Archive for the ‘Jurisdiction’ Category

Potpourri

Monday, July 21st, 2014

Inversions

Readers of business news know that a term du jour these days is “inversion.”  In other words and at the risk of oversimplification , the process by which, largely for tax reasons,  a U.S. company acquires a foreign company, obtains that foreign company’s “legal address,” yet maintains – in many cases –  its operational base in the U.S.

I’ve been asked a few times recently what impact, if any, “inverting” will have on a company’s FCPA exposure.  My answer has been very little, if any, impact.

Most of the companies that are “inverting” remain issuers under the FCPA.  Moreover, even if an “inverted” company is not an issuer, because most of these companies are keeping an operational base in the U.S. – even if a legal address elsewhere – it is likely that the DOJ would consider such companies to be “domestic concerns” under the FCPA.

The FCPA defines “domestic concern,” in pertinent part, as follows.

“any corporation, partnership, association, joint-stock company, business trust, unincorporated organization, or sole proprietorship which has its principal place of business in the United States, or which is organized under the laws of a State of the United States or a territory, possession, or commonwealth of the United States.”

In other words, place of incorporation and “legal address” is one way for an entity to be a domestic concern under the FCPA, but so too is having a principal place of business in the U.S.

For instance, in the Weatherford action, the DOJ stated:

“Prior to March 2009, Weatherford was incorporated in Bermuda and headquartered in Houston, Texas … As of March 2009, Weatherford was incorporated and headquartered in Switzerland, although it maintained a significant presence in Houston, Texas.”

In short, while inversions may have tax implications, it is difficult to see any meaningful implication under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

It Can Be Done

You know the narrative.

In 2002, an accounting partnership (Arthur Anderson) was convicted of obstruction of justice for shredding documents related to its audit of Enron.  Even though the Supreme Court ultimately tossed the conviction, Arthur Anderson essentially went out of business.  Because of this, in the minds of some, the DOJ can’t criminally charge business organizations with crimes and business organizations can’t mount legal and factual defenses to criminal charges.  Thus, the DOJ has crafted, and the business community has accepted,  alternative resolution vehicles such as non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements to avoid the perceived collateral consequences of a criminal indictment or conviction.

Never mind that the narrative is based on a false premise.  (See here for the guest post and article by Gabriel Markoff titled “Arthur Anderson and the Myth of the Corporate Death Penalty).

Nevertheless, the narrative persists and is accepted by some as gospel truth.

I have been publicly wondering since 2010 (see here) what the “shelf life” of the Arthur Anderson effect would be and how long the Arthur Anderson myth would be believed.

If there are still believers, witness yet another instance (PG&E from earlier this year was an example as well – see here) that companies (even publicly-traded companies) can mount legal and factual defenses to what the company views as aggressive and overzealous DOJ enforcement theories.

As widely reported, last week FedEx Corporation, FedEx Express, Inc., and FedEx Corporate Services, Inc.,  were criminally indicted “with conspiracies to traffic in controlled substances and misbranded prescription drugs for its role in distributing controlled substances and prescription drugs for illegal Internet pharmacies.”  (See here for the DOJ release).

In response, FedEx issued this statement which stated, in pertinent part, as follows.

“FedEx is innocent of the charges brought today by the Department of Justice. We will plead not guilty. We will defend against this attack on the integrity and good name of FedEx and its employees.”

FedEx stock is still trading, (in fact it is up since the criminal charges were announced), it is still employing people, and it is still operating its business.  In fact, a FedEx truck just went down my residential street a few hours prior to writing this post.

While the FedEx example is outside the FCPA context, the message to corporate boards, audit committees, and other corporate leaders should be clear.

Yes, there are “carrots” and “sticks” which motivate risk-adverse business organizations to do things regardless of the law or facts in any particular matter.  However, fighting back against what the company perceives to be aggressive and overzealous DOJ theories is an acceptable and viable option in many cases despite speculative doomsday scenarios to the contrary.

