Justia Business Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
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Appellant, Overstock.com, Inc. (Overstock) appealed a superior court judgment awarding Appellees/Plaintiff-Relator William French and the State of Delaware (Plaintiffs), $22,000 in civil penalties and $7,266,412.94 in treble damages for violations of the Delaware False Claims and Reporting Act (the DFCRA or the Act). Plaintiffs alleged Overstock engaged in what they described as a scam to evade its obligation to escheat balances owed on abandoned gift cards to the Delaware State Escheator. It did so, they claimed, by making it falsely appear that its gift cards were held by an Ohio company, not Overstock. It was undisputed that Overstock did not file escheat reports or pay the money value of abandoned gift cards to the Delaware Escheator during the years in question. The case was tried before a jury on a theory that Overstock violated the Act between 2010 to 2013. Overstock raised several claims on appeal, but the Delaware Supreme Court addressed only one. Overstock contended the superior court misinterpreted the Act and erred by instructing the jury that the knowing failure to file escheat reports when required to do so was no different than actively making a false statement. Overstock contended that the failure to file such reports does not satisfy the Act’s requirement that a false record or statement be made or used to avoid, conceal or decrease an obligation to pay money to the Government. Furthermore, Overstock contended it did not make or use any false record or statement in connection with gift cards that violated the Act. The Supreme Court agreed that the evidence failed to establish the making or use of a false record or statement in violation of the Act. Accordingly, the superior court’s judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Overstock.com, Inc. v. State" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of law to the Delaware Supreme Court arising out of an appeal from the federal district court for the Central District of California. The question asked whether in a Delaware limited partnership, does the general partner’s request to the limited partner for a one-time capital contribution constitute a request for limited partner action such that the general partner has a duty of disclosure, and if the general partner fails to disclose material information in connection with the request, could the limited partner prevail on a breach of fiduciary duty claim and recover compensatory damages without proving reliance and causation? The Delaware Court responded in the negative: "[f]undamentally, this is not a duty to disclose case - it is a breach of the duty of loyalty case for failure to tell the truth." Under the stipulated facts of this dispute, the general partner’s request to a limited partner for a one-time capital contribution does not constitute a request for limited partner action such that the general partner has a fiduciary duty of disclosure. Even if the general partner had a fiduciary duty of disclosure, if the general partner failed to disclose material information in connection with the request, the limited partner cannot recover compensatory damages without proving reliance and causation. View "Dohmen v. Goodman" on Justia Law

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Hunt Strategic Utility Investment, L.L.C. (“Hunt”) owned a one-percent stake in Texas Transmission Holdings Corporation (“TTHC”), a utility holding company. The remaining ninety-nine percent was split equally between the Borealis entities (Borealis Power Holdings, Inc. and BPC Health Corporation, together, “Borealis”) and Cheyne Walk Investment PTE LTD (“Cheyne Walk”); neither Borealis nor Cheyne Walk owned a majority stake in TTHC, each owned 49.5%. TTHC wholly owned Texas Transmission Finco LLC, which wholly owned Texas Transmission Investment LLC (“TTI”). TTI in turn owned 19.75% of Oncor Electric Delivery Company LLC (“Oncor”). The remaining 80.25% of Oncor is held by Sempra Texas Holdings Corp. (“STH) and Sempra Texas Intermediate Holding Company, LLC (“STIH” and, together with STH, “Sempra”). This dispute involved a purported conflict between two separate contracts binding two discrete sets of parties who owned Oncor. Hunt’s sale of its one-percent stake is subject to the TTHC Shareholder Agreement (the “TTHC SA”), which gives Borealis and Cheyne Walk a right of first offer in the event that Hunt wishes to sell (the “ROFO”). But Sempra argued the sale was also subject to a separate contract - the Oncor Investor Rights Agreement (the “Oncor IRA”) - which provided Sempra with a right of first refusal (the “ROFR”) in the event Oncor LLC units were transferred. The Court of Chancery decided in Sempra’s favor, holding that Hunt’s sale of its 1% stake in TTHC was also a “transfer” of Oncor LLC units, as defined in the Oncor IRA. The court thus held Hunt’s proposed sale triggered Sempra’s ROFR, which preempted Borealis’s ROFO because the source of the ROFO was the TTHC SA, which itself stated that enforcement of the TTHC SA could not breach the Oncor IRA. After a de novo review of the language of both the TTHC SA and the Oncor IRA, the Delaware Supreme Court concluded the Oncor IRA, which, by its terms, restricted transfers by Oncor’s Minority Member (TTI) and not by Hunt, did not apply to Hunt’s sale of its interest in TTHC. The Court therefore reversed the judgment of the Court of Chancery. View "Borealis Power Holdings Inc. v. Hunt Strategic Utility Invesment" on Justia Law

