On November 30, 2018, Judge Richard Sullivan issued a long-anticipated decision in favor of the defendants in Commodity Futures Trading Commission v. Wilson, No. 13 Civ. 7884, following a four-day bench trial in December 2016 before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.  The court held that the CFTC failed to meet its burden of proof in establishing claims of market manipulation or attempted market manipulation under Sections 6(c) and 9(a)(2) of the Commodity Exchange Act (“CEA”) based on trading by Donald R. Wilson and his firm DRW Investments LLC (“DRW”) of a particular exchange-traded interest rate swap futures contract (the “IDEX Three-Month IRS Contract”).  The court found that although the defendants’ trading affected the price of the IDEX Three-Month IRS Contract in a way that benefitted defendants’ existing positions, there was no evidence that the resulting price was “artificial,” which the Second Circuit has held is a necessary element in establishing market manipulation under the CEA.

The Wilson decision is significant because it rejected the CFTC’s argument that the artificiality element could be satisfied merely by showing that a market participant structured bids in a manner intended to affect settlement prices.  Because the defendants had a “legitimate economic rationale” for the bids they submitted, the court held that defendants’ intent to trade in a manner that affected settlement prices does not itself create liability for market manipulation under the CEA.

Please click here to read the full alert memorandum.

On November 15, 2018, the Division of Enforcement (the “Division”) of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) released its Annual Report on the Division of Enforcement (the “Report”), highlighting the enforcement division’s recent initiatives and reinforcing its focus on cooperation and self-reporting.  The Report provides a succinct overview of the Division’s enforcement priorities over the last year, discusses its overall enforcement philosophy, sets out key metrics about the cases brought in the last year, and highlights its key initiatives for the coming year.  While the Division’s priorities—preserving market integrity, protecting customers, promoting individual accountability, and increasing coordination with other regulators and criminal authorities—do not mark a departure from prior guidance, the Report does highlight the Division’s particular focus on individual accountability and a few target areas of enforcement.  Continue Reading Virtual Currencies, Manipulation, Cooperation, and More: CFTC Enforcement Division’s 2018 Annual Report

On November 16, 2018, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) Division of Corporation Finance (“Corp. Fin.”), Division of Investment Management, and Division of Trading and Markets issued a joint public statement on “Digital Asset Securities Issuance and Trading.”  The public statement is the latest in the Divisions’—and the Commission’s—steady efforts to publicly outline and develop its analysis on the application of the federal securities laws to initial coin offerings (“ICOs”) and certain digital tokens.  These efforts have combined a series of enforcement proceedings with public statements by Chairman Jay Clayton and staff, including a more detailed statement of the SEC’s analytical approach in Corp. Fin. Director William Hinman’s speech on digital assets in June 2018. Continue Reading SEC Divisions’ Issue Public Statement on Digital Assets and ICOs, Echoing Recent Enforcement Actions

On November 8, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) imposed a cease-and-desist order against Zachary Coburn for causing his former company, EtherDelta, to operate as an unregistered securities exchange in violation of Section 5 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”).  Notably, EtherDelta, a trading platform specializing in digital assets known as Ether and ERC20 tokens,[1] was not operated like a traditional exchange with centralized operations, as there was no ongoing, active management of the platform’s order taking and execution functions. Instead, EtherDelta was “decentralized,” in that it connected buyers and sellers through a pre-established smart contract protocol upon which all operational decisions were carried out.

In the SEC’s view, EtherDelta met Exchange Act Rule 3b-16(a)’s definition of an exchange notwithstanding the lack of ongoing centralized management of order taking and execution.  Robert Cohen, the Chief of the SEC’s Cyber Unit within the Division of Enforcement stated after the order’s release, “The focus is not on the label you put on something . . . The focus is on the function . . . whether it’s decentralized or not, whether it’s on a smart contract or not, what matters is it’s an exchange.” This functional approach echoes prior SEC guidance and enforcement actions in the digital asset securities markets in emphasizing that the Commission will look to the substance and not the form of a market participants’ operations in evaluating their effective compliance with U.S. securities laws. Continue Reading SEC Brings First Enforcement Action Against a Digital Assets Trading Platform for Failure to Register as a Securities Exchange

For the first time, the SEC’s staff issued guidance last week under its rule governing audit committees for listed issuers.  The guidance addresses the composition of audit committees for issuers that are listed in both Brazil and the United States, and it takes the form of an interpretive letter from the Division of Corporation Finance to law firms Cleary Gottlieb and Simpson Thacher.