If more companies would do what FedEx is doing in the FCPA context. and thereby expose certain DOJ and SEC theories of enforcement, I am confident of one thing.  This “new era” of FCPA enforcement would look different than it does today.  In this regard, and as highlighted in my recent article, the business community is, at least in part, responsible for the current aggressive FCPA enforcement climate. Indeed, as Homer Moyer, a dean of the FCPA bar, recently observed:

“One reality is the enforcement agencies’ [FCPA] views on issues and enforcement policies, positions on which they are rarely challenged in court. The other is what knowledgeable counsel believe the government could sustain in court, should their interpretations or positions be challenged. The two may not be the same. The operative rules of the game are the agencies’ views unless a company is prepared to go to court or to mount a serious challenge within the agencies.”

Kudos to FedEx, its board, counsel and corporate leaders for having the courage of conviction and not rolling over and playing dead in the face of DOJ scrutiny.  (Note, last year UPS resolved its alleged scrutiny for the same core conduct by agreeing to a non-prosecution agreement in which it paid $40 million).

In-House Counsel Opportunity at Avon

Avon Cosméticos, a subsidiary of Avon Products, Inc., based near Buenos Aires, Argentina, is looking for an attorney to join the Ethics & Compliance team.  The Compliance Counsel has day-to-day operational responsibility for managing the compliance program in the South Markets Group (Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay).  The program seeks to minimize risk exposure of corporate and regulatory law through company guidance and controls.  A primary activity of the Compliance Counsel is to provide operational advice and interpretation of company policies and procedures, including but not limited to the company’s anti-corruption policy.  As part of the program, the Compliance Counsel supports corporate, regional and local governance, monitoring, auditing, training and communication initiatives.  A primary goal for the Compliance Counsel is to enhance the culture of awareness and adherence to company policies.  Prospective candidates should apply via the Avon website:  https://avon.zonajobs.com.ar/listadoAvisosBj/.

Comparing DOJ FCPA Enforcement To SEC FCPA Enforcement Is Not A Valid Comparison

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

This recent Wall Street Journal Risk & Compliance Journal headline stated “SEC Stays on the FCPA Sidelines” and states in relevant part:

“The Securities and Exchange Commission has largely stayed on the sidelines of anti-bribery enforcement so far this year … The agency has brought just two enforcement actions tied to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in the first six months of the year, compared to 13 brought by the Justice Department.”

For starters, there have not been 13 FCPA enforcement brought by the DOJ this year and, once again, it is only through creative counting methods that some industry participants are able to reach numbers.  As noted in this recent post, thus far this year the DOJ has brought 3 corporate enforcement actions (HP related entities, Alcoa and Marubeni) and 3 core individual enforcement actions (5 individuals in connection with Indian mining licenses, 3 individuals associated with PetroTiger and 2 individuals added to the 2013 case involving individuals associated with broker-dealer Direct Access Partners).  As highlighted several times on these pages, the most reliable way to keep FCPA statistics is using the “core” approach (i.e. the Indian mining licenses case is one “core” action, etc.), an approach endorsed by the DOJ and an approach that is a commonly accepted method used in other areas.

Regardless of counting method, comparing DOJ FCPA enforcement to SEC FCPA enforcement is not a valid comparison because – sticking with the “sidelines” reference – the DOJ and SEC “play” on different fields.

As demonstrated visually below, the SEC has FCPA jurisdiction over only issuers and associated person (78dd-1 – a relatively narrow slice of the range of “persons” subject to the FCPA).

The DOJ, by contrast, has FCPA jurisdiction over issuers and associated persons (78dd-1), as well as domestic concerns (78dd-2 – all U.S. companies regardless of form of business organization and U.S. persons) and persons other than issuers or domestic concerns (78dd-3 – literally any company in the world or any person in the world to the extent certain jurisdictional requirements are met).

Jurisdiction

In 2014, when the DOJ and SEC are playing on the same field – that is issuer FCPA enforcement actions – there is perfect 2 for 2 overlap as the SEC also brought enforcement actions against HP and Alcoa.  (Marubeni is not an issuer).  Even if it wanted to, the SEC could not bring FCPA charges against individuals in the Indian mining license enforcement action, individuals associated with PetroTiger or individuals associated with Direct Access Partners (although the SEC did bring non-FCPA charges against certain of the Direct Access Partners individuals because the entity was a broker-dealer).

