Tesla is being hit with a new lawsuit from institutional investors that questions whether the frontman’s Tweets are being reviewed. Several Tweets brought on the lawsuit, including one, sent on November 6th that polled Musk’s over 66 million followers whether he should sell 10% of his Tesla stock holdings. Additionally, Musk’s recent feud with Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren has also contributed to the lawsuit.
Musk is not formally listed as a defendant in the complaint.
Filed in the Delaware Chancery Court, the lawsuit accuses Musk of Tweeting in a manner that could affect the value of Tesla stock. According to Bloomberg Law, who discovered the lawsuit, the plaintiff is questioning whether Musk’s Tweets are under review in accordance with a 2019 settlement with the SEC, which required Tesla to “establish a new committee of independent directors and put in place additional controls and procedures to oversee Musk’s communications.”
“It is unclear who at Tesla, if anyone, is currently reviewing Musk’s tweets,” the lawsuit claims. “Musk remains undeterred and continues to post on Twitter and social media on matters that are material to Tesla and its stockholders, and which ultimately have an impact on Tesla’s stock prices.”
Tesla does not currently have a General Counsel in its legal department, which is likely the person who would be required to review Musk’s Tweets before they are sent. In December 2019, Johnathan Chang left the company and was its last full-time General Counsel. The company assigned Lynn Miller to the position shortly thereafter, but she left Tesla in June for autonomous trucking startup Plus.
Musk’s November 6th poll was sent after many days of speculation of whether the billionaire CEO, whose net worth has skyrocketed over the past two years thanks to Tesla stock, would pay capital gains taxes. Technically, the capital gains tax is a levy on the profit from an investment that is incurred only when the investment is sold. Because Musk had not sold any of his holdings, he technically would not be required to pay any taxes on his unrealized gains from Tesla’s increase in stock price.
I will abide by the results of this poll, whichever way it goes
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 6, 2021
However, Musk was willing to sell 10% of his holdings and will pay a $15 billion tax bill based on options that will expire in August 2022. Tesla said in a 10-Q filing earlier this year:
“If the price of our common stock were to decline substantially, Mr. Musk may be forced by one or more of the banking institutions to sell shares of Tesla common stock to satisfy his loan obligations if he could not do so through other means. Any such sales could cause the price of our common stock to decline further.”
Musk will have to pay income tax on the options because he has to exercise them due to their expiration date. They are taxed as an employee benefit or compensation, according to CNBC, and he will pay a combined federal and state tax rate of 54.1%, or roughly $15 billion, as his gains on the options will be just under $28 billion.
The lawsuit also highlights a recent Twitter feud with Senator Elizabeth Warren, which has been a popular topic this week. Warren referred to Musk as a “freeloader” earlier this week, which brought a barrage of challenges from Musk, who reminded Warren of his massive tax bill and shared a 2019 article that called her a “fraud” for claiming to be Native American.
The complaint requests that shareholders be given internal files from Tesla for inspection. Under Delaware law, shareholders of a public company who “credible suspect corporate wrongdoing” have the right to inspect these documents.
The case is Wagner v. Tesla Inc., Del. Ch., No. 2021-1090. The complaint was filed on December 16th.
Disclosure: Joey Klender is a TSLA Shareholder.
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