Supreme Court Roundup Part Two: Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

Posted on Categories Business Regulation, Constitutional Law, Corporate Law, First Amendment, Health Care, Public, Religion & Law, U.S. Supreme CourtLeave a comment» on Supreme Court Roundup Part Two: Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

the bosses of senateOn October 30, I participated in a presentation entitled “Supreme Court Roundup” with Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute.  The event was sponsored by the Law School chapters of the Federalist Society and the American Constitution Society.  We discussed three significant cases from the 2013-2014 Supreme Court term: McCutcheon v. FEC, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Harris v. Quinn.  It was a spirited discussion, in which Mr. Shapiro and I presented opposing views, but I want to thank Mr. Shapiro for taking the time to visit the Law School and sharing his perspective with the students.

This is the second of three blog posts on the presentation.  Readers can find the first post here.  What follows are my prepared remarks on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.  Readers interested in Mr. Shapiro’s position on the case can refer to the amicus brief that he filed on behalf of the Cato Institute.

The legal issue in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores can be described simply.  Under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, the Department of Health and Human Services requires employers to provide health insurance plans making contraception available to their female employees at no cost.  In the NFIB v. Sebelius decision in 2012, the Supreme Court upheld Congress’ power to pass the Affordable Care Act as an exercise of its taxing power.  But even if Congress has the power to pass the law, can a for profit corporation nonetheless avoid following the law by arguing that the contraception provisions burden the corporation’s free exercise of religion in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)?

The rights of the individual shareholders that own the corporation were not at issue.  The law does not act on the individuals, and does not require these human beings to do anything.  The only legal requirement imposed by the law is imposed on the corporate entity.

So what did Congress intend to do when it passed RFRA in 1993?  As I will explain, the Hobby Lobby case presents two opposing views as to what Congress attempted to accomplish by passing that law.  The dissent by Justice Ginsburg argues that the intent of RFRA was to create a statutory remedy for burdens on religious expression that adopted the standard for evaluating First Amendment violations prior to the 1990 Employment Division v. Smith case. The majority opinion by Justice Alito argues that by passing RFRA Congress created a statutory remedy that protected more “persons” than the pre-Smith caselaw protected and that granted them greater protections than the pre-Smith caselaw granted. Continue reading “Supreme Court Roundup Part Two: Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.”

What Is the NBA?

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basketballProfessor Nadelle Grossman has another forthcoming publication, “What Is the NBA?”, written for the faculty symposium issue of the Marquette Sports Law Review.  The abstract is below, and you can access the full article at SSRN:

The NBA’s organizational structure is curious.  While courts at times refer to the NBA as a joint venture and at other times as a single entity, their analyses are conducted not for state organization law purposes but to assess the NBA’s compliance with federal antitrust law.  Commentators, too, consistently address the NBA’s organizational structure only under antitrust law and not state organization law. As I argue, given the different purposes of these two legal regimes — antitrust law to protect consumers through preserving competition, and state organization law to ensure managers are faithful to the business purpose and to create a default structure among owners and managers — conclusions about the NBA’s organizational structure for purposes of compliance with antitrust law does not control the analysis of the NBA’s structure for purposes of state organization law.

To fill the gap in case law and commentary, this article analyzes the NBA’s organizational form under state organization law.  This analysis is important because the NBA’s organizational form impacts the rights and duties of the member team-owners of the NBA.  If, for example, the NBA is a joint venture partnership under state organization law — that is, an association of team owners who have come together to pursue a limited scope business for profit — then by default, its members would owe fiduciary duties to the other members and any member could seek judicial expulsion of a recalcitrant member.

Casual Convergence in Unincorporated Entity Law

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offices-at-night-smProfessor Nadelle Grossman has a forthcoming book chapter entitled “Casual Convergence in Unincorporated Entity Law” in the Research Handbook on Partnerships, LLCs and Alternative Forms of Business Organizations (Robert W. Hillman & Mark J. Loewenstein eds., Edward Elgar Publ’g forthcoming 2015).  The abstract is below. You can access Prof. Grossman’s full book chapter at SSRN.

