A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed a proposed class action lawsuit by investors against the founders of the cryptocurrency EthereumMax, as well as celebrity endorsers including Kim Kardashian and boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. over their promotion of the cryptocurrency on social media.
Investors who bought EMAX tokens alleged they had suffered losses after taking the word of the celebrity influencers about the value of the crypto. The suit claims the defendants engaged in a conspiracy to artificially inflate the value of the EMAX tokens.
Judge Michael Fitzgerald wrote that he recognized that the lawsuit’s claims raised legitimate worries about “celebrities’ ability to readily persuade millions of undiscerning followers to buy snake oil with unprecedented ease and reach.”
“But, while the law certainly places limits on those advertisers, it also expects investors to act reasonably before basing their bets on the zeitgeist of the moment,” wrote Fitzgerald, of the Central District of California.
The judge found that the plaintiffs’ allegations were insufficiently backed, especially “given the heightened pleading standards” for fraud claims, according to his ruling in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.
In addition to Kardashian, Mayweather and former Boston Celtics star Paul Pierce, the defendants in the case included Steve Gentile and Giovanni Perone, the co-founders of EthereumMax, and Justin French, a consultant and developer for the cryptocurrency, court documents state.
Fitzgerald in his ruling said he would allow lawyers for the plaintiffs to refile their suit after amending some of their claims under a number of the statutes cited in the original complaint, which included the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, also known as RICO.
“We’re pleased with the court’s well-reasoned decision on the case,” Michael Rhodes, a lawyer for Kardashian, told CNBC.
The dismissal came weeks after investors in fallen crypto exchange FTX filed a class-action lawsuit against former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried and celebrity advertisers for the company, among them NFL superstar Tom Brady, for allegedly overstating the value of the crypto tokens in promotional messaging.
And the ruling came two months after Kardashian agreed to pay $1.26 million, and not to promote cryptocurrency for three years, to settle claims by the SEC for her failure to disclose a $250,000 payment touting EthereumMax on her Instagram account.
Fitzgerald in his ruling Wednesday said the EthereumMax lawsuit reflects a broader conflict surrounding celebrity and influencer promotional schemes.
“This action demonstrates that just about anyone with the technical skills and/or connections can mint a new currency and create their own digital market overnight,” Fitzgerald wrote in his dismissal.
Investors sued EthereumMax and its celebrity advertisers in January after a slew of influencers started snagging sponsorships to promote cryptocurrencies to their millions of social media followers.
Kardashian’s Instagram post in June 2021 had written, “Are you guys into crypto??? This is not financial advice but sharing what my friends told me about the Ethereum Max token.”
Her post included “#ad” at the bottom, indicating she had been sponsored. But it did not disclose her $250,000 payment from EthereumMax.
Mayweather promoted EMAX at a boxing match and a large Miami bitcoin conference in June 2021.
But by January, the cryptocurrency had lost 97% of its value.
Fitzgerald at a hearing last month indicated he was inclined to dismiss the case.
Bloomberg News, in an article about that hearing, said that an attorney for the plaintiffs in the suit asked the judge to allow him to revise the suit’s racketeering claims to show how the statements by the celebrity defendants harmed the investors.
“If plaintiffs had known the true facts related to the promoters’ financial interest in the tokens, and that they were being paid to shill these tokens, they wouldn’t have paid as much for the tokens as they did,” the attorney, John Jasnoch, told Fitzgerald, according to a transcript cited by Bloomberg.