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.
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