The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that a statement of opinion that reflects some subjective judgment can nevertheless be actionable under the securities laws if it misleads investors into thinking that the issuer had historical or factual support for the judgment made. But the court also held that corporate officers’ certifications of financial statements are nonactionable opinions in the absence of allegations that the officers either did not believe their certifications or knew that the financial statements were false or misleading.

The SEC suffered a significant loss last week in its ongoing legal battle with Ripple over the XRP digital token. While the District Court held that Ripple’s initial sales of XRP to institutional investors constituted the sale of unregistered securities, it was a Pyrrhic victory as the court held that all other ways in which Ripple sold or distributed XRP did not involve the sale of unregistered securities. In particular, the court held that Ripple’s program to sell XRP to public buyers on digital asset exchanges, as well as its distribution of XRP as compensation to employees and third parties, did not constitute the offer or sale of securities. The court also rejected the SEC’s arguments that Ripple used the institutional buyers as underwriters to sell XRP to the public. The opinion, if followed by other courts in pending litigation with the SEC, could have a far-reaching impact on the cryptocurrency markets, especially with respect to secondary market crypto trades on digital asset exchanges.               

The gloves are off. The SEC’s recent enforcement actions against leading crypto exchanges suggest that the SEC has decided that time’s up for the crypto industry as it currently exists in the United States.

After spending years urging industry participants to come in and register, the SEC has made clear, by going after some of the biggest players in the space, that it does not intend to tolerate exchange operators’ offering of unregistered crypto trading in the United States, at least as to retail investors where the tokens are securities. From the SEC’s perspective, most crypto tokens are securities, so, if a company wants to provide the securities-like infrastructure to trade those tokens, it must be registered with the SEC – whether as an exchange (matching buyers and sellers), a broker-dealer (trading crypto on behalf of others), or a clearing agency (facilitating trade settlement).

The U.S. Supreme Court held that purchasers of shares sold to the public through a direct listing cannot sue under Section 11 of the Securities Act of 1933 unless they can trace their shares to an allegedly defective registration statement. The short, unanimous decision in Slack Technologies, Inc. v. Pirani (June 1, 2023) appears likely to increase the difficulty of pleading § 11 claims arising from direct listings, thereby requiring dissatisfied purchasers to resort to the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, which imposes stricter standards for liability. The Court declined to comment on Securities Act § 12(a)(2)’s requirements, leaving the issue for the Ninth Circuit on remand.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled last week that the securities-law requirement to plead a “strong inference” of scienter does not apply to claims under § 14(e) of the Securities Exchange Act even where the challenged statement is a statement of opinion.  The decision in Grier v. Finjan Holdings, Inc. (In re Finjan Holdings, Inc. Securities Litigation) (9th Cir. Jan. 20, 2023) held that, because § 14(e) claims – which arise in connection with tender offers – can be based on mere negligence instead of knowing or reckless misconduct, a plaintiff needs to plead only a “reasonable inference,” rather than a “strong inference,” of an opinion’s subjective falsity.

On January 1, 2021, Congress enacted the Corporate Transparency Act as part of the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020 to “better enable critical national security, intelligence, and law enforcement efforts to counter money laundering, the financing of terrorism, and other illicit activity.” FinCEN issued the final rule on Beneficial Ownership