Business Law

Acquisitions of Our Lives

Zachary Currie, MJLST Staffer

 

Growing up, my mother was an avid consumer of soap operas, which aired during the daily drought of day-time television. I never watched any soap opera closely, but I occasionally stopped in the living room while one was on and caught a glimpse of the whirling melodrama—after all, the characters were beautiful, handsome, and belonged to a realm of luxury far removed from my paltry existence. The story was always the same; it was always about banal, dynastic feuding, resulting in predictable and outrageous tragedies. But never once did I think that the content of a soap opera was accurate, not in the sense of being based on a true story, but in the sense of being as realistic as a story written by Ernest Hemingway about fishing for marlin in the Gulf Stream. My perception of the quality of soap opera writing changed when I was introduced to the melodramatic world of telecommunication corporations, their acquisitions, and anti-trust law, through its latest garish episode: AT&T’s bid for Time Warner.

 

The latest episode of this soap opera involves players as glamorous, foolish, rich, and powerful as any soap opera cast. A takeover of Time Warner by AT&T would create America’s sixth largest firm by pre-tax profits; the Department of Justice has expressed its disapproval of the star-crossed lovers’ plans to elope. Some important socialites in ermine fur have hinted, with winks, that DoJ is motivated by the Donald’s hatred for CNN, a channel owned by Time Warner. Others belonging to the grapevine scoff at the match, deriding it as unsophisticated and gauche; after all, the marriage will cost over a $100 billion, return on capital is egregiously low, and attempting to increase returns by forcing Time Warner content on AT&T consumers would irritate the ever-watchful and puritanical anti-trust regulators.

So, the plot thickens: is the corporate tryst motivated by an intent to commit some dirty illegality? Well, the DoJ was suspicious and nosy enough to file a suit seeking to block the acquisition. The suit claims that after the acquisition, AT&T would be situated to force rivals to pay hundreds of millions of dollars more per year for Time Warner content, and the new formidable couple would dampen technological innovation. But is the DoJ being disingenuous? Perhaps it is motivated more by priggishness, or, maybe, political vengeance, than a concern to foster competition. Remember, this acquisition is vertical integration rather than horizontal integration; there can be good, healthy reasons for vertical integration. One way in which vertical integration can be efficient is through gaining economies of scale, when average total cost decreases with increasing output; surplus from gaining economies of scale may outweigh social costs caused by imperfect competition. Another advantage of vertical integration is the correction of market governance failures: integration allows firms to internalize the costs that arise from strategic and opportunistic behavior. Has the DoJ seriously considered all the consequences of acquisition? One anonymous attorney general claimed that the DoJ has not been forthcoming with any economic analysis helpful to decide whether to sue. Stay tuned to see the end of this Great American Corporate Love Story. Other juicy details include AT&T’s use of one of Trump’s former lawyers and Trump’s tweets about CNN (including an edited wrestling video showing Trump punching a man whose head is replaced by the CNN logo) for litigation.


Policy Proposals for High Frequency Trading

Steven Graziano, MJLST Staffer

In his article, The Law and Ethics of High Frequency Trading, which was published in the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science, and Technology Issue 17, Volume 1, Steven McNamara examines the ethics of high frequency trading. High frequency trading is the use of high-speed algorithms to take advantage of minor inefficiencies in trading technologies, and in doing so gain large market returns. McNamara looks into ethical, economic, and legal aspects of high frequency trading. In the course of his discussion McNamara determines that: high frequency trading is a term that actually describes an assortment of different practices; the amount of dollars involved in high frequency trading is declining, but is still a concern for certain types of investors and regulators; a proper analysis of high frequency trading requires use of expectation-based, deontological moral theory; and that modern technology may call into question the use of the Regulation National Market System regime. McNamara concludes that even though high frequency trading may lower costs to most investors, many practices associated with high frequency trading support the position that high frequency trading is not fair.

Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White has recently commented on the legality, and potential ways to approach, high frequency trading. White, while testifying before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, informed the Congressional Committee that “You don’t paint with the broad brush all high-frequency traders — they have very different strategies.” This sentiment mirrors McNamara’s assertion that the term high-frequency trading actually involves various practices. However, White is seemingly defending some practices, while McNamara has a more negative view.

Differing still from these two views are the results of a study done by United Kingdom’s Financial Conduct Authority. That study concluded with the conclusion that high-frequency trade technologies are not rapidly predicting marketable orders and then trading those orders. However, the study examined practices in Europe, which has less market participants and a slower moving market than the United States.

In conclusion, Steven McNamara offers a very insightful, encompassing look at high frequency trading. His analysis resonates through both White’s testimony, and in the results of the study from the Financial Conduct Authority. Although all three perspectives seemingly stand for somewhat different propositions, what is clear from all three sources is that the practice of high-frequency trading is extremely complex and requires in-depth analysis before making any conclusive policy decisions.


Long-Term Success of Autonomous Vehicles Depends on its First-Generation Market Share

Vinita Banthia, MJLST Articles Editor

In its latest technology anticipations, society eagerly awaits a functional autonomous car. However, despite the current hype, whether or not these cars will be ultimately successful remains a question. While autonomous cars promise to deliver improved safety standards, lower environmental impacts, and greater efficiency, their market success will depend on how practical the first generation of autonomous vehicles are, and how fast they are adopted by a significantly large portion of the population. Because their usability and practicality depends inherently on how many people are using them, it will be important for companies to time their first release for when they are sufficiently developed and can infiltrate the market quickly. Dorothy J. Glancy provides a detailed account of the legal questions surrounding autonomous cars in Autonomous and Automated and Connected Cars Oh My! First Generation Autonomous Cars in the Legal Ecosystem. This blog post responds to Glancy’s article and suggests additional safety and regulation concerns that Glancy’s article does not explicitly discuss. Finally, this post proposes certain characteristics which must be true of the first generation of autonomous vehicles if autonomous vehicles are to catch-on.

Glancy thoroughly covers the expected benefits of autonomous cars. Autonomous cars will allow persons who are not otherwise able to drive, such as visually impaired people, and the elderly, to get around conveniently. All riders will be able to save time by doing other activities such as reading or browsing the internet during their commute. And in the long run, autonomous vehicles will allow roads and parking lots to be smaller and more compact because of the cars’ more precise maneuvering abilities. Once enough autonomous vehicles are on the road, they will be able to travel faster than traditional cars and better detect and react to dangers in their surroundings. This will decidedly lead to fewer crashes.

On the contrary, several other features may discourage the use of autonomous vehicles. First, because of the mapping systems, the cars will likely be restricted to one geographic region. Second, they might be programmed to save the most number of people during a car crash, even if that means killing the occupant. Therefore, many prospective buyers may not buy a car that is programmed to kill him or her in the event of an inevitable crash. In addition, initial autonomous cars may not be as fast as imagined, depending on whether they can detect faster moving lanes, frequently change lanes, and adapt to changing speed limits. Until there are significant numbers of autonomous cars on roads, they may not be able to drive on longer, crowded roads such as highways, because vehicles will need to interact with each other in order to avoid crashes. Some argue that other car-service provides will suffer as taxis, Ubers, busses, and trails become less relevant. However, this change will be gradual because people will long continue to rely on these services as cheap alternatives to car-ownership.

When these cars are available, in order to promote autonomous cars to enter the market rapidly, manufacturers should make the cars most attractive to potential buyers, instead of making them good for society as a whole. For example, instead of programming the car to injure its own occupants, it should be programmed to protect its occupants. This will encourage sales of autonomous cars, reducing the number of car crashes in the long run.

Glancy also states that the first generation of autonomous vehicles will be governed by the same state laws that apply for conventional vehicles, and will not have additional rules of their own. However, this is unlikely to be true, and specific state and possibly even federal laws will most likely affect autonomous vehicles before they may be driven on public roads and sold to private individuals. Because autonomous cars will co-exist with traditional vehicles, many of these laws will address the interaction between autonomous and conventional cars, such as overtaking, changing lanes, and respecting lane restrictions.

