By Laura Anthony, Esq.
I have often written about state blue sky compliance and issues in completing offerings that do not pre-empt state law, including Tier 1 of Regulation A+ and initial or direct public offerings on Form S-1. I’ve also often expressed my opinion that the SEC, together with FINRA, is best suited to govern most securities-related registrations and exemptions, including both for offerings and broker-dealer matters, and that the states should be more focused on state-specific registrations and exemptions (such as intrastate offerings) and investigation and enforcement with respect to fraud or deceit, or unlawful conduct.
Despite the SEC support for the NASAA-coordinated review program to simplify the state blue sky process for securities offerings, such as under Tier 1 of Regulation A+, only 43 states participate. I say “only” in this context because the holdouts – including, for example, Florida, New York, Arizona and Georgia – are extremely active states for small business development and private capital formation. Moreover, even using the coordinated review program, the states have vastly different rules and interpretations of the same rules.
Blue sky compliance is tricky at best. In this blog I am discussing particular difficulties with the blue sky legislation in Florida and New York as an example of the types of traps an issuer can face without proper planning and, of course, competent legal counsel.
For a review of federal pre-emption of state securities laws, see my two-part blog on the National Markets Improvement Act of 1996 (NSMIA) HERE and HERE. For further information on the NASAA-coordinated review program, see my blog HERE for further discussion.
Florida does not have an issuer exemption from broker-dealer registration for public offerings, including offerings made under Regulation A/A+ or self-underwritten public offerings made using Form S-1. Put another way, an issuer must register as a broker-dealer with the state of Florida (the state has an issuer registration process) in order to complete a Regulation A or direct public offering, and sell securities to investors within the state of Florida. Tier 2 of Regulation A+ pre-empts state law and accordingly, Florida cannot impose issuer broker-dealer registration.
The sale of Securities in Florida is regulated by the Florida Office of Financial Regulation, Division of Securities and is generally found in Chapter 517 Florida Statutes and corresponding rules adopted under the Florida Administrative Code (F.A.C.), Chapter 517, Florida Statutes – Securities and Investor Protection Act and Chapter 69W-100 through 69W-1000, Florida Administrative Code.
All sales of securities in Florida must be made by a properly registered dealer (Chapter 517.12(1), Florida Statutes) or by someone utilizing an exemption provided by Chapter 517.12(3), Florida Statutes. However, the broker-dealer registration exemptions, including the issuer exemption, only apply to exempt offerings. Neither a Regulation A nor a direct public offering are exempt offerings. Accordingly, persons who sell securities in a Tier 1 Regulation A offering or direct public offerings, including issuers and their officers, directors and employees, must register as a broker-dealer in the state of Florida to sell to investors within the state of Florida.
In addition, Florida law has another trap where an issuer or finder could inadvertently violate the law. Florida Statute §475.41 specifically states that a contract by an unlicensed broker to sell or to negotiate the purchase or sale of a business for compensation is invalid and in particular:
No contract for a commission or compensation for any act or service enumerated in §475.01(3) is valid unless the broker or sales associate has complied with this chapter in regards to issuance and renewal of the license at the time the act or service was performed.
Fla. Stat. §475.01(3) defines “operating” as a broker as meaning “the commission of one or more acts described in this chapter as operating as a broker.” “Broker” is defined broadly in Fla. Stat. §475.01(1)(a) and includes, among other things:
… a person who, for another, and for compensation or valuable consideration directly or indirectly paid or promised, expressly or impliedly, or with an intent to collect or receive compensation or valuable consideration therefore… sells… or negotiate[s] the sale, exchange, purchase, or rental of business enterprises or business opportunities… or who advertises or holds out to the public by any oral or printed solicitation or representation that she or he is engaged in the business of appraising, auctioning, buying, selling, exchanging, leasing or renting business enterprises or business opportunities… or who directs or assists in the procuring of prospects or negotiation or closing of any transaction which does, or is calculated to, result in a sale, exchange, or leasing thereof, and who receives, expects, or is promised any compensation or valuable consideration, directly or indirectly… (emphasis added)
Relying on these provisions, Florida courts and arbitration panels have found consulting and finder arrangements related to mergers and acquisitions and other corporate finance transactions that would otherwise not require federal broker-dealer registration, to be unlawful.
In addition to the conflict with federal law, the Florida statute is particularly troubling for practitioners as it is not included in the Florida Securities and Investor Protection Act found in chapter 517 of Florida Statutes. Florida Statute §517.12 is the state equivalent to Section 15(a)(1) of the Exchange Act requiring broker-dealer registration. Like the Exchange Act, §517.12 requires registration as a broker or dealer for the sale or offer of any securities.
Section 475, on the other hand, is the Florida statute governing “Real Estate Brokers, Sales Associates, Schools and Appraisers.” Section 517 gives no reference to Section 475 and vice versa. Other than through research of case law, a practitioner would have no reason to research laws governing real estate transactions in association with business mergers and acquisitions and the payment of related finders’ fees.
Note: Original appeared on Legal & Compliance, LLC on 01 March 2016. Click HERE
Securities attorney Laura Anthony is the founding partner of Legal & Compliance, LLC, a corporate, securities and business transactions law firm. The firm’s experienced legal team provides ongoing corporate counsel to small and mid-size private companies, OTC and exchange traded issuers as well as private companies going public on the NASDAQ, NYSE MKT or over-the-counter market, such as the OTCQB and OTCQX. For nearly two decades Legal & Compliance, LLC has served clients providing fast, personalized, cutting-edge legal service. The firm’s reputation and relationships provide invaluable resources to clients including introductions to investment bankers, broker-dealers, institutional investors and other strategic alliances.