United States: Blockchain Legal Resource: Federal Court Lacks Personal Jurisdiction Over Defunct Virtual Currency Exchange

To date, virtual currency exchanges in the United States have structured their operations in an effort to avoid being required to register as an exchange with either the Securities and Exchange Commission or the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. While these efforts may be entirely legal, without the regulatory protections of exchange registration, they could create enhanced risks for customers, particularly in the case of a fund's insolvency or collapse. A recent federal case highlights these risks and provides a roadmap for asserting personal jurisdiction over a virtual currency exchange.

The plaintiff here, a Colorado resident, sought to bring a class action in federal district court for the District of Colorado against the operators of a defunct online digital currency exchange after it froze customer funds and the plaintiff was unable to withdraw his Bitcoin. The plaintiff asserted state law claims for breach of contract, conversion, constructive fraud, and unjust enrichment. Neither the exchange nor any of the other named defendants responded to the plaintiff's complaint or otherwise made an appearance before the court, so the plaintiff moved to enforce a default judgment against them. Before the court could rule on that motion, it first had to consider the fundamental due process question as to whether the court had personal jurisdiction over the defendants.

Personal jurisdiction comports with the constitutional guarantee of due process when a defendant has minimum contacts with the forum state (here, Colorado) and when those contacts are such that assuming jurisdiction does not offend "traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." Minimum contacts may be established under the doctrines of general jurisdiction or specific jurisdiction. Where general jurisdiction is asserted over a nonresident defendant who has not consented to suit in the forum, minimum contacts exist if the plaintiff demonstrates that the defendant maintains "continuous and systematic general business contacts" in the state. Because the plaintiff did not argue that the defendants were subject to general jurisdiction in Colorado, the court limited its discussion to the issue of specific jurisdiction.

Specific jurisdiction exists only if a lawsuit arises out of or relates to the defendant's contacts with a particular forum. First, the court was required to determine whether a defendant has such minimum contacts with Colorado that the defendant "should reasonably anticipate being haled into court" there. Specifically, the court must determine whether the defendant purposefully directed its activities at residents of the forum, and whether plaintiff's claim arises out of or results from actions by the defendant that create a substantial connection with the forum state." Second, if the defendant's actions create sufficient minimum contacts, the court must consider whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction over defendant offends "traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." i.e., whether the court's exercise of personal jurisdiction over the defendant is reasonable in light of the circumstances of the case. To satisfy this latter test, the court must consider whether the defendants' conduct indicated any continuing relationship with forum state residents, deliberately exploited the forum state's market, or suggested intentional conduct that targeted and had substantial harmful effects in the forum state.

In this case, the plaintiff merely alleged that he created an online account with the exchange. According to the court, he did not identify what this process included, what information defendants collected about accountholders, or whether the exchange even knew he was in Colorado. Assuming that the plaintiff entered into a contract with the exchange, the court stressed that fact alone is insufficient to establish a continuing relationship. The court also found that the plaintiff's complaint offered no evidence that the account creation process involved any negotiations or that the parties contemplated any future consequences. The plaintiff did not provide the terms of any contract between the parties. He did not indicate that the defendants engaged in any solicitation or direct communication that would show a course of dealing among them. Furthermore, the plaintiff failed to show that the defendants purposefully directed their activities at Colorado or knew that the brunt of plaintiff's injury would be felt there. Drawing an analogy to older cases involving other types of internet-based businesses, the court remarked that the emphasis is on "the internet user or site intentionally directing his/her/its activity or operation at the forum state rather than just having the activity or operation accessible there." Accordingly, the court determined that it did not have personal jurisdiction over the defendants and dismissed the case without prejudice.

It is possible that the court would have ruled differently had the plaintiff pleaded additional facts to show greater interaction in Colorado, and by dismissing without prejudice, it left the door ajar for plaintiff to do just that. It is also possible that the plaintiff could find another more appropriate forum, either elsewhere in the United States or abroad; the court was unable to find such a forum here due to the paucity of the pleadings. While the case does not blaze a new legal trail, it underscores the difficulty of pursuing litigation against virtual currency exchanges—many of which are decentralized, do not engage in traditional marketing activities and have no traditional physical presence anywhere. Even were the court to enter a default judgment against a defunct exchange, collecting on that judgment poses its own separate challenges.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Mondaq Sign Up
Gain free access to lawyers expertise from more than 250 countries.
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Country
Position
Industry
Mondaq Newsalert
Select Topics
Select Regions
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions