Why a Mortgage Note is Not a Security

You might believe that a mortgage note or a deed of trust is a security,  but here is your proof to the contrary:
The 1934 Act says that the term “security” includes “any note . . . [excepting one] which has a maturity at the time of issuance of not exceeding nine months,” and the 1933 Act says that the term means “any note” save for the registration exemption in § 3(a)(3). These are the plain terms of both acts, to be applied “unless the context otherwise requires.” A party asserting that a note of more than nine months maturity is not within the 1934 Act (or that a note with a maturity of nine months or less is within it) or that any note is not within the antifraud provisions of the 1933 Act[18] has the 1138*1138 burden of showing that “the context otherwise requires.” (Emphasis supplied.) One can readily think of many cases where it does—the note delivered in consumer financing, the note secured by a mortgage on a home, the short-term note secured by a lien on a small business or some of its assets, the note evidencing a “character” loan to a bank customer, short-term notes secured by an assignment of accounts receivable, or a note which simply formalizes an open-account debt incurred in the ordinary course of business (particularly if, as in the case of the customer of a broker, it is collateralized). When a note does not bear a strong family resemblance to these examples and has a maturity exceeding nine months, § 10(b) of the 1934 Act should generally be held to apply.[19]
“See Exchange Nat. Bank, supra, at 1138 (types of notes that are not “securities” include “the note delivered in consumer financing, the note secured by a mortgage on a home, the short-term note secured by a lien on a small business or some of its assets, the note evidencing a `character’ loan to a bank customer, short-term notes secured by an assignment of accounts receivable, or a note which simply formalizes an open-account debt incurred in the ordinary course of business (particularly if, as in the case of the customer of a broker, it is collateralized)”);Chemical Bank, supra, at 939 (adding to list “notes evidencing loans by commercial banks for current operations”).”
For an explanation, read this first part of the Reves opinion.  The law does not always mean what it says.
494 U.S. 56 (1990)


No. 88-1480.
Supreme Court of United States.

Argued November 27, 1989
Decided February 21, 1990
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT58*58 John R. McCambridge argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs wereGary M. Elden, Jay R. Hoffman, and Robert R. Cloar.

Michael R. Lazerwitz argued the cause for the Securities and Exchange Commission asamicus curiae urging reversal. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Starr, Deputy Solicitor General Merrill, Daniel L. Goelzer, Paul Gonson, Jacob H. Stillman, Martha H. McNeely, Randall W. Quinn, and Eva Marie Carney.

John Matson argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Carl D. Liggio, Kathryn A. Oberly, and Fred Lovitch.[*]

JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether certain demand notes issued by the Farmers Cooperative of Arkansas and Oklahoma (Co-Op) are “securities” within the meaning of § 3(a)(10) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. We conclude that they are.


The Co-Op is an agricultural cooperative that, at the time relevant here, had approximately 23,000 members. In order to raise money to support its general business operations, the Co-Op sold promissory notes payable on demand by the holder. Although the notes were uncollateralized and uninsured, they paid a variable rate of interest that was adjusted 59*59 monthly to keep it higher than the rate paid by local financial institutions. The Co-Op offered the notes to both members and nonmembers, marketing the scheme as an “Investment Program.” Advertisements for the notes, which appeared in each Co-Op newsletter, read in part: “YOUR CO-OP has more than $11,000,000 in assets to stand behind your investments. The Investment is not Federal[sic] insured but it is. . . Safe . . . Secure . . . and available when you need it.” App. 5 (ellipses in original). Despite these assurances, the Co-Op filed for bankruptcy in 1984. At the time of the filing, over 1,600 people held notes worth a total of $10 million.

After the Co-Op filed for bankruptcy, petitioners, a class of holders of the notes, filed suit against Arthur Young & Co., the firm that had audited the Co-Op’s financial statements (and the predecessor to respondent Ernst & Young). Petitioners alleged, inter alia, that Arthur Young had intentionally failed to follow generally accepted accounting principles in its audit, specifically with respect to the valuation of one of the Co-Op’s major assets, a gasohol plant. Petitioners claimed that Arthur Young violated these principles in an effort to inflate the assets and net worth of the Co-Op. Petitioners maintained that, had Arthur Young properly treated the plant in its audits, they would not have purchased demand notes because the Co-Op’s insolvency would have been apparent. On the basis of these allegations, petitioners claimed that Arthur Young had violated the antifraud provisions of the 1934 Act as well as Arkansas’ securities laws.

