A recent Seventh Circuit decision in Seafarers Pension Plan v. Bradway may complicate defendants’ ability to use forum-selection bylaws as a basis for dismissal of derivative suits pleading claims under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.

In a split decision, the court held that—as a matter of Delaware state law—a forum-selection clause adopted by the Boeing Corporation was unenforceable because Section 115 of Delaware General Corporation Law prohibits any bylaw that is inconsistent with “applicable jurisdictional requirements.” While the federal Exchange Act allows only federal courts to exercise jurisdiction over Exchange Act claims and contains a non-waiver provision, the Boeing bylaw at issue stated that “the Court of Chancery of the State of Delaware shall be the sole and exclusive forum for any derivative action or proceeding brought on behalf of the Corporation.” An Illinois district court had found that this provision was enforceable and warranted a forum non conveniens dismissal of a derivative suit that was premised in part on alleged violations of the Exchange Act. But the Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that the bylaw would entirely foreclose plaintiff’s federal derivative suit, “contrary to Delaware corporation law, which respects the non-waiver provision in Section 29(a) of the federal Exchange Act.”

Notably, the court did not specifically hold that the bylaw was unenforceable as a matter of federal law. Instead, it ruled that Delaware law respected the federal non-waiver provision and that Boeing’s forum bylaw therefore ran afoul of Delaware law. The court thus had no cause to address a situation in which state law would permit a waiver of rights that might appear to be non-waivable under federal law.

The court began its analysis with Section 115 of the Delaware General Corporation Law, which authorizes forum clauses that are “consistent with applicable jurisdictional requirements” and that require internal corporate claims to be brought in “the courts in this State.” The court read the phrase “applicable jurisdictional requirements” to include those of federal law—and thus not to authorize a forum clause that would foreclose suit in federal court based on exclusive federal jurisdiction. “By eliminating federal jurisdiction over [plaintiff’s] exclusively federal derivative claims, Boeing’s forum bylaw forecloses suit in a federal court based on federal jurisdiction. That’s exactly what Section 115 was ‘not intended to authorize.’”

As for Section 115’s language about “the courts in this State,” the Seventh Circuit “hesitate[d] to place decisive weight solely on a choice of preposition in the statute,” but noted that the federal courts in Delaware are courts “in this State” even though they are not courts “of this State.” “If the statute had said ‘courts of this State,’ the statutory language might have given defendants a better toehold.”

The Seventh Circuit went on to differentiate three circumstances where a forum-restricting bylaw might still be enforceable:

  • When the federal claim brought is under the Securities Act of 1933, rather than the Exchange Act. The Securities Act, unlike the Exchange Act, allows plaintiffs to file suit in state or federal court.  Thus, enforcing a forum clause against plaintiffs asserting Securities Act violations would not foreclose their federal-law claims because the clause would not require a waiver of those claims.  Here, however, the federal claim was an alleged violation of the Exchange Act, a claim that (at least according to the majority) could not be asserted in state court.
  • When a plaintiff raises a facial challenge to a forum clause. In those situations, the plaintiff must show that the bylaw cannot operate lawfully or equitably under any circumstances. Here, however, the plaintiffs argued only that the bylaw was unenforceable as applied to their Exchange Act claim.
  • When a plaintiff’s claim implicates international comity issues. The Seventh Circuit distinguished its prior decision in Bonny v. Society of Lloyd’s, a 1993 ruling that dismissed an Exchange Act claim based on a forum-selection clause because English law provided sufficient remedies for the plaintiffs’ claims. Here, however, the plaintiffs’ claims did not raise any issues of international comity.

A notable feature of the decision is the court’s choice not to rule on issues of federal law even though the Exchange Act’s exclusive-jurisdiction and non-waiver provisions underlay the court’s analysis. Instead, the court based its decision on state-law grounds and used the federal-law issues only to determine how Delaware law should be interpreted. This approach avoided the possibility of any tension between federal and Delaware law. But the approach leaves open the possibility that the Delaware state courts could ultimately disagree with the Seventh Circuit’s reading of Delaware law.  At that point, federal courts would need to confront the federal issue that the Seventh Circuit sidestepped: whether state law can authorize an exclusive-forum provision that forecloses assertion of a federal claim that is subject to exclusive federal jurisdiction and a federal anti-waiver provision.

Plaintiffs across the country will likely take notice of this decision and attempt to append Exchange Act claims to derivative suits filed in federal court.  Courts in other circuits, however, have held that attempts to plead around a forum provision should be subject to significant scrutiny, and have sometimes severed state-law claims subject to forum provisions and then dismissed the federal claims on the merits. In all events, defendants should be prepared to litigate the merits of any federal claims included in a derivative suit, as an exclusive-forum clause might not be sufficient post-Seafarers.

