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SEC v. LOWE

February 1, 1983

SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION, Plaintiff,
v.
CHRISTOPHER L. LOWE a/k/a CHRIS L. LOWE, LOWE PUBLISHING CORPORATION, LOWE MANAGEMENT CORPORATION, LOWE STOCK CHART SERVICE INC., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WEINSTEIN

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

 WEINSTEIN, Chief Judge.

 The Securities and Exchange Commission seeks an order enjoining Christopher Lowe and his corporations from publishing investment advisory materials. Jurisdiction is premised on Section 214 of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, 15 U.S.C. § 80b-14 (1976). Lowe has been barred by the SEC from associating with any investment adviser and Lowe Management Corporation's investment adviser registration has been revoked.

 Despite the substantial government interest in maintaining the integrity of the securities industry and the legitimate concern of the SEC about possible publication abuse, an injunction against publication must be denied except in a minor respect designed to insure against personal professional contact between Lowe and his readers. The Advisers Act, reasonably construed to avoid an impermissible encroachment on first amendment freedoms -- particularly in light of available alternatives for safeguarding the public -- does not authorize such prior restraint.

 I.

 FACTS

 The SEC's lack of confidence in Lowe is not without basis. He was convicted in New York in 1977 of appropriating funds of an investment client and of failing to file as an investment adviser with New York's Department of Law. In 1978 he was convicted of tampering with evidence to cover up fraud on an investment client and of stealing from a bank. A New Jersey court sentenced him to three years imprisonment in 1982 on two counts of theft by deception through issuance of worthless checks.

 Nevertheless, Lowe's urge to share his knowledge of finance continues unabated. Directly and through various corporations, he is responsible for a number of publications:

 1. The Lowe Investment and Financial Letter is a market newsletter. A typical issue contains general observations on and assessments of the securities and bullion markets, a review of numerous market indicators, market strategies, and specific recommendations for buying, selling, or holding stocks and bullion. The newsletter is advertised as a semi-monthly publication, but at least since May 1981, it has appeared only at irregular intervals, with a total of eight issues appearing from that time through August 31, 1982. According to the publisher a year's subscription ordinarily costs $195, but a promotional subscription has recently been offered at reduced rates, from $39 for one year to $79 for three years. The newsletter presently has approximately 2,408 subscribers whose subscriptions vary in length from three months to three years.

 2. The Lowe Stock Advisory also analyzes and comments on the securities and bullion markets. This market letter specializes in low-priced stocks -- costing under $20 -- listed on the New York and American Stock Exchanges and traded in the over-the-counter market. Potential subscribers are advised that they will receive periodic letters with market information and analysis and updated recommendation sheets on specific securities. Since May 1981, only four letters have been published and distributed, the last of which was dated November 16, 1981. They have included recommendations on various stocks. Lowe Stock Advisory subscriptions cost between $39 for one year and $79 for three years. Subscribers to the Lowe Investment and Financial Letter have been offered a complimentary six-month subscription. The publication has approximately 278 paid and 397 unpaid subscribers.

 Both the Lowe Letter and Lowe Stock Advisory advertise a telephone hotline. Subscribers can call to get current information.

 3. The Lowe Stock Chart Service has been advertised as a weekly publication containing charts for all stocks listed on the New York and American Stock Exchanges and for the 1,200 most widely traded over-the-counter stocks. It will also contain charts on gold and silver prices and market indicators. No investment advice will be offered. No issues of this publication have yet been distributed, though two announced dates for initial publication have come and gone. Regular subscription rates for the chart service run from $325 for three months to $900 for one year, with a special pre-publication offer including a $33 five-week trial. There are some forty subscribers to this publication.

 Subscribers to these services called as witnesses by the SEC generally were satisfied with what they received. Their main complaint was the lack of regularity of publication -- an understandable problem in view of the amount of time the publisher has been devoting in recent years to defending himself before federal and state law enforcement agencies.

 In 1979 the SEC instituted administrative proceedings against Lowe and Lowe Management Corporation. These culminated on May 11, 1981 in the Commission's order under section 203(e), (f) of the Advisers Act, 15 U.S.C. § 80b-3(e), (f) (1976), revoking the registration of the Lowe Corporation as an investment adviser and barring Lowe from association with any investment adviser. Advisers Act Release No. 759. The Commission based its order on an administrative law judge's finding that Lowe had misappropriated client funds (in the case leading up to Lowe's plea in New York State court to tampering with evidence) and that Lowe Corporation had failed to promptly amend its investment adviser registration (Form ADV) to disclose Lowe's New York convictions, in violation of section 204 of the Advisers Act, 15 U.S.C. § 80b-4 (1976), and Rule 204-1(b), 17 C.F.R. § 275.204-1(b) (1982). Lowe argued before the Commission that he had ceased to handle clients' funds and securities and was engaged solely in the publication of investment newsletters, so that the sanctions sought to be imposed were inappropriate and excessively severe. The Commission, however, agreed with the administrative law judge that the defendants' publication activities harbored "opportunities for dishonesty and self-dealing."

 In the present suit the SEC alleges that the defendants have engaged in the business of an investment adviser without being registered pursuant to section 203(c) of the Advisers Act, 15 U.S.C. § 80b-3(c) (1976); that by not revealing to their subscribers Lowe's criminal convictions and the 1981 order of the Commission, they have engaged in fraudulent practices in violation of section 206 of the Act, 15 U.S.C. § 80b-6; and that in publishing the investment newsletters, they are in violation of the Commission's 1981 order, which is itself judicially enforceable under section 209 of the Act, 15 U.S.C. § 80b-9. The SEC seeks an order enjoining further publication by the defendants of investment advisory materials and enforcing the Commission's 1981 order, and an order directing defendants to disgorge all subscription monies received since 1981 in connection with their publications.

 II.

 LAW

 The central issue is whether the SEC is authorized to withhold registrant status of anyone seeking to sell impersonal investment advice through subscription newsletters and by this denial to cut off publication. A further question is whether, under the statute and the rules and regulations of the Commission, defendants had a duty to disclose to their subscribers Lowe's convictions and the 1981 order of the Commission, so that their failure to do so constituted a fraud in violation of section 206 of the Act, 15 U.S.C. § 80b-6 (1976).

 A. Advisers Act

 Section 202((a)11) of the Act, 15 U.S.C. § 80b-2(a)(11) (1976), defines "Investment Adviser" broadly. It includes:

 
any person who, for compensation, engages in the business of advising others, either directly or through publications or writings, as to the value of securities or as to the advisability of investing in, purchasing, or selling securities, or who, for compensation and as part of a regular business, issues or promulgates analyses or reports concerning securities. . . .

 The section provides an exemption for, inter alia, "(D) the publisher of any bona fide newspaper, news magazine or business or financial publication of general and regular circulation." Congress concluded that such general purpose publications posed less dangers to the public than specialized advisory publications designed particularly for potential investors. Given the limited resources available to the SEC, Congress was entitled to direct the government's finite powers of enforcement to the point of maximum danger.

 The registration requirement and the relevant powers of the Commission are set forth in section 203, 15 U.S.C. § 80b-3 (1976). They are designed to control advisers and to prevent those who are not registered from ...


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