On November 1 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) released guidance (Staff Legal Bulletin No. 14I (“SLB 14I”)) clarifying the scope and application of the ordinary business and economic relevance grounds for excluding a shareholder proposal under Rule 14a-8 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the “Exchange Act”) from a company’s proxy statement. On November 20, Apple Inc. became the first corporation to attempt to use this guidance in a request for no-action relief from the staff of the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance (the “Staff”), in response to governance activist Jing Zhou’s proposal that Apple create a board committee focused on human rights (the “Proposal”). On December 21, 2017, the Staff responded, denying Apple’s request to exclude the Proposal from its proxy materials.
Just as companies are starting to gear up for the 2018 proxy season, on November 1, 2017, the staff (the “Staff”) of the Division of Corporation Finance of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) released new guidance on shareholder proposals that seems to indicate the Staff will be taking a more company-friendly approach in its review of no-action letter requests.
Specifically, Staff Legal Bulletin No. 14I (“SLB 14I”) clarifies the scope and application of two grounds for excluding a shareholder proposal from a company’s proxy statement – the “ordinary business” exception (Rule 14a-8(i)(7)) and the “economic relevance” exception (Rule 14a-8(i)(5)) – and provides guidance on proposals submitted on behalf of shareholders (“proposals by proxy”) and the use of graphs and images in proposals. The following is a summary of the guidance.
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