Rule 144 and the Evergreen Requirement Examined
Technically Rule 144 provides a safe harbor from the definition of the term “underwriter” such that a selling shareholder may utilize the exemption contained in Section 4(1) of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, to sell their restricted securities. In addition, Rule 144 is used to remove the restrictive legend from securities in advance of a sale. In layman terms, Rule 144, allows shareholders to either remove the restrictive legend or sell their unregistered shares.
Rule 144(i), as amended, provides in pertinent part that the Rule is unavailable to issuers with no or nominal operations or no or nominal non-cash assets. That is the rule is unavailable for the use by shareholders of any company that is or was at any time previously, a shell company. A shell company is one with no or nominal operations and either no or nominal assets, assets consisting solely of cash and cash equivalents or assets consisting of any amount of cash and cash equivalents and nominal other assets.
Form 10 Information
In order to use Rule 144, a Company must have ceased to be a shell company, be subject to the reporting requirements of section 13 or 15(d) of the Exchange Act; filed all reports and other materials required to be filed by section 13 or 15(d) of the Exchange Act, as applicable, during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the issuer was required to file such reports and materials), other than Form 8-K reports; and have filed current “Form 10 information” with the Commission reflecting its status as an entity that is no longer a shell company, then those securities may be sold subject to the requirements of Rule 144 after one year has elapsed from the date that the issuer filed “Form 10 information” with the SEC.
The Evergreen Requirement
Rule 144 now affects any company who was ever in its history a shell company by subjecting them to additional restrictions when investors sell unregistered stock under Rule 144. The new language in Rule 144(i) has been dubbed the “evergreen requirement”. The new Rule has the impact of punishing a company that was ever a shell in perpetuity and more importantly, its investors. Brian Breheny, deputy director of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s corporate finance division, referred to the so-called evergreen requirement in Rule 144(i) of the Securities Act, as an “unfortunate result” and said it was “probably not something that the commission intended.”
Going Public and Reverse Mergers
Under the so called “Evergreen Requirement”, a company that ever reported as a shell must be current in its filings with the SEC for 12 months before investors can sell unregistered shares. Here is the hitch. As a result, the restrictive legend can never be removed in advance of a sale. The rule affects all companies going public through a reverse merger or SPAC. Moreover, the Rule effects all companies that have ever been a shell, even if a reverse merger was completed decades ago. It paints a “scarlet letter” on all former shell companies, as this requirement continues literally forever – famous former shells like Blockbuster Entertainment, Texas Instruments and Berkshire Hathaway are now burdened by this restriction decades after their reverse mergers.
So basically, you have to register the shares to get the legend removed. Practitioners have requested that the SEC either amend the Rule or issue additional guidance removing this requirement from Companies that were no longer shells at the time the Rule was enacted. So far no such changes have been made.
Securities attorney Laura Anthony provides expert legal advice and ongoing corporate counsel to small public Companies as well as private Companies seeking to go public on the Over the Counter Bulletin Board Exchange (OTCBB). Ms. Anthony counsels private and small public Companies nationwide regarding reverse mergers, due diligence on public shells, corporate transactions and all aspects of securities law.
Ms. Anthony is the Founding Partner of Legal & Compliance, LLC, a national corporate, securities and civil litigation law firm based in West Palm Beach, Florida. The firm’s corporate and securities attorneys provide technical legal services to small and mid-size private and public (OTCBB) Companies, entrepreneurs, and business professionals nationwide. Contact us today for a FREE consultation!