What’s Extraterritorial on the Blockchain?: “In re Tezos Securities Litigation” and the Application of U.S. Securities Law to “Foreign” ICOs

Alter_Daniel_web2_8784879218361Featured Expert Contributor, Legal & Regulatory Challenges for Digital Assets

By Daniel S. Alter, a Shareholder in the New York, NY office of Murphy & McGonigle P.C.

*Ed. Note: This is Mr. Alter’s inaugural post as the WLF Legal Pulse’s newest Featured Expert Contributor. Prior to joining Murphy & McGonigle P.C., Mr. Alter was General Counsel for the New York State Department of Financial Services.

In July 2017, the Tezos Foundation—a Swiss non-profit organization—conducted an online initial coin offering (or ICO) that raised more than $230 million in value.  The terms of sale purportedly governing the ICO contained a forum selection clause designating Switzerland as the exclusive forum for all ICO-related litigation and choosing Swiss law to govern disputes.  Soon after the ICO concluded, however, purchasers of Tezos tokens brought suits in U.S. federal district court against multiple defendants (including American and European individuals and entities) involved in managing the token sale.

The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants had sold unregistered securities in violation of §§ 12 and 15 of the Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”).  15 U.S.C. §§ 77l, 77O.  Once the cases were consolidated, several defendants moved to dismiss the complaint arguing, among other things, that—because the Exchange Act does not apply to the extraterritorial sale of unregistered securities—a foreign ICO cannot give rise to federal liability.[1] Continue reading “What’s Extraterritorial on the Blockchain?: “In re Tezos Securities Litigation” and the Application of U.S. Securities Law to “Foreign” ICOs”

Second Circuit Contradicts SEC/DOJ Guidance in Limiting Scope of FCPA

Featured Expert Contributor, White Collar Crime & Corporate Compliance

Brower_GregBy Gregory A. Brower, a Shareholder with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP in Las Vegas, NV and Washington, DC, with Thomas J. Krysa, a Shareholder with the firm in its Denver, CO office.

In a much watched Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) case that originated in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently held in U.S. v Hoskins that a foreign national who is not employed by a U.S. company cannot be guilty of violating the law as an accomplice or co-conspirator. In so ruling, the court directly contradicted a 2012 FCPA guide promulgated jointly by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ).  A unanimous three-judge panel held that “the government may not expand the extraterritorial reach of the FCPA by recourse to the conspiracy and complicity statutes.”  This decision is significant because it clarifies federal regulators’ and prosecutors’ jurisdiction over nonresident foreign nationals. Continue reading “Second Circuit Contradicts SEC/DOJ Guidance in Limiting Scope of FCPA”

Supreme Court to Once Again Examine Limits of Rule 10b-5 Liability in October Term 2018 Case “Lorenzo v. SEC”

bainbridgeFeatured Expert Contributor, Corporate Governance/Securities Law

Stephen M. Bainbridge, William D. Warren Distinguished Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law.

Rule 10b-5 long has been the centerpiece of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s antifraud enforcement efforts. At times, in fact, the SEC’s interpretation of the Rule has been so broad that the rule threatened to “become a universal solvent, encompassing not only virtually the entire universe of securities fraud, but also much of state corporate law.”[1] In a long series of cases, however, the U.S. Supreme Court has gradually imposed a series of important limits on the SEC’s scope.[2] By taking cert in Lorenzo v. SEC, the Court has given itself an opportunity to impose another such limit. Continue reading “Supreme Court to Once Again Examine Limits of Rule 10b-5 Liability in October Term 2018 Case “Lorenzo v. SEC””

How the SEC Can Be a Better Lifeguard: Commissioner Peirce’s Insightful Comments on Regulators’ Role in a Sea of FinTech Innovation

Alter_Daniel_web2_8784879218361Guest Commentary

By Daniel S. Alter, a Shareholder in the New York office of Murphy & McGonigle P.C. and a former general counsel for the New York State Department of Financial Services.

