Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Jurisdiction, merits, and Dodd-Frank
A couple of years ago, tipped off by a partner at Wachtell and Prawfs reader, I wrote about a potential jurisdiction/merits confusion with respect to § 929P(b) of the Dodd-Frank Act. That provision sought to overturn Morrison v. National Australia Bank and expand the extraterritorial reach of the Securities Acts, but did so in jurisdictional terms by identifying two situations in which district courts "shall have jurisdiction over an action or proceeding brought or instituted by the [SEC]."
We now have a decision from the Northern District of Illinois wrestling with these issues, although ultimately declining to resolve them. The defendants filed a 12(b)(6), arguing that the SEC failed to allege sufficient facts to meet the Morrison standard and that § 929P(b), being solely jurisdictional, did not expand the law's substantive reach. Ultimately, the court denied the motion, finding that the complaint stated a claim, regardless of whether the controlling substantive standard came from Morrison or from § 929P(b) understood as a merits statute controlled.
Nevertheless, the court engaged on the jurisdiction/merits question and at least hinted that the better view is that § 929P is jurisdictional. On one hand, the plain language suggests § 929P is jurisdictional; it speaks in expressly jurisdictional terms and appears in the statute's jurisdictional section. On the other hand, the court acknowledged several competing considerations: 1) avoiding interpretations that render a provision superfluous--since the Securities Act already has a jurisdictional provision and since Morrison itself acknowledged that the district court had jurisdiction over that claim, § 929P serves no purpose if it is solely jurisdictional; 2) legislative history, particularly statements by a sponsor indicating a desire to expand extraterritoriality; 3) avoiding absurd results, namely the conclusion that Congress granted district court jurisdiction (jurisdiction they already had) over a class of claims that were going to be dismissed for failure to state a claim. But the court at least seemed inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to the plain language.
Stay tuned. Perhaps a better case, one that actually will have to decide the question, is somewhere in the pipe.
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