Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Securities Law
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Plaintiff-Appellants were shareholders in a major mutual fund complex through their employer-sponsored retirement plans. They alleged the complex’s investment adviser, Great-West Capital Management LLC (“GWCM”), and affiliate recordkeeper, Great-West Life & Annuity Insurance Co. (“GWL&A”), breached their fiduciary duties by collecting excessive compensation from fund assets. After holding an eleven-day bench trial in January 2020, the district court adopted and incorporated by reference, with few changes, Defendants’ Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. It also found for Defendants on every element of every issue, concluding “even though they did not have the burden to do so, Defendants presented persuasive and credible evidence that overwhelmingly proved that their fees were reasonable and that they did not breach their fiduciary duties.” Plaintiffs appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Obeslo, et al. v. Great-Western Life & Annuity, et al." on Justia Law

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Guy Jean-Pierre, a corporate and securities attorney, aided an illegal stock trading operation. Through a series of self-dealing transactions, Jean-Pierre and his co-conspirators artificially inflated stock prices of a company they controlled. Jean- Pierre sent letters on the company’s behalf to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) that contained false and misleading information and omitted material information from disclosures to potential investors. Jean-Pierre appealed his convictions for conspiracy to commit securities fraud and securities fraud as to four of the twenty-eight counts of conviction, arguing the district court erred in admitting evidence that he had previously used his niece’s signature without her permission to submit attorney letters to a stock trading website. Jean- Pierre also argued that three of the four convictions should have been reversed because the district court declined to give a requested instruction reiterating the government’s burden as to a specific factual theory. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Jean-Pierre" on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from an attempt to hold Defendant Paul Robben liable for securities fraud. Various Plaintiffs alleged that Robben fraudulently induced them to purchase ownership interests in a Kansas limited liability company named Foxfield Villa Associates, LLC (“Foxfield”). Plaintiffs argued that those interests were securities under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Plaintiffs contended Robben violated section 10(b) of the 1934 Act (its broad antifraud provision) and SEC Rule 10b-5 (an administrative regulation expounding upon that antifraud provision) when engaging in his allegedly deceitful conduct. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the specific attributes of the LLC interests in this case lead it to conclude the interests at issue were not securities as that term was defined by the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The Court affirmed the district court's order declining to characterize the LLC interests as securities, thus granting summary judgment to defendants on those grounds. View "Foxfield Villa Associates v. Robben" on Justia Law

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A married couple, Beverly Bien and David Wellman, invested money with Mid Atlantic Capital Corporation (“Mid Atlantic”). Their investments performed poorly. Stung by the losses, Ms. Bien and Mr. Wellman initiated arbitration proceedings against Mid Atlantic. The arbitration panel awarded damages, fees and costs to the couple. The panel also ordered Ms. Bien and Mr. Wellman to reassign their ownership interests in their investments to Mid Atlantic. Mid Atlantic moved the federal district court to modify the arbitration award to correct “an evident material miscalculation of figures.” The district court denied the motion because the alleged error that Mid Atlantic sought to remedy did not appear on the face of the arbitration award. In the amended final judgment, in addition to ordering Mid Atlantic to pay Ms. Bien and Mr. Wellman certain damages, the court ordered that prejudgment interest would accrue on the damages portion of the award and that postjudgment interest would accrue at the federal rate specified in 28 U.S.C. 1961. Both parties appealed the district court’s order. Mid Atlantic specifically challenged the court’s denial of its motion to modify the arbitration award; the couple cross-appealed to challenge the court’s rulings with respect to prejudgment interest and the reassignment of distributions they received since the arbitration award due to their ownership interests in the investments. Finding no abuse of discretion or other reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Mid Atlantic Capital v. Bien" on Justia Law

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A district court dismissed Plaintiff–Appellant Lawrence Smallen and Laura Smallen Revocable Living Trust’s securities-fraud class action against Defendant–Appellee The Western Union Company and several of its current and former executive officers (collectively, “Defendants”). Following the announcements of Western Union’s settlements with regulators in January 2017 and the subsequent drop in the price of the company’s stock shares, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on behalf of itself and other similarly situated shareholders. In its complaint, Plaintiff alleged Defendants committed securities fraud by making false or materially misleading public statements between February 24, 2012, and May 2, 2017 regarding, among other things, Western Union’s compliance with anti-money laundering and anti-fraud laws. The district court dismissed the complaint because Plaintiff failed to adequately plead scienter under the heightened standard imposed by the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“PSLRA”). While the Tenth Circuit found the complaint may have given rise to some plausible inference of culpability on Defendants' part, the Court concurred Plaintiff failed to plead particularized facts giving rise to the strong inference of scienter required to state a claim under the PSLRA, thus affirming dismissal. View "Smallen Revocable Living Trust v. Western Union Company" on Justia Law