As seemingly uniform as the surface of the sea, unincorporated entity acts in most states are drafted from one of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Law’s (NCCUSL) uniform acts.  In fact, by the end of 2013, seven states had adopted NCCUSL’s latest uniform act governing limited liability companies (LLCs), called the Revised Uniform Limited Liability Company Act, or RULLCA, and more have since followed.

Supporters of uniformity, including NCCUSL, argue that uniformity among state LLC acts generates administrative and cost savings.  Critics, on the other hand, argue that uniformity undermines state experimentation to achieve more efficient LLC laws.

However, I argue in the chapter that these debates about uniformity are misguided.  Continue reading “Casual Convergence in Unincorporated Entity Law”

US Supreme Court Review: Two Employee Benefit Cases (Dudenhoeffer and Hobby Lobby)

Posted on Categories Business Regulation, Corporate Law, Health Care, Labor & Employment Law, Public, U.S. Supreme CourtLeave a comment» on US Supreme Court Review: Two Employee Benefit Cases (Dudenhoeffer and Hobby Lobby)

US Supreme Court logo(This is another post in our series, Looking Back at the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 Term.) This blog post is the third of three on labor and employment law cases by the United States Supreme Court in the last Term. This post focuses on two employee benefit law/ERISA cases: Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. First, a disclosure: Along with six other law professors, I co-wrote an Amicus Curiae brief in support of the Dudenhoeffer plaintiffs.

Dudenhoeffer involves so-called ERISA stock-drop litigation, which has been rampant in the federal courts for a couple of decades now. The basic formula of these cases is that, as part of the employer-sponsored retirement plan (whether an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) or a participant-directed 401(k) plan), the employer offers its own stock as either the entire pension plan investment or part of the pension plan investment.   When the company goes south and its stock price falls, plan fiduciaries find themselves in a difficult position as far as whether to sell the stock or to hold on to it. This is especially so when the plan fiduciary has conflicting duties as an officer of the company and as a fiduciary of the plan. As a corporate officer, not only is the person supposed to act in the best interests of shareholders to maximize the value of the company, but securities law forbids them to trade stock based on non-public material information. As a fiduciary to the ESOP or 401(k) plan, ERISA gives that same person an obligation to act in the best interest and with the same care as a prudent fiduciary would when making decisions about that employee benefit plan. And in case you are wondering, ERISA Section 408(c)(3) gives employers the ability to assign the same person both officer and plan fiduciary roles or set up so-called “dual-role fiduciaries.” Continue reading “US Supreme Court Review: Two Employee Benefit Cases (Dudenhoeffer and Hobby Lobby)”

Protecting the Public from (Certain) Emerging Growth Companies

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JOBS ActPart one of this blog post concluded that Fantex’s IPO represents an unintended consequence of the 2012 JOBS Act.  The costs imposed on startups attempting to go public are significant, and the burden of complying with mandatory disclosure laws can deter even the most-attractive startups from commencing an IPO.  The JOBS Act is intended to decrease the burden on startups attempting to raise necessary capital by reducing the financial disclosure requirements normally imposed on public companies.

One way the Act reduces disclosure is through the status of “emerging growth company.”  Most notably, an emerging growth company is defined as an entity with less than $1 billion in annual revenue.  By falling within this broad definition, a startup may take advantage of reduced disclosure requirements for up to five years.

Based on this $1 billion threshold, the definition of emerging growth company is broad enough to encompass companies either experiencing an accelerated growth rate or with high-growth potential.  Unfortunately, Fantex also falls within this broad definition of emerging growth company, as noted in its prospectus.  Therefore, the real question is whether the definition is too broad so that companies with little, or no, demonstrated growth are being granted the same access to the investing public as companies that are actually growing. Continue reading “Protecting the Public from (Certain) Emerging Growth Companies”

SEC Issues Rule on CEO-to-Worker Pay Ratio Disclosures

Posted on Categories Corporate Law, Labor & Employment Law, Public1 Comment on SEC Issues Rule on CEO-to-Worker Pay Ratio Disclosures

money_bag_svgLast week, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) released a rule requiring companies to disclose the CEO-to-worker pay ratio.  Despite objections by many corporations, the rule covers all employees including seasonal, international, and part-time workers.  The SEC provides companies the option of using the entire workforce or a representative sample in the calculation.

