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Barnaby Grzaslewicz

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Showing 65 posts by Barnaby Grzaslewicz.

Court of Chancery Dismisses Aiding And Abetting Fraud Claim Against Corporate Officers And Directors On Grounds That A Corporation Cannot Conspire With Itself


Urvan v. AMMO, Inc., Consol. C.A. No. 2023-0470 PRW (Del. Ch. Feb. 27, 2024, corrected Mar. 14, 2024)
It is an axiom of Delaware law that a corporation acts through its human agents. This principle informs the causes of action available to would-be plaintiffs against a corporation and its human actors. This case follows the familiar fact pattern where, following a merger, a seller brings a variety of claims against the merged entity and its officers and directors. The plaintiff asserted an aiding and abetting fraud claim against the officers and directors of the company. The officers and directors moved to dismiss the aiding and abetting claim, arguing the intra-corporate conspiracy doctrine generally bars these types of claims because a corporation cannot conspire with itself or its agents. The exception to the general rule is when an “officer steps out of her corporate role and acts pursuant to personal motives.” Reviewing the allegations in the complaint, the Court found that the plaintiff failed to plead sufficient facts to establish that the officers and directors had acted out of their own personal motivations. The Court rejected the plaintiff’s conclusory argument that they participated in making misrepresentations in the merger agreement to hide their past wrongdoing; rather, the Court reasoned that in entering the transaction and making those representations “it seems apparent they were trying to get [the corporation] a favorable deal[.]” Thus, the Court dismissed the aiding and abetting claim.

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Superior Court Dismisses Aiding and Abetting Claim Against Officers


RGIS International Transition Holdco LLC v. Retail Services WIS Corp., C.A. No. N21C-12-077 (Del. Super. February 13, 2024)
Under Delaware law, a corporation generally cannot conspire with its own officers, directors, or agents, nor can those individuals aid and abet a tort committed by the corporation. There is a “personal motivation exception” to this general rule, under which an agent can be liable for conspiring with or aiding and abetting the corporation when acting outside of that agent’s corporate role or pursuant to personal motivations.  More ›

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Delaware Supreme Court Affirms That the Right to Sue Corporate Officers is Not a “Power” Within the Meaning of DGCL Section 242(b)(2)


In re Fox Corporation/Snap Inc. Section 242 Litigation, C.A. 2023-1007-LWW (Del. Ch. January 17, 2024)
DGCL Section 242(b)(2) requires approval by each class of stock to amend a corporate charter, where the amendment alters or changes – adversely – the powers, preferences, or special rights of a class of stock. Here, the Delaware Supreme Court was asked to determine whether a charter amendment affecting the right to sue implicated "powers" of a certain class of stockholders, such that the amendment required approval by all classes of stock. Affirming the Court of Chancery below, the Delaware Supreme Court held that the right to sue is not a “power” within the meaning of Section 242(b)(2), and, thus, the charter amendment did not require approval by all classes of stock. More ›

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Chancery Invokes the Implied Covenant to Invalidate Shareholder Rights Plan


Whitestone REIT Operating Partnership L.P. v. Pillarstone Capital REIT, C.A. No. 2022-0607-LWW (Del. Ch. Jan. 25, 2024)
In Delaware, the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing is inherent in all contracts and ensures that the “fruits of the bargain” are not frustrated by arbitrary or unreasonable action. More ›

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Chancery Orders LLC’s Dissolution as Sanction


Kaufman v. DNARx LLC, C.A. No. 2022-0968-KSJM; C.A. No. 2022-0982-KSJM (Del. Ch. Dec. 29, 2023) (ORDER)
The Court of Chancery has broad power to address litigation misconduct. This sanctions order arose out of litigation concerning a loan to a start-up Delaware LLC in the medical research field. The litigation misconduct by the defendant LLC included lying, destroying evidence, and ignoring numerous court orders. Finding the defendant’s actions egregious and deplorable, the Court entered an extreme sanction—dissolution of the LLC and a liquidation process overseen by a court-appointed receiver.

