One of the more distinctive developments in the capital markets in recent years has been the rise in the number of very large private companies. These companies are sometimes referred to as “unicorns,” as if they are very rare creatures — but the reality is that worldwide there over 1,230 of them.  Because the rise of so many large private companies is relatively recent, many of the legal principles and procedures relevant to these companies are just forming – giving rise to what University of Illinois Law Professor Verity Winship describes as the “gaps between private-market reality and legal structures that were designed for public companies.”

Among the “uncharted areas” is shareholder litigation; in a new paper, Professor Winship considers what shareholder litigation has meant in the context of these unicorn companies. What she found is that shareholder litigation involving these companies is rare, and that the procedural mechanisms available to investors are limited, at least by comparison to the mechanisms available to public company investors. Professor Winship describes her paper in an April 25, 2024,  Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance post entitled “Unicorn Shareholder Suits” (here). The paper itself can be found here.  Continue Reading Unicorn Companies and Securities Litigation

Nelson Kefauver

In the following guest post, Nelson Kefauver, Head of Profin Underwriting at Intact Insurance, takes a look at how three frequent industry predictions from the recent past have turned out.  Nelson’s comments are specific to the private and non-profit D&O insurance space and not do not refer to the public company D&O insurance

The reach and scope of the federal securities laws is a concern most obviously relevant to publicly traded companies. However, as I have emphasized previously, private companies are not immune from scrutiny under the federal securities laws. The SEC has in fact an extensive history of pursuing enforcement actions against private companies for alleged federal securities laws violations; one needs to go back no further than the high-profile enforcement action brought against the supposed blood testing company Theranos for an example of this phenomenon in action.

A recent memo from Wiley law firm underscores these points about the exposures of private companies; as the memo’s authors put it, “private entities should be aware that an aggressive SEC can investigate and penalize them (and their executives), even if they are not directly involved in issuing securities.” The law firm’s September 23, 2023, memo, entitled “Think Because You Are a Private Company the SEC Is Not Your Problem? Think Again,” can be found here.Continue Reading Private Companies and SEC Enforcement Actions

Many fledgling companies aspire toward completing an IPO. Some succeed, but many others do not. Occasionally when a company falls short of its IPO plan, litigation results, in the form of a “failure to launch” claim. A recent example involving a California-based cannabis company illustrates how these kinds of claims can arise. As discussed below, these possibility for these kinds of claims has insurance implications.
Continue Reading Cannabis Company Hit with “Failure to Launch” Claim

Readers of this blog know that there have been several SPAC-related securities class action lawsuits filed in 2021, with the suits mostly coming in after the de-SPAC transaction has been completed. Even readers who think they get the idea already will want to be sure to take a look at the new SPAC-related lawsuit that came in earlier this week. What makes this one different is that, though the lawsuit names both the SPAC and the SPAC merger target company as defendants, the merger, though announced, has not yet even taken place. And, mind you, this is not your garden variety merger objection lawsuit, it is a full blown 10b-5 class action lawsuit. Interested? Read on.
Continue Reading SPAC and Target Company Hit with Pre-Merger 10b-5 Class Action Suit

On my beat here at The D&O Diary, I cover the liabilities of corporate directors and officers. One objection I frequently hear is that I focus too much public companies and not enough on private companies. The reason I write about public company issues more than private company concerns is that the public company world usually is more eventful. However, every now and then, something comes up involving a privately-held company that reminds all of us that plenty happens in the private company D&O world, too. The most recent example is the shareholder derivative and class action lawsuit filed last week against executives of the electronic cigarette company, Juul Labs. As discussed below, this new lawsuit highlights the exposures that private company directors and officers can face and underscores the fact that even private companies can get hit with shareholder class action lawsuits.
Continue Reading Private Company Directors and Officers Hit with Shareholder Class Action Lawsuit

WeWork may not have been able to complete its once-planned IPO, but even so it now has something that many IPO companies often experience – a shareholder class action lawsuit. On November 4, 2019, a WeWork investor filed a lawsuit in California state court on behalf the company’s minority shareholders as well as on behalf of the company itself. As discussed below, the shareholder complaint makes a number of interesting allegations and raises some interesting issues as well.
Continue Reading WeWork, SoftBank, Neumann Hit with Shareholder Lawsuit

Privately-held companies, on the one hand, and companies whose shares are public traded, on the other hand, face very different liability exposures. Because of these differences in liability exposures, the directors and officers liability insurance available for these types of entities varies – the D&O insurance form available for private companies is quite a bit different from the D&O insurance form available for public companies. A recent law firm memo took a brief look at the differences between the two forms of coverage. There some important additional considerations, that I discuss below.
Continue Reading Thinking About the Differences Between Private Company and Public Company D&O Insurance

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.
Continue Reading Say It Again: Private Companies Are Subject to the Federal Securities Laws

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.
Continue Reading Just a Reminder: Private Company Executives Can Be Held Liable Under the Federal Securities Laws