Please click here to read the full alert memorandum.

On November 2, the SEC’s Enforcement Division released its annual report detailing the facts and figures of its enforcement efforts in fiscal year 2018.  At first blush, this year’s report looks strikingly similar to those from recent years, as the headline numbers in most categories are nearly indistinguishable from 2015, 2016, and 2017.  This consistency may be surprising given that 2018 is the first such report reflecting exclusively the enforcement priorities of the Commission since it was reconstituted under Chair Jay Clayton.

But a closer examination of the report, including the components feeding into the top-line facts and figures and commentary by Division co-directors Stephanie Avakian and Steven Peikin, reveals a clear shift in priorities by the Division.  These range from a philosophical shift in its mission to the reallocation of resources during a hiring freeze.  We address here the most notable of these subtle but important changes.  Continue Reading Retail, Remedies, Resources and Results: Observations From the SEC Enforcement Division 2018 Annual Report

There have been plenty of press reports about the SEC’s settlement with Elon Musk arising from his tweeting about taking Tesla private.  But the concurrent settlement with Tesla itself provides interesting lessons for disclosure and governance at public companies.

Tesla agreed to pay a $20 million penalty and agreed to several “undertakings” to strengthen its governance and controls including a requirement that it add two independent directors to its Board.  And, under his own settlement, Musk agreed to step down for three years as chairman of the Board of Directors, although he is allowed to continue as CEO.  Continue Reading The Tesla Settlement – What It Means for Other Companies

On October 16, 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission released a Report of Investigation that cautioned public companies to consider cyber threats when designing and implementing internal accounting controls.  The report was based on an investigation of nine victims of email cyber-fraud schemes for potentially failing to have adequate internal accounting controls, in violation of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.  The report highlights the need for companies to reassess their controls in light of the current cybersecurity risk environment.  By describing the remedial steps taken by the investigated companies, it further provides guidance about the key areas that companies should consider when assessing their own policies and procedures. Continue Reading SEC Investigative Report Urges Public Companies to Guard Against Cyber Threats When Implementing Internal Accounting Controls

On October 15, 2018, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced a $16 million settlement with Anthem, Inc. over alleged violations of federal privacy and security regulations under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).  The settlement resolves an investigation following a data breach that exposed protected health information of nearly 79 million people.  According to OCR, the incident is the largest health data breach to date in the United States and Anthem’s payment similarly represents the largest HIPAA settlement to date.  The settlement is consistent with OCR’s recent focus on enforcing regulatory requirements to conduct an accurate and thorough risk analysis and maintain appropriate mechanisms to monitor systems that contain protected health information and to control access to that information. It also highlights the agency’s distinct cybersecurity remediation approach. Continue Reading The U.S. Department of Health And Human Services Settles With Anthem for Record $16M Over Alleged HIPAA Violations

On Friday, October 12, 2018, during remarks at the NYU School of Law Program on Corporate Compliance and Enforcement Conference on Achieving Effective Compliance, Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Department of Justice announced new guidance, issued on October 11, relating to the imposition and selection of corporate compliance monitors in Criminal Division matters. Acknowledging the significant burden that monitors place on corporations, Benczkowski announced that the new guidance is intended to ensure the Criminal Division is acting in a consistent and responsible manner when it imposes a compliance monitor and is designed to “further refine the factors that go into the determination of whether a monitor is needed, as well as to clarify and refine the monitor selection process.”

Please click here to read the full alert memorandum.