Showing 83 posts by R. Eric Hacker.
Trust Robin, Inc. v. Tissue Analytics, Inc., C.A. No. 2021-0806-SG (Del. Ch. Sep. 29, 2022)
After initially questioning its own subject matter jurisdiction in a dispute involving allegations of breach of contract and tort in connection with a services agreement, the Court of Chancery concluded that the plaintiff’s equitable fraud claim was not “simply a makeweight equitable hook” attached to its legal claims. The plaintiff sufficiently alleged a special relationship between the plaintiff and defendant, and it was possible that the plaintiff could recover for equitable, but not legal, fraud. The Court’s reasoning cited the alignment of the parties’ interests, the defendant’s control over the parties’ joint purpose by virtue of controlling certain intellectual property and other proprietary information belonging to the plaintiff, and the defendant’s alleged use of that control to engage in self-dealing. Therefore, the Court permitted the matter to proceed.
Chancery Finds Personal Jurisdiction Over Individual Who Formed Delaware Entities in Connection with a Challenged Merger Transaction
In Re P3 Health Grp. Hldgs., LLC, Consol. C.A. No. 2021-0518-JTL (Del. Ch. Oct. 14, 2022)
The Court of Chancery rejected an individual defendant’s challenge to Delaware’s assertion of personal jurisdiction over him. Although the defendant portrayed himself as merely a shareholder of Delaware entities (which is not in itself a basis for personal jurisdiction), the Court found that he had transacted business in the state for purposes of Delaware’s Long Arm Statute because he also formed two entities as part of a planned merger. It did not offend due process to require the individual to defend litigation related to the merger in Delaware because there was a nexus between his contacts and the claims and because he should have reasonably anticipated that Delaware would exercise jurisdiction over him in litigation arising from the merger.
Board Lacks Standing to Bring Motion to Dismiss Because It Delegated That Authority to Special Litigation Committee
Rowan v. Infinity Q Capital Mgmt., LLC, C.A. No. 2022-0176-MTZ (Del. Ch. Sep. 12, 2022)
If a conflicted board delegates all authority over derivative claims to a special litigation committee (“SLC”), then the board may lack authority separately to assert procedural defenses, including a motion to dismiss under Court of Chancery Rule 23.1. But whether a board has given up this authority depends upon the sequence and terms of the SLC’s creation. More ›
In re Match Grp. Inc. Deriv. Lit., Cons. C.A. 2020-0505-MTZ (Del. Ch. Sep. 1, 2022)
Under the so-called MFW framework, a transaction with a controller is subject to business judgment review, rather than the more exacting entire fairness review, if the transaction satisfies all six procedural protections elaborated in Kahn v. M & F Worldwide Corp., 88 A.3d 635 (Del. 2014). In simple terms, the MFW framework mimics the two key protections that exist in a transaction with a third party by requiring an independent negotiating agent (i.e., a board committee) and approval by the majority of the non-controlling stockholders. But the standard can be difficult to meet because the failure to comply with a single condition is fatal. Nonetheless, here, the Court of Chancery concluded that the transaction satisfied all six elements of the MFW framework because the as-pled facts established that the special committee had necessary authority, that a majority of the special committee was sufficiently independent, that the special committee satisfied its duty of care in negotiating a fair price, and that the minority stockholders approved the transaction through an uncoerced and informed vote. Because the plaintiff did not plead any claim that would overcome the application of the business judgment rule, the Court dismissed the case.
Implied Covenant of Good Faith Covers Contractual Conditions “Too Obvious” to State Expressly in Indemnification Dispute
Baldwin v. New Wood Resources, LLC, App. No. 303, 2021 (Del. Aug. 16, 2022)
This appeal involved an underlying claim that Baldwin had improperly refused to repay litigation expenses advanced to him under New Wood Resource’s limited liability company agreement. The agreement provided Baldwin with indemnification so long as he acted in good faith, and it also specified a process for determining whether Baldwin had done so. One narrow issue on appeal was whether the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing required the good faith determination itself to be conducted in good faith. Reversing the Superior Court, an en banc panel of the Supreme Court ruled that the implied covenant did apply. The Court relied upon its earlier decision in Dieckman v. Regency GP LP to restate the principle that one function of the implied covenant is to cover those contractual conditions that are "too obvious" to include expressly. That "too obvious" category included the condition that the good faith determination be made in good faith. Because New World Resources conceded this point at argument and did not make a persuasive alternative argument, the Court remanded the case.
