A California jury on Friday found Elon Musk not liable of cheating investors over a 2018 tweet where he claimed he had secured a Tesla buyout and was considering taking the electric car maker private.
Musk responded to the verdict with a tweet.
“I am deeply appreciative of the jury’s unanimous finding of innocence in the Tesla 420 take-private case.”
Tesla investors were seeking billions of dollars in damages from Musk and several other Tesla directors, with their legal representatives arguing the 2018 tweet artificially inflated Tesla’s share price and ultimately cost them millions when it turned out that Musk’s claim of the buyout was not true.
Shareholder attorneys told the court that a U.S. federal judge last year had already ruled that Musk knew the tweet was false but published it anyway.
Musk’s lawyer, Alex Spiro, argued that despite the tweet, funding had not been an issue for Tesla, adding that his client was not a “rich liar” and a “fire-breathing, tweeting monster” that the shareholders were trying to portray him as. Spiro conceded, however, that the tweet was “technically inaccurate,” albeit not fraudulent in nature.
“Just because it’s a bad tweet, doesn’t mean it’s fraud,” Spiro told the court.
Musk’s tweet suggested that new share prices – starting at $420 dollars – were 23% above Tesla’s closing price that day, increasing the company’s estimated value to $72 billion.
Many, however, quickly began to speculate whether the tweet was a joke, with several pointing out the stock price value of $420 was just a reference to cannabis culture. Musk had been talking with Saudi investors about a potential buyout, but the deal never went through.
After the tweet, the Securities and Exchange commission charged Musk with fraud and also charged Tesla with failing to adequately control Musk over his erratic tweets. Musk ultimately settled with the SEC, paying a $20 million fine and agreeing to step down as chairman of Tesla.
Tesla shareholders have become increasingly irate with Musk’s behavior, and many fear that he has failed to uphold his responsibilities at the company after his $44 billion purchase of Twitter. Tesla’s stock price has fallen more than 35% since this time last year.