Photo of Jonathan Richman Jonathan Richman

Jonathan Richman represents a variety of companies in securities class actions, shareholder derivative actions, internal investigations, SEC investigations, corporate governance, insider trading, D&O insurance and related matters. Many of those matters involve international elements, including representations of non-U.S. issuers in U.S. litigation and…

Jonathan Richman represents a variety of companies in securities class actions, shareholder derivative actions, internal investigations, SEC investigations, corporate governance, insider trading, D&O insurance and related matters. Many of those matters involve international elements, including representations of non-U.S. issuers in U.S. litigation and in landmark non-U.S. collective settlements under Dutch law in the Netherlands. Jonathan’s clients have included Hewlett Packard, Royal Dutch/Shell, Zurich Insurance Group, Halliburton, Waste Management, and Bed Bath & Beyond.

Jonathan writes extensively on topics ranging from securities and insider-trading law, corporate governance and fiduciary issues to non-U.S. law on collective actions. His articles have been published in major legal publications.

Jonathan is the past co-head of the Firm’s Securities Litigation Group.

Class Action and SEC Enforcement Experience

  • Royal Dutch/Shell
  • Global Crossing
  • Waste Management
  • Zurich Insurance Group
  • Vestas Wind Systems A/S (class action only)
  • JBS S.A. (class action only)
  • Henry Schein, Inc. (class action only)
  • YRC Worldwide Inc. (class action only)
  • Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. (class action only)
  • Roka Bioscience, Inc. (class action only)
  • Fifth Street (class action only)
  • Vida Longevity Fund (class action only)
  • Former CEO of Lumber Liquidators (class action only)
  • Individual defendant in Third Avenue securities class actions
  • American General (class action only)
  • Metropolitan Life (class action only)
  • New York Life (class action only)
  • Leucadia/Jefferies merger litigation (class action only)
  • Realty Income/American Realty merger litigation (class action only)
  • ARCP/ARCT III merger litigation (class action only)
  • Aberdeen/Artio merger litigation (class action only)
  • PhotoMedex/LCA-Vision merger litigation (class action only)
  • RCS Capital/Summit Financial merger litigation (class action only)
  • First American/First Advantage merger litigation (class action only)
  • SEC inquiry involving CMBS servicing
  • SEC inquiry involving issuer’s confidentiality notice for internal investigations
  • Various SEC, CFTC, and FINRA inquiries involving trading issues

Shareholder Derivative Litigation

  • Hewlett-Packard
  • Royal Dutch/Shell
  • Brocade Communications Systems, Inc.
  • Halliburton Company
  • Waste Management, Inc.
  • Henry Schein, Inc.
  • YRC Worldwide Inc.
  • Bed Bath & Beyond Inc.
  • Fifth Street
  • Vida Longevity Fund
  • Former CEO of Lumber Liquidators
  • Individual defendant in Third Avenue derivative litigation

Department of Justice Proceedings

  • Royal Dutch/Shell
  • Global Crossing
  • Property and casualty insurers

Miscellaneous

  • Advising outside directors of for-profit educational institution on litigation and regulatory investigations
  • Providing advice and training sessions for clients on insider-trading issues
  • Representing Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico in pending litigation arising from Puerto Rico bankruptcy

