Justia U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Corporate Compliance

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Wiest, formerly a Tyco employee, claimed that Tyco unlawfully terminated his employment for reporting suspected securities fraud violations pertaining to the accounting treatment of two Tyco events, in violation of the anti-retaliation provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, 18 U.S.C. 1514A. Wiest claims that for six months, he refused, as an accountant, to process payments allegedly due from Tyco that related to two Tyco employee and dealer meetings in resort settings. Tyco contends that Wiest’s involvement with the events at issue was minimal and he did not frustrate, or even inconvenience, Tyco’s management, and that ,more than eight months later, Tyco’s human resources director—who had no knowledge of, Wiest’s alleged protected activity— investigated complaints that Wiest made inappropriate sexual comments to several female Tyco employees, and that he had inappropriate sexual relationships with two subordinates, resulting in Wiest’s termination. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Tyco. Wiest failed to offer any evidence to establish that his protected activity was a contributing factor to any adverse employment action; Tyco established that it would have taken the same actions with respect to Wiest in the absence of Wiest’s accounting activity given the thoroughly documented, investigation conducted by its human resources director. View "Wiest v. Tyco Elec. Corp" on Justia Law

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Kivisto, co-founder and former President and CEO of SemCrude, an Oklahoma-based oil and gas company, allegedly drove SemCrude into bankruptcy through his self-dealing and speculative trading strategies. SemCrude’s Litigation Trust sued Kivisto, and the parties reached a settlement agreement and granted a mutual release of all claims. A month later, a group of SemCrude’s former limited partners (Oklahoma Plaintiffs) sued Kivisto in state court, alleging breach of fiduciary duty, negligent misrepresentation, and fraud. The Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware granted Kivisto’s emergency motion to enjoin the state action, finding that the Oklahoma Plaintiffs’ claims derived from the Litigation Trust’s claims. The district court reversed, concluding that the claims were possibly direct and remanded. The Third Circuit concluded that the claims are derivative and reversed. Even if Kivisto owed the Oklahoma Plaintiffs unique, individual fiduciary duties in addition to the duties owed to them as unitholders, they could show neither that they were injured separately from the company or all other unitholders on the basis of that misconduct, nor that they were entitled to recovery of the units they allegedly would not have contributed or would have sold but for Kivisto’s misconduct. View "In re: Semcrude L.P." on Justia Law

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Trinity, a New York Episcopal parish, owns Wal-Mart stock and requested that Wal-Mart include its shareholder proposal in Wal-Mart’s proxy materials. Trinity’s proposal, linked to Wal-Mart’s sale of high-capacity firearms at about one-third of its 3,000 stores, asked Board of Directors to develop and implement standards for use in deciding whether to sell a product that “especially endangers public safety,” “has the substantial potential to impair the reputation of Wal-Mart,” and/or “would reasonably be considered by many offensive to the family and community values integral to the Company’s promotion of its brand.” The Securities and Exchange Commission’s “ordinary business” exclusion lets a company omit a shareholder proposal from proxy materials if the proposal relates to ordinary business operations. Wal-Mart obtained a “no-action letter” from the SEC, indicating that there would be no recommendation of an enforcement action against Wal-Mart if it omitted the proposal from its proxy materials. Trinity filed suit. The district court held that, because the proposal concerned the company’s Board (rather than management) and focused principally on governance (rather than how Wal-Mart decides what to sell), it was outside ordinary business operations. The Third Circuit reversed. “Stripped to its essence, Trinity’s proposal goes to the heart of Wal-Mart’s business: what it sells on its shelves.” View "Trinity Wall Street v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc" on Justia Law

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In 1973, Doe organized his medical practice as a “professional association,” a type of corporation doctors are permitted to form under New Jersey law. Since its creation, Doe has operated his practice through that entity. As of 2011, the entity employed six people. The government alleges that Doe entered into an illicit agreement with OTE, a blood laboratory, whereby it paid him monetary bribes for referring patients to it for blood testing. A grand jury subpoena was served on the entity’s custodian of records, directing it to turn over documents, including records of patients referred to OTE, lease and consulting agreements, checks received by it for reasons other than patient treatment, correspondence regarding its use of OTE, correspondence with specified individuals and entities, and basic corporate records. The district court denied Doe’s motion to quash. Doe persistently refused to let the entity comply; the court found it in civil contempt. Meanwhile, the entity fired its employees and hired independent contractors, tasked with “[m]aint[aining] accurate and complete medical records, kept in accordance with HIPAA and Patient Privacy standards,” and assisting with billing practices. The Third Circuit affirmed, agreeing that Supreme Court precedent indicated that corporations may not assert a Fifth Amendment privilege, and that the subpoena was not overbroad in violation of the Fourth Amendment. View "In Re: The Matter Of The Grand Jury" on Justia Law

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Between 2008 and 2011, Viacom Inc. paid three senior executives more than $100 million in bonus or incentive compensation. Compensation exceeding $1 million paid by a corporation to senior executives is not normally deductible under federal tax law, but a corporate taxpayer may deduct an executive’s otherwise nondeductible compensation over $1 million if an independent committee its board of directors approves the compensation on the basis of objective performance standards and the compensation is “approved by a majority of the vote in a separate shareholder vote” before being paid. In 2007, a majority of Viacom’s voting shareholders approved such a plan. Shareholder Freedman sued, claiming that Viacom’s Board failed to comply with the terms of the Plan and that, instead of using quantitative performance measures, the Board partially based its awards on qualitative, subjective factors, destroying the basis for their tax deductibility. Freedman claimed that this caused the Board to award executives more than $36 million of excess compensation. The plan was reauthorized in 2012. The district court dismissed. The Third Circuit affirmed. With respect to his derivative claim, Freedman did not make a pre-suit demand to the Board or present sufficient allegations explaining why a demand would have been futile. With respect to his direct claim regarding participation by stockholders without voting rights, federal law does not confer voting rights on shareholders not otherwise authorized to vote or affect Delaware law permit ting corporations to issue shares without voting rights. View "Freedman v. Redstone" on Justia Law

