About This Blog
Summaries and analysis of recent Delaware court decisions concerning business-related litigation.
Morris James Blogs
Lately, the Delaware Supreme Court has given great weight to the deal price in appraisal cases. As a result, plaintiffs have put a greater focus on showing that the process leading to the merger makes that price unreliable, potentially because of breaches of fiduciary duty. One strategy for recovery is to file a breach of fiduciary case after obtaining valuable discovery in the appraisal case. This decision explains when such a fiduciary duty case can go forward notwithstanding the appraisal proceeding seeking to recover for the same loss. More ›
The Court of Chancery respects zealous advocacy, but demands professionalism and degrees of civility, among counsel and the parties. Every few years a non-Delaware attorney admitted pro hac vice goes too far in aggressively representing his or her client in a Delaware litigation. This decision discusses boundaries that should not be crossed, especially in a deposition. Name calling, sarcasm, aggressive behavior, and other forms of bullying are not permitted and may result in the loss of the right to practice before the Court.
This decision has two helpful analyses. First, it addresses the conspiracy theory of jurisdiction under the well-known Instituto Bancario decision, which permits a Delaware court to exercise jurisdiction over a defendant based on the Delaware acts of its co-conspirators. Notably, the plaintiff in this case was a Delaware entity with its principal place of business in the State, providing a jurisdictional hook for that theory. Second, it explains when a plaintiff is on inquiry notice so as to end any tolling period and start the statute of limitations clock.
Chancery Finds Inadequate Disclosure in Connection With a Tender Offer Prevents Dismissal of a Class Action Complaint
The Corwin doctrine provides substantial protection to directors of companies engaged in a sale process. Once a transaction closes, if a stockholder cannot allege that a majority stockholder vote approving a transaction was uninformed or coerced, then the court will dismiss a complaint attacking the fairness of the transaction under the business judgment standard of review. The rationale is that majority disinterested stockholder approval via a vote or a majority tender cleanses the transaction unless plaintiff can meet the high burden of pleading waste. Directors are also protected if a company’s charter contains protections under Section 102(b)(7) of the Delaware General Corporation Law (DGCL) and a plaintiff cannot allege that a majority of the directors acted disloyally or in bad faith. The Court of Chancery’s well-reasoned decision in In re Tangoe Stockholders Litigation, Cons. C. A. No. 2017-0650-JRS (Del. Ch. November 20, 2018), provides important guidance for directors seeking protection under either Corwin or Section 102(b)(7) when a board of a publicly traded company runs a sale process while it is attempting to restate its financials, its stock has been de-listed, and the Securities and Exchange Commission is threatening de-registration. More ›
This is an interesting decision because it deals with the rare instance when a party can prove a mutual mistake as to a contract’s terms so as to avoid having to comply with those terms. Here both a borrower and a loan officer clearly agreed a loan could be repaid without penalty. The actual loan documents had a prepayment penalty that the borrower did not read before signing. The Court held the borrower was excused from catching that penalty clause given the assurance he had there was no prepayment penalty.
Under Section 18-802 of the Delaware LLC Act, the Court of Chancery may dissolve an LLC when it is “not reasonably practical” for it to carry on its business in conformity with its LLC agreement. This decision explains when that might occur, such as when the defined purpose becomes impossible to fulfill.
The Court of Chancery has long demanded that litigants abide by the discovery rules and respect scheduling orders. This is an excellent summary of Delaware discovery obligations and a good list of many ways a litigant can go wrong in responding to discovery. More ›
D & O insurance covers actions taken by a director. However, when a director acts on behalf of another entity in dealing with the insured company, it is not always easy to decide if the claim against him arises out of his role as a company director. This decision applies a “but for” test in this way. If the claim would not exist “but for” the conduct on behalf of the other, non-insured entity, then the claim is not based on the director’s conduct as a director of the insured entity and the "capacity” exclusion applies to deny coverage. This result turns in part on the specific language of the policy that insured against conduct “solely” taken as a director.
Superior Court Holds that Judgment Creditors Required to Renew Judgments Every Five Years Under 10 Del. C. § 5072
This case with a tortured history presented an interesting issue regarding when a creditor is required to renew a judgment in the Superior Court. The Court held that plaintiff (the judgment creditor) was required to renew the judgment after five years pursuant to 10 Del. C. § 5072. Although the creditor did not renew its judgment within five years, the Court granted the creditor’s motion to renew the judgment retroactively because of the prior practice of not requiring such motions until ten years after a judgment’s entry, and the creditor’s failure was not attributable to his negligence because of intervening events, including a Supreme Court ruling, that occurred.
