The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit recently released its opinion in Gallus v. Ameriprise, a case considering the scope of a mutual fund adviser’s fiduciary duties under section 36 of the Investment Company Act of 1940 (ICA). The Circuit Court found that while the Gartenberg v. Merrill Lynch case provided a “useful framework for resolving claims of excessive fees”, the size of the fee was not the only factor in considering an alleged violation of the ICA and that the adviser’s conduct during negotiation should also be considered. “[W]e read the plain language of § 36(b) to impose on advisers a duty to be honest and transparent throughout the negotiation process.”
In reversing the Minnesota District Court's decision, the Eighth Circuit found that the lower court should have compared the fees charged to institutional and mutual fund clients. “Indeed, the argument for comparing mutual fund advisory fees with the fees charged to institutional accounts is particularly strong in this case because the investment advice may have been essentially the same for both accounts.” Further, the District Court should have considered the defendants’ conduct “independent of the result of the negotiation” and specifically whether the defendants misled the plaintiffs with respect to the discrepancy in fees.
As such, the Eighth Circuit reversed the decision of the District Court granting the defendants summary judgment and remanded the case for further consideration.