- FCPA Professor - http://fcpaprofessor.com -

Second Circuit – “There Is No Private Right Of Action Under The Antibribery Provisions Of The FCPA”

In a September 18th decision [1], the Second Circuit concluded in Republic of Iraq v. ABB et al that “there is no private right of action under the antibribery provisions of the FCPA.”

The FCPA issue was a minor component of the Second Circuit’s decision in the long-running civil RICO case in which Iraq sought recovery from a long list of defendants for their “alleged conspiracy with Iraq’s then-president Saddam Hussein and Iraq’s ministries to corrupt and plunder the Oil-for-Food Program, an international humanitarian program administered by the United Nations during the final years of Hussein’s rule.”  As to the primary RICO claim, the Second Circuit affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the claim on the grounds that, among other things, the plaintiff was in pari delicto with defendants.

Notwithstanding the fact that previous FCPA enforcement actions concerning the Oil for Food Program were largely books and records and internal controls cases only because the alleged bribe payments went to the government, not a particular foreign official as required under the anti-bribery provisions, and notwithstanding the fact that Iraq was a unique plaintiff to say the least, it nevertheless brought FCPA claims against the defendants on the theory that the FCPA allowed for a private right of action.

As to this issue, the Second Circuit stated – in full – as follows.

“The Amended Complaint alleged that the surcharges and kickbacks paid by the Vendor and Oil Purchasing Defendants violated the antibribery provisions of the FCPA. The Republic contends that the district court should have recognized an implied private right of action for violations of those provisions despite a consistent line of cases holding to the contrary. The Republic is particularly critical of Lamb v. Phillip Morris, Inc., 915 F.2d 1024 (6th Cir. 1990) (“Lamb”), cert. denied, 498 U.S. 1086 (1991), the leading case declining to recognize such a cause of action. The Republic argues that Lamb erred in its analysis of the legislative history of the FCPA and that that history suggests that the reason Congress did not expressly provide for a private right of action was to avoid creating a “negative inference” that would dissuade judicial recognition of implied private rights of action under other provisions of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, to which the FCPA was an amendment. We are unpersuaded.

“[P]rivate rights of action to enforce federal law must be created by Congress.” Alexander v. Sandoval, 532 U.S. 275, 286 (2001) (“Sandoval”). A federal statute may create a private right of action either expressly or, more rarely, by implication. In considering whether a statute confers an implied private right of action, “[t]he judicial task is to interpret the statute Congress has passed to determine whether it displays an intent to create not just a private right but also a private remedy.” Id. To discern Congress’s intent, “we look first to the text and structure of the statute.” Lindsay v. Association of Professional Flight Attendants, 581 F.3d 47, 52 (2d Cir. 2009), cert. denied, 11 130 S. Ct. 3513 (2010). To “illuminate” this analysis, id. at 52 n.3, we also consider factors enumerated in Cort v. Ash, 422 U.S. 66 (1975), which include the following:

First, is the plaintiff one of the class for whose especial benefit the statute was enacted, . . . –that is, does the statute create a federal right in favor of the plaintiff? Second, is there any indication of legislative intent, explicit or implicit, either to create such a remedy or to deny one? . . . . Third, is it consistent with the underlying purposes of the legislative scheme to imply such a remedy for the plaintiff? Id. at 78 (emphasis in Cort v. Ash) (internal quotation marks omitted). In our analysis, we are mindful that “the Supreme Court has come to view the implication of private remedies in regulatory statutes with increasing disfavor.” Hallwood Realty Partners, L.P. v. Gotham Partners, L.P., 286 F.3d 613, 618 (2d Cir. 2002).

The antibribery provisions of the FCPA prohibit certain entities and persons from, inter alia, corruptly making payments to foreign officials for the purpose of influencing official action in order to obtain business. See 15 U.S.C. §§ 78dd-1(a), 78dd-2(a), 78dd-3(a). The text of the statute contains no explicit provision for a private right of action, although it does provide for civil and criminal penalties, see id. §§ 78dd-2(g), 78dd-3(e), 78ff(c), and permits the Attorney General to seek injunctive relief, see id. §§ 78dd-2(d), 78dd-3(d). Because “[t]he express provision of one method of enforcing a substantive rule suggests that Congress intended to preclude others,” Sandoval, 532 U.S. at 290, the structure of the statute, by focusing on public enforcement, tends to indicate the absence of a private remedy.

The Cort v. Ash factors also do not support recognition of a private right. The statute’s prohibitions focus on the regulated entities; the FCPA contains no language expressing solicitude for those who might be victimized by acts of bribery, or for any particular class of persons. “Statutes that focus on the person regulated rather than the individuals protected create no implication of an intent to confer rights on a particular class of persons.” Sandoval, 532 U.S. at 289 (internal quotation marks omitted).

Nor does the legislative history of the FCPA demonstrate an intention on the part of Congress to create a private right of action. As discussed in Lamb, 915 F.2d at 1029, a bill introduced by Senator Church in the 94th Congress included an express right of action for competitors of those who bribed foreign officials, see S. 3379, 94th Cong. § 10, 122 Cong. Rec. 12,605, 12,607 (1976); that provision, however, was deleted by a committee of the Senate, see S. Rep. No. 94-1031, at 13 (1976).

