Justia Business Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
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In 2016, Uber Technologies, Inc. acquired Ottomotto LLC to gain more traction in the autonomous vehicle space, hiring key employees from Google's autonomous vehicle program. Though steps were taken to ensure the former Google employees did not misuse Google's confidential information, it eventually came to light Google's proprietary information had indeed been misused. Uber settled Google's misappropriation claims by issuing additional Uber stock to Google, valued at $245 million. An Uber stockholder and former Uber employee filed suit in the Delaware Court of Chancery against the directors who approved the Otto acquisition. Plaintiff claimed the directors ignored the alleged theft of Google’s intellectual property and failed to investigate pre-closing diligence that would have revealed problems with the transaction. According to plaintiff, the board should not have relied on the CEO’s representations that the transaction had the necessary protections because he and Uber had a history of misusing the intellectual property of others. Defendants responded by moving to dismiss the complaint under Court of Chancery Rule 23.1. As they asserted, the plaintiff first had to make a demand on the board of directors before pursuing litigation on the corporation’s behalf. The Court of Chancery found that a majority of the Uber board of directors could have fairly considered the demand, and dismissed the complaint. The Delaware Supreme Court found, as did the Court of Chancery, that a majority of the board was disinterested because it had no real threat of personal liability due to Uber’s exculpatory charter provision. And a majority of the board was also independent of the one interested director. Therefore, the Supreme COurt affirmed the Court of Chancery's judgment dismissing the complaint with prejudice. View "McElrath v. Kalanick, et al." on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Delaware Supreme Court’s review centered on whether, under their respective bylaws, two closed-end investment funds, BlackRock Credit Allocation Income Trust (“BTZ”) and BlackRock New York Municipal Bond Trust (“BQH”, and with BTZ, the “Trusts”), properly excluded their shareholder, Saba Capital Master Fund, Ltd. (“Saba”), from presenting its slate of dissident trustee nominees for election at the respective annual meetings. The Court of Chancery held that such exclusion was improper, reasoning that the supplemental questionnaires that Saba’s nominees were asked to complete, exceeded the bylaws’ scope and, thus, the Trusts were “not permitted to rely on the five-day deadline for Saba’s compliance with that request.” It also held that laches did not bar Saba’s claims for equitable relief. On appeal, Appellants-Trusts contended the Court of Chancery erred by issuing an injunction requiring the Trusts to count the votes for Saba’s nominees at the respective annual meetings, since they claimed that Saba’s nominees were ineligible for election because of their failure to timely provide supplemental information in accordance with the clear and unambiguous bylaws. Appellants also contended the court erred in holding that Saba’s claims for equitable relief were not barred by laches. On appeal, the parties continued to dispute whether the Questionnaire was the type of “necessary” and “reasonably requested” subsequent information that falls within the meaning of Article I, Section 7(e)(ii) of the Trusts’ bylaws. The Delaware Supreme Court agreed with the Vice Chancellor that Section 7(e)(ii) was clear and unambiguous, but disagreed that Saba should have been excused from complying with the Bylaws’ clear deadline. Further, the Court affirmed the Vice Chancellor’s holding as to laches. View "BlackRock Credit Allocation Income Trust, et al. v. Saba Capital Master Fund, Ltd." on Justia Law

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Appellants Jeffrey Sheldon and Andras Konya, M.D., Ph.D., alleged in the Delaware Court of Chancery that several venture capital firms and certain directors of IDEV Technologies, Inc. (“IDEV”) violated their fiduciary duties by diluting the Appellants’ economic and voting interests in IDEV. Appellants argued their dilution claims were both derivative and direct under Gentile v. Rosette, 906 A.2d 91 (Del. 2006) because the venture capital firms constituted a “control group.” The Court of Chancery rejected that argument and held that Appellants’ dilution claims were solely derivative. Because Appellants did not make a demand on the IDEV board or plead demand futility, and because Appellants lost standing to pursue a derivative suit after Abbott Laboratories purchased IDEV and acquired Appellants’ shares, the court dismissed their complaint. On appeal, Appellants raised one issue: that, contrary to the Court of Chancery’s holding, they adequately pleaded that a control group existed, rendering their claims partially “direct” under Gentile. Therefore, according to Appellants, their complaint should not have been dismissed. The Delaware Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Chancery’s determination that Appellants failed to adequately allege that the venture capital firms functioned as a control group. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of the complaint with prejudice. View "Sheldon, et al. v. Pinto Technology Ventures, L.P., et al." on Justia Law

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Parke Bancorp (“Parke”) made a loan to 659 Chestnut LLC (“659 Chestnut”) in 2016 to finance the construction of an office building in Newark, Delaware. 659 Chestnut pleaded a claim in the Superior Court for money damages in the amount of a 1% prepayment penalty it had paid under protest when it paid off the loan. The basis of 659 Chestnut’s claim was that the parties were mutually mistaken as to the prepayment penalty provisions of the relevant loan documents. Parke counterclaimed for money damages in the amount of a 5% prepayment penalty, which it claimed was provided for in the agreement. After a bench trial, the Superior Court agreed with 659 Chestnut and entered judgment in its favor. After review, the Delaware Supreme Court reversed and directed entry of judgment in Parke’s favor on 659 Chestnut’s claim. Although Parke loan officer Timothy Cole negotiated on behalf of Parke and represented to 659 Chestnut during negotiations that there was a no-penalty window, the parties stipulated that: (1) everyone knew that Cole did not have authority to bind Parke to loan terms; and (2) everyone also knew that any terms proposed by Cole required both final documentation and approval by Parke’s loan committee. It was evident to the Supreme Court that 659 Chestnut did not offer clear and convincing evidence that Parke’s loan committee agreed to something other than the terms in the final loan documents. Accordingly, it Directed entry of judgment for Parke. View "Parke Bancorp Inc., et al. v. 659 Chestnut LLC" on Justia Law

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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