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U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

Division of Corporation Finance:
Staff Legal Bulletin No. 14

Shareholder Proposals

Action: Publication of CF Staff Legal Bulletin

Date: July 13, 2001

Summary: This staff legal bulletin provides information for companies and shareholders on rule 14a-8 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.

Supplementary Information: The statements in this legal bulletin represent the views of the Division of Corporation Finance. This bulletin is not a rule, regulation or statement of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Further, the Commission has neither approved nor disapproved its content.

Contact Person: For further information, please contact Jonathan Ingram, Michael Coco, Lillian Cummins or Keir Gumbs at (202) 942-2900.

 
Note: This bulletin is also available in MS Word format for ease in printing.

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A. What is the purpose of this bulletin?

The Division of Corporation Finance processes hundreds of rule 14a-8 no-action requests each year. We believe that companies and shareholders may benefit from information that we can provide based on our experience in processing these requests. Therefore, we prepared this bulletin in order to

  • explain the rule 14a-8 no-action process, as well as our role in this process;

  • provide guidance to companies and shareholders by expressing our views on some issues and questions that commonly arise under rule 14a-8; and

  • suggest ways in which both companies and shareholders can facilitate our review of no-action requests.

Because the substance of each proposal and no-action request differs, this bulletin primarily addresses procedural matters that are common to companies and shareholders. However, we also discuss some substantive matters that are of interest to companies and shareholders alike.

We structured this bulletin in a question and answer format so that it is easier to understand and we can more easily respond to inquiries regarding its contents. The references to "we," "our" and "us" are to the Division of Corporation Finance. You can find a copy of rule 14a-8 in Release No. 34-40018, dated May 21, 1998, which is located on the Commission's website at www.sec.gov/rules/final/34-40018.htm.

B. Rule 14a-8 and the no-action process

1. What is rule 14a-8?

Rule 14a-8 provides an opportunity for a shareholder owning a relatively small amount of a company's securities to have his or her proposal placed alongside management's proposals in that company's proxy materials for presentation to a vote at an annual or special meeting of shareholders. It has become increasingly popular because it provides an avenue for communication between shareholders and companies, as well as among shareholders themselves. The rule generally requires the company to include the proposal unless the shareholder has not complied with the rule's procedural requirements or the proposal falls within one of the 13 substantive bases for exclusion described in the table below.

Substantive    
Basis
Description
Rule 14a-8(i)(1) The proposal is not a proper subject for action by shareholders under the laws of the jurisdiction of the company's organization.
Rule 14a-8(i)(2) The proposal would, if implemented, cause the company to violate any state, federal or foreign law to which it is subject.
Rule 14a-8(i)(3) The proposal or supporting statement is contrary to any of the Commission's proxy rules, including rule 14a-9, which prohibits materially false or misleading statements in proxy soliciting materials.
Rule 14a-8(i)(4) The proposal relates to the redress of a personal claim or grievance against the company or any other person, or is designed to result in a benefit to the shareholder, or to further a personal interest, which is not shared by the other shareholders at large.
Rule 14a-8(i)(5) The proposal relates to operations that account for less than 5% of the company's total assets at the end of its most recent fiscal year, and for less than 5% of its net earnings and gross sales for its most recent fiscal year, and is not otherwise significantly related to the company's business.
Rule 14a-8(i)(6) The company would lack the power or authority to implement the proposal.
Rule 14a-8(i)(7) The proposal deals with a matter relating to the company's ordinary business operations.
Rule 14a-8(i)(8) The proposal relates to an election for membership on the company's board of directors or analogous governing body.
Rule 14a-8(i)(9) The proposal directly conflicts with one of the company's own proposals to be submitted to shareholders at the same meeting.
Rule 14a-8(i)(10) The company has already substantially implemented the proposal.
Rule 14a-8(i)(11) The proposal substantially duplicates another proposal previously submitted to the company by another shareholder that will be included in the company's proxy materials for the same meeting.
Rule 14a-8(i)(12) The proposal deals with substantially the same subject matter as another proposal or proposals that previously has or have been included in the company's proxy materials within a specified time frame and did not receive a specified percentage of the vote. Please refer to questions and answers F.2, F.3 and F.4 for more complete descriptions of this basis.
Rule 14a-8(i)(13) The proposal relates to specific amounts of cash or stock dividends.

2. How does rule 14a-8 operate?

The rule operates as follows:

  • the shareholder must provide a copy of his or her proposal to the company by the deadline imposed by the rule;

  • if the company intends to exclude the proposal from its proxy materials, it must submit its reason(s) for doing so to the Commission and simultaneously provide the shareholder with a copy of that submission. This submission to the Commission of reasons for excluding the proposal is commonly referred to as a no-action request;

  • the shareholder may, but is not required to, submit a reply to us with a copy to the company; and

  • we issue a no-action response that either concurs or does not concur in the company's view regarding exclusion of the proposal.

3. What are the deadlines contained in rule 14a-8?

Rule 14a-8 establishes specific deadlines for the shareholder proposal process. The following table briefly describes those deadlines.

