Posts tagged with "investment"

Form U5 – Employment Termination in the Securities Industry

Broker-dealers, investment advisors, and issuers of securities routinely use Form U5 to terminate the registration of an individual whose employment has ended and to notify the appropriate jurisdiction or self-regulatory organization.  Employees are still subject to the jurisdiction of regulators for at least two years after the registration has been terminated and may have to provide information about the association with their former employer.  The section of Form U5 that may be the most problematic concerns the reason for the termination that must be provided by the employer.

Reason for Termination

If the employer elects to describe a full termination as “permitted to resign,” “discharged,” or “other,”, then an explanation must be provided.  No such explanation is necessary if the full termination is deemed “voluntary.”  Disclosure of the employee’s involvement in investigations, internal reviews, regulatory actions, criminal matters and customer complaints must also be made by the employer.

In many cases, an employer and employee may disagree on what led to an employment termination and on the circumstances of the departure.  A disparaging remark, untrue statement or misleading explanation on Form U5 can jeopardize the ability of an individual to continue working in the securities industry.  A prospective employer may pass over a job candidate who has what has come to be known as a “Dirty U5” from a previous employer.

Dirty U5s

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) does provide a forum for an employee to pursue arbitration against a former employer to contest a “Dirty U5.”  However, the best course of action is to avoid the problem from ever arising.  Registered employees in the securities industry are well advised to seek legal advice and counsel once it becomes apparent that their employment may be coming to an end.  In many cases, the disclosures made in the Form U5 by the employer may be mutually agreed upon before the employment termination ever occurs.

Should you have any questions relating to the Form U5, or employment issues generally, please feel free to contact Joseph Maya or the other experienced education attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. today at (203) 221-3100 or by email at

Colorado Court Confirms FINRA Arbitration Award Denying Relief for Service Member’s USERRA Claims

Michael H. Ohlfs v. Charles Schwab & Co., Inc., 2012 WL 202776 (D. Colo. Jan. 24, 2012)

In a case before the Colorado federal district court, Michael Ohlfs (“Ohlfs”), an investment professional employed by Charles Schwab & Co., Inc., (“Charles Schwab”), filed a motion to vacate a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) arbitration award decided in favor of Charles Schwab in August 2011.  Charles Schwab petitioned the court to confirm the arbitration award and enter judgment pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), 9 U.S.C. § 9.  The court dismissed Ohlfs claims with prejudice and entered judgment for Charles Schwab.

Case Background

The underlying dispute in this case arose when Ohlfs returned from post 9/11 active duty military service to a Grade 56 Investment Representative position with Charles Schwab, which was lower than the Grade 57 Senior Investment Specialist he held prior to his military service.  The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, 38 U.S.C. § 4301, et seq., (“USERRA”) prohibits employment discrimination against military personnel deployed for active duty.  Ohlfs initially filed his USERRA claims in federal district court; however, the court ordered the parties to FINRA arbitration pursuant to the agreement that Ohlfs executed when he registered as a securities broker.

FINRA appointed an arbitration panel of three arbitrators to hear the matter after Ohlfs executed a FINRA Arbitration Submission Agreement, which included an agreement to be bound by the award.  Ohlfs’s claims against Charles Schwab included allegations that his re-employment in 2003 and 2004 were both in violation of USERRA § 4312, that he was discriminated against by failure to promote in violation of USERRA § 4311, and that he was discriminated against for filing a Department of Labor complaint. After ten days of hearings, the FINRA arbitration panel denied all Ohlfs’s statutory claims and all relief requested with prejudice.

Ohlfs filed a motion in federal court to vacate the FINRA arbitration award on several grounds, including unfair treatment by the FINRA arbitration panel, violation of the well-established USERRA public policy, and manifest disregard of the law.

The Allegations

To support his allegation of evident partiality by the arbitration panel, Ohlfs cited nine deficiencies in the arbitration process. The court determined that these allegations, viewed both separately and cumulatively, were insufficient to satisfy Ohlfs’s burden of demonstrating that the panel was unfair to him or partial to Charles Schwab.

