Justia Business Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court

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Plaintiff Alex Tiger and John Dowling decided to revive the Boast tennis apparel brand. The pair started Boast Investors, LLC, which would later be converted into the named defendant in this case, BAI Capital Holdings, Inc. (“BAI”), as well as Branded Boast, LLC. Boast Investors owned a majority interest in Branded Boast, which in turn purchased the Boast intellectual property from tennis player Bill St. John’s holding company, Boast, Inc. Over the next several years, Tiger and Dowling had several conflicts in managing Boast Investors. Tiger and Dowling attempted to resolve their disagreements through negotiations but were not able to do so. In late 2014, Tiger delivered his first 8 Del. C. 220 (Delaware General Corporation Law "Section 220") demand to BAI, requesting 22 categories of documents. The stated purposes of Tiger’s inspection demand were to, among other things, value his shares, investigate potential mismanagement, and investigate director independence. BAI responded with a proposed confidentiality agreement, which would have Tiger from using BAI documents in subsequent litigation. Tiger rejected this proposal. BAI made a revised proposal that prohibited use of the documents in litigation other than derivative actions. Tiger then requested that BAI produce all documents that were not confidential, but BAI demurred. In 2017, Tiger sent a second Section 220 demand. BAI again offered Tiger the opportunity to review Tiger’s demanded documents but once again asked Tiger to sign a confidentiality agreement. As before, Tiger asked BAI to produce all non-confidential materials, but BAI again asked for a confidentiality agreement. In a report that was adopted by the Court of Chancery, a Master in Chancery held that books and records produced to a stockholder under Section 220 were “presumptively subject to a ‘reasonable confidentiality order.’” And in response to the stockholder’s request for a time limitation on such a confidentiality order, the Master responded that, because the stockholder had not demonstrated the existence of exigent circumstances, confidentiality should be maintained “indefinitely, unless and until the stockholder files suit, at which point confidentiality would be governed by the applicable court rules.” After the Court of Chancery adopted the Master’s Report, the stockholder appealed. The Delaware Supreme Court held that, although the Court of Chancery may condition Section 220 inspections on the entry of a reasonable confidentiality order, such inspections were not subject to a presumption of confidentiality. Furthermore, when the court, in the exercise of its discretion, enters a confidentiality order, the order’s temporal duration was not dependent on a showing of the absence of exigent circumstances by the stockholder. "Rather, the Court of Chancery should weigh the stockholder’s legitimate interests in free communication against the corporation’s legitimate interests in confidentiality." Nevertheless, although the Supreme Court disagreed with the Master’s formulation of the principles governing confidentiality in the Section 220 inspection context, the confidentiality order that the Court of Chancery ultimately entered seemed reasonable, and not an abuse of discretion, given the facts and circumstances of this case. View "Tiger v. Boast Apparel, Inc." on Justia Law

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CompoSecure, L.L.C., a manufacturer of metal credit cards, sought to invalidate the Sales Representative Agreement (the “Sales Agreement”) it signed with CardUX, LLC. The Delaware Court of Chancery held in a February 2018 post-trial decision that the Sales Agreement had not been properly approved under CompoSecure’s Amended and Restated Limited Liability Company Agreement, but that CompoSecure had impliedly ratified the Sales Agreement by its conduct. CompoSecure appealed. In a November 2018 opinion, the Delaware Supreme Court agreed with the trial court’s analysis as far as it went, but remanded to the trial court to answer a potentially outcome-determinative question that it had not answered: whether the Sales Agreement was a “Restricted Activity” under the LLC Agreement. If it was a Restricted Activity, the Supreme Court noted that the Sales Agreement would have been void and unenforceable. In its report on remand, the Court of Chancery held that the Sales Agreement was not a Restricted Activity, and thus, the Sales Agreement was not void. The Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Chancery’s conclusions, and affirmed. View "Composecure, L.L.C. v. Cardux, LLC f/k/a Affluent Card, LLC" on Justia Law