120 days before the release date disclosed in the previous year's proxy statement Proposals for a regularly scheduled annual meeting must be received at the company's principal executive offices not less than 120 calendar days before the release date of the previous year's annual meeting proxy statement. Both the release date and the deadline for receiving rule 14a-8 proposals for the next annual meeting should be identified in that proxy statement.
14-day notice of defect(s)/response to notice of defect(s) If a company seeks to exclude a proposal because the shareholder has not complied with an eligibility or procedural requirement of rule 14a-8, generally, it must notify the shareholder of the alleged defect(s) within 14 calendar days of receiving the proposal. The shareholder then has 14 calendar days after receiving the notification to respond. Failure to cure the defect(s) or respond in a timely manner may result in exclusion of the proposal.
80 days before the company files its definitive proxy statement and form of proxy If a company intends to exclude a proposal from its proxy materials, it must submit its no-action request to the Commission no later than 80 calendar days before it files its definitive proxy statement and form of proxy with the Commission unless it demonstrates "good cause" for missing the deadline. In addition, a company must simultaneously provide the shareholder with a copy of its no-action request.
30 days before the company files its definitive proxy statement and form of proxy If a proposal appears in a company's proxy materials, the company may elect to include its reasons as to why shareholders should vote against the proposal. This statement of reasons for voting against the proposal is commonly referred to as a statement in opposition. Except as explained in the box immediately below, the company is required to provide the shareholder with a copy of its statement in opposition no later than 30 calendar days before it files its definitive proxy statement and form of proxy.
Five days after the company has received a revised proposal If our no-action response provides for shareholder revision to the proposal or supporting statement as a condition to requiring the company to include it in its proxy materials, the company must provide the shareholder with a copy of its statement in opposition no later than five calendar days after it receives a copy of the revised proposal.

In addition to the specific deadlines in rule 14a-8, our informal procedures often rely on timely action. For example, if our no-action response requires that the shareholder revise the proposal or supporting statement, our response will afford the shareholder seven calendar days from the date of receiving our response to provide the company with the revisions. In this regard, please refer to questions and answers B.12.a and B.12.b.

4. What is our role in the no-action process?

Our role begins when we receive a no-action request from a company. In these no-action requests, companies often assert that a proposal is excludable under one or more parts of rule 14a-8. We analyze each of the bases for exclusion that a company asserts, as well as any arguments that the shareholder chooses to set forth, and determine whether we concur in the company's view.

The Division of Investment Management processes rule 14a-8 no-action requests submitted by registered investment companies and business development companies.

Rule 14a-8 no-action requests submitted by registered investment companies and business development companies, as well as shareholder responses to those requests, should be sent to

U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
Division of Investment Management
Office of Chief Counsel
450 Fifth Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20549

All other rule 14a-8 no-action requests and shareholder responses to those requests should be sent to

U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
Division of Corporation Finance
Office of Chief Counsel
450 Fifth Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20549

5. What factors do we consider in determining whether to concur in a company's view regarding exclusion of a proposal from the proxy statement?

The company has the burden of demonstrating that it is entitled to exclude a proposal, and we will not consider any basis for exclusion that is not advanced by the company. We analyze the prior no-action letters that a company and a shareholder cite in support of their arguments and, where appropriate, any applicable case law. We also may conduct our own research to determine whether we have issued additional letters that support or do not support the company's and shareholder's positions. Unless a company has demonstrated that it is entitled to exclude a proposal, we will not concur in its view that it may exclude that proposal from its proxy materials.

6. Do we base our determinations solely on the subject matter of the proposal?

No. We consider the specific arguments asserted by the company and the shareholder, the way in which the proposal is drafted and how the arguments and our prior no-action responses apply to the specific proposal and company at issue. Based on these considerations, we may determine that company X may exclude a proposal but company Y cannot exclude a proposal that addresses the same or similar subject matter. The following chart illustrates this point by showing that variations in the language of a proposal, or different bases cited by a company, may result in different responses.

As shown below, the first and second examples deal with virtually identical proposals, but the different company arguments resulted in different responses. In the second and third examples, the companies made similar arguments, but differing language in the proposals resulted in different responses.

Company Proposal Bases for exclusion that the company cited Date of our response Our response
PG&E Corp. Adopt a policy that independent directors are appointed to the audit, compensation and nomination committees. Rule 14a-8(b)
only
Feb. 21, 2000 We did not concur in PG&E's view that it could exclude the proposal. PG&E did not demonstrate that the shareholder failed to satisfy the rule's minimum ownership requirements. PG&E included the proposal in its proxy materials.
PG&E Corp. Adopt a bylaw that independent directors are appointed for all future openings on the audit, compensation and nomination committees. Rule 14a-8(i)(6)
only
Jan. 22, 2001 We concurred in PG&E's view that it could exclude the proposal. PG&E demonstrated that it lacked the power or authority to implement the proposal. PG&E did not include the proposal in its proxy materials.
General Motors Corp. Adopt a bylaw requiring a transition to independent directors for each seat on the audit, compensation and nominating committees as openings occur (emphasis added). Rules 14a-8(i)(6)
and
14a-8(i)(10)
Mar. 22, 2001 We did not concur in GM's view that it could exclude the proposal. GM did not demonstrate that it lacked the power or authority to implement the proposal or that it had substantially implemented the proposal. GM included the proposal in its proxy materials.

7. Do we judge the merits of proposals?

No. We have no interest in the merits of a particular proposal. Our concern is that shareholders receive full and accurate information about all proposals that are, or should be, submitted to them under rule 14a-8.

8. Are we required to respond to no-action requests?

No. Although we are not required to respond, we have, as a convenience to both companies and shareholders, engaged in the informal practice of expressing our enforcement position on these submissions through the issuance of no-action responses. We do this to assist both companies and shareholders in complying with the proxy rules.

9. Will we comment on the subject matter of pending litigation?

No. Where the arguments raised in the company's no-action request are before a court of law, our policy is not to comment on those arguments. Accordingly, our no-action response will express no view with respect to the company's intention to exclude the proposal from its proxy materials.

10. How do we respond to no-action requests?

We indicate either that there appears to be some basis for the company's view that it may exclude the proposal or that we are unable to concur in the company's view that it may exclude the proposal. Because the company submits the no-action request, our response is addressed to the company. However, at the time we respond to a no-action request, we provide all related correspondence to both the company and the shareholder. These materials are available in the Commission's Public Reference Room and on commercially available, external databases.

