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Summaries and analysis of recent Delaware court decisions concerning business-related litigation.

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Showing 4 posts from December 2008.

Court of Chancery Approves Opt Out Settlement

Marie Raymond Revocable Trust v. MAT Five LLC, C.A. 3843-VCL (Del. Ch. Dec. 19, 2008)

 

This decision has a good summary of the law governing certification of a class and when to approve a class settlement. Here the settlement permitted class members to opt out without the loss of any rights to pursue other related litigation. Thus, this decision distinguished the recent decision in Off v. Ross that had disapproved a settlement without opt out rights.

 

The interesting question is whether these two cases now mean that opt out classes are favored in Delaware.  We doubt it.  However, it is certainly the case that settlements with hardly any benefits to class members are receiving even greater scrutiny.

Court of Chancery Interprets LLC Exculpation Clause

Kahn v. Portnoy, C.A. 3515-CC (Del. Ch. Dec. 12, 2008)

 

This important decision illustrates how hard it is to make an LLC agreement cover all future events. While there is a growing school of thought that advocates letting the parties make their own bed in the form of the LLC agreement, that approach fails to appreciate how hard it is to do that well. The failure to successfully do so leaves everyone unhappy, and they would have been better off had they not tried to begin with.

 

Here the parties to an LLC agreement tried to address conflict of interest situations that were sure to occur when the entity would contract with related entities owned by its directors. They did so by a clause that was supposed to limit fiduciary duties in such cases. What happened, and it happens a lot, is that the language they used did not exactly fit the circumstances they later faced. As a result, they proceeded apparently thinking that they were alright only to be followed by the Court correctly pointing out that the language they relied upon did not work as they thought. Now they face liability under fiduciary standards they cannot meet.

 

One answer is better drafting. But given the many times that seems not to have been done, perhaps it is time to give up the effort to speak to all future events. Instead, those transactions that are expected to occur should be addressed directly and specifically. If the directors want their personal company to rent to the LLC, then they should say that is okay at least if the rent is approved by an independent third party. If they do not know what type of transactions they want to enter into, then they should fall back on the extensive fiduciary law under the Delaware corporation law that will tell them how to do a deal safely.

Court of Chancery Upholds Post Merger Arbitration

Aveta Inc. v. Bengoa, C.A. 3598-VCL (Del. Ch. Dec. 11, 2008)

 

It is now common to provide for post merger payouts and the arbitration of any disputes about those payouts. This case illustrates the problem of what happens when one party feels it does not have enough information to go into arbitration where discovery may be limited. The Court held that when the obligation to arbitrate is not conditioned on the receipt of information, arbitration will be ordered and the parties will be left to deal with the arbitrators over information exchange issues.

 

The answer is to provide clearly for adequate information exchange rights in the arbitration.

 

 

Court of Chancery Refuses To Impose Costs on Proxy Loser

TravelCenters of America v. Brog, C.A. 3751-CC (Del. Ch. Dec. 5, 2008)

 

In this unusual case, the LLC sought to require the loser of a proxy contest to pay the costs. The LLC Agreement had a provision that imposed costs on those members who violated any of their obligations in the agreement. The LLC claimed that when the members put up unqualified candidates for office they should pay the costs of defeating them. The Court held that as the conditions to be a candidate were not obligations of the members, but "conditions," costs would not be imposed.

 

While the opinion does not say so, this may reflect a reluctance to discourage election contests by imposing costs on the loser.