There will now be a 60-day comment period.  The SEC voted for the rule 3-2, with the two Republican Commissioners who voted against the proposal calling it a special interest provision and proclaiming “shame on the SEC.”

Proponents of the rule argue that it will give shareholders and other stakeholders a clear line of sight into human capital management and worker pay.  Continue reading “SEC Issues Rule on CEO-to-Worker Pay Ratio Disclosures”

Paul Dacier (L ’83) Assumes Presidency of the Boston Bar

Posted on Categories Corporate Law, Legal Practice, Legal Profession, Marquette Law School, Public1 Comment on Paul Dacier (L ’83) Assumes Presidency of the Boston Bar
Paul Dacier
Paul Dacier (Boston Globe)

An important part of professionalism is, well, participating in the profession. The Law School has a rich record of alumni and faculty involvement in most walks of the profession, including leadership positions in local and state bar associations. Many alumni have also been recognized for their outstanding work as lawyers.

Paul Dacier (Arts ’80; L ’83) is part of this distinguished cohort. In 2013 Paul has garnered well-deserved recognition for his legal work on behalf of EMC Corp., while also serving as the President of the Boston Bar Association (BBA) for 2013-14. Indeed, the Boston Globe reports that Paul is the first general counsel to assume the BBA’s presidency in its over 250 year history.

Paul is general counsel for EMC, a $20 billion, publicly traded corporation with over 60,000 employees and a legal department of over 100 lawyers. EMC is one of the nation’s leading corporations specializing in information storage (“the cloud”) and related technology. Under Paul’s direction, the legal department has successfully defended EMC’s position in high-visibility patent litigation and developed innovative approaches to mergers and acquisitions. The National Law Journal recently named EMC’s legal department as the Boston Legal Department of the year (August 2013).

Continue reading “Paul Dacier (L ’83) Assumes Presidency of the Boston Bar”

Farewell to Ronald H. Coase

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CoaseAlmost every student who has attended law school in the past 40 years has encountered Ronald Coase and the Coase Theorem. Even professors who disagree with Coase feel compelled to expose their students to his famous theorem, even if only to rebut its argument. As a long-time teacher of both Torts and Property who is not an advocate of law and economics, I cannot imagine teaching either course without references to the Coase Theorem as a way of evaluating the correctness of legal rules.

In a nutshell, Coase, widely acknowledged as the founder of the law and economics movement, posited that in a world without transaction costs, individuals would bargain with each other to achieve the most efficient use of resources, and legal rules would be irrelevant. As a consequence, in a world with transaction costs, Coase seemed to suggest that legal rules should be constructed so that they favor the most efficient user, since that is the party who will eventually end up with the resource . The Coase Theorem was presented to the world in a 1960 article entitled, The Problem of Social Cost, which appeared in the Journal of Law and Economics and is still the most frequently cited law review article in history.

Sadly, Robert Coase died last week in Chicago at the age of 102. Born in London and educated at the London School of Economics, Coase first achieved widespread recognition in 1937 with the publication of his article, The Nature of the Firm, which introduced the concept of transaction costs and explained why large economic deals were handled by large integrated firms rather than by temporary market-based alliances of suppliers.

Coase came to the United States in 1951 as a professor at the University of Buffalo, and moved to the University of Virginia in 1958. He was a member of the University of Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson Center for Political Economy when he published his most famous article. In 1964, he left Virginia for the University of Chicago, where he remained until his death.

Coase was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1991. His final book, How China Became Capitalist, was published in 2012 when Coase was 101 years old.


Shareholder “Say on Pay” – Can it Expose Directors to Liability?

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[Editor’s Note: Over the past month, faculty members have been posting on upcoming judicial decisions of particular interest. This is the fourth post in the series.]

In January of 2011, the Securities and Exchange Commission, as part of its implementation of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, began requiring U.S. public companies to provide their shareholders with a non-binding vote on the compensation of certain executive officers. This “say on pay” gives shareholders an advisory say on the amount of compensation paid to those executives. Related disclosure is also designed to prompt the board to consider how the “say on pay” vote affects its broader executive compensation policies and practices.

