Justia Business Law Opinion Summaries
Eshelman v. Puma Biotechnology, Inc.
Puma, a pharmaceutical company, created an investor presentation during a proxy contest with Eshelman, a Puma shareholder and the founder of PPD, another pharmaceutical company. Puma invited its shareholders to visit a link on its website where it had published the presentation, which indicated that, a decade earlier, while Eshelman was CEO of PPD, a clinical investigator falsified documents. The presentation was published at least 198 times. Puma also filed the presentation with the SEC, which made it permanently accessible on its website.Eshelman, a resident of North Carolina, initiated a diversity action with state-law claims of defamation. Puma is incorporated in Delaware and has its principal place of business in California; Auerbach, Puma’s CEO, resides in California. The court found defamatory per se Puma’s statements that Eshelman was “involved in clinical trial fraud” and that Eshelman was replaced as CEO after being forced to testify regarding fraud in 2008. A jury awarded Eshelman $15.85 million in compensatory damages and $6.5 million in punitive damages.The Fourth Circuit affirmed as to liability but vacated the award after finding that Puma waived its personal jurisdiction claim. Each of the statements at issue is capable of a singular, defamatory interpretation but “there is no evidence justifying such an enormous award.” View "Eshelman v. Puma Biotechnology, Inc." on Justia Law
Reorganized FLI v. Williams Companies
In 2005, Appellee Reorganized FLI, Inc.1 (“Farmland”) brought an action against Appellants alleging violations of the Kansas Restraint of Trade Act (“KRTA”). Farmland sought, amongst other things, full consideration damages pursuant to Kan. Stat. Ann. section 50-115. In 2019, Appellants moved for summary judgment on Farmland’s claims, arguing the repeal of section 50-115 operated retroactively to preclude Farmland from obtaining any relief. The Kansas District Court denied the motion for summary judgment but granted Appellants’ motion for leave to file an interlocutory appeal with the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. Appellants sought reversal of the district court’s denial of summary judgment and a ruling ordering the district court to enter judgment in their favor. After review, for reasons different from the district court, the Tenth Circuit concluded 50-115 applied retroactively to foreclose Farmland from recovering full consideration damages, Farmland was entitled to other relief if it prevailed on the merits of its claims. Thus, the repeal of 50-115 did not leave Farmland without a remedy and Appellants were not entitled to summary judgment. View "Reorganized FLI v. Williams Companies" on Justia Law
Greenberg v. Digital Media Solutions, LLC
The recipients received unsolicited emails that advertised products sold by DMS. The emails were not sent by DMS itself, but by third-party “marketing partners” of DMS. The recipients sued DMS under Business and Professions Code section 17529.5, which makes it unlawful to advertise in commercial emails under specified circumstances. The subject line of the emails typically states: Username “please confirm your extended warranty plan” and allegedly falsely referenced a preexisting business relationship for the purpose of inducing the recipient to open the spam. The trial court dismissed the suit.The court of appeal affirmed in part. The court correctly dismissed the challenge to the emails’ subject lines, which are not covered by cited sections of the Act. The court erred by dismissing the challenge to the emails’ domain names. A recipient of a commercial email advertisement sent by a third party is not precluded as a matter of law from stating a cause of action under section 17529.5 against the advertiser for the third party’s failure to provide sufficient information disclosing or making traceable the third party’s own identity. Such a cause is not precluded simply because such an email sufficiently identifies the advertiser. View "Greenberg v. Digital Media Solutions, LLC" on Justia Law
Corrales Favila v. Pasquarella