Chancery Denies Bid to Dismiss Derivative Claims Amid Alleged “Gamesmanship” Regarding Composition of LLC’s Board of Managers
Schoenmann v. Irvin, C.A. 2021-0326-SG (Del. Ch. Jun. 2, 2022)
After the plaintiff filed his direct and derivative claims in April 2021, the defendants – the company and its controller – circulated in June 2021 a written consent purporting to change the composition of the company’s board of managers as of January 2021. The defendants then moved to dismiss the derivative claims on the grounds that the plaintiff did not plead demand futility with respect to the purported new board. Based on the plaintiff’s allegations, the Court agreed with the plaintiff that it was reasonably inferable that the consent was backdated. But the Court ultimately decided the matter on a different ground: even if the board composition validly changed in January 2021, equity would not reward the defendants’ gamesmanship in delaying notice of the change. Because it was reasonable to infer that the change was made in anticipation of the plaintiff’s derivative claims and to thwart them, and the plaintiff properly pleaded demand futility with respect to the board of which he had notice, the Court allowed those claims to proceed.
Diep v. Trimaran Pollo Partners, No. 313, 2021 (Del. June 28, 2022)
After the Court of Chancery denied an initial motion to dismiss, the company formed a special litigation committee (“SLC”) to investigate the claims and determine whether the company should allow the plaintiff to proceed, take over the litigation, or move to dismiss. The SLC investigated and then moved to dismiss the claims, which the Court of Chancery granted under Zapata. Among other rulings, the Supreme Court affirmed and upheld the Court of Chancery’s rejection of the plaintiff’s contention that the SLC did not meet its burden to establish the independence of the SLC members. The Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that the record did not establish that as directors the SLC members had specific knowledge of the facts and circumstances that led the Company, as nominal defendant, to join the initial motion to dismiss those claims that the SLC later was charged with investigating. Justice Valihura dissented because she believed that material issues of fact existed regarding the SLC members’ independence.
Simon Property Group v. Regal Entertainment Group, C. A. No. N21C-01-204-MMJ (Del. Super. Ct. Jul. 6, 2022) (CCLD)
Simon Property, the landlord, sued Regal Entertainment, the tenant, for breach of a commercial lease, including Regal Entertainment’s failure to pay rent during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021. Regal Entertainment asserted several affirmative pandemic-related defenses. Upon Simon Property’s motion, the Court rejected Regal Entertainment’s defenses as a matter of law because the parties’ lease contained a force majeure provision broad enough to cover the pandemic events and because those provisions allocated the risk of loss to Regal Entertainment.
Samuels v. CCUR Holdings, Inc., C.A. No. 2021-0358-PAF (Del. Ch. May 31, 2022)
Under Section 155 of the DGCL, corporations may elect either to issue stockholders fractional shares or to pay a stockholder the fair value of the fractional interest. The plaintiff-stockholder alleged that the corporation failed to pay him fair value for his fractional interest after a reverse stock split. In allowing a standalone claim under the statute to proceed, the Court reasoned that stockholders generally are permitted to assert direct statutory claims, and previous decisions addressing Section 155 did not foreclose the plaintiff’s statutory cause of action.
Garfield v. Allen, C.A. No. 2021-0420-JTL (Del. Ch. May 24, 2022)
Historically, the wrongful rejection of a demand has affected only the question of who controls a derivative claim. In this case, involving equity issuances to a director under an equity compensation plan, however, the plaintiff asserted that defendant-directors’ demand refusal constituted a separate breach of duty because the defendants did not correct an obvious violation of the plan’s plain language. Although the Court recognized that the claim was potentially problematic from a policy perspective, the Court nonetheless found that the claim rested on the established principle that a conscious failure to act is the equivalent of action. And the Court concluded that the plaintiff’s complaint established “one of the strongest possible scenarios for such a claim.” Thus, the Court reasoned, it was reasonably conceivable that the defendants’ conscious inaction in the face of the plaintiff’s demand constituted a breach of the defendants’ duties.