In short, it is not that the SEC is staying on the “sidelines,” rather it is not allowed under the FCPA to step onto the same “playing field” as the DOJ.

In case you are wondering, in 2013 the DOJ brought 6 issuer FCPA enforcement actions (ADM, Weatherford, Diebold, Total, Ralph Lauren and Parker Drilling) and in all 6 of those DOJ issuer actions there were also related SEC enforcement actions against those same issuers.  In 2013, the SEC brought an additional 2 issuer enforcement actions (Stryker and Philips) that the DOJ theoretically could have joined, but here, it is not surprising that the SEC, a civil law enforcement agency, brought more issuer cases than the DOJ, a criminal law enforcement agency.  To complete the analysis from 2013, there was 1 DOJ enforcement action (Bilfinger) involving a non-issuer and thus the SEC was not allowed on that “playing field”).

Checking In With Richard Alderman

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

Richard Alderman is the former Director of the United Kingdom Serious Fraud Office (“SFO”).  Since leaving the SFO in April 2012, Alderman has remained active in anti-corruption projects.

In this Q&A, Alderman discusses certain of these projects and offers insight on the following issues:  the current international enforcement climate including multi-jurisdictional issues; voluntary disclosure; DPAs; and a compliance defense.

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In April 2012, you left the SFO.  What have you been doing since?

I have been working with some international institutions and NGOs dealing with anti-corruption on the front line. This is what I wanted to do because I had met a number of individuals who inspired me. Recent examples are the Convention on Business Integrity in Nigeria and an initiative by the Egyptian Junior Business Association aimed at the vibrant SME sector in Egypt. I have also had the privilege of meeting individuals involved in the radical transformation of the procurement practices of Moscow City Council.

How do you see the current international corruption enforcement scene?

We have moved on from where we were a few years ago when there were only a few states that took action in these cases. Examples of issues now are-

  • How do we deal with the interests of the different states that want to enforce the law?
  • What will be the impact of more enforcement by demand states (including demand states that are also supply states)?
  • When will law enforcement agencies uncover and prosecute corrupt companies that have no intention of complying with global rules?
  • How do we get the proceeds of settlements back to the demand states?
  • Can a system of incentives be devised to reward companies with top quality anti-corruption systems?

In current enforcement era, multiple sovereigns may have jurisdiction over the same alleged conduct.  What issues do you see regarding multi-jurisdictional enforcement?

This is becoming a key issue. I prepared a detailed report for the UNCAC conference in Panama in November 2013 that covered these and other issues.

Companies are undoubtedly at risk here. If we look at violations first, different states can prosecute for the same violation. The company’s only protection is the principle of double jeopardy but this is interpreted in different ways in different states. For example it is not an issue for the US because the US does not recognise foreign convictions and acquittals for this purpose.

This will become a particular issue when one of the enforcing states is the demand state. Why should such a state be prevented from taking action in its own courts because of a resolution elsewhere? We can expect national sovereignty issues.

Companies can also seek to exclude a state with a wide concept of double jeopardy by reaching a settlement with another state and then pleading double jeopardy in the first state. I have seen this.

The issue also arises with asset forfeiture. I do not understand how multiple states can confiscate the same asset or profit. Once the money has been paid to law enforcement somewhere then any further disgorgement is actually a criminal fine.

What about global settlements?

I am very much in favour of these. I know from my own experience that they are very difficult to bring about. The international mechanisms in Article 47 of UNCAC and Article 4(3) of the OECD Convention should be used to discuss how the different enforcing states should work together and how a global settlement should be structured. Neither mechanism has yet been used for this purpose but they are available. Enforcing states will be nervous but these mechanisms will be vital as more and more states start to enforce the law.

Do the recent Libor settlements have any implications for global settlements in corruption cases?