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Robert Nederlander, Sr. (“Robert”) controlled Nederlander of San Francisco Associates (“Nederlander”), a California general partnership. Carole Shorenstein Hays (“Carole”) and her family controlled CSH Theatres L.L.C. (“CSH”), a Delaware LLC. Nederlander and CSH each owned a fifty-percent membership interest in Shorenstein Hays-Nederlander Theatres LLC (“SHN”), a Delaware LLC that operated theaters in San Francisco under SHN’s Plan of Conversion and Operating Agreement of the Company (the “LLC Agreement”). In 2010, CSH Curran LLC, an entity that Carole co-managed, purchased the Curran Theatre in San Francisco (the “Curran”). SHN had been operating under a lease from the Curran’s then-owners, the Lurie Company, since the beginning of the partnership. Carole and her husband, Dr. Jeffrey Hays (“Jeff”) (collectively, the “Hayses”), did not extend that lease with SHN when it expired in 2014. Thereafter, the Hayses began staging productions at the Curran. In February 2014, CSH sued Nederlander in the Delaware Court of Chancery for a declaratory judgment that it had no legal obligation to renew the Curran lease. In September 2018, Nederlander sought a preliminary injunction against CSH and the Hayes to prevent them from staging two theatrical productions at the Curran (the “PI Action”). In the PI Action, Nederlander asserted four counts, but focused its injunction efforts on Count I, which asserted breach of contract claims (based upon the “provisions of Section 7.02 of the LLC Agreement or the contractual fiduciary duties owed to SHN and its members under the LLC Agreement) against all defendants in that action. The trial court denied that motion and shortly thereafter entered a partial final judgment as to Count I of Nederlander’s Complaint, pursuant to Court of Chancery Rule 54(b), to allow for an immediate appeal of the PI Decision. Nederlander argued on appeal that the trial court erred in the Declaratory Judgment Action by refusing to enforce Section 7.02(a) of the LLC Agreement against the Hayses. The Delaware Supreme Court agreed with Nederlander that the Court of Chancery misinterpreted Section 7.02(a) and that the Hayses could not stage competitive productions (not falling within Section 7.02(b)’s exceptions) at the Curran that violated its contractual duty to maximize SHN’s economic success. Accordingly, the Court reversed that aspect of the trial court’s decision. Because Nederlander did not challenge the court’s rulings in the Declaratory Judgment Action as to damages and other forms of relief, the Supreme Court declined to remand that action. Further, in view of the reversal of the trial court’s interpretation of Section 7.02(a) in the Declaratory Judgment Action, the Supreme Court ordered remand of the PI Action for further proceedings. The Court found no error with any other aspect of the trial court’s decisions. View "In Re: Shorenstein Hays-Nederlander Theatres LLC Appeals" on Justia Law

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Blue Bell Creameries USA, Inc. suffered a listeria outbreak in early 2015, causing the company to recall all of its products, shut down production at all of its plants, and lay off over a third of its workforce. Three people died as a result of the listeria outbreak. Pertinent here, stockholders also suffered losses because, after the operational shutdown, Blue Bell suffered a liquidity crisis that forced it to accept a dilutive private equity investment. Based on these unfortunate events, a stockholder brought a derivative suit against two key executives and against Blue Bell’s directors claiming breaches of the defendants’ fiduciary duties. The complaint alleges that the executives breached their duties of care and loyalty by knowingly disregarding contamination risks and failing to oversee the safety of Blue Bell’s food-making operations, and that the directors breached their duty of loyalty. The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to plead demand futility. The Court of Chancery granted the motion as to both claims. The Delaware reversed: "the mundane reality that Blue Bell is in a highly regulated industry and complied with some of the applicable regulations does not foreclose any pleading-stage inference that the directors’ lack of attentiveness rose to the level of bad faith indifference required to state a 'Caremark' claim. ... The complaint pled facts supporting a fair inference that no board-level system of monitoring or reporting on food safety existed." View "Marchand v. Barnhill, et al." on Justia Law

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In 2008, Invenergy Wind LLC, a wind energy developer, was raising money for a Series B investment round, and Leaf Clean Energy Company (“Leaf Parent”), an investment fund, expressed interest. After extensive negotiations, Leaf Parent invested $30 million in Invenergy Series B notes through a vehicle called Leaf Invenergy Company (“Leaf”). The agreement governing the Series B notes gave noteholders such as Leaf the right to convert to equity and incorporated an LLC agreement that the noteholders and Invenergy would execute upon conversion. The Series B Note Agreement and the Series B LLCA also included provisions that prohibited Invenergy from conducting a “Material Partial Sale” without Leaf’s consent unless Invenergy paid Leaf a premium called a “Target Multiple.” Although the parties renegotiated several aspects of their agreements with one another over the next few years, the consent provisions persisted in substantially similar form into a Third Amended and Restated LLC Agreement, which was the operative agreement in this dispute. Leaf filed suit after Invenergy closed a $1.8 billion asset sale - a transaction that Invenergy conceded was a Material Partial Sale - without first obtaining Leaf’s consent or redeeming Leaf’s interest for the Target Multiple. After a trial, the Court of Chancery concluded that, although Invenergy had breached the Material Partial Sale consent provisions, Leaf was not entitled to the Target Multiple. The court then awarded only nominal damages because, according to the court, Invenergy had engaged in an “efficient breach.” The Court of Chancery directed the parties to complete a buyout of Leaf’s interests pursuant to another LLC Agreement provision that Invenergy had invoked after Leaf had filed suit. The Delaware Supreme Court disagreed with the Court of Chancery’s interpretation of the consent provision and its award of nominal damages and therefore reversed. Because Invenergy conducted a Material Partial Sale without Leaf’s consent and without paying Leaf the Target Multiple, Leaf was entitled to the Target Multiple as contractual damages. The Court awarded Leaf the Target Multiple in damages on condition that it surrenderd its membership interests in Invenergy. View "Leaf Invenergy Co. v. Invenergy Renewables LLC" on Justia Law