Once again, there are demands to reform corporate litigation. (See, e.g., Kevin LaCroix, “Time for Another Round of Securities Class Action Litigation Reform,” The D&O Diary, Oct. 23, 2018.) But once again, the Delaware courts are leading the way to cure the problems that litigation critics complain of most. Recent Delaware Court of Chancery decisions are yet another example of that leadership. We begin to show how that is being done, by outlining the perceived problems.
The critics focus on two types of corporation litigation they claim are serious problems: so-called merger objection lawsuits; and event-driven securities litigation. The principal objection to merger objection lawsuits is that they only allege a proposed merger is improper because the proxy statement asking for stockholders’ approval is inadequate, the alleged problem is then “cured” by defendants’ immaterial supplemental disclosures and the case is dismissed after the plaintiffs lawyers are paid off with a substantial fee. That seems to be tolerating a strike lawsuit that really accomplished nothing but a fee for the lawyers.
The principal objection to event-driven securities litigation is that they are based on a failure to disclose that the company was subject to a serious risk that eventually occurred, depressing the company’s stock price. The critics argue these suits are based on a risk the company did not anticipate and thus could not have disclosed. Thus, such claims lack proof of scienter and again are just lawyer-driven fee generators with fees paid to avoid the costs of defense. More ›
This is an interesting decision because it explains when there is privity between parties so as to preclude a claim that one party has resolved previously. Briefly, there needs to be a common interest between the parties without any conflicting interest that would make the settling party an improper representative of the other party. In this action, the Court held that because of newly discovered evidence, the Court could no longer find that the parties were in privity, and it reversed its prior decision dismissing plaintiffs’ claims against one of the defendants on res judicata grounds.
Delaware Supreme Court Reverses Superior Court in Holding that Insured’s Claim Barred by the Statute of Limitations
CorVel filed a complaint in the Delaware Superior Court in May 2015 arising out of a settlement of the underlying actions in January 2011. The Supreme Court held that CorVel’s bad faith claim began to run in 2011, when CorVel settled an underlying arbitration and related class action. Because CorVel did not file suit until January 2011, the applicable three-year statute of limitations barred CorVel’s claim. The Supreme Court held that once CorVel could plead the necessary elements of a prima facia claim under Lousiana’s Bad Faith Statue, the cause of action accrued for purposes of Delaware’s statute of limitations. In doing so, the Supreme Court held that it was not necessary for CorVel to actually obtain a ruling that the Homeland policy covered the claims before it could proceed with its bad faith action.
The State of Delaware’s policy is to give maximum effect to the principle of freedom of contract. Delaware courts seek to enforce the language in an agreement negotiated by the parties and will not rewrite the agreement after the fact to reallocate risks, especially in an agreement between sophisticated parties that was bargained for at arm’s length. This includes risks allocated through “material adverse effect” (MAE) provisions in a merger or acquisition agreement. The Delaware Court of Chancery’s recent decision in Akorn, Inc. v. Fresenius Kabi AG, No. 2018-0300-JTL, 2018 WL 4719347 (Del. Ch. Oct. 1, 2018) (Laster, V.C.), illustrates how the court applies Delaware’s policy of freedom of contract. While this is the first time that the court has found that an MAE on the seller’s business justified a buyer’s termination of a merger agreement, this decision presented an exceptional set of facts regarding the utter deterioration of Akorn’s business and widespread company regulatory compliance issues affecting its pipeline of new generic drugs. Accordingly, the court’s ruling merely represents the application of a well-known principle to enforce the language of a merger agreement, allocating the risks bargained for by sophisticated parties, to an egregious set of facts. More ›
This is an important decision because it holds that an LLC agreement may make a contract void for failure to comply with the required provisions in the LLC agreement to enter into such a contract. If the contract is “void” it cannot be later ratified by implication when the parties follow the terms of the contract. Thus, when contracting with an LLC, it is necessary to read the actual LLC agreement to see if it requires any conditions to entering into a contract.
This decision holds that it is acceptable to make the needed disclosures to stockholders by sending them both a Form 10-K and proxy statement at the same time. However, this does not mean that it is possible to rely on past SEC filings when a proxy statement omits material information that was disclosed previously. The key is that the various documents need to be disclosed together.