Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Securities Law
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Coscia used electronic exchanges for futures trading and implemented high-frequency trading programs. High-frequency trading, called “spoofing,” and defined as bidding or offering with the intent to cancel the bid or offer before execution, became illegal in 2010 under the Dodd-Frank Act, 7 U.S.C. 6c(a)(5). Coscia was convicted of commodities fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1348, and spoofing, After an unsuccessful appeal, Coscia sought a new trial, citing new evidence that data discovered after trial establishes that there were errors in the data presented to the jury and that subsequent indictments for similar spoofing activities undercut the government’s characterization of Coscia as a trading “outlier.” He also claimed that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance, having an undisclosed conflict of interest. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Even assuming that Coscia’s new evidence could not have been discovered sooner through the exercise of due diligence, Coscia failed to explain how that evidence or the subsequent indictments seriously called the verdict into question. Coscia has not established that his attorneys learned of relevant and confidential information from its cited unrelated representations. Coscia’s counsel faced “the common situation” where the client stands a better chance of success by admitting the underlying actions and arguing that the actions do not constitute a crime. That the jury did not accept his defense does not render it constitutionally deficient. View "Coscia v. United States" on Justia Law

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In response to the Congo war, Congress created Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, 15 U.S.C. 78m(p), which requires the SEC to issue regulations requiring firms using "conflict minerals" to investigate and disclose the origin of those minerals. The Association challenged the SEC's final rule implementing the Act, raising claims under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 500 et seq.; the Securities Exchange Act, 15 U.S.C. 78a et seq.; and the First Amendment. The district court rejected all of the Association's claims and granted summary judgment for the Commission and intervenor Amnesty International. The court concluded that the Commission did not act arbitrarily and capriciously by choosing not to include a de minimus exception for use of conflict materials; the Commission could use its delegated authority to fill in gaps where the statute was silent with respect to both a threshold for conducting due diligence and the obligations of uncertain issuers; the court rejected the Association's argument that the Commission's due diligence threshold was arbitrary and capricious; the Commission did not act arbitrarily and capriciously and its interpretation of sections 78m(p)(2) and 78m(p)(1)(A)(i) was reasonable because it reconciled these provisions in an expansive fashion, applying the final rule not only to issuers that manufacture their own products, but also to those that only contract to manufacture; and the court rejected the Association's challenge to the final rule's temporary phase-in period, which allowed issuers to describe certain products as "DRC conflict undeterminable." The court also concluded that it did not see any problems with the Commission's cost-side analysis. The Commission determined that Congress intended the rule to achieve "compelling social benefits," but it was "unable to readily quantify" those benefits because it lacked data about the rule's effects. The court determined that this benefit-side analysis was reasonable. The court held that section 15 U.S.C. § 78m(p)(1)(A)(ii) & (E), and the Commission’s final rule violated the First Amendment to the extent the statute and rule required regulated entities to report to the Commission and to state on their website that any of their products have “not been found to be 'DRC conflict free.'" The label "conflict free" is a metaphor that conveys moral responsibility for the Congo war. By compelling an issuer to confess blood on its hands, the statute interferes with the exercise of the freedom of speech under the First Amendment. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Nat'l Assoc. of Manufacturers, et al. v. SEC, et al." on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of theft by misapplication of property and securities fraud. Defendant appealed, contending that the court's jury instructions impermissibly shifted the burden of proof onto him to prove his innocence. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the burden of proof was not improperly shifted onto Defendant to prove his innocence where (1) there was no obvious error in the instructions the trial court gave because, as a whole, the instructions correctly stated the law; and (2) the court correctly stated the State's burden of proof and Defendant's presumption of innocence several times during the jury selection, at the beginning of the trial, in its final instructions, and in its written instructions sent to the jury room. View "State v. Philbrook" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against Defendant, the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, alleging that, in retaliation for Plaintiff's anti-regulatory stance, Defendant used his oversight powers to retaliate unlawfully against Plaintiff. The federal district court dismissed the complaint on immunity grounds. At issue before the First Circuit Court of Appeals was the scope and extent of the immunities offered to state officials, such as Defendant, whose duties encompass both prosecutorial and adjudicatory functions. The First Circuit affirmed the district court, holding that, notwithstanding Defendant's dual roles, Defendant was, with one exception, entitled to absolute immunity from Plaintiff's suit. View "Goldstein v. Galvin" on Justia Law

