Justia Business Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
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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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The Court of Chancery issued a memorandum opinion in an action brought under Delaware's Corporation Law, section 220 (the "DGCL"). The opinion ordered AmerisourceBergen Corporation to produce certain books and records to Lebanon County Employees Retirement Fund and Teamsters Local 443 Health Services & Insurance Plan (“Plaintiffs”) and granting Plaintiffs leave to take a Rule 30(b)(6) deposition “to explore what types of books and records exist and who has them.” The Company claimed Plaintiffs’ inspection demand, which, among other things, was aimed at investigating possible breaches of fiduciary duty, mismanagement, and other wrongdoing, was fatally deficient because it did not disclose Plaintiffs’ ultimate objective, which was what they intended to do with the books and records in the event that they confirmed their suspicion of wrongdoing. The Company also contended the Court of Chancery erred by holding Plaintiffs were not required to establish a credible basis to suspect actionable wrongdoing. And finally, the Company argued the Court of Chancery erred as a matter of law when it allowed Plaintiffs to take a post-trial Rule 30(b)(6) deposition. After review, the Delaware Supreme Court held that when a Section 220 inspection demand stated a proper investigatory purpose, it did not need to identify the particular course of action the stockholder will take if the books and records confirm the stockholder’s suspicion of wrongdoing. In addition, the Court held that, although the actionability of wrongdoing can be a relevant factor for the Court of Chancery to consider when assessing the legitimacy of a stockholder’s stated purpose, an investigating stockholder was not required in all cases to establish the wrongdoing under investigation was actionable. Finally, the Court found the Court of Chancery’s allowance of the post-trial deposition was not an abuse of discretion. View "Amerisourcebergen Corp v. Lebanon County Employees' Retirement Fund" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-appellants were two of three founding owners, investors, and directors of Energy Efficient Equity, Inc. (“E3” or the “Corporation”), a Delaware corporation operating in the property-assessed, clean-energy financing industry. After a series of financing transactions with WR Capital Partners, LLC (“WR Capital”), plaintiffs filed suit against WR Capital and its representatives. Among other claims, plaintiffs alleged that defendants breached their fiduciary duties and were unjustly enriched when they negotiated and approved the financing transactions that allowed them to take control of E3 from the founders. During the litigation, plaintiffs entered into a settlement agreement and two stock repurchase agreements. Plaintiffs settled with some of the defendants in exchange for payments and the sale of the plaintiffs’ stock to E3. The Settlement Agreement contained a release, but carved out claims that the plaintiffs wanted to continue to pursue against the non-settling WR Capital and its representatives. An inconsistency between the agreements arose, however, because the Stock Repurchase Agreements transferred “all of Seller’s right, title, and interest” in E3 stock while only the Settlement Agreement contained a carve out for claims against the non-settling defendants (the “Release Carve Out”). After the partial settlement, the Court of Chancery granted defendants’ motion to dismiss, finding plaintiffs could not import the Settlement Agreement’s Release Carve Out into the Stock Repurchase Agreements; plaintiffs lost standing to pursue their direct breach of fiduciary duty claims when they sold their E3 stock; and plaintiffs’ unjust enrichment claims were duplicative of their breach of fiduciary duty claims and traveled with the sale of E3 stock. On appeal, plaintiffs argued the Court of Chancery should have found that the Stock Repurchase Agreements incorporated by reference the Settlement Agreement. If that was the case, plaintiffs claimed they could preserve their claims against the remaining defendants. In the alternative, plaintiffs fell back on the argument that their breach of fiduciary duty claims were personal and did not attach to the stock sold as part of the settlement. In addition, they argued the unjust enrichment claims were independent of the breach of fiduciary duty claims. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Chancery: while plaintiffs had an argument that the parties intended to treat the three agreements as a unitary transaction through incorporation by reference, the Settlement Agreement’s Release Carve Out confilcted with the complete transfer of all right, title, and interest in the plaintiffs’ E3 stock under the Stock Repurchase Agreements. In the event of a conflict, the Stock Repurchase Agreements plainly stated their terms controlled. Plaintiffs’ remaining claims were also part of the rights accompanying the E3 stock sale, and the unjust enrichment claim traveled with the E3 stock when repurchased by E3. View "Urdan v. WR Capital Partners, LLC" on Justia Law

