Justia Business Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
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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

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Martin Franklin, the Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of Jarden Corporation, negotiated the corporation’s sale to Newell Brands for $59.21 per share in cash and stock. Several large Jarden stockholders refused to accept the sale price and petitioned for appraisal in the Court of Chancery. The Court of Chancery found that, of all the valuation methods presented by the parties’ experts, only the $48.31 unaffected market price of Jarden stock could be used reliably to determine the fair value. The court placed little or no weight on other valuation metrics because the CEO dominated the sales process, there were no comparable companies to assess, and the parties’ experts presented such wildly divergent discounted cash flow models that, in the end, the models were unhelpful to the court. On appeal, the petitioners argued the Court of Chancery erred as a matter of law when it adopted Jarden’s unaffected market price as fair value because it ignored what petitioners claim is a “long-recognized principle of Delaware law” that a corporation’s stock price does not equal its fair value. They also claimed the court abused its discretion by refusing to give greater weight to a discounted cash flow analysis populated with data selected by petitioners, ignoring market-based evidence of a higher value, and refusing to use the deal price as a “floor” for fair value. Finding no abuse of discretion or other reversible error, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Chancery. View "Fir Tree Value Master Fund v. Jarden Corp" on Justia Law

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The underlying lawsuit whose appeal was before the Delaware Supreme Court was filed in 2015 by Plaintiffs Eagle Force Holdings, LLC and EF Investments, LLC (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) against Stanley Campbell. In 2013, Richard Kay and Campbell formed a business venture to market medical diagnosis and prescription technology that Campbell had developed. The parties outlined the principal terms of the investment through two letter agreements in November 2013 and April 2014: Kay and Campbell would form a new limited liability company and each would be a fifty-percent member. Kay would contribute cash. Campbell would contribute stock of Eagle Force Associates, Inc. and the membership interest of Eagle Force Health, LLC, along with intellectual property. After April 2014, the parties negotiated several key terms of the transaction documents. Kay contributed cash to Eagle Force Associates. Campbell executed a promissory note for these contributions with the agreement that Kay would cancel the note when they closed the deal on the new venture. After months of negotiations, Kay and Campbell signed versions of two transaction agreements: a Contribution and Assignment Agreement and an Amended and Restated Limited Liability Company Agreement. A question arose as to whether the parties intended to be bound by these signed documents. Plaintiffs asserted that the parties formed binding contracts; Campbell contended that he signed merely to acknowledge receipt of the latest drafts of the agreements but not to manifest his intent to be bound by the agreements. The Court of Chancery determined that neither transaction document was enforceable. Accordingly, it dismissed the case for lack of personal jurisdiction. The Delaware Supreme Court reversed the Court of Chancery, finding that the trial court did not properly apply the test set forth in Osborn ex rel. Osborn v. Kemp, 991 A.2d 1153 (Del. 2010). On remand, the Court of Chancery issued an opinion holding that Campbell's conduct and communications with Kay before and during the signing of the transaction documents, did not constitute an overt manifestation of assent to be bound by the documents. Because it concluded that Campbell was not bound by the agreements’ forum selection clauses, and because Plaintiffs failed to identify any other applicable basis for personal jurisdiction, the court dismissed the remainder of the claims for lack of personal jurisdiction. Plaintiffs appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed as to plaintiffs' issues raised on appeal. The Court reversed, however, the matter on cross-appeal: if Campbell was not bound by the 2015 trial court order, he could not be held in contempt for violating its terms during the interim appeal period. View "Eagle Force Holdings v. Campbell" on Justia Law

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Towers Watson & Co. (“Towers”) and Willis Group Holdings Public Limited Company (“Willis”) executed a merger agreement with closing conditioned on the approval of their respective stockholders. Although Towers had stronger performance and greater market capitalization, Willis stockholders were to receive the majority (50.1 percent) of the post-merger company. Upon the merger’s public announcement, several segments of the investment community criticized the transaction as a bad deal for Towers and a windfall for Willis. Towers’ stock price declined and Willis’s rose in reaction to the news. Proxy advisory firms recommended that the Towers stockholders vote against the merger, and one activist stockholder began questioning whether Towers’ management’s incentives were aligned with stockholder interests. Also, after announcing the merger, ValueAct Capital Management, L.P. (“ValueAct”), an institutional stockholder of Willis, through its Chief Investment Officer, Jeffrey Ubben, presented to John Haley, the Chief Executive Officer (“CEO”) and Chairman of Towers who was spearheading the merger negotiations, a compensation proposal with the post-merger company that would potentially provide Haley with a five-fold increase in compensation. Haley did not disclose this proposal to the Towers Board. In light of the uncertainty of stockholder approval, Haley renegotiated the transaction terms to increase the special dividend. Towers eventually obtained stockholder approval of the renegotiated merger. The transaction closed in January 2016, and the companies merged to form Willis Towers Watson Public Limited Company (“Willis Towers”). Haley became the CEO of Willis Towers and was granted an executive compensation package with a long-term equity opportunity similar to ValueAct’s proposal. At issue were stockholder suits filed in early 2018. Here, Towers stockholders alleged that Haley breached his duty of loyalty by negotiating the merger on behalf of Towers while failing to disclose to the Towers Board the compensation proposal. The Court of Chancery dismissed the claims, holding that the business judgment rule applied because “a reasonable board member would not have regarded the proposal as significant when evaluating the proposed transaction,” and further holding that plaintiffs had failed to plead a non-exculpated bad faith claim against the Towers directors. To the Delaware Supreme Court, plaintiffs argued the Court of Chancery erred in holding the executive compensation proposal was not material to the Towers Board. To this, the Supreme Court concurred, reversed the Court of Chancery, and remanded for further proceedings. View "City of Fort Myers General Employees' Pension Fund v. Haley" on Justia Law