These settlements have been very remarkable. A UK prosecutor cannot however enter into such an agreement if there are criminal pleas in the UK. This is because the senior judge in the Innospec case said that it was wrong for the SFO to discuss the penalty to be paid by the company even if the penalty was subject to the overall approval of the court.

One consequence of the new UK DPA system is that the UK enforcing authority can enter into these discussions if what is being discussed is a DPA rather than a traditional prosecution. It will be up to the judge to decide if this is the right way forward.

The result is that UK prosecuting authorities will not be able to participate in global settlements in the future unless there is a DPA approved by the court. I see this as an issue that will be increasingly important in the UK.

Do you still favour corporate self-reporting of conduct that could implicate bribery and corruption laws?

Yes. I remain a keen supporter of self-reporting. This has however become more difficult for companies. There are two main reasons. These are-

  • No enforcing state has set out its policy on when it will refer the self-report to another state.  A company considering a self-report therefore has to think about the other states that may see the report (and whether employees are at risk). We need a proper understanding of what enforcing states should do. This needs to be publicly available and agreed by the UN and the OECD.
  • Even if the report is not passed to another state, that other state is likely to see media reports of the resolution and the admissions made by the company and decide to start its own action. There is an increasing risk of these follow up cases.

Should companies carry out their own investigations when alerted to alleged instances of improper conduct?

My experience is that major global companies take these allegations very seriously and want to see what happened. There is an issue about whether the company should self-report immediately or whether it should carry out some preliminary work to satisfy itself that there is something in the allegation. The expectations of enforcing authorities can vary here. My view has always been that the company should be satisfied first that there is something that requires detailed investigation.

I am in favour of companies carrying out their own investigations with agreement from the enforcing state about scope, milestones and regular updates. I know that some enforcing states will also want to carry out their own independent investigation. I understand the reasons for this but it means that the authority is spending its scarce resource on a case where the company is willing to cooperate and not on the more difficult cases where the company has no intention of self-reporting and cooperating. As I see it there is too little action by enforcing authorities in finding such companies and dealing with them.

Recently the U.K. adopted DPAs.  How do you feel about DPAs and what are the issues as you see them?  What issues do you see regarding DPAs?

I have always been in favour of DPAs as one tool available to prosecutors. My experience was that the UK was in a poor position in global cases with international resolutions with the traditional criminal justice tools. I saw two main advantages of DPAs. These are-

  • They can form part of a system of incentives to encourage companies to self-report and cooperate and to improve compliance.
  • They enable prosecutors to discuss global resolutions without contravening the Innospec case.

I know that the FCPA Professor has expressed considerable public opposition to DPAs. I agree that they need to be transparent and that the judges have to be fully involved. I also agree that we still need to see the traditional full prosecution with debarment in suitable cases. This could be where the company is systemically corrupt and has no intention of abandoning corruption. I want to see more of these cases being pursued by enforcing states.

The full prosecution should be part of the toolkit of the prosecutor. There should be other tools for other types of case. It is notable that the only states that have made a sustained attack on corporate corruption over the years have either not used traditional prosecution or have used it sparingly and have also used alternatives. This is significant although it seems to me to be insufficiently appreciated.

Should corporate compliance be a defence to a bribery or corruption offense or merely mitigate the potential fine and penalty amount?

I remain in favour of the compliance defence. The Bribery Act offence is an excellent model in this area. I have seen how much impact this had on companies and the scale of the improvement made in their anti-corruption work. There are a number of other states that have compliance as a defence.

There is however an issue that is going to be increasingly relevant in those states that have compliance as a defence. The public wants to see the offence produce results in terms of criminal convictions. So far there do not appear to be any in the states with a compliance defence. There will be a question about whether compliance as a defence is right or whether the US approach with compliance as mitigation is to be preferred because of the results achieved. We can expect a lot more on this. It may be one of the issues to be considered in the recently announced UK review of the effectiveness of the enforcing institutions.

You have talked publicly about sanctions and incentives for companies as it relates to bribery and corruption offenses.  Can you elaborate on this issue?

