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On January 15, the SEC filed a brief in a pending U.S. Supreme Court action, Liu v. SEC. The question presented to the Court asks whether the SEC, in a civil enforcement action in federal court, is authorized to seek disgorgement of money acquired through fraud. The petitioners were ordered by a California federal court to disgorge the money that they collected from investors for a cancer treatment center that was never built. The SEC charged the petitioners with funneling much of the investor money into their own personal accounts and sending the rest of the funds to marketing companies in China, in violation of the Securities Act’s prohibitions against using omissions or false statements to secure money when selling or offering securities. The district court granted the SEC’s motion for summary judgment, and ordered the petitioners to pay a civil penalty in addition to the $26.7 million the court ordered them to repay to the investors. The petitioners appealed to the Supreme Court and in November, the Court granted certiorari.
The petitioners argued that Congress has never authorized the SEC to seek disgorgement in civil suits for securities fraud. They point to the court’s 2017 decision in Kokesh v. SEC, in which the Court reversed the ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit when it unanimously held that disgorgement is a penalty and not an equitable remedy. Under 28 U.S.C. § 2462, this makes disgorgement subject to the same five year statute of limitations as are civil fines, penalties and forfeitures (see previous InfoBytes coverage here). The petitioners also suggested that the SEC has enforcement remedies other than disgorgement, such as injunctive relief and civil money penalties, so loss of disgorgement authority will not hinder the agency’s enforcement efforts.
According to the SEC’s brief, historically, courts have used disgorgement to prevent unjust enrichment as an equitable remedy for depriving a defendant of ill-gotten gains. More recently, five statutes enacted by Congress since 1988 “show that Congress was aware of, relied on, and ratified the preexisting view that disgorgement was a permissible remedy in civil actions brought by the [SEC] to enforce the federal securities laws.” The agency notes that the Court has recognized disgorgement as both an equitable remedy and a penalty, suggesting, however, that “the punitive features of disgorgement do not remove it from the scope of [the Exchange Act’s] Section 21(d)(5).” Regarding the petitioner’s reliance on Kokesh, the brief explains that “the consequence of the Court’s decision was not to preclude or even to place special restrictions on SEC claims for disgorgement, but simply to ensure that such claims—like virtually all claims for retrospective monetary relief—must be brought within a period of time defined by statute.”
In addition to the brief submitted by the SEC, several amicus briefs have been filed in support of the SEC, including a brief from several members of Congress, and a brief from the attorneys general of 23 states and the District of Columbia.
On September 6, a Texas bank and two associations (petitioners) filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the CFPB’s structure. Specifically, the petition asks the Court (i) whether the CFPB as an independent agency headed by a single director that can only be removed from office for cause violates the Constitution’s separation of powers; (ii) whether a 1935 Supreme Court case upholding removal restrictions on members of the FTC should be overturned; and (iii) weather the CFPB’s “perpetual, on-demand funding streams” are permitted under the Appropriations Clause. The petition results from a 2012 lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of several provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act, which resulted in the June decision by the D.C. Circuit to uphold summary judgment against the petitioners. That decision was based on the January 2018 D.C. Circuit en banc decision concluding the CFPB’s single-director structure is constitutional (covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert.
On August 14, a national bank filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court requesting review of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit’s March decision, which held that a California law that requires the bank to pay interest on mortgage escrow funds is not preempted by federal law. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the 9th Circuit held that the Dodd-Frank Act of 2011 essentially codified the existing National Bank Act preemption standard from the 1996 Supreme Court decision in Barnett Bank of Marion County v. Nelson. In May, a panel of three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit denied the petition for an en banc rehearing. In its petition, the bank argues that the appeals court decision warrants further review “because it creates significant uncertainty about whether national banks must comply with similar laws in other states” and whether other state banking laws also apply to national banks. The petition argues the uncertainty is exacerbated by the fact that the appellate court “disregarded and refused to enforce longstanding OCC regulations.” The bank contends that the 9th circuit interpreted the decision in Barnett incorrectly, and when a state law limits “a national bank’s federal authority to set the terms for their products and services, it is preempted by the National Bank Act.”
On June 25, the Supreme Court denied without comment an international bank’s petition for writ of certiorari to challenge the $806 million in damages awarded by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) for selling allegedly faulty mortgage-backed securities to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in September 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit affirmed the New York District Court’s ruling requiring the $806 million payment. Both lower courts concluded that the marketing prospectus used to sell the mortgage securities to Fannie and Freddie between 2005 and 2007 contained “untrue statements of material fact,” including false statements regarding the underlying loans’ compliance with underwriting standards related to the creditworthiness of borrowers and appraisal value of the properties.
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