November 4, 2021

Shareholder Proposals: More Nuggets from SLB 14L

Corp Fin addressed several other topics in SLB 14L, including the use of images in shareholder proponents’ supporting statements, issues surrounding proof of ownership letters, and the use of emails to submit proposals and deficiency notices.  Here are some excerpts from Corp Fin’s discussion of these topics:

Use of images in supporting statements – “Questions have arisen concerning the application of Rule 14a-8(d) to proposals that include graphs and/or images. The staff has expressed the view that the use of “500 words” and absence of express reference to graphics or images in Rule 14a-8(d) do not prohibit the inclusion of graphs and/or images in proposals. Just as companies include graphics that are not expressly permitted under the disclosure rules, the Division is of the view that Rule 14a-8(d) does not preclude shareholders from using graphics to convey information about their proposals.”

Proof of ownership letters – “Some companies apply an overly technical reading of proof of ownership letters as a means to exclude a proposal. We generally do not find arguments along these lines to be persuasive. For example, we did not concur with the excludability of a proposal based on Rule 14a-8(b) where the proof of ownership letter deviated from the format set forth in SLB No. 14F. In those cases, we concluded that the proponent nonetheless had supplied documentary support sufficiently evidencing the requisite minimum ownership requirements, as required by Rule 14a-8(b). We took a plain meaning approach to interpreting the text of the proof of ownership letter, and we expect companies to apply a similar approach in their review of such letters.”

Use of email – “Unlike the use of third-party mail delivery that provides the sender with a proof of delivery, parties should keep in mind that methods for the confirmation of email delivery may differ. Email delivery confirmations and company server logs may not be sufficient to prove receipt of emails as they only serve to prove that emails were sent. In addition, spam filters or incorrect email addresses can prevent an email from being delivered to the appropriate recipient. The staff therefore suggests that to prove delivery of an email for purposes of Rule 14a-8, the sender should seek a reply e-mail from the recipient in which the recipient acknowledges receipt of the e-mail. The staff also encourages both companies and shareholder proponents to acknowledge receipt of emails when requested.”

Several members have already pointed out another issue that SLB 14L raises regarding proof of ownership letters. At one point in the discussion, Corp Fin says that “we believe that companies should identify any specific defects in the proof of ownership letter, even if the company previously sent a deficiency notice prior to receiving the proponent’s proof of ownership if such deficiency notice did not identify the specific defect(s).” This kind of “double notice” is something that hasn’t been required before now.

John Jenkins