A class action lawsuit filed by users of a decentralized finance (“DeFi”) protocol managed by a decentralized autonomous organization, or “DAO,” may shed light on the potential legal liabilities of a DAO and its participants. The complaint in Sarcuni v. bZx DAO, No. 22-cv-0618 (S.D. Cal. May 2, 2022), highlights several issues related to DAO liability of which DAO participants should be aware. There is a common misperception that an unincorporated DAO is not subject to liability because there is no entity for regulators to pursue. The fact is that such DAOs may be deemed general partnerships and the participants may each bear some liability for activities of the DAO. In some cases, a DAO includes a wrapper entity, in part, to shield participants from such liability. This issue highlights a tension between the aspirations of Web3 entities to be decentralized and community-governed on the one hand, and the challenges of accomplishing those aspirations given the current state of corporate law on the other hand.
Dhara Shah is an associate in the Intellectual Practice Group in the firm's Chicago office.