Showing 65 posts by Kirsten A. Zeberkiewicz.
Chancery Addresses Real-Party-In-Interest and Collateral Estoppel Doctrines in Section 225 Dispute
Hawk Investment Holdings Ltd. v. Stream TV Networks Inc., C.A. No. 2022-0930-JTL (Del. Ch. Nov. 29, 2022)
This Section 225 decision involved Stream TV Networks, Inc. and its secured creditor, Hawk Investment Holdings Ltd. Under certain pledge agreements securing Hawk’s loans, Stream granted Hawk the right to vote all of its common shares in subsidiary Technovative Media, Inc. following an event of default. Hawk exercised those voting rights to remove and replace Technovative’s sole director, resulting in this litigation. In this decision addressing pre-trial motions, the Court validated Hawk’s standing to pursue its Section 225 claim as a stockholder notwithstanding that had assigned certain rights to an affiliate. In doing so, the Court explained statutory standing and the real-party in-interest doctrine in the Section 225 context. The Court also applied the doctrine of collateral estoppel to resolve several issues in Hawk’s favor based on prior litigation involving Stream.
Chancery Finds Buzzfeed and Others Not Bound by Arbitration Provisions in Employment Agreements
Buzzfeed v. Anderson, C.A. No. 2022-0357-MTZ (Del. Ch. Oct. 28, 2022)
In 2021, Buzzfeed engaged in a SPAC transaction wherein its stock was converted into stock in Buzzfeed’s post-SPAC corporate form. An IPO followed. In connection with the IPO, former employees of the pre-transaction Buzzfeed (“Old Buzzfeed”) who had received shares in the post-transaction Buzzfeed (“New Buzzfeed”), filed mass arbitrations against New Buzzfeed, certain officers and directors, and the IPO transfer agent. These former employees and New Buzzfeed shareholders alleged that, because a different class of stock was offered in the IPO than the class of stock that they held, they were unable to participate in the IPO, suffering $9 million in damages. In response, New Buzzfeed, certain officers and directors, and the IPO transfer agent sued in the Court of Chancery seeking: (1) to enjoin the arbitrations, (2) a declaration that they were not bound by arbitration provisions in employment agreements entered into with Old Buzzfeed, and (3) a declaration that the former employees were obligated to comply with a forum selection clause in New Buzzfeed’s charter and bring their claims in the Court of Chancery. The plaintiffs moved for summary judgment on their claims; the former employees moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter and personal jurisdiction. More ›
Chancery Applies Implied Consent to Service Provision of Delaware LLC Act to Individual Without Any Formal Role at the LLC
In Re P3 Health Grp. Hldgs., LLC, Consol. C.A. No. 2021-0518-JTL (Del. Ch. Oct. 26, 2022)
The implied consent provision of Section 18-109 of Delaware’s LLC Act provides that “managers” of Delaware LLCs consent to the service of process in Delaware. The statute defines “managers” as both (1) those formally designated as managers, and (2) those who “participate  materially” in management. Disputes over whether an individual not falling in the first category falls in the second often focus on individuals with some formal role at the LLC. As this decision illustrates, however, an individual without any formal role at the LLC, but who otherwise participates materially in the LLC’s management, may also be found to be a manager, and thus have consented to service and jurisdiction in Delaware. Facts relevant to the Court of Chancery’s finding of an adequately alleged acting management, in this case, included the defendant’s direction of the company’s managers, control of the company’s advisors, involvement in legal decisions, and access to information.
Chancery Holds Defendant in Civil Contempt for Using Discovery Materials for Business Purpose in Violation of Confidentiality Order
Murphy Marine Services of Delaware, Inc. v. GT USA Wilmington, LLC, C.A. No. 2018-0664-LWW (Del. Ch. Sept. 19, 2022)
During the course of a two-part trial in which plaintiffs argued that the defendant breached the terms of a binding letter agreement, plaintiffs brought a motion for contempt against the defendant alleging that defendant used discovery materials produced by plaintiffs in connection with the litigation in negotiations with one of the largest customers of plaintiff Murphy Marine Services. In connection with the underlying action, plaintiffs produced documents to the defendant reflecting the revenue and financial information of Murphy Marine Services’ customers. Defendant admitted that estimates used in negotiating with one of Murphy Marine Services’ customers were determined using information obtained from those discovery materials. The confidentiality order entered by the Court in connection with the litigation contained common language providing that discovery materials would be used solely for purposes of the litigation. Thus, plaintiffs contended that using the discovery materials to gain a competitive edge in negotiating with one of Murphy Marine Services’ customers was a clear violation of the confidentiality order’s terms. The Court agreed with the plaintiffs. In addition to finding that defendant breached and repudiated the binding letter agreement, the Court therefore also found that defendant’s use of discovery materials for a business purpose violated the confidentiality order and ordered the defendant to pay the plaintiffs’ fees and expenses incurred in bringing the motion for contempt.
