Justia Business Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
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The issue this case presented for the Delaware Supreme Court's review stemmed from a failed, multibillion-dollar merger (the “Merger”) of two fuel pipeline giants - The Williams Companies, Inc. (“Williams”) and Energy Transfer LP (“ETE”). The parties spent a decade litigating over various fees to which they argued they were entitled under the Merger Agreement. ETE continued to assert its entitlement to a $1.48 billion breakup fee, despite being the party who terminated the Merger. It also disputed that it had to pay Williams a $410 million reimbursement fee, which it was required to pay if the Merger failed and certain conditions were met. Finally, ETE argued a related $85 million attorney’s fee award was unreasonable. But the Supreme Court found no error with the Court of Chancery’s opinions that held ETE was not entitled to an over-one-billion-dollar fee and find that ETE had to pay Williams the $410 million reimbursement fee and the related $85 million in attorney’s fees. View "Energy Transfer, LP v. The Williams Companies, Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendants-appellants and cross-appellees, Gregory Holifield (“Holifield”) and GH Blue Holdings, LLC (“Blue”), appealed a Court of Chancery memorandum opinion in favor of plaintiff- appellee and cross-appellant, XRI Investment Holdings LLC (“XRI”). The issue this case presented was whether Holifield validly transferred his limited liability membership units in XRI to Blue on June 6, 2018. The resolution of that issue bore on the ultimate dispute between the parties (not at issue here) on whether XRI validly delivered to Holifield a strict foreclosure notice purporting to foreclose on the XRI membership units, or whether such notice was incorrectly delivered to him because Blue was, in fact, the owner of the units following the transfer. Following a one-day trial, the Court of Chancery determined that the transfer of the units from Holifield to Blue was invalid because it was not a permitted transfer under XRI’s limited liability company agreement, which provided that noncompliant transfers of XRI interests were “void.” The trial court, in interpreting the Delaware Supreme Court's holding in CompoSecure, L.L.C. v. CardUX, LLC, 206 A.3d 807 (Del. 2018), held that the use of the word “void” in XRI’s LLC agreement rendered the transfer incurably void, such that affirmative defenses did not apply. Despite this holding, the trial court, in dicta, further found that XRI had acquiesced in the transfer. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed Court of Chancery’s judgment with respect to the Blue Transfer, but reversed the judgment insofar as it precluded XRI’s recovery for breach of contract damages and recoupment of legal expenses advanced to Holifield. The Court held that the trial court’s finding of acquiescence as to only one of the alleged breaches did not bar either remedy, and the Court remanded the case for the trial court to make further determinations. View "Holifield v. XRI Investment Holdings LLC" on Justia Law

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The corporate charter of a bank holding company capped at 10% the stock that could be voted by a “person” in any stockholder vote. During a proxy contest for three seats of a staggered board, the CCSB board of directors instructed the inspector of elections not to count 37,175 shares voted in favor of a dissident slate of directors. According to the board, the 37,175 shares exceeded the 10% voting limitation because certain stockholders were acting in concert with each other. If the votes had been counted, the dissident slate of directors would have been elected. The CCSB corporate charter also provided that the board’s “acting in concert” determination, if made in good faith and on information reasonably available, “shall be conclusive and binding on the Corporation and its stockholders.” In a summary proceeding brought by the plaintiffs, the Court of Chancery found: (1) the “conclusive and binding” charter provision invalid under Delaware corporate law; (2) the board’s instruction to the inspector of elections invalid because the individuals identified by the board were not acting in concert; and (3) the board’s election interference did not withstand enhanced scrutiny review. The court also awarded the plaintiffs attorneys’ fees for having conferred a benefit on CCSB. CCSB argued the Court of Chancery erred when it invalidated the charter provision and reinstated the excluded votes. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Chancery: plaintiffs proved that the board breached its duty of loyalty by instructing the inspector of elections to disregard the 37,175 votes. "The charter provision cannot be used to exculpate the CCSB directors from a breach of the duty of loyalty. Further, the court’s legal conclusion and factual findings that the stockholders did not act in concert withstand appellate review." View "CCSB Financial Corp. v. Totta" on Justia Law

