'Fine Distinctions' in the Contemporary Law of Insider Trading

31 Pages Posted: 27 Apr 2013 Last revised: 19 Aug 2013

Date Written: 2013


William Cary’s opinion for the SEC in In re Cady, Roberts & Co. built the foundation on which the modern law of insider trading rests. This paper — a contribution to Columbia Law School’s recent celebration of Cary’s Cady Roberts opinion, explores some of these — particularly the emergence of a doctrine of “reckless” insider trading. Historically, the crucial question is this: how or why did the insider trading prohibition survive the retrenchment that happened to so many other elements of Rule 10b-5? It argues that the Supreme Court embraced the continuing existence of the “abstain or disclose” rule, and tolerated constructive fraud notwithstanding its new-found commitment to federalism — which I call the (fictional) “Cary-Powell compromise” — because it accepted the central premise on which the expressive function of insider trading regulation is based: manifestations of greed and lack of self-restraint among the privileged, especially fiduciaries or those closely related to fiduciaries, threaten to undermine the official identity of the public markets as open and fair. But enough time may have passed that we may have lost sight of the compromise associated with this fiction and started acting as if insider trading really is the worst kind of deceit. The result is pressure on doctrine to expand, using anything plausible in the 10b-5 toolkit. The aim is to tie this concern more clearly to the uneasy deceptiveness of insider trading, first using somewhat familiar examples such as the debate over whether possession or use is required for liability and the supposed overreach of Rule 10b5-2. Each of these settings brings us back to the centrality of intent, reminding us that the Cary-Powell compromise has in mind a form of purposefulness that is closely tied to greed and opportunism, making insider trading a sui generis form of securities fraud. That takes us to the most jarring recent development in insider trading law, the emergence (particularly in SEC v. Obus) of recklessness as an alternative basis for liability.

Keywords: insider trading, Rule 10b-5, Rule 14e-3, misappropriation theory, securities fraud, Supreme Court

JEL Classification: K00, K22, K39

Suggested Citation

Langevoort, Donald C., 'Fine Distinctions' in the Contemporary Law of Insider Trading (2013). Columbia Business Law Review, pp. 429-460, 2013, Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 13-032, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2256641

Donald C. Langevoort (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

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Washington, DC 20001
United States
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