One of the key allegations was that two arbitrators were biased toward Charles Schwab because of their connections to the company.  Two members of the arbitration disclosed their connections to Charles Schwab prior to hearing and deciding Ohlfs’s claims.  Because he had knowledge of facts suggesting arbitrator bias or partiality but failed to object to their participation until after the entry of the award, the court determined that Ohlfs waived his right to claim arbitrator bias on these grounds.

Another key allegation was that the arbitration panel refused to consider, or otherwise disregarded evidence, that Ohlfs presented regarding having gone from a Grade 57 Senior Investment Specialist to a Grade 56 Investment Representative following his post–9/11 military service.  Without supporting transcripts from the arbitration hearing, the court determined it had no basis on which to find unfairness or partiality.

Vacating an Arbitration Award on Statutory Grounds

Federal courts may vacate an arbitration award under four narrowly defined statutory grounds, 9 U.S.C. § 10(a), including “evident partiality” on the part of the arbitrators.  An arbitration award may also be vacated for a limited number of judicially created reasons, such as violations of public policy, manifest disregard of the law, and denial of a fundamentally fair hearing. Sheldon v. Vermonty, 269 F.3d 1202, 1206 (10th Cir. 2001).   Errors in the arbitration panel’s findings of fact, interpretation of the law, or application of the law do not justify vacating an award unless such errors correlate to a manifest disregard for the law. See Hollern v. Wachovia Sec., Inc., 458 F.3d 1169, 1172 (10th Cir. 2006).

Vacating an Arbitration Award on Non-Statutory Grounds 

Courts have limited authority to vacate an arbitration award for non-statutory reasons.  An arbitration award may be set aside on public policy grounds if: (1) the award creates an explicit conflict with other laws and legal precedents as opposed to general considerations of supposed public interests; and (2) the violation of such public policy is clearly shown. United Paperworkers Int’l Union, AFL–CIO v. Misco, Inc., 484 U.S. 29, 43 (1987).

Ohlfs argued that the FINRA arbitration award in favor of his employer clearly violated USERRA’s well-defined public policy of protecting members of the armed forces from employment discrimination because the award absolved the employer of any wrongdoing without determining the merits of Ohlfs’s claims.  The court determined that this argument was an attempt to attack the arbitration award on the basis of the arbitration panel’s failure to issue a reasoned decision.  FINRA Rule 1304(g) provides for an “explained decision” that sets forth the general reasons for the arbitration award.

However, such a decision is provided only in the event that the parties jointly request such a decision twenty days prior to the first scheduled hearing.  FINRA Rule 13514(d).  An explained decision was not required in this case under FINRA’s rules because the parties did not jointly request such a decision.  Therefore, Ohlfs failed to carry his burden of proof on the matter.

Vacating an Arbitration Award Based on Disregard of the Law

In order to vacate an arbitration award based on the arbitrators’ manifest disregard of the law, “the record [must] show the arbitrator[s] knew the law and explicitly disregarded it.” Dominion Video Satellite, Inc. v. Echostar Satellite, L.L.C., 430 F.3d 1269, 1275 (10th Cir. 2005).  The court determined that, in the absence of an explanation for the award, Ohlfs cannot demonstrate that the panel manifestly disregarded the law under USERRA based on the fact that it found for Charles Schwab on his claims. The award itself provided no basis to find an “explicit” disregard of the law. Charles Schwab presented substantial evidence in its defense during the arbitration, and the court cannot second guess the panel’s factual findings.

The court denied Ohlfs’s motion for vacatur and entered judgment in favor of Charles Schwab as set forth in the FINRA arbitration award dated August 9, 2011.

Should you have any questions relating to FINRA, arbitration or employment issues, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County, Connecticut at 203-221-3100 or at

Federal Court Narrows the Definition of “Customer” to Limit Compelled Arbitration Under the FINRA Code of Arbitration Procedure for Customer Disputes

Herschel and Mona Zarecor, et al, v. Morgan Keegan & Company, Inc., 2011 WL 5508860 (E.D. Ark. Nov. 10, 2011)

In a case before the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, Herschel and Mona Zarecor (“the Zarecors”) filed a petition to confirm a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) arbitration award entered in their favor in October 2010.  Morgan Keegan & Company, Inc., (“Morgan Keegan”) filed a counterclaim to vacate the award.  The court granted Morgan Keegan’s motion for vacatur.  In a later action before the same court, the Zarecors filed a motion for reconsideration.  The court denied the motion for reconsideration.