Alternatives to traditional prosecution together with self-reporting and cooperation are important incentives in the area of violations. There is though a wider issue that is not sufficiently recognised and discussed. This is whether there should be more general incentives to companies that have brought about an excellent standard of anti-corruption compliance.

There was a Recommendation by the OECD in 2009 encouraging states to look at public procurement, licenses, aid funding and export credits as a way of recognising companies with the highest standards of anti-corruption. There has been little progress on this although a few states have introduced some initiatives.

I am very much in favour of this. For example the citizens of a state will benefit if a company that meets very high standards is successful in a public procurement exercise and companies with a poor anti-corruption approach are not. If those companies with a poor record decide that they have to reform then that is a benefit to everyone.

I see this as one of the key issues in anti-corruption that will become increasingly prominent in the coming years. It has great potential to make a difference.

Is The DOJ Picking on Non-U.S. Companies and Individuals?

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

Today’s post is from David Simon (Foley & Lardner).

*****

The debate over whether the United States should impose its values on the rest of the world through enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) is over.

Almost everyone now rejects the cultural relativist argument—that there are different business cultures in different parts of the world, and that the United States should respect those differences and refrain from imposing our standards of doing business on U.S. companies operating abroad.  Rather, the rise of anti-corruption legislation, the proliferation of OECD standards, and increased enforcement—not only by the United States, but by many countries enforcing their own anticorruption laws—all show an emerging consensus that corruption of this nature is objectively bad.  The United States should be commended for leading the way on this.

Yet the recent enforcement activity of the Department of Justice[i] (“DOJ”) raises questions as to whether it is enforcing the FCPA in a manner consistent with the statute’s purpose (and the overarching purpose of domestic criminal law).  According to Deputy Assistant Attorney General James Cole, whose remarks are available here, that purpose is U.S.-centric:

“In enacting the FCPA … Congress recognized that foreign bribery had tarnished the image of U.S. businesses, impaired public confidence in the financial integrity of U.S. companies, and had hampered the functioning of markets, resulting in market inefficiencies, market instability, sub-standard products and services, and an unfair playing field.”

True enough, but it is hard to dispute that the focus of FCPA enforcement has to some extent shifted away from U.S. businesses and citizens.  As noted on FCPA Professor, eight of the top ten corporate FCPA settlements have involved non-U.S. businesses.

Likewise, the number of individual FCPA prosecutions against non-U.S. citizens has been increasing.  In recent years, individual criminal prosecutions have been brought against citizens of the Ukraine, Hungary, Slovakia, Switzerland, Venezuela, and Sri Lanka—and some involve very tenuous connections to the United States.

For example, as previously highlighted on this blog, in December 2011 the DOJ charged, among others, former Siemens executive and German national Stephan Signer under the FCPA based on conduct concerning the Argentine prong of the 2008 Siemens enforcement action.  The jurisdictional allegation against Signer was that he caused Siemens to transfer two wires to bank accounts in the United States in furtherance of a scheme to bribe Argentine government officials.[ii]

I do not argue that the FCPA does not permit the DOJ to charge non-U.S. citizens or companies.  Indeed, the 1998 amendments make it clear that Congress intended to give the DOJ that power, providing it with jurisdiction over several categories of non-U.S. entities and individuals.  It should be noted, however, that the DOJ has adopted a markedly broad interpretation of the FCPA’s territorial jurisdiction provisions, resulting in increasingly attenuated connections between the United States and individual defendants like Mr. Signer.  These connections may include merely “placing a telephone call or sending an e-mail, text message, or fax from, to, or through the United States.”[iii]  The legal significance of these increasingly tenuous jurisdictional justifications, previously referred to on FCPA Professor as “de facto extraterritorial jurisdiction,” remains a contentious, and related, issue.

