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Photo of Delaware Business Litigation Report Albert J. Carroll
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acarroll@morrisjames.com
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Albert Carroll is a member of the firm's Corporate and Commercial Litigation Group and focuses his practice on litigation involving corporations and alternative entities formed …

Showing 303 posts by Albert J. Carroll.

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 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 ›

Chancery Upholds Caremark Claim Based on Alleged Failure to Adequately Monitor Biopharmaceutical Company’s Clinical Trials

In Re Clovis Oncology, Inc. Derivative Litigation, C.A. No. 2017-0222-JRS (Del. Ch. Oct. 1, 2019).

The Delaware courts have observed that a Caremark claim for failure of oversight against a board is among the most difficult to sustain.  Nonetheless, a set of particularized allegations showing serious oversight shortcomings regarding a mission-critical topic will succeed, as illustrated by the Delaware Supreme Court’s recent decision in Marchand v. Barnhill, 212 A. 3d 805 (Del. 2019).  Clovis is the latest example. More ›

Chancery Applies Entire Fairness Review to Executive Compensation Decision Benefiting Controller Despite Stockholder Approval, Declining to Dismiss Claims Involving Tesla’s Elon Musk

Tornetta v. Musk, C.A. No. 2018-0408-JRS (Del. Ch. Sept. 20, 2019).

Under Delaware law, executive compensation decisions by a corporation’s board of directors generally are entitled to deferential judicial review, and even more so when approved by the stockholders.  On the other hand, Delaware law generally imposes heightened scrutiny in the form of entire fairness review for transactions uniquely benefiting a corporation’s controlling stockholder, relying on the inherent coercion that accompanies control.  So what standard of review applies when an executive compensation decision benefits the company’s controlling stockholder and the stockholders approve it? More ›

Chancery Finds Prospective Purchaser May Pursue Breach Claims Against Target Despite Termination Fee Payment

Genuine Parts Company v. Essendant Inc., C.A. No. 2018-0730-JRS (Del. Ch. Sept. 9, 2019).

Termination fee provisions are commonplace buy-side protection in M&A transactions intended to recoup a failed prospective purchaser’s otherwise sunk costs.  They can also provide substantial sell-side protection when drafted as an exclusive remedy.  But, as this decision illustrates, the level of protection depends on each contract’s specific terms.        More ›

Chancery Finds Plaintiffs Lost Direct and Derivative Standing After Sale of Shares

Urdan v. WR Capital Partners, LLC, C.A. No. 2018-0343-JTL (Del. Ch. Aug. 19, 2019).

It is well-settled Delaware law that the right to bring a derivative claim in the corporation’s name or a direct claim in the individual stockholder’s name is a property right associated with the ownership of shares and that those rights normally pass from a selling stockholder to the buyer.  Relatedly, Delaware law imposes two conditions for derivative standing: first, a contemporaneous ownership requirement, meaning the plaintiff must have been a stockholder at the time of the complained of wrong; and, second, a continuous ownership requirement, meaning the plaintiff must continue to be a stockholder to pursue its claims.  The rules are slightly different in the direct standing context.  In contrast to the continuous ownership requirement for derivative claims, a selling stockholder may retain the right to bring a direct claim by contract.  This decision explains and applies these concepts, finding certain stockholders lost both forms of standing when reaching a settlement, despite an apparent attempt to avoid that result in the relevant contracts. More ›

Chancery Explains When Deal Price is a Persuasive Indicator of Fair Value in an Appraisal Proceeding

Posted In Appraisal

In re Appraisal of Stillwater Mining Co., Consol. C.A. No. 2017-0385-JTL (Del. Ch. Aug. 21, 2019).

Recent Delaware Supreme Court decisions on appraisal proceedings have stressed the pivotal importance of the deal price in establishing fair value.  In this case, the Court of Chancery faced an appraisal for a transaction in which the company’s General Counsel expressed ongoing concerns about the CEO’s potential conflict in spearheading the sale process.  That gave rise to the question:  In measuring fair value, what weight should be accorded to the deal price when there is some “hint of self-interest” that may have compromised the market check?  More ›

Chancery Denies Director Access to Privileged Materials Involving Counsel to Preferred-Appointed Directors

Gilmore v. Turvo, Inc., C.A. No. 2019-0472-JRS (Del. Ch. Aug. 19, 2019).

As several Delaware decisions teach, each director, as a member of the larger deliberative body that is the board, has a fundamental right to access corporate information to carry out his or her fiduciary duties.  Thus, as a general rule, a Delaware corporation “cannot assert the privilege to deny a director access to legal advice furnished to the board during the director’s tenure.”  There are several exceptions to this rule.  More ›

Chancery Addresses Ripeness for Indemnification Claims Concerning Tax Liabilities

Posted In Indemnification

Hill v. LW Buyer LLC, C. A. No. 2017-0591-MTZ (Del. Ch. July 31, 2019).

