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.

FTC Revises Hart-Scott-Rodino Thresholds

The Federal Trade Commission announced yesterday that it has made its annual adjustments to the thresholds for determining whether a transaction is reportable under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976 and the amount of the related filing fee. The new thresholds were published today in the Federal Register. Under HSR, certain transactions may not be completed until a waiting period (generally 30 days unless extended by a request for additional information or terminated early upon request) has expired after the required notifications are filed.

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New York Comptroller Seeks Qualcomm’s Records on Political Giving; SEC Contemplating Political Contribution Disclosure Rules

A “books and records” action brought by New York’s comptroller to determine how Qualcomm Incorporated “is spending corporate funds in the political arena” may create a precedent for shareholders seeking to force corporate disclosure of political contributions.

The suit was brought last week in Delaware Chancery Court by Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli as trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund, a shareholder of Qualcomm. The complaint cites to recent studies concluding that “corporate political spending is negatively correlated with enterprise value” and may indicate “more widespread control and governance deficiencies.”

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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.

SEC Opts to Take Its Time and Try To Get The Rule Right

In this year’s Jumpstarting Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, Congress eliminated the prohibition on general solicitation or advertising in connection with private offerings of securities and required the SEC to adopt and implement Congress’s mandate via rulemaking within 90 days of the effective date of the Act. To meet this deadline, the SEC would have needed to issue an interim rule, which would have had an immediate impact on how capital raisers communicate with investors and the broader public.

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SEC Report to Congress On Decimalization: Prelude or Punt?

On July 20, 2012, as required by Section 106 of the JOBS Act, the SEC released its study on the effects of decimalization (i.e., the trading and quoting of securities in increments of $.01) on initial public offerings and the liquidity of small-cap and middle-cap company securities.

In conducting its study, the SEC took a three-pronged approach consisting of (a) a review of empirical studies regarding tick size and decimalization, (b) participation in discussions held as part of a meeting of the SEC Advisory Committee on Small and Emerging Companies concerning the impact of market structure on small- and mid-cap companies and on IPOs, and (c) a survey of tick-size conventions in non-US markets.

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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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Political Spending Stockholder Resolution Early Returns – Low Vote/High Settlement

Perhaps not surprising in an election year, the hottest trend in stockholder proposals this proxy season has been submission of resolutions focused on political spending. As reported in this Washington Post article, the Sustainable Investments Institute, a Washington nonprofit that tracks stockholder resolutions, found that approximately one-third of stockholder resolutions this proxy season related to political spending disclosure. In general, these resolutions focus on disclosure of all political spending using corporate funds, including payments made to 501(c)(4) trade organizations that engage in lobbying or political campaigning.

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