11. What is the effect of our no-action response?

Our no-action responses only reflect our informal views regarding the application of rule 14a-8. We do not claim to issue "rulings" or "decisions" on proposals that companies indicate they intend to exclude, and our determinations do not and cannot adjudicate the merits of a company's position with respect to a proposal. For example, our decision not to recommend enforcement action does not prohibit a shareholder from pursuing rights that he or she may have against the company in court should management exclude a proposal from the company's proxy materials.

12. What is our role after we issue our no-action response?

Under rule 14a-8, we have a limited role after we issue our no-action response. In addition, due to the large number of no-action requests that we receive between the months of December and February, the no-action process must be efficient. As described in answer B.2, above, rule 14a-8 envisions a structured process under which the company submits the request, the shareholder may reply and we issue our response. When shareholders and companies deviate from this structure or are unable to resolve differences, our time and resources are diverted and the process breaks down. Based on our experience, this most often occurs as a result of friction between companies and shareholders and their inability to compromise. While we are always available to facilitate the fair and efficient application of the rule, the operation of the rule, as well as the no-action process, suffers when our role changes from an issuer of responses to an arbiter of disputes. The following questions and answers are examples of how we view our limited role after issuance of our no-action response.

a. If our no-action response affords the shareholder additional time to provide documentation of ownership or revise the proposal, but the company does not believe that the documentation or revisions comply with our no-action response, should the company submit a new no-action request?

No. For example, our no-action response may afford the shareholder seven days to provide documentation demonstrating that he or she satisfies the minimum ownership requirements contained in rule 14a-8(b). If the shareholder provides the required documentation eight days after receiving our no-action response, the company should not submit a new no-action request in order to exclude the proposal. Similarly, if we indicate in our response that the shareholder must provide factual support for a sentence in the supporting statement, the company and the shareholder should work together to determine whether the revised sentence contains appropriate factual support.

b. If our no-action response affords the shareholder an additional seven days to provide documentation of ownership or revise the proposal, who should keep track of when the seven-day period begins to run?

When our no-action response gives a shareholder time, it is measured from the date the shareholder receives our response. As previously noted in answer B.10, we send our response to both the company and the shareholder. However, the company is responsible for determining when the seven-day period begins to run. In order to avoid controversy, the company should forward a copy of our response to the shareholder by a means that permits the company to prove the date of receipt.

13. Does rule 14a-8 contemplate any other involvement by us after we issue a no-action response?

Yes. If a shareholder believes that a company's statement in opposition is materially false or misleading, the shareholder may promptly send a letter to us and the company explaining the reasons for his or her view, as well as a copy of the proposal and statement in opposition. Just as a company has the burden of demonstrating that it is entitled to exclude a proposal, a shareholder should, to the extent possible, provide us with specific factual information that demonstrates the inaccuracy of the company's statement in opposition. We encourage shareholders and companies to work out these differences before contacting us.

14. What must a company do if, before we have issued a no-action response, the shareholder withdraws the proposal or the company decides to include the proposal in its proxy materials?

If the company no longer wishes to pursue its no-action request, the company should provide us with a letter as soon as possible withdrawing its no-action request. This allows us to allocate our resources to other pending requests. The company should also provide the shareholder with a copy of the withdrawal letter.

15. If a company wishes to withdraw a no-action request, what information should its withdrawal letter contain?

In order for us to process withdrawals efficiently, the company's letter should contain

  • a statement that either the shareholder has withdrawn the proposal or the company has decided to include the proposal in its proxy materials;

  • if the shareholder has withdrawn the proposal, a copy of the shareholder's signed letter of withdrawal, or some other indication that the shareholder has withdrawn the proposal;

  • if there is more than one eligible shareholder, the company must provide documentation that all of the eligible shareholders have agreed to withdraw the proposal;

  • if the company has agreed to include a revised version of the proposal in its proxy materials, a statement from the shareholder that he or she accepts the revisions; and

  • an affirmative statement that the company is withdrawing its no-action request.

C. Questions regarding the eligibility and procedural requirements of the rule

Rule 14a-8 contains eligibility and procedural requirements for shareholders who wish to include a proposal in a company's proxy materials. Below, we address some of the common questions that arise regarding these requirements.

1. To be eligible to submit a proposal, rule 14a-8(b) requires the shareholder to have continuously held at least $2,000 in market value, or 1%, of the company's securities entitled to be voted on the proposal at the meeting for at least one year by the date of submitting the proposal. Also, the shareholder must continue to hold those securities through the date of the meeting. The following questions and answers address issues regarding shareholder eligibility.

a. How do you calculate the market value of the shareholder's securities?

Due to market fluctuations, the value of a shareholder's investment in the company may vary throughout the year before he or she submits the proposal. In order to determine whether the shareholder satisfies the $2,000 threshold, we look at whether, on any date within the 60 calendar days before the date the shareholder submits the proposal, the shareholder's investment is valued at $2,000 or greater, based on the average of the bid and ask prices. Depending on where the company is listed, bid and ask prices may not always be available. For example, bid and ask prices are not provided for companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Under these circumstances, companies and shareholders should determine the market value by multiplying the number of securities the shareholder held for the one-year period by the highest selling price during the 60 calendar days before the shareholder submitted the proposal. For purposes of this calculation, it is important to note that a security's highest selling price is not necessarily the same as its highest closing price.

b. What type of security must a shareholder own to be eligible to submit a proposal?

A shareholder must own company securities entitled to be voted on the proposal at the meeting.

 
Example

A company receives a proposal relating to executive compensation from a shareholder who owns only shares of the company's class B common stock. The company's class B common stock is entitled to vote only on the election of directors. Does the shareholder's ownership of only class B stock provide a basis for the company to exclude the proposal?

