July 31, 2018

SEC Announces Proxy Roundtable (Here We Go Again)

Yesterday, the SEC announced that it will hold a “proxy process” roundtable this fall. The date & agenda are TBD – but Chair Clayton is asking Corp Fin to reconsider the voting process, retail shareholder participation, shareholder proposals, proxy advisors, technology & universal proxy cards.

This isn’t the first time the SEC has tackled “proxy plumbing.” It issued its first concept release on this topic back in 2010 (see our “Proxy Plumbing” Practice Area). That effort didn’t result in much rule-making – maybe the SEC’s initiatives will be less controversial this time.

ISS Policy Survey: Auditor & Director Track Records, Gender Diversity & More

Yesterday, ISS opened its “Annual Policy Survey” – like last year, it consists of two parts:

1. Governance Principles Survey – 10 questions on high-profile topics. This year’s questions relate to auditor independence & quality, audit committee evaluations, impact of past & present director track records at other companies, board gender diversity and the “one-share, one-vote” principle. This part of the survey will close on August 24th.

2. Policy Application Survey – More expansive portion that can be accessed at the end of the initial survey, allowing respondents to drill down on key issues by region. This part of the survey closes September 21st. According to this Weil blog, the key issues for the Americas region include excessive non-executive director compensation, independent chair proposals, share ownership requirements for binding bylaw amendments and pay-for-performance metrics.

As always, this is the first step for ISS as it formulates its 2019 voting policies. In addition to the two-part survey, ISS will gather input via regionally-based, topic-specific roundtables & calls and a comment period on the final proposed changes to the policies.

Company Prevails Over Disputed Advance Notice Bylaw

A recent advance notice bylaw dispute is a reminder that there’s usually room for interpretation. Check out the intro from Ning Chiu’s blog:

HomeStreet received a 133-page notice the day before the advance notice deadline in its bylaws, alerting the company that Blue Lion intended to nominate two directors and submit two proposals – seeking annual elections and a binding resolution for an independent chairman.

Less than a week later, the company announced that the notice was deficient – attaching a five-page letter to a Form 8-K that it sent to the shareholder. The letter stated that the notice provided by the shareholder failed to meet several of the bylaw’s disclosure requirements, including providing information related to the holder of shares that would be disclosed in a proxy statement governing a solicitation as well as deficiencies in the D&O questionnaires returned by the shareholders’ nominees. Since the deadline had passed, declared the company, the company intended to disregard the nominations and the proposals for the meeting.

As you might guess – Blue Lion didn’t just accept this and walk away. In their view, the notice materially complied with the bylaw. They responded in a 34-page letter – and they took it to court. In this instance, the company prevailed.

According to this Sidley blog, since HomeStreet’s bylaw had been in place since the company’s IPO & was previously-disclosed, the court found that the company hadn’t taken any defensive measures. So, it rejected the argument that Delaware’s “enhanced scrutiny” test should apply. Broc recently blogged about a New York case with a different outcome…

Liz Dunshee