As this summary judgment decision illustrates, even where parties to a securities purchase agreement agree on a buyer’s entitlement to indemnification for future tax liabilities, absent specific language to the contrary, the buyer generally must suffer harm before such a claim will be ripe for decision.  That is because, under the ripeness doctrine, Delaware courts will decline to decide issues presenting only hypothetical harm. More ›

Delaware Superior Court Addresses Choice of Law Issues in the D&O Insurance Context and Requires Carriers to Cover Pfizer’s Litigation Costs

Pfizer Inc. v. Arch Insurance Co., C.A. No. N18C-01-310 PRW CCLD (Del. Super. July 23, 2019).

This case from the Delaware Superior Court discusses important D&O coverage exclusion issues that frequently arise during securities litigation.  Pfizer sought coverage from its insurers in connection with the defense and settlement of a securities action in the Southern District of New York.  Defendants, the excess insurers, denied coverage based on “related wrongful acts” exclusions in the policies.  They argued that the action “arose out of” or “shared a common nexus” with another action in the District of New Jersey such that the D&O policies’ exclusion provisions precluded coverage.  Noting that the contract interpretation result would likely be different if applying New York law rather than Delaware law, and that the policies lacked a controlling choice of law provision, the Superior Court first applied the Restatement’s “most significant relationship” test to determine which state law should apply.  Although some of the Restatement Section 188 factors tipped in favor of New York, the Court ruled that application of Delaware law was most consistent with the parties’ reasonable expectations at the time of contracting and with the Delaware choice of law precedent for D&O policies.  For such policies, under Delaware law, the state of incorporation, rather than the state where the corporation is headquartered, has the most significant relationship.  This also was consistent with the parties’ choice of Delaware law in the policies to govern arbitration or mediation of their disputes.  Applying well-settled Delaware law to the interpretation of the policy provisions, the Court found the two actions were not “fundamentally identical.”  Thus, the exclusion did not apply and the insurers were obligated to cover the costs. More ›

Chancery Offers Guidance on When the Limitations Periods Begin to Run For Claims Concerning Breaches of Representations and Warranties and Related Indemnification

Kilcullen v. Spectro Scientific, Inc., C.A. No. 2018-0429-KSJM (Del. Ch. July 15, 2019).

Delaware law provides for a default three-year statute of limitations period for breaches of contract, generally applicable to claims for breaches of representation and warranties and related claims for indemnification concerning stock purchase agreements or assets sales. More ›

Chancery Dismisses Oversight Claims Against J.C. Penney Board

Posted In Fiduciary Duty

Rojas v. Ellison, C.A. No. 2018-0755-AGB (Del. Ch. July 29, 2019).

As this Court of Chancery decision explains, the Delaware standard for imposing oversight liability on a board of directors under a Caremark theory is “exacting” and requires evidence of bad faith.  Combined with the heightened “particularized” pleading requirements of Court of Chancery Rule 23.1, stockholders face an uphill battle when pursuing an oversight theory as the basis for liability and for excusing a pre-suit demand on the board. More ›

Chancery Decides Questions of First Impression Regarding Statutory Claims for Unlawful Dividends and Fraudulent Transfers

Enforcement mechanisms available to creditors of Delaware corporations may include, inter alia, claims against directors to recover unlawful dividends under Section 174 of the Delaware General Corporation Law (8 Del. C. Section 174), and fraudulent transfer claims against the corporation and transferees including, where Delaware law applies, under Delaware’s Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act, referred to as DUFTA (6 Del. C. Section 1301). In JPMorgan Chase Bank v. Ballard, C.A. No. 2018-0274-AGB (Del. Ch. July 11, 2019), Chancellor Andre G. Bouchard of the Delaware Court of Chancery addressed three important questions of first impression concerning standing and limitations periods issues under these statutes. More ›

Chancery Dismisses Merger Challenge Concerning Board’s Delegation of Merger Negotiations and Management’s Undisclosed Compensation Discussions

Posted In Fiduciary Duty, M&A

In re Towers Watson & Co. Stockholder Litigation, C.A. No. 2018-0132-KSJM (Del. Ch. July 25, 2019).

The ultimate responsibility for considering a merger falls on the board to carry out consistent with each director's fiduciary duties.  But management usually takes the lead role in negotiating with the counterparty.  It is not uncommon for stockholder plaintiffs to make hay out of a board allowing potentially conflicted members of management to pick up that mantle.  Sometimes those circumstances support a claim for breach of fiduciary duty and sometimes they do not.  This motion to dismiss decision addresses claims in that context, with the Court of Chancery finding the case falls in the latter category. More ›