Showing 60 posts by Barnaby Grzaslewicz.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ›
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 ›
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 ›
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.
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.
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.
Delaware Supreme Court Affirms Delaware Choice-of-Law Ruling In Dismissal of D&O Liability Insurance Coverage Dispute
Stillwater Mining Company v. National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA et al., No. 24, 2022 (Del. Jan. 12, 2023)
This decision from Delaware Supreme Court addresses choice-of-law questions for D&O insurance contract disputes and cautions litigants to remain consistent in the positions they take before the trial court. The appellant here, an insured under a tower of directors and officers’ liability insurance policies, asserted that Delaware law applied to the claims in its original complaint for coverage of its defense costs in an appraisal action. Following a decision from the Delaware Supreme Court in another matter (In re Solera Ins. Coverage Appeals), which held that an insurer is not obligated to provide coverage for appraisal actions under a similar insurance policy, the insured amended its complaint and, in so doing, argued that Montana rather than Delaware law controlled. More ›
Ainslie et al. v. Cantor Fitzgerald, L.P., C.A. No. 9436-VCZ (Del. Ch. Jan. 4, 2023)
Under Delaware law, restrictive covenants generally are enforceable unless overly broad in the circumstances, and Delaware courts closely scrutinize them. Similarly, contractual conditions precedent generally are enforceable unless they result in a penalty, and Delaware courts construe ambiguous conditions narrowly to avoid forfeitures. In this decision from the Court of Chancery, a provision in a limited liability partnership agreement intended to discourage competitive activities by former partners was held unenforceable both because it was overly broad and resulted in a forfeiture.
Chancery Finds Plaintiff Failed To State A Non-Exculpated Claim Against Special Committee Defendants In Complaint Challenging A Merger
Ligos v. Tsuff, C.A. No. 2020-0435-SG (Del. Ch. Dec. 1, 2022)
The Delaware Supreme Court’s Cornerstone Therapeutics decision established that, although a transaction involving a controller must satisfy entire fairness review, plaintiffs seeking money damages against independent directors protected by an exculpation clause must still state a non-exculpated claim against each such director, or that director will be entitled to dismissal. In other words, to proceed against independent directors, the complaint must adequately plead that they breached the fiduciary duty of loyalty. More ›
Court of Chancery Awards Plaintiffs Attorneys’ Fees and Costs in Section 225 Action for Obtaining a Substantial Benefit for the Corporation and its Stockholders
Totta v. CCSB, LLC, C.A. No. 2021-0173-KSJM (Del. Ch. Nov. 3, 2022)
Delaware follows the “American Rule”: each party bears its own legal fees and expenses. However, there are certain exceptions. This includes the “corporate benefit exception,” where a party has obtained a substantial benefit for the corporation or its stockholders through prosecuting the lawsuit. In this recent decision from the Court of Chancery, the Court awarded attorneys’ fees and expenses to a plaintiff in a Section 225 action under the corporate benefit exception. More ›
Imposing “A Remedy Of First Impression,” Chancery Divests Party Of Stock Ownership As A Post-Judgment Contempt Sanction Under Rule 70.
In re Stream TV Networks, Inc. Omnibus Agreement Litig., C.A. No. 2020-0776-JTL (Del. Ch. Oct. 3, 2022)
Court of Chancery Rule 70 speaks to the Court’s discretion in fashioning sanctions for failure to comply with a Court order. This expressly includes the authority to divest a party of personal property over which the Court has jurisdiction. In what the Court of Chancery termed a “remedy of first impression,” the Court in this case divested a party of stock in a Delaware corporation as a sanction for failure to comply with a partial final judgment requiring it to transfer legal title of assets, including that stock, to the opposing party. More ›