Justia Business Law Opinion Summaries

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After a $3.3 billion “roll up” of minority-held units involving a merger between Enbridge, Inc. and Spectra Energy Partners L.P. (“SEP”), Paul Morris, a former SEP minority unitholder, lost standing to litigate an alleged $661 million derivative suit on behalf of SEP against its general partner, Spectra Energy Partners (DE) GP, LP (“SEP GP”). Morris repeated the derivative claim dismissal by filing a new class action complaint that alleged the Enbridge/SEP merger exchange ratio was unfair because SEP GP agreed to a merger that did not reflect the material value of his derivative claims. The Court of Chancery granted SEP GP’s motion to dismiss the new complaint for lack of standing. The court held that, to have standing to bring a post-merger claim, Morris had to allege a viable and material derivative claim that the buyer would not assert and provided no value for in the merger. Focusing on the materiality requirement, the court first discounted the $661 million recovery to $112 million to reflect the public unitholders’ beneficial interest in the derivative litigation recovery. The court then discounted the $112 million further to $28 million to reflect what the court estimated was a one in four chance of success in the litigation. After the discounting, the $28 million, less than 1% of the merger consideration, was immaterial to a $3.3 billion merger. On appeal, Morris argued the trial court should not have dismissed the plaintiff’s direct claims for lack of standing. After its review, the Delaware Supreme Court agreed with Morris finding that, on a motion to dismiss for lack of standing, he sufficiently pled a direct claim attacking the fairness of the merger itself for SEP GP’s failure to secure value for his pending derivative claims. The Court of Chancery’s judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Morris v. Spectra Energy Partners" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was a preliminary injunction prohibiting the County of San Diego, its public health officer Wilma Wooten, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), and Governor Gavin Newsom from enforcing COVID-19-related public health restrictions against any business offering restaurant service in San Diego County, subject to safety protocols. Two San Diego businesses that offer live nude adult filed suit claiming the State and County restrictions on live entertainment violated their First Amendment right to freedom of expression. The State and County eventually loosened their restrictions on live entertainment, but as the COVID-19 pandemic worsened, they imposed new restrictions on restaurants. These new restaurant restrictions severely curtailed the adult entertainment businesses’ operations. But these new restrictions were unrelated to live entertainment or the First Amendment. Despite the narrow scope of the issues presented, the trial court granted expansive relief when it issued the injunction challenged here. "It is a fundamental aspect of procedural due process that, before relief can be granted against a party, the party must have notice of such relief and an opportunity to be heard." The Court of Appeal determined that because restaurant restrictions were never part of the adult entertainment businesses’ claims, the State and County had no notice or opportunity to address them. The trial court therefore erred by enjoining the State and County from enforcing COVID-19-related public health restrictions on restaurants. Because the procedure used by the trial court was improper, the trial court’s actions left the Court of Appeal unable to address the substance of this challenge to restaurant restrictions. View "Midway Venture LLC v. County of San Diego" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of a false advertising claim under the Lanham Act, remanding for further proceedings. At issue is whether the First Amendment shields a publisher of supposedly independent product reviews if it has secretly rigged the ratings to favor one company in exchange for compensation. The panel ruled that this speech qualifies as commercial speech only, and that a nonfavored company may potentially sue the publisher for misrepresentation under the Lanham Act.In this case, Ariix alleges that NutriSearch rigged its ratings to favor Usana under a hidden financial arrangement. The panel held that Ariix plausibly alleges that the nutritional supplement guide is commercial speech, is sufficiently disseminated, and contains actionable statements of fact. However, the panel remanded for the district court to consider the "purpose of influencing" element under the Lanham Act. View "Ariix, LLC v. NutriSearch Corp." on Justia Law

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In 2005-2007, Merchant purchased Michigan hotel properties from NRB and financed the purchases through NRB, using corporate entities as the buyers. Merchant sold interests in those entities to investors. The hotels had been appraised at inflated amounts and sold for about twice their fair values. When the corporate entities defaulted on their loan payments, NRB foreclosed in 2009. Merchant claimed that NRB’s executives colluded with an appraiser to sell overvalued real estate to unsuspecting purchasers, wait for default, foreclose, and then repeat the process.In 2010, an investor sued Merchant, Merchant’s companies, NRB, and 12 others for investor fraud. In 2014 the FDIC took NRB into receivership and substituted for NRB as a defendant. Merchant and his companies brought a cross-complaint, alleging violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and state laws. A Fifth Amended Cross-Complaint raised 14 counts against 10 defendants, including two law firms that provided NRB’s legal work. The district court dismissed several counts; others remain active.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of claims against the law firms. The counts under state law are untimely under Illinois’s statute of repose. The cross-complaint effectively admits that one firm played no role in NRB’s alleged fraud perpetrated against Merchant in 2005-2007. The cross-complaint failed to allege that either law firm conducted or participated in the activities of a RICO enterprise; neither firm could be liable under 18 U.S.C. 1962(c). View "Muskegan Hotels, LLC v. Patel" on Justia Law