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Gulf LNG Energy, LLC owned and operated a liquefied natural gas (“LNG”) terminal in Mississippi (the “Pascagoula Facility”). Gulf LNG Pipeline, LLC (collectively with Gulf LNG Energy, LLC, “Gulf”), owned and operated a five-mile long pipeline that distributed LNG from the Pascagoula Facility to downstream inland pipelines. Eni USA Gas Marketing LLC (“Eni”), marketed natural gas products and offered related services to customers in the U.S. In 2007, Gulf and Eni entered into a Terminal Use Agreement (the “TUA”), whereby Gulf would construct the Pascagoula Facility, and Eni would use the Facility to receive, store, regasify, and deliver imported LNG to downstream businesses. Under the TUA, Eni agreed to pay Gulf fees for using the Facility, including monthly Reservation Fees and Operating Fees. In 2016, Eni filed for arbitration, alleging the U.S. natural gas market had undergone a “radical change” due to “unforeseen, vast new production and supply of shale gas in the United States [that] made import of LNG into the United States economically irrational and unsustainable.” Eni alleged the essential purpose of the TUA had been frustrated and thus terminated because of “fundamental and unforeseeable change in the United States natural gas/LNG market,” and sought a declaration that Eni could terminate the TUA at any time because Gulf breached warranties and covenants. After the first arbitration, the panel order Eni to pay Gulf "just compensation ...for the value their partial performance of the TUA conferred upon Eni." Gulf subsequently sued Eni to collect the arbitration award; judgment was entered in Gulf's favor. Eni initiated a second arbitration, again asserting breaches of the TUA. Gulf moved to dismiss the second arbitration. The Court of Chancery ruled the issues raised in the second arbitration were already decided in the first (and subsequent court case). The Delaware Supreme Court, after its review of these proceedings, determined: (1) the Court of Chancery had jurisidction to enjoin a collateral attack on the first arbitration award; and (2) the Court of Chancery should have enjoined all claims in the second arbitration between the parties, because the admitted goal of the second arbitration was to "raise irregularities and revisit the financial award in the first arbitration." The Court, therefore, affirmed part of the Court of Chancery's judgment affirming dismissal of the second arbitration, and reversed any part of the lower court's judgment allowing certain issues in the second arbitration to be considered. View "Gulf LNG Energy v. ENI USA Gas Marketing" on Justia Law

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Insurance providers asked the Delaware Supreme Court whether certain costs incurred in connection with an appraisal action under 8 Del. C. 262 were precluded from coverage under the primary and excess directors’ and officers’ insurance policies (the “D&O Policies”) issued to Solera Holdings, Inc. (“Solera”). An affiliate of Vista Equity acquired Solera in 2016. That transaction gave rise to litigation, including an appraisal action. Solera requested coverage under the D&O Policies for the Appraisal Action. The insurers denied the request. Solera then filed suit against the insurers for breach of contract and declaratory judgment, seeking coverage for pre-judgment interest and defense expenses incurred in connection with the Appraisal Action. However, Solera did not seek coverage for the underlying fair value amount paid to the dissenting stockholders, upon which the pre-judgment interest was based. The issuer of the primary policy settled, and the excess policy insurers moved for summary judgment. The superior court denied the motion, interpreting the policy to hold that: (1) a “Securities Claim” under the policy was not limited to a claim alleging wrongdoing, and the Appraisal Action was for a “violation” under the Securities Claim definition; (2) because the “Loss” definition was not limited by any other language, the policy covered pre-judgment interest on a non-covered loss; and (3) as to defense expenses, Delaware law implied a prejudice requirement in insurance contract consent clauses, and Solera’s breach of the consent clause did not bar coverage for defense expenses absent a showing of prejudice. The Insurers appealed, contending that the superior court erred in holding that the Appraisal Action could be covered under the D&O Policies for a violation of a “Securities Claim.” The Supreme Court disagreed with the superior court's determination the Appraisal Action was for a “violation,” concluding the Appraisal Action did not fall within the definition of a “Securities Claim.” Because the Appraisal Action was not a Securities Claim, the remaining issues were moot. View "In Re Solera Insurance Coverage Appeals" on Justia Law

