Two structured settlement industry leaders have taken issue with a recent Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Investor Bulletin providing advice for individuals who are contemplating selling or purchasing (as investors) structured settlement payment rights and/or future pension payments.
Matthew Bracy, a former President of the National Association of Settlement Purchasers (NASP) and Jason Lazarus, a former President of the Society of Settlement Planners (SSP), have published an article titled "A Response to the SEC Bulletin: The Truth about Factored Structured Settlements as an Investment Vehicle." which characterizes the SEC Bulletin as "misleading and in some cases inaccurate concerning the sale of structured settlement payment streams and factored structured settlements as an investment vehicle."
More specifically, Bracy and Lazarus argue the SEC Bulletin "muddles":
- "two distinctly different businesses, pension purchasing and structured settlement factoring"; and
between the process of purchasing payment from the structured
settlement recipient and selling purchased payment streams to
In response, Bracy and Lazarus discuss the following features of structured settlement factoring they believe the SEC Bulletin should have clarified:
- "Always court ordered"
- "No negative tax consequences to the seller"
- "Investors' rights"
SEC Rule 10b-5
Bracy and Lazarus premise their criticism of the SEC Bulletin in the context of SEC Rule 10b-5 which they characterize as "the bedrock of securities laws". SEC Rule 10b-5 "Employment of Manipulative and Deceptive Practices" reads as follows:
"It shall be unlawful for any person, directly or indirectly, by the use of any means or instrumentality of interstate commerce, or of the mails or of any facility of any national securities exchange,
(a) To employ any device, scheme, or artifice to defraud,
(b) To make any untrue statement of a material fact or to omit to state a material fact necessary in order to make the statements made, in the light of the circumstances under which they were made, not misleading, or
(c) To engage in any act, practice, or course of business which operates or would operate as a fraud or deceit upon any person,
in connection with the purchase or sale of any security." (S2KM emphasis).
S2KM agrees with Bracy and Lazarus that the SEC Bulletin has serious shortcomings. As S2KM pointed out in an earlier blog post:
"The SEC Investor Bulletin provides a generic definition for a structured settlement plus an indirect reference to state structured settlement protection statutes. It does not, however, specifically reference or discuss the definitions, requirements and protections for structured settlement transfers provided in:
- Internal Revenue Code section 5891; and
- The state structured settlement protection statutes."
Most Fundamental Issue
More importantly, however, neither the SEC Bulletin nor the article by Bracy and Lazarus directly addresses the most fundamental related issue: whether, and when does, a specific sale and purchase of structured settlement payment rights constitute a "security" for purposes of U.S. securities laws?
The SEC Bulletin references this issue obliquely stating: "structured settlement income-stream products may or may not be securities and likely are not registered with the SEC. As such, reliable information about these products may be difficult to find and resolving disputes should an investment go sour may also be difficult."
Bracy and Lazarus recognize that factoring companies sometimes "bundle the payment streams together in securitized transactions for institutional investors". Presumably such "securitized transactions":
- Do qualify, and are registered, as investment "securities";
- Are subject to SEC regulatory authority; and
- Must meet the requirements of SEC Rule 10b-5.
What about individual transactions - i.e. the purchase and sale of structured settlement payment rights by factoring companies (and/or the re-purchase and re-sale of previously transferred structured settlement payment rights by brokers) to individual investors including sales to personal injury claimants?
Shouldn't the SEC specifically highlight these transactions and address the question: Do these transactions qualify as investment "securities"?
If the answer is "no", what is the legal authority? In this case, the securities laws presumably do not apply and the SEC presumably has no authority to regulate such transactions. Alternatively, who does regulate such transactions and what laws apply?
If the answer is "yes", what is the legal authority? In this case, how many of these transactions (do/do not) meet applicable securities law requirements including registration, licensing, disclosure and other sales practices?
Definition of a "Security"
The Securities Act of 1933 establishes the following definition of a "security" and courts have held the definition in the Securities Exchange act of 1934 to be identical:
“The term ‘security’ means any note, stock, treasury stock, bond, debenture, evidence of indebtedness, certificate of interest or participation in any profit-sharing agreement, collateral-trust certificate, preorganization certificate or subscription, transferable share, investment contract, voting-trust certificate, certificate of deposit for a security, fractional undivided interest in oil, gas, or other mineral rights, or, in general, any interest or instrument commonly known as a ‘security’, or any certificate of interest or participation in, temporary or interim certificate for, receipt for, guarantee of, or warrant or right to subscribe to or purchase, any of the foregoing.”
After reviewing various tests applied by courts when determining whether this definition applies to various investment contracts, the authors of "Structured Settlements and Periodic Payment Judgments" (S2P2J) conclude in Section 4.05 ("Securities Law Issues"): "If a settlement involves fixed periodic payments for a claimant’s lifetime, which [are] funded through the purchase of a fixed annuity, it is highly doubtful that the promise to make such payments will be viewed as a “security” subject to the federal securities laws."
This conclusion, however, applies to the primary market and does not address the purchase and sale of structured settlement payment rights in factoring transactions.S2P2J Release 54, to be published later this summer, will address the issue of whether the purchase and sale of re-cycled structured settlement payment rights constitutes an investment "security". With Daniel Hindert and Joseph Dehner, S2KM author Patrick Hindert is an S2P2J co-author.