The Dodd-Frank Act specifically provides that the shareholder say-on-pay vote is not intended to affect directors’ fiduciary duties. Despite this, in at least two cases, shareholders have sued directors for breaches of their fiduciary duties, primarily on the basis that they implemented compensation practices that shareholder had voted against. Continue reading “Shareholder “Say on Pay” – Can it Expose Directors to Liability?”

Best of the Blogs: The Ernst & Young Case

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It’s not really my area, but I’ve been especially interested this week in reading about the new civil fraud case brought by the State of New York against Ernst & Young.  The case arises from E&Y’s auditing work for Lehman Brothers, an early and important casualty of the financial crisis.  In this post, Matt Taibbi explains the basics of the Repo 105 transactions that Lehman used to hide its precarious financial position.  E&Y is now in trouble for signing off on Lehman’s questionable accounting statements.

For some helpful commentary on E&Y’s expected defense, see this post by Caleb Newquist at Going Concern.  In essence, E&Y’s position seems to be that it cannot be held liable under the New York law because it was Lehman, not E&Y, that produced the misleading financial statements and that used the statements to sell billions of dollars of securities before the collapse.  Apparently, there is no precedent under the state law for the prosecution of an accounting firm based on its role as an auditor, so the courts may have to wrestle with some difficult questions in the case.

What particularly interests me about the case is the way it echoes the prosecution of Arthur Anderson, which destroyed the venerable accounting firm as a result of its role in the Enron collapse.   Continue reading “Best of the Blogs: The Ernst & Young Case”

Will Financial Regulation Make Us Safe? (Part II)

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This is the second post on this topic.  Good to see you back for more!  Based on all of the notes that I received following my first post, the readership levels of this site are much higher than I expected.  Thanks for all of the kind feedback and responses.

I think that some of my former colleagues over at Stark Investments are thinking that they created a blogging monster (while at Stark I maintained a blog and I bet that some are thinking that I have taken things to a new extreme….).  While on that topic, I did want to mention a couple of tidbits about Stark Investments (it seems that some folks are still interested in what I have to say on the topic).

The original founders of Stark – Brian Stark and Mike Roth – were true pioneers in the hedge fund industry and played an important role in the evolution of this space and in paving the way for all those that followed into the business (including myself).  At its core, the hedge fund business (or “alternatives business” as it is commonly referred to) is based on the goal of providing absolute returns in an uncorrelated fashion (providing more attractive risk-adjusted returns than can be found from other investment techniques and strategies).  As they say about sports and hitting a baseball, achieving these objectives is one of the hardest things to do in any profession.  In any event, Brian and Mike have been doing this as long as anyone in the business.   I had a great 10 years working for the two of them and I learned much from both of their styles.

 Ok, enough of that stuff.  Let’s talk about financial regulation.  The last major overhaul of the regulatory structure of our financial markets, not surprisingly, occurred following the Great Depression.  The regulatory reaction to the stock market crash was the adoption of two cornerstone pieces of legislation which still provide the backbone of our regulatory structure — the Securities Act of 1933 (the “’33 Act”) and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the “34 Act”). The 33 Act, administered by the then newly created Securities & Exchange Commission (the “SEC”), provides for the registration of the initial distribution of most securities and the 34 Act imposes ongoing reporting and disclosure requirements.

 The policy behind the Acts was that disclosure of material facts and overall transparency in the activities of the securities exchanges would provide confidence in the markets and in the companies issuing securities.  Increased transparency, in turn, would promote much-needed liquidity which makes the markets function in an orderly fashion (the pre-Depression markets were characterized by insider dealing and a significant laissez-faire attitude towards regulation).  This “sunlight theory of regulation” is based on the assumption that if investors are given all of the necessary information they will make wise investment decisions. Commentators have characterized the ’33 Act as follows (these quotes, some of my personnel favorites, can also be found on the State of Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions website):

  • Congress did not take away from the citizen his inalienable right to make a fool of himself. It simply attempted to prevent others from making a fool of him.
  • As to its efficacy in regulating securities issuers, the sunlight theory may be summed up by a saying: Those who are forced to undress in public will presumably pay some attention to their figures.

