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Jonathan G. Strauss

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Showing 31 posts by Jonathan G. Strauss.

CCLD Offers Guidance on the Application of Tolling Doctrines to M&A Agreement Clauses Modifying the Statute of Limitations for Representations and Warranties Claims

AssuredPartners of Virginia, LLC v. Sheehan, C.A. No. N19C-02-175 AML CCLD (Del. Super. Ct. May 29, 2020)

A disgruntled buyer brought suit against its seller for breaches of representations and warranties four years after the execution of the applicable asset purchase agreement (“APA”). The APA contained a clause providing that certain representations and warranties survived for two (2) years post-closing except for those fraudulently given, which survived from closing until sixty days after expiration of the applicable statute of limitations. The defendant-sellers sought dismissal of the breach claims as untimely, requiring Judge Abigail M. LeGrow of the Superior Court of Delaware to determine whether the doctrine of tolling applied to the APA’s survival clause and if the parties intended to contractually extend the statute of limitations for fraudulent representation claims under 10 Del. C. § 8106(c). More ›

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Chancery Offers Guidance on the Effect of Charging Orders on Contractual Obligations

Posted In LLCs

GMF ELCM Fund L.P. v. ELCM HCRE GP LLC, C.A. No. 2018-0840-SG (Del. Ch. May 18, 2020)

Charging orders authorized by 6 Del. C. § 18-703 of the Delaware Limited Liability Company Act offer judgment creditors of LLC members a collection method. These orders function as a lien against the membership interest and grant the judgment creditor the right to monetary distributions that would otherwise be funneled to the member. The imposition of a charging order does not, however, afford the judgment creditor the right to obtain possession of or exercise remedies, legal or equitable, with respect to the LLC’s property. More ›

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Chancery Dismisses GoPro Derivative Action for Failure to Allege Directors Intentionally Made Inflated Revenue Forecasts or Failed to Exercise Appropriate Caremark Oversight

In re GoPro, Inc. S’holder Deriv. Litig., C.A. No. 2018-0784-JRS (Del. Ch. Apr. 28, 2020)

This opinion serves as a reminder that particularized allegations of non-exculpated wrongdoing are necessary to support the contention that a demand would be futile. Vice Chancellor Joseph R. Slights, III dismissed a breach of fiduciary duty derivative action for failure to allege demand futility with the detail prescribed by Chancery Court Rule 23.1. The plaintiffs, GoPro, Inc. stockholders, filed suit against officers and directors after complications with the launch of a new drone caused the company to miss its revenue forecast. The complaint alleged that pre-suit demand was futile because a majority of the board faced liability for its knowledge of, but failure to disclose, the company’s revenue shortfall and were beholden to the CEO/controlling stockholder such that they could not exercise independence. The missed revenue projections also spurred a federal securities class action suit, naming three of the same defendants, where a ruling denying a dismissal motion found that the class plaintiffs well pled that the named overlapping defendants made false or misleading statements regarding the drone. More ›

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Superior Court Allows Fraudulent Inducement and Breach of Contract Claims to Proceed in Parallel Based on Rescissory Damages Request

Posted In CCLD, Fraud

Firmenich Inc. v. Natural Flavors, Inc., C.A. No. N19C-01-320 MMJ [CCLD] (Del. Super. Apr. 7, 2020).

Fraud claims that overlap with breach of contract claims often are subject to dismissal under Delaware law. Sometimes, however, fraud and contract claims may proceed in parallel, as the Complex Commercial Litigation Division of the Superior Court determined in Natural Flavors. Here, the Superior Court declined to dismiss a fraudulent inducement claim seeking rescissory damages notwithstanding an alternatively-pled breach of contract claim. The litigation concerned an Asset Purchase Agreement and allegations of fraud arising from a former employee’s whistleblowing. After the plaintiff-buyer’s initial fraud claim was dismissed as impermissibly bootstrapped to its breach of contract claim, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint for rescissory damages as compensation for alleged fraudulent inducement to enter into the APA, while alternatively seeking relief for alleged breach of the APA. The defendant-seller, again, sought dismissal of the fraud claim as duplicative of the breach of contract count. More ›

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Chemours v. DowDuPont: Chancery Requires Subsidiary to Arbitrate Separation Agreement Dispute with Parent Despite the Subsidiary’s Lack of “Real World” Consent to the Separation Agreement

The Chemours Co. v. DowDuPont Inc., et al., C.A. No. 2019-0351-SG (Del. Ch. Mar. 30, 2020).

