All posts by Darrick M. Mix

The Government Shutdown and Effectiveness of Registration Statements under Section 8(a)

Given the shutdown of the SEC as part of the wider government shutdown, we are seeing many registration statements being filed with no delaying amendment language and with the language required by Rule 473 to allow automatic effectiveness in 20 days in accordance with Section 8(a) of the Securities Act.  In the last two weeks, at least 30 such registration statements have been filed.  In all of 2018, there were only three such registration statements, and in all of 2017, there were only two.  Obviously, the deals must go on, and corporate issuers and their counsel have seen the Division of Corporation Finance’s FAQs regarding Actions During Government Shutdown and have heeded the answers set forth therein.  (For now, the FAQs are posted on the Division of Corporation Finance’s homepage.)

The first of these “automatically effective” registration statements filed in 2019 was on Form S-4 in connection with the pending merger of BSB Bancorp and People’s United Financial, Inc.  Since then, issuers have filed these registration statements on Forms S-1, S-3 and S-4 in connection with a variety of transactions.  If the government shutdown continues, we should expect to see many more of these filings.

California Mandates Gender Diversity on Public Company Boards

California has become the first state in the nation to require public companies to put female directors on their boards. On September 30, 2018, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill mandating that by the end of 2019 certain publicly traded companies with headquarters in the state appoint at least one woman to their boards. Further, by 2021, companies subject to the law with at least five directors will need to appoint at least two female directors to their boards, and those with at least six directors will need to appoint at least three female directors to their boards. Companies subject to the law that do not comply with the mandates will face financial penalties.

Whether the law is constitutional is questionable. Governor Brown acknowledged as much after he signed the bill, stating, “I don’t minimize the potential flaws that may indeed prove fatal to its ultimate implementation,” but he justified the law, stating that “recent events in Washington, D.C.—and beyond—make it crystal clear that many aren’t getting the message.” Opponents argue that the mandate violates both the California and U.S. Constitutions because it imposes impermissible gender quotas and requires companies to reject or replace men seeking to serve on boards. In addition, opponents claim that the law violates constitutional principles because it applies to companies headquartered in California even if they are incorporated in another state, creating an inherent conflict between California law and the corporate law of every other state.

Regardless of whether the California law is ultimately enforceable, there is no question that proxy advisory firms and some institutional investors like BlackRock remain focused on board diversity, including gender diversity, and there will continue to be pressure on public company boards to increase their diversity. Action by shareholders seeking to increase board diversity, rather than state governments mandating quotas, is likely to be more enduring and ultimately more successful.

The Comverge Case: Fiduciary Duties and Break-up Fees in M&A

Our partner Richard Renck in Wilmington recently posted an entry on our Delaware Business Law Blog regarding the Comverge case decided last month by the Delaware Court of Chancery.   Among other things, the Court’s opinion provides practitioners and clients with insight regarding break-up fees as well as a road map of  how the Court of Chancery reviews challenges to third-party sale transactions, approved by a disinterested board, under the enhanced scrutiny of Revlon.  Please see Richard’s post here.

Fifth Circuit to Dodd-Frank Whistleblowers: Call the SEC First

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s decision last week in Asadi v. G.E. Energy (USA) has been hailed as a triumph for employers because it requires whistleblowers who bring retaliation claims under the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act to show that they suffered retaliation because they reported potential violations to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The Fifth Circuit rejected the position adopted by the SEC in its regulations implementing Dodd-Frank and by the few district courts that have addressed the issue. That rejected approach interprets Section 922 of Dodd-Frank to apply its enhanced protections to certain whistleblowers even if they had not reported their concerns to the SEC. Although this decision narrows the category of employees who can seek the enhanced protections of Dodd-Frank, it will likely increase the number of whistleblowers who report their concerns to the SEC.

Our firm’s client alert regarding the case can be found here.

SEC Staff Issues Wells Notice to Netflix and Its CEO

The Wall Street Journal and other news outlets reported late yesterday that Netflix, Inc. filed a Form 8-K disclosing that each of Netflix and its CEO, Reed Hastings, had received a Wells notice from the staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission relating to an alleged violation of Regulation Fair Disclosure (FD) in connection with a Facebook post by Hastings on July 3, 2012. Hastings’ Facebook post stated that “Netflix monthly viewing exceeded 1 billion hours for the first time ever in June. When House of Cards and Arrested Development debut, we’ll blow these records away.”

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SEC Rule Proposal Would Permit Public Offerings in “Private Placements” and Facilitate Capital Formation

As required by the JOBS Act, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has proposed rules to eliminate the prohibition on general solicitation and general advertising in private placements exempt from registration by Rule 506 under the Securities Act of 1933, as long as all purchasers of the securities are accredited investors. The elimination of the prohibition on general solicitation and general advertising will result in issuers being able to attract a wider variety of investors with less cost. Increased competition for quality investments could also improve terms for issuers, reducing their cost of capital.

The firm’s client alert regarding the SEC’s proposal may be accessed here.

Update on Say-on-Pay Developments

There have been 40 failed say-on-pay votes thus far in 2012. Shareholders have disapproved executive compensation systems at companies such as Big Lots (31% approval), Cooper Industries (30%), Simon Property Group (27%), Pitney Bowes (35%) and Chiquita Brands (20%). Sometimes support from ISS is not enough – shareholders at Safety Insurance Group (42%) failed to approve a say-on-pay proposal even with an approval recommendation from ISS.

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Executive Compensation: Negative Say-on-Pay Vote Does Not Trump Board Authority

In an important battle in the ongoing executive compensation wars, last week a federal court in Oregon affirmed that directors of Oregon corporations are indeed protected by the business judgment rule in making executive compensation decisions. In ruling that the claim in Plumbers Local No. 137 Pension Fund v. Davis should be dismissed, the specifically declined to follow a recent controversial decision by an Ohio court allowing a say-on-pay lawsuit to proceed under similar circumstances.

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