and Subsidiaries Fiscal Year 2019 Update,” which can be found here, was prepared by the NYU Pollack Center for Law & Business and Cornerstone Research. According to the report, the agency’s public company enforcement action monetary recoveries during the fiscal year were consistent with long-term averages.  Cornerstone Research’s November 20, 2019 press release about the report can be found here.
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The SEC’s Enforcement Division had another active enforcement year in fiscal 2019, which ended September 30, 2019, that resulted in substantial recoveries. According to the Division’s latest annual report, the agency pursued more enforcement actions in fiscal 2019, including more standalone actions, than in the past several years. The agency’s enforcement action monetary recoveries, including both penalties and disgorgement, also were at the highest level in years. As the report points out, the agency maintained this level of activity and recoveries despite a number of factors – what the report describes as “significant headwinds” — that constrained the agency’s efforts and recoveries. The Enforcement Division’s November 6, 2019 annual report can be found here. The agency’s November 6, 2019 press release about the report can be found here.
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In its June 2017 decision in Kokesh v. SEC  (discussed here), the U.S. Supreme Court held that disgorgement in an SEC enforcement action represents a “penalty,” and therefore a SEC enforcement action  claim for disgorgement is subject to a five-year statute of limitation. In reaching this decision, the Court emphasized (in footnote 3 to the opinion) that it was only deciding the statute of limitations issue, and was emphatically not reaching the larger issue of whether the SEC has the proper authority to order disgorgement in enforcement proceeding.

Having previously reserved this larger question in Kokesh, the Court has now agreed to take up a case that will address head-on the question of whether the SEC has the authority to order a disgorgement. On November 1, 2019, the Court granted the petition for a writ of certiorari in the case of Liu v. SEC, which will require the Court to decide whether the SEC may seek may seek and obtain disgorgement from a court as “equitable relief” for a securities law violation even though the Supreme Court determined in Kokesh that disgorgement is a penalty.  The Court’s November 1, 2019 order granting the writ of certiorari can be found here.
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Jay Knight

In the following guest post, Jay Knight, a member in the Bass, Berry & Sims law firm, provides some recommendations on what do to when responding to filing comments from the SEC. I would like to thank Jay for allowing me to publish his 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 Jay’s article.
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Driven in significant part by the new actions filed as part of the SEC’s Share Class Selection Disclosure Initiative, the number of SEC enforcement actions against public companies and subsidiaries remained at “near-record levels” in the first half of fiscal year 2018, according to a recent report. The report, published by Cornerstone Research in collaboration with the NYU Pollack Center for Law & Business and entitled “SEC Enforcement Activity: Public Companies and Subsidiaries Midyear FY 2019 Update,” states that the enforcement activity levels in the first half of FY 2019 continued “a resurgence of activity that began in the second half of FY 2018.” The report can be found here. A May 15, 2019 press release describing the report can be found here.
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It is a point I have made before but it is worth saying again – private companies are not immune from scrutiny under the federal securities laws. In a series of recent enforcement actions – most notably the SEC’s March 2018 enforcement action against Theranos and two of its executives – the SEC has made of point of emphasizing that its regulatory reach extends to private companies. Last week, the SEC announced the resolution of another enforcement action against private company executives. The latest action, involving a failed Silicon Valley start-up, underscores the SEC’s readiness to pursue securities law violations by private company executives.
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In its 2011 decision in the Janus Group case, the U.S. Supreme Court held that one who does not “make” a false statement cannot be held liable under section (b) of Rule 10b-5. In an enforcement action brought against him by the SEC, the defendant, Francis Lorenzo, argued that under the Janus case, he could not be held liable under the securities laws for forwarding a misleading email his boss had written because he did not “make” the false statement. The case ultimately made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. On March 27, 2019, the Court found that even if Lorenzo could not be held liable under section (b) of the Rule because he did not “make” the statement, he could still be held liable under the scheme liability provisions in sections (a) and (c) of the Rule for disseminating the  document. The Court’s March 27, 2019 opinion in Lorenzo v. Securities and Exchange Commission can be found here.
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Although it is not always appreciated or taken into account, the fact is that executives of private companies can be held liable for statements or other actions made in violation of the federal securities laws. One very recent and high-profile example where this happened involved the SEC enforcement action (and subsequent criminal proceedings) involving the high-profile medical testing company Theranos. Recent SEC and Department of Justice actions involving an Indiana-based company underscores the fact that private companies can draw the attention of federal securities regulator, and that it is not just high profile Silicon Valley firms that are potentially at risk.
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John Reed Stark

Among the agencies largely closed by the current partial U.S. federal government shutdown is the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). In the following guest post,  John Reed Stark, President of John Reed Stark Consulting and former Chief of the SEC’s Office of Internet Enforcement, takes a look at what the SEC’s closure means for the processes and responsibilities that constitute the agency’s watch. Stark calls on the country’s political leaders to end the stalemate and re-open the government, including the SEC. Every day the shutdown continues, and the SEC staff remain at home, Stark says, the risks to U.S. markets increase. A version of this article originally appeared on Securities Docket. I would like to thank John for allowing me to publish his article as a guest post. 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 John’s article.
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As I noted at the time (here), on December 19, 2018, Delaware Vice Chancellor Later held that under Delaware law, a corporate charter provision specifying that liability actions under Section 11 of the Securities Act of 1934 must be brought in federal court are invalid and ineffective. A copy of Laster’s opinion in Sciabacucchi v. Salzburg (referred to below as the Blue Apron decision) can be found here. In the following guest post, Paul Ferrillo, Robert Horowitz, and Steven Margolin of the Greenberg Traurig law firm take a look at the Blue Apron decision and examine whether or not Congress will act to eliminate concurrent state court jurisdiction for state court claims. The authors also examine the steps companies should take now in light of the possibility of facing litigation in both state and federal court. I would like to thank the authors for their willingness to allow me to publish their article as a guest post. 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 an article. Here is the authors’ article.
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