Publications

  • Author, “Court Preliminarily Enjoins Florida’s ‘Stop Woke Act,’” National Law Review (Aug. 22, 2022)
  • Author, “Blockchain Meets Morrison:  Court Rejects Blockchain Class Settlement Because of Concerns About Adequacy of Representation,” National Law Review (Aug. 16, 2022)
  • Author, “Delaware Supreme Court Allows Use of ‘Reliable’ Hearsay to Support Books-and-Records Demand,” National Law Review (July 20, 2022)
  • Author, “Divided Delaware Supreme Court Decision Highlights Issues About Director Independence in Derivative Actions,” National Law Review (June 30, 2022)
  • Author, “Second Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Securities Claim Alleging Failure to Disclose SEC Investigation,” National Law Review (May 25, 2022)
  • Author, “Ninth Circuit Upholds Delaware-Forum Bylaw That Precludes Assertion of Federal Proxy Claim,” National Law Review (May 13, 2022)
  • Co-author, “SEC Defeats Motion to Dismiss Insider Trading Complaint Alleging Novel ‘Shadow Trading’ Theory, The Corporate Lawyer, vol. 59, no. 3 (Feb. 2022), at 1
  • Co-author, “Seventh Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Derivative Action Based on Forum Clause as Applied to Federal Claim,” National Law Review (Jan. 21, 2022)
  • Author, “California Federal Court Holds U.S. Securities Laws Inapplicable to Unsponsored, Unlisted ADR Transaction Preceded by Purchase of Common Stock Outside the U.S.,” National Law Review (Jan. 10, 2022)
  • Co-author, “SEC Pursues ‘Shadow Trading’ Insider Trading Case,” Corporate Governance Advisor, vo. 29, no. 6 (Nov./Dec. 2021), at 29
  • Co-author, “SEC Investor Advisory Committee Considers Recommendations to Tighten Rules for Insiders’ Trading Plans,” National Law Review (Sept. 7, 2021)
  • Author, “Second Circuit Holds that Accurately Reported Financial Statements Are Not Actionable and that Materiality Has a Half-Life,” National Law Review (Aug. 27, 2021)
  • Author, “First Circuit Adopts Prevailing Standard for Applicability of Federal Securities Laws to Foreign Investors, But Rejects Second Circuit’s Narrower Test,” National Law Review (May 11, 2021)
  • Author, “Second Circuit Upholds Insider Trading Conviction, Finding Sufficient Confidentiality Duty and Personal Benefit,” National Law Review (Apr. 7, 2021)
  • Co-author, “Second Circuit Reaffirms that Federal Securities Laws Do Not Apply to Predominantly Foreign Transactions,” National Law Review (Jan. 26, 2021)
  • Author, “Corporate Scienter Requires Link Between Employees with Knowledge and the Alleged Misstatements,” National Law Review (May 26, 2020)
  • Author, “Delaware Supreme Court Rules that Corporate Charters Can Require Litigation of Federal Securities Act Claims in Federal Court,” National Law Review (Mar. 18, 2020)
  • Author, “California Federal Court Holds that U.S. Securities Laws Apply to Unsponsored, Unlisted ADRs,” National Law Review (Jan. 30, 2020)
  • Author, “Second Circuit Holds that a ‘Personal Benefit’ Is Not Required for Insider Trading Under Criminal Securities Statute,” National Law Review (Jan. 2, 2020)
  • Co-author, “When Passive Investors Drift into Activist Status,” CCR Corp. Deal Lawyers (Nov.-Dec. 2019)
  • Author, “Delaware Supreme Court Rejects Presumption of Confidentiality for Books-and-Records Productions,” National Law Review (Aug. 8, 2019)
  • Author, “Supreme Court Raises Questions About Private Rights of Action Under § 14 of Securities Exchange Act,” National Law Review (Apr. 24, 2019)
  • Author, “Second Circuit Rejects Securities Claims Based on Generic Statements About Ethics and Compliance,” Securities Reform Act Litigation Reporter, vol. 47, no. 1 (April 2019), at 54
  • Author,” Supreme Court Holds that Persons Who Do Not ‘Make’ Misstatements Can Nevertheless Be Liable for Other Securities-Fraud Violations,” National Law Review (Mar. 29, 2019)
  • Author, “The importance of documenting corporate actions: Delaware Supreme Court requires production of emails in books-and-records request,” Westlaw Journal Mergers & Acquisitions (Feb. 2019)
  • Author, “First Appellate Decision Holds that SEC Can Bring Extraterritorial Enforcement Action Based on Conduct or Effects in United States,” National Law Review (Jan. 24, 2019)
  • Author, “Insider Trading for Dummies: Judge Rakoff Tries to Simplify the Law,” National Law Review (Dec. 10, 2018)
  • Co-author, “Fortis Case Confirms Viability of Dutch Settlement Law,” Law360 (July 27, 2018) (with Professor Ianika Tzankova)
  • Author, “Second Circuit Again Holds That Tipper/Tippee Liability Can Arise from a Gift of Inside Information Even Without a Close Personal Relationship,” National Law Review (June 29, 2018)
  • Author, “Supreme Court Rules That Federal Courts Are Not Bound to Give Conclusive Effect to Foreign Governments’ Statements About Their Laws,” National Law Review (June 14, 2018)
  • Author, “Supreme Court Prohibits Stacking of Successive Class Actions Beyond Limitations Period,” National Law Review (June 14, 2018)
  • Author, “Supreme Court Rules That State Courts Can Adjudicate Class Actions Under the Securities Act of 1933,” Securities Arbitration Commentator (April 11, 2018)
  • Author, “Fourth Circuit Upholds Disclosure of Government Subpoena as Evidence of Loss Causation,” National Law Review (Feb. 24, 2018)
