Coinbase sues SEC after months of silence from federal regulator

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Employees of Coinbase Global Inc, the biggest U.S. cryptocurrency exchange, watch as their listing is displayed on the Nasdaq MarketSite jumbotron at Times Square in New York, April 14, 2021.
Shannon Stapleton | Reuters

Crypto exchange Coinbase filed suit against the Securities and Exchange Commission Monday, asking that the regulator be forced to publicly share its answer to a months-old petition on whether it would allow the crypto industry to be regulated using existing SEC frameworks.

The July 2022 petition asked that the SEC “propose and adopt rules to govern the regulation of securities that are offered and traded via digitally native methods,” referring to digital assets like cryptocurrencies.

The SEC did not offer any specific public response to Coinbase’s petition, but in recent months has aggressively ramped up enforcement actions and warnings against crypto exchanges, including Coinbase.

“From the SEC’s public statements and enforcement activity in the crypto industry, it seems like the SEC has already made up its mind to deny our petition. But they haven’t told the public yet. So the action Coinbase filed today simply asks the court to ask the SEC to share its decision,” Coinbase chief legal officer Paul Grewal said in a blog post.

Since January, the SEC has taken action against crypto exchanges Bittrex & Gemini, crypto lender Genesis, and a bevy of individual actors accused of manipulating cryptoassets, including crypto entrepreneur Justin Sun and disgraced Terraform Labs founder Do Kwon.

The mandamus writ is Coinbase’s first formal salvo against the regulator, a little over a month ago it was warned by the SEC of pending legal action through a Wells notice.

“Coinbase does not take any litigation lightly, especially when it relates to one of our regulators. Regulatory clarity is overdue for our industry,” Grewal said in the blog post. “Yet Coinbase and other crypto companies are facing potential regulatory enforcement actions from the SEC, even though we have not been told how the SEC believes the law applies to our business.”

The SEC did not immediately return a request for comment.

WATCH: Crypto needs regulatory clarity, industry advocate says

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