Yes. This would provide a basis for the company to exclude the proposal because the shareholder does not own securities entitled to be voted on the proposal at the meeting.

c. How should a shareholder's ownership be substantiated?

Under rule 14a-8(b), there are several ways to determine whether a shareholder has owned the minimum amount of company securities entitled to be voted on the proposal at the meeting for the required time period. If the shareholder appears in the company's records as a registered holder, the company can verify the shareholder's eligibility independently. However, many shareholders hold their securities indirectly through a broker or bank. In the event that the shareholder is not the registered holder, the shareholder is responsible for proving his or her eligibility to submit a proposal to the company. To do so, the shareholder must do one of two things. He or she can submit a written statement from the record holder of the securities verifying that the shareholder has owned the securities continuously for one year as of the time the shareholder submits the proposal. Alternatively, a shareholder who has filed a Schedule 13D, Schedule 13G, Form 4 or Form 5 reflecting ownership of the securities as of or before the date on which the one-year eligibility period begins may submit copies of these forms and any subsequent amendments reporting a change in ownership level, along with a written statement that he or she has owned the required number of securities continuously for one year as of the time the shareholder submits the proposal.

(1) Does a written statement from the shareholder's investment adviser verifying that the shareholder held the securities continuously for at least one year before submitting the proposal demonstrate sufficiently continuous ownership of the securities?

The written statement must be from the record holder of the shareholder's securities, which is usually a broker or bank. Therefore, unless the investment adviser is also the record holder, the statement would be insufficient under the rule.

(2) Do a shareholder's monthly, quarterly or other periodic investment statements demonstrate sufficiently continuous ownership of the securities?

No. A shareholder must submit an affirmative written statement from the record holder of his or her securities that specifically verifies that the shareholder owned the securities continuously for a period of one year as of the time of submitting the proposal.

(3) If a shareholder submits his or her proposal to the company on June 1, does a statement from the record holder verifying that the shareholder owned the securities continuously for one year as of May 30 of the same year demonstrate sufficiently continuous ownership of the securities as of the time he or she submitted the proposal?

No. A shareholder must submit proof from the record holder that the shareholder continuously owned the securities for a period of one year as of the time the shareholder submits the proposal.

d. Should a shareholder provide the company with a written statement that he or she intends to continue holding the securities through the date of the shareholder meeting?

Yes. The shareholder must provide this written statement regardless of the method the shareholder uses to prove that he or she continuously owned the securities for a period of one year as of the time the shareholder submits the proposal.

2. In order for a proposal to be eligible for inclusion in a company's proxy materials, rule 14a-8(d) requires that the proposal, including any accompanying supporting statement, not exceed 500 words. The following questions and answers address issues regarding the 500-word limitation.

a. May a company count the words in a proposal's "title" or "heading" in determining whether the proposal exceeds the 500-word limitation?

Any statements that are, in effect, arguments in support of the proposal constitute part of the supporting statement. Therefore, any "title" or "heading" that meets this test may be counted toward the 500-word limitation.

b. Does referencing a website address in the proposal or supporting statement violate the 500-word limitation of rule 14a-8(d)?

No. Because we count a website address as one word for purposes of the 500-word limitation, we do not believe that a website address raises the concern that rule 14a-8(d) is intended to address. However, a website address could be subject to exclusion if it refers readers to information that may be materially false or misleading, irrelevant to the subject matter of the proposal or otherwise in contravention of the proxy rules. In this regard, please refer to question and answer F.1.

3. Rule 14a-8(e)(2) requires that proposals for a regularly scheduled annual meeting be received at the company's principal executive offices by a date not less than 120 calendar days before the date of the company's proxy statement released to shareholders in connection with the previous year's annual meeting. The following questions and answers address a number of issues that come up in applying this provision.

a. How do we interpret the phrase "before the date of the company's proxy statement released to shareholders?"

We interpret this phrase as meaning the approximate date on which the proxy statement and form of proxy were first sent or given to shareholders. For example, if a company having a regularly scheduled annual meeting files its definitive proxy statement and form of proxy with the Commission dated April 1, 2001, but first sends or gives the proxy statement to shareholders on April 15, 2001, as disclosed in its proxy statement, we will refer to the April 15, 2001 date as the release date. The company and shareholders should use April 15, 2001 for purposes of calculating the 120-day deadline in rule 14a-8(e)(2).

b. How should a company that is planning to have a regularly scheduled annual meeting calculate the deadline for submitting proposals?

The company should calculate the deadline for submitting proposals as follows:

  • start with the release date disclosed in the previous year's proxy statement;

  • increase the year by one; and

  • count back 120 calendar days.

 
Examples

If a company is planning to have a regularly scheduled annual meeting in May of 2003 and the company disclosed that the release date for its 2002 proxy statement was April 14, 2002, how should the company calculate the deadline for submitting rule 14a-8 proposals for the company's 2003 annual meeting?

  • The release date disclosed in the company's 2002 proxy statement was April 14, 2002.
  • Increasing the year by one, the day to begin the calculation is April 14, 2003.
  • "Day one" for purposes of the calculation is April 13, 2003.
  • "Day 120" is December 15, 2002.
  • The 120-day deadline for the 2003 annual meeting is December 15, 2002.
  • A rule 14a-8 proposal received after December 15, 2002 would be untimely.

If the 120th calendar day before the release date disclosed in the previous year's proxy statement is a Saturday, Sunday or federal holiday, does this change the deadline for receiving rule 14a-8 proposals?

No. The deadline for receiving rule 14a-8 proposals is always the 120th calendar day before the release date disclosed in the previous year's proxy statement. Therefore, if the deadline falls on a Saturday, Sunday or federal holiday, the company must disclose this date in its proxy statement, and rule 14a-8 proposals received after business reopens would be untimely.

c. How does a shareholder know where to send his or her proposal?

