The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision this week in Salman v. United States, No. 15-268, 580 U.S. __ (Dec. 6, 2016), clarified what constitutes a “personal benefit” for purposes of insider trading liability. In its first merits ruling in an insider trading case in two decades, the Court affirmed the Ninth Circuit’s holding that the personal benefit requirement may be met when an inside tipper simply gifts confidential information to a trading relative or friend. In so holding, the Supreme Court significantly narrowed a key aspect of the Second Circuit’s landmark insider trading decision in United States v. Newman, which had required prosecutors to prove that the tipper received something “of a pecuniary or similarly valuable nature”—a more difficult standard to meet.
Before Newman was decided, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York had prioritized insider trading prosecutions, obtaining dozens of convictions and over a billion dollars in fines since 2009. After Newman, however, prosecutors were forced to dismiss several indictments, and some commentators wondered what the future held for insider trading prosecutions. The Supreme Court’s recent decision should reduce that uncertainty and may bring a renewed focus on insider trading investigations.