“Kokesh v. SEC”: Its Wide-Ranging (and Mostly Good) Implications for Disgorgement Actions

MorrisGuest Commentary

By Andrew J. Morris, a Partner with Morvillo LLP. Mr. Morris authored a March 10, 2017 WLF Legal BackgrounderIs the Clock Running out on SEC’s Unchecked Pursuit of Disgorgement Penalties?

In Kokesh v. Securities and Exchange Commission, the US Supreme Court ruled that SEC actions for disgorgement are governed by the five-year statute of limitations for penalties. This decision is a real blow to the SEC: It ends the practice of using disgorgement actions to obtain massive sanctions for conduct that took place many years in the past, outside the limitations period for penalties and forfeitures. The decision also invites defendants to make further challenges to SEC enforcement actions by litigating several related issues.

Implications for Enforcement Proceedings

The Court’s opinion, written by Justice Sotomayor, is summarized in a WLF Legal Pulse post authored last week by UCLA School of Law Professor Stephen Bainbridge. The gist of the decision is that disgorgement is a form of penalty because it involves a defendant who has violated a public law and must pay money to the United States Treasury; this contrasts with non-penalty cases, where the defendant has injured a particular victim and must pay compensation to that victim. And because disgorgement is a penalty, the Supreme Court held, disgorgement actions are covered by 28 U.S.C. § 2462, the five-year statute of limitations for penalties. Continue reading