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Delaware Supreme Court Affirms Busted-Deal Decision and Attorneys’ Fees for Contingency Fee Based Representation


Energy Transfer LP v. The Williams Companies, Inc., No. 391, 2022 (Del. Oct. 10, 2023)
Busted-deal litigation is commonplace in Delaware and often requires Delaware courts to interpret provisions in merger agreements obligating parties to work towards closing and granting one party or the other fees in the event of a breach and failed deal, e.g., break-up fees or reimbursement fees. Here, in a decade-long busted deal suit, the Court of Chancery had found that the plaintiff had fulfilled its contractual obligations and the defendant, therefore, was not entitled to a break-up fee that would have exceeded $1.5 billion. The trial court also found that the defendant owed the plaintiffs approximately $410 million in reimbursement fees and $85 million in attorneys' fees under the merger agreement. On appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed each finding, examining the at-issue provisions and the trial court's determinations. Notably, on the attorneys' fees issue, the Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that the contingency fee nature of the plaintiff's representation did not warrant a finding of unreasonableness. While most decisions addressing the reasonableness of contractual fee awards have dealt with hourly fee representations, the Court found nothing inherently unreasonable about enforcing a contractual fee-shifting arrangement to cover a contingent fee award.

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Chancery Largely Denies Books-and-Records Inspection Exploring Dividend Potential


Greenlight Capital Offshore Partners, LTD., v. Brighthouse Financial Inc., C.A. No. 2022-1067-LWW (Del. Ch. Nov. 20, 2023)
Valuation is a well-established proper purpose to inspect corporate books and records. While each case turns on its own facts, in general the availability of public information to satisfy a valuation demand will result in a relatively narrow court-ordered inspection. Here, the plaintiff conceded the availability of public information for valuation purposes, but sought more to help it speculate regarding the company’s dividend potential, after recent extraordinary dividends at the subsidiary level caused the stock price to jump. While dividend capacity may be relevant to valuation, the Court of Chancery largely denied the inspection, finding the requested information too removed from the company’s current value and thus not necessary and essential to the plaintiff’s valuation purpose.

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Supreme Court Upholds Contractual Voidness Provision in LLC Agreement


Holifield v. XRI Investment Holdings, LLC, No. 407, 2022 (Del. Sept. 7, 2023)
This decision concerned the disputed transfer of a member's LLC units. Below, the Court of Chancery held that the disputed transfer was invalid because it violated the LLC agreement's terms governing transfers. The trial court also held that, under CompoSecure II, the transfer was incurably void, and thus beyond affirmative defenses like acquiescence, because the LLC agreement's “void" language provided for that outcome. However, in dicta, the trial court invited the Supreme Court to revisit its ruling in CompoSecure II, which upheld contractual voidness provisions in the alternative entity context. On appeal, the Supreme Court declined the invitation and ruled that CompoSecure II was correctly decided citing, inter alia, contractual freedom in the LLC context and the doctrine of stare decisis

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Chancery Limits Section 220 Books-and-Records Production to Formal Board Materials


In re Zendesk, Inc. Section 220 Litigation, C.A. No. 2023-0454-BWD (Del. Ch. Aug. 25, 2023)
The background of this books-and-records decision involved a failed acquisition, a strategic review, a proxy contest, and a decision to sell the company at a price below an offer rejected just a few months prior. The plaintiff-shareholders' inspection purpose was to investigate alleged board wrongdoing in connection with the transaction’s approval. The company voluntarily produced formal board materials. But, contending there were information gaps, the plaintiffs also wanted informal board materials, including emails among directors, as well as documents and emails at the officer level. In its post-trial decision, the Court of Chancery found that while the plaintiffs had stated a proper purpose, they did not show entitlement to documents beyond the formal board materials already provided. Citing produced materials, including board minutes and presentations, and the Court found the formal board materials were sufficient to satisfy the shareholders' inspection purpose. As the Court explained, Section 220 inspections “are not tantamount to ‘comprehensive discovery,’" and entitle shareholders only to the “essential” responsive records. 