Petitioners prevailed at trial on both their federal and state claims, receiving a $6.1 million judgment. Arthur Young appealed, claiming that the demand notes were not “securities” under either the 1934 Act or Arkansas law, and that the statutes’ antifraud provisions therefore did not apply. A panel of the Eighth Circuit, agreeing with Arthur Young on both the state and federal issues, reversed. Arthur Young & Co. v. Reves, 856 F. 2d 52 (1988). We granted certiorari to address 60*60 the federal issue, 490 U. S. 1105 (1989), and now reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.



This case requires us to decide whether the note issued by the Co-Op is a “security” within the meaning of the 1934 Act. Section 3(a)(10) of that Act is our starting point:

“The term `security’ means any note, stock, treasury stock, bond, debenture, certificate of interest or participation in any profit-sharing agreement or in any oil, gas, or other mineral royalty or lease, any collateral-trust certificate, preorganization certificate or subscription, transferable share, investment contract, voting-trust certificate, certificate of deposit, for a security, any put, call, straddle, option, or privilege on any security, certificate of deposit, or group or index of securities (including any interest therein or based on the value thereof), or any put, call, straddle, option, or privilege entered into on a national securities exchange relating to foreign currency, or in general, any instrument commonly known as a `security’; or any certificate of interest or participation in, temporary or interim certificate for, receipt for, or warrant or right to subscribe to or purchase, any of the foregoing; but shall not include currency or any note, draft, bill of exchange, or banker’s acceptance which has a maturity at the time of issuance of not exceeding nine months, exclusive of days of grace, or any renewal thereof the maturity of which is like-wise limited.” 48 Stat. 884, as amended, 15 U. S. C. § 78c(a)(10).

The fundamental purpose undergirding the Securities Acts is “to eliminate serious abuses in a largely unregulated securities market.” United Housing Foundation, Inc. v.Forman, 421 U. S. 837, 849 (1975). In defining the scope of the market that it wished to regulate, Congress painted with a broad brush. It recognized the virtually limitless scope of 61*61 human ingenuity, especially in the creation of “countless and variable schemes devised by those who seek the use of the money of others on the promise of profits,”SEC v. W. J. Howey Co., 328 U. S. 293, 299 (1946), and determined that the best way to achieve its goal of protecting investors was “to define `the term “security” in sufficiently broad and general terms so as to include within that definition the many types of instruments that in our commercial world fall within the ordinary concept of a security.’ ” Forman, supra, at 847-848 (quoting H. R. Rep. No. 85, 73d Cong., 1st Sess., 11 (1933)). Congress therefore did not attempt precisely to cabin the scope of the Securities Acts.[1] Rather, it enacted a definition of “security” sufficiently broad to encompass virtually any instrument that might be sold as an investment.

Congress did not, however, “intend to provide a broad federal remedy for all fraud.”Marine Bank v. Weaver, 455 U. S. 551, 556 (1982). Accordingly, “[t]he task has fallen to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the body charged with administering the Securities Acts, and ultimately to the federal courts to decide which of the myriad financial transactions in our society come within the coverage of these statutes.”Forman, supra, at 848. In discharging our duty, we are not bound by legal formalisms, but instead take account of the economics of the transaction under investigation. See, e. g., Tcherepnin v. Knight, 389 U. S. 332, 336 (1967) (in interpreting the term “security,” “form should be disregarded for substance and the emphasis should be on economic reality”). Congress’ purpose in enacting the securities laws was to regulate investments,in whatever form they are made and by whatever name they are called.

