sup ct 5In the D&O insurance world, private company liabilities, exposures, and insurance are viewed as categorically distinct from public company liabilities, exposures, and insurance. There are completely separate and distinct insurance policy forms for each of the two categories of companies. In this traditional view, one of the key distinctions between two kinds of companies is the potential liability of public companies and their directors and officers under the federal securities laws. However, it has recently become apparent to me that this perceived difference between the two categories of companies may be less distinct than I had perceived. For example, as I noted in a recent post, the SEC has recently made it clear it is watching private companies, and is particularly concerned with so-called “unicorns” (private start-up firms with valuations greater than $1 billion).

This issue of the potential private company liabilities under the federal securities laws came up again for me recently when I read about a petition for a writ of certiorari that a securities claim plaintiff has filed in the U.S. Supreme Court. As discussed in a June 8, 2016 post on Jim Hamilton’s World of Securities Litigation (here), the petition asks the Court to address the question whether a privately held corporation trading in its own stock has an Exchange Act duty to disclose all material information or abstain from trading. As discussed below, the petition and the underlying claim raise important questions about the potential liabilities of private companies under the federal securities laws. The May 31, 2016 cert petition in the case of Fried v. Stiefel Laboratories, Inc. can be found here.
Continue Reading Supreme Court Asked to Clarify Private Company’s Federal Securities Law Stock Purchase Disclosure Duties

TheranosIn a speech last month, SEC Chair Mary Jo White signaled that the agency was going to be paying closer attention to private companies, particularly so-called “unicorns” – that is, the private venture-backed start-ups with valuations over $1 billion (as I discussed in a recent post). In her speech, White highlighted the concerns that can surround companies with these kinds of lofty valuations, noting that “the concern is whether the prestige associated with reaching a sky-high valuation fast drives companies to appear more valuable than they actually are.”   It wasn’t clear at the time exactly what the agency’s scrutiny of these private companies might mean, but recent news involving the high-flying start-up company Theranos shows what White had in mind.  The developments involving Theranos, in turn, raise the question of whether other high-flying privately held companies might also face scrutiny, as well.
Continue Reading Theranos, the SEC, and the Enforcement of the Securities Laws Against Private Companies