Wednesday, September 26, 2018

SEC v. Schooler (9th Cir. - Sept. 26, 2018)

Nothing's certain but death and taxes, right?

Or is it?

Today's a day that reminds us of our eventual mortality.  The first of two opinions from the Ninth Circuit today involved a plaintiff from San Diego whose father (I noticed while researching some ancillary stuff about the opinion) appears to have died during the pendency of the appeal.  Too bad for the plaintiff, who argued the case in the Ninth Circuit himself -- partially successfully, I might add.

The second of these opinions expressly involves mortality.  It's an appeal by the defendant of an SEC judgment entered against him.  But as the Ninth Circuit explains, the defendant "Louis Schooler died during the pendency of the appeal."  As a result, portions of that judgment (e.g., the civil penalty) are getting abated.  (Though the rest of the judgment is affirmed against Mr. Schooler's estate.)  That's the rule about what happens when a defendant in these sorts of suits dies.

As I read the opinion, perhaps morbidly, I wondered how the defendant died.  Seemed coincidental to die shortly after getting spanked for a huge judgment in an SEC action that found that you operated an illegal investment scheme.  So I wondered if Mr. Schooler might have perhaps committed suicide.  So checked out Mr. Google to find out.

The first thing I read was about Mr. Schooler's sister being disbarred for misdeeds involving the family estate.  That was interesting.  Trouble involving several members of the family, not just the dead one.

Then I investigated further, about Mr. Schooler himself.  And found out that there's a distinct chance that -- unlike what the Ninth Circuit reports -- Mr. Schooler is not in fact dead.

Now, MAYBE he's dead.  He gets spanked with a huge SEC judgment, then he apparently goes on a 3500-mile sailing expedition from California to Tahiti.  Solo.  But never shows up.  Eventually, after some reportedly "curious, if not downright suspicious" events involving radio transmissions in the wrong place and turning off navigation lights, the boat shows up shipwrecked on an atoll in French Polynesia.  With no Schooler on board.  Alive, anyway.  The French Polynesian police who spot the shipwreck think they see a dead body on the thing, but can't immediately get to it.  Then the next day, when they actually go to the boat, the body's gone.

Washed out to sea?  Mr. Schooler?  Maybe.  That's the supposition, anyway.

On that basis, back in the district court, Schooler's attorney "suggests" that Mr. Schooler is dead.  But Judge Curiel at least initially isn't entirely convinced, as this Order amply reflects.  There's no actual body, and maybe there's a local death certificate (in French but "translated by Google"), but we don't know for sure what actually transpired.  I'm not vouching for this at all, but here's one comment from November that reflects one particular view (from this source):  "I was one of his victims and, to date, I don't believe a body has been found.  I'm pretty sure that the scumbag faked his own death and is sipping on a margarita somewhere."

The point is simply this:  Maybe he's in fact dead.  Maybe.  (Maybe the guy's body was eventually found.  Though my brief research hasn't found anything saying so.)

But the reality seems a lot more murky to me than the facially straightforward conclusion in today's opinion that "Louis Schooler died during the pendency of the appeal."  'Cause he definitely might have.  The operative term being "might".