In the 95th Congress, which finally enacted the FCPA, a committee of the House of Representatives, in reporting out a bill that did not provide expressly for a private right of action, made a statement that the House “Committee intends that the courts shall recognize a private cause of action based on this legislation . . . on behalf of persons who suffer injury as a result of prohibited corporate bribery,” H.R. Rep. No. 95-640, at 10 (1977). We have three main problems with the Republic’s reliance on this statement, and other aspects of the FCPA’s legislative history, as justification for judicial implication of a private right of action in its favor

First, the House committee’s statement was not repeated (and no endorsement of its substance was in any way suggested) in the reports of either the Senate committee considering the FCPA or the conference committee that reconciled the views of the House and Senate to produce the language of the FCPA as it was ultimately enacted. See S. Rep. No. 95-114 (1977); H.R. Rep. 95-831 (1977). Indeed, in the debate on the conference committee report, one conferee stated that the question of whether “courts will recognize [an] implied private right of action . . . . was not considered in the Senate or during the conference, and thus [it] cannot be said that any intent is expressed at all on this issue.” 123 Cong. Rec. 38,601, 38,602 (1977) (statement of Sen. Tower) (emphasis added).

Second, although the legislative history contains additional references to the desirability of a private right of action, they do not provide any clear indication of congressional intent to create one. See generally Siegel, The Implication Doctrine and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, 79 Colum. L. Rev. 1085, 1105-12 (1979) (canvassing the legislative history in detail and finding “no conclusive evidence of congressional intent to grant private actions”).

Third, we note that this case illustrates the wisdom of Lamb, which avoids the question of what class of parties the FCPA was designed to protect. Although we agree that the statute was “primarily designed to protect the integrity of American foreign policy and domestic markets,” Lamb, 915 F.3d at 1029, one might argue that it is principally the foreign governments whose processes might be corrupted. The Republic’s claim highlights the obvious problem with the latter concern here: The foreign government supposedly to be “protect[ed]” by the FCPA was the entity that demanded the bribes in the first place.

Finally, we note that although it has been nearly a quarter of a century since Lamb was decided, and although Congress has more recently amended the FCPA, see International Anti-Bribery and Fair Competition Act of 1998, Pub. L. No. 105-366, 112 Stat. 3302 (1998), Congress has not chosen to override Lamb. We conclude that there is no private right of action under the antibribery provisions of the FCPA and that the district court did not err in dismissing the Republic’s FCPA claims.”

As indicated in the Second Circuit’s decision, there have been previous appellate court decisions addressing whether the FCPA has a private right of action.  As highlighted in this [2] prior post, the Sixth Circuit addressed the issue in Lamb v. Phillip Morris Inc., 915 F.2d 1024 (6th Cir. 1990).  The primary reason articulated by the court for declining a private right of action was something that never happened – at least until 2012 when the DOJ/SEC issued FCPA Guidance.  The Sixth Circuit stated:

“Recognition of the plaintiffs’ proposed private right of action, in our view, would directly contravene the carefully tailored FCPA scheme presently in place. Congress recently expanded the Attorney General’s responsibilities to include facilitating compliance with the FCPA. See 15 U.S.C. §§ 78dd-1(e), 78dd-2(f). Specifically, the Attorney General must ‘establish a procedure to provide responses to specific inquiries’ by issuers of securities and other domestic concerns regarding ‘conformance of their conduct with the Department of Justice’s [FCPA] enforcement policy….’ 15 U.S.C. §§ 78dd-1(e)(1), 78dd-2(f)(1). Moreover, the Attorney General must furnish ‘timely guidance concerning the Department of Justice’s [FCPA] enforcement policy … to potential exporters and small businesses that are unable to obtain specialized counsel on issues pertaining to [FCPA] provisions.’ 15 U.S.C. §§ 78dd-1(e)(4), 78dd-2(f)(4). Because this legislative action clearly evinces a preference for compliance in lieu of prosecution, the introduction of private plaintiffs interested solely in post-violation enforcement, rather than pre-violation compliance, most assuredly would hinder congressional efforts to protect companies and their employees concerned about FCPA liability.”

Prior to Lamb, the Fifth Circuit addressed a private right of action, albeit in dicta, in McLean v. Int’l Harvester Co., 817 F.2d 1214 (5th Cir. 1987).  The court stated:  “we find it inappropriate to imply a private cause of action from the statute. The statute on its face shows no congressional intent to create a private action. Moreover, no legislative history exists referring to such an intent.” This last sentence is obviously false given the legislative history discussed in the recent Second Circuit opinion.

In short, the three appellate court decisions that address an FCPA private right of action are either: (1) based on a false premise (McLean); (2) based on a false premise at the time (Lamb); or (3) involved a unique and odd plaintiff.

An FCPA private right of action does warrant further consideration.

At the very least, this much should be undisputed:  if there was an FCPA private right of action, there would be substantially more case law of precedent concerning the FCPA’s provisions than currently exists and that, I submit, would be a good thing.

Contrary to the Second Circuit’s statement, courts have inferred private rights of action in several provisions of the ’34 Act (see e.g., J.I. Case v. Borak, 377 U.S. 426 (1964)) and the FCPA is after all part of the ’34 Act. Moreover, several of the Cort v. Ash factors for implying a private of right would seem to be met in the FCPA context.  Among the reasons Congress passed the FCPA was to level the playing field given how the discovered foreign corporate payments distorted free and fair competition.  Moreover,  the SEC itself has said on numerous occasions that FCPA enforcement is central to its mission of investor protection.  An FCPA private right of action would further seem to be consistent with the underlying premise of the FCPA which is to reduce foreign bribery.  Finally, “regulation of bribery directed at foreign officials cannot be characterized as a matter traditionally relegated to state control,” as even the Lamb court recognized.

As highlighted in prior posts here [3], here [4] and here [5], for several years U.S. Representative Ed Perlmutter  [6](D-CO) consistently introduced the “Foreign Business Bribery Prohibition Act” which would have provided for a limited private right of action under the FCPA.  The bills never made it out of committee.