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In 2017, Sibanye Gold Ltd. (“Sibanye”) acquired Stillwater Mining Co. (“Stillwater”) through a reverse triangular merger. Under the terms of the merger agreement, each Stillwater share at closing was converted into the right to receive $18 of merger consideration. Between the signing and the closing of the merger, the commodity price for palladium (which Stillwater mined) increased by nine percent, improving Stillwater’s value. Certain former Stillwater stockholders dissented to the merger, perfected their statutory appraisal rights, and pursued this litigation. During the appraisal trial, petitioners argued the flawed deal process made the deal price an unreliable indicator of fair value and that increased commodity prices raised Stillwater’s fair value substantially between the signing and closing of the merger. In 2019, the Delaware Court of Chancery issued an opinion, holding that the $18 per share deal price was the most persuasive indicator of Stillwater’s fair value at the time of the merger. The court did not award an upward adjustment for the increased commodity prices. Petitioners appealed the Court of Chancery’s decision, arguing that the court abused its discretion when it ignored the flawed sale process and petitioners’ argument for an upward adjustment to the merger consideration. After review of the parties’ briefs and the record on appeal, and after oral argument, the Delaware Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed the Court of Chancery. View "Brigade Leveraged Capital Structures Fund Ltd v. Stillwater Mining Co." on Justia Law

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Following two operation-disabling accidents, Noranda Aluminum Holding Corporation, an insured aluminum-products manufacturer, whose “all-risks” property-insurance policy included business- interruption coverage, did not rebuild its damaged facility and consequently did not resume operations. Noranda and its insurers agreed that the failure to rebuild and resume operations did not negate the business-interruption coverage. But when Noranda submitted its business-interruption claim, the parties could not agree on how to calculate the Noranda's gross-earnings loss, which was the measure of the insurers’ liability under the relevant policy. After a seven-day trial, a jury found in favor of Noranda, and the insurers appealed. At trial, Noranda's damages expert employed a model that measured the insured’s gross-earnings loss by comparing the value of the insured’s production had the accident not occurred with the value of its production after the accidents had it repaired and resumed operations with due diligence. Although the parties disputed whether the insurers took issue with this methodology at trial in this appeal, the insurers contended that the model was inconsistent with the policy’s formula for calculating gross-earnings loss and that it grossly exaggerated the amount of the Noranda's claim. The insurers also challenged Noranda's expert’s factual assumptions and claimed he improperly included amounts that the insured had waived in an earlier property-damage settlement. The Delaware Supreme Court concluded Noranda's expert's damages model was consistent with the relevant policy provisions, and that the trial court's determination that the factual assumptions made by the expert were sufficiently reliable for the jury to consider was not an abuse of discretion. Likewise, the Court held the insurers' claim that the earlier property-damage settlement precluded a portion of Noranda's recovery was without merit. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "XL Insurance America, Inc., et al. v. Noranda Aluminum Holding Corporation" on Justia Law

