Investigations and Enforcement

In SEC v. Rio Tinto PLC, No. 21-2042, 2022 U.S. App. LEXIS 19577 (2d Cir. July 15, 2022) (Jacobs, J.), the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit declined to impose “scheme liability” under subsections (a) and (c) of the Securities & Exchange Commission Rule 10b-5 (17 C.F.R. § 240.10b-5) where the challenged conduct amounted solely to the making of a material misstatement or omission. The Rio Tinto decision is noteworthy because it limits the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Lorenzo v. SEC, 139 S. Ct. 1094 (2019) (blog article here), which potentially expanded “scheme liability” to defendants who may have been tangentially involved in the issuance of a misleading statement.

Continue Reading Second Circuit Declines to Allow SEC Rule 10b-5 Claim for “Scheme Liability” to Proceed Where the Alleged Misconduct Amounted Only to the Making of Material Misstatements or Omissions 

Federal agencies aggressively pursued enforcement actions in June. At the same time, state and federal regulators continued to recognize the importance of blockchain industry regulation by putting forth significant policy proposals, including proposals that impact cryptocurrency miners, 401k plans, and more.

Continue Reading June 2022 Crypto Enforcement Actions and Regulatory Guidance Roundup

In the wake of President Biden’s March 9, 2022, executive order outlining his Administration’s desire to establish a comprehensive federal approach to crypto policy and regulation,[1] federal agencies are continuing to focus on enforcement of crypto under existing regulations. Although NFTs and cryptocurrencies are novel technologies, they still fall squarely within the jurisdiction of various federal agencies’ current jurisdictions, as illustrated by three recent enforcement actions by the CFTC, the SEC, and the DOJ.[2]

Continue Reading March 2022 Crypto Enforcement Actions Roundup

Last week, Coinbase Global Inc. (“Coinbase”) headed off confrontation with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) by announcing it was shelving a much ballyhooed digital asset lending product, Lend.  The announcement came two weeks after Coinbase revealed that it had received a Wells notice from the SEC warning the company of its plans to sue over Coinbase’s planned October Lend launch.

Continue Reading A September to Remember: Coinbase Avoids SEC Clash by Dropping Crypto Lend Product

In Securities & Exchange Comm’n v. Fowler, No. 20-1081, 2021 WL 3083655 (2d Cir. July 22, 2021), the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld a lower court judgment awarding the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) civil penalties, disgorgement, and injunctive relief in a securities fraud action against a broker engaged in unsuitable and unauthorized high-frequency trading.  The district court entered its judgment following a jury trial finding the defendant guilty of violations of Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, Rule 10b-5 promulgated thereunder, and Sections 17(a)(1), 17(a)(2), and 17(a)(3) of the Securities Act of 1933.  On appeal, defendant asserted that the action was subject to a five-year statute of limitations imposed by 28 U.S.C. § 2462 despite the parties having entered into tolling agreements.  Defendant also argued that the civil penalties assessed against him were excessive, and the disgorgement award failed to properly account for legitimate business expenses as required by Liu v. Securities & Exchange Comm’n, 140 S. Ct. 1936 (2020).  After reviewing its text and legislative history, the Second Circuit concluded in this matter of first impression that § 2462 is non-jurisdictional and, therefore, the district court had the power to hear the case in light of the parties’ tolling agreements.  The decision is important because it reaffirms the enforceability of tolling agreements between the SEC and its investigative quarries.  The court also rejected defendant’s arguments alleging improper civil penalty and disgorgement calculations.

Continue Reading Second Circuit Upholds Enforceability of SEC Tolling Agreements

In Van Buren v. United States, No. 19-783, 2021 WL 2229206 (U.S. June 3, 2021), the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion drastically limiting the application of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) (18 U.S.C. § 1030 et seq.), holding that the “exceeds authorized access” clause of the Act applies only to those who obtain information from particular areas in the computer—such as files, folders, or databases—to which the individual is not authorized to access under any circumstances. However, the Supreme Court excluded application of the clause to individuals who misuse their access to obtain information otherwise available to them for an unauthorized purpose. The Court’s Van Buren decision resolves a long-standing circuit split over the meaning of this key phase of the CFAA, and simultaneously creates new challenges for employers seeking to hold liable employees who misuse company information to the employer’s detriment.
Continue Reading Supreme Court Resolves Circuit Split Over CFAA

During a May 19, 2021 webcast at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (“FINRA”) annual conference, Amy Sochard, FINRA’s Vice President of Advertising Regulation, indicated that the organization will seek public feedback on gamification practices utilized by some stock trading platforms to attract investors with a view toward issuing new rules or guidance.  “Gamification” refers to the application of typical elements of game playing, such as point scoring, competition with others, and rules of play, by trading platforms, online retailers or vendors to encourage engagement with a product or service.
Continue Reading Game On: FINRA Hints at Upcoming Gamification Sweep

During a March 9, 2021 industry conference, one of the four current U.S. Securities and Exchange (“SEC”) commissioners floated a new approach to calculating penalties for corporate misconduct.  Caroline A. Crenshaw, who was tapped by President Donald Trump last June to fill one of the Democratic slots on the Commission, told attendees at the Council of Institutional Investors virtual conference that the SEC needed to revisit its approach to assessing corporate penalties, and implement a new approach that tailored penalties to the “egregiousness of the actual misconduct,” accounted for all benefits of the misconduct that accrued to the corporation, and eliminated consideration of potential adverse impacts on shareholders.  If ultimately accepted by the Commission, Crenshaw’s proposed approach would likely result in materially greater penalties for corporate misconduct.
Continue Reading SEC Commissioner Calls for a Brave New Approach to Corporate Penalties

On March 4, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced the formation of a Climate and ESG Task Force in the Division of Enforcement (the “Task Force”).  The Task Force will be aimed at detecting ESG-related misconduct so that investors can fully consider these issues in their investment decisions.
Continue Reading SEC Going Cyber-Hunting for ESG-Related Misconduct

The Office of New York State Attorney General Letitia James (“NYAG”) has filed a lawsuit to shut down technology company Coinseed.  The state has accused the firm of selling unregistered securities in the form of digital tokens and operating as an unregistered broker-dealer while making material misrepresentations about the company, its management team, and fees charged to investors in connection with cryptocurrency trades.
Continue Reading New York Attorney General Sues to Shutter Cryptocurrency Trading Firm Coinseed

On December 1, 2020, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Division of Enforcement published its annual report for Fiscal Year 2020.  According to the report, the Division filed a record number of enforcement actions in 2020 and achieved a number of firsts, despite the unprecedented challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.  In addition, the report provides a number of key insights into the Division’s enforcement concerns in several key areas, including compliance, digital assets, anti-money laundering (AML), market surveillance and its whistleblower program.    
Continue Reading CFTC’s Enforcement Division Announces Record-Breaking 2020 and Outlines Priorities for 2021