SEC v. Edwards, 540 U.S. 389 (2004)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eleventh circuit

No. 02-1196. Argued November 4, 2003—Decided January 13, 2004

Respondent was the chairman, chief executive officer, and sole shareholder of ETS Payphones, Inc., which sold payphones to the public via independent distributors. The payphones were offered with an agreement under which ETS leased back the payphone from the purchaser for a fixed monthly payment, thereby giving purchasers a fixed 14% annual return on their investment. Although ETS' marketing materials trumpeted the "incomparable pay phone" as "an exciting business opportunity," the payphones did not generate enough revenue for ETS to make the payments required by the leaseback agreements, so the company depended on funds from new investors to meet its obligations. After ETS filed for bankruptcy protection, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) brought this civil enforcement action, alleging, among other things, that respondent and ETS had violated registration requirements and antifraud provisions of the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and Rule 10b-5 thereunder. The District Court concluded that the sale-and-leaseback arrangement was an "investment contract" within the meaning of, and therefore subject to, the federal securities laws. The Eleventh Circuit reversed, holding that (1) this Court's opinions require an "investment contract" to offer either capital appreciation or a participation in an enterprise's earnings, and thus exclude schemes offering a fixed rate of return; and (2) those opinions' requirement that the return on the investment be derived solely from the efforts of others was not satisfied when the purchasers had a contractual entitlement to the return.

Held: An investment scheme promising a fixed rate of return can be an

"investment contract" and thus a "security" subject to the federal securities laws. Section 2(a)(1) of the 1933 Act and 3(a)(10) of the 1934 Act define "security" to include an "investment contract," but do not define "investment contract." This Court has established that the test for determining whether a particular scheme is an investment contract is "whether the scheme involves an investment of money in a common enterprise with profits to come solely from the efforts of others." SEC v. W. J. Howey Co., 328 U. S. 293, 301. This definition embodies a flexible, rather than a static, principle that is capable of adaptation to meet


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