The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of plaintiff's motion to further amend the judgment entered against Raleigh Souther and Get Flipped, Inc. by adding defendant as a judgment debtor.The court concluded that adding defendant as a judgment debtor is neither unnecessary nor unfair; the order was not barred by claim or issue preclusion; and the record adequately supports the trial court's order. In this case, the Estate presented evidence that Moofly Productions was inadequately capitalized since all of its assets were being controlled by defendant and, as a corollary, that the entity and defendant had commingled funds. Furthermore, other facts considered in alter ego cases, an arguable lack of adherence to corporate formalities and business registration laws, also supported the trial court's determination. Most importantly, as established by the fraudulent conveyance judgment when considered together with the additional information concerning defendant's control of the Moofly Productions' bank accounts, failing to formally recognize defendant as a judgment debtor would produce an inequitable result, effectively preventing the Estate from enforcing the judgment it had obtained against Get Flipped, precisely the corrupt goal defendant sought to achieve. The court noted that the issue of control is not significant under the circumstances here. In any event, a judgment debtor may be added if the equities overwhelmingly favor the amendment and it is necessary to prevent an injustice, even if all the formal elements generally necessary to establish alter ego liability are not present. Finally, the court concluded that the amendment is not barred by laches. View "Corrales Favila v. Pasquarella" on Justia Law
Meland v. Weber
California Senate Bill 826 requires all corporations headquartered in California to have a minimum number of females on their boards of directors. Corporations that do not comply with SB 826 may be subject to monetary penalties. The shareholders of OSI, a corporation covered by SB 826, elect members of the board of directors. One shareholder of OSI challenged the constitutionality of SB 826 on the ground that it requires shareholders to discriminate on the basis of sex when exercising their voting rights, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.The Ninth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit for lack of standing. The plaintiff plausibly alleged that SB 826 requires or encourages him to discriminate based on sex and, therefore, adequately alleged an injury-in-fact, the only Article III standing element at issue. Plaintiff’s alleged injury was also distinct from any injury to the corporation, so he could bring his own Fourteenth Amendment challenge and had prudential standing to challenge SB 826. The injury was ongoing and neither speculative nor hypothetical, and the district court could grant meaningful relief. The case was therefore ripe and not moot. View "Meland v. Weber" on Justia Law
Daredevil, Inc. v. ZTE Corp.
Daredevil filed suit against ZTE for breach of contract, fraud, and unjust enrichment. After the case went to arbitration in Florida, Daredevil sought to add ZTE Corp., the parent company of ZTE USA, to its arbitration claims. The arbitrator rejected the request to add ZTE Corp., ruling that Daredevil's claims against ZTE Corp. were outside the scope of arbitration. Daredevil then filed this suit against ZTE Corp., alleging breach of contract, fraud, unjust enrichment, and tortious interference with contract. The arbitrator ultimately denied each of Daredevil's claims against ZTE USA. The arbitration award was confirmed by the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida and affirmed by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Daredevil subsequently reopened this case in the Eastern District of Missouri against ZTE Corp.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision to apply Florida law, holding that Daredevil's claims met the requirements for claim preclusion and were therefore barred. The court explained that Daredevil's current and previous claims share identity of the parties and identity of the cause of action, and Daredevil does not dispute that Florida's other two requirements are satisfied. In this case, privity exists between ZTE Corp. and ZTE USA where ZTE Corp. and ZTE USA are parent and subsidiary. Furthermore, Daredevil's current claims are so closely related to its arbitration claims and thus the identity-of-cause-of-action requirement has been met. Accordingly, Daredevil's claims against ZTE Corp. are barred by the decision in its prior arbitration against ZTE USA. View "Daredevil, Inc. v. ZTE Corp." on Justia Law
Guge v. Kassel Enterprises, Inc.
