The SEC Has Issued New Guidance On Shareholder Proposals And Updated The Rule 14a-8 No-Action Letter Process

On November 3, 2021, the SEC Division of Corporation Finance (“Corp Fin”) issued Staff Legal Bulletin 14L (“SLB 14L”) related to Rule 14a-8, rescinding prior Bulletins 14I, 14J and 14K and effectively destroying four years of interpretative guidance related to the exclusion of ESG related shareholder proposals from proxy statements.  SLB 14L also provides interpretative guidance on the use of images in shareholder proponents’ supporting statements, proof of ownership, and the use of email for notices.

Following the issuance of Bulletin 14L, the SEC announced that it was reversing a 2019 policy change related to providing written responses to no-action letter requests in accordance with Rule 14a-8 in the proxy process.  The earlier 2019 policy change provided that the SEC no longer had to provide written responses to company’s that sought to exclude a shareholder proposal.  Rather, the SEC could inform the company and the proponent of its position (concurs, disagrees or declines to state a view) orally or

SEC Adopts The Use Of Universal Proxy Cards

Anthony L.G., PLLC Securities Law Firm

On November 17, 2021, the SEC adopted final rules requiring parties in a contested election to use universal proxy cards that include all director nominees presented for election at a shareholder meeting.  The original rules were proposed on October 16, 2016 (see HERE) with no activity until April, 2021, when the SEC re-opened a comment period (see HERE).  The rule adoption comes with a flurry of rule amendments, proposals and guidance related to the proxy process, some of which reverses recent rules on the same subject.

The final rules will require dissident shareholders and registrants to provide shareholders with a proxy card that includes the names of all registrant and dissident nominees. The rules will apply to all non-exempt solicitations for contested elections other than those involving registered investment companies and business development companies. The rules will require registrants and dissidents to provide each other with notice of the names of their nominees, establish a filing deadline and

SEC Re-Opens Comments On The Use Of Universal Proxy Cards

On April 16, 2021, the SEC voted to reopen the comment period on the proposed rules for the use of Universal proxy cards in all non-exempt solicitations for contested director elections.  The original rules were proposed on October 16, 2016 (see HERE) with no activity since.  However, it is not surprising that the comment period re-opened, and it is not as a result of the new administration.  The SEC’s Spring and Fall 2020 semi-annual regulatory agendas and plans for rulemaking both included universal proxies as action items in the final rule stage.  Prior to that, the topic had sat in the long-term action category for years.

In light of the several years since the original proposing release, change in corporate governance environment, proliferation of virtual shareholder meetings, and rule amendments related to proxy advisory firms (see HERE) and shareholder proposals in the proxy process (see HERE), the SEC believed it prudent to re-open a public comment period.