On March 20, 2020, news outlets reported that four U.S. Senators sold millions of dollars in stock following classified briefings to the Senate on the threat of a COVID-19 outbreak.  Three days later, the Co-Directors of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC”) Division of Enforcement, Stephanie Avakian and Steven Peikin, issued a statement reminding market participants of their obligations with respect to material non-public information (“MNPI”) and of the SEC’s commitment to protecting investors from fraud and ensuring market integrity.[1]
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Glass Lewis recently announced an update of its guidelines, which temporarily relaxes its standard policy against virtual meetings in light of COVID-19. The update provides that “[f]or companies opting to hold a virtual-only shareholder meeting during the 2020 proxy season (March 1, 2020 through June 30, 2020), [Glass Lewis] will generally refrain from recommending to vote against members of the governance committee on this basis, provided that the company discloses, at a minimum, its rationale for doing so, including citing COVID-19.”[1]  This formal update of Glass-Lewis’s guidelines comes on the heels of statements by both Glass-Lewis and ISS indicating openness to relax their positions on virtual meetings, which we discussed here.
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This is an updated version of our prior post to address a new guideline issued by Glass Lewis.

With rising concerns around the spread of COVID-19 (“coronavirus”) in the United States and globally, in order to mitigate health risks, many public companies may consider adding a virtual component to the format of their annual shareholder meetings.  In the United States, state law generally governs the availability of a virtual meeting format.  At the federal level, the SEC regulates the filing and mailing of proxy solicitation materials.  While we have not seen direct guidance from state legislatures on virtual or hybrid meetings in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, on March 13, 2020, the SEC released guidance (“SEC Coronavirus Guidance”) addressing annual shareholder meetings[1] in light of recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) and other public health officials to cancel, or explicitly state policies that prohibit, large, in-person gatherings[2] in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus.[3]  Set forth below are various considerations that a company should take into account when determining whether to move from an in-person to a virtual or hybrid[4] annual meeting
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Although the main focus of Governor Cuomo’s executive orders over the past few days has been to cease operation of all non-essential businesses in New York state, the March 20th executive order provided temporary relief in a few additional respects, including with respect to shareholder meetings of New York corporations.  This relief is an example of the kind of flexibility various state governments and courts are adopting in an effort to address the needs of companies in this challenging environment.[1]
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Amidst a market-wide sell-off of public equities in the face of coronavirus uncertainty, companies across nearly every industry have witnessed significant declines in stock prices. As the market turbulence shows no signs of abating in the near term, public companies should consider turning to shareholder rights plans (or “poison pills”) to protect against hostile attacks.

In light of the growing concern about COVID-19 (“coronavirus”) in the United States and globally, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) and other public health officials have recommended cancelling large, in-person gatherings for the next several weeks.[1] As a result, some companies may be considering, or may in the coming weeks need to consider, postponing the date of their shareholder meeting.  While moving to a virtual or hybrid meeting, as discussed in our blog post, “Coronavirus & Virtual Annual Meetings,” may be a good solution for certain companies, other companies may determine (or due to a lack of vendor capacity may be forced to determine) that the better course of action for them is to postpone or adjourn their annual meetings.
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