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Chancery Finds Member Breached LLC Agreement in Unilaterally Dissolving the Company


VH5 Capital, LLC v. Jeremiah Rabe, C.A. No. 2020-0315-NAC (Del. Ch. June 30, 2023)
The at-issue LLC had two members – the defendant and the plaintiff, both of whom also constituted the company's board. The company never observed any corporate formalities, including never holding any meetings or appointing a third board member, as required by the company's LLC Agreement. After operating for mere months and never earning a profit or accumulating assets, the defendant unilaterally dissolved the company. More ›

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Chancery Finds Restrictive Covenant in Stock Purchase Agreement is Unreasonable and Unenforceable


Intertek Testing Servs. NA, Inc., C.A. No 2022-0853-LWW (Del. Ch. Mar. 16, 2023)
Delaware courts do not mechanically enforce non-competes. Instead, the non-compete must be reasonable in scope and duration and advance a legitimate economic interest of the party enforcing the covenant.  More ›

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Chancery Holds That Party’s Untimely Counterclaim Cannot Avoid Laches Defense By Invocation of Unclean Hands


Thomas D. Murray et al. v. Shannon Rolquin et al., C.A. No 2018-0819-KSJM (Del. Ch. Mar. 9, 2023)
In the Court of Chancery, untimely equitable claims may be time-barred by the doctrine of laches. However, a belated claimant may avoid a laches defense through a tolling theory. Here, a party attempted to excuse her delay in bringing counterclaims under a tolling theory and under a novel unclean hands theory. Post-trial, the Court was not persuaded by either theory.  More ›

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Chancery Declines to Modify Status Quo Order to Allow Partial Performance of Pending Settlement


In re AMC Entertainment Holdings, Inc. Stockholder Litigation, Consol. C.A. No. 2023-0215-MTZ (Del. Ch. Apr. 5, 2023)
In various contexts, upon request or stipulation, the Court of Chancery will impose status quo orders, which typically restrain corporate action pending the Court’s adjudication of disputed rights. A party seeking to modify or vacate such an order bears the burden of establishing good cause for the change. Here, following a settlement agreement between the parties, the plaintiffs sought to lift a status quo order to permit the defendant, AMC, to partially effectuate the settlement. The proposed action would alter the company’s capital structure. The litigation involved class claims, implicating Court of Chancery Rule 23, and the requirement that any class action or derivative settlement be approved by the Court following notice to the stockholders and the opportunity to object. The Court had not yet considered or approved the proposed settlement. In these circumstances, with little more than a desire for speed offered in support of the motion, the Court declined to lift the status quo order, citing the Court’s gatekeeping role in Rule 23 settlements.

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Supreme Court Finds Contractually Required Board Committee Determination Under Stock Option Agreements Did Not Bar Judicial Review


Terrell v. Kiromic Biopharma Inc., No. 299, 2022 (Del. May 4, 2023) 
This dispute between a company and a former director involved the meaning of a stock option agreement and option grant notice. The Court of Chancery had found that, under a contractual alternative dispute resolution provision, the dispute was to be resolved in accordance with a board committee’s interpretation of the relevant documents. The trial court stayed the action for that purpose. After the committee resolved the issue in the company’s favor, the trial court promptly dismissed the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. On appeal, the Supreme Court found no error in the trial court’s stay to allow the committee’s determination in the first instance but reversed and remanded for the trial court to review the matter before dismissing the action. The Supreme Court explained that the provision “is an expert determination, not an arbitration, and because it requires the Committee to reach legal determinations, not issue findings of fact within its area of expertise, the Court of Chancery is not required to defer to the Committee's conclusions." Thus, the trial court was required to engage in a de novo interpretation of the agreements.

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Chancery Examines Director’s Personal Ties and Dismisses Duty of Loyalty Claim


In re Orbit/FR, Inc. S’holders Litig., C.A. No. 2018-0340-SG (Jan. 24, 2023)
This decision involved a stockholder challenge to a merger between Orbit and its controller, Microwave Vision. A certain director who served on a special committee was alleged to have breached his fiduciary duty of loyalty in approving the transaction, arising out of his alleged conflict as an employee beholden to the controller for his job. After admitting the allegation of an employment relationship was a mistake, the plaintiff shifted to alleging the director lacked independence based on his personal relationship with another director, who served on the boards of both Orbit and Microwave Vision. The two directors had been neighbors, their children were contemporaries, and they frequently went bicycling together years earlier. On a motion to dismiss, the Court of Chancery found that these "casual sharing of interests between neighbors” did not give rise to a conflict for the at-issue director and did not support a non-exculpated duty of loyalty claim against him.

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bgrzaslewicz@morrisjames.com
T 302.888.6827
Barnaby Grzaslewicz is a Partner in the Corporate and Commercial Litigation Practice Group. He is an experienced Delaware litigator focusing his practice on litigation involving …
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