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The Court of Chancery found that the fair value of Aruba Networks, Inc., as defined by 8 Del. C. 262, was $17.13 per share, which was the thirty-day average market price at which its shares traded before the media reported news of the transaction that gave rise to the appellants’ appraisal rights. The issue this case presented for the Delaware Supreme Court's review centered on whether the Court of Chancery abused its discretion in arriving at Aruba’s thirty-day average unaffected market price as the fair value of the appellants’ shares. Because the Court of Chancery’s decision to use Aruba’s stock price instead of the deal price minus synergies was rooted in an erroneous factual finding that lacked record support, the Supreme Court answered that in the positive and reversed the Court of Chancery’s judgment. On remand, the Court of Chancery was directed to enter a final judgment for petitioners, awarding them $19.10 per share, which reflected the deal price minus the portion of synergies left with the seller as estimated by the respondent in this case, Aruba. View "Verition Partners Master Fund Ltd., et al. v. Aruba Networks, Inc." on Justia Law

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Nicholas Olenik, a stockholder of nominal defendant Earthstone Energy, Inc., brought class and derivative claims against defendants, challenging a business combination between Earthstone and Bold Energy III LLC. As alleged in the complaint, EnCap Investments L.P. controlled Earthstone and Bold and caused Earthstone stockholders to approve an unfair transaction based on a misleading proxy statement. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, claiming the proxy statement disclosed fully and fairly all material facts about the transaction, and Earthstone conditioned its offer on the approval of a special committee and the vote of a majority of the minority stockholders. The Court of Chancery agreed with the defendants and dismissed the case. While the parties briefed this appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court decided Flood v. Synutra International, Inc. Under Synutra, to invoke the MFW protections in a controller-led transaction, the controller must “self-disable before the start of substantive economic negotiations.” The controller and the board’s special committee must also “bargain under the pressures exerted on both of them by these protections.” The Court cautioned that the MFW protections would not result in dismissal when the “plaintiff has pled facts that support a reasonable inference that the two procedural protections were not put in place early and before substantive economic negotiations took place.” So the Supreme Court determined the Court of Chancery held correctly plaintiff failed to state a disclosure claim. But, the complaint should not have been dismissed in its entirety: applying Synutra, which the Court of Chancery did not have the benefit of at the time of its decision, plaintiff pled facts supporting a reasonable inference that EnCap, Earthstone, and Bold engaged in substantive economic negotiations before the Earthstone special committee put in place the MFW conditions. The Court of Chancery’s decision was affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Olenik v. Lodzinski, et al." on Justia Law