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The issue raised on appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court centered on the validity of a provision in several Delaware corporations’ charters requiring actions arising under the federal Securities Act of 1933 (the “Securities Act” or “1933 Act”) to be filed in a federal court. Blue Apron Holdings, Inc., Roku, Inc., and Stitch Fix, Inc. were all Delaware corporations that launched initial public offerings in 2017. Before filing their registration statements with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”), each company adopted a federal-forum provision. Appellee Matthew Sciabacucchi bought shares of each company in its initial public offering or a short time later. He then sought a declaratory judgment in the Court of Chancery that the FFPs were invalid under Delaware law. The Court of Chancery held that the FFPs were indeed invalid because the “constitutive documents of a Delaware corporation cannot bind a plaintiff to a particular forum when the claim does not involve rights or relationships that were established by or under Delaware’s corporate law.” The Supreme Court disagreed and reversed, finding that such a provision could survive a facial challenge under Delaware law. View "Salzberg v. Sciabacucchi" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Delaware Supreme Court in these cases was the validity of a provision in several Delaware corporations’ charters requiring actions arising under the federal Securities Act of 1933 (the “Securities Act” or “1933 Act”) to be filed in a federal court. Blue Apron Holdings, Inc., Roku, Inc., and Stitch Fix, Inc. were all Delaware corporations that launched initial public offerings in 2017. Before filing their registration statements with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”), each company adopted a federal-forum provision. Appellee Matthew Sciabacucchi bought shares of each company in its initial public offering or a short time later. He then sought a declaratory judgment in the Court of Chancery that the FFPs were invalid under Delaware law. The Court of Chancery held that the FFPs were invalid because the “constitutive documents of a Delaware corporation cannot bind a plaintiff to a particular forum when the claim does not involve rights or relationships that were established by or under Delaware’s corporate law.” Because the Supreme Court determined such a provision could survive a facial challenge under Delaware law, judgment was reversed. View "Salzberg, et al. v. Sciabacucchi" on Justia Law

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The Third Circuit Court of Appeals certified a series of questions of law to the Delaware Supreme Court. The Questions arose in connection with the prosecution of a qui tam action under the False Claims Act (“FCA”), In re: Plavix Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation (No. II), brought against Sanofi-Aventis U.S. LLC, Sanofi-Aventis U.S. Services, Inc., Aventis, Inc., Aventis Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, and Bristol-Myers Squibb Pharmaceuticals Holding Partnership (together, “Defendants”). The relator bringing the action, on behalf of the United States and several states, is JKJ Partnership 2011 LLP, a Delaware limited liability partnership. The partnership consisted of three individuals who allegedly were each an “original source” of knowledge upon which the allegations against Defendants were based. The Questions arose when one of the partners was replaced by another partner, and an amended complaint was filed shortly thereafter. Upon the filing of the amended complaint, the Defendants moved to dismiss, alleging, in-part, that replacing the partner was impermissible the under the FCA’s “first-to-file” bar. The United States District Court for the District of New Jersey (the “District Court”) granted the motion on that ground. The partnership appealed to the Third Circuit, which, in turn, certified the Questions that related to the “construction or application of” a Delaware statute “which has not been, but needed to be settled by the Delaware Supreme Court. View "United States of America v. Sanofi Aventis U.S. LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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For tax reasons ISN Software Corporation wanted to convert from a C corporation to an S corporation. But four of its eight stockholders, representing about 25 percent of the outstanding stock, could not qualify as S Corporation stockholders. ISN sought advice from Richards, Layton & Finger, P.A. (RLF) about its options. RLF advised ISN that before a conversion ISN could use a merger to cash out some or all of the four stockholders. The cashed-out stockholders could then accept ISN’s cash-out offer or exercise appraisal rights under Delaware law. ISN did not proceed with the conversion, but decided to use a merger to cash out three of the four non-qualifying stockholders. After ISN completed the merger, RLF notified ISN that its advice might not have been correct. All four stockholders, including the remaining stockholder whom ISN wanted to exclude, were entitled to appraisal rights. ISN decided not to try and unwind the merger, instead proceeding with the merger and notified all four stockholders they were entitled to appraisal. ISN and RLF agreed that RLF would continue to represent ISN in any appraisal action. Three of the four stockholders, including the stockholder ISN wanted to exclude, eventually demanded appraisal. Years later, when things did not turn out as ISN had hoped (the appraised value of ISN stock ended up substantially higher than ISN had reserved for), ISN filed a legal malpractice claim against RLF. The Superior Court dismissed ISN’s August 1, 2018 complaint on statute of limitations grounds. The court found that the statute of limitations expired three years after RLF informed ISN of the erroneous advice, or, at the latest, three years after the stockholder ISN sought to exclude demanded appraisal. On appeal, ISN argued its legal malpractice claim did not accrue until after the appraisal action valued ISN’s stock because only then could ISN claim damages. Although it applied a different analysis, the Delaware Supreme Court agreed with the Superior Court that the statute of limitations began to run in January 2013. By the time ISN filed its malpractice claim on August 1, 2018, the statute of limitations had expired. Thus, the Superior Court’s judgment was affirmed. View "ISN Software Corporation v. Richards, Layton & Finger, P.A." on Justia Law