The question I raise here is not whether the DOJ’s policy of enforcement is legal, but whether such a focus (or, at least, the perception of such a focus) on non-U.S. persons and companies is prudent and appropriate.  In describing the principles underlying the jurisdiction to prescribe, the American Law Institute (“ALI”) notes that the United States has “generally refrained from exercising jurisdiction where it would be unreasonable to do so.”[iv]  But “[a]ttempts by some states—notably the United States, to apply their law on the basis of very broad conceptions of territoriality or nationality [has bred] resentment and brought forth conflicting assertions of the rules of international law.”[v]  Indeed.

The concerns I have about this are not confined to FCPA enforcement.  The same trend is apparent in other areas of the law, such as economic sanctions and export controls.  The pattern of enforcement being concentrated against non-U.S. companies is shown just as sharply under those laws, with the recent economic sanctions against such firms as ING Bank ($619 million against Netherlands financial institution), Royal Bank of Scotland ($100 million against UK financial institution), and Credit Suisse ($536 million against Swiss financial institution).  With the U.S. Government reportedly considering the first $10 billion penalty for violations of U.S. economic sanctions laws against BNP Paribas (a French financial institution), French President Francois Hollande reportedly has personally lobbied against what is perceived as an unfair singling out of an EU financial institution for payment of such a large fine.  To the French Government, at least, the inequity of the U.S. Government assessing a fine that surpasses the entire yearly profits of one of the largest French financial institutions is plain.

The pattern of enforcement described above, should it be allowed to continue, sends a message to the rest of the world that the DOJ is mostly interested in big dollar settlements and soft foreign targets.  Is this the message we wish to send to our foreign allies in the fight against corruption?

Although the DOJ’s application of the FCPA (and other laws governing international business conduct)  to prosecute increasing numbers of foreign persons may be legal, and technically “reasonable” at international law, that does not necessarily make it appropriate or advisable.  Rather, these attempts to apply a broad conception of territoriality in pursuit of greater numbers of prosecutions and larger settlements may be more damaging than DOJ perceives.  This has the potential to undermine the U.S. position that anti-corruption is a global issue, and counteracts the progress the U.S. has made in altering its image from that of an overreaching imperialist power to a competent and moderate leader in the creation and enforcement of global anti-corruption norms.

*****

This article in today’s New York Times DealBook discusses many of the same issues highlighted in the above post.


[i] I focus here principally on the DOJ, not the SEC.  The DOJ, of course, is a law enforcement agency charged with enforcing criminal laws.  The SEC is a regulatory agency, and the companies and individuals subject to its jurisdiction essentially opt in by taking advantage of the U.S.’s financial markets.

[ii] Indictment at 40, United States v. Uriel Sharef, et. al., 11CR-1-56 (S.D.N.Y 2011), available at http://www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/fcpa/cases/sharef-uriel/2011-12-12-siemens-ndictment.pdf.

[iii] See U.S. Dep’t of Justice & U.S. Sec. Exch. Comm’n, A Resource Guide to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, 11 (Nov. 14, 2012), available at http://www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/fcpa/guide.pdf.

[iv] Restatement (Third) of the Foreign Relations Law of the United States, § 403 cmt. a. (1986).

[v] Id. at Chapter One: Jurisdiction to Prescribe, Subchapter A.: Principles of Jurisdiction to Prescribe, Introductory Note.

Supreme Court Notable

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

Sometimes it takes the Supreme Court to remind us … well … what the law is!

Dig into certain corporate Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement actions and it would appear that legal liability seems to hop, skip, and jump around a multinational company.  This of course would be inconceivable in other areas, such as contract liability, tort liability, etc. absent an “alter ego” / “piercing the veil” analysis for the simple reason that is what the black letter law commands.

Yet, as often highlighted on these pages, black letter legal principles (whether statute of limitations, jurisdiction, etc.) are seemingly ignored in certain instances of corporate FCPA enforcement because the name of the game is primarily cooperation and risk aversion.  (See here for the prior post, “Does DOJ Expect FCPA Counsel to Roll Over and Play Dead?”).

With increasing frequency, the DOJ and SEC have advanced broad “agency” theories in which the acts of a subsidiary are attributed to a parent corporation absent any allegations to support an “alter ego” or “veil piercing” exception.

