For the first time since 1997, the United States Supreme Court explored the requirements for proving a federal securities fraud claim based on insider trading, in Salman v. United States (Dec. 6, 2016). The Salman opinion confirms that a factfinder may infer a personal benefit to a tipper from a gift of confidential information to a trading relative or friend, without the added requirement of “proof of a meaningful relationship” that had been imposed by the Second Circuit in United States v. Newman, 773 F.3d 438 (2d Cir. 2015). Salman thus resolves a circuit split that had developed between the Second and Ninth Circuits.
Historically, individuals have been found to have engaged in securities fraud under “classical” theory or “misappropriation” theory. Under classical theory, corporate “insiders” (directors, officers, and others deemed to hold a temporary fiduciary status) either trade on inside information or tip the information to someone who does. Dirks v. S.E.C., 463 U.S. 646 (1983). Under misappropriation theory, the person trading or tipping inside information need not owe fiduciary duties generally to a corporation and its stockholders, but must violate some relationship of trust and confidence through which she received the information. United States v. O’Hagan, 521 U.S. 642, 650-52 (1997). In both cases, then, the person engaging in insider trading has committed an act of deception by violating a relationship of trust and confidence. Also, in both cases, the actionable deception is to the source of information and not to the other party to the trade or the general trading public, even though the latter may be injured by the trader’s conduct. See id. The Supreme Court has not read the federal securities laws as establishing “a general duty between all participants in market transactions to forgo actions based on material, nonpublic information.” Chiarella v. United States, 445 U.S. 222, 233 (1980).
In the 2015 Newman case, the Second Circuit further limited the ability of the government to bring insider trading cases. The court acknowledged that language in the Supreme Court’s Dirks opinion could be read as permitting a factfinder to infer that a tipper received a personal benefit by providing confidential information to a trading relative or friend, but added that such an inference “is impermissible in the absence of proof of a meaningfully close personal relationship that generates an exchange that is objective, consequential, and represents at least a potential gain of a pecuniary or similarly valuable nature.” Newman, 773 F.3d at 452. The Newman opinion called into question hard-won victories by the federal government against insider trading defendants in the Southern District of New York.
The Ninth Circuit took a different direction in Salman. In that case, confidential information originally was obtained by an investment banker at Citigroup, Maher Kara, who shared it with his brother Michael. Unbeknownst to Maher, Michael then shared the information with others including the defendant, Bassam Salman, whose sister was married to Maher. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit refused to follow Newman,
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