The subsidiary-plaintiff, created after the reorganization of the parent-defendant, brought an action against its parent and related entities challenging the enforceability of the Separation Agreement memorializing the terms of the subsidiary’s spin-off, including its arbitration clause. According to the subsidiary, certain liabilities assigned to the subsidiary in the spin-off were “vastly and wrongfully underestimated” by the parent, and the subsidiary brought suit to limit its obligations for those liabilities. The defendants moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because the Separation Agreement contained an arbitration clause.        More ›

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Chancery Enforces LLC Agreement Arbitration Clause and Finds that Member’s Resignation Did Not Prevent Enforcement

360 Campaign Consulting, LLC v. Diversity Communication, LLC, C.A. No. 2019-0807-MTZ (Del. Ch. Mar. 20, 2020).

Following a dispute between the two members of a Delaware LLC, Plaintiff filed an eleven (11) count complaint against the Defendant former member, the LLC, its manager and others. Defendant moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction based on an arbitration provision in the LLC Agreement. The Court’s threshold question was whether it (as opposed to an arbitrator) had jurisdiction to decide whether the dispute was arbitrable, an issue otherwise known as substantive arbitrability.  More ›

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Chancery Sustains Breach of Fiduciary Duty Claim Against Long-Time Friend and Financial Advisor, and Addresses Double-Derivative Standing for Alternative Entities

Bamford v. Penfold, L.P., C.A. No. 2019-0005-JTL (Del. Ch. Feb. 28, 2019).

After realizing that a 2016 reorganization stripped them of their voting and other governance rights in a highly profitable limited liability company, the plaintiffs brought direct and derivative claims against their former business partner and the entities he controlled. The defendant and his entities moved to dismiss, which the Court largely denied. Of particular note were the Court’s rulings about one of the breach of fiduciary duty claims and the plaintiffs’ standing to bring double-derivative claims challenging pre-organization conduct.     More ›

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Chancery Addresses Civil Conspiracy Elements

Posted In Chancery

O’Gara v. Coleman, C.A. No. 2018-0708-KSJM (Del. Ch. Feb. 14, 2020).

This action arose out of corporate infighting among certain directors and investors at a nutrient-infused water company. The plaintiff, the company’s founder, brought tort and contracts claims against certain former directors and current stockholders, accusing them of wrongfully attempting to seize control of the company. The parties settled several claims, but some defendants and claims remained. In this motion to dismiss decision, the Court of Chancery addresses, inter alia, the elements of a claim for civil conspiracy and, relatedly, the conspiracy theory of jurisdiction.  More ›

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Chancery Follows Recent Precedent Finding Pre-Suit Correspondence to be a Litigation Demand, Dismisses Derivative Complaint for Failure to Allege Wrongful Refusal

Dahle v. Pope, C.A. No. 2019-0136-SG (Del. Ch. Jan. 31, 2020).

Incorporating the analysis set forth in Solak ex rel Ultragenyx Pharmaceutical, Inc. v. Welch, 2019 WL 5588877 (Del. Ch. Oct. 30, 2019), the Court of Chancery again dismissed a derivative complaint under Rule 23.1 after finding that the plaintiffs’ pre-suit correspondence was a litigation demand. More ›

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Chancery Further Explains the “Proper Purpose” Requirement for Section 220 Demands

Lebanon County Employees’ Retirement Fund v. AmerisourceBergen Corp., C.A. No. 2019-0527-JTL (Del. Ch. Jan. 13, 2020).

Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law (“DGCL”) provides stockholders seeking information for a proper purpose with the right to inspect a corporation’s books and records. This recent decision provides additional guidance by (i) rejecting a “purpose-plus-an-end” test as inconsistent with the text of Section 220 and Delaware Supreme Court precedent; and (ii) explaining that a stockholder may have a proper purpose to investigate wrongdoing regardless of whether she can show potentially viable claims against a board of directors.  More ›

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Chancery Sustains Claims Against Board Chairman who Rolled Over Equity in Going-Private Transaction and Officers Who Crafted Misleading Disclosures

Posted In Fiduciary Duty, M&A

Morrison v. Berry, C.A. No. 12808-VCG (Del. Ch. Dec. 31, 2019).

Plaintiff, a former stockholder of The Fresh Market, Inc. (the “Company”), brought claims arising out Apollo’s 2016 acquisition of the Company.