Case Background

In this case, the underlying dispute is based on a Statement of Claims that the Zarecors filed with FINRA to institute an arbitration proceeding against Morgan Keegan.  The Zarecors alleged that Morgan Keegan violated state laws by failing to disclose risks associated with the Regions Morgan Keegan funds (“RMK Funds”) that the Zarecors purchased for their individual retirement accounts.  The Zarecors alleged that the prospectus and written sales materials for the RMK funds represented these funds as traditional income or bond funds, when these funds were invested instead in risky structured financial products and derivatives.  Over ninety-percent of the Zarecors original investment in the RMK funds was lost.

The Arguments

In their Statement of Claims, the Zarecors asserted that FINRA had jurisdiction to arbitrate the dispute in absence of a written arbitration agreement because Morgan Keegan was a FINRA member and the Zarecors were public customers.  Pursuant to FINRA Rule 12200, a member firm must arbitrate a dispute if:  (a) arbitration is required by written agreement or requested by the customer; (b) the dispute is between a FINRA member or associated person of a FINRA member and its customer; and (c) the dispute arises in connection with the business activities of the member or the associated person.

Morgan Keegan alleged that the Zarecors did not qualify as their customers because the Zarecors never sought advice from or held accounts with Morgan Keegan; the Zarecors purchased the RMK funds from competitor brokerage firms, held accounts at competitor brokerage firms and had no direct dealings with Morgan Keegan. Morgan Keegan also filed a motion to dismiss under FINRA Rule 12504(a)(6)(B), which the arbitration panel denied after hearing oral arguments from the parties.  After three days of arbitration hearings, the FINRA arbitration panel issued an award finding Morgan Keegan liable to the Zarecors for $541,000 in compensatory damages.  In November 2010, the Zarecors commenced an action to confirm the award and Morgan Keegan filed a counterclaim to vacate the award.

Grounds for Vacating Arbitration

The Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), 9 U.S.C. §§ 9-11, provides statutory grounds for judicial review to confirm, vacate or modify an arbitration award.  Where there has been an arbitration agreement between the parties, judicial review is severely limited and the arbitration decision may be vacated on very narrowly defined statutory grounds.  See 9 U.S.C. § 10(a).

Morgan Keegan asked the court to vacate the arbitration award on two grounds:  (1) there was no such arbitration agreement between the parties; and (2) the underlying dispute is not subject to mandatory arbitration under FINRA Rule 12200 because the Zarecors were not customers entitled to request arbitration.  The Zarecors countered that, because Morgan Keegan had not sought to enjoin the arbitration proceedings and had participated in the arbitration hearings, they claimed that the firm had waived its right to contest whether the underlying dispute could be submitted for arbitration.

Morgan Keegan may Contest Arbitrability

A party opposed to arbitration has several alternatives to preserve the issue for judicial review:  (1) object to the arbitrator’s authority, refuse to argue the arbitrability issue, and proceed to the merits of the agreement; (2) seek declaratory or injunctive relief from a court prior to commencement of arbitration; (3) notify the arbitrators of a refusal to arbitrate altogether; or (4) file a timely motion to vacate in district court. See International Broth. of Elec. Workers, Local Union No. 545 v. Hope Elec. Corp., 380 F.3d 1084, 1101–02 (8th Cir. 2004).

The court determined that Morgan Keegan did not waive its right to contest arbitrability by failing to enjoin the arbitration proceedings; its motion to dismiss, its objections to the arbitration panel’s jurisdiction during the hearings and its timely motion to vacate the award supported the court’s finding that Morgan Keegan sufficiently preserved its right to contest that the underlying dispute was not subject to FINRA arbitration.

Definition of “Customer”

FINRA Rule 12100(i) provides the following definition of a “customer” to be used throughout the FINRA Code of Arbitration Procedure for Customer Disputes: “A customer shall not include a broker or dealer.”  The district court was concerned that the definition of a “customer” under this rule not be construed too narrowly, nor be interpreted in a manner that would ignore the reasonable expectations of FINRA members.