The proposal must be received at the company's principal executive offices. Shareholders can find this address in the company's proxy statement. If a shareholder sends a proposal to any other location, even if it is to an agent of the company or to another company location, this would not satisfy the requirement.

d. How does a shareholder know if his or her proposal has been received by the deadline?

A shareholder should submit a proposal by a means that allows him or her to determine when the proposal was received at the company's principal executive offices.

4. Rule 14a-8(h)(1) requires that the shareholder or his or her qualified representative attend the shareholders' meeting to present the proposal. Rule 14a-8(h)(3) provides that a company may exclude a shareholder's proposals for two calendar years if the company included one of the shareholder's proposals in its proxy materials for a shareholder meeting, neither the shareholder nor the shareholder's qualified representative appeared and presented the proposal and the shareholder did not demonstrate "good cause" for failing to attend the meeting or present the proposal. The following questions and answers address issues regarding these provisions.

a. Does rule 14a-8 require a shareholder to represent in writing before the meeting that he or she, or a qualified representative, will attend the shareholders' meeting to present the proposal?

No. The Commission stated in Release No. 34-20091 that shareholders are no longer required to provide the company with a written statement of intent to appear and present a shareholder proposal. The Commission eliminated this requirement because it "serve[d] little purpose" and only encumbered shareholders. We, therefore, view it as inappropriate for companies to solicit this type of written statement from shareholders for purposes of rule 14a-8. In particular, we note that shareholders who are unfamiliar with the proxy rules may be misled, even unintentionally, into believing that a written statement of intent is required.

b. What if a shareholder provides an unsolicited, written statement that neither the shareholder nor his or her qualified representative will attend the meeting to present the proposal? May the company exclude the proposal under this circumstance?

Yes. Rule 14a-8(i)(3) allows companies to exclude proposals that are contrary to the proxy rules, including rule 14a-8(h)(1). If a shareholder voluntarily provides a written statement evidencing his or her intent to act contrary to rule 14a-8(h)(1), rule 14a-8(i)(3) may serve as a basis for the company to exclude the proposal.

c. If a company demonstrates that it is entitled to exclude a proposal under rule 14a-8(h)(3), can the company request that we issue a no-action response that covers both calendar years?

Yes. For example, assume that, without "good cause," neither the shareholder nor the shareholder's representative attended the company's 2001 annual meeting to present the shareholder's proposal, and the shareholder then submits a proposal for inclusion in the company's 2002 proxy materials. If the company seeks to exclude the 2002 proposal under rule 14a-8(h)(3), it may concurrently request forward-looking relief for any proposal(s) that the shareholder may submit for inclusion in the company's 2003 proxy materials. If we grant the company's request and the company receives a proposal from the shareholder in connection with the 2003 annual meeting, the company still has an obligation under rule 14a-8(j) to notify us and the shareholder of its intention to exclude the shareholder's proposal from its proxy materials for that meeting. Although we will retain that notice in our records, we will not issue a no-action response.

5. In addition to rule 14a-8(h)(3), are there any other circumstances in which we will grant forward-looking relief to a company under rule 14a-8?

Yes. Rule 14a-8(i)(4) allows companies to exclude a proposal if it relates to the redress of a personal claim or grievance against the company or any other person or is designed to result in a benefit to the shareholder, or to further a personal interest, that is not shared by the other shareholders at large. In rare circumstances, we may grant forward-looking relief if a company satisfies its burden of demonstrating that the shareholder is abusing rule 14a-8 by continually submitting similar proposals that relate to a particular personal claim or grievance. As in answer C.4.c, above, if we grant this relief, the company still has an obligation under rule 14a-8(j) to notify us and the shareholder of its intention to exclude the shareholder's proposal(s) from its proxy materials. Although will retain that notice in our records, we will not issue a no-action response.

6. What must a company do in order to exclude a proposal that fails to comply with the eligibility or procedural requirements of the rule?

If a shareholder fails to follow the eligibility or procedural requirements of rule 14a-8, the rule provides procedures for the company to follow if it wishes to exclude the proposal. For example, rule 14a-8(f) provides that a company may exclude a proposal from its proxy materials due to eligibility or procedural defects if

  • within 14 calendar days of receiving the proposal, it provides the shareholder with written notice of the defect(s), including the time frame for responding; and

  • the shareholder fails to respond to this notice within 14 calendar days of receiving the notice of the defect(s) or the shareholder timely responds but does not cure the eligibility or procedural defect(s).

Section G.3 - Eligibility and Procedural Issues, below, contains information that companies may want to consider in drafting these notices. If the shareholder does not timely respond or remedy the defect(s) and the company intends to exclude the proposal, the company still must submit, to us and to the shareholder, a copy of the proposal and its reasons for excluding the proposal.

a. Should a company's notices of defect(s) give different levels of information to different shareholders depending on the company's perception of the shareholder's sophistication in rule 14a-8?

No. Companies should not assume that any shareholder is familiar with the proxy rules or give different levels of information to different shareholders based on the fact that the shareholder may or may not be a frequent or "experienced" shareholder proponent.

b. Should companies instruct shareholders to respond to the notice of defect(s) by a specified date rather than indicating that shareholders have 14 calendar days after receiving the notice to respond?

