45 F.3d 7 (2nd Cir. 1995), 196, New York City Employees' Retirement System v. S.E.C.

Docket Nº:196, Docket 94-6072.
Citation:45 F.3d 7
Party Name:NEW YORK CITY EMPLOYEES' RETIREMENT SYSTEM; United States Trust Company; and Women's Division of the Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:January 03, 1995
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
 
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45 F.3d 7 (2nd Cir. 1995)

NEW YORK CITY EMPLOYEES' RETIREMENT SYSTEM; United States

Trust Company; and Women's Division of the Board

of Global Ministries of the United

Methodist Church, Plaintiffs-Appellees,

v.

SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 196, Docket 94-6072.

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

January 3, 1995

Argued Sept. 26, 1994.

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Jacob H. Stillman, Assoc. Gen. Counsel, S.E.C., Washington, DC (Paul Gonson, Sol., Simon M. Lorne, Gen. Counsel, Lucinda O. McConathy, Asst. Gen. Counsel, and Christopher Paik, Senior Counsel, S.E.C., of counsel), for defendant-appellant.

Margaret G. King, Corp. Counsel's Office, New York City (Paul A. Crotty, Corp. Counsel for the City of New York and Barry P. Schwartz, Corp. Counsel's Office, of counsel), for plaintiff-appellee New York City Employees' Retirement System.

Paul M. Neuhauser, Iowa City, IA (Hilary B. Klein, of counsel), for plaintiffs-appellees Women's Div. of the Bd. of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church and U.S. Trust Co.

Joseph P. Galda, Clark, Ladner, Fortenbaugh & Young, Philadelphia, PA, Daniel J. Popeo, and Paul D. Kamenar, Washington, DC, for amicus curiae Washington Legal Foundation.

William M. Tartikoff and Beth-Ann Roth, Bethesda, MD, for amicus curiae Calvert Group, Ltd.

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Before: WALKER, McLAUGHLIN and JACOBS, Circuit Judges.

McLAUGHLIN, Circuit Judge:

The plaintiffs, New York City Employees' Retirement System ("NYCERS") and two other institutional investors, sued the Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC") in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Kimba M. Wood, Judge ), to enjoin the SEC from violating section 553(b) of the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"). See 5 U.S.C. Sec. 553(b). The lawsuit stemmed from an SEC "no-action" letter, in which the SEC announced that it was changing its interpretation of SEC Rule 14a-8(c)(7). See 17 C.F.R. Sec. 240.14a-8(c)(7) (1994) ("Rule 14a-8(c)(7)"). The plaintiffs claimed that the old interpretation of Rule 14a-8(c)(7) was subjected to notice and comment before it was adopted, and, accordingly, the new interpretation had to follow the same procedures. The plaintiffs also challenged the new interpretation as arbitrary and capricious.

The district court, on plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment determined that the SEC's no-action letter announced a "legislative rule," as that term is used in the APA. See NYCERS v. SEC, 843 F.Supp. 858 (S.D.N.Y.1994). The court therefore enjoined the SEC from issuing any no-action letter inconsistent with the SEC's previous understanding of Rule 14a-8(c)(7) without first submitting the rule for notice and comment. The district court saw no need to address whether the rule was arbitrary and capricious.

The SEC now appeals, arguing that the no-action letter was "interpretive," not legislative, and, as such, was not subject to the APA's notice and comment requirements. The SEC also urges us to dismiss the arbitrary and capricious claim because the plaintiffs may obtain this relief without suing the agency.

We agree with the SEC. Accordingly, we vacate the injunction, reverse the order granting summary judgment, and dismiss the claim that the letter was arbitrary and capricious.

BACKGROUND

All three plaintiffs are major institutional shareholders, sharing a common sensitivity to their social responsibility. After investing in a company, the plaintiffs regularly use their shareholder status as a bully pulpit to promote non-discriminatory policies in the workplace.

The plaintiffs' powder and shot are proxy materials and shareholder proposals. When the plaintiffs want to change a company policy, they put their idea up for a shareholder vote by submitting a shareholder proposal to the board of directors. Then, the plaintiffs ask the board to include the proposal in the proxy materials that are sent to all shareholders before meetings.

In 1991, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc. attracted the plaintiffs' ire. That January, Cracker Barrel, a restaurant chain, issued a press release:

Cracker Barrel is founded upon a concept of traditional American values, quality in all we do, and a philosophy of 100% guest satisfaction. It is inconsistent with our concept and values, and is perceived to be inconsistent with those of our customer base, to continue to employ individuals ... whose sexual preferences fail to demonstrate normal heterosexual values which have been the foundation of families in our society.

Upon the heels of this release, Cracker Barrel fired several gay employees.

Cracker Barrel's actions triggered public protests, boycotts, and negative media coverage. To defuse the furor, Cracker Barrel rescinded the anti-gay policy. It did not, however, rehire the former employees. Neither did it expressly include "sexual orientation" among the inappropriate criteria for employment decisions in its published anti-discrimination policy.

In November 1991, plaintiff NYCERS, a Cracker Barrel shareholder, proposed to Cracker Barrel's board of directors that the company expressly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. NYCERS called for a shareholder vote and asked Cracker Barrel to include the proposal in the

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proxy materials for the 1992 annual shareholder meeting.

Cracker Barrel wanted no part of this proposal, and did not even want to include it in the proxy materials. Under Rule 14a-8, however, Cracker Barrel had to include the proposal in the proxy materials unless the proposal dealt with "ordinary business operations." See Rule 14a-8(c)(7). The construction of that term lies at the heart of the controversy, and it requires some exegesis.

In 1976, the SEC proposed to revise various parts of Rule 14a-8. It wanted to tighten the exception for "ordinary business operations" in subsection (c)(7)--then subsection (c)(5)--so that only proposals regarding "routine, day to day matters relating to the...

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