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Marion Coster and Steven Schwat – the two UIP Companies stockholders who each owned fifty percent of the company – deadlocked after attempting several times to elect directors. In response to the director election deadlock, Coster filed a petition for appointment of a custodian for UIP. The UIP board responded by issuing stock to a long-time employee representing a one-third interest in UIP. The stock issuance diluted Coster’s ownership interest, broke the deadlock, and mooted the custodian action. Coster countered by requesting that the Delaware Court of Chancery cancel the stock issuance. After trial, the Court of Chancery found that the stock sale met the most exacting standard of judicial review under Delaware law – entire fairness. On appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court concluded that the court erred by evaluating the stock sale solely under the entire fairness standard of review, reasoning that even though the stock sale price might have been entirely fair, issuing stock while a contested board election was taking place interfered with Coster’s voting rights as a half owner of UIP. Therefore, the court needed to conduct a further review to assess whether the board approved the stock issuance for inequitable reasons. If not, the court still had to decide whether the board, even if it acted in good faith, approved the stock sale to thwart Coster’s leverage to vote against the board’s director nominees and to moot the custodian action. To uphold the stock issuance under those circumstances, the board had to demonstrate a compelling justification to interfere with Coster’s voting rights. On remand, the Court of Chancery found that the UIP board had not acted for inequitable purposes and had compelling justifications for the dilutive stock issuance. Upon return, the Supreme Court agreed with the court’s assessment and "appreciate[d] its work to address the issues remanded for reconsideration." View "Coster v. UIP Companies, Inc." on Justia Law

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At issue before the Delaware Supreme Court in this case was the 2016 all-stock acquisition of SolarCity Corporation (“SolarCity”) by Tesla, Inc. (“Tesla”). Tesla’s stockholders claimed CEO Elon Musk caused Tesla to overpay for SolarCity through his alleged domination and control of the Tesla board of directors. At trial, the foundational premise of their theory of liability was that SolarCity was insolvent at the time of the Acquisition. Because the Court of Chancery assumed, without deciding, that Musk was a controlling stockholder, it applied Delaware’s most stringent "entire fairness" standard of review, and the Court of Chancery found the Acquisition to be entirely fair. In this appeal, the two sides disputed various aspects of the trial court’s legal analysis, including, primarily, the degree of importance the trial court placed on market evidence in determining whether the price Tesla paid was fair. Appellants did not challenge any of the trial court’s factual findings. Rather, they raised only a legal challenge, focused solely on the application of the entire fairness test. After careful consideration, the Delaware Supreme Court was convinced that the trial court’s decision was supported by the evidence and that the court committed no reversible error in applying the entire fairness test. View "In Re Tesla Motors, Inc. Stockholder Litigation" on Justia Law

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Tesla Inc. appealed a Delaware superior court judgment upholding a Division of Motor Vehicles’ (“DMV”) decision denying Tesla’s application for a new dealer license. The superior court agreed with the DMV Director that the Delaware Motor Vehicle Franchising Practices Act (“Franchise Act”) prohibited Tesla, as a new motor vehicle manufacturer, from selling its electric cars directly to customers in Delaware. The Delaware Supreme Court reversed, finding the Franchise Act excluded Tesla's direct sales model, where new electric cars were not sold through franchised dealers in Delaware. View "Tesla Inc. v. Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles" on Justia Law

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The Delaware Court of Chancery was asked to resolve a dispute between a company and one of its former directors over the meaning of a stock option agreement and option grant notice. Applying the plain text of the agreement, the Court of Chancery determined that the dispute was to be resolved in accordance with a board committee’s interpretation of the agreement and notice. After the board, acting through a committee, interpreted the agreement and notice in a manner favorable to the company, the Court of Chancery, without hearing further from the former director, promptly dismissed the former director’s complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Delaware Supreme Court found the Court of Chancery properly stayed the action to permit the board’s committee to interpret the agreement and notice in the first instance. The Supreme Court disagreed, however, with the court’s decision to dismiss the former director’s complaint without any meaningful review of the committee’s interpretation. The Court of Chancery’s order of dismissal was therefore reversed, and the case remanded for a review of the committee’s conclusions. View "Terrell v. Kiromic Biopharma, Inc." on Justia Law