One of the more forceful critics of this trending DOJ and SEC approach has been Philip Urofsky (a former high-ranking DOJ FCPA enforcement attorney) see prior posts here and here.   As Urofsky recently – and rightfully – noted:

“[just because a corporate FCPA enforcement action is resolved] ”through an NPA rather than a DPA (or a guilty plea) does not excuse this approach—when the DOJ announces it will not prosecute but requires the company to admit to facts establishing a criminal violation of the law, it is stating, as a fact, that the company  committed a crime. In such case, it is obligated to demonstrate, through the  pleadings, in whatever form they are presented, that it could, in fact, prove each and every element of the offense.”

The above is all necessary background to the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this week in a non-FCPA case in which the court slammed the “agency” theory seemingly serving as the basis for several recent corporate FCPA enforcement actions.

*****

Daimler A.G. v. Bauman,  an opinion authored by Justice Ginsburg, concerned “the authority of a court in the United States to entertain a claim brought by foreign plaintiffs against a foreign defendant based on events occurring entirely outside the United States.”

The complaint “alleged that during Argentina’s 1976-1983 ‘Dirty War,’ Daimler’s Argentinian subsidiary, Mercedes-Benz Argentina (MB Argentina) collaborated with state security forces to kidnap, detain, torture, and kill certain MB Argentina workers, among them, plaintiffs or persons closely related to plaintiffs.”  Damages for the alleged human rights violations were sought from Daimler and U.S. jurisdiction “over the lawsuit was predicated on the California contacts of Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC (MBUSA), a subsidiary of Daimler incorporated in Delaware with its principal place of business in New Jersey.”

“The question presented,” as described by Justice Ginsburg, was “whether the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment precludes the District Court from exercising jurisdiction over Daimler in this case, given the absence of any California connection to the atrocities, perpetrators, or victims described in the complaint.”

As noted by the court, the plaintiffs were seeking to hold “Daimler vicariously liable for MB Argentina’s alleged malfeasance” and it was noted that “MB Argentina was a subsidiary wholly owned by Daimler’s predecessor in interest.”

In response to Daimler’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the plaintiffs argued ”that jurisdiction over Daimler could be founded on the California contacts of MBUSA, a distinct corporate entity that, according to plaintiffs, should be treated as Daimler’s agent for jurisdictional purposes.”

The district court granted Daimler’s motion to dismiss and declined, in relevant part, to “attribute MBUSA’s California contacts to Daimler on an agency theory, concluding that plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that MBUSA acted as Daimler’s agent.”  The Supreme Court opinion states:

“The Ninth Circuit at first affirmed the District Court’s judgment.  Addressing solely the question of agency, the Court of Appeals held that plaintiffs had not shown the existence of an agency relationship of the kind that might warrant attribution of MBUSA’s contacts to Daimler.”

However, the Ninth Circuit granted plaintiffs’ petition for rehearing, the panel withdrew its initial opinion, and replaced it with one which concluded that the agency test was satisfied.  Daimler petitioned for rehearing, but the Ninth Circuit denied Daimler’s petition.

The Supreme Court’s decision is heavy on jurisdiction issues – including much discussion of general jurisdiction and specific jurisdiction.

Turning to the agency issues, the opinion states “while plaintiffs ultimately persuaded the Ninth Circuit to impute MBUSA’s California contacts to Daimler on an agency theory, at no point, have they maintained that MBUSA is an alter ego of Daimler.”

Next, the opinion states (internal citations omitted) as follows.

“In sustaining the exercise of general jurisdiction over Daimler, the Ninth Circuit relied on an agency theory, determining that MBUSA acted as Daimler’s agent for jurisdictional purposes and then attributing MBUSA’s California contacts to Daimler. The Ninth Circuit’s agency analysis derived from Circuit precedent considering principally whether the subsidiary “performs services that are sufficiently important to the foreign corporation that if it did not have a representative to perform them, the substantially similar services.”

