About This Blog

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

Morris James Blogs

Links

Showing 134 posts from 2019.

Chancery Denies Section 220 Bid for Executive Compensation Records Involving Facebook

Southeastern Pa. Trans. Auth. v. Facebook, Inc., C.A. No. 2019-0228-JRS (Oct. 29, 2019)

Shareholders of a Delaware corporation have a qualified right to access corporate books and records for a “proper purpose.” One such proper purpose is to investigate potential mismanagement or fiduciary wrongdoing. Indeed, Delaware law encourages shareholders to use this “tool at hand” prior to bringing a derivative action. But this type of inspection has an important precondition: the shareholder must advance some evidence to suggest a “credible basis” from which the Court can infer actionable wrongdoing. As this decision involving Facebook illustrates, the credible basis standard is lenient but not meaningless, and may turn on, among other things, the potential for monetary damages arising out of the alleged wrongdoing. After a trial on a paper record, the Court of Chancery denied an attempt by two stockholders of defendant Facebook, Inc. to obtain additional documents related to the company’s executive compensation practices. More ›

Delaware Supreme Court Finds an Insurance Policy Covering “Securities Claims” Did Not Apply to Claims for Violations of Common Law or Statutes Not Specific to the Regulation of Securities

In re Verizon Ins. Coverage Appeals, Nos. 558, 560, 561 (Del. Oct. 31, 2019).

The Delaware Supreme Court, applying principles of contract interpretation under Delaware law, held that claims of breach of fiduciary duty, unlawful dividends and fraudulent transfer were not Securities Claims reflecting a violation of any “regulation, rule or statute regulating securities” and hence the defendant’s director and officer insurance policy that covered such claims did not apply. The Supreme Court thus reversed a holding of the Delaware Superior Court that the insurance coverage applied because the claims “pertain[ed] to laws one must follow when engaging in securities transactions.”  The Supreme Court held that the unambiguous plain meaning of the policy language was that the parties intended coverage only for claims arising under regulations, rules or statutes that “regulate securities.” Using that definition, the Supreme Court held that claims of breach of fiduciary duty, aiding and abetting fiduciary duty breaches, and promoter liability were not Securities Claims because they do not involve regulations, rules and statutes regulating securities.  Likewise, the claim for unlawful dividends arose under statutes that regulated dividends, not securities, and the fraudulent transfer claims arose under statutes that were not “specific to transfers involving securities.”  The Supreme Court rejected as overly broad Verizon’s interpretation that the phrase “regulating securities” included any “laws one must follow when engaging in securities transactions,” holding that that interpretation would encompass claims unrelated to securities and would render meaningless the limitation that coverage applied only to violations of rules or statutes “regulating securities.”  The Supreme Court thus remanded the case to the Superior Court to enter judgment for the insurer-defendants.

Chancery Enters Sanctions in TransPerfect Litigation for Violating Exclusive Jurisdiction Provision in Court Order

Posted In Chancery, Sanctions

In re: TransPerfect Global, Inc., C.A. No. 9700-CB (Del. Ch. Oct. 17, 2019).

This decision arose out of the dispute between once deadlocked co-owners of TransPerfect Global that played out in the Delaware courts over several years.  That heavily-litigated controversy resulted in the appointment of a Custodian by the Court of Chancery and a forced sale of the company as part of a Final Order, with one of the co-owners, Phil Shawe, prevailing as the buyer. More ›

Chancery Finds Safe Harbor Conflicts Committee Not Validly Constituted in Master Limited Partnership Dispute

Dieckman v. Regency GP LP, C.A. No. 11130-CB (Del. Ch. Oct. 29, 2019).

The Dieckman v. Regency GP LP matter has been in the Delaware courts for several years.  The Court of Chancery originally dismissed the complaint attacking a conflicted merger transaction primarily on the ground that plaintiff had failed to plead that a unitholder approval safe harbor provision contained in the limited partnership agreement was inapplicable.  The Delaware Supreme Court reversed, holding that plaintiff had adequately pleaded that unitholder approval was secured by false and misleading information and, further, that approval by a Conflicts Committee was tainted by conflicts involving its members.  Plaintiff amended his complaint and, following briefing on a motion to dismiss, the Court of Chancery sustained plaintiff’s claim that the General Partner had approved the transaction even though members of its board did not believe that the transaction was in the best interests of the limited partnership. More ›

Chancery Denies Former Derivative Plaintiff Standing to Challenge Merger That Extinguished Derivative Claims

Morris v. Spectra Energy P’tners (DE) GP, LP, C.A. No. 2019-0097-SG (Del. Ch. Sept. 30, 2019).