62*62 A commitment to an examination of the economic realities of a transaction does not necessarily entail a case-by-case analysis of every instrument, however. Some instruments are obviously within the class Congress intended to regulate because they are by their nature investments. In Landreth Timber Co. v. Landreth, 471 U. S. 681 (1985), we held that an instrument bearing the name “stock” that, among other things, is negotiable, offers the possibility of capital appreciation, and carries the right to dividends contingent on the profits of a business enterprise is plainly within the class of instruments Congress intended the securities laws to cover. Landreth Timber does not signify a lack of concern with economic reality; rather, it signals a recognition that stock is, as a practical matter, always an investment if it has the economic characteristics traditionally associated with stock. Even if sparse exceptions to this generalization can be found, the public perception of common stock as the paradigm of a security suggests that stock, in whatever context it is sold, should be treated as within the ambit of the Acts. Id., at 687, 693.

We made clear in Landreth Timber that stock was a special case, explicitly limiting our holding to that sort of instrument. Id., at 694. Although we refused finally to rule out a similar per se rule for notes, we intimated that such a rule would be unjustified. Unlike “stock,” we said, ” `note’ may now be viewed as a relatively broad term that encompasses instruments with widely varying characteristics, depending on whether issued in a consumer context, as commercial paper, or in some other investment context.” Ibid. (citing Securities Industry Assn. v. Board of Governors of Federal Reserve System, 468 U. S. 137, 149-153 (1984)). While common stock is the quintessence of a security, Landreth Timber, supra, at 693, and investors therefore justifiably assume that a sale of stock is covered by the Securities Acts, the same simply cannot be said of notes, which are used in a variety of settings, not all of which involve investments. Thus,63*63 the phrase “any note” should not be interpreted to mean literally “any note,” but must be understood against the backdrop of what Congress was attempting to accomplish in enacting the Securities Acts.[2]

Because the Landreth Timber formula cannot sensibly be applied to notes, some other principle must be developed to define the term “note.” A majority of the Courts of Appeals that have considered the issue have adopted, in varying forms, “investment versus commercial” approaches that distinguish, on the basis of all of the circumstances surrounding the transactions, notes issued in an investment context (which are “securities”) from notes issued in a commercial or consumer context (which are not). See, e. g., Futura Development Corp. v. Centex Corp., 761 F. 2d 33, 40-41 (CA1 1985);McClure v. First Nat. Bank of Lubbock, Texas, 497 F. 2d 490, 492-494 (CA5 1974);Hunssinger v. Rockford Business Credits, Inc., 745 F. 2d 484, 488 (CA7 1984);Holloway v. Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co., 879 F. 2d 772, 778-779 (CA10 1989), cert. pending No. 89-532.

The Second Circuit’s “family resemblance” approach begins with a presumption that anynote with a term of more than nine months is a “security.” See, e. g., Exchange Nat. Bank of Chicago v. Touche Ross & Co., 544 F. 2d 1126, 1137 (CA2 1976). Recognizing that not all notes are securities, however, the Second Circuit has also devised a list of notes that it has decided are obviously not securities. Accordingly, 64*64 the “family resemblance” test permits an issuer to rebut the presumption that a note is a security if it can show that the note in question “bear[s] a strong family resemblance” to an item on the judicially crafted list of exceptions, id., at 1137-1138, or convinces the court to add a new instrument to the list, see, e. g., Chemical Bank v. Arthur Anderson & Co., 726 F. 2d 930, 939 (CA2 1984).

In contrast, the Eighth and District of Columbia Circuits apply the test we created in SECv. W. J. Howey Co., 328 U. S. 293 (1946), to determine whether an instrument is an “investment contract” to the determination whether an instrument is a “note.” Under this test, a note is a security only if it evidences “(1) an investment; (2) in a common enterprise; (3) with a reasonable expection of profits; (4) to be derived from the entrepreneurial or managerial efforts of others.” 856 F. 2d, at 54 (case below). Accord,Baurer v. Planning Group, Inc., 215 U. S. App. D. C. 384, 391-393, 669 F. 2d 770, 777-779 (1981). See also Underhill v. Royal, 769 F. 2d 1426, 1431 (CA9 1985) (setting forth what it terms a “risk capital” approach that is virtually identical to the Howey test).

We reject the approaches of those courts that have applied the Howey test to notes;Howey provides a mechanism for determining whether an instrument is an “investment contract.” The demand notes here may well not be “investment contracts,” but that does not mean they are not “notes.” To hold that a “note” is not a “security” unless it meets a test designed for an entirely different variety of instrument “would make the Acts’ enumeration of many types of instruments superfluous,” Landreth Timber, 471 U. S., at 692, and would be inconsistent with Congress’ intent to regulate the entire body of instruments sold as investments, see supra, at 60-62.

