United States: Tenth Circuit Looks Past "General Partnership" Labels In Agreements To Determine Whether Certain Investments Constitute "Securities"

In SEC v. Shields, No. 12-1438, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 3369 (10th Cir. Feb. 24, 2014), the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court's order granting defendants' motion to dismiss, holding that the complaint alleged sufficient facts to (1) raise a plausible claim that the interests at issue involved are securities, and (2) rebut the presumption that an investment labeled as a "general partnership" is a "security."  The Tenth Circuit's holding reaffirms that although an investment may be labeled as a "general partnership" interest, courts must look beyond the labels to determine whether the investment constitutes a "security."

The Securities & Exchange Commission ("SEC") filed a civil enforcement action against Jeffory Shields a/k/a Jeffrey D. Shields, Geodynamics, Inc. ("Geodynamics"), four joint ventures and others, alleging violations of Sections 5(a) and 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933, 15 U.S.C. §§ 77e(a), 77e(c), 77q(a); Sections 10(b) and 16(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. §§ 78j(b), 78o(a); and SEC Rule 10b-5, 17 C.F.R. § 240.10b-5.  The SEC alleged that Shields, managing partner of Geodynamics, offered and sold over $5 million of interests in oil and gas exploration and drilling joint ventures to sixty investors across 28 states.  The money collected was used to fund GeoDynamics.  Shields allegedly marketed the oil and gas drilling ventures to individuals with little experience in the oil and gas exploration business by making cold calls to thousands of people and promising annual returns of between 256% and 548%.  The SEC alleged that Shields denied investors access to information, lied to investors to keep them misinformed and comingled funds.

Shields provided potential investors with offering documents which stated explicitly that the investors had the rights of general partners, and that the joint venture interests were not securities.  In addition, the documents provided the investors with the power to remove the managing venturer, GeoDynamics, the right to terminate the partnership, and the right to inspect records.  However, unlike GeoDynamics, the investors did not have the power to bind the joint ventures by executing contracts, spending funds, or interpreting contracts.  Additionally, the investors were required to sign drilling and completion contracts, thereby locking themselves into contracts with GeoDynamics, who unilaterally set the contract price.

Defendants moved to dismiss the SEC's complaint.  Defendants asserted that the investments at issue were general partnership interests, as stated in and evidenced by the agreements, not securities.  Because they were not securities, defendants argued, the SEC failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.  The United States District Court for the District of Colorado granted defendants' motion to dismiss.  The district court reasoned that the SEC's allegations were "insufficient to state a plausible claim that the joint venture interests at issue" were securities.  The SEC appealed.

The Tenth Circuit reversed.  The Court acknowledged that an investment contract, which is a type of security, exists where there is "(1) an investment, (2) in a common enterprise, (3) a reasonable expectation of profits to be derived from the entrepreneurial or managerial efforts of others."  The Court focused solely on the third requirement.  The third requirement is satisfied, the Court explained, when the efforts of individuals other than the investor significantly affect the "success or failure of the enterprise."  Additionally, the Court acknowledged that while there is a general presumption that a general partnership is not a security, this presumption is rebuttable.  The Court looked to Williamson v. Tucker, 645 F.2d 404 (5th Cir. 1981), which provided examples of situations when a general partnership can be a security, such as when the agreement leaves little power in the partner's hands, when the partner lacks experience and knowledge that he or she is incapable of exercising his or her partnership powers, or where the partner is so dependent on a unique entrepreneurial or managerial ability that he or she cannot replace the manager or exercise his or her partnership powers.

Based upon these principles, the Tenth Circuit held that the allegations in the complaint raised a plausible claim that the interests involved were securities.  Specifically, the SEC raised issues of fact regarding whether the investors were relying upon the efforts of GeoDynamics and Shields to "significantly affect the outcome of the ventures."  Additionally, the Court held that the SEC alleged sufficient facts to "rebut the presumption that the purported general partnerships here [were] not securities."  The Court reasoned that the complaint satisfied the factors in Williamson to rebut the presumption, as the SEC alleged facts to show that the investors had limited power to control or manage the investment — even if they removed GeoDynamics as the manager, they were still locked into contracts with GeoDynamics.  These contracts were the key ways in which the investors would make profits.  Thus, the investors were required to rely on GeoDynamics for the success of their joint venture.

Also, the SEC alleged that the investors had little or no experience in the oil and gas drilling business, which meant that they relied upon Shields to provide them with the necessary information.  The Court held that this raised a factual issue as to whether their voting rights, which were provided in the agreements, were illusory or a sham.  Additionally, the SEC alleged that Shields marketed GeoDynamics as having a unique expertise in the oil and gas industry, so much so that he was able to offer annual profits of 256% and 548%.  The Court held that the investors' lack of experience in the industry combined with the GeoDynamics' expertise, forced the investors to completely rely upon GeoDynamics, thereby raising an issue of fact as to whether the investors had any other alternative than to continue with GeoDynamics.  Thus, the investors lacked the control or management abilities of general partners.

The Court in Shields held that the disctric court erred because it "focused only on the form of the [joint venture agreements] . . . without considering the economic realities of the transactions and the investors' lack of access to information needed in order to actually use the powers reserved to them under the [agreements]."  Although an agreement may expressly state that the parties involved are general partners and that the interests are not securities, such interests may still be considered securities and subject to federal securities regulations if the agreement is found to be an investment contract or the facts show that the presumption that a general partnership is not a security is rebutted.  As confirmed by Shields, parties may be subject to federal securities regulations even if they explicitly state in their agreements that the interests involved are general partnerships and not securities.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Events from this Firm
31 Jan 2019, Other, Los Angeles, United States

Invites you to join us for a private cooking class hosted by Parties that Cook!

31 Jan 2019, Conference, Los Angeles, United States

The Southern California Association of Corporate Counsel's In-House Counsel Conference

6 Feb 2019, Other, Los Angeles, United States

Please join Sheppard Mullin for cocktails & hors d'oeuvres during The Wind Power Finance & Investment Summit 2019

 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions