Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court

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In this appeal, the issue before the Delaware Supreme Court was the limits of the stockholder ratification defense when directors make equity awards to themselves under the general parameters of an equity incentive plan. In the absence of stockholder approval, if a stockholder properly challenges equity incentive plan awards the directors grant to themselves, the directors must prove that the awards are entirely fair to the corporation. But, when the stockholders have approved an equity incentive plan, the affirmative defense of stockholder ratification comes into play. Here, the Equity Incentive Plan (“EIP”) approved by the stockholders left it to the discretion of the directors to allocate up to 30% of all option or restricted stock shares available as awards to themselves. The plaintiffs alleged facts leading to a pleading-stage reasonable inference that the directors breached their fiduciary duties by awarding excessive equity awards to themselves under the EIP. Thus, a stockholder ratification defense was not available to dismiss the case, and the directors had to demonstrate the fairness of the awards to the Company. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Chancery’s decision dismissing the complaint and remanded for further proceedings. View "In Re Investors Bancorp, Inc. Stockholder Litigation" on Justia Law

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When Exelon Generation Acquisitions purchased Deere & Company’s wind energy business, it agreed to make earn-out payments to Deere if it reached certain milestones in the development of three wind farms that were underway at the time of the sale. Included in the sale was a binding power purchase agreement Deere secured from a local utility to purchase energy from the wind farm once it became operational. One of the three projects at issue in this appeal, the Blissfield Wind Project (in Lenawee County, Michigan) could not come to fruition because of civic opposition. Exelon managed to acquire another nascent wind farm from a different developer (Gratiot County, Michigan). Exelon managed to persuade the local utility to transfer the power purchase agreement there. The Gratiot County site was successful. Deere learned of Exelon’s success with the new site (and use of the power purchase agreement) and sue to recover the earn-out payment. Deere argued the earn-out payment obligation traveled from the Lenawee County farm to the Gratiot County farm. Exelon denied that it relocated the project, instead, it was prevented from developing the Blissfield farm by forces beyond its control. The Superior Court sided with Deere’s interpretation of the power purchase agreement, and ordered Exelon to pay the earn-out. The Delaware Supreme Court disagreed with this interpretation of the purchase agreement and reversed. View "Exelon Generation Acquisitions, LLC v. Deere & Company" on Justia Law

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The remaining petitioners in this matter were former stockholders of Dell, Inc. who validly exercised their appraisal rights instead of voting for a buyout led by the Company’s founder and CEO, Michael Dell, and affiliates of a private equity firm, Silver Lake Partners (“Silver Lake”). In perfecting their appraisal rights, petitioners acted on their belief that Dell’s shares were worth more than the deal price of $13.75 per share, which was already a 37% premium to the Company’s ninety-day-average unaffected stock price. The Delaware appraisal statute allows stockholders who perfect their appraisal rights to receive “fair value” for their shares as of the merger date instead of the merger consideration. Furthermore, the statute requires the Court of Chancery to assess the “fair value” of such shares and, in doing so, “take into account all relevant factors.” The trial court took into account all the relevant factors presented by the parties in advocating for their view of fair value and arrived at its own determination of fair value. The Delaware Supreme Court found the problem with the trial court’s opinion was not that it failed to take into account the stock price and deal price; the court erred because its reasons for giving that data no weight (and for relying instead exclusively on its own discounted cash flow (“DCF”) analysis to reach a fair value calculation of $17.62) did not follow from the court’s key factual findings and from relevant, accepted financial principles. "[T]he evidence suggests that the market for Dell’s shares was actually efficient and, therefore, likely a possible proxy for fair value. Further, the trial court concluded that several features of management-led buyout (MBO) transactions render the deal prices resulting from such transactions unreliable. But the trial court’s own findings suggest that, even though this was an MBO transaction, these features were largely absent here. Moreover, even if it were not possible to determine the precise amount of that market data’s imperfection, as the Court of Chancery concluded, the trial court’s decision to rely 'exclusively' on its own DCF analysis is based on several assumptions that are not grounded in relevant, accepted financial principles." View "Dell, Inc. v. Magnetar Global Event Driven Master Fund Ltd, et al." on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal are the limits of the stockholder ratification defense when directors make equity awards to themselves under the general parameters of an equity incentive plan. In the absence of stockholder approval, if a stockholder properly challenges equity incentive plan awards the directors grant to themselves, the directors must prove that the awards are entirely fair to the corporation. But, when the stockholders have approved an equity incentive plan, the affirmative defense of stockholder ratification comes into play. The Court of Chancery has recognized a ratification defense for discretionary plans as long as the plan has “meaningful limits” on the awards directors can make to themselves. Here, the Equity Incentive Plan (“EIP”) approved by the stockholders left it to the discretion of the directors to allocate up to 30% of all option or restricted stock shares available as awards to themselves. Plaintiffs have alleged facts leading to a pleading stage reasonable inference that the directors breached their fiduciary duties by awarding excessive equity awards to themselves under the EIP. The Delaware Supreme Court determined a stockholder ratification defense was not available to dismiss the case, and the directors had to demonstrate the fairness of the awards to the Company. The Court reversed the Court of Chancery’s decision dismissing the complaint and remanded this matter for further proceedings. View "In Re Investors Bancorp, Inc. Stockholder Litigation" on Justia Law

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A Cayman Islands investment fund and two of its Delaware subsidiaries (collectively “Gramercy”) sued a bank organized under Delaware law with offices in Illinois and Bulgaria (Bulgarian-American Enterprise Fund, or “Bulgarian-American”) and an Irish bank headquartered in Dublin (Allied Irish Banks, P.L.C., or “Allied”) over claims they admitted arose under Bulgarian law and had no connection to activity that took place in Delaware. Delaware was the second forum in which Gramercy sought to press its Bulgarian claims. The first forum was Illinois, where: (i) after extensive discovery and briefing on the issue of forum non conveniens, the Circuit Court of Cook County in Chicago granted a motion to dismiss; (ii) the Illinois Appellate Court unanimously affirmed the Circuit Court’s dismissal; and (iii) the Illinois Supreme Court denied Gramercy’s petition for leave to appeal. Rather than going to Bulgaria and suing in the forum whose laws governed its claims and where its investment in Bulgarian-American took place, Gramercy sued in Delaware. Bulgarian-American and Allied filed a motion to dismiss, arguing Bulgaria was the appropriate forum for the litigation. In granting Bulgarian-American and Allied’s motion and holding that Gramercy’s suit did not merit the overwhelming hardship standard afforded to first-filed actions under Cryo-Maid, the Delaware Court of Chancery was forced to address confusing arguments about this Court’s forum non conveniens precedent, in particular, the relationship among the Delaware Supreme Court’s longstanding decisions in “CryoMaid” and “McWane,” and a more recent decision, “Lisa, S.A. v. Mayorga.” Ultimately, the Delaware Supreme Court determined the Court of Chancery correctly held that because the Delaware action was not first filed, and that to obtain dismissal on forum non conveniens grounds, Bulgarian-American and Allied did not need to show overwhelming hardship. But, because the Illinois case was no longer pending, and was not dismissed on the merits like the first-filed action in Lisa, McWane was no longer the proper focus for the Court of Chancery’s analysis. The Illinois action had relevance in the forum non conveniens analysis because it meant that analysis would not be tilted in Gramercy’s favor under the overwhelming hardship standard. But, because the Illinois action was not dismissed on its merits, but instead for forum non conveniens, it should not have shifted the Court’s focus from Cryo-Maid to McWane. Between Cryo-Maid’s overwhelming hardship standard and McWane’s discretionary standard lies an intermediate analysis that applies to situations like Gramercy’s: a straightforward assessment of the CryoMaid factors, where dismissal is appropriate if those factors weigh in favor of that outcome. View "Gramercy Emerging Markets Fund, et al. v. Allied Irish Banks, P.L.C., et al." on Justia Law

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In 2011, Heartland Payment Systems, Inc. (“Heartland”), a credit card processing company, wanted to expand its school operations. To pursue this strategy, Heartland purchased some of the assets of School Link Technologies, Inc. (“SL-Tech”). SL-Tech marketed software products to schools to manage their foodservice operations. Through the purchase of SL-Tech, Heartland acquired WebSMARTT, a software program that allowed schools to monitor school meal nutrition through point of sale, free and reduced meal eligibility tracking, menu planning, nutrient analysis, and recordkeeping. It was intended that WebSMARTT and similar applications collect and use data collected through the programs to model the effect of menu plans on staffing, equipment, and other costs. The parties executed three contracts involving Heartland, SL-Tech, and SLTech’s CEO, Lawrence Goodman to create “inTEAM” the software to be built from the WebSMARTT technology. The contracts contained non-compete, non- solicitation, exclusivity, cross-marketing, and support obligations. The parties quickly lost sight of their post-closing contractual obligations: inTEAM developed the new software; Goodman tried to solicit one of Heartland’s customers. Heartland paired with one of inTEAM’s biggest competitors to submit a bid to provide software to the Texas Department of Agriculture. The disputes eventually found their way to the Court of Chancery through breach of contract claims and counterclaims. After trial, the Court of Chancery found inTEAM did not breach any of its contractual obligations, but Goodman and Heartland had breached certain of theirs. The Delaware Supreme Court reversed the Court of Chancery’s finding that Goodman and inTEAM did not breach their non-compete obligations under the various agreements, but otherwise affirmed the court’s decision. As for the remaining issues, the Court of Chancery properly found that Heartland breached its contractual obligations by collaborating with an inTEAM competitor, and Goodman breached by soliciting a customer of Heartland. The court also did not abuse its discretion when it required an extension of the non-competes and assessed damages against Goodman. The Supreme Court therefore affirmed in part and reversed the Court of Chancery’s decision. View "Heartland Payment Systems, LLC v. InTeam Associates LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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DFC Global Corporation (“DFC”) provided alternative consumer financial services, predominately payday loans. The 2014 transaction giving rise to this appraisal action resulted in DFC being taken private by Lone Star, a private equity firm. DFC was a highly leveraged company. Its capital structure was comprised of about $1.1 billion of debt as compared to a $367.4 million equity market capitalization, 20 resulting in a debt-to-equity ratio of 300% and a debt-to-total capitalization ratio of 75%. In the years leading up to the merger, DFC faced heightened regulatory scrutiny in the US, UK and Canada. The parties challenged DFC’s valuation for merger purposes. The Delaware Supreme Court surmised DFC wanted the Court to establish a presumption that in certain cases involving arm’s-length mergers, the price of the transaction giving rise to appraisal rights was the best estimate of fair value. The Supreme Court declined to do so, which in the Court’s view had no basis in the statutory text, which gave the Court of Chancery in the first instance the discretion to “determine the fair value of the shares” by taking into account “all relevant factors.” The Supreme Court must give deference to the Court of Chancery if its determination of fair value has a reasonable basis in the record and in accepted financial principles relevant to determining the value of corporations and their stock. Ultimately, the Delaware Supreme Court reversed and remanded the Court of Chancery’s valuation, remanding for the Chancellor to reassess the weight he chooses to afford various factors potentially relevant to fair value, and he may conclude that his findings regarding the competitive process leading to the transaction, when considered in light of other relevant factors, such as the views of the debt markets regarding the company’s expected performance and the failure of the company to meet its revised projections, suggest that the deal price was the most reliable indication of fair value. View "DFC Global Corporation v. Muirfield Value Partners, L.P., et al." on Justia Law

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Chicago Bridge & Iron Company N.V. (“Chicago Bridge”) and Westinghouse Electric Company (“Westinghouse”) had an extensive collaboration and complicated commercial relationship involving the construction of nuclear power plants by Chicago Bridge’s subsidiary, CB&I Stone & Webster, Inc. (“Stone”). As delays and cost overruns mounted, this relationship became contentious. To resolve their differences, Chicago Bridge agreed to sell Stone to Westinghouse. The purchase agreement was unusual in a few key respects: (1) the purchase price at closing by Westinghouse was set in the contract at zero ; and (2) Westinghouse agreed that its sole remedy if Chicago Bridge breached its representations and warranties was to refuse to close, and that Chicago Bridge would have no liability for monetary damages post-closing (the “Liability Bar”). In contesting Chicago Bridge’s calculation of the Final Purchase Price, Westinghouse asserted that Chicago Bridge (which had been paid zero at closing and had invested approximately $1 billion in the plants in the six months leading to the December 31, 2015 closing) owed it nearly $2 billion. Westinghouse conceded the overwhelming percentage of its claims were based on the proposition that Chicago Bridge’s historical financial statements (the ones on which Westinghouse could make no post-closing claim) were not based on a proper application of generally accepted accounting principles (“GAAP”). Chicago Bridge and Westinghouse unsuccessfully attempted to resolve their differences. But, once it was clear that Westinghouse would seek to have the Independent Auditor review Chicago Bridge’s accounting practices, Chicago Bridge filed this action seeking a declaration that Westinghouse’s changes based on assertions that Stone’s financial statements and accounting methodologies were not GAAP compliant were not appropriate disputes for the Independent Auditor to resolve when those changes were, in essence, claims that Chicago Bridge breached the Purchase Agreement’s representations and warranties and therefore were foreclosed by the Liability Bar. Westinghouse moved for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that the Purchase Agreement established a mandatory process for resolving the parties’ disagreements. The Court of Chancery ruled in favor of Westinghouse, reading the process the Purchase Agreement set out for calculating certain payments (called the “True Up”) as providing Westinghouse with a wide-ranging right to challenge any accounting principle used by Chicago Bridge. The Delaware Supreme Court concluded the Court of Chancery erred in interpreting the Purchase Agreement this way. The Court therefore reversed and required entry of a judgment on the pleadings for Chicago Bridge. View "Chicago Bridge & Iron Company N.V. v. Westinghouse Electric Co." on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from a merger agreement under which two companies involved in the gas pipeline business, Energy Transfer Equity, L.P. (“ETE”), agreed to acquire the assets of The Williams Companies, Inc., (“Williams”). The Merger Agreement signed by Williams and ETE contemplated two steps: (1) Williams would merge into a new entity, Energy Transfer Corp LP (“ETC”); and (2) the transfer of Williams’ assets to ETE in exchange for Class E partnership units “would” be a tax-free exchange of a partnership interest for assets under Section 721(a) of the Internal Revenue Code. After the parties entered into the Agreement, the energy market suffered a severe decline which caused a significant loss in the value of assets of the type held by Williams and ETE. This caused the transaction to become financially undesirable to ETE. This issue ultimately led to ETE’s tax counsel, Latham & Watkins, LLP (Latham) being unwilling to issue the 721 opinion. Since the 721 opinion was a condition of the transaction, ETE indicated that it would not proceed with the merger. Williams then sought to enjoin ETE from terminating the Merger Agreement. The Court of Chancery rejected Williams’ arguments. After review, the Supreme Court found the Court of Chancery adopted an unduly narrow view of the obligations imposed by the covenants in the Agreement. The Supreme Court agreed with Williams that if a proper analysis of ETE’s covenants led to a conclusion that ETE breached those covenants, the burden would have shifted to ETE to prove that its breaches did not materially contribute to the failure of the closing condition. Since the facts as found by the Court of Chancery were that ETE’s lack of conduct did not contribute to Latham’s decision not to issue the 721 opinion, the Supreme Court was satisfied that when the burden of proving that ETE’s alleged breach of covenants is properly placed on it, ETE did meet its burden of proving that any alleged breach of covenant did not materially contribute to the failure of the Latham condition. The Court also agrees with the Court of Chancery’s finding that ETE was not estopped from terminating the Agreement. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Chancery was affirmed. View "Williams Companies, Inc. v. Energy Transfer Equity, L.P." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Peter Brinckerhoff and his trust, were long-term investors in Enbridge Energy Partners, L.P. (“EEP”), a Delaware master limited partnership (“MLP”). A benefit under Delaware law of this business structure was the ability to eliminate common law duties in favor of contractual ones, thereby restricting disputes to the four corners of the limited partnership agreement (“LPA”). This was not the first lawsuit between Brinckerhoff and the Enbridge MLP entities over a conflicted transaction. In 2009, Brinckerhoff filed suit against most of the same defendants in the current dispute, and challenged a transaction between the sponsor and the limited partnership. Enbridge, Inc. (“Enbridge”), the ultimate parent entity that controlled EEP’s general partner, Enbridge Energy Company, Inc. (“EEP GP”), proposed a joint venture agreement (“JVA”) between EEP and Enbridge. Brinckerhoff contested the fairness of the transaction on a number of grounds. After several rounds in the Court of Chancery leading to the dismissal of his claims, and a trip to the Delaware Supreme Court, Brinckerhoff eventually came up short when the Court of Chancery’s ruling that he had waived his claims for reformation and rescission of the transaction by failing to assert them first in the Court of Chancery was affirmed. A dispute over the Clipper project would again go before the Court of Chancery. In 2014, Enbridge proposed that EEP repurchase Enbridge’s interest in the Alberta Clipper project excluding the expansion rights that were part of the earlier transaction. As part of the billion dollar transaction, EEP would issue to Enbridge a new class of EEP partnership securities, repay outstanding loans made by EEP GP to EEP, and, amend the LPA to effect a “Special Tax Allocation” whereby the public investors would be allocated items of gross income that would otherwise be allocated to EEP GP. According to Brinckerhoff, the Special Tax Allocation unfairly benefited Enbridge by reducing its tax obligations by hundreds of millions of dollars while increasing the taxes of the public investors, thereby undermining the investor’s long-term tax advantages in their MLP investment. The Court of Chancery did its best to reconcile earlier decisions interpreting the same or a similar LPA, and ended up dismissing the complaint. On appeal, Brinckerhoff challenged the reasonableness of the Court of Chancery’s interpretation of the LPA. The Supreme Court agreed with the defendants that the Special Tax Allocation did not breach Sections 5.2(c) and 15.3(b) governing new unit issuance and tax allocations. But, the Court found that the Court of Chancery erred when it held that other “good faith” provisions of the LPA “modified” Section 6.6(e)’s specific requirement that the Alberta Clipper transaction be “fair and reasonable to the Partnership.” View "Brinckerhoff v. Enbridge Energy Company, Inc., et al." on Justia Law