472 U.S. 181 (1985), 83-1911, Lowe v. Securities and Exchange Commission

Docket Nº:No. 83-1911
Citation:472 U.S. 181, 105 S.Ct. 2557, 86 L.Ed.2d 130, 53 U.S.L.W. 4705
Party Name:Lowe v. Securities and Exchange Commission
Case Date:June 10, 1985
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 181

472 U.S. 181 (1985)

105 S.Ct. 2557, 86 L.Ed.2d 130, 53 U.S.L.W. 4705

Lowe

v.

Securities and Exchange Commission

No. 83-1911

United States Supreme Court

June 10, 1985

Argued January 7, 1986

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioner Lowe is the president and principal shareholder of a corporation (also a petitioner) that was registered as an investment adviser under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (Act). Because Lowe was convicted of various offenses involving investments, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), after a hearing, ordered that the corporation's registration be revoked and that Lowe not associate with any investment adviser. Thereafter, the SEC brought an action in Federal District Court, alleging that Lowe, the corporation, and two other unregistered corporations (also petitioners) were violating the Act, and that Lowe was violating the SEC's order by publishing, for paid subscribers, purportedly semimonthly newsletters containing investment advice and commentary. After determining that petitioners' publications were protected by the First Amendment, the District Court, denying for the most part the SEC's requested injunctive relief, held that the Act must be construed to allow a publisher who is willing to comply with the Act's reporting and disclosure requirements to register for the limited purpose of publishing such material and to engage in such publishing. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the Act does not distinguish between person-to-person advice and impersonal advice given in publications, that petitioners were engaged in business as "investment advisers" within the meaning of the Act, and that the exclusion in § 202(a)(11)(D) of the Act from the Act's definition of covered "investment advisers" for "the publisher of any bona fide newspaper, news magazine, or business or financial publication of general and regular circulation" did not apply to petitioners. Rejecting petitioners' constitutional claim, the court further held that Lowe's history of criminal conduct justified the characterization of petitioners' publications "as potentially deceptive commercial speech."

Held: Petitioners' publications fall within the statutory exclusion for bona fide publications, none of the petitioners is an "investment adviser" as defined in the Act, and therefore neither petitioners' unregistered status nor the SEC order against Lowe provides a justification for restraining the future publication of their newsletters. Pp. 190-211.

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[105 S.Ct. 2559] (a) The Act's legislative history plainly demonstrates that Congress was primarily interested in regulating the business of rendering personalized investment advice, including publishing activities that are a normal incident thereto. On the other hand, Congress, plainly sensitive to First Amendment concerns, wanted to make clear that it did not seek to regulate the press through the licensing of nonpersonalized publishing activities. Pp. 203-204.

(b) Because the content of petitioners' newsletters was completely disinterested, and because they were offered to the general public on a regular schedule, they are described by the plain language of § 202(a)(11)(D)'s exclusion. The mere fact that a publication contains advice and comment about specific securities does not give it the personalized character that identifies a professional investment adviser. Thus, petitioners' newsletters do not fit within the Act's central purpose, because they do not offer individualized advice attuned to any specific portfolio or to any client's particular needs. On the contrary, they circulate for sale to the public in a free, open market. Lowe's unsavory history does not prevent the newsletters from being "bona fide" within the meaning of the exclusion. In light of the legislative history, the term "bona fide" translates best to "genuine"; petitioners' publications meet this definition. Moreover, the publications are "of general and regular circulation." Although they have not been published on a regular semimonthly basis as advertised, and thus have not been "regular" in the sense of consistent circulation, they have been "regular" in the sense important to the securities market. Pp. 204-209.

725 F.2d 892, reversed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed an opinion concurring in the result, in which BURGER, C.J., and REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 211. POWELL, J., took no part in the decision of the case.

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STEVENS, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question is whether petitioners may be permanently enjoined from publishing nonpersonalized investment advice and commentary in securities newsletters because they are not registered as investment advisers under § 203(c) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (Act), 54 Stat. 850, 15 U.S.C. § 80b-3(c).

Christopher Lowe is the president and principal shareholder of Lowe Management Corporation. From 1974 until 1981, the corporation was registered as an investment adviser under the Act.1 During that period, Lowe was convicted of misappropriating funds of an investment client, of engaging in business as an investment adviser without filing a registration application with New York's Department of Law, of tampering with evidence to cover up fraud of an investment client, and of stealing from a bank.2 Consequently, on May 11, 1981, the Securities and Exchange Commission (Commission), after a full hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, entered an order revoking the registration of the Lowe Management Corporation, and ordering Lowe not to associate thereafter with any investment adviser.

In fashioning its remedy, the Commission took into account the fact that petitioners "are now solely engaged in the business of publishing advisory publications." The Commission noted that, unless the registration was revoked, petitioners

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would be "free to engage in all aspects of the advisory business," and that even their publishing activities afforded them "opportunities for dishonesty and self-dealing."3

[105 S.Ct. 2560] A little over a year later, the Commission commenced this action by filing a complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, alleging that Lowe, the Lowe Management Corporation, and two other corporations4 were violating the Act, and that Lowe was violating the Commission's order. The principal charge in the complaint was that Lowe and the three corporations (petitioners) were publishing two investment newsletters and soliciting subscriptions for a stock-chart service. The complaint alleged that, through those publications, the petitioners were engaged in the business of advising others

as to the advisability of investing in, purchasing, or selling securities . . . and as a part of a regular business . . . issuing reports concerning securities.5

Because none of the petitioners was registered or exempt from registration under the Act, the use of the mails in connection with the advisory business allegedly violated § 203(a) of the Act. The Commission prayed for a permanent injunction restraining the further distribution of petitioners' investment advisory publications;

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for a permanent injunction enforcing compliance with the order of May 11, 1981; and for other relief.6

Although three publications are involved in this litigation, only one need be described. A typical issue of the Lowe Investment and Financial Letter contained general commentary about the securities and bullion markets, reviews of market indicators and investment strategies, and specific recommendations for buying, selling, or holding stocks and bullion. The newsletter advertised a "telephone hotline" over which subscribers could call to get current information. The number of subscribers to the newsletter ranged from 3,000 to 19,000. It was advertised as a semimonthly publication, but only eight issues were published in the 15 months after the entry of the 1981 order.7

Subscribers who testified at the trial criticized the lack of regularity of publication,8 but no adverse evidence concerning the quality of the publications was offered. There was no evidence that Lowe's criminal convictions were related to the publications;9 no evidence that Lowe had engaged in any

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trading activity in any securities that were the subject of advice or comment in the publications; and no contention that any of the information published in the advisory services had been false or materially misleading.10

[105 S.Ct. 2561] For the most part, the District Court denied the Commission the relief it requested. 556 F.Supp. 1359, 1371 (EDNY 1983). The court did enjoin petitioners from giving information to their subscribers by telephone, individual letter, or in person, but it refused to enjoin them from continuing their publication activities or to require them to disgorge any of the earnings from the publications.11 The District Court acknowledged that the face of the statute did not differentiate between persons whose only advisory activity is the "publication of impersonal investment suggestions, reports and analyses" and those who rendered person-to-person advice, but concluded that constitutional considerations suggested the need for such a distinction.12 After determining that petitioners' publications were protected by the First Amendment, the District Court held that the Act must be construed to allow a publisher who is willing to comply with the existing reporting and disclosure requirements to register for the limited purpose of publishing such material and to engage in such publishing.13

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