The SEC recently rendered an opinion in an enforcement action against two persons, John P. Flannery and James D. Hopkins, associated with an investment adviser.  In so doing, it sought to limit the Supreme Court’s holding in Janus and offered an expansive view of Rule 10b-5(a) and (c).  Commissioners Gallagher and Piwowar dissented from the Commission action.

In Janus, the Supreme Court interpreted Rule 10b-5(b)’s prohibition against “mak[ing] any untrue statement of a material fact.”  After concluding that liability could extend only to those with “ultimate authority” over an alleged false statement, the Court held that an investment adviser who drafted misstatements that were later included in a separate mutual fund’s prospectus could not be held liable under Rule 10b-5(b).

According to the SEC,  Rule 10b-5(a) and (c) are different.  Those provisions do not address only fraudulent misstatements. Rule 10b-5(a) prohibits the use of “any device, scheme, or artifice to defraud,” while Rule 10b-5(c) prohibits “engag[ing] in any act, practice, or course of business which operates or would operate as a fraud or deceit.”  The SEC noted the very terms of the provisions “provide a broad linguistic frame within which a large number of practices may fit.”

Accordingly, the SEC concluded that primary liability under Rule 10b-5(a) and (c) extends to one who (with scienter, and in connection with the purchase or sale of securities) employs any manipulative or deceptive device or engages in any manipulative or deceptive act.  Per the SEC, as various courts have recognized, that standard certainly would encompass the falsification of financial records to misstate a company’s performance, as well as the orchestration of sham transactions designed to give the false appearance of business operations.

It is the SEC’s view that Rule 10b-5(a) and (c) extend even further than many courts have suggested.  In particular, the SEC concluded that primary liability under Rule 10b-5(a) and (c) also encompasses the “making” of a fraudulent misstatement to investors, as well as the drafting or devising of such a misstatement. Such conduct, in the SEC’s view, plainly constitutes employment of a deceptive “device” or “act.”

The SEC does not believe Janus requires a different result. In Janus, the Court construed only the term “make” in Rule 10b-5(b), which does not appear in subsections (a) and (c); the decision did not even mention, let alone construe, the broader text of those provisions.  And the Court never suggested that because the “maker” of a false statement is primarily liable under subsection (b), he cannot also be liable under subsections (a) and (c).

The SEC did not suggest that the outcome in Janus itself might have been different if only the plaintiffs’ claims had arisen under Rule 10b-5(a) or (c). As Janus recognizes, those plaintiffs may not have been able to show reliance on the drafters’ conduct, regardless of the subsection of Rule 10b-5 alleged to have been violated. Thus, the SEC interpretation would not expand the “narrow scope” the Supreme Court “give[s to] the implied private right of action.”

The SEC also noted that in contrast to private parties, the Commission need not show reliance as an element of its claims.  Thus, even if Janus precludes private actions against those who commit “undisclosed” deceptive acts, it does not preclude Commission enforcement actions under Rule 10b-5(a) and (c) against those same individuals.