Jenner & Block LLP

Top 10 of 2018: The Best Consumer Law Round-Up Posts of the Year

2018 was another busy year for the Consumer Law Round-Up. Launched by the firm’s Consumer Law Practice, the blog updates readers on key developments within consumer law and provides insights that are relevant to companies and individuals that may be affected by the ever-increasing patchwork of federal and state consumer protection statutes. In 2018, the Consumer Law Round-Up featured posts by approximately 20 different authors on a wide array of topics. 

Below is a list of the Top 10 most popular posts of 2018. 


#1 SDNY Rules CFPB Unconstitutional, Creating Split of Authority and Raising New Questions

Since its inception, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (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...Read more

#2 SEC Take on Tokens Clarifies Some Crypto Community Quandaries

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...Read more

#3 The Supreme Court Reaffirms the Reach and Force of the Federal Arbitration Act, This Time in Employment Cases

On May 21, 2018, the Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision in the consolidated cases Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, No. 16-285; Ernst & Young LLP v. Morris, No. 16-300; and NLRB v. Murphy Oil USA, No. 16-307. In a 5-4 opinion by Justice Gorsuch, the Court held that courts must enforce arbitration agreements requiring employees to bring employment-related claims in individualized arbitration proceedings, and barring them from pursuing those claims...Read more

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Crypto Winter Continues With Ongoing Enforcement

   

By Michael W. Ross, Andrew J. Lichtman and Emily A. Bruemmer

Crypto-winterSeveral recent “first of kind” enforcement proceedings continue the flurry of enforcement activity by regulators.  In two settled proceedings, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) brought two cases for failure to register digital tokens as securities in connection with initial coin offerings (ICOs), without allegations of fraud.  With such enforcement actions now commonplace, a “crypto winter” has clearly set in.  In another development, a federal court recently issued the first opinion concluding that the SEC had failed to establish that a digital asset issued in connection with an ICO was a “security” under the federal securities laws, underscoring that digital assets will not be subject to a one-size-fits-all analysis.

As for the two settled charges, according to the SEC’s orders, Paragon Coin, Inc.[1] and AirFox[2] launched their ICOs in 2017.  Paragon is an online company that was established to implement blockchain technology in the cannabis industry, as well as to work towards legalization of cannabis.  Through its ICO, Paragon raised approximately $12 million in digital assets to develop and expand its business.  As for AirFox, it sells mobile technology intended to allow customers to earn free or discounted data by watching advertisements on their phones.  AirFox raised approximately $15 million in its ICO to help expand its business overseas.  Neither Paragon nor AirFox registered their ICOs.

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Blockchain, Antitrust and Standard Setting

BlockchainIn an article for Fintech Weekly, Partner Michael W. Ross explains that, as companies have experimented with blockchain and other distributed ledger technologies, commentators have highlighted antitrust concerns.  Mr. Ross suggests areas to watch as the technology expands, particularly at the International Standards Organization and the Federal Trade Commission.  The article also notes the possibility for developing blockchain standards that may foster efficiency, compatibility and interoperability of diverse technologies through the adoption of “FRAND licensing” concepts.

To read the full article, please click here.


Recent Activity Brings Further Clarity to Cryptocurrency Enforcement

 

By Michael W. Ross and Andrew J. Lichtman

image from https://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-client-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/2018-09-26/d04d50c7-b740-45a9-b4a6-3b9e95def44d.pngSeptember saw a flurry of activity that will help further define the cryptocurrency regulatory landscape.  The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) brought its first-ever crypto-fraud case and a court ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York gave backing to the view that digital assets will be viewed as securities.  And, in two enforcements actions, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) branched out beyond actions against fraudulent crypto-schemes and went after crypto companies for failing to register with the SEC.  The latter two cases signal that the SEC is committed to enforcing applicable securities law requirements beyond those accused of fraud, and therefore SEC enforcement activity remains an area for legitimate businesses to watch.

A Federal Court Rules On Whether Digital Assets Are Securities

Last October, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn brought charges against Maksim Zaslavskiy alleging that Zaslavskiy made false representations in connection with two cryptocurrencies and their related initial coin offerings (“ICOs”) in violation of U.S. securities law.  According to the indictment, Zaslavskiy induced investors to purchase tokens in an ICO for “REcoin” by falsely claiming that REcoin was backed by real estate investments.  Similarly, the government alleged, Zaslavskiy falsely claimed that a second cryptocurrency, “Diamond,” was backed by actual diamonds when it was not.

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How Blockchain Use Can Block Competition

BlockchainIn an article for Law360, Partners Daniel T. Fenske and Justin C. Steffen examine anti-competition issues with blockchain.  The authors explain that anti-competition issues abound now that financial institutions, corporations and other industries are investing in blockchain technology.  The issues, they observe, can be mitigated through early planning.  The authors discuss the “basics” of blockchain and anti-competition risks.  “The antitrust risks of blockchain technology will be clarified as the technology develops and it is put to more uses,” they conclude.  “It is critical that you consult competent antitrust counsel when structuring blockchain technology and policies so as to best mitigate antitrust risk.”

To read the full article, please click here.


SEC Take on Tokens Clarifies Some Crypto Community Quandaries

   

By Jolene E. Negre, Michael W. Ross, Justin C. Steffen and Andrew J. Lichtman

CurrencyIn 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.

