Loyola Law School, Los Angeles Professor Michael Guttentag’s newest law review article, “Selective Disclosure and Insider Trading: Tipper Wrongdoing in the 21st Century” discusses the first Supreme Court insider trading case in almost twenty years. In Salman v. United States, which is scheduled for oral argument on October 5th, the Supreme Court will consider when an insider’s tip to a friend or relative can trigger insider trading liability. Professor Guttentag, a securities law expert, provides background and context about what is at stake in this Supreme Court consideration of when tips can violate federal securities statutes. The article will be published in the Florida Law Review.
“I am hoping the Supreme Court will be bold enough to admit that the old rules about what counts as an illegal tip, developed in the era of the fax machine, are pretty much obsolete now,” said Guttentag, John T. Gurash Fellow in Corporate Law & Business. “In 2016, company policies and securities regulations strictly prohibit leaking confidential information. Insider trading law needs to reflect this new reality.”
The Supreme Court in deciding Salman v. United States should update a confused and increasingly obsolete aspect of insider trading doctrine: the rule that the selective disclosure of material nonpublic information can only trigger insider trading liability if “the insider personally will benefit, directly or indirectly, from his disclosure.”
When it was introduced in Dirks v. SEC in 1983 this “personal benefit” test represented an imperfect effort to balance four competing rationales for determining when providing a tip should trigger insider trading liability. Two developments since Dirks was decided have made problems with this personal benefit test insurmountable. First, the SEC’s enactment of Regulation Fair Disclosure in 2000 supplanted federal common law regulation of selective disclosures by public companies and, more pointedly, prohibited public companies from making precisely the types of selective disclosures to Wall Street analysts that the Dirks personal benefit test was designed to protect. Second, the adoption of the misappropriation theory of insider trading in United States v. O’Hagan greatly expanded the types of deceptive conduct that might lead to insider trading liability with important ramifications for how to identify tipper wrongdoing.
After Regulation FD and O’Hagan, the best approach going forward for identifying tipper wrongdoing would be to go back to the underlying statutory prohibition against deceptive conduct. Receipt of a personal benefit should be a sufficient, but not necessary, condition for finding that a selective disclosure is sufficiently deceptive to trigger insider trading liability. Based on this updated standard, the Salman conviction should be upheld.