No. Rule 14a-8(f) provides that shareholders must respond within 14 calendar days of receiving notice of the alleged eligibility or procedural defect(s). If the company provides a specific date by which the shareholder must submit his or her response, it is possible that the deadline set by the company will be shorter than the 14-day period required by rule 14a-8(f). For example, events could delay the shareholder's receipt of the notice. As such, if a company sets a specific date for the shareholder to respond and that date does not result in the shareholder having 14 calendar days after receiving the notice to respond, we do not believe that the company may rely on rule 14a-8(f) to exclude the proposal.

c. Are there any circumstances under which a company does not have to provide the shareholder with a notice of defect(s)? For example, what should the company do if the shareholder indicates that he or she does not own at least $2,000 in market value, or 1%, of the company's securities?

The company does not need to provide the shareholder with a notice of defect(s) if the defect(s) cannot be remedied. In the example provided in the question, because the shareholder cannot remedy this defect after the fact, no notice of the defect would be required. The same would apply, for example, if

  • the shareholder indicated that he or she had owned securities entitled to be voted on the proposal for a period of less than one year before submitting the proposal;

  • the shareholder indicated that he or she did not own securities entitled to be voted on the proposal at the meeting;

  • the shareholder failed to submit a proposal by the company's properly determined deadline; or

  • the shareholder, or his or her qualified representative, failed to attend the meeting or present one of the shareholder's proposals that was included in the company's proxy materials during the past two calendar years.

In all of these circumstances, the company must still submit its reasons regarding exclusion of the proposal to us and the shareholder. The shareholder may, but is not required to, submit a reply to us with a copy to the company.

D. Questions regarding the inclusion of shareholder names in proxy statements

1. If the shareholder's proposal will appear in the company's proxy statement, is the company required to disclose the shareholder's name?

No. A company is not required to disclose the identity of a shareholder proponent in its proxy statement. Rather, a company can indicate that it will provide the information to shareholders promptly upon receiving an oral or written request.

2. May a shareholder request that the company not disclose his or her name in the proxy statement?

Yes. However, the company has the discretion not to honor the request. In this regard, if the company chooses to include the shareholder proponent's name in the proxy statement, rule 14a-8(l)(1) requires that the company also include that shareholder proponent's address and the number of the company's voting securities that the shareholder proponent holds.

3. If a shareholder includes his or her e-mail address in the proposal or supporting statement, may the company exclude the e-mail address?

Yes. We view an e-mail address as equivalent to the shareholder proponent's name and address and, under rule 14a-8(l)(1), a company may exclude the shareholder's name and address from the proxy statement.

E. Questions regarding revisions to proposals and supporting statements

In this section, we first discuss the purpose for allowing shareholders to revise portions of a proposal and supporting statement. Second, we express our views with regard to revisions that a shareholder makes to his or her proposal before we receive a company's no-action request, as well as during the course of our review of a no-action request. Finally, we address the circumstances under which our responses may allow shareholders to make revisions to their proposals and supporting statements.

1. Why do our no-action responses sometimes permit shareholders to make revisions to their proposals and supporting statements?

There is no provision in rule 14a-8 that allows a shareholder to revise his or her proposal and supporting statement. However, we have a long-standing practice of issuing no-action responses that permit shareholders to make revisions that are minor in nature and do not alter the substance of the proposal. We adopted this practice to deal with proposals that generally comply with the substantive requirements of the rule, but contain some relatively minor defects that are easily corrected. In these circumstances, we believe that the concepts underlying Exchange Act section 14(a) are best served by affording an opportunity to correct these kinds of defects.

Despite the intentions underlying our revisions practice, we spend an increasingly large portion of our time and resources each proxy season responding to no-action requests regarding proposals or supporting statements that have obvious deficiencies in terms of accuracy, clarity or relevance. This is not beneficial to all participants in the process and diverts resources away from analyzing core issues arising under rule 14a-8 that are matters of interest to companies and shareholders alike. Therefore, when a proposal and supporting statement will require detailed and extensive editing in order to bring them into compliance with the proxy rules, we may find it appropriate for companies to exclude the entire proposal, supporting statement, or both, as materially false or misleading.

2. If a company has received a timely proposal and the shareholder makes revisions to the proposal before the company submits its no-action request, must the company accept those revisions?

No, but it may accept the shareholder's revisions. If the changes are such that the revised proposal is actually a different proposal from the original, the revised proposal could be subject to exclusion under

  • rule 14a-8(c), which provides that a shareholder may submit no more than one proposal to a company for a particular shareholders' meeting; and

  • rule 14a-8(e), which imposes a deadline for submitting shareholder proposals.

3. If the shareholder decides to make revisions to his or her proposal after the company has submitted its no-action request, must the company address those revisions?

No, but it may address the shareholder's revisions. We base our no-action response on the proposal included in the company's no-action request. Therefore, if the company indicates in a letter to us and the shareholder that it acknowledges and accepts the shareholder's changes, we will base our response on the revised proposal. Otherwise, we will base our response on the proposal contained in the company's original no-action request. Again, it is important for shareholders to note that, depending on the nature and timing of the changes, a revised proposal could be subject to exclusion under rule 14a-8(c), rule 14a-8(e), or both.

4. If the shareholder decides to make revisions to his or her proposal after the company has submitted its no-action request, should the shareholder provide a copy of the revisions to us?

Yes. All shareholder correspondence relating to the no-action request should be sent to us and the company. However, under rule 14a-8, no-action requests and shareholder responses to those requests are submitted to us. The proposals themselves are not submitted to us. Because proposals are submitted to companies for inclusion in their proxy materials, we will not address revised proposals unless the company chooses to acknowledge the changes.