“This Court has not yet addressed whether a foreign corporation may be subjected to a court’s general jurisdiction based on the contacts of its in-state subsidiary. Daimler argues, and several Courts of Appeals have held, that a subsidiary’s jurisdictional contacts can be imputed to its parent only when the former is so dominated by the latter as to be its alter ego. The Ninth Circuit adopted a less rigorous test based on what it described as an “agency” relationship. Agencies, we note, come in many sizes and shapes: “One may be an agent for some business purposes and not others so that the fact that one may be an agent for one purpose does not make him or her an agent for every purpose.”  A subsidiary, for example, might be its parent’s agent for claims arising in the place where the subsidiary operates, yet not its agent regarding claims arising elsewhere. The Court of Appeals did not advert to that prospect. But we need not pass judgment on invocation of an agency theory in the context of general jurisdiction, for in no event can the appeals court’s analysis be sustained.”

“The Ninth Circuit’s agency finding rested primarily on its observation that MBUSA’s services were “important” to Daimler, as gauged by Daimler’s hypothetical readiness to perform those services itself if MBUSA did not exist.  Formulated this way, the inquiry into importance stacks the deck, for it will always yield a pro-jurisdiction answer: “Anything a corporation does through an independent contractor, subsidiary, or distributor is presumably something that the corporation would do ‘by other means’ if the independent contractor, subsidiary, or distributor did not exist.” The Ninth Circuit’s agency theory thus appears to subject foreign corporations to general jurisdiction whenever they have an in-state subsidiary or affiliate, an outcome that would sweep beyond even the “sprawling view of general jurisdiction” we rejected in Goodyear.”

[...]

It was therefore error for the Ninth Circuit to conclude that Daimler, even with MBUSA’s contacts attributed to it, was at home in California, and hence subject to suit there on claims by foreign plaintiffs having nothing to do with anything that occurred or had its principal impact in California.”

Applying this Supreme Court’s conclusion to the FCPA context, the notion that because a subsidiary’s services are important to a parent corporation - and thus the subsidiary is an agent of the parent corporation for purposes of imputing liability – stacks the deck, for it will always yield a pro-agency answer.

The Supreme Court’s decision is Daimler is also notable for another reason.

As highlighted in this April 2013 post concerning the Supreme Court’s notable Kiobel decision (a non-FCPA case, but a case in which the logic and rationale of many justices has direct bearing on certain aspects of FCPA enforcement, and indeed can be viewed as Supreme Court disapproval of certain aspects of FCPA enforcement), the Supreme Court was concerned about the “delicate foreign policy consequences” of expansive U.S. jurisdiction over foreign actors.

Continuing with this concern, in the Daimler case, the court stated:

“Finally, the transnational context of this dispute bears attention. The Court of Appeals emphasized, as supportive of the exercise of general jurisdiction, plaintiffs’ assertion of claims under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 (TVPA).  Recent decisions of this Court, however, have rendered plaintiffs’ ATS and TVPA claims infirm.

The Ninth Circuit, moreover, paid little heed to the risks to international comity its expansive view of general jurisdiction posed. Other nations do not share the uninhibited approach to personal jurisdiction advanced by the Court of Appeals in this case.

[…]

The Solicitor General informs us, in this regard, that “foreign governments’ objections to some domestic courts’ expansive views of general jurisdiction have in the past impeded negotiations of international agreements on the reciprocal recognition and enforcement of judgments.”  […] See also U. S. Brief 2 (expressing concern that unpredictable applications of general jurisdiction based on activities of U. S.-based subsidiaries could discourage foreign investors); Brief for Respondents 35 (acknowledging that “doing business” basis for general jurisdiction has led to “international friction”). Considerations of international rapport thus reinforce our determination that subjecting Daimler to the general jurisdiction of courts in California would not accord with the “fair play and substantial justice” due process demands.”

It is nothing short of remarkable that the U.S. government urged restraint of expansive jurisdictional theories in Daimler because such “unpredictable applications” of expansive jurisdiction “could discourage foreign investors” and result in other foreign policy difficulties, yet at the same time the U.S. government advances unpredictable, creative, and dubious jurisdictional theories against foreign actors in FCPA enforcement actions.