Section 3(a)(10) Debt Conversions in a Shell Company Pre-Reverse Merger
Section 3(a) (10) of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended (“Securities Act”) is an exemption from the Securities Act registration requirements for the offers and sales of securities by Issuers. The exemption provides that “Except with respect to a security exchanged in a case under title 11 of the United States Code, any security which is issued in exchange for one or more bona fide outstanding securities, claims or property interests, or partly in such exchange and partly for cash, where the terms and conditions of such issuance and exchange are approved, after a hearing upon the fairness of such terms and conditions at which all persons to whom it is proposed to issue securities in such exchange shall have the right to appear, by any court, or by any official or agency of the United States, or by any State or Territorial banking or insurance commission or other governmental authority expressly authorized by law to grant such approval.”
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has given guidance on the operation of Section 3(a) (10) in its Division of Corporation Finance: Revised Staff Legal Bulleting No. 3. In particular, in order to rely on the exemption, the following conditions must be met:
- The securities must be issued in exchange for securities, claims, or property interests, not cash;
- A court or authorized governmental entity must approve the fairness of the terms and conditions of the exchange;
- The reviewing court or authorized governmental entity must (i) find that the terms and conditions of the exchange are fair to those that the securities will be issued to; and (ii) be properly advised that the Issuer will be relying on the court’s findings to issuer securities;
- The reviewing court or authorized governmental entity must hold a hearing before approving the fairness of the terms and conditions of the transaction;
- A governmental entity must be expressly authorized by law to hold the hearing;
- The fairness hearing must be open to everyone to whom securities would be issued in the proposed exchange;
- Adequate notice must be given to all those persons; and
- There cannot be any improper impediments to the appearance by those persons at the hearing.
Section 3(a) (10) does not preempt state law and accordingly, the implementing state statutes must also be abided by. Many state securities law statutes that authorize a Section 3(a) (10) court process require that there be a majority shareholder vote approving the transaction prior to the hearing.
Re-sale of 3(a)(10) securities
Importantly, SEC Staff Bulletin 3 provides that the resale of securities issued in a Section 3(a) (10) transaction may be had without regard to Rule 144 if the seller is not an affiliate of the Issuer either before or after the Section 3(a) (10) transaction. That is, as long as the Seller is not an affiliate of the Issuer, securities issued in a 3(a) (10) transaction are freely tradable.
If the seller is or will be an affiliate either before or after the Section 3(a) (10) transaction, resale’s are subject to Rule 144, except for the holding period and notice filing requirements. That is, affiliates would still be subject to the drip rules, manner of sale and current public information requirements, but not the holding period requirements.
As a practical matter, many over-the-counter traded securities (over-the-counter bulletin board or OTCBB and pinksheets) have been utilizing the exemption found in Section 3(a) (10) to convert debt into common stock. The conversion of debt into common stock can assist an Issuer in two ways. First, and obviously, it eliminates the debt from the balance sheet and increases liquidity and solvency. Second, and less obviously, is that the Section 3(a) (10) exemption can be used to convince lenders to make investments into a company without the investor relying solely on the Company cash flows for repayment.
3(a)(10) and shell company reverse mergers
As described herein, shareholders that receive their securities in a 3(a)(10) transaction by a shell company that subsequently completes a merger, reverse merger, reclassification or asset transfer will be restricted until (i) 6 months after issuance; and (ii) ninety (90) days after the reverse merger, reclassification or asset purchase has been completed.
Rule 145 promulgated under the Securities Act of 1933 governs the resale restrictions on shares of stock issued or received in a reclassification, merger or asset transfer. Like Rule 144, Rule 145 contains prohibitions against the resale of securities in a shell company.
Shareholders of an entity that has completed a reverse merger, reclassification or asset transfer and that receive their securities pursuant to a 3(a)(10) transaction can resell their securities in accordance with revised resale provisions pursuant to Rule 145(d)(1) and (2) below, which provide that:
(d) Resale provisions for persons and parties deemed underwriters. Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (c), a person or party specified in that paragraph shall not be deemed to be engaged in a distribution and therefore not to be an underwriter of securities acquired in a transaction specified in paragraph (a) that was registered under the Act if:
(1) The issuer has ceased to be a shell company, is reporting and has filed the requisite Exchange Act reports and filings reflecting that the issuer is no longer a shell company; and
(2) One of the following three conditions is met:
(i) The securities are sold in accordance with the Rule 144 restrictions and at least 90 days have elapsed since the date the securities were acquired from the issuer in the Rule 145 transaction;
(ii) The seller has not been, for at least three months, an affiliate of the issuer, and at least six months have elapsed since the date the securities were acquired from the issuer in the Rule 145 transaction, and current information regarding the issuer is publicly available; or
(iii) The seller has not been, for at least three months, an affiliate of the issuer, and at least one year has elapsed since the date the securities were acquired from the issuer in the Rule 145 transaction.
Although Rule 145(d) specifically refers to shares received in a reclassification, merger or asset transfer that was registered under the Act, the Rule specifically provides that transactions for which statutory exemptions under the Act, including those contained in sections 3(a)(9), (10), (11) and 4(2), are otherwise available are not affected by Rule 145.
The bottom line is that a shell company can complete a 3(a)(10) transaction prior to and in contemplation of a reverse merger transaction and such shares will become freely tradable 90 days after the closing of the reverse merger and after a total of a 6-month holding period from the date of issuance in the 3(a)(10) transaction. The SEC analysis in Staff Legal Bulletin No. 3. supports this conclusion, and this firm’s personal and direct experience (including via SEC comment letters and responses) also support this conclusion.
Securities attorney Laura Anthony and her 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. The firm’s focus includes, but is not limited to, compliance with the Securities Act of 1933 offer sale and registration requirements, including private placement transactions under Regulation D and Regulation S and PIPE Transactions as well as registration statements on Forms S-1, S-8 and S-4; compliance with the reporting requirements of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, including registration on Form 10, reporting on Forms 10-Q, 10-K and 8-K, and 14C Information and 14A Proxy Statements; Regulation A/A+ offerings; all forms of going public transactions; mergers and acquisitions including both reverse mergers and forward mergers, ; applications to and compliance with the corporate governance requirements of securities exchanges including NASDAQ and NYSE MKT; crowdfunding; corporate; and general contract and business transactions. Moreover, Ms. Anthony and her firm represents both target and acquiring companies in reverse mergers and forward mergers, including the preparation of transaction documents such as merger agreements, share exchange agreements, stock purchase agreements, asset purchase agreements and reorganization agreements. Ms. Anthony’s legal team prepares the necessary documentation and assists in completing the requirements of federal and state securities laws and SROs such as FINRA and DTC for 15c2-11 applications, corporate name changes, reverse and forward splits and changes of domicile. Ms. Anthony is also the author of SecuritiesLawBlog.com, the OTC Market’s top source for industry news, and the producer and host of LawCast.com, the securities law network. In addition to many other major metropolitan areas, the firm currently represents clients in New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, Atlanta, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., Denver, Tampa, Detroit and Dallas.
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