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Nicholas Olenik, a stockholder of nominal defendant Earthstone Energy, Inc., brought class and derivative claims against defendants challenging a business combination between Earthstone and Bold Energy III LLC. As alleged in the complaint, EnCap Investments L.P. controlled Earthstone and Bold and caused Earthstone stockholders to approve an unfair transaction based on a misleading proxy statement. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on several grounds, principal among them that the proxy statement disclosed fully and fairly all material facts about the transaction, and Earthstone conditioned its offer on the approval of a special committee and the vote of a majority of the minority stockholders. The Court of Chancery agreed with defendants and dismissed the case. Two grounds were central to the court’s ruling: (1) the proxy statement informed the stockholders of all material facts about the transaction; and (2) although the court recognized that EnCap, Earthstone, and Bold worked on the transaction for months before the Earthstone special committee extended an offer with the so-called MFW conditions, it found those lengthy interactions “never rose to the level of bargaining: they were entirely exploratory in nature.” Thus, in the court’s view, the MFW protections applied, and the transaction was subject to business judgment review resulting in dismissal. While this appeal was pending, the Delaware Supreme Court decided Flood v. Synutra International, Inc. Under Synutra, to invoke the MFW protections in a controller-led transaction, the controller must “self-disable before the start of substantive economic negotiations.” The controller and the board’s special committee must also “bargain under the pressures exerted on both of them by these protections.” The Court cautioned that the MFW protections will not result in dismissal when the “plaintiff has pled facts that support a reasonable inference that the two procedural protections were not put in place early and before substantive economic negotiations took place.” The Supreme Court determined the Court of Chancery held correctly that plaintiff failed to state a disclosure claim. But, the complaint should not have been dismissed in its entirety: applying Synutra and its guidance on the MFW timing issue, which the Court of Chancery did not have the benefit of at the time of its decision, plaintiff has pled facts supporting a reasonable inference that EnCap, Earthstone, and Bold engaged in substantive economic negotiations before the Earthstone special committee put in place the MFW conditions. The Supreme Court also found no merit to defendants’ alternative ground for affirmance based on EnCap’s supposed lack of control of Earthstone. The Court of Chancery’s decision was affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Olenik v. Lodzinski, et al." on Justia Law

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Stockholder-plaintiff KT4 Partners LLC appealed the Court of Chancery’s post-trial order granting in part and denying in part KT4’s request to inspect various books and records of appellee Palantir Technologies Inc., a privately held technology company. The Court of Chancery found that KT4 had shown a proper purpose of investigating suspected wrongdoing in three areas: (1) “Palantir’s serial failures to hold annual stockholder meetings”; (2) Palantir’s amendments of its Investors’ Rights Agreement in a way that “eviscerated KT4’s (and other similarly situated stockholders’) contractual information rights after KT4 sought to exercise those rights”; and (3) Palantir’s potential violation of two stockholder agreements by failing to give stockholders notice and the opportunity to exercise their rights of first refusal, co-sale rights, and rights of first offer as to certain stock transactions. The Court ordered Palantir to produce the company’s stock ledger, its list of stockholders, information about the company’s directors and officers, year-end audited financial statements, books and records relating to annual stockholder meetings, books and records relating to any cofounder's sales of Palantir stock. The Court otherwise denied KT4's requests, including a request to inspect emails related to Investors' Rights Agreement amendments. Both sides appealed, but the Delaware Supreme Court was satisfied the Court of Chancery did not abuse its discretion with respect to all but two issues: (1) denying wholesale requests to inspect email relating to the Investors' Rights Agreement; (2) and requests to temper the jurisdictional use restriction imposed by the court. "Given that the court found a credible basis to investigate potential wrongdoing related to the violation of contracts executed in California, governed by California law, and among parties living or based in California, the basis for limiting KT4’s use in litigation of the inspection materials to Delaware and specifically the Court of Chancery was tenuous in the first place, and the court lacked reasonable grounds for denying the limited modifications that KT4 requested." View "KT4 Partners LLC v. Palantir Technologies, Inc." on Justia Law

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Two of Oxbow Carbon LLC’s minority Members, Crestview Partners, L.P. and Load Line Capital LLC, attempted to force a sale of Oxbow over the objection of Oxbow’s majority Members, William Koch and his affiliates (the “Koch Parties”). This dispute centered on the proper interpretation of the governing Third Amended and Restated Limited Liability Company Agreement (the “LLC Agreement”). Although the Court of Chancery found that the minority investors affiliated with Koch, Ingraham Investments LLC and Oxbow Carbon Investment Company LLC (collectively, the “Small Holders”), could block the sale unless it met certain payment conditions, the court nonetheless found a contractual gap in the LLC Agreement because the Board did not specify the terms and conditions under which the Small Holders acquired their units. Using the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, the Court of Chancery filled that gap by implying a “Top-Off” option for the Small Holders’ units, effectively stripping them of the right to block the proposed transaction. On appeal, Oxbow claimed that: (1) the trial court improperly applied the implied covenant; (2) there was no contractual gap; (3) Oxbow did not breach the LLC Agreement; and (4) the court’s rulings on remedies were made in error. The Delaware Supreme Court determined the Court of Chancery correctly interpreted the LLC Agreement’s plain language, but erred by finding a contractual gap concerning the admission of the Small Holders. Thus, the Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the Court of Chancery’s February 12, 2018, decision, and vacated its August 1, 2018, decision on remedies. View "Oxbow Carbon & Minerals Holdings, Inc., et al. v. Crestview-Oxbow Acquisition, LLC, et al." on Justia Law