The SEC and Administrative Proceedings (Part 3)

We are discussing some of the issues raised by Peter Henning in his DealBook column, The S.E.C.’s Use of the ‘Rocket Docket’ Is Challenged. The article examines concerns that have been raised about the use of administrative proceedings ("AP") by the SEC.  

The decision in Gupta v. SEC held out the possibility that challenges to the SEC's choice of forum could be successfully maintained. It wasn't long after the decision came down that Egan-Jones, the rating agency, likewise lodged a challenge to the SEC's decision to bring an AP. The Company challenged the absence of safeguards in the administrative process and also viewed the choice of forum as unfair and unsupported by a rational basis. As the complaint stated:   

  • This Enforcement Action, if allowed to proceed in an administrative forum, would deprive both Egan-Jones and Mr. Egan of their right to a jury trial and other critical procedural safeguards available in our judicial system, including, but not limited to, the ability to mount defenses and obtain evidence in support thereof relating to the unfair and disparate treatment of Egan-Jones by the SEC, with no rational basis, and evidence relating to the motive for the SEC to do so; the SEC’s improper motive in bringing this action including the denial or marginalization of Egan-Jones’ content and voice in the marketplace; and the maintenance and continuation of the status quo conflicted issuer-paid ratings model in contravention of Congressional direction.

Egan-Jones viewed itself as singled out but the case involved a different set of facts than those at issue in Gupta. Gupta could point to other similar cases that raised concerns over disparate treatement. As the court stated in that case: 

  • A funny thing happened on the way to this forum. On March 11, 2011, the Securities and Exchange Commission (the "SECI" or "Commission")--having previously filed all of its Galleon related insider trading actions in this federal district--decided it preferred its home turf. It therefore issued an internal Order Instituting Public Administrative and Cease-and-Desist Proceedings (the "OIP") against Rajat K. Gupta. 

Egan-Jones also alleged disparate treatment. The disparate treatment, however, was that it was the only rating agency singled out for administrative action in the described circumstances. See Egan-Jones Complaint ("While the SEC targets Egan-Jones for alleged infractions which have not affected a single rating or investor, the SEC has not suggested that it will ever take any real, proportional action against the large issuer-paid firms for issuing profitable inflated ABS and CDO ratings which brought about America’s economic crises.").   

The SEC sought dismissal, primarily by arguing that the district court lacked jurisdiction (the appropriate forum was the court of appeals) and that there was no final agency action under the APA. Egan-Jones contested the motion (to which the SEC replied), but there was never a resolution of the issue. The plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed the action.  

J Robert Brown Jr.