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the ruling of the district court making a "fair value" determination of Plaintiffs' shares in an election to purchase in lieu of dissolution proceeding, holding that the district court erred in determining the fair value of the shares without any discount for transaction costs or built-in gain taxes.This case concerned the three children of Lawrence and Georgia Kassel - Susan Guge, Peggy McDonald, and Craig Kassel. After their parents died, Susan and Peggy (together, Plaintiffs) filed a lawsuit against Craig, Craig's wife, two of Craig's corporations, and Kassel Enterprises, the family farming operation that the parents incorporated. Plaintiffs sought judicial dissolution of Kassel Enterprises under Iowa Code 490.1430(1)(b)(2) and 490.1430(1)(b)(4). Kassel Enterprises elected to purchase Plaintiffs' shares for fair value in lieu of a judicial dissolution of the corporation. Both sides appealed the district court's determination of fair value. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) remand was required for the court to determine and apply the appropriate deduction of transaction costs to the value of the corporation's assets in setting the fair value of Plaintiffs' shares; and (2) the district court's judgment was otherwise affirmed. View "Guge v. Kassel Enterprises, Inc." on Justia Law
Nestlé USA, Inc. v. Doe
Six individuals from Mali alleged that they were trafficked into Ivory Coast as child slaves to produce cocoa; they sued U.S.-based companies, Nestlé and Cargill, citing the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), which provides federal courts jurisdiction to hear claims brought “by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States,” 28 U.S.C. 1350. The companies do not own or operate cocoa farms in Ivory Coast, but they buy cocoa from farms located there and provide those farms with technical and financial resources. The Ninth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit.The Supreme Court reversed and remanded. The plaintiffs improperly sought extraterritorial application of the ATS. Where a statute, like the ATS, does not apply extraterritorially, plaintiffs must establish that “the conduct relevant to the statute’s focus occurred in the United States . . . even if other conduct occurred abroad.” Nearly all the conduct that allegedly aided and abetted forced labor—providing training, equipment, and cash to overseas farmers—occurred in Ivory Coast. Pleading general corporate activity, like “mere corporate presence,” does not draw a sufficient connection between the cause of action and domestic conduct. To plead facts sufficient to support a domestic application of the ATS, plaintiffs must allege more domestic conduct than general corporate activity common to most corporations. View "Nestlé USA, Inc. v. Doe" on Justia Law
Lara v. Castlepoint National Insurance Co.
In an appeal related to a California insurance insolvency proceeding, the New York Plaintiffs requested clarification from the San Francisco Superior Court as to whether its orders "prohibit or stay" their New York claims. In the insolvency case, the trial court appointed the California Insurance Commissioner (Commissioner) as conservator, and later as liquidator, of CastlePoint. The trial court, as part of the process, issued injunctions and approved releases pertaining to claims filed against or on behalf of CastlePoint or its assets.The Court of Appeal concluded that some of the causes of action in the New York lawsuit are not barred. These causes of action relate to: (i) the alleged breach of so-called "successor obligor provisions"; and (ii) an alleged $143 million payment from ACP to shareholders of TGIL. The court explained that these causes of action are not asserted against CastlePoint or the insurance companies that were merged into it, and there is no indication the Commissioner could have asserted these causes of action on behalf of the insolvent insurance companies. Therefore, the court reasoned that permitting them to proceed in New York will not interfere in any meaningful way with the plan for CastlePoint's liquidation, especially given the New York Plaintiffs' agreement not to assert any judgment against the insolvent insurance companies' estate or assets.However, prior to entering into releases, the Commissioner could have asserted fraudulent conveyance causes of action and a cause of action for unjust enrichment because they are based on alleged improper transfers of assets of the insolvent insurance companies. Accordingly, the court concluded that these causes of action are barred by the injunctions and releases in the liquidation proceeding. The court affirmed in part and reversed in part. View "Lara v. Castlepoint National Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Hewlett-Packard Co. v. Oracle Corp.
In 2010, after decades of cooperation in selling their hardware and software, HP and Oracle had a disagreement over Oracle’s decision to hire HP’s former CEO. The companies negotiated a confidential settlement agreement, including a “reaffirmation clause,” stating each company’s commitment to their strategic relationship and support of their shared customer base. Six months later, Oracle announced it would discontinue software development on one of HP’s server platforms.The trial judge held that the reaffirmation clause requires Oracle to continue to offer its product suite on certain HP server platforms until HP discontinues their sale. A jury subsequently found that Oracle had breached both the express terms of the settlement agreement and the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; it awarded HP $3.014 billion in damages. The court denied HP’s request for prejudgment interest. The court of appeal affirmed. The reaffirmation clause requires Oracle to continue to offer its product suite on certain HP server platforms. The trial court did not err in submitting to the jury the breach of contract and implied covenant claims. The court rejected Oracle’s argument that the judgment must be reversed based on violations of its constitutional right to petition and because HP’s expert’s testimony on damages was impermissibly speculative under California law and should have been excluded. View "Hewlett-Packard Co. v. Oracle Corp." on Justia Law