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William West, the founder of Access Control Related Enterprises, LLC (“ACRE”), was forced out as an officer of the company by its majority owners, LLR Equity Partners, IV, L.P. and LLR Equity Partners Parallel IV, L.P. (collectively, “LLR”). He filed a wrongful termination suit against ACRE and others in California state court. The California court stayed the case based on the forum selection provisions in the controlling agreements that designated Delaware as the exclusive forum for disputes arising out of the agreements. After a failed detour to Delaware District Court, West filed the same claims in the Delaware Superior Court. A Delaware jury eventually found against West on his breach of contract claim. West did not appeal the jury’s adverse verdict. Instead, he sought to undo his loss in Delaware by challenging the Superior Court’s procedural rulings, arguing: (1) the Superior Court no longer had jurisdiction once it issued the order transferring the case to the Court of Chancery; (2) the Superior Court improperly denied his motions for voluntary dismissal; and (3) if the Superior Court had applied forum non conveniens, it would have dismissed the Delaware case in favor of the California litigation. Finding no reversible error, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court's decisions. View "West v. Access Control Related Enterprises, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Tracey Weinberg (“Weinberg”) was the former Chief Marketing Officer of defendant-appellee Waystar, Inc.(“Waystar”). During her employment, the company granted her options to purchase stock in its co-defendant Derby TopCo, Inc.,(“Derby Inc.”), pursuant to a Derby TopCo 2019 Stock Incentive Plan (the “Plan”). Weinberg was awarded three option grants under the Plan pursuant to three option agreements executed between October 2019 and August 2020. By the time Weinberg was terminated in 2021, 107,318.96 of her options had vested. She timely exercised all of them in November 2021, and the options immediately converted to economically equivalent partnership units in co-defendant Derby TopCo Partnership LP, a Delaware limited partnership (“Derby LP”) (the “Converted Units”). Each Option Agreement contained an identical call right provision providing Appellees the right to repurchase Weinberg’s Converted Units (the “Call Right”), “during the six (6) month period following (x) the (i) [t]ermination of [Weinberg’s] employment with the Service Recipient for any reason . . . and (y) a Restrictive Covenant Breach.” This appeal turned on the meaning of the word “and” in the three option agreements. Specifically, the question presented for the Delaware Supreme Court was whether two separate events (separated by the word “and”) had to both occur in order for the company to exercise a call right, or whether the call right could be exercised if only one event has occurred. Although Weinberg had been terminated within the time frame specified by the Call Right Provision, a Restrictive Covenant Breach had not occurred. The parties disputed whether the Call Right was available in the absence of a Restrictive Covenant Breach. The Court of Chancery decided that it was, and the Delaware Supreme Court concurred, affirming the Court of Chancery. View "Weinberg v. Waystar, Inc." on Justia Law

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Stillwater Mining Company filed suit against its directors’ and officers’ liability insurers to recover the expenses it incurred defending a Delaware stockholder appraisal action. The superior court granted the insurers’ motions to dismiss after it found that Delaware law applied to the dispute and the Delaware Supreme Court’s decision in In re Solera Ins. Coverage Appeals (“Solera II”) precluded coverage for losses incurred in a stockholder appraisal action under a similar D&O policy. The primary issue on appeal was whether Delaware or Montana law applied to the claims in Stillwater’s amended complaint. Stillwater argued that the superior court should have applied Montana law because Montana had the most significant relationship to the dispute and the parties. If Montana law applied, according to Stillwater, it could recover its defense costs because Montana recognized coverage by estoppel, meaning the insurers were estopped to deny coverage when they failed to defend Stillwater in the appraisal action. Before the Delaware Supreme Court issued Solera II, the Solera I court held that D&O insureds could recover losses incurred in a stockholder appraisal action. Taking advantage of that favorable ruling, Stillwater argued in its complaint that Delaware law applied to the interpretation of the policies. Then when Solera II was issued, Stillwater reversed position and claimed that Montana law applied to the policies. Its amended complaint dropped all indemnity claims for covered losses in favor of three contractual claims for the duty to advance defense costs and a statutory claim under Montana law. In the Supreme Court's view, Stillwater’s amended claims raised the same Delaware interests that Stillwater identified in its original complaint – applying one consistent body of law to insurance policies that cover comprehensively the insured’s directors’, officers’, and corporate liability across many jurisdictions. It then held the superior court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Stillwater's motions. View "Stillwater Mining Company v. National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA" on Justia Law