5. When do our responses afford shareholders an opportunity to revise their proposals and supporting statements?

We may, under limited circumstances, permit shareholders to revise their proposals and supporting statements. The following table provides examples of the rule 14a-8 bases under which we typically allow revisions, as well as the types of permissible changes:

Basis       Type of revision that we may permit
Rule 14a-8(i)(1) When a proposal would be binding on the company if approved by shareholders, we may permit the shareholder to revise the proposal to a recommendation or request that the board of directors take the action specified in the proposal.
Rule 14a-8(i)(2) If implementing the proposal would require the company to breach existing contractual obligations, we may permit the shareholder to revise the proposal so that it applies only to the company's future contractual obligations.
Rule 14a-8(i)(3) If the proposal contains specific statements that may be materially false or misleading or irrelevant to the subject matter of the proposal, we may permit the shareholder to revise or delete these statements. Also, if the proposal or supporting statement contains vague terms, we may, in rare circumstances, permit the shareholder to clarify these terms.
Rule 14a-8(i)(6) Same as rule 14a-8(i)(2), above.
Rule 14a-8(i)(7) If it is unclear whether the proposal focuses on senior executive compensation or director compensation, as opposed to general employee compensation, we may permit the shareholder to make this clarification.
Rule 14a-8(i)(8) If implementing the proposal would disqualify directors previously elected from completing their terms on the board or disqualify nominees for directors at the upcoming shareholder meeting, we may permit the shareholder to revise the proposal so that it will not affect the unexpired terms of directors elected to the board at or prior to the upcoming shareholder meeting.
Rule 14a-8(i)(9) Same as rule 14a-8(i)(8), above.

F. Other questions that arise under rule 14a-8

1. May a reference to a website address in the proposal or supporting statement be subject to exclusion under the rule?

Yes. In some circumstances, we may concur in a company's view that it may exclude a website address under rule 14a-8(i)(3) because information contained on the website may be materially false or misleading, irrelevant to the subject matter of the proposal or otherwise in contravention of the proxy rules. Companies seeking to exclude a website address under rule 14a-8(i)(3) should specifically indicate why they believe information contained on the particular website is materially false or misleading, irrelevant to the subject matter of the proposal or otherwise in contravention of the proxy rules.

2. Rule 14a-8(i)(12) provides a basis for a company to exclude a proposal dealing with substantially the same subject matter as another proposal or proposals that previously has or have been included in the company's proxy materials. How does rule 14a-8(i)(12) operate?

Rule 14a-8(i)(12) operates as follows:

a. First, the company should look back three calendar years to see if it previously included a proposal or proposals dealing with substantially the same subject matter. If it has not, rule 14a-8(i)(12) is not available as a basis to exclude a proposal from this year's proxy materials.

b. If it has, the company should then count the number of times that a proposal or proposals dealing with substantially the same subject matter was or were included over the preceding five calendar years.

c. Finally, the company should look at the percentage of the shareholder vote that a proposal dealing with substantially the same subject matter received the last time it was included.

  • If the company included a proposal dealing with substantially the same subject matter only once in the preceding five calendar years, the company may exclude a proposal from this year's proxy materials under rule 14a-8(i)(12)(i) if it received less than 3% of the vote the last time that it was voted on.

  • If the company included a proposal or proposals dealing with substantially the same subject matter twice in the preceding five calendar years, the company may exclude a proposal from this year's proxy materials under rule 14a-8(i)(12)(ii) if it received less than 6% of the vote the last time that it was voted on.

  • If the company included a proposal or proposals dealing with substantially the same subject matter three or more times in the preceding five calendar years, the company may exclude a proposal from this year's proxy materials under rule 14a-8(i)(12)(iii) if it received less than 10% of the vote the last time that it was voted on.

3. Rule 14a-8(i)(12) refers to calendar years. How do we interpret calendar years for this purpose?

Because a calendar year runs from January 1 through December 31, we do not look at the specific dates of company meetings. Instead, we look at the calendar year in which a meeting was held. For example, a company scheduled a meeting for April 25, 2002. In looking back three calendar years to determine if it previously had included a proposal or proposals dealing with substantially the same subject matter, any meeting held in calendar years 1999, 2000 or 2001 - which would include any meetings held between January 1, 1999 and December 31, 2001 - would be relevant under rule 14a-8(i)(12).

 
Examples

A company receives a proposal for inclusion in its 2002 proxy materials dealing with substantially the same subject matter as proposals that were voted on at the following shareholder meetings:

Calendar Year1997199819992000200120022003
Voted on? Yes No No Yes No - -
Percentage 4% N/A N/A 4% N/A - -

May the company exclude the proposal from its 2002 proxy materials in reliance on rule 14a-8(i)(12)?

Yes. The company would be entitled to exclude the proposal under rule 14a-8(i)(12)(ii). First, calendar year 2000, the last time the company included a proposal dealing with substantially the same subject matter, is within the prescribed three calendar years. Second, the company included proposals dealing with substantially the same subject matter twice within the preceding five calendar years, specifically, in 1997 and 2000. Finally, the proposal received less than 6% of the vote on its last submission to shareholders in 2000. Therefore, rule 14a-8(i)(12)(ii), which permits exclusion when a company has included a proposal or proposals dealing with substantially the same subject matter twice in the preceding five calendar years and that proposal received less than 6% of the shareholder vote the last time it was voted on, would serve as a basis for excluding the proposal.

 
If the company excluded the proposal from its 2002 proxy materials and then received an identical proposal for inclusion in its 2003 proxy materials, may the company exclude the proposal from its 2003 proxy materials in reliance on rule 14a-8(i)(12)?

No. Calendar year 2000, the last time the company included a proposal dealing with substantially the same subject matter, is still within the prescribed three calendar years. However, 2000 was the only time within the preceding five calendar years that the company included a proposal dealing with substantially the same subject matter, and it received more than 3% of the vote at the 2000 meeting. Therefore, the company would not be entitled to exclude the proposal under rule 14a-8(i)(12)(i).

4. How do we count votes under rule 14a-8(i)(12)?

Only votes for and against a proposal are included in the calculation of the shareholder vote of that proposal. Abstentions and broker non-votes are not included in this calculation.

