April 1, 2020

April 01, 2020

Subscribe to Latest Legal News and Analysis

March 31, 2020

Subscribe to Latest Legal News and Analysis

March 30, 2020

Subscribe to Latest Legal News and Analysis

Update: Eleventh Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Claims for Declaratory Relief and Disgorgement in SEC v. Graham

We previously wrote about a decision out of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in SEC v. Graham, 21 F. Supp. 3d 1300 (S.D. Fla. 2014), which involved claims by the SEC in connection with an alleged $300 million real estate Ponzi scheme. Echoing the Supreme Court’s reaffirmation in SEC v. Gabelli, 133 S. Ct. 1216 (2013), of the importance of statutes of limitation “to the welfare of society,” the district court had held that the five-year statute of limitations in 28 U.S.C. § 2462 is jurisdictional rather than a “claim-processing rule” and that the limitations period provided by § 2462 applies not only to civil penalties but also to equitable relief including injunctions, declaratory relief, and disgorgement. On May 26, 2016, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded this decision for further proceedings.

The Eleventh Circuit disagreed with the district court’s characterization of injunctive relief as “nothing short of a penalty” and therefore subject to the § 2462 time limit on actions “for the enforcement of any civil fine, penalty, or forfeiture.” Noting that it was bound by its previous holding that “[t]he plain language of section 2462 does not apply to equitable remedies,” United States v. Banks, 115 F.3d 916, 919 (11th Cir. 1997), the court additionally explained that injunctions are not “penalties” because they are forward-looking rather than backward-looking relief.

Nevertheless, the court affirmed dismissal of the SEC’s claims for declaratory relief and disgorgement. The court reasoned that unlike injunctive relief, declaratory relief is backward-looking and “operate[s] as a penalty under § 2462” because “[a] public declaration that the defendants violated the law does little other than label the defendants as wrongdoers.” With respect to disgorgement, the court held that there is “no meaningful difference” between the plain-language definitions of “forfeiture” as used in § 2462 and “disgorgement,” and the court rejected the SEC’s distinction of the terms as “technical definitions” that Congress cannot be assumed to have meant to apply in the absence of clear indication in the statute. Having determined whether § 2462 applies to injunctive relief, declaratory relief, and disgorgement, the court declined to reach the issue of whether the limitations period is jurisdictional in nature.

Although the court agreed with the SEC’s position on injunctive relief, this holding is likely to be of little comfort to the agency. While reasoning that it would be “premature to review the precise nature of” an injunction the district court had not yet issued, the court noted that the injunction requested in the Graham complaint was the type of “obey-the-law” injunction—that is, an injunction prohibiting “the defendants from violating federal securities laws”—it has consistently held to be unenforceable. While the court reasoned that the issue was appropriate for consideration because it “is at least possible that the SEC could seek injunctive relief that would be specific and narrow enough that the parties would be afforded sufficient warning to conform their conduct,” it offered no opinion on what enforceable injunctive relief might look like.

© 2020 Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP. All Rights Reserved.

TRENDING LEGAL ANALYSIS


About this Author

William L. Carr, Corporate and Litigation Attorney, Drinker Biddle
Partner

William L. Carr is a member of the Governance and Corporate Law Disputes Team within the firm’s Litigation Group. William focuses his practice on securities litigation and accountants’ defense, internal investigations, white collar criminal defense and complex civil litigation. William has represented clients in a number of venues, including in state and federal courts and before federal grand juries and various federal agencies.

William also maintains the SECurities Law Perspectives blog,...

215-988-2857
Carol Trevey, Litigation Lawyer, Drinker Biddle
Associate

C

Carol F. Trevey assists clients in complex commercial litigation matters in a broad range of areas, including business disputes, class actions, and antitrust. Carol has experience across many phases of civil and appellate litigation, including pre-litigation counseling, dispositive motions, and post-trial proceedings and appeals. Carol also has particular experience in arbitration under international arbitration rules as well as post-arbitration proceedings under the Federal Arbitration Act.

Carol is a contributor to the firm's SEC Law Perspectives Blog, which provides reports, discussions, and analyses on noteworthy trends in enforcement and regulatory activity of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and other agencies, such as the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).

215-988-2943