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In 2011, BEST fired Aslin, a securities broker, to remain compliant with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority “Taping Rule,” which requires securities firms to adopt monitoring measures when too many of their brokers have recently worked for “Disciplined Firms.” Instead of adopting such measures, the employer may terminate brokers. FINRA, a private corporation, is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission as a “national securities association.” The Maloney Act provides for establishment of private self-regulatory organizations to oversee securities markets, 15 U.S.C. 78o. The SEC must approve FINRA’s rules and may abrogate, add to, and delete FINRA rules. Aslin filed suit alleging that FINRA violated his due process rights by including him on the list of brokers from Disciplined Firms without providing him the opportunity to challenge the designation. The district court dismissed, concluding that Aslin failed to state a claim because he was not deprived of a protected property or liberty interest. The Seventh Circuit affirmed Since Aslin sought only injunctive and declaratory relief to prevent application of the rule to him, the controversy ended in 2012, after which Aslin was no longer included on the list of brokers from Disciplined Firms and the case was moot. View "Aslin v. Fin. Indus. Regulatory Auth., Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendant sold investors secured debt obligations (SDOs) based on the loans his company made to used-car purchasers. Defendant misrepresented his credentials and insurance coverage on the investments and marketed his investment offerings as though they were as safe as FDIC-backed certificates of deposit. After a jury trial in which Defendant represented himself, Defendant was convicted of securities fraud. The district court sentenced him to twenty-five years in prison, three years' supervised release, and almost $7.3 million in restitution. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence, holding (1) the district court did not plainly err in admitting a civil order at trial; (2) the jury did not convict Defendant on an invalid alternative theory; (3) the district court properly managed Defendant's pro se representation; (4) the evidence was sufficient to support the convictions; and (5) the district court did not err in imposing the sentence.

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In 2005, "The Record," a newspaper owned by Defendant North Jersey Media Group, published an article about an SEC complaint. The headline of the article read: "3 N.J. men accused in $9M stock scam." Neither the SEC complaint nor the article suggested that Plaintiffs Ronald Durando and Gustave Dotoli were arrested. The North Jersey Media Group also owns Defendant "The Nutley Sun," which received permission to reprint the Record article about Plaintiffs. In 2008, the Sun prepared the article for publication in its December 8 edition (a promotional issue circulated to 2500 non-subscribers in addition to the weekly's regular subscribers), but wrote a new headline for the article: "Local men charged in stock scheme." The day after publication, Plaintiffs' attorney sent an email to The Sun pointing out that his clients had not been "arrested," and demanded a retraction. The North Jersey Media Group gave approval for the filing of a retraction, and indeed one was published in boldface and large print on the front page of The Nutley Sun's December 22 edition. This edition was not circulated to the 2500 non-subscribers who received the December 8 edition with the erroneous teaser. Subsequently, Plaintiffs filed suit, alleging libel against the Sun and North Jersey Media Group. The trial court ultimately granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants on all claims and dismissed the complaint. The court determined that there was not "sufficient evidence from which a jury could clearly and convincingly conclude that any . . . of the defendants acted with actual malice." In an unpublished opinion, the Appellate Division affirmed, finding no 'clear and convincing' evidence of actual malice to warrant a jury trial on defamation or false light. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed: "[a]lthough this case unquestionably involves sloppy journalism, the careless acts of a harried editor, the summary-judgment record before the Court cannot support a finding by clear and convincing evidence that the editor knowingly or in reckless disregard of the truth published the false front-page teaser."