Corporate Defense and Disputes

Important developments in U.S. securities law, white collar criminal defense, regulatory enforcement and other emerging issues impacting financial services institutions, publicly traded companies and private investment funds

CFTC Head Urges Congressional Action on Crypto while SEC Leader Says Crypto Rulemaking is “Years Away”

Both the head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and leader of the SEC agree that the crypto markets need regulating, and specific rules may help clarify which agency has authority to regulate various cryptocurrency activities. The client alert below discusses both CFTC Chairman Rostin Behnam’s comments and SEC Chair Gary Gensler’s remarks during congressional testimony on September 15.

The uncertain regulatory and statutory outlook present both problems and opportunities for the cryptocurrency market. These circumstances underscore the vital role that outside counsel can play in helping companies and individuals continue to innovate and succeed in the cryptocurrency market while attempting to minimize litigation and regulatory risk.  

Read the full client alert here.

SEC Eyes Further Crypto Regulation as Concerns over Conflicts of Interest Loom

SEC Chair Gary Gensler appears to be readying the SEC for increasing oversight of cryptocurrency exchanges, the latest in a series of regulatory actions targeting the growing industry.

In prepared remarks at PLI’s recent SEC Speaks conference, Gensler called on cryptocurrency platforms to register each function they perform with the SEC – for example, requiring crypto dealers, brokers, and lenders to separately register those functions with the SEC. Such a move could result in a dramatic shakeup in the crypto market, where there are currently several cryptocurrency platforms that perform all of these functions. This is in stark contrast to the traditional securities markets, in which such services are separated from each other.

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Cryptic Guidance? Despite Regulatory Ambiguity, New SEC Enforcement Could Drive Increase in Cryptocurrency-Related Shareholder Class Actions   

In late-July, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission brought insider trading charges against a former manager at Coinbase—the largest crypto asset trading platform in the United States. The charges are the latest move in the agency’s efforts to regulate cryptocurrency, and could spur an increase in cryptocurrency-related securities litigation.

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New York Law Journal: What Makes a Scheme

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued a decision that may prevent the expansion of scheme liability under the federal securities laws.  The SEC brought scheme liability allegations against Rio Tinto, its CEO, and its CFO, based on their alleged failure to correct prior materially misleading statements that had been made to the company’s audit committee and its auditors.  The SEC argued that a 2019 Supreme Court decision supported holding that defendants’ failure to correct the prior misleading statements was a basis for scheme liability.   For the reasons explained in the following article published in the New York Law Journal on August 31, the Second Circuit rejected this approach.   

Read the full article here (subscription needed)

SEC Adopts Long-Awaited Pay Versus Performance Disclosure Rule

On August 25, 2022, the Securities and Exchange Commission, in a 3-2 vote, adopted a new disclosure rule implementing the Dodd-Frank Act’s requirement that public companies disclose the relationship between compensation paid to executives and the company’s financial performance. SEC Chair Gary Gensler’s stated purpose of the new rule, commonly known as the “pay versus performance” disclosure requirement, is to promote transparency and make it easier for shareholders to assess a public company’s decision-making with respect to its executive compensation policies. 

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Court Preliminarily Enjoins Florida’s “Stop Woke Act”

In a new skirmish in the volatile ESG and culture wars, a Florida federal court preliminarily enjoined enforcement of portions of Florida’s “anti-woke” law, which prohibits employers from requiring employees to attend training sessions or other activities that “espouse” or “promote” eight “concepts” relating to race, color, sex, or national origin.  U.S. District Judge Mark Walker held in Honeyfund.com, Inc. v. DeSantis (N.D. Fla. Aug. 18, 2022), that the statute is a “naked viewpoint-based regulation on speech,” in violation of the First Amendment, and also is unconstitutionally vague.

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Blockchain Meets Morrison: Court Rejects Blockchain Class Settlement Because of Concerns About Adequacy of Representation

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York recently rejected a proposed settlement of a securities class action involving purchasers of digital tokens due to concerns about whether the lead plaintiff had adequately represented the class for settlement purposes.  Judge Lewis A. Kaplan held in Williams v. Block.one that the federal securities laws did not appear to apply equally to all class members’ token purchases and that the lead plaintiff had not produced evidence showing that its own purchases were (or were not) subject to the securities laws in a proportion similar to other class members’ purchases.

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