Key crypto case tracker

The canon of caselaw around how we define, interact and transact with crypto assets starts in 2019 and below is a list of key examples that have helped shape the legal frameworks around how best to freeze, recover, and or generally deal with those assets.

Given the inherent use of pseudonymisation when reviewing blockchain ledgers, cases involving the recovery of crypto assets tend, by their nature, to require categories of Defendants listed as Persons Unknown. In this instance, the First Defendant is the person(s) who caused the fraud, the Second Defendant represents a class of individuals who, following disclosure from relevant centralised entities, are identified as taking receipt of the misappropriated funds, and the remaining Defendants are centralised entities, usually exchanges who can freeze funds and provide that disclosure.

Other cases include those where individuals are seeking recourse against centralised entities for providing financial products in contravention to the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 and or The Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Regulated Activities) Order 2001, or where there is a contractual or tortious dispute around crypto assets of business which rely on blockchain technology.

 

Liam David Robertson v Persons Unknown, CL-2019-000444, unreported, 15th July 2019
The Claimant obtained an asset preservation order over 80 Bitcoin traced to Coinbase, resulting in the safeguarding of those assets at that exchange. 

AA v Persons Unknown Re: Bitcoin [2019] EWHC 3556
Crypto assets are defined as property at common law for the first time following the granting of a proprietary injunction over Bitcoin traced to Bitfinex, paid originally to hackers as a ransom.

Toma and another v Murray [2020] EWHC 2295 (Ch)
Interim injunctions should be refused where, despite the existence of a serious issue to be tried, damages would be an adequate remedy, as the Defendant confirmed he could meet a claim for damages.

Ion Science LTD v Persons Unknown [2020] Unreported 21 December 2020
The lex situs or location of crypto assets is the place where the owner is domiciled. This clarifies to victims and practitioners which jurisdictions are relevant to bring proceedings. 

Ruscoe v Cryptopia Ltd (in liquidation) [2020] NZHC 782
A New Zealand decision confirming the status of crypto assets as property, considering pure information as opposed to digital assets. Also referred to crypto assets as capable of being held on trust.

Mr Dollar Bill Limited v Persons Unknown [2021] EWHC 2718
Norwich Pharmacal Orders (to provide disclosure of those involved in the fraud) are appropriate for use against Defendants located outside the jurisdiction, given most crypto currency exchanges are regiatered outside of England and Wales

Fetch.AI LTD v Persons Unknown [2021] EWHC 2254 (Comm) (15 July 2021)
The Judge created a third category of Persons Unknown to include innocent parties who received stolen assets as bona fide purchasers. This dictated categorisation of Persons Unknown Categories for several months and has now been broadly rejected. 

Tulip Trading Case v Bitcoin Association [2022] EWHC 667 (Ch)
Developers in general and in this case those who maintain the Bitcoin blockchain do not owe a duty to users of software. This was appealed- see Court of Appeal reference below.

Danisz v Persons Unknown and Huobi Global Ltd (T/A Huobi) [2022] EWHC 280(QB)
Expressly confirmed the need to act quickly in fraud cases involving crypto assets: “This is a form of transaction whereby, at the click of a mouse, an asset can be dissipated”. Explicitly reconfirmed that crypto assets were property referring to AA v Persons Unknown.

Lavinia Deborah Osbourne v (1) Persons Unknown (2) Ozone Networks Inc [2022] EWHC 1021 (Comm)
First instance of seeking reliefs to recover non-fungible tokens (“NFTs”), with the Judge stating a good arguable case for NFTs being property at common law.

Amir Soleymani v Nifty Gateway LLC [2022] EWHC 773 (Comm)
Where a cryptocurrency exchange’s terms of service include an arbitration clause, that should in turn cause a stay of any parallel litigations proceedings in another jurisdiction, in this case England where the Claimant was domiciled, although see Chechetkin below. 

Sarcuni et al v. bZx DAO et al. (S. D. Cal., May 2, 2022)
A Californian case highlighting that those who run and or vote a decentralised autonomous organisation (“DAO”) may be held jointly and severally liable for any losses caused to other members of the DAO, despite a lack of corporate structure. 

Fabrizio D’Aloia v. (1) Persons Unknown (2) Binance Holdings Limited & Others [2022] EWCH 1723 (Ch) (June 24, 2022)
The first time service was made via an NFT (as opposed to email or post), particularly useful where details of Persons Unknown are limited. At the time of publishing this is no longer a recommended method of service given personal information may be available on a blockchain. The Judge also confirmed good arguable cases against the exchanges to which assets were traced, stating they were constructive trustees of those assets. 

Gary Jones v Persons Unknown et al [2022] EWHC 2543 (Comm)
Following the misappropriation of 89 Bitcoin, the judge found tracing those funds in equity will create a constructive trust, where the victim has a proprietary interest in those stolen funds. 

LMN v Bitflyer Holdings Inc and others [2022] EWHC 2954 (Comm)
Exchanges were included as Person Unknown Defendants on the basis it is not always clear which entities operate or own those exchanges and or which hold relevant information for the purposes of providing disclosure.

Chechetkin v Payward Ltd and others [2022] EWHC 3057 (Ch)
Under similar facts to Soleymani above, the Judge rejected the Defendant’s Part 11 Application to challenge jurisdiction on the basis the Claimant was a consumer.

Tulip Trading Limited (A Seychelles Company) v Bitcoin Association For BSV & Ors [2023] EWCA Civ 83 (03 February 2023)
The Court of Appeal notes there may be a good arguable case that developers owe users of software, in this case those who maintain the Bitcoin blockchain, a duty of care. Reference is made to AA v Persons Unknown and that “a cryptoasset such as bitcoin is property”- the position is now confirmed at Court of Appeal level.

Joseph Keen Shing Law v Persons Unknown & Huobi Global Limited (unreported, 26 January 2023)
The Court sanctioned Huobi to transfer funds into fiat and then into the Courts in England and Wales, to be transferred to the victim’s solicitors upon further application. This acts as a Court authorised mechanism to recover funds.

Piroozzadeh v Persons Unknown and Others [2023] EWHC 1024 (Ch)
A proprietary injunction was resisted by Binance on the basis the Judge required Binance to be included in proceedings as a third party, as opposed to a named party in the proceedings, resulting in Binance being treated like a bank.

Disclaimer

This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024.