In a June 14 speech William Hinman, the SEC’s Director of the Division of Corporate Finance, began to place additional definition around the raging debate over whether digital assets, including tokens, are securities. Until that speech, much commentary had focused on the repeat statements by SEC officials that digital assets distributed in initial coin offerings (ICOs) are almost always securities in the SEC’s view, with the possible exception of widely disseminated cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Hinman’s remarks set out the view that, in their initial phases, tokens are more likely to qualify as securities under the Supreme Court’s Howey test, but in limited circumstances may, over time, shed enough of the characteristics of securities to lose that designation. Under the rubric Hinman laid out, the new hallmark of success for a token project may become the point at which a project’s tokens are so widely used that they function without any centralized efforts and lose their securities status. This post lays out some of the background and considerations under this new framework.
Since its inception, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (the “CFPB”) has faced controversy over its structure as an independent agency headed by a single director who can be removed by the President only for cause. Critics have invoked the unitary executive theory to argue that the Constitution permits an agency to enjoy independence from at-will termination by the President only if the agency is headed by multiple commissioners, directors, or board members. About six months ago, the D.C. Circuit took a step toward silencing those critics by rejecting en banc a constitutional challenge to the CFPB’s structure. But in another twist, two weeks ago news broke that the issue may remain unsettled, because in Consumer Fin. Prot. Bureau v. RD Legal Funding, LLC, U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska of the Southern District of New York explicitly rejected the PHH majority opinion and held the CFPB’s structure to be unconstitutional. As discussed below, the new split of authority raises interesting questions going forward.
The SDNY Ruling
In RD Legal Funding, the defendant companies had offered cash advances to consumers waiting for settlement payouts. The CFPB and the New York Attorney General (the “NYAG”) alleged that these transactions were not sales transactions but loans and that these loans were made in violation of certain provisions of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (the “CFPA” or the “Act”). Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on three grounds, including that the CFPB is unconstitutionally structured and therefore lacks authority to bring claims under the CFPA.