Earlier this month, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Commissioner Hester M. Peirce addressed a FinTech conference hosted by the Medici Project, which is a serious effort to build a blockchain-based securities exchange.  In her remarks, Peirce discussed two constructive approaches that financial regulators have taken worldwide in response to the tidal shift in technology that supports financial products and services.  The commissioner’s message to conference attendees should encourage all those in both the legal and entrepreneurial communities who, to date, have felt only the punitive response of SEC enforcement actions involving initial coin offerings, or ICOs.  And yet, Peirce’s comments stopped just short of advocating for the sort of regulatory approach that would likely be most effective in grappling with fast-paced FinTech developments. Continue reading “How the SEC Can Be a Better Lifeguard: Commissioner Peirce’s Insightful Comments on Regulators’ Role in a Sea of FinTech Innovation”

Supreme Court Has Second Chance to Resolve Circuit Split on Two Criminal Securities Fraud Issues

SchaerrGuest Commentary

By Gene C. Schaerr, a Partner with Schaerr Duncan LLP in Washington, DC. Mr. Schaerr is Counsel of Record for the petitioners on the certiorari petition discussed here.

The U.S. Supreme Court may be about to resolve two issues of enormous importance to anyone involved, directly or indirectly, in the sale of securities.  The case that may provide the vehicle for such a ruling, Ellison v. United States, was recently the subject of an order directing the U.S. Solicitor General to file a response to the defendants’ petition for certiorari by May 21.  That petition challenges a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decision that, as the Cato Institute, Reason Foundation, and a group of law professors explained in a supporting amicus brief, exacerbates a “system” already “stacked in favor of the government.” Continue reading “Supreme Court Has Second Chance to Resolve Circuit Split on Two Criminal Securities Fraud Issues”

Settlement of Lawyer-Driven “Merger Tax” Litigation Stumbles in New York

ny state courtsTo paraphrase an Oscar-winning song, it’s hard out there for a corporate merger.  In recent years, opportunistic plaintiffs’ attorneys have descended upon proposed mergers of publicly owned companies, filing lawsuits to delay the proceedings alleging that management breached its fiduciary duty to the shareholders.

But one look at the typical settlement demonstrates that these cases are almost always cash grabs for the attorneys while providing almost no benefit for the allegedly harmed shareholders.  The defendant usually agrees to “disclose” additional, trivial information about the merger, while paying the plaintiffs’ attorneys thousands of dollars in legal fees.  It comes as little surprise that these claims are colloquially known as “merger tax” suits, with the “tax” being the attorneys’ fees public corporations now feel obligated to pay any time they want to combine. Continue reading “Settlement of Lawyer-Driven “Merger Tax” Litigation Stumbles in New York”

Perpetual Dual Class Stock versus the SEC’s Dubious Raised Eyebrow Power

bainbridgeFeatured Expert Contributor, Corporate Governance/Securities Law

Stephen M. Bainbridge, William D. Warren Distinguished Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law.

Newly confirmed SEC Commissioner Robert J. Jackson, Jr., gave his inaugural speech at Berkeley on February 15, 2018. In it, he criticized—in an admittedly nuanced way—the growing phenomenon of dual class stock. As he explained, most U.S. public corporations have a single class of common stock in which all shares have one vote per share. In recent years, however, some companies—especially in the tech sector—have gone public with a so-called dual class capital structure, which typically has two classes of common stock.

One class will have the traditional one vote per share, but the other will have multiple votes—usually 10—per share. The former shares are the ones sold to the public in the IPO, while insiders hold the super-voting shares. Facebook is a paradigmatic example: Mark Zuckerberg’s super-voting shares represent only 16% of the company’s equity but give him 60% of the total voting power. Continue reading “Perpetual Dual Class Stock versus the SEC’s Dubious Raised Eyebrow Power”