Citing Novel Issues of Delaware Law, Chancery Declines to Dismiss Stockholder Class Action in Favor of First-Filed Securities Action
Lordstown Motors Corp. Stockholders Litig., CA. No. 2021-1066-LWW (Del. Ch. Mar. 7, 2022)
The Court of Chancery denied the defendants’ McWane motion to stay the case in favor of a first-filed federal securities action. Because first-filed status matters less in representative actions, McWane correspondingly applies with less force. Here, among the relevant factors, the Court of Chancery action involved novel Delaware legal issues, including the intersection of fiduciaries duty law and SPACs. And the claims were not a mere rebranding as breaches of fiduciary duty of securities law claims based on allegedly misleading statements. Thus, the Court concluded that Delaware’s substantial interest in providing guidance in emerging areas of Delaware law outweighed any practical or comity concerns that might otherwise warrant a stay.
Court Rejects Franchisor’s Attempt Based on Business Effects of COVID-19 to Escape Contractual Obligation to Purchase Franchisee’s Assets
Level 4 Yoga, LLC v. CorePower Yoga, LLC, C.A. No. 2020-0249-JRS (Del. Ch. March 1, 2022)
In this post-trial decision, the Court of Chancery awarded specific performance to Plaintiff/franchisee who sought to enforce Defendant/franchisor’s exercise of its contractual right to purchase Plaintiff’s assets, which included yoga studios in several states. Defendant exercised its right as of May 2019 but then delayed, and ultimately purported to back out, after the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in early 2020. The Court granted specific performance based upon the specific language of the parties’ agreement, finding Defendant failed to prove either a Material Adverse Effect or a violation of the ordinary course covenant when Plaintiff temporarily closed its yoga studios in response to COVID-19. Among other reasons, the seller was the franchisee, the buyer was the franchisor, and the seller had followed the buyer’s instructions concerning the operation of franchises. The Court also noted that the parties’ agreement contained no closing conditions or an express right to terminate.
Chancery Curtails Discovery in Appraisal Action Instituted as a Substitute for Books and Records Demand
Wei v. Zoox, Inc, C.A. No. 2020-1036-KSJM (Del. Ch. Jan. 31, 2022)
Often, stockholders who suspect corporate wrongdoing in connection with M&A transactions demand to inspect the company’s books and records under Section 220. But if, through no fault of the stockholder, the timing of a closing makes Section 220 relief more difficult to obtain, may the stockholder use Section 262, the appraisal statute, and its broader available discovery, to accomplish the same goal? In this case, the Court concludes that the answer is a qualified yes. That is, the stockholders are entitled to discovery in the appraisal proceeding. But if it appears the proceeding is just a means to investigate a potential class action for breach of fiduciary duties, the stockholder is entitled to discovery only to the limited extent it would have been available under Section 220, and not to the broader extent typically available under Section 262.
Galindo v. Stover, C.A. No. 2021-0031-SG (Del. Ch. Jan. 26, 2022)
If a majority of fully informed, uncoerced, disinterested stockholders vote to approve a merger not involving a conflicted controlling stockholder, then under the Corwin doctrine, the business judgment rule applies because the vote cleanses any breach of duty (except a claim for waste). In this decision, the Court of Chancery returns to what it means for the stockholder vote to be “informed.” More ›
Simons v. Brookfield Asset Mgmt., Inc., C.A. No. 2020-0841-KSJM (Del. Ch. Jan. 21, 2022)
If a derivative plaintiff does not make a pre-suit demand on the board, then under Court of Chancery Rule 23.1, the plaintiff must allege particularized facts demonstrating that demand would have been futile because a majority of the board was incapable of impartially considering a litigation demand. More ›