Washington D.C. – Cause of Action Institute (CoA Institute) has filed an Amicus Curiae Brief in the First Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the District Court’s decision to defer to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC’s) interpretation of a law in a criminal case where that interpretation actually contradicts the text of the statute.

In May 2016, Richard Weed, a California-based attorney, was convicted on charges of conspiracy to commit securities fraud, which included a “pump-and-dump” scheme involving penny stocks. The government alleged that Mr. Weed performed legal work for two co-conspirators that enabled them to evade SEC stock registration requirements. Mr. Weed was sentenced to forty-eight months in prison.

The government’s case was premised on the fact that the co-conspirators were required to register the stock with the SEC. However, the stock at issue did not require registration under the Securities Act. The government conceded this point, but nevertheless argued that registration was required in accordance with the SEC’s interpretation of the law.

In its Amicus Brief, following a long line of judicial precedent, CoA Institute argued that Section 3(a)(9) of the Securities Act is unambiguous and should be construed as such, something the District Court of Massachusetts failed to do. More broadly, the Brief contends that federal agencies should not be able to administratively rewrite federal statutes to create new crimes that Congress never intended and then demand that the courts “defer” to the agency’s views on what the law prohibits or requires. Such a constitutionally dangerous practice violates the separation of powers and threatens individual liberty. The Amicus Brief argues that criminal statutes should be narrowly interpreted to protect citizens from arbitrary, overreaching prosecutions.

CoA Institute Counsel Patrick Massari: “The Constitution provides for the courts to have exclusive authority to interpret criminal laws passed by Congress. The SEC overstepped its authority by interpreting the law in a way that is directly contrary to the plain text of Section 3(a)(9). The unchecked power of the SEC and the administrative state harms individual liberty and threatens free market principles. CoA Institute is uniquely situated to assist the Court in reaching its decision because this case deals with the intersection of overcriminalization and administrative law.”

The full Amicus Brief can be found here.