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Appellant Alex Bäcker was the co-founder and majority common stockholder of QLess, Inc. In June 2019, the Company’s board removed Alex as CEO following an internal investigation into workplace complaints. Alex eventually relented to the change and expressed support for his successor, Kevin Grauman. In the week leading up to the November 15, 2019 board meeting, the Company’s outside counsel circulated board resolutions that, among other things, would appoint Grauman to the board. Alex made a series of statements that collectively represented support for Grauman’s appointment. On the eve of the board meeting, the Company’s independent director unexpectedly resigned, giving Alex a board majority. Alex leapt into action, devising a secret counter agenda to fire Grauman and lock-in Alex’s control of the Company. Alex caught his fellow directors by surprise at the meeting, passing his counter agenda over objections and seizing control of the Company. Palisades Growth Capital II, L.P., the majority owner of the Company’s Series A preferred stock, filed a complaint in the Court of Chancery seeking to reverse Alex’s actions. Following a paper trial, the court held that, even if technically legal, the board’s actions were invalid as a matter of equity because Alex affirmatively deceived a fellow director to establish a quorum. After review of the parties briefs and the record on appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court held the Court of Chancery's finding of affirmative deception was not clearly erroneous. The Supreme Court also held that the Court of Chancery did not impose an equitable notice requirement for regular board meetings, that Appellants failed to properly raise an equitable participation defense below, and that the Court of Chancery did not exercise its equitable powers to grant relief for a de facto breach of contract claim. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Chancery’s March 26, 2020 Memorandum Opinion. View "Backer v. Palisades Growth Capital" on Justia Law

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Shah, a board-certified pediatric anesthesiology specialist, joined STAR, which became the exclusive provider of anesthesia services at several San Antonio-area acute-care hospitals, including NCB. BHS guaranteed STAR $500,000 in collections for pediatric anesthesia services provided at NCB. In 2012, STAR became the exclusive provider of anesthesia services at four BHS hospitals. Shah was not a party to the 2012 agreement, nor was he named in the pediatric income guarantee but he continued to practice as a STAR pediatric anesthesiologist, becoming the primary beneficiary of STAR’s guaranteed collections. In 2016, STAR and BHS amended the 2012 agreement, eliminating the pediatric income guarantee. The exclusivity provision remained. STAR terminated its relationship with Shah. Shah could no longer provide pediatric anesthesia services at NCB or any other BHS facility included in the exclusivity agreement. Shah requested authorization to provide pediatric anesthesia care at NCB; BHS responded that Shah’s reappointment to the Medical Staff of BHS and his privileges were approved but the exclusivity provision precluded Shah from providing pediatric anesthesia services at six BHS facilities (including NCB). After unsuccessfully suing STAR in Texas state court, Shah sued under the Sherman Act.The Fifth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the BHS parties. Shah’s definition of the relevant market is insufficient as a matter of law; it does not encompass all interchangeable substitute products because it does not include the two non-BHS facilities that the BHS parties contend serve as viable alternatives to BHS facilities. View "Shah v. VHS San Antonio Partners, LLC" on Justia Law

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Louisiana bar owners challenged the Governor’s restrictions to the operation of bars in response to COVID-19. The Bar Closure Order prohibited on-site consumption of alcohol and food at “bars,” but permitted on-site consumption of alcohol and food at “restaurants.” Two district courts denied the bar owners’ motions for preliminary injunctive relief. The Fifth Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court applied “rational basis” review. The classification at issue is based on a business permit, and does not differentiate on the basis of a suspect class. The Bar Closure Order’s differential treatment of bars operating with AG permits is at least rationally related to reducing the spread of COVID-19 in higher-risk environments. A classification does not fail rational-basis review because it is not made with mathematical nicety or because in practice it results in some inequality. View "Big Tyme Investments, L.L.C. v. Edwards" on Justia Law

