July 22, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: Securities Company Not Liable for Outside Bad Acts of Its Broker

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Houston v. Southeast Investments, N.C., Inc. on Thursday, May 18, 2017.

InvestmentsColorado Securities ActControl Person Liability.

Sorenson created and owned 1st Consumer Financial Services, Inc. (CFS). Around early 2011 Sorenson hired Hornick to work for CFS. Southeast Investments N.C., Inc. (Southeast) was an authorized and registered broker-dealer of securities at all relevant times. In February 2013 Sorenson signed an independent contractor agreement and registered representative agreement with Southeast that prohibited him from engaging in business activities not involving Southeast without disclosing such activities to Southeast and obtaining written approval. In spring 2013 Houston, a retired, unmarried woman, agreed to Hornick’s requests and liquidated her entire retirement savings and transferred the money into a self-directed IRA account to be managed by Hornick. Ultimately these funds were invested in CFS and Houston was unable to obtain a return of the money. Houston sued a number of parties under various theories of liability, including a control person liability claim against Southeast. The district court concluded that, as a matter of law, Southeast was not a control person with regard to Sorenson’s conduct underlying Houston’s securities fraud claim, and Southeast was entitled to summary judgment.

The sole issue on appeal was whether the district court erred in granting summary judgment for Southeast, based on its conclusion that, as a matter of law, Southeast was not liable as a control person under C.R.S. § 11-51-604(5)(b) of the Colorado Securities Act (the Act). A plaintiff establishes a prima facie case of control person liability where the plaintiff demonstrates that (1) a primary violation of securities fraud occurred and (2) the defendant was a controlling person. As a general rule, a broker-dealer is statutorily in control of its registered representatives as a matter of law. However, a broker-dealer is not in statutory control of its registered representative’s underlying conduct when all of the following factors are undisputed: (1) the plaintiff did not reasonably rely on the registered representative’s relationship with the broker-dealer in making plaintiff’s investment; (2) the plaintiff invested in markets other than those promoted by the broker-dealer; (3) the registered representative did not rely on its relationship with the broker-dealer to access the securities market to sell the subject securities to the plaintiff; and (4) the broker-dealer did not know of, or have a financial interest in, the investor’s business with the registered representative.

Here, Sorenson hid his conduct from Southeast by failing to notify Southeast of his outside securities sales on behalf of CFS and by using undisclosed, private email accounts to engage in the subject transactions. No one from Southeast knew about Sorenson’s involvement with Houston. Sorenson did not use Southeast’s access to the securities markets to promote or conduct his deals with Houston (through Hornick), because CFS was a private venture created and owned by Sorenson. Southeast never held any of Houston’s money because Sorenson never opened a Southeast account for Houston. Southeast accordingly had no financial interest in Houston’s investments with Sorenson. Houston did not rely on Sorenson’s relationship with Southeast in deciding to invest with Sorenson. Thus, Southeast was not in control of Sorenson with respect to his conduct underlying this case, and Southeast was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the issue of control.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

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