When a stockholder derivative claim is extinguished in a merger, the former derivative plaintiff may have standing to contest the merger directly on the ground that the entity’s fiduciaries permitted a material litigation asset to be extinguished in the merger process without value to the stockholders. In the well-known precedent In re Primedia Stockholders Litigation, 67 A. 3d 455 (Del. Ch. 2013), the Court of Chancery established a three part standing test: 1) Was the underlying claim viable? 2) Was its value material in light of the merger consideration? 3) Did the company fail to receive value for the claim in the merger because the buyer would not be willing to pursue it? Applying this test, here the Court ruled that the former unitholder and derivative plaintiff lacked standing to attack the merger and dismissed the claim.  More ›

Chancery Blocks Natural Gas IPO

Posted In LLC Agreements

Williams Field Services Group, LLC v. Caiman Energy, C.A. No. 2019-0350-JTL (Del. Ch. Sept. 25, 2019).

This case again illustrates the contractual nature of Delaware alternative entities and the important interpretive role the courts perform construing alternative entity agreements when internal governance disputes arise. The case arose out of the parties’ competing requests for declaratory judgment regarding Caiman Energy II, LLC’s (“Caiman”) limited liability agreement (“LLC Agreement”). The Defendants, including Caiman and EnCap Capital Management (“EnCap”), argued that the provisions of the LLC Agreement grant EnCap plenary power with respect to a Qualified IPO, including the ability to change the definition of a Qualified IPO and to modify the procedures the contracting parties would otherwise have to take relating to a Qualified IPO. EnCap asserted that it could implement an Up-C IPO using its authority to effect a Qualified IPO. An Up-C IPO refers to a transaction whereby a limited liability company (“LLC”), which is taxed as a pass-through entity, performs an IPO through a holding company that has an interest in the LLC. Plaintiff Williams Field Services Group, LLC (“Williams”) contended that the Encap proposed Up-C IPO was inconsistent with the terms of the LLC Agreement.  More ›

Court of Chancery Orders Advancement of Fees for Former Directors and Officers who Sold their Stock in a Private Transaction

Posted In Advancement

Nielsen v. EBTH, Inc., C.A. No. 2019-0164-MTZ (Del. Ch. Sept. 30, 2019).

Delaware law permits advancement of fees and expenses for officers or directors who have such rights under certificates of incorporation, bylaws, or indemnification agreements.  Depending on the factual allegations of the underlying action, advancement rights can apply even for former officers and directors of a company who sold their stock in a private transaction to which the company was not a party. More ›

Court of Chancery Clarifies a Plaintiff’s Ability to Bind a Non-Signatory to a Forum Selection Provision

Neurvana Medical, LLC v. Balt USA, LLC, C.A. No. 2019-0034-KSJM (Del. Ch. Sep. 18, 2019), reargument denied (Oct. 10, 2019).

In Neurvana Medical, LLC v. Balt USA, LLC, the Court of Chancery declined to exercise personal jurisdiction over a French company, Balt International, S.A.S., the parent of Balt USA, LLC.  The Court rejected Neurvana’s argument that Balt International was so “closely related” to the asset purchase agreement at issue that the agreement’s forum selection clause bound Balt International, even though Balt International was a non-signatory.  The Court also declined to assert jurisdiction over Balt International based on the assertion that Balt USA was Balt International’s agent.  Thus, the Court granted Balt International’s motion to dismiss. More ›

Governor Announces High Court Picks

Posted In News

Earlier today, Governor John Carney announced his intention to nominate Justice Collins J. Seitz, Jr. to serve as the next Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court. Justice Seitz will take over for departing Chief Justice Leo E. Strine, Jr. The Governor also announced his intention to nominate Vice Chancellor Tamika Montgomery-Reeves of the Court of Chancery to serve as a Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court. Click here to access the press release announcing the nominations.

Chancery Enforces Preferred Stock Consent Rights, and Reasons that Designee of a Corporate Stockholder Is an “Affiliate” of that Stockholder for Purposes of an “Interested Party” Clause

Posted In Preferred Stock

PWP Xerion Holdings III LLC v. Red Leaf Resources Inc., C.A. No. 2017-0235-JTL (Del. Ch. Oct. 23, 2019).