In the end, the success of autonomous cars depends widely on how practical the first fleet is, how many people buy into the idea and how fast, as well as the car’s cost. If they are successful, there will be legal and non-legal benefits and consequences, which will only be fully realized after a few decades of operation of the cars.


Recent Developments in Automated Vehicles Suggest Broad Effects on Urban Life

J. Adam Sorenson, MJLST Staffer

In “Climbing Mount Next: The Effects of Autonomous Vehicles on Society” from Volume 16, Issue 2 of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology, David Levinson discusses the then current state of automated vehicles and what effects they will have on society in the near and distant future. Levinson evaluates the effect of driverless cars in numerous ways, including the capacity and vehicles-as-a-service (VaaS). Both of these changes are illuminated slightly by a recent announcement by Tesla Motors, a large player in the autonomous vehicle arena.

This week Tesla announced Summon which allows a user to summon their tesla using their phone. As of now, this technology can only be used to summon your car to the end of your drive way and to put it away for the night. Tesla sees a future where this technology can be used to summon your vehicle from anywhere in the city or even in the country. This future technology, or something very similar to it, would play a pivotal role in providing urban areas with VaaS. VaaS would essentially be a taxi service without drivers, allowing for “cloud commuting” which would require fewer vehicles overall for a given area. Ford has also announced what it calls FordPass, which is designed to be used with human-driven cars, but allows for leasing a car among a group of individuals and sharing the vehicle. This technology could easily be transferred to the world of autonomous vehicles and could be expanded to include entire cities and multiple cars.

Beyond VaaS, these new developments bring us closer to the benefits to capacity Levinson mentions in his article. Levinson mentions the benefits to traffic congestion and bottlenecks which could be alleviated by accurate and safe autonomous vehicles. Driverless vehicles would allow for narrower lanes, higher speed limits, and less space between cars on the highway, but Levinson concedes that these cars still need to “go somewhere, so auto-mobility still requires some capacity on city streets as well as freeways, but ubiquitous adoption of autonomous vehicles would save space on parking, and lane width everywhere.” Tesla is seeking to alleviate some of these issues by allowing a vehicle to be summoned from a further distance, alleviating some parking congestion.

Audi, however, is seeking to tackle the problem in a slightly different fashion. Audi is partnering with Boston suburb Somerville to develop a network including self-parking cars. “UCLA urban planning professor Donald Shoup found 30 percent of the traffic in a downtown area is simply people looking for parking” and eliminating this traffic would allow for much higher capacity in these areas. Similarly, these cars will not have people getting in and out of them, allowing for much more compact parking areas and much higher capacity for parking. Audi and Tesla are just some of the companies working to be at the forefront of automated vehicle technology, but there is no denying that whoever the developments are coming from, the effects and changes David Levinson identified are coming, and they’re here to stay.


General Motor’s $500 Million Investment in Lyft: a Reminder to State Legislatures to Quickly Act to Resolve Legal Issues Surrounding Self-Driving Cars

Emily Harrison, MJLST Editor-in-Chief

On January 4, 2016, General Motors’ (G.M.) invested $500 million in Lyft, a privately held ridesharing service. G.M. also pledged to collaborate with Lyft in order to create a readily accessible network of self-driving cars. According to the New York Times, G.M.’s investment represents the “single largest direct investment by an auto manufacturer into a ride-hailing company in the United States . . . .” So why exactly did General Motors, one of the world’s largest automakers, contribute such a significant amount of capital to a business that could eventually cause a decrease in the number of cars on the road?

The short answer is that G.M. views its investment in Lyft as a way to situate itself in a competitive position in the changing transportation industry. As John Zimmer, president of Lyft, said in an interview, the future of cars will not be based on individual ownership: “We strongly believe that autonomous vehicle go-to-market strategy is through a network, not through individual car ownership.” In addition, this partnership will allow G.M. to augment its current profits. The president of G.M., Daniel Ammann, explained that G.M.’s ‘core profit’ predominately comes from cars that are sold outside of the types of urban environments in which Lyft conducts its main operations. Therefore, G.M. can capitalize on its investments by aligning itself at the forefront of this burgeoning automated vehicle industry.