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SDNY Rules CFPB Unconstitutional, Creating Split of Authority and Raising New Questions

   

By Joseph L. Noga, Michael W. Ross, Justin C. Steffen and Kashan Pathan

-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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] 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”).[4] 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.[5]

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Jenner & Block Partners with Chicago-Kent College of Law and FinTEx for Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference

FinTech-Linkedin-1400x800Jenner & Block is partnering with Chicago-Kent College of Law and FinTEx, a non-profit, member-driven community of the leading organizations within FinTech and Financial Services, for a first-of-its kind conference focused on the evolving regulatory and legal issues in the blockchain and cryptocurrency space.  Co-organized by Partner Justin C. Steffen, the Block(Legal)Tech conference will take place on August 9 at The Law Lab at Illinois Tech Chicago-Kent College of Law.  The Block(Legal)Tech conference will feature presentations and panel discussions on the law of distributed ledger systems, tokenized assets and cryptoasset-based funding.  The day-long conference will include a number of discussions, interviews and debates, delving deep into the complicated issues that affect the crypto-landscape, such as the future of US regulation of cryptoassets and the government’s role in promoting blockchain adoption.  Topics discussed will include minimizing the risks of crypto-litigation, the role of lawyers, the evolution of smart contracts and their impact on the legal profession as well as other legal issues that stem from the use and implementation of blockchain technology.

To register for the event, please click here.


The US Supreme Court Allows Collection of State Sales Tax From Remote Sellers

 

By Adam G. Unikowsky and Leonard R. Powell

SCOTUSOn June 21, 2018, the US Supreme Court issued its much-anticipated decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., No. 17-494.  In a 5-4 opinion by Justice Kennedy, the Court held that the Dormant Commerce Clause does not bar a state from requiring an out-of-state seller lacking in-state physical presence to collect and remit sales tax.  In reaching this conclusion, the Court took the unusual step of overruling two of its own prior opinions: National Bellas Hess, Inc. v. Department of Revenue of Illinois, 386 U.S. 753 (1967), and Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, 504 U.S. 298 (1992).  The Court held that stare decisis was an insufficient basis to uphold a rule it viewed as anachronistic, particularly in light of the explosive growth of e-commerce.

Wayfair is a major victory for states, who can now collect tax from out-of-state sellers and brick-and-mortar retailers, subjecting the latter to the same tax burdens as their online competitors.  Wayfair, however, does not hold that all tax regimes will pass constitutional muster.  To the contrary, it holds that such regimes will be subject to traditional Dormant Commerce Clause doctrines designed to prevent undue burdens on interstate commerce.

Background

Wayfair's issue was one the Court had decided twice before.  In Bellas Hess, the Court held that states could not impose sales tax collection obligations on out-of-state sellers who relied solely on the mail and common carriers to deliver their goods because the sellers “lacked the requisite minimum contacts with the State required by both the Due Process Clause and the Commerce Clause.”  In Quill, the Court overruled Bellas Hess’s due process holding, but reaffirmed Bellas Hess’s holding that the Dormant Commerce Clause forbids the imposition of sales tax collection obligations on sellers lacking an in-state physical presence.  In a concurring opinion, Justice Scalia, joined by Justices Kennedy and Thomas, emphasized that his vote was based solely on stare decisis.

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The Supreme Court Reaffirms The Reach And Force Of The Federal Arbitration Act, This Time In Employment Cases

     

By Adam G. Unikowsky, Michael T. Brody, Carla J. Rozycki, Howard S. Suskin, and Gabriel K. Gillett

-On May 21, 2018, the Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision in the consolidated cases Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, No. 16-285; Ernst & Young LLP v. Morris, No. 16-300; and NLRB v. Murphy Oil USA, No. 16-307.  In a 5-4 opinion by Justice Gorsuch, the Court held that courts must enforce arbitration agreements requiring employees to bring employment-related claims in individualized arbitration proceedings, and barring them from pursuing those claims as a collective or class action.[1]  The Court explained that absent a contrary congressional directive, arbitration clauses are “valid, irrevocable, and enforceable” under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), which reflects “‘a liberal federal policy favoring arbitration agreements.’”[2]  The Court held that such arbitration agreements do not violate employees’ statutory right under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to “engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of … mutual aid or protection.”[3]  It concluded that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)’s contrary conclusion was not entitled to Chevron deference.[4]  Therefore, the Court held that the provisions requiring individual arbitration of employment disputes were enforceable under the FAA.

The Epic decision represents a major victory for employers.  It allows them to avoid burdensome class actions and instead take advantage of the cost and speed of individualized arbitration.  The decision continues the Court’s longstanding practice of enforcing the FAA according to its terms. 

The Epic case began when Jacob Lewis filed a putative class and collective action in federal court against his former employer, Epic Systems Corp., alleging violations of federal and state wage-and-hour laws.[5]  Epic moved to compel individual arbitration, arguing that under the terms of an agreement that Lewis had accepted as a condition of employment, Lewis was required to bring employment-based claims through individual arbitration and not as a collective or class action.[6]  The district court held that the arbitration agreement was unenforceable, and the Seventh Circuit affirmed, deferring to the Board’s conclusion that individualized arbitration agreements violated an employee’s right to engage in concerted action under the NLRA.[7]  The Seventh Circuit’s decision conflicted with decisions from other circuits, which had held that the FAA required enforcement of such agreements according to their terms.  The Court granted Epic’s petition for certiorari, along with two other petitions raising the same question, and consolidated the three cases.[8]

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