For the purposes of compelling a member firm to arbitrate a dispute, precedent within the Eighth Circuit limits the definition of a “customer” to “one involved in a business relationship with [a FINRA] member that is related directly to investment or brokerage related services.” Fleet Boston Robertson Stephens, Inc. v. Innovex, Inc., 264 F.3d 770, 772 (8th Cir. 2001).   This narrower definition excludes individuals who receive only financial advice, not investment or brokerage services, from the FINRA member.  Id.

Zarecors not Qualified as Customers

In the instant case, it is undisputed that the Zarecors purchased the RMK Funds from competitor brokers and did not have a direct transactional relationship with Morgan Keegan; however, the Zarecors asserted that they qualified as customers of Morgan Keegan based on phone conversations with Morgan Keegan representatives regarding the funds, including their liquidity and exposure to the sub-prime market.

Courts have found a customer relationship based on interactions between an investor and a FINRA member’s representative only where there is conduct on the part of the representative that indicates the existence of a business or investment relationship, such as soliciting a purchase, taking money from an investor, or facilitating investment transactions. See Oppenheimer & Co., Inc. v. Neidhardt, 56 F.3d 352 (2d Cir. 1995).  The Zarecors’ interaction with Morgan Keegan did not satisfy this standard.  Therefore, the district court determined that there were no connections or customer relations between the parties that would justify compelling arbitration under FINRA Rule 12200.

Because the district court found that the requirements for compelling arbitration under FINRA Rule 12200 were not satisfied, the court denied the Zarecors’ motion for judgment confirming the arbitration award and granted Morgan Keegan’s counterclaim to vacate the award.

Motion for Reconsideration Denied

In November 2011, the Zarecors filed a motion for reconsideration pursuant to Rule 59(e) of the Rules of Federal Civil Procedure, which permits a district court to correct its own mistakes in the time period immediately following entry of judgment.  Rule 59(e) cannot be used to introduce new evidence, tender new legal theories or raise arguments that could have been offered prior to entry of judgment.  In their motion for reconsideration, the Zarecors contended that the court overlooked the material fact that Morgan Keegan signed an agreement to submit to arbitration and that this submission agreement had been part of the record.

Although the submission agreement was part of the record, the Zarecors failed to reference it or discuss its relevance in briefs filed prior to judgment.  The court’s failure to notice the submission agreement, therefore, did not amount to manifest error of law or fact.  The Zarecors additionally contended that Morgan Keegan submitted the issue of arbitrability to the arbitration panel for decision.  The court considered this argument to be a new legal theory, contradictory to the Zarecors’ previous argument that Morgan Keegan had waived its right to object to arbitrability by failing to contest the issue before the arbitration panel. Therefore, the district court rejected both contentions as sufficient bases for reconsideration under Rule 59(e).

The district court determined that that the Zarecors were not entitled to relief under Rule 59(e) and, therefore, denied their motion for reconsideration.  The court’s previous order and judgment to vacate the FINRA arbitration award were undisturbed.

Should you have any questions relating to FINRA or arbitration issues, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County, Connecticut at 203-221-3100 or at

Court Denies Motion to Vacate FINRA Arbitration Award Without A Hearing

Farhang Oshidary v. Grace Purpura–Andriola, Trustee FBO Grace Purpura–Andriola Living Trust and Olga Michel Basil.  2012 WL 2135375 (N.D. Calif.  Jun 12, 2012)

In a case involving FINRA before the Northern District of California, Farhang Oshidary (“Oshidary”), a securities broker, filed a petition to vacate a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) Arbitration Award issued on February 10, 2012 in favor of Grace Purpura–Andriola, Trustee FBO Grace Purpura–Andriola Revocable Living Trust (“Andriola”) and Olga Michel Basil ( “Basil”).  Andriola and Basil filed an opposition to the motion, and a request for entry of judgment on the FINRA award pursuant to 9 U.S.C. § 9.   The court denied the motion to vacate without a hearing, and confirmed the FINRA award.