A transition to a network of self-driving cars raises a variety of legal implications, particularly with respect to assigning liability. As Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology Volume 16, Issue 2 author Sarah Aue Palodichuk notes in her article, “Driving into the Digital Age: How SDVs Will Change the Law and its Enforcement,”: “[a]utomated vehicles will eliminate traffic offenses, create traffic offenses, and change the implications of everything from who is driving to how violations are defined.” Underlying all of these changes is the question: who or what is responsible for the operation of self-driving cars? In some states, for example, there must be a human operator who is capable of manual control of the vehicle. As additional states begin to adopt legislation with respect to self-driving cars, it is foreseeable that there will be great debate as to who or what is responsible for purposes of liability. Yet, in the meantime, G.M.’s significant investment in Lyft signals to consumers and state legislators that these issues will need to be resolved quickly, as the automotive industry is moving full-speed ahead.


Data Breach and Business Judgment

Quang Trang, MJLST Staffer

Data breaches are a threat to major corporations. Corporations such as Target Co. and Wyndham Worldwide Co. have been victim of mass data breaches. The damage caused by such breaches have led to derivative lawsuits being filed by shareholders to hold board of directors responsible.

In Palkon v. Holmes, 2014 WL 5341880 (D. N.J. 2014), Wyndham Worldwide Co. shareholder Dennis Palkon filed a lawsuit against the company’s board of directors. The judge granted the board’s motion to dismiss partially because of the Business Judgment Rule. The business judgement rule governs when boards refuse shareholder demands. The principle of the business judgment rule is that “courts presume that the board refused the demand on an informed basis, in good faith and in honest belief that the action taken was in the best interest of the company.” Id. The shareholder who brings the derivative suit has the burden to rebut the presumption that the board acted in good faith or that the board did not base its decision on reasonable investigation.

Cyber security is a developing area. People are still unsure how prevalent the problem is and how damaging it is. It is difficult to determine what a board needs to do with such ambiguous information. In a time when there is no set corporate cyber security standards, it is difficult for a shareholder to show bad faith or lack of reasonable investigation. Until clear standards and procedures for cyber security are widely adopted, derivative suits over data breaches will likely be dismissed such as in Palkon.


Marijuana Industry Continues to Search for Banking Solution

Neal Rasmussen, MJLST Managing Editor

While the legal marijuana industry continues to rapidly expand in the United States, a major question still looms: Where should the millions of dollars generated by the industry be placed? Up to this point the nation’s banks have refused to take money for fear of federal repercussions. The lack of banking is one of the biggest problems the industry currently has and creates a dangerous all cash environment. While it continues to be an industry dominated by cash vaults and armed guards, change could soon be on the way.

While the provisions of the unlicensed money remitter statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1960, the money laundering statutes, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1956, 1957, and the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) still remain in effect with respect to marijuana-related business, the marijuana industry had hoped to take advantage of the new rules issued by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2014 which “clarifie[d] how financial institutions can provide services to marijuana-related businesses consistent with their BSA obligations, and aligns the information provided by financial institutions in BSA reports with federal and state law enforcement priorities.” In addition to the new rules, the Justice Department produced a memorandum calling for relaxed enforcement of the relevant federal banking laws so long as they followed the new rules. However, the most recent attempt by a Colorado state-chartered credit union, The Fourth Corner Credit Union, to take advantage of the new rules and memorandum has faced major opposition from the Federal Reserve Bank, who must provide clearance before the credit union can open.

The Federal Reserve Bank refused to grant the permission need to access the national banking system and The Fourth Corner Credit Union has sued in Federal Court demanding equal access to the federal system. While it remains unclear whether the presiding judge, R. Brooke Jackson, will hear the complaint, most view The Fourth Corner Credit Union as fighting a losing battle. Most believe that entering the federal banking system will be nearly impossible until marijuana becomes legal at the federal level. For now it will remain unclear as to where the industry should place its money.