Please remember these quotes because I believe that they are instructive in thinking about the role of regulation in light of the current environment.   Notably, it is my view that “full and fair disclosure” was not a major problem during our most recent financial crises – in my mind, the much bigger issue (as noted in my first blog) was excessive risk-taking and greed:  in short, too many people made fools of themselves….

My father recently guided me to some sections of Tony Blair’s newly released memoirs A Journey: My Political Life, which were of interest to me on the topic of financial regulation.  The Prime Minister had this to say of the markets, government and regulation:

 First, “the market” did not fail. One part of one sector did. The way sub-prime debt was securitized, spliced and diced and sold on with no real appreciation of underlying risk or value was wrong, irresponsible and immensely damaging. Some of the rewards, the huge payouts for shuffling around securities, the bonuses, are not just presentationally awful; they can’t be justified and, at worst, have helped create a propensity to “do the deal” whatever the long-term merits for short-term gain, in a way that significantly contributed to the crisis. All this is correct and should be acted on. However, such practice should not define or represent the whole of the banking sector, let alone the whole financial sector, let alone “the market.”

Second, government also failed. Regulations failed. Politicians failed. Monetary policy failed. Debt became way too cheap. But that wasn’t a conspiracy of the banks; it was a consequence of the apparently benign confluence of loose money policy and low inflation. The responsibility for the crisis should be shared, not borne by the market alone or even by the banks alone.

Third, the failure was one of understanding. We didn’t spot it. You can argue we should have, but we didn’t. Furthermore—and this is vital for where we go now on regulation—it wasn’t that we were powerless to prevent it even if we had seen it coming; it wasn’t a failure of regulation in the sense that we lacked the power to intervene. Had regulators said to the leaders that a huge crisis was about to break, we wouldn’t have said: There’s nothing we can do about it until we get more regulation through. We would have acted. But they didn’t say that.

My own beliefs flow from a similar line of thinking.  That is, our financial system has failed by not having a natural governor of its activities.  One of the interesting ironies, in my experience, is that during the creation of bubble-like conditions all of the players in the financial system act as if their interests are aligned.  Investors, speculators, bankers, and policy-makers all tend to act in a manner that is designed to “let the good times roll.”   The markets need a voice of reason in these environments – someone or something that can provide balance in recognizing the signs of a bubble, in recognizing where we are in terms of the investment cycle, in acting as a counter-balance to the “this time its different” mentality, and in ensuring prudent action during these periods.  If we do not find a way to do this then we will repeat these cycles – and in my mind they will occur with even more frequency and ferocity.

So, it will be in the next blog post where I will discuss whether the currently proposed regulatory overhaul can help mitigate against these risks.  That is, can the prevention of “too big to fail,” increased capital ratios among large banks, and the 2,315-pages of financial regulatory system legislation act as the “voice of reason” which will prevent future financial crises….and what does this all mean from an underlying policy perspective?

Brands and Bankruptcy

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Congratulations to 3L Laura Steele, the winner of this year’s Frank DeGuire Award for the best student comment in the Marquette Intellectual Property Law Review.  Laura’s terrific comment, entitled “Actual or Hypothetical: Determining the Proper Test for Trademark Licensee Rights in Bankruptcy,” is available on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

As trademark rights become an increasingly valuable asset in Chapter 11 reorganizations, it is critical for Congress and the courts to clarify how trademarks will be treated in bankruptcy, particularly where the debtor is a trademark licensee. Without clarity, Chapter 11 reorganization may not be a viable option.

This Comment urges that trademark licensees should not be stripped of a license simply because the licensee enters bankruptcy. Rather, where a licensee intends only to continue using an existing license under the terms of the existing agreement with the licensor, the licensee’s use of that license should be uninterrupted during reorganization. This recommendation, contrary to the position of trademark licensors, will not invade the province of trademark owners to control their marks.

To support this recommendation, this Comment examines the statutory frameworks of both trademark and bankruptcy law, legislative history of the Bankruptcy Code, and cases that illuminate the current circuit split over the rights of a trademark licensee in bankruptcy. Building on these elements, this Comment outlines an analytical approach that strikes a balance between the need for business reorganization and the duty of a trademark licensor to exercise control over its mark.