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Dennis Malouf held key roles at two firms. One of the firms (UASNM, Inc.) offered investment advice; the other firm (a branch of Raymond James Financial Services) served as a broker-dealer. Raymond James viewed those dual roles as a conflict, so Malouf sold the Raymond James branch. But the structure of the sale perpetuated the conflict. Because Malouf did not disclose perpetuation of the conflict, administrative officials sought sanctions against him for violating the federal securities laws. An administrative law judge found that Malouf had violated the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, the Securities Act of 1933, the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, Rule 10b–5, and Rule 206(4)–1. Given these findings, the judge imposed sanctions. The SEC affirmed these findings and imposed additional sanctions, including disgorgement of profits. Malouf appealed the SEC’s decision, but finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Malouf v. SEC" on Justia Law

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In this shareholder-derivative action, Shareholders of The Western Union Company averred several of Western Union’s Officers and Directors breached their fiduciary duties to the company by willfully failing to implement and maintain an effective anti-money-laundering-compliance program (AML-compliance program), despite knowing of systemic deficiencies in the company’s AML compliance. The Shareholders didn’t make a pre-suit demand on Western Union’s Board of Directors to pursue this litigation, and the district court found no evidence that such demand would have been futile. The district court thus dismissed the case, reasoning that the Shareholders’ obligation to make a pre-suit demand on the Board was not excused. The Tenth Circuit concurred with the district court's decision to dismiss, and affirmed. View "City of Cambridge Retirement v. Ersek" on Justia Law

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This case involved an alleged worldwide Ponzi scheme and the antifraud provisions of the federal Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Defendant Charles Scoville operated an internet traffic exchange business through his Utah company, Defendant Traffic Monsoon, LLC. The Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) initiated this civil enforcement action, alleging Defendants were instead operating an unlawful online Ponzi scheme involving the fraudulent sale of securities. In this interlocutory appeal, Scoville challenged several preliminary orders the district court issued at the outset, including orders freezing Defendants’ assets, appointing a receiver, and preliminarily enjoining Defendants from continuing to operate their business. The Tenth Circuit upheld those preliminary rulings, finding the SEC asserted sufficient evidence to make it likely that the SEC would be able to prove that Defendants were operating a Ponzi scheme. View "SEC v. Traffic Monsoon" on Justia Law

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This appeal grew out of a battle between the majority and minority owners of units in an investment vehicle. The majority unitholder wanted to merge, but this would require the minority to sell their units or convert them to shares in a newly created entity. The minority unitholders balked because they wanted to retain their original units, but the majority unitholder approved the merger, terminating the minority’s units in the process. The termination of these units led the minority to sue. The issue presented for the Tenth Circuit’s review reduced to one of “classic” contract interpretation: did the contract empower the majority unitholder to approve a merger that eliminated and replaced the minority unitholders’ units without providing an opportunity for a class vote? The district court concluded “yes,” and the Tenth Circuit concurred. View "Stender v. Archstone-Smith" on Justia Law

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The issue this appeal presented for the Tenth Circuit’s review centered on the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff-Appellant David Hampton’s securities-fraud class action against Defendants-Appellees root9B Technologies, Inc. (“root9B”), Joseph Grano, Jr., the Chief Executive Officer and Chairman, and Kenneth T. Smith, the former Chief Financial Officer. Hampton filed suit claiming root9B made false or misleading statements in connection with the purchase or sale of securities. Hampton identified two statements he alleged were false or misleading and material: (1) a letter from Grano to investors attesting that root9B was differentiated from competitors by its “proprietary hardware and software;” and (2) a press release and associated report published by root9B in which the company claimed to have detected a planned cyber attack against a number of international financial institutions. He further alleged that the individual defendants were jointly and severally liable under section 20(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The district court dismissed Hampton’s claims, finding that he had failed to sufficiently plead that the identified statements were false or misleading. The Tenth Circuit concurred with the district court’s findings and affirmed its judgment. View "Hampton v. Root9B Technologies" on Justia Law