  • Author, “Revisiting Preclusion Principles in Derivative Actions,” Law360 (July 28, 2017)
  • Author, “Second Circuit Requires Increased Scrutiny of Securities Class Actions Involving Off-Exchange Transactions,” National Law Review (July 8, 2017)
  • Author, “Dutch Court Denies Approval of Collective Settlement Unless Changes Are Made as to Allocation of Compensation and Fees,” National Law Review (June 19, 2017)
  • Author, “Utah Court Bites Bullet with Dodd-Frank Jurisdiction Ruling,” Law360 (Apr. 13, 2017)
  • Author, “Non-Use Agreement Need Not Precede Disclosure of Confidential Information,” National Law Review (March 21, 2017)
  • Author, “Watch the Napkin: First Circuit Affirms Insider-Trading Conviction,” National Law Review (Feb. 28, 2017)
  • Author, “Dueling Shareholder Class Actions Could Raise Due Process Issues,” Law360 (Jan. 30, 2017)
  • Author, “Supreme Court Reaffirms Personal-Benefit Requirement for Insider Trading,” WestLaw Journal: Securities Litigation & Regulation and WestLaw Journal: White-Collar Crime (Dec. 22, 2016)
  • Author, “Rakoff Addresses Tippee Liability in SEC v. Payton,” Law360 (Dec. 2, 2016)
  • Author, “Dutch Collective Actions vs. Collective Settlements,” National Law Review (Oct. 18, 2016)
  • Author, “Judgment Recognition and the Reach of US Securities Laws,” Law360 (Oct. 3, 2016)
  • Author, “Executives Face SOX Disgorgement Uncertainty After Jensen,” Law360 (Sept. 8, 2016)
  • Author, “Wine, Steak and a Taste of the ‘Personal Benefit’ Tension,” Law360 (June 6, 2016)
  • Author, “Proskauer Explains Supreme Court’s Clarification of Jurisdiction Under Securities Exchange Act,” The CLS Blue Sky Blog (May 24, 2016)
  • Author, “Second Circuit Reinforces Liability Standard in Securities Cases Based on Statements of Opinion,” Business Law Today (Mar. 2016)
  • Author, “The Netherlands Returns as a Collective Settlement Forum,” Law360 (Mar. 15, 2016)
  • Author, “How Morrison v. Australia Bank Was Applied in Petrobras,” Law360 (Feb. 16, 2016)
  • Author, “New York Court Certifies Classes in Petrobras Securities Litigation,” National Law Review (Feb. 3, 2016)
  • Author, “Delaware Court of Chancery Rejects Another Disclosure-Only M&A Settlement and Warns of ‘Increasingly Vigilant’ Scrutiny,” National Law Review (Jan. 25, 2016)
  • Author, “What To Expect from High Court’s New Insider Trading Case,” Law360 (Jan. 19, 2016)
  • Author, “Second Circuit Upholds Common-Interest Privilege for Borrower’s Sharing of Legal Advice with Consortium of Lenders,” Transaction Advisors (Dec. 2015)
  • Author, “What Jarkesy Means for SEC Admin Court Challenges,” Law360 (Sept. 30, 2015)
  • Author, “A Farewell to Alms? Peppercorn Settlements of M&A Litigation,” National Law Review (Sept. 21, 2015)
  • Author, “Seventh Circuit Rejects Court Challenge to Pending SEC Administrative Proceeding,” com (Aug. 27, 2015)
  • Author, “9th Circuit Rebuffs Newman,” Law360 (July 8, 2015)
  • Author, “Proskauer Discusses Supreme Court’s Omnicare Decision, Clarifying Liability for Statements of Opinion in Registration Statements,” The CLS Blue Sky Blog (Mar. 24, 2015)
  • Author, “U.S. Appeals Court Rejects Bright-Line Test for Extraterritorial Reach of U.S. Securities Laws,” Bloomberg BNA World Securities Law Report, vol. 20, no. 9 (Sept. 2014)
  • Author, “Whistleblower Anti-Retaliation Provision Does Not Apply Outside the U.S.,” Westlaw Journal Securities Litigation & Regulation, vol. 20, issue 9 (Sept. 4, 2014)
  • Author, “So Much for Bright-Line Tests on Extraterritorial Reach of US Securities Laws?,” Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation (Sept. 2, 2014)
  • Co-author, “Defending Directors: Cram Sheet,” Wolters Kluwer Law & Business (October 23, 2012)
  • Author, “Delaware Chancery Court Issues Decision on Collateral Estoppel in Derivative Suits,” Westlaw Journal Delaware Corporate, vol. 26, issue 25 (June 25, 2012)
  • Author, “SEC Issues Report on Extraterritorial Reach of U.S. Securities Laws,” VCExperts on-line publication (June 2012)
  • Co-author, “Fraud? Foreign Purchase? Forget It! ‘Foreign-Cubed’ and Other Foreign-Issuer Cases After Morrison,” of Secs. & Commodities Reg., vol. 44, no. 4 (Feb. 23, 2011)
  • Author, “Supreme Court Clarifies Statute of Limitations in Securities-Fraud Actions,” Derivatives Financial Prods. Rpt., 11, no. 10, at 23 (June 2010)
  • Author, “Transnational Class Actions and Judgment Recognition,” Class Action Litigation Report (June 25, 2010)
  • Co-author, “Pushing the Limits of U.S. Securities Laws: ‘Foreign-Cubed’ (‘F-Cubed’) Cases,” 42 SRLR 10 (March 8, 2010)
  • Co-author, “Assignees Have Discovery Obligations When Asserting Assignors’ Claims,” Journal of Payment Systems Law (June/July 2005)
  • “Punitive Damages: Past, Present and Future,” International Commercial Litigation (July/August 1995)
  • Co-author and editor, Takeovers: Attack and Survival (1987)
  • Co-author, “New Life for State Takeover Statutes?,” New York Law Journal (July 27, 1987)
  • Co-author, “Damages in Defamation Actions,” Damages in Tort Actions (1985)
  • “Facial Adjudication of Disciplinary Provisions in Union Constitutions,” Yale Law Journal (1981)