 
Example

A proposal received the following votes at the company's last annual meeting:

  • 5,000 votes for the proposal;
  • 3,000 votes against the proposal;
  • 1,000 broker non-votes; and
  • 1,000 abstentions.

How is the shareholder vote of this proposal calculated for purposes of rule 14a-8(i)(12)?

This percentage is calculated as follows:

formula: votes for proposal divided by the sum of votes against the proposal and votes for the proposal equals voting percentage

Applying this formula to the facts above, the proposal received 62.5% of the vote.

example using previous formula: five thousand divided by the sum of three thousand and five thousand equals point six two five

G. How can companies and shareholders facilitate our processing of no-action requests or take steps to avoid the submission of no-action requests?

Eligibility and procedural issues

1. Before submitting a proposal to a company, a shareholder should look in the company's most recent proxy statement to find the deadline for submitting rule 14a-8 proposals. To avoid exclusion on the basis of untimeliness, a shareholder should submit his or her proposal well in advance of the deadline and by a means that allows the shareholder to demonstrate the date the proposal was received at the company's principal executive offices.

2. A shareholder who intends to submit a written statement from the record holder of the shareholder's securities to verify continuous ownership of the securities should contact the record holder before submitting a proposal to ensure that the record holder will provide the written statement and knows how to provide a written statement that will satisfy the requirements of rule 14a-8(b).

3. Companies should consider the following guidelines when drafting a letter to notify a shareholder of perceived eligibility or procedural defects:

  • provide adequate detail about what the shareholder must do to remedy all eligibility or procedural defects;

  • although not required, consider including a copy of rule 14a-8 with the notice of defect(s);

  • explicitly state that the shareholder must respond to the company's notice within 14 calendar days of receiving the notice of defect(s); and

  • send the notification by a means that allows the company to determine when the shareholder received the letter.

4. Rule 14a-8(f) provides that a shareholder's response to a company's notice of defect(s) must be postmarked, or transmitted electronically, no later than 14 days from the date the shareholder received the notice of defect(s). Therefore, a shareholder should respond to the company's notice of defect(s) by a means that allows the shareholder to demonstrate when he or she responded to the notice.

5. Rather than waiting until the deadline for submitting a no-action request, a company should submit a no-action request as soon as possible after it receives a proposal and determines that it will seek a no-action response.

6. Companies that will be submitting multiple no-action requests should submit their requests individually or in small groups rather than waiting and sending them all at once. We receive the heaviest volume of no-action requests between December and February of each year. Therefore, we are not able to process no-action requests as quickly during this period. Our experience shows that we often receive 70 to 80 no-action requests a week during our peak period and, at most, we can respond to 30 to 40 requests in any given week. Therefore, companies that wait until December through February to submit all of their requests will have to wait longer for a response.

7. Companies should provide us with all relevant correspondence when submitting the no-action request, including the shareholder proposal, any cover letter that the shareholder provided with the proposal, the shareholder's address and any other correspondence the company has exchanged with the shareholder relating to the proposal. If the company provided the shareholder with notice of a perceived eligibility or procedural defect, the company should include a copy of the notice, documentation demonstrating when the company notified the shareholder, documentation demonstrating when the shareholder received the notice and any shareholder response to the notice.

8. If a shareholder intends to reply to the company's no-action request, he or she should try to send the reply as soon as possible after the company submits its no-action request.

9. Both companies and shareholders should promptly forward to each other copies of all correspondence that is provided to us in connection with no-action requests.

10. Due to the significant volume of no-action requests and phone calls we receive during the proxy season, companies should limit their calls to us regarding the status of their no-action request.

11. Shareholders who write to us to object to a company's statement in opposition to the shareholder's proposal also should provide us with copies of the proposal as it will be printed in the company's proxy statement and the company's proposed statement in opposition.

Substantive issues

1. When drafting a proposal, shareholders should consider whether the proposal, if approved by shareholders, would be binding on the company. In our experience, we have found that proposals that are binding on the company face a much greater likelihood of being improper under state law and, therefore, excludable under rule 14a-8(i)(1).

2. When drafting a proposal, shareholders should consider what actions are within a company's power or authority. Proposals often request or require action by the company that would violate law or would not be within the power or authority of the company to implement.

3. When drafting a proposal, shareholders should consider whether the proposal would require the company to breach existing contracts. In our experience, we have found that proposals that would result in the company breaching existing contractual obligations face a much greater likelihood of being excludable under rule 14a-8(i)(2), rule 14a-8(i)(6), or both. This is because implementing the proposals may require the company to violate law or may not be within the power or authority of the company to implement.

4. In drafting a proposal and supporting statement, shareholders should avoid making unsupported assertions of fact. To this end, shareholders should provide factual support for statements in the proposal and supporting statement or phrase statements as their opinion where appropriate.

5. Companies should provide a supporting opinion of counsel when the reasons for exclusion are based on matters of state or foreign law. In determining how much weight to afford these opinions, one factor we consider is whether counsel is licensed to practice law in the jurisdiction where the law is at issue. Shareholders who wish to contest a company's reliance on a legal opinion as to matters of state or foreign law should, but are not required to, submit an opinion of counsel supporting their position.

H. Conclusion

Whether or not you are familiar with rule 14a-8, we hope that this bulletin helps you gain a better understanding of the rule, the no-action request process and our views on some issues and questions that commonly arise during our review of no-action requests. While not exhaustive, we believe that the bulletin contains information that will assist both companies and shareholders in ensuring that the rule operates more effectively. Please contact us with any questions that you may have regarding information contained in the bulletin.

 

http://www.sec.gov/interps/legal/cfslb14.htm

Modified: 07/24/2001