Because the directors benefited from exculpation under 8 Del. C. §102(b)(7), the plaintiff was required to sufficiently plead a breach of the fiduciary duty of loyalty. The Court rejected the novel argument that activist shareholders were exerting so much pressure on the board that the directors were motivated to protect their own reputations by approving a near-term sale. The Court reasoned that the directors’ reputations would be at far greater risk if they breached their duty of loyalty by orchestrating a sham auction, and that it would be irrational for them to harm their own pecuniary interests as shareholders. The Court also reasoned that, while they could have chosen other potentially value-enhancing paths, the decision to hold an auction and solicit bids from a wide field did not suggest “bad faith.”  More ›

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Delaware Superior Court CCLD Disqualifies Counsel to Ensure Fairness of Litigation Process

Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada v. Wilmington Savings Fund Society, FSB, C.A. No. N18C-08-074 PRW CCLD (Del. Super. Dec. 19, 2019).

Motions to disqualify counsel rarely succeed in the Delaware courts. This decision illustrates the type of conflict that can justify disqualification based on prior representations. Plaintiff issued a life insurance policy of $6 million to an individual named Bartelstein. The policy was assigned to a trust whose beneficiary is an entity, with the moniker Ocean Gate, making Ocean Gate the policy’s ultimate beneficiary. Plaintiff filed this suit alleging the policy is void as a stranger-oriented life insurance wager on Bartelstein’s life procured for investors. The litigation gave rise to alleged conflict issues for involved counsel. More ›

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Chancery Holds Plaintiffs’ Emails with Counsel on Defendants’ Server Are Privileged Due to Application of Argentine Law

Posted In Discovery, Privilege

Lynch v. Gonzalez, C.A. No. 2019-0356-MTZ (Del. Ch. Nov. 18, 2019).

The plaintiff brought suit seeking confirmation that it validly acquired from defendants a majority ownership interest and the concomitant right to manage Grupo Belleville Holdings, LLC (the “Company”), a Delaware limited liability company. The discovery motion at-issue addresses the confidentiality of emails between Plaintiff and his counsel – complicated by the fact that they are stored by a server owned and operated by the defendants. To explain, the defendants had provided the Argentina-based Company and its employees, including the plaintiff, with email addresses for the purpose of executing their job duties. The email addresses and the server on which the emails were stored were not owned by the Company, however; rather, it was known to all involved that they belonged to a separate company of the Defendants. The emails at issue were between plaintiff Lynch and two in-house Company attorneys who also provided legal advice to him on personal matters, distinct from advice they provided him in his capacity as the Company’s manager. In discovery, Lynch sought to vindicate the privilege. He moved to compel the defendants to turn over the emails, but the defendants refused. More ›

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Chancery Declines to Establish New Rule Concerning Books and Records Inspections Related to Proxy Contests

High River Limited Partnership v. Occidental Petroleum Corp., C.A. No. 2019-0403-JRS (Del. Ch. Nov. 14, 2019).

Section 220 of the DGCL grants stockholders a qualified right to inspect corporate books and records “necessary and essential” to a “proper purpose.”  One recognized proper purpose is investigating potential corporate wrongdoing or mismanagement.  In such cases, the stockholder must establish a “credible basis” for the suspicion before the Court of Chancery will order inspection.  When a stockholder makes that showing, the Court has permitted use of the produced books and records to mount a proxy contest.  However, as the Court of Chancery observes in this decision, no Delaware court has compelled inspection “when the stockholder’s only stated purpose for inspection is a desire to communicate with other stockholders in furtherance of a potential proxy contest.”  And under the facts and circumstances of this case, the Court declines to be first.   More ›

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Chancery Declines to Dismiss Second-Filed Delaware Action Because Delaware Forum Selection Clause Preempts McWane

PPL Corp. v. Riverstone Holdings LLC, C.A. No. 2018-0868-JRS (Del. Ch. Oct. 23, 2019).

Defendants brought an action in Montana state court against plaintiffs.  Plaintiffs later filed this action in the Delaware Court of Chancery, alleging several claims that shared a common nucleus of operative facts with those asserted in Montana.  Defendants moved to dismiss or stay the Delaware action under the McWane doctrine, which generally gives deference to a first-filed action in another jurisdiction and authorizes a dismissal or stay of a second-filed Delaware action.  More ›

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jstrauss@morrisjames.com
T 302.888.6848
Jonathan G. Strauss is a partner in Morris James’ Business Transactions, Strategic Planning and Counseling Practice, a group that has been involved in over $100 Billion in …
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