Monday, April 29, 2013
The Use of Social Media for Investment Advice. The Struggle Between Employee Privacy Laws and Investor Protection
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
In Molchatsky, et al. v. United States, 11-2510-cv(L), the Plaintiffs sought to hold the United States liable for SEC employees’ failure to detect Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme and for the financial losses that Plaintiffs claim they suffered as a result. The Plaintiffs’ principal allegation was that the SEC negligently failed to uncover Madoff’s fraud despite receiving numerous complaints over a sixteen-year period.
Plaintiffs claim that the SEC’s clear negligence exposes the agency to liability under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”).
The FTCA is an exception to the rule that the United States is typically immune from suit. The district court determined that the Discretionary Function Exception (“DFE”), an exception to the exception to the rule of United States immunity, barred Plaintiffs’ claims. The DFE suspends the FTCA from applying to:
[a]ny claim based upon an act or omission of an employee of the Government, exercising due care, in the execution of a statute or regulation, whether or not such statute or regulation be valid, or based upon the exercise or performance or the failure to exercise or perform a discretionary function or duty on the part of a federal agency or an employee of the Government, whether or not the discretion involved be abused.28 U.S.C. § 2680(a).
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the district court. The court of appeals stated that the DFE is not about fairness, it “is about power,” National Union Fire Insurance v. United States, 115 F.3d 20 1415, 1422 (9th Cir. 1997); the sovereign “reserve[s] to itself the right to act without liability for misjudgment and carelessness in the formulation of policy,” id. “[T]he DFE bars suit only if two conditions are met: (1) the acts alleged to be negligent must be discretionary, in that they involve an ‘element of judgment or choice’ and are not compelled by statute or regulation and (2) the judgment or choice in question must be grounded in ‘considerations of public policy’ or susceptible to policy analysis.” Coulthurst v. United States, 214 F.3d 106, 109 (2d Cir. 2000) (quoting United States v. Gaubert, 499 U.S. 315, 322-23 (1991)) The court of appeals noted that Plaintiffs bear the initial burden to state a claim that is not barred by the DFE. See Gaubert, 499 U.S. at 324-25.
The court of appeals concluded that in the case before it, the Plaintiffs failed to make the necessary showing. The conduct Plaintiffs sought to challenge was “too intertwined with purely discretionary decisions” made by SEC personnel. Gray v. Bell, 712 F.2d 490, 515 (D.C. Cir. 1983); see generally id. at 515-16.
While the court expressed sympathy for Plaintiffs’ predicament (and at the same time expressing antipathy for the SEC’s conduct), it found that Congress’s intent to shield regulatory agencies’ discretionary use of specific investigative powers via the DFE was fatal to Plaintiffs’ claims. See Berkovitz by Berkovitz v. United States, 486 U.S. 531, 538 & 538 n.4 (1988) (quoting H.R.Rep. No. 1287, 79th Cong., 1st Sess., 616 (1945)). The court found that the first prong of the DFE was satisfied because the SEC retains complete discretion over when, whether and to what extent to investigate and bring an action against an individual or entity. See 15 U.S.C. § 78u(a)(1); 17 C.F.R. § 202.5(a)-(b). It also found that the second prong of the DFE was satisfied by virtue of the SEC’s choices regarding allocation of agency time and resources being sufficiently grounded in economic, social and policy considerations. See Bd. of Trade of City of Chicago v. SEC, 2 883 F.2d 525, 531 (7th Cir. 1989); cf. Coulthurst, 214 F.3d at 108-11.
The court concluded that the SEC’s actions, along with its “regrettable inaction,” were shielded by the Discretionary Function Exception, and affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiffs’ claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
Posted by Kurt J. Schafers at 8:28 PM
Thursday, March 28, 2013
Posted by David Cosgrove at 3:01 PM
Friday, March 1, 2013
Keller v. ING Financial Partners, Inc., No. 2011-193026 (S.C. App. Jan. 9, 2013) is an interesting unpublished opinion out of the state of South Carolina whose reasoning, if followed in other jurisdictions, could have a rather profound effect on client/broker-dealer arbitration agreements entered into prior to July 2007. In that case, the circuit court's denied ING Financial Partners’ motion to compel arbitration. The circuit court found the arbitration agreement between the parties designated the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD) as an exclusive arbitral forum, the NASD was unavailable to arbitrate because it no longer existed, and the court could not substitute the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) for NASD.