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R & F Financial Services, LLC, appealed a district court order dismissing its claims against Cudd Pressure Control, Inc., and RPC, Inc., and granting Cudd’s and RPC’s counterclaims and cross claims. North American Building Solutions, LLC (“NABS”) and Cudd Pressure Control, Inc. (“Cudd”) entered into an agreement where Cudd would lease from NABS 60 temporary housing modules for employee housing. The terms of the Lease required Cudd, at its sole expense, to obtain any conditional use permits, variances or zoning approvals “required by any local, city, township, county or state authorities, which are necessary for the installation and construction of the modules upon the Real Property.” The Lease was set to commence following substantial completion of the installation of all the modules and was to expire 60 months following the commencement date. NABS assigned its interest in 28 modules under lease to R & F; NABS sold the modules to R & F by bill of sale. Cudd accepted the final 32 modules from NABS, to which R & F was not a party. RPC, as the parent company of Cudd, guaranteed Cudd’s performance of payment obligations to R & F under the Lease. The Lease was for a set term and did not contain an option for Cudd to purchase the modules at the expiration of that set term. At the time R & F purchased NABS’s interest in the Lease, it understood the purpose of the Lease was to fulfill Cudd’s need for employee housing. The County required a conditional use permit for workforce housing, and Cudd had been issued a permit allowing for the use of the modules as workforce housing. The City of Williston annexed the Property within its corporate limits. Thereafter, the City adopted a resolution that declared all workforce housing was temporary and extension of permits was subject to review. The City modified the expiration date policy and extended all approvals for workforce housing facilities to December 31, 2015, such that all permits would expire the same day. In December 2015, Cudd successfully extended its permit for the maximum time permitted to July 1, 2016. Cudd sent a letter to NABS stating that it viewed the Lease as being terminated by operation of law as of July 1, 2016. R & F argued the trial court erred in finding the Lease was not a finance lease and, in the alternative, that the court erred in finding the doctrines of impossibility of performance and frustration of purpose to be inapplicable. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "R & F Financial Services v. North American Building Solutions, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff DIA Brewing Co., LLC contended that after the district court entered an order dismissing this action pursuant to C.R.C.P.12(b)(1), C.R.C.P. 15(a) gave DIA Brewing the right to amend its complaint as a matter of course and without leave of the court or the consent of defendants because no responsive pleading had been filed. Defendants MCE-DIA, LLC and Richard Schaden (collectively, “MCE-DIA”), in contrast, contended that the C.R.C.P. 12(b)(1) dismissal resulted in a final judgment that cut off DIA Brewing’s right to amend as a matter of course under C.R.C.P. 15(a). Thus: if DIA Brewing wanted to amend, it was required to seek leave of the court or to obtain MCE-DIA’s written consent. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve this dispute, and concluded a final judgment cuts off a plaintiff’s right to file an amended complaint as a matter of course under C.R.C.P. 15(a), and the dismissal order here was a final judgment. Therefore, DIA Brewing did not have the right to amend its complaint as a matter of course, but obligated to request the trial court for leave to amend, or indicate MCE-DIA had consented in writing to the filing of an amended complaint. In this case, the Supreme Court determined the amended pleading was not futile, stating viable claims for relief. The Court thus affirmed the appellate court, though on different grounds, and remanded this case with directions that this case be returned to the district court to accept DIA Brewing’s amended complaint for filing, after which MCE-DIA could respond in the ordinary course. View "Schaden v. DIA Brewing Co., LLC" on Justia Law

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Sterling Bank purchased Damian Services. The stock purchase agreement set up a two-million-dollar escrow to resolve disputes arising after the purchase and established comprehensive rights, obligations, remedies, and procedures for resolving disputes. After the purchase, a former Damian employee called some of Damian’s clients to tell them of a billing practice that the sellers had instituted years earlier. When Sterling learned of the situation, it investigated with the help of a forensic accountant. Sterling concluded that under the sellers’ management, Damian had overcharged its clients by over one million dollars. Sterling refunded the overpayments to its current clients, then unsuccessfully demanded indemnification from the escrow, claiming that the sellers had misrepresented Damian’s liabilities and vulnerability to litigation.The district court granted the sellers summary judgment, reasoning that Sterling missed the deadline for claiming indemnification under the stock purchase agreement. The court denied the sellers’ request for statutory interest on the escrow money.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Whether Sterling’s demand for indemnification was late depends on disputed facts. Even if the demand was late, however, the agreement’s elaborate terms provide that any delay could be held against Sterling only “to the extent that [sellers] irrevocably forfeit[] rights or defenses by reason of such failure.” Undisputed facts show that the sellers have not irrevocably forfeited any claims or defenses. View "Sterling National Bank v. Block" on Justia Law