In denying the Commission’s application, the district court made two reversible errors:
First, it incorrectly applied a heightened preponderance standard of proof to the Commission’s application rather than the more appropriate probable cause standard. Congress created in SIPA a specific process, within the context of a SIPA liquidation, in which investors must prove their claims for coverage under the Act, including their “customer” status, by a preponderance of the evidence. It makes no sense to apply the same standard to the Commission in proving “customer” status on behalf of investors in this preliminary, summary proceeding.
Moreover, Congress’s overarching goals of promoting investor confidence in the securities markets by providing speedy relief for investors indicate that a lesser standard of proof should apply to the initial question of whether SIPC should initiate a liquidation. Indeed, perhaps in recognition of this, SIPC itself is held to a lesser standard when it applies to begin a liquidation. The district court was therefore incorrect in applying a higher standard of proof to the Commission, which is SIPC’s plenary supervisor.
The district court’s error in this regard was based upon the mistaken belief that the application of the provisions of the Exchange Act to SIPA shows a congressional intent to apply the preponderance standard. But there is no sound basis to analogize plenary proceedings under Exchange Act Section 21(e)—used to finally determine whether a permanent injunction should be granted—to this preliminary, summary proceeding used to determine whether SIPC should be required to apply to begin a liquidation proceeding.
Second, the district court incorrectly interpreted SIPA’s customer definition to exclude investors who, because of the unusual operation of the Stanford companies, should be deemed to have deposited cash with SGC. The record here provides at least probable cause to believe that the purported legal separateness of SGC and SIBL should be disregarded, such that, by depositing cash with SIBL, SGC accountholders who purchased SIBL CDs through SGC were effectively depositing cash with SGC. Courts facing similar circumstances have disregarded the corporate separateness of SIPC members and non-member affiliated companies, with SIPC’s support. The district court’s contrary approach improperly elevates form over substance by strictly adhering to the corporate boundaries of the Stanford entities which were designed to perpetrate an egregious fraud.
Even apart from the lack of genuine separateness of the corporate entities, SIPA’s “customer” definition includes those who can be deemed to have deposited cash with a broker-dealer under theOld Naples and Primeline cases. Those cases rejected the notion that “customer” status requires that cash be deposited directly with the broker-dealer, and held that investors in certain circumstances fell within the “customer” definition. Those cases are materially indistinguishable from this one, and the district court’s belief otherwise was based on a misunderstanding both of those cases and of the record here.
Finally, the Commission’s interpretation of SIPA’s “customer” definition is the correct one and is, at the very least, a reasonable one entitled to deference under Chevron. The district court declined to give such deference because it perceived an inconsistency between the interpretation and certain past statements of the Commission. The Commission’s past statements, however, clearly state only a general presumption and are fully consistent with the Commission’s interpretation in this matter.