Salman v. United States
580 U.S. ___ (2016)

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Justia Opinion Summary

Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and SEC Rule 10b–5 prohibit undisclosed trading on inside corporate information by persons bound by a duty not to exploit that information for their personal advantage. These persons are also forbidden from tipping inside information to others for trading. The Supreme Court has held (Dirks) that tippee liability hinges on whether the tipper disclosed the information for a personal benefit; personal benefit may be inferred where the tipper receives something of value in exchange for the tip or “makes a gift of confidential information to a trading relative or friend.” Salman was convicted for trading on inside information he received from Kara, who had received the information from his brother, Maher, a former investment banker at Citigroup. Maher testified that he expected his brother to trade on the information. Kara testified that Salman knew the information was from Maher. While Salman’s appeal was pending, the Second Circuit decided that personal benefit to the tipper may not be inferred from a gift of confidential information to a trading relative or friend, unless there is “proof of a meaningfully close personal relationship … that generates an exchange that is objective, consequential, and represents at least a potential gain of a pecuniary or similarly valuable nature.” The Ninth Circuit declined to follow the Second Circuit. A unanimous Supreme Court affirmed. When an insider gives a trading relative or friend confidential information, the situation resembles trading by the insider himself followed by a gift of the profits to the recipient. Maher breached his duty to Citigroup and its clients—a duty acquired and breached by Salman when he traded on the information, knowing that it had been improperly disclosed.

  • Syllabus  | 
  • Opinion (Samuel A. Alito, Jr.)

NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued.The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader.See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co.,200 U. S. 321.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

Syllabus

SALMAN v. UNITED STATES

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit

No. 15–628. Argued October 5, 2016—Decided December 6, 2016

Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Rule 10b–5 prohibit undisclosed trading on inside corporate information by persons bound by a duty of trust and confidence not to exploit that information for their personal advantage. These persons are also forbidden from tipping inside information to others for trading. A tippee who receives such information with the knowledge that its disclosure breached the tipper’s duty acquires that duty and may be liable for securities fraud for any undisclosed trading on the information. In Dirks v. SEC,463 U. S. 646, this Court explained that tippee liability hinges on whether the tipper’s disclosure breaches a fiduciary duty, which occurs when the tipper discloses the information for a personal benefit. The Court also held that a personal benefit may be inferred where the tipper receives something of value in exchange for the tip or “makes a gift of confidential information to a trading relative or friend.” Id., at 664.

Petitioner Salman was indicted for federal securities-fraud crimes for trading on inside information he received from a friend and relative-by-marriage, Michael Kara, who, in turn, received the information from his brother, Maher Kara, a former investment banker at Citigroup. Maher testified at Salman’s trial that he shared inside information with his brother Michael to benefit him and expected him to trade on it, and Michael testified to sharing that information with Salman, who knew that it was from Maher. Salman was convicted.

While Salman’s appeal to the Ninth Circuit was pending, the Second Circuit decided that Dirks does not permit a factfinder to infer a personal benefit to the tipper from a gift of confidential information to a trading relative or friend, unless there is “proof of a meaningfully close personal relationship” between tipper and tippee “that generates an exchange that is objective, consequential, and represents at least a potential gain of a pecuniary or similarly valuable nature,” United States v. Newman, 773 F. 3d 438, 452, cert. denied, 577 U. S. ___. The Ninth Circuit declined to follow Newman so far, holding that Dirks allowed Salman’s jury to infer that the tipper breached a duty because he made “ ‘a gift of confidential information to a trading relative.’ ” 792 F. 3d 1087, 1092 (quoting Dirks, 463 U. S., at 664).

Held: The Ninth Circuit properly applied Dirks to affirm Salman’s conviction. Under Dirks, the jury could infer that the tipper here personally benefited from making a gift of confidential information to a trading relative. Pp. 6–12.

(a) Salman contends that a gift of confidential information to a friend or family member alone is insufficient to establish the personal benefit required for tippee liability, claiming that a tipper does not personally benefit unless the tipper’s goal in disclosing information is to obtain money, property, or something of tangible value. The Government counters that a gift of confidential information to anyone, not just a “trading relative or friend,” is enough to prove securities fraud because a tipper personally benefits through any disclosure of confidential trading information for a personal (non-corporate) purpose. The Government argues that any concerns raised by permitting such an inference are significantly alleviated by other statutory elements prosecutors must satisfy. Pp. 6–8.

(b) This Court adheres to the holding in Dirks, which easily resolves the case at hand: “when an insider makes a gift of confidential information to a trading relative or friend . . . [t]he tip and trade resemble trading by the insider himself followed by a gift of the profits to the recipient,” 463 U. S., at 664. In these situations, the tipper personally benefits because giving a gift of trading information to a trading relative is the same thing as trading by the tipper followed by a gift of the proceeds. Here, by disclosing confidential information as a gift to his brother with the expectation that he would trade on it, Maher breached his duty of trust and confidence to Citigroup and its clients—a duty acquired and breached by Salman when he traded on the information with full knowledge that it had been improperly disclosed. To the extent that the Second Circuit in Newman held that the tipper must also receive something of a “pecuniary or similarly valuable nature” in exchange for a gift to a trading relative, that rule is inconsistent with Dirks. Pp. 8–10.

(c) Salman’s arguments to the contrary are rejected. Salman has cited nothing in this Court’s precedents that undermines the gift-giving principle this Court announced in Dirks. Nor has he demonstrated that either §10(b) itself or Dirks’s gift-giving standard “leav[e] grave uncertainty about how to estimate the risk posed by a crime” or are plagued by “hopeless indeterminacy.” Johnson v. United States, 576 U. S. ___, ___, ___. Salman also has shown “no grievous ambiguity or uncertainty that would trigger” the rule of lenity. Barber v. Thomas,560 U. S. 474 (internal quotation marks omitted). To the contrary, his conduct is in the heartland of Dirks’s rule concerning gifts of confidential information to trading relatives. Pp. 10–12.

792 F. 3d 1087, affirmed.

Alito, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Primary Holding
Giving confidential information to a relative or friend may expose an insider to criminal liability because it supports an inference of a personal benefit to the insider, similar to executing the trade and then giving the profits to the relative or friend.

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