The other two contenders — the “family resemblance” and “investment versus commercial” tests — are really two ways of formulating the same general approach. Because we 65*65 think the “family resemblance” test provides a more promising framework for analysis, however, we adopt it. The test begins with the language of the statute; because the Securities Acts define “security” to include “any note,” we begin with a presumption that every note is a security.[3] We nonetheless recognize that this presumption cannot be irrebutable. As we have said, supra, at 61, Congress was concerned with regulating the investment market, not with creating a general federal cause of action for fraud. In an attempt to give more content to that dividing line, the Second Circuit has identified a list of instruments commonly denominated “notes” that nonetheless fall without the “security” category. See Exchange Nat. Bank, supra, at 1138 (types of notes that are not “securities” include “the note delivered in consumer financing, the note secured by a mortgage on a home, the short-term note secured by a lien on a small business or some of its assets, the note evidencing a `character’ loan to a bank customer, short-term notes secured by an assignment of accounts receivable, or a note which simply formalizes an open-account debt incurred in the ordinary course of business (particularly if, as in the case of the customer of a broker, it is collateralized)”);Chemical Bank, supra, at 939 (adding to list “notes evidencing loans by commercial banks for current operations”).

We agree that the items identified by the Second Circuit are not properly viewed as “securities.” More guidance, though, is needed. It is impossible to make any meaningful inquiry into whether an instrument bears a “resemblance” to 66*66 one of the instruments identified by the Second Circuit without specifying what it is about those instruments that makes them non-“securities.” Moreover, as the Second Circuit itself has noted, its list is “not graven in stone,” 726 F. 2d, at 939, and is therefore capable of expansion. Thus, some standards must be developed for determining when an item should be added to the list.

An examination of the list itself makes clear what those standards should be. In creating its list, the Second Circuit was applying the same factors that this Court has held apply in deciding whether a transaction involves a “security.” First, we examine the transaction to assess the motivations that would prompt a reasonable seller and buyer to enter into it. If the seller’s purpose is to raise money for the general use of a business enterprise or to finance substantial investments and the buyer is interested primarily in the profit the note is expected to generate, the instrument is likely to be a “security.” If the note is exchanged to facilitate the purchase and sale of a minor asset or consumer good, to correct for the seller’s cash-flow difficulties, or to advance some other commercial or consumer purpose, on the other hand, the note is less sensibly described as a “security.” See, e. g., Forman, 421 U. S., at 851 (share of “stock” carrying a right to subsidized housing not a security because “the inducement to purchase was solely to acquire subsidized low-cost living space; it was not to invest for profit”). Second, we examine the “plan of distribution” of the instrument, SEC v. C. M. Joiner Leasing Corp.,320 U. S. 344, 353 (1943), to determine whether it is an instrument in which there is “common trading for speculation or investment,” id., at 351. Third, we examine the reasonable expectations of the investing public: The Court will consider instruments to be “securities” on the basis of such public expectations, even where an economic analysis of the circumstances of the particular transaction might suggest that the instruments are not “securities” as used in that transaction. Compare Landreth Timber,471 67*67 U. S., at 687, 693 (relying on public expectations in holding that common stock is always a security), with id., at 697-700 (STEVENS, J., dissenting) (arguing that sale of business to single informed purchaser through stock is not within the purview of the Acts under the economic reality test). See also Forman, supra, at 851. Finally, we examine whether some factor such as the existence of another regulatory scheme significantly reduces the risk of the instrument, thereby rendering application of the Securities Acts unnecessary. See, e. g., Marine Bank, 455 U. S., at 557-559, and n. 7.

We conclude, then, that in determining whether an instrument denominated a “note” is a “security,” courts are to apply the version of the “family resemblance” test that we have articulated here: A note is presumed to be a “security,” and that presumption may be rebutted only by a showing that the note bears a strong resemblance (in terms of the four factors we have identified) to one of the enumerated categories of instrument. If an instrument is not sufficiently similar to an item on the list, the decision whether another category should be added is to be made by examining the same factors.

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