In a major decision reinforcing the power of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to police futures markets, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago has upheld the agency's actions against the Hunt family of Texas in an alleged 1977 soybean scandal.
The court ruled that the CFTC not only could obtain an injunction against the Hunts, but also could go to court to make them repay any profits earned by illegally manipulating soybean futures prices.
Meanwhile, the CFTC moved on another front against commodity market abuses, proposing new regulations that will require commodity exchanges to make public their disciplinary actions.
The new rules, requiring public notice of the nature of disciplinary action and the reasons for it, were proposed after Congress removed a provision of the CFTC law keeping such information secret.
In the Hunt case the appeals court upheld the CFTC's charges that members of the H. L. Hunt family of Dallas acted as a group and violated speculative limits in the soybean market.
Although the CFTC limited soybean speculators' positions to 3 million bushels, Hunt interests at one time in 1977 held futures contracts for 24 million bushels of beans.
A district court judge, however, refused the CFTC's request for a preliminary injunction to prevent the Hunts from allegedly violating the law. The appeals court yesterday instructed the lower court to issue such an injunction.
The circuit court ruling also reversed an earlier decision and said the CFTC has authority to seek "disgourgement" of any profits the Hunt family members earned by violating soybean trading rules.
Defendants in the case included several members of the oil-rich Hunt family including Nelson Bunker Hunt; his son, Houston Bunker Hunt; his daughters, Ellen Hunt Flowers, Mary Hunt Huddleston and Elizabeth Bunker Hunt; Nelson's brother, W. Herbert Hunt and his son Douglas Hunt and Hunt Holdings Co.
Although the CFTC now can go to court to try to prove how much -- if any -- improper profits the Hunts made, CFTC officials said the main impact of the ruling will be on future commodities cases.
The decision affirms the power of the CFTC to move simultaneously on two fronts against alleged violators -- in the federal courts and through its own administrative procedures. It also upheld the power of the CFTC to make public the futures holdings of persons accused of improper trading.