The court noted that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) does not confer an absolute right to compel arbitration, but only a right to obtain an order directing that "arbitration proceed in the manner provided for in [the parties'] agreement." Volt Info. Scis., Inc. v. Bd. of Trs. of Leland Stanford Junior Univ., 489 U.S. 468, 469 (1989) (emphasis added). The agreement at issue stated "any dispute between you and me arising out of this agreement shall be submitted to arbitration conducted under the then applicable provisions of the code of arbitration procedure of NASD." The NASD's rules indicated that conducting arbitration "under the then applicable provisions of the code of arbitration procedure of NASD" mandated arbitration before the NASD itself. But the NASD was no longer available to arbitrate because in July 2007 FINRA was created through the consolidation of the NASD and the member regulation, enforcement and arbitration functions of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).
The court of appeals found that it could not rewrite the parties' agreement to substitute FINRA for NASD. The court noted that neither Iowa state (the law that applied) nor the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals had decided whether a court may substitute an arbitral forum when a designated forum had become unavailable to arbitrate. Among federal circuit courts, the court noted that a split existed on the issue. In the absence of any controlling law, the court opted to follow Grant v. Magnolia Manor-Greenwood, Inc., 383 S.C. 125, 678 S.E.2d 435 (2009). There, the South Carolina Supreme Court saw "great merit in the Second Circuit's view that Section 5 [of the FAA] does not apply in cases where a specifically designated arbitrator becomes unavailable" to arbitrate. Id. at 131, 678 S.E.2d at 438 (approving of In re Salomon Inc., 68 F.3d 554 (2d Cir. 1995)).
In Salomon, the Second Circuit held that Section 5 of the FAA permits substitution only "when there is 'a lapse in time in the naming of the' arbitrator or in the filling of a vacancy on a panel of arbitrators, or some other mechanical breakdown in the arbitrator selection process." See Salomon, 68 F.3d at 560 (emphasis added). The court noted that the case before it did not present a breakdown in the process of selecting an arbitrator because the arbitral forum simply did not exist. Regardless of any similarities between NASD's and FINRA's procedural rules, the court of appeals found that it could not impose upon the parties the power of an arbitral forum that they did not agree to submit to. As a result, the court of appeals found that the trial court properly denied Appellants' motion to compel arbitration.
Monday, February 25, 2013
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Disciplinary and Enforcement
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Former Morgan Stanley Branch Manager Awarded $1 Million in Compensatory Damages in a FINRA New Years Day Award.
In 2011, Claimant Gregory Carl Torretta (“Torretta”) filed a
claim with FINRA against Respondent Morgan Stanley Smith Barney
(“Morgan Stanley”) for violations of FINRA rules, breach of
employment contract, and wrongful termination.
Torretta was a former branch manager at Morgan Stanley at a two-branch complex in Garden City, New York. His termination allegedly stemmed from his oversight of another manager who was underperforming in his duties. The unidentified manager complained to Torretta about the oversight process in an email that was copied to Torretta’s boss. The email also implied that Torretta had discussions about leaving Morgan Stanley and suggested that Torretta encouraged the manager to follow him.
Despite denying the allegations of having those discussions with the manager, Torretta was given the choice to voluntarily resign or be terminated. Torretta chose to voluntarily resign. The key issue in the case was Morgan Stanley’s own procedures for handling such matters which Torretta alleged were not followed.
In Torretta’s statement of claim, he requested compensatory damages in the amount of $4.5 million. At the close of the hearing, Torretta requested compensatory damages ranging from $8 million to $9 million.
The hearing took place in New York City in front of Chairperson Marguerite Filson, Public Arbitrator Paul Blederman, and Non-public Arbitrator Joel Morton Newman. On January 1, 2013, the panel awarded Torretta $1 million in compensatory damages. In customary fashion, the panel did not explain the award.
If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated from a FINRA Member Firm, please contact the experienced attorneys at Cosgrove Law Group, LLC.
For a copy of the opinion, see FINRA Cause No. 11-01914.