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Todd and Co. v. Securities and Exchange Commission

June 27, 1977


Adams, Rosenn and Weis, Circuit Judges.

Author: Weis

WEIS, Circuit Judge:

A statutory plan for self-regulation by a securities dealers association provides for sanctions and procedural safeguards, including an appeal to the Securities and Exchange Commission. We find no constitutional obstacles to this largely non-judicial plan for settlement of disputes. However, we must vacate an order of the S.E.C. that failed to insist upon strict compliance by the association with its own procedural precepts.

In January, 1973, the District Business Conduct Committee for District No. 12 of the National Association of Securities Dealers, Inc., (N.A.S.D.), filed a complaint against petitioners Todd and Company, its president, Langbein, and a number of its salesmen, charging violations of the N.A.S.D. Rules of Fair Practice. The complaint stated two causes: first, on April 19, and 20, 1972, petitioners allegedly sold Automated Medical Laboratories, Inc. stock to the public without disclosing that Todd and Company both dominated and controlled the market and arbitrarily set the prices for that stock; and second, Todd and Company allegedly executed the transactions "at prices, and realized profits, which were unreasonable and unfair." Todd and Company, a registered broker-dealer, was a member of the N.A.S.D. and subject to its rules.

Petitioners' difficulties began in March, 1972, when Todd underwrote a public offering of 250,000 shares of Automated Medical Laboratories stock at $2.00 per share on an "all or none, best efforts" basis.*fn1 Allegedly in an effort to secure a wide distribution, Todd limited subscriptions to 500 shares per customer. However, in many instances prospective purchasers were permitted to purchase only a portion of the amount sought, often as little as 25 or 50 percent, despite the fact that the original request was for less than 500 shares. The offering was completed on April 17, 1972. On the following day, Todd began trading the stock on the basis of $4.00 bid, $5.00 asked, double the offering price for this obscure stock. During the next two days, April 19 and 20, Todd solicited customers to either buy or sell, and more than 100,000 shares changed hands, resulting in a gross profit to petitioners of $112,542.25.

After a hearing, the District Business Conduct Committee found that petitioners sold at unfair prices as alleged in the second cause of the complaint. The Committee commented on the 100 percent increase in the stock's price from its initial offering to the value set on April 19, and 20:

"[A] premium is only a measure of an underlying demand for shares in excess of the supply. Where supply is sufficient to meet the demand, the co-existence of a premium can only result from an arbitrary price in a controlled market.

"In our view the violation charged in the second cause of complaint rests on whether Todd took advantage of its ability to set the price at the expense of its customers. We find that they did."

The Committee found petitioners' conduct "to be inconsistent with just and equitable principles of trade and to constitute separate and distinct violations of Sections 1, 4 and 18 of the Rules of Fair Practice." However, the first cause was dismissed, the Committee deciding disclosure of Todd's market domination was unnecessary. The Committee then: (1) suspended Todd's membership in the N.A.S.D. for one year; (2) barred Langbein from associating with a N.A.S.D. member for one year and limited the capacity in which he could be employed by other members for two years; (3) assessed a $50,000 fine; and (4) fined Todd's salesmen and suspended them for 30 days.

Petitioners appealed to the N.A.S.D. Board of Governors which took testimony and heard argument. In the course of affirming the Committee's decision on the second cause, the Board also determined that the first charge had been proven and reinstated it. However, the Board gave no notice of its intention to consider reinstating the first cause in advance of the hearing. Despite the presence of the additional violation, the Board reduced the sanctions by easing the restrictions on Langbein's employment during the two year period and dismissing the complaint as to the salesmen. The Securities and Exchange Commission affirmed the N.A.S.D.'s decision but further reduced the suspensions from 1 year to 6 months.

Petitioners contend that the N.A.S.D. standards are unconstitutionally vague; that the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. § 78 o - 3, authorizing the registration of the N.A.S.D., is an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority; and that the Commission erred in affirming the Board of Governors' action in reinstating the first cause. We agree only with the last assertion.*fn2

In 1938, Congress adopted the Maloney Act, 15 U.S.C. § 78 o - 3, to provide for self-regulation of the over-the-counter securities market. The statute permits the Securities and Exchange Commission to register an organization which has adopted rules

"designed to prevent fraudulent and manipulative acts and practices, to promote just and equitable principles of trade . . . and, in general, to protect the investors and the public interest. . . ." 15 U.S.C. § 78 o - 3(b)(6).*fn3

Under the statute, disciplinary rules must require specific charges, a hearing of record, and a statement of the findings. 15 U.S.C. § 78 o - 3(h).*fn4 If the Association disciplines a member, a right of appeal to the Securities and Exchange Commission is provided. After affording the opportunity for a hearing, the Commission determines whether the petitioner committed the charged acts and whether they are in violation of the Association's rules. The S.E.C. may then reduce, cancel, or leave undisturbed the penalty imposed. 15 U.S.C. § 78s(e).*fn5 The ...

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