- John Malcolm, The Heritage Foundation
Farha v. United States, currently pending on a petition for writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court, is a case study raising basic notions of due process, fair notice, the rule of lenity, mens rea, and whether administrative and civil remedies would be more appropriate. What began as a highly publicized raid by some 200 FBI agents on a Florida health care company over an accounting dispute ended in the indictment, conviction, and prison sentences for the Wellcare executives for fraud.
On appeal, where the case was captioned Clay v. United States, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld the convictions over the objections of the defendants that the jury instruction impermissibly allowed the jury to convict if the defendants were “deliberately indifferent” to the law’s requirement as opposed to finding a “knowing” violation as the statute requires. The Supreme Court in 2011, in Global-Tech Appliances, a civil case involving patent infringement, held that "knowledge" cannot include "deliberate indifference" to show sufficient mens rea to establish infringement. Accordingly, the cert petition, filed by Seth Waxman of WilmerHale, seeks to have the Court rule that the jury instructions should require a higher mens rea standard, all the more so in a criminal case.
This case is particularly important for all regulated industries, where there are numerous laws and complex regulations governing conduct subject to administrative, civil, and criminal enforcement.
On February 21, the Supreme Court will hear argument in Hernandez v. Mesa. In July of 2010, a 15-year-old adolescent named Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca and his friends were playing along a concrete structure on the border of the U.S. and Mexico. When Jesus Mesa, Jr., a U.S. Border Patrol Agent arrived, he detained one of the youths on the border, and shot and killed Hernandez, who was hiding behind a pillar of the Paso Del Norte Bridge on the Mexican side of the border. Hernandez’s parents sued Agent Mesa under the Fourth and Fifth Amendment for the use of unlawful and disproportionate force. Agent Mesa argued that the Fourth and Fifth Amendments did not apply because Hernandez was not a U.S. citizen. The District Court found for Agent Mesa, while the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that the Fifth Amendment Protections against deadly force applied but the Fourth Amendment did not, and that Agent Mesa should not receive qualified immunity.
Professor Andrew Kent of Fordham University School of Law and Professor Stephen I. Vladeck of UT Austin Law School joined us to examine the case and its implications for extraterritorial application of the Bill of Rights and for qualified immunity.
On December 6, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Salman v. United States. Bassam Yacoub Salman was convicted in a jury trial of conspiracy to commit securities fraud, as well as several counts of actual securities fraud. The government’s theory was that Salman, whose brother-in-law Mounir Kara (along with Mounir’s older brother Maher Kara) worked for Citigroup, had coordinated with Mounir in an insider trading scheme that, over the course of just a few years, grew a $396,000 brokerage account controlled by Salman into one worth more than $2 million.
Salman moved for a new trial, arguing that there was no evidence he knew that the tipper had disclosed confidential information in exchange for a personal benefit. The district court denied the motion. Salman made a similar argument to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on appeal, urging the Court to adopt the then-recently established standard set out by the Second Circuit in United States v. Newman. Under Newman, the government must present sufficient evidence that the accused knew the “inside” information he received had been disclosed in breach of a fiduciary duty. Invoking Supreme Court precedent in Dirks v. SEC, the Ninth Circuit rejected Salman’s challenge, holding that the close familial relationship between Salman and the Karas was sufficient to sustain Salman’s convictions.
The question before the Supreme Court was whether the personal benefit to the insider that is necessary to establish insider trading under Dirks requires proof of “an exchange that is objective, consequential, and represents at least a potential gain of a pecuniary or similarly valuable nature,” as the Second Circuit held in Newman, or whether it is enough that the insider and the tippee shared a close familial relationship, as the Ninth Circuit held here.
By a vote of 8-0, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Ninth Circuit. In an opinion delivered by Justice Alito, a unanimous Court held that the Ninth Circuit properly applied the court's decision in Dirks v. Securities and Exchange Commission to affirm Bassam Salman's conviction because, under Dirks, the jury could infer that Salman's tipper personally benefited from making a gift of confidential information to a trading relative.
To discuss the case, we have Thaya Brook Knight, who is associate director of financial regulation studies at the Cato Institute.