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Tesla gets big legal wins as Musk finds himself at risk of libel over Thai caver controversy

Tesla’s legal troubles got a bit lighter this week, while Elon Musk seemingly gave himself yet another self-inflicted blow. Earlier his week, Tesla won a dismissal of a securities fraud lawsuit over the company’s progress in the production of the Model 3. The company also won a court case against the Ontario government over the state’s cancellation of EV rebates for Tesla customers.

The securities fraud lawsuit against Tesla alleged that the company and its executives knowingly knew that they could not meet their self-imposed goals of producing 5,000 Model 3 per week by the end of December 2017. The lawsuit’s plaintiffs argued that despite knowing these, Tesla still gave the impression that it was equipped to meet its production goals. This caused the stock to become volatile, resulting in losses for some shareholders.

In a decision that was made public on Monday, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer noted that while it was true that the electric car and energy company was not able to meet its self-imposed production goals, “federal securities laws do not punish companies for failing to achieve their targets.” Tesla, for its part, noted that its difficulties in reaching its manufacturing targets for the Model 3 were caused by bottlenecks in its Nevada Gigafactory and its main factory in Fremont, CA.

“Plaintiffs are correct that defendants’ qualifications would not have been meaningful if defendants had known that it was impossible for Tesla to meet its stated production goals, not merely highly unlikely. The facts plaintiffs have put forth do not tend to establish that this was the case,” Judge Breyer wrote.

Tesla also won a case it filed against the Ontario government over the cancellation of EV rebates for Tesla’s electric cars. The revised EV rebate program was rolled out by the new Ontario government, and it singled out Tesla’s customers from qualifying for rebates of up to $10,640. In a ruling on Monday, Judge Frederick Myers of Ontario opted to strike down the transition program rolled out by the new government. A spokesperson for Tesla issued a statement to Reuters welcoming the Ontario judge’s ruling.

“Tesla only sought fair treatment for our customers, and we hope the Ministry now does the right thing by delivering on its promise to ensure all [electric vehicle]-owners receive their incentives,” the Tesla spokesperson said.

Unfortunately, this week also saw Elon Musk getting baited once more on Twitter over his previous comments about British cave explorer Vernon Unsworth, who was critical of Musk’s efforts to help a soccer team stranded in a flooded Thai cave system last July. After receiving requests online that he help in the Thai rescue efforts, Musk, together with SpaceX and Boring Co. engineers, developed a mini-submarine that the stranded children could use to escape the flooded cave system. Unsworth was dismissive of the mini-sub, stating that it would not work and suggesting that Musk “stick his submarine where it hurts.” In anger, Musk retorted, calling the caver a “pedo guy” on Twitter. Musk later deleted his tweet and apologized to Unsworth.

Just yesterday, Musk was on Twitter when he got baited into discussing Unsworth and his previous incendiary comments once more. At one point, Musk even noted that “You don’t think it’s strange he hasn’t sued me? He was offered free legal services.”

As it turns out, a libel lawsuit was indeed on the way. Unsworth is reportedly preparing to file a civil complaint for libel against Musk, according to a letter from the caver’s lawyer shared to CNBC. The attorney’s letter described Musk’s tweets as “false and defamatory.” The lawyer also urged Musk’s legal counsel to contact him to avoid litigation and correct the reportedly false statements. The letter was dated August 6, just a day before Musk posted his fateful “funding secured” tweet.

While Musk faces another possible lawsuit over his Twitter activity, Tesla continues to pursue its Model 3 ramp. The production of the electric car seems poised to hit record levels this quarter, with analyst Romit Shah of Nomura Instinet stating that Tesla could produce as many as 65,000-70,000 Model 3 this quarter. Baird analyst Ben Kallo is also optimistic about Tesla’s numbers this Q3, stating that the company’s fundamentals are “underappreciated” amidst the noise from the controversy resulting from Elon Musk’s go-private initiative. 

Tesla gets big legal wins as Musk finds himself at risk of libel over Thai caver controversy
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