SEC to Give Oral No-Action Letters

The SEC has announced that it will not put all of its rulings on shareholder proposals in writing. Some rulings will be oral only. Needless to say, since the Code of Hammurabi in ancient Mesopotamia, the idea has been that it is a good thing to have the rules in writing so that everyone knows what they are and they will be consistent. We consider this a poor decision with ominous implications.

The staff intends to issue a response letter where it believes doing so would provide value, such as more broadly applicable guidance about complying with Rule 14a-8.

The staff continues to believe, as noted in Staff Legal Bulletin 14I and Staff Legal Bulletin 14J, that when a company seeks to exclude a shareholder proposal from its proxy materials under paragraphs (i)(5) or (i)(7) of Rule 14a-8, an analysis by its board of directors is often useful.

If the staff declines to state a view on any particular request, the interested parties should not interpret that position as indicating that the proposal must be included. In such circumstances, the staff is not taking a position on the merits of the arguments made, and the company may have a valid legal basis to exclude the proposal under Rule 14a-8. And, as has always been the case, the parties may seek formal, binding adjudication on the merits of the issue in court.

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