Opposition to the USA's motion to dismiss the complaint
April 6, 2012
By Dr. Gaytri D. Kachroo
Plaintiffs hereby oppose the United States of America's Motion to Dismiss the Complaint (the
"Motion"). This Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this action because the government
fails to demonstrate that the discretionary function exception shields from liability the Securities
and Exchange Commission's ("SEC") negligent failure to follow statutorily prescribed courses of
action in the wake of its discovery of Robert Allen Stanford's Ponzi scheme.
The government's strategy on this Motion is to paint with a very broad brush. Thus, the government argues that "the manner in which the SEC chooses to regulate the securities industry" is discretionary conduct protected by the discretionary function exception in the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2680(a). Generalized this way, the government's argument obviously cannot be contested. But framing the issue this way only creates a paper tiger. The conduct challenged in this case is not the SEC's regulation of the industry writ large, but rather its failure to comply with two specific, non-discretionary mandates. The government's over-generalization of the issue is an effort to move the battle to safer ground. This misdirection does not survive scrutiny.
Moreover, such a macro approach to the discretionary function exception results in the reverse of what Congress intended, which was to construe the remedial provisions of the FTCA liberally and the exceptions narrowly. If every claim against the SEC were to be construed as an attack on "the manner in which the SEC chooses to regulate the securities industry," then this narrow exception would swallow the general waiver and afford the SEC virtual immunity, contrary to Congress' intent. Indeed, as the government itself points out, Congress considered exempting the SEC from the FTCA entirely, but ultimately, did not do so.
Thus, the crucial first step in determining whether the exception applies is to isolate the specific conduct actually being challenged. Here, the Complaint does not make a broad attack on the manner in which the SEC regulates the securities industry, but rather, challenges two specific instances of SEC inaction: (1) a failure to notify the Securities Investor Protection Corporation ("SIPC") that U.S. registered broker-dealer Stanford Group Company "SGC") was in financial difficulty, after concluding that it was; and (2) a failure to deny continued registration to SGC as an investment advisor in light of the SEC's determination that SGC failed to satisfy registration requirements.
These negligent omissions violated statutorily mandated duties to take prescribed courses of action and thus, were not and could not have been permissible policy choices. As the Supreme Court has explained and courts have consistently held, where there exists a mandatory responsibility, there is no room for a policy choice. Moreover, even if the government could show that the SEC's negligent omissions involved the exercise of judgment, the government also fails to demonstrate, as it must, that such judgment was grounded in considerations of public policy.
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