Underlying Dispute

The underlying dispute in this case arose from Oshidary’s investment advice to Andriola, Basil, and others while Oshidary was a broker at the Menlo Park, California office of Smith Barney, now Citigroup Global Markets, Inc (“Citigroup”).  Andriola and several other claimants filed suit against Oshidary and Citigroup in California Superior Court, which ordered the case to FINRA Arbitration. After multiple hearing sessions, the FINRA arbitration panel dismissed all claims against Citigroup and dismissed all claims against Oshidary, except for claims for breach of fiduciary duty brought by Andriola, Basil and three other parties.

On February 10, 2012, the panel issued its Arbitration Award. It found that Oshidary was liable for breach of fiduciary duty to Andriola for $250,000 plus seven-percent interest from April 1, 2001.  Oshidary was also found liable for breach of fiduciary duty to Basil for $120,000 plus seven-percent interest from January 1, 2005.

Two of the four separate theories under which Oshidary proposed to vacate the FINRA award were rejected by the court for failure to satisfy the burden of proof.  Under one of the remaining theories, Oshidary argued that, in violation of California Civil Procedure Code § 1281.9, the Chairman of the FINRA arbitration panel failed to disclose information that might preclude him from being impartial. Under his final theory, Oshidary argued that the FINRA arbitration panel manifestly disregarded the law by acting without jurisdiction over Andriola’s claims, which were barred by the “six year rule” regarding arbitration eligibility.

The Federal Arbitration Act

The Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), 9 U.S.C. § 10(a), provides four narrowly delineated circumstances in which a federal district court can vacate an arbitration award:

(1) where the award was procured by corruption, fraud or undue means;

(2) where there was evident partiality or corruption in the arbitrators, or either of them;

(3) where the arbitrators were guilty of misconduct in refusing to postpone the hearing, upon sufficient cause shown, or in refusing to hear evidence pertinent and material to the controversy; or of any other misbehavior by which the rights of any party have been prejudiced; or

(4) where the arbitrators exceeded their powers, or so imperfectly executed them that a mutual, final, and definite award upon the subject matter submitted was not made.

Courts may not reverse an arbitration award even in the face of an erroneous interpretation of the law.  However, the court may vacate an award where the arbitrators’ decision is in manifest disregard of the law. Johnson v. Wells Fargo Home Mortg., Inc., 635 F.3d 401, 414–15 (9th Cir.2011).  “Manifest disregard of the law” has been interpreted to mean “something beyond and different from a mere error in the law or failure on the part of the arbitrators to understand and apply the law.” Collins v. D.R. Horton, Inc., 505 F.3d 874, 879 (9th Cir.2007) (quotation omitted).

California Civil Procedure Code § 1281.9

California Civil Procedure Code § 1281.9, subdivision (a), imposes on arbitrators a duty to “disclose all matters that could cause a person aware of the facts to reasonably entertain a doubt that the proposed neutral arbitrator would be able to be impartial.”  In decisions interpreting this statute, courts have highlighted the importance of the link between the subject matter of the arbitration and the matter subject to disclosure. In the instant case, the alleged conflict occurred over two decades ago, and was completely unrelated to the subject of the arbitration. Therefore, the court denied vacatur on these grounds.

FINRA Rule 12206

FINRA Rule 12206(a) provides that “[n]o claim shall be eligible for submission to arbitration under the Code where six years have elapsed from the occurrence or event giving rise to the claim. The panel will resolve any questions regarding the eligibility of a claim under this rule.”  Eligibility under Rule 12206 is a question for the arbitrators and not for the court.

The FINRA arbitration panel was free to interpret Rule 12206 as it saw fit, in particular with respect to the triggering date, i.e. the “occurrence or event giving rise to the claim.” FINRA Rule 12206.  That the investments at issue were loans supported the Panel’s decision to not choose the purchase date as the triggering event because, unlike other investments, the investor likely will not know whether repayment will occur until the agreed-upon return date.

Because the court denied Oshidary’s vacatur of the award on each of the four separate grounds, the court found that confirmation of the FINRA arbitration award was appropriate.  Judgment would be entered by separate order, once respondents confirmed that they withdrew their parallel request to the state court.

Should you have any questions relating to FINRA or arbitration issues, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County, Connecticut at 203-221-3100 or at