By: George M. Wilson & Carol A. Stacey
As you may have heard, on April 3, 2017, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia entered final judgment in the on-going litigation over the Conflict Minerals Reporting Rule and remanded the case to the SEC.
This follows the action of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which in August of 2015 reaffirmed its prior holding that Section 13(p)(1) of the Securities Exchange Act and Rule 13p-1 “violate the First Amendment to the extent the statute and rule require regulated entities to report to the Commission and to state on their website that any of their products have ‘not been found to be “DRC conflict free”’. (Nat’l Ass’n of Mfrs., et al. v. SEC, No. 13-CF-000635 (D.D.C. Apr. 3, 2017))
Now that the decision has been remanded to the Commission, how this part of the statute and the related rule will be dealt with is uncertain. Since the requirement is part of the Dodd-Frank Act, the Commission is in a complex position. Even more uncertain is how companies should approach this part of the reporting process as they prepare to File Form SD by May 31 of this year.
To help companies deal with this situation the SEC has issued two Public Statements.
The first, a Public Statement by the Division of Corporation Finance, discusses how the SEC will approach the issue until further rule-making or other developments take place. CorpFin’s position is summarized in the following quote:
The court’s remand has now presented significant issues for the Commission to address. At the direction of the Acting Chairman, we have considered those issues. In light of the uncertainty regarding how the Commission will resolve those issues and related issues raised by commenters, the Division of Corporation Finance has determined that it will not recommend enforcement action to the Commission if companies, including those that are subject to paragraph (c) of Item 1.01 of Form SD, only file disclosure under the provisions of paragraphs (a) and (b) of Item 1.01 of Form SD. This statement is subject to any further action that may be taken by the Commission, expresses the Division’s position on enforcement action only, and does not express any legal conclusion on the rule.
In the Instructions to Form SD it is instruction (c) which requires “due diligence” if the “reasonable country of origin inquiry” determines that a company’s conflict minerals did or could have originated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or one of the adjoining countries.
The second, a Public Statement by Acting Chairman Piwowar, discusses plans for future Commission action and expresses various thoughts about the cost and related enforcement aspects of the rule. In the Public Statement he says:
The Court of Appeals left open the question of whether this description is required by statute or, rather, is solely a product of the Commission’s rulemaking. The Commission will now be called upon to determine how to address the Court of Appeals decision – including whether Congress’s intent in Section 13(p)(1) can be achieved through a descriptor that avoids the constitutional defect identified by the court – and how that determination affects overall implementation of the Conflict Minerals rule.
I have accordingly instructed our staff to begin work on a recommendation for future Commission action. In preparing its recommendation, the staff will consider, among other things, the public comments received in response to the January 31, 2017 request for comment.
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!