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Windsor I, LLC appealed a superior court's decision to grant defendants' CWCapital Asset Management LLC (“CWCAM”) and U.S. Bank National Association (“U.S. Bank”) motion to dismiss. Windsor owned a 48,000 square foot commercial property and building encumbered by debt eventually held by U.S. Bank. In 2015, after learning that the Property’s sole tenant intended to vacate, Windsor sought special servicing to refinance the debt. After nearly two years of negotiation and litigation, CWCAM, the special servicer, offered to sell the loan to Windsor in a proposed transaction for $5,288,000, subject to credit committee approval. The credit committee, however, rejected the transaction, and Defendants filed a foreclosure action against Windsor in 2017. Defendants thereafter held an online auction to sell the loan. A Windsor representative participated in the auction. After the auction, Defendants sold the loan to a third party, WM Capital Partners 66 LLC (“WM Capital”), and Windsor ultimately paid $7.4 million to WM Capital in full satisfaction of the loan. In its action seeking relief based upon quasi-contractual theories of promissory estoppel and unjust enrichment, Windsor alleged that but for the credit committee’s arbitrary rejection of the proposed transaction, Windsor would have purchased the note and loan nearly a year earlier for over $2,112,000 less than it paid to WM Capital. The Superior Court ultimately held that Windsor failed to state claims for promissory estoppel and unjust enrichment, and that the claims were barred because Windsor’s representative had agreed to a general release as part of an auction bidding process. Finding no reversible error, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed dismissal. View "Windsor I, LLC v. CWCapital Asset Mgmt, LLC" on Justia Law

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Since 2010, appellant Mark Spanakos has tried to gain control over and revive Hawk Systems, Inc., a void Delaware corporation, by filing a series of direct and derivative actions in Florida against former Hawk Systems insiders and taking several steps outside of court to establish himself as the Company’s majority stockholder and sole director. Spanakos was successful in his direct Florida litigation, having won a Partial Final Judgment in one action and favorable Summary Judgment rulings in another. Spanakos’s derivative claims in the third Florida action, however, were stayed to allow Spanakos to clarify his standing to pursue those claims. Accordingly, in 2018 Spanakos filed suit in the Delaware Court of Chancery seeking: (1) a declaration that he controlled a majority of the voting shares of Hawk Systems and that he was the validly elected, sole director and officer of Hawk Systems; or (2) in the alternative, an order compelling the company to hold an annual election of directors under 8 Del. C. sections 223(a) and 211(c). Following a trial, briefing, and post-trial argument, the Court of Chancery denied both of Spanakos’s requests for relief, ruling that he had not carried his burden of proof to obtain any of the relief that he sought. On appeal, Spanakos argues that the Court of Chancery abused its discretion when it declined to order a stockholders’ meeting for the election of directors despite the fact that Spanakos satisfied the elements of Section 211. Having reviewed the record on appeal and the court’s opinion below, the Delaware Supreme Court found the Court of Chancery did not abuse its discretion when it declined to compel a stockholders’ meeting given the unique facts of this case. View "Spanakos v. Page, et al." on Justia Law

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Two limited partners demanded the books and records of certain limited partnerships. Most of the documents demanded were produced, but one category of documents remains in dispute: the Schedule K-1s (“K-1s”) attached to the partnerships’ tax returns. Although the limited partners were provided with their own K-1s, the limited partners sought the K-1s of the other limited partners for the purpose of valuing their ownership stake in the partnerships and in order to investigate mismanagement and wrongdoing. The partnerships countered that the K-1s were not necessary and essential to the valuation purpose and there was no credible basis to suspect wrongdoing. The Court of Chancery, based upon its history of interpreting 6 Del. C. section 17- 305 in the same manner as 8 Del. C. section 220, held that the K-1s were subject to the requirement that documents sought be “necessary and essential” to the stated purpose, and found they failed the "necessary and essential" test. The Delaware Supreme Court disagreed, finding that the limited partners were entitled to the K-1s under the terms of the partnership agreements. The Court thus reversed the Court of Chancery and remanded for further proceedings. View "Murfey v. WHC Ventures, LLC" on Justia Law