One of the surprises of the 2018 proxy season was the use of Notices of Exempt Solicitation by shareholders that almost certainly did not meet the $5 million holding threshold that would require filing under Exchange Act Rule 14a-6(g).  Rule 14a-6(g) requires a person who owns more than $5 million of the company’s securities and engages in a solicitation without seeking to collect, or act as, a proxy to file solicitation materials with the SEC. Continue Reading SEC Staff Releases Two New C&DIs on the Use of Notices of Exempt Solicitation

Over the last few years, boards have come under mounting pressure to focus on board composition and refreshment, including length of tenure, individual and aggregate skills mix and diversity.  A few years ago, CalPERS’ revised its Global Governance Principles to call for companies to conduct rigorous evaluations of director independence after twelve years’ service, and ISS’ QualityScore metric rewards companies where the proportion of non-executive directors with fewer than six years tenure makes up more than one-third of the board, in addition to scrutinizing boards where average tenure exceeds 15 years.  Companies also face demands to justify the contributions of individual directors and to conduct rigorous evaluations to ensure that the board functions effectively and with the right mix of skills.  Correspondingly, refreshment is one of the top areas of continued governance focus from other investors and advocates.  This update is intended to provide boards with data that brings them up to date on developments in this area, since it is certain to be an area of continuing focus for various constituencies in the near future. Continue Reading Update on Board Diversity Developments

On July 10, 2018, The Conference Board and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP hosted a panel discussion on the highlights of the 2018 proxy season and the key topics, including shareholder proposals trends, including with respect to environmental and social issues; the most surprising moments in the 2018 proxy season; the effect of the Staff’s release of Staff Legal Bulletin 14I; board composition, refreshment and diversity; shareholder engagement; and significant institutional investor developments. Participants in the panel discussion included Pamela Marcogliese, Partner, Cleary Gottlieb, Elizabeth Bieber, Associate, Cleary Gottlieb, Jason Alexander, Managing Director, Okapi Partners and Bill Ultan, Managing Director, Corporate Governance, Morrow Sodali. Continue Reading Cleary Gottlieb Participates in Panel Discussion on Highlights of the 2018 Proxy Season

When the staff (the “Staff”) of the Division of Corporation Finance of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) released Staff Legal Bulletin No. 14I (“SLB 14I”) last fall, it seemed that the Staff was potentially signaling that it would be taking a more issuer-friendly approach in its review of no-action letter requests (“NALs”). In particular, the language in SLB 14I regarding the role of the board of directors suggested that the Staff may defer to the board’s determination of whether a shareholder proposal focuses on a significant policy issue, in the case of the “ordinary business” exception (Rule 14a-8(i)(7)), and whether the shareholder proposal is significantly related to the issuer’s business, in the case of the “economic relevance” exception (Rule 14a-8(i)(5)), as long as the NALs provided a sufficiently detailed discussion of the board’s analysis and the “specific processes employed by the board to ensure that its conclusions are well-informed and well-reasoned.” For example, SLB 14I stated that these types of “determinations often raise difficult judgment calls that the Division believes are in the first instance matters that the board of directors is generally in a better position to determine.” One could read that language to mean that including a well-developed board analysis could significantly influence the outcome for a NAL based on the “ordinary business” exception and/or the “economic relevance” exception. Continue Reading Making Sense of the SEC’s 2018 NALs on Shareholder Proposals for the Proxy Statement

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.[1]  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.

Continue Reading Apple’s Unsuccessful Test of the SEC’s Recent Guidance on Shareholder Proposals

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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