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Aleynikov is a computer programmer who worked as a vice president at GSCo in 2007 through 2009. After accepting an employment offer from another company, Aleynikov copied source code developed at GSCo into computer files and transferred them out of GSCo. He was convicted of violations of the National Stolen Property Act, 18 U.S.C. 2314, and the Economic Espionage Act, 18 U.S.C. 1832. The Second Circuit reversed the conviction. He was then indicted by a New York grand jury and that case remains pending. Aleynikov filed a federal suit, seeking indemnification and advancement for his attorney’s fees from Goldman Sachs. He claims his right to indemnification and advancement under a portion of Goldman Sachs Group’s By-Laws that applies to non-corporate subsidiaries like GSCo, providing for indemnification and advancement to, among others, officers of GSCo. The district court granted summary judgment in Aleynikov’s favor on his claim for advancement but denied it on his claim for indemnification. The Third Circuit vacated with respect to advancement. The meaning of the term “officer" in GS Group’s By-Laws is ambiguous and the relevant extrinsic evidence raises genuine issues of material fact precluding summary judgment. The court otherwise affirmed. View "Aleynikov v. Goldman Sachs Grp., Inc" on Justia Law

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Rahman filed a securities class action against KB, an importer of infant furniture and products, and individuals, alleging violation of Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act and SEC Rule 10b-5 and (2) and Section 20(a) of the Exchange Act. The complaint alleged that defendants misled investors by artificially inflating KB’s stock price by issuing deceptive public financial reports and press releases dealing with compliance with customs laws and overall financial performance. A second amended complaint specified failure to disclose product recalls, safety violations, and illegal staffing practices. The district court dismissed for failure to satisfy the heightened scienter pleading standard required by the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act, 15 U.S.C. 78u-4(b)(2). The Third Circuit affirmed. View "Rahman v. Kid Brands, Inc." on Justia Law

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BDI elected under I.R.C. 1362(a) to be treated as an S-corporation, not subject to federal taxation because its profits and losses passed through to Barden, its sole shareholder. MSC owns the Majestic Star Casino and Hotel. BDI acquired MSC in 2005. BDI elected to treat MSC as a QSub (I.R.C. 1361(b)(3)(B), not as a separate tax entity. MSC, therefore, paid no federal taxes. In 2009, MSC and its affiliates filed voluntary bankruptcy petitions. Barden and BDI were not debtors. After the petition, Barden caused revocation of BDI’s status as an S-corporation; MSC’s QSub status automatically terminated because it was no longer wholly owned by an S-corp. Neither BDI nor Barden sought authorization from the debtors or from the Bankruptcy Court. MSC allegedly was unaware that it had a new obligation to pay income taxes. As of first date federal taxes would have been due, the debtors had paid no federal income taxes. The Bankruptcy Court permitted conversion of MSC to a limited liability company, so that MSC would no longer qualify for QSub status, even if the Revocation had not occurred. The debtors sought to avoid the Revocation, which, they alleged, caused an unlawful post-petition transfer of property. The Bankruptcy Court granted summary judgment to the debtors. The Third Circuit vacated and directed that the petition be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. View "In Re:Majestic Star Casino LLC" on Justia Law

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In the 1960s, the founder’s sons (plaintiff and his brothers) joined the business, later incorporated as MBP. The business grew to have annual sales of $60 million. Plaintiff served as vice-president, secretary, and a member of the board of directors, and was a shareholder. Plaintiff had a “spiritual awakening” in 1995. He claims that the change resulted in antagonism toward him. Plaintiff delivered a eulogy at his father’s 2009 funeral, which upset family members. Days later, plaintiff received notice of termination of his employment and that various benefits would cease. The letter explained that “[y]our share of any draws from the corporation or other entities will continue to be distributed to you.” Plaintiff continued on the board of directors until August, 2009, when the shareholders did not re-elect him. Plaintiff filed charges of religious discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2(a)(1) and of hostile work environment. The district court dismissed, finding that he was not an employee under Title VII and did not establish existence of a hostile work environment. The Third Circuit affirmed, stating that it was clear that plaintiff was entitled to participate in development and governance of the business. View "Mariotti. v. Mariotti Bldg. Prods., Inc." on Justia Law

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Wiest worked in Tyco’s accounting department for 31 years, until his termination in 2010. Beginning in 2007, Wiest refused to process reimbursement claims that he believed were unlawful or constituted “parties” at resorts. Wiest sued Tyco and its officers and directors under the whistleblower protection provisions in Section 806 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, 18 U.S.C. 1514A, and under Pennsylvania law. The district court dismissed the federal whistleblower claims and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction. The Third Circuit reversed in part, holding that the court erred in requiring that Wiest allege that his communications to his supervisors “definitively and specifically relate to” an existing violation of a particular anti-fraud law, as opposed to expressing a reasonable belief that corporate managers are taking actions that could run afoul of a particular anti-fraud law. View "Wiest v. Lynch" on Justia Law