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When Erik Knight sold KnighTek, LLC to Jive Communications, Inc., Jive allegedly agreed to pay Knight $100,000 upfront and a revenue-based payment stream capped at $4.6 million. The continuing payments would convert to a lump sum payment if Jive’s ownership changed. Years later, Jive offered to cash out KnighTek for $1.75 million, a substantial discount from the remaining cap amount. According to Knight, Jive’s representatives told him the buy-out money depended on KnighTek accepting the proposal right away. If it did not, Jive would use the funds for other buyouts. Jive’s representatives also told Knight if he turned down the offer, it would take five years for Jive to make the remaining payments. Two days after KnighTek agreed to accept $1.75 million, Jive announced publicly it was being acquired by LogMeIn for $342 million - a change of control that according to KnighTek would have netted it a $2.7 million immediate payment under their earlier agreement. Believing it had been misled and shorted about $1 million, KnighTek filed suit against Jive, alleging that Jive fraudulently induced KnighTek to take the discounted payout. According to KnighTek, Jive and its representatives knew about the imminent change of control, misrepresented the availability of buyout funds, and duped KnighTek into accepting a discount when KnighTek could have received almost $1 million more and an immediate payment after the LogMeIn transaction. A Delaware superior court dismissed the complaint, finding some of Jive’s alleged misrepresentations lacked particularity and others failed to state a claim under Utah law, the law governing their agreements. The Delaware Supreme Court disagreed, finding that, viewing the complaint in the light most favorable to KnighTek, accepting as true its well-pleaded allegations, and drawing all reasonable inferences that logically flow from those allegations, KnighTek alleged fraud with sufficient particularity and stated a claim for fraudulent misrepresentation under Utah law. Thus the Court reversed the lower court’s dismissal, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Knightek, LLC v. Jive Communications, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Germaninvestments Aktiengesellschaft (AG) (“Germaninvestments”) was a Swiss holding company formed to manage assets for the Herrling family. Defendant Allomet Corporation (“Allomet”) was a Delaware corporation that manufactured high-performance, tough-coated metal powders using a proprietary technology for coating industrial products. Defendant Yanchep LLC (“Yanchep”), was also a Delaware limited liability company with Mirta Hereth as its sole member (together, Allomet and Yanchep are referred to as “Appellees”). Allomet struggled with declining performance as early as 2002. In mid-2016, Tanja Hausfelder, an insurance professional who apparently knew or worked with the Herrlings and Hereth, advised Herrling that Hereth was looking for a joint venture partner to join Allomet. After a meeting in Switzerland, Herrling and Hereth discussed a general structure for their joint venture to raise capital for Allomet. The issue this case presented for the Delaware Supreme Court’s review centered on whether the Court of Chancery correctly determined that a provision in a Restructuring and Loan Agreement between the parties was a mandatory, as opposed to a permissive, forum selection clause. The Court of Chancery held that Austrian law governed the analysis of the forum selection provision, and determined that the provision is governed by Article 25 of the European Regulation on Jurisdiction and Recognition and Enforcement of Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters. Based upon these conclusions, the court granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss in favor of the Austrian forum. The Delaware Supreme Court held that Appellees, who raised Austrian law as a basis for their motion to dismiss, had the burden of establishing the substance of Austrian law, and that the Court of Chancery erred in determining that Appellees had carried that burden. Accordingly, the forum selection provision analysis should have proceeded exclusively under Delaware law. Applying Delaware law, the Delaware Court determined the forum selection provision was permissive, not mandatory. “As such, the forum selection provision is no bar to the litigation proceeding in Delaware.” The Court affirmed the Court of Chancery’s holding that 8 Del. C. section 168 was not the proper mechanism for the relief Appellants sought. Therefore, this matter was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded to the Court of Chancery for further proceedings. View "Germaninvestments AG v. Allomet Corporation" on Justia Law

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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