Preferred stockholders frequently obtain the right to veto specific types of transactions.  Here, plaintiff PWP Xerion Holdings III LLC (“Xerion”), a hedge fund that acquired Series A Preferred Stock in Red Leaf Resources Inc. (the “Company”), obtained consent rights for certain events, including (i) any transaction “with or for the benefit of any director or officer (or their respective affiliates)”; and (ii) any change of “the business or business plan” of the Company.  In this decision, the Court of Chancery grants partial summary judgment on Xerion’s claims that the Company violated these consent rights.    More ›

Morris James' Business, Commercial, eDiscovery and Corporate Law Practices Recognized in Delaware Today "Top Lawyers" Survey

Posted In News

Morris James is pleased to announce that 49 of its lawyers in 18 practice areas were voted by their peers as “Top Lawyers” in a survey conducted by Delaware Today for the November 2019 edition.  Twelve attorneys in the Business, Commercial, eDiscovery, and Corporate Law categories were selected by their peers, with 4 of those attorneys named the top vote-getters statewide. The overall number of recognized attorneys was the highest of any Delaware law firm for the second consecutive year. More ›

Chancery Finds “Constellation” of Personal and Professional Relations Between Directors and Controlling Stockholder Excuses Demand

In re BGC Partners, Inc. Derivative Litig., Consol. C.A. No. 2018-0722-AGB (Del. Ch. Sept. 30, 2019).

A stockholder plaintiff seeking to bring a derivative claim on behalf of a corporation must first demand authorization from the board of directors or allege why making such a demand would be futile due to the board’s assumed partiality under the alleged facts and circumstances.  One way of establishing demand futility is alleging with particularity significant personal or professional ties to an interested party, like a conflicted controlling stockholder.  BGC Partners illustrates the type and degree of relationships that may excuse the pre-suit demand requirement and overcome a motion to dismiss under Court of Chancery Rule 23.1.  This is a developing area of Delaware law, arguably involving a heightened sensitivity to the significance of personal relationships.  As BGC Partners observes, the Delaware Supreme Court has reversed Court of Chancery findings of director independence in the demand futility context three times in the past four years. More ›

Delaware Superior Court Finds Purchase Agreement Language Limits the Scope of Possible Claims Concerning Earn-Out Dispute

Posted In CCLD, Earn-Out

Collab9, LLC v. En Pointe Technologies Sales, LLC, C.A. No. N16C-12-032 (MMJ) (CCLD) (Del. Super. Sept. 17, 2019).

Under an asset purchase agreement (“APA”), the purchaser (“PCM”) acquired substantially all of the assets of the “En Pointe” business from the seller (“Collab9”).  The APA provided for an earn-out payment, calculated upon a percentage of En Pointe’s Adjusted Gross Profit over several years.  The APA provided that the purchaser “shall have sole discretion with regard to all matters relating to the operation of the Business.”  The agreement further disclaimed any express or implied obligation on the part of the purchaser to take any action, or omit to take any action, to maximize the earn-out amount, and stated that the purchaser “owes no duty, as a fiduciary or otherwise” to the seller.  The APA also contained a clear combined integration and anti-reliance provision. More ›

Chancery Rejects Attempt to Allege Gentile v. Rossette Direct Claims for Dilutive Preferred Stock Issuances

Silverberg v. Padda, C.A. No. 2017-0250-KSJM (Del. Ch. Sept. 19, 2019).

The Court of Chancery held that plaintiff common stockholders’ fiduciary duty claims challenging the company’s overpayment for dilutive preferred stock issuances were derivative in nature because plaintiffs failed to adequately plead the existence of a controller or control group that benefited at the expense of the minority stockholders.  The Court evaluated the common stockholders’ arguments under the standard set forth by Gentile v. Rossette, 906 A.2d 91 (Del. 2006), which provides that minority stockholders may seek direct relief for dilution claims when a controller or control group benefits at the expense of the minority stockholders’ economic and voting rights.  Gentile requires that a plaintiff plead facts sufficient to establish that a control group’s members are connected in some “legally significant way” and work together toward a shared goal, such as voting or other decision making.  The Court also relied upon Dubroff v. Wren Holdings, which emphasized that the existence of a control group does not require a formal contract, but there must be some indicia of an actual agreement that amounts to more than mere parallel interests among the group members.  More ›

Chancery Construes LLC Agreement as Imposing Only the Managerial Duty to Act in Good Faith and Dismisses Claims for Failure to Plead Bad Faith

MKE Holdings v. Schwartz, C.A. No. 2018-0729-SG (Del. Ch. Sept. 26, 2019).

Under Delaware law, the managers of a limited liability company owe the entity and its members the traditional common law fiduciary duties of care and loyalty.  But parties may eliminate or modify those duties under the LLC’s operating agreement and impose contractual duties instead.  When they do so, Delaware courts will analyze any challenged conduct of the manager against those contractual duties.  Here, the Court of Chancery found the managers’ contractual duty to be a narrow one: act with a good faith belief that their conduct was in or not opposed to the LLC’s best interests. More ›