ANALYSIS: NYC, Calif. Courts Emerge as Top Crypto Case Magnets

More than a quarter of all federal cryptocurrency complaints filed between 2020 and 2021 were filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, with the Northern District of California the next most popular venue for federal complaints involving cryptocurrency.

The New York court led all jurisdictions by a large margin, even accounting for its heavy caseload, according to an analysis of data from Bloomberg Law dockets and federal judicial statistics. The Northern District of California came in second place, both for sheer number of complaints and after controlling for total cases filed. The two courts are logical centers of cryptocurrency litigation because of their locations: the SDNY is headquartered in New York City—arguably the world’s financial capital—and the ND Cal. includes global innovation and tech hub Silicon Valley.

This result may be comparable to the magnet court phenomenon seen in patent and bankruptcy filings, and as courts gain experience in this new area of litigation, certain venues will be deemed more favorable than others for cryptocurrency-related filings.

The SDNY was home to 58 of the 221 federal cryptocurrency complaints (26%) over the 2020–2021 time period. The Northern District of California had the next highest number of complaints, with 36 (16%). The Central District of California (17 complaints, 8%) and the Northern District of Illinois (10 complaints, 5%) rounded out the top four, which together had more cryptocurrency complaints filed than the rest of the federal district courts combined.

Top Two Hold Firm Even Accounting for Caseload

For my analysis, I conducted a search across all Bloomberg Law dockets of federal complaints containing the terms “cryptocurrency” or “cryptocurrencies”. The results showed that the SDNY and the ND Cal. dominated the filings, with other jurisdictions trailing behind. (I used the year spanning April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021 for the search, to be consistent with the data gathered and reported by the US Courts. The year ending March 31, 2021 is the latest year for which data is available from the federal courts.)

But these two courts also handle high volumes of cases, and I wanted to evaluate whether this activity played a role in the outsized number of crypto complaints. I took the top 10 districts for overall filings, and analyzed the number of cryptocurrency complaints as a percentage of total complaints filed in that district court over the same time period, using data provided by the federal courts. New York City and Silicon Valley again came in at the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, respectively, showing that they’re truly cryptocurrency litigation hotspots.

Most other jurisdictions moved down in rank when total case load was taken into account. The Central District of California and the Southern District of Florida, third and fifth respectively in sheer number of cryptocurrency complaints, dropped completely out of the top 10 when considering crypto complaints as a percentage of total cases.

The Northern District of Illinois also dropped—from fourth to 10th place—under this analysis. One explanation for the court’s persistence in the top 10 jurisdictions for crypto complaints under either analysis, despite the slight drop, is that the Northern District includes Chicago, which is not only a busy court, but is also home to futures trading including the CME Group, which included Bitcoin in its trading starting in 2017.

The US District Court for the District of Columbia, interestingly, remained in eighth place, perhaps due to the sheer volume of regulatory activity in the nation’s capital, where many federal agencies file cryptocurrency cases.

While cryptocurrency complaints in the top two districts remain a small proportion of overall cases filed—less than 1%—keeping an eye on the future of federal cryptocurrency litigation will certainly mean watching what happens in the Southern District of New York and the Northern District of California. It remains to be seen whether New York will remain No. 1 or California will eventually overtake it, but for now, those courts are exhibiting a significant gravitational pull.

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