September 25, 2009

SEC Endorses Creationism

Although it has not received much publicity (perhaps due to the fact that it does not appear on the agency's website), last month the Securities and Exchange Commission filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on the issue of primary vs. aiding-and-abetting liability. The case is the Refco securities class action and the SEC takes dead aim at the Second Circuit's "bright line" test.

Under the "bright line" test, primary liability only exists if the misstatement is attributable on its face to the defendant. In other words, the defendant must have been identified to investors as the maker of the statement. The SEC argues in its amicus brief that public attribution is unnecessary. Instead, a court should be able to find primary liability when the defendant "creates" the statement, even if investors are unaware of the defendant's involvement.

Given the long history of the "bright line" test in the Second Circuit, combined with the Supreme Court's recent emphasis in Stoneridge on the need to establish that investors relied on the defendant's actions, the SEC's legal arguments may not carry the day. The SEC seems prepared for this possibility, arguing that even if the Second Circuit keeps the "bright line" test, it should not be applied to government actions (where a showing of reliance is not required).

Quote of Note: "In the Commission's view, a person makes a false or misleading statement and thus can be liable as a primary violator of Rule 10b-5 when that person creates the statement. A person creates a statement in this context if the statement is written or spoken by him, or if he provides the false or misleading information that another person then puts into the statement, or if he allows the statement to be attributed to him."

Thanks to Securities Docket for the link to the SEC's amicus brief.

Posted by Lyle Roberts at September 25, 2009 10:13 PM | TrackBack
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