Presentations

  • Practising Law Institute: “ESG 2022: What It Means for Boards, Management, and Counsel” (June 1, 2022) (full-day program; program co-chair and panel chair)
  • Practising Law Institute: “ESG 2021: What It Means for Boards, Management, and Counsel” (webcast, June 24, 2021) (full-day program; program co-chair and panel chair)
  • Practising Law Institute: “ESG 2020: What It Means for Boards, Management, and Counsel) (webcast, July 24, 2020) (full-day program; program co-chair and panel chair)
  • Practising Law Institute: “ESG and Promoting Corporate Sustainability” (New York, June 25, 2019) (full-day program; program chair and panel chair)
  • The Mason Judicial Education Program, Symposium for Judges: Securities Class Action Litigation (Arlington, VA, May 5, 2019)
  • The Mason Judicial Education Program, Symposium for Judges: The Economics of Corporate & Securities Law (San Diego, April 12-14, 2018)
  • ABA Section of Litigation: “Recent Developments in Securities Class Actions” (webinar, May 11, 2017)
  • Professional Liability Underwriters Society D&O Symposium: “Behaving Badly: The Non-U.S. Corporate Scandal Wave” (New York, February 9, 2017)
  • New York State Bar Association International Section: “Hot Topics in Cross-Border Securities Litigation” (São Paulo, October 16, 2015)
  • Proskauer Hedge-Fund Breakfast Seminar on Insider Trading (New York, Feb. 5, 2015)
  • CLE International’s 9th Annual Class Action Conference: “Collective Proceedings Abroad: Evolving Approaches & Attitudes” (Washington, D.C., October 2013)
  • Practising Law Institute: “Handling a Securities Case: From Investigation to Trial and Everything in Between” (New York, April 2012)
  • Institutional Investor Educational Foundation: Corporate Governance Roundtable Forum (New York, December 2011)
  • Institutional Investor Educational Foundation Amsterdam Roundtable: “The Netherlands and the Future of European Securities Litigation” (The Hague, September 2011)
  • Summer Institute on Law & Government, American Univ. Washington College of Law: “Securities Class Actions – An Update” (Washington, D.C., June 2010)
  • ABA Section on Litigation Annual Conference: “Global Class Actions: Lasting Peace or Ticking Time Bombs?” (New York, April 2010)
Photo of Joseph Hartunian Joseph Hartunian

Joe Hartunian is an associate in the Litigation Department.

Joe earned his J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School, where he was an executive editor of the Michigan Journal of Law Reform. Joe previously served as a law clerk to the…

Joe Hartunian is an associate in the Litigation Department.

Joe earned his J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School, where he was an executive editor of the Michigan Journal of Law Reform. Joe previously served as a law clerk to the Honorable Peter W. Hall of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Prior to law school, Joe served as a legislative aide for Senator Charles E. Schumer on the Senate Judiciary Committee, focusing on issues related to opioid abuse, telecommunications and gun safety. Upon graduation, he returned to the committee as an advisor to Senator Amy Klobuchar on the nomination of now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.