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Morgan Stanley Loses Defamation Suit, Has to Pay $2.4M to Broker

August 4, 2016

A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority panel has ruled in favor of a former Morgan Stanley advisor terminated two years ago, ordering the firm to pay him defamation damages, Financial Advisor magazine writes. But the panel also ordered the broker to pay back on some promissory notes, although that still leaves Morgan Stanley owing the broker more than $2.4 million, according to the publication.

Dale Cebert, whose firm Cebert Wealth Management oversaw about $520 million in client assets when he joined Morgan Stanley in 2012, was terminated by the firm in March 2014 over the operation and payments of an outside business, according to Finra documents cited by Financial Advisor magazine. Cebert alleged the outside business was paying branch expenses that Morgan Stanley agreed to but didn’t cover, while his lawyer argued that Morgan Stanley offered Cebert a bonus to join the firm with the intention of getting his clients and terminating him, the publication writes.

The Finra panel ordered Cebert, now affiliated with FSC Securities, to pay back $1.26 million on two promissory notes, adding that Cebert could have worked harder to adapt to the firm, according to the publication.

But the panel placed a “far greater degree of fault” on Morgan Stanley and ordered the firm to pay Cebert $2.88 million in damages related to defamation, which, net of fees and costs, means Morgan Stanley owes the broker $2.44 million, Financial Advisor magazine writes. According to the ruling, the firm performed a “flawed” investigation and its statements to Cebert’s clients were defamatory “in at least a grossly negligent manner (if not with a self-serving, malicious motive),” the publication writes.

In addition, Cebert will keep $8.7 million left on a $10 million promissory note, according to his attorney, who said that it’s one of the biggest awards related to promissory notes, the publication writes.

While the latest arbitration decision found both the firm and the broker at fault, records indicate it’s rare for brokers to win disputes involving promissory notes. But Morgan Stanley has lost several such cases in the past year and a half. In March, a Finra panel ordered the firm to pay the $215,000 balance left on promissory notes and a further $300,000 in damages, alleging that the firm misled Brandon Neal on its capabilities when it lured him from JPMorgan, as reported previously. In December, another panel ruled in favor of Matthew Celenza, allowing him to keep $1.2 million of the $1.7 million Morgan Stanley wanted back, and in May 2015 a Finra panel let John Offenburger keep $519,000 in promissory notes, as reported previously. Morgan Stanley isn’t the only one losing disputes over promissory notes, however. Last November, a Finra panel ordered JPMorgan to pay $350,000 to a terminated broker over wrongful termination and defamation, as reported previously.

By Alex Padalka
  • To read the FA Magazine article cited in this story, click here.