Justia Corporate Compliance Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. Supreme Court
Americold Realty Trust v. ConAgra Foods, Inc.
Corporate citizens of Delaware, Nebraska, and Illinois, sued Americold, a “real estate investment trust” organized under Maryland law, in a Kansas court. Americold removed the suit based on diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. 1332(a)(1), 1441(b). The federal court accepted jurisdiction and ruled in Americold’s favor. The Tenth Circuit held that the district court lacked jurisdiction. The Supreme Court affirmed. For purposes of diversity jurisdiction, Americold’s citizenship is based on the citizenship of its members, which include its shareholders. Historically, the relevant citizens for jurisdictional purposes in a suit involving a “mere legal entity” were that entity’s “members,” or the “real persons who come into court” in the entity’s name. Except for that limited exception of jurisdictional citizenship for corporations, diversity jurisdiction in a suit by or against the entity depends on the citizenship of all its members, including shareholders. The Court rejected an argument that anything called a “trust” possesses the citizenship of its trustees alone; Americold confused the traditional trust with the variety of unincorporated entities that many states have given the “trust” label. Under Maryland law, the real estate investment trust at issue is treated as a “separate legal entity” that can sue or be sued. View "Americold Realty Trust v. ConAgra Foods, Inc." on Justia Law
Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regulations implementing the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) require that employers’ group health plans furnish preventive care and screenings for women without cost sharing requirements, 42 U.S.C. 300gg–13(a)(4). Nonexempt employers must provide coverage for 20 FDA-approved contraceptive methods, including four that may have the effect of preventing a fertilized egg from developing. Religious employers, such as churches, are exempt from the contraceptive mandate. HHS has effectively exempted religious nonprofit organizations; an insurer must exclude contraceptive coverage from such an employer’s plan and provide participants with separate payments for contraceptive services. Closely held for-profit corporations sought an injunction under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which prohibits the government from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion even by a rule of general applicability unless it demonstrates that imposing the burden is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest, 42 U.S.C. 2000bb–1(a), (b). As amended by the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), RFRA covers “any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief.” The Third Circuit held that a for-profit corporation could not “engage in religious exercise” under RFRA and that the mandate imposed no requirements on corporate owners in their personal capacity. The Tenth Circuit held that the businesses are “persons” under RFRA; that the contraceptive mandate substantially burdened their religious exercise; and that HHS had not demonstrated that the mandate was the “least restrictive means” of furthering a compelling governmental interest.The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the businesses, holding that RFRA applies to regulations that govern the activities of closely held for-profit corporations. The Court declined to “leave merchants with a difficult choice” of giving up the right to seek judicial protection of their religious liberty or forgoing the benefits of operating as corporations. Nothing in RFRA suggests intent to depart from the Dictionary Act definition of “person,” which includes corporations, 1 U.S.C.1; no definition of “person” includes natural persons and nonprofit corporations, but excludes for-profit corporations. “Any suggestion that for-profit corporations are incapable of exercising religion because their purpose is simply to make money flies in the face of modern corporate law.” The Court rejected arguments based on the difficulty of ascertaining the “beliefs” of large, publicly traded corporations and that the mandate itself requires only insurance coverage. If the plaintiff companies refuse to provide contraceptive coverage, they face severe economic consequences; the government failed to show that the contraceptive mandate is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling interest in guaranteeing cost-free access to the four challenged contraceptive methods. The government could assume the cost of providing the four contraceptives or could extend the accommodation already established for religious nonprofit organizations. The Court noted that its decision concerns only the contraceptive mandate, not all insurance-coverage mandates, e.g., for vaccinations or blood transfusions. View "Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc." on Justia Law
Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer
Fifth Third maintains a defined-contribution retirement savings plan for its employees. Participants may direct their contributions into any of several investment options, including an “employee stock ownership plan” (ESOP), which invests primarily in Fifth Third stock. Former participants sued, alleging breach of the fiduciary duty of prudence imposed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1104(a)(1)(B) in that the defendants should have known—on the basis of both public information and inside information available to Fifth Third officers—that the stock was overpriced and risky. The price of Fifth Third stock fell, reducing plaintiffs’ retirement savings. The district court dismissed; the Sixth Circuit reversed. A unanimous Supreme Court vacated. ESOP fiduciaries are not entitled to any special presumption of prudence, but are subject to the same duty that applies to ERISA fiduciaries in general, except that they need not diversify the fund’s assets. There is no requirement that plaintiffs allege that the employer was, for example, on the “brink of collapse.” Where a stock is publicly traded, allegations that a fiduciary should have recognized, on the basis of publicly available information, that the market was over- or under-valuing the stock are generally implausible and insufficient to state a claim. To state a claim, a complaint must plausibly allege an alternative action that could have been taken, that would have been legal, and that a prudent fiduciary in the same circumstances would not have viewed as more likely to harm the fund than to help it. ERISA’s duty of prudence never requires a fiduciary to break the law, so a fiduciary cannot be imprudent for failing to buy or sell in violation of insider trading laws. An allegation that fiduciaries failed to decide, based on negative inside information, to refrain from making additional stock purchases or failed to publicly disclose that information so that the stock would no longer be overvalued, requires courts to consider possible conflicts with complex insider trading and corporate disclosure laws. Courts confronted with such claims must also consider whether the complaint has plausibly alleged that a prudent fiduciary in the same position could not have concluded that stopping purchases or publicly disclosing negative information would do more harm than good to the fund. View "Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer" on Justia Law
Lawson v. FMR LLC
To safeguard investors and restore trust in financial markets after the Enron collapse, Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which provides that no public company nor any contractor or subcontractor of such a company, may discharge, demote, suspend, threaten, harass, or discriminate against an employee in the terms and conditions of employment because of whistleblowing activity, 18 U. S. C. 1514A(a). Plaintiffs are former employees of FMR, private companies that contract to advise or manage mutual funds. As is common in the industry, those mutual funds are public companies with no employees. Plaintiffs allege that they blew the whistle on putative fraud relating to the mutual funds and suffered retaliation by FMR. FMR argued that the Act protects only employees of public companies, and not employees of private companies that contract with public companies. The district court denied FMR’s motion to dismiss. The First Circuit reversed, concluding that the term “an employee” refers only to employees of public companies. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, concluding that section 1514A’s whistleblower protection includes employees of a public company’s private contractors and subcontractors. FMR’s interpretation would shrink the protection against retaliation by contractors to insignificance. The Court stated that its reading fits the goal of warding off another Enron debacle; fear of retaliation was the primary deterrent to reporting by the employees of Enron’s contractors. FMR’s reading would insulate the entire mutual fund industry from section 1514A. Virtually all mutual funds are structured to have no employees of their own and are managed, instead, by independent investment advisors. View "Lawson v. FMR LLC" on Justia Law