Chancery Applies Implied Consent to Service Provision of Delaware LLC Act to LLC’s General Counsel and Chief Legal Officer
In re P3 Health Group Holdings, LLC, Consol. C.A. No. 2021-0518-JTL (Del. Ch. Sept. 12, 2022)
The plaintiff, a large unit holder in a Delaware LLC, sued several defendants, including the general counsel and chief legal officer of the LLC, for allegedly breaching her fiduciary duties to the LLC and its members for her role in facilitating a challenged de-SPAC merger. The implied consent provision of Section 18-109 of Delaware’s LLC Act provides that “managers” of Delaware LLCs consent to the service of process in Delaware. The statute defines “managers” as both (1) those formally designated as managers, and (2) those who “participate  materially” in management. Defendant moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction arguing that Section 18-109 did not apply to her in her role as an officer of the LLC because (1) she was not a designated manager, and (2) she was not acting in a managerial capacity. Plaintiff argued that because the defendant voluntarily assumed the role of a senior officer of the LLC and because, as alleged in the complaint, she acted in a significant managerial capacity with respect to the LLC, the implied consent provision did, in fact, apply. The Court of Chancery agreed with the plaintiff and its decision provides a thorough discussion of the acting manager prong of Section 18-109. The Court reasoned that, at the pleading stage, the customary responsibilities of a general counsel and chief legal officer provided a basis for asserting personal jurisdiction. The specific allegations, in this case, supported a reasonable inference that the defendant acted in a significant managerial capacity in connection with the challenged conduct.
Chancery Dismisses Caremark Claim Against Energy Company Alleging Failure of Board Oversight Related to Fatal Pipeline Explosion
City of Detroit Police and Fire Retirement System v. Hamrock, C.A. No. 2021-0370-KSJM (Del. Ch. June 30, 2022)
Stockholder plaintiff filed a derivative suit on behalf of an energy company alleging that certain of the company’s former and current directors were liable for oversight failures leading to the fatal explosion of an over-pressurized gas pipeline. When the defendants moved to dismiss for failure to make a demand on the board, the plaintiff argued that demand was excused because a majority of the demand board faced a substantial likelihood of liability for oversight failures based on the following three theories of Caremark liability: (1) the board’s utter failure to implement a pipeline safety monitoring or reporting system; (2) the board’s failure to acknowledge “red flags” that put it on notice of the company’s numerous violations of pipeline safety laws; and (3) the board’s knowing encouragement of legal violations in the pursuit of corporate profit. The Court rejected all three of the plaintiff’s theories of Caremark liability and dismissed the action for failure to make a demand. The Court reasoned as follows: (1) according to the plaintiff’s own allegations, the company had set up a pipeline safety monitoring and reporting system which included a committee specifically tasked with pipeline safety that was active, therefore the plaintiff had not adequately pled “utter failure” to set up such a system; (2) any causal connection between the “red flags” identified by the plaintiff and the explosion were too tenuous to put the board on notice of the corporate trauma that occurred; and (3) plaintiff had not adequately pled that the board was “in the business” of encouraging violation of the law for profit because, according to plaintiff’s own allegations, the company actually discouraged legal violations through the formation of several committees tasked with regulatory compliance.
Chancery Addresses Entitlement to Indemnification
Evans v. Avande, Inc., C.A. No. 2018-0454-LWW (Del. Ch. June 9, 2022)
This decision highlights the need for a nexus between legal expenses and one’s corporate capacity in the context of indemnification, as well as Delaware law’s claim-by-claim approach to indemnification. Here, the Court of Chancery denied indemnification to a former director and officer for tortious interference and defamation claims that he defeated because they concerned conduct occurring post-termination of employment. The Court also denied indemnification relating to a breach of fiduciary duty claim that the fiduciary lost but avoided most of the requested damages, finding partial indemnification would “contravene the claim-by-claim approach to indemnification consistently followed by Delaware courts.”
Chancery Applies Schnell and Blasius Review and Upholds Deadlock-Breaking Stock Issuance
Coster v. UPI Companies, Inc., C.A. No. 2018-0440-KSJM (Del. Ch. May 2, 2022)
This case involved a control dispute of the defendant corporation, UPI Companies. After disputes arose between two fifty percent co-owners, one caused the company to issue long promised equity to an executive, which broke the deadlock. When the other co-owner challenged the transaction, the Court of Chancery found the stock sale satisfied the entire fairness standard and declined to invalidate it. On appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court found the trial court should have examined the sale under Schnell or Blasius. In this decision on remand, the Court of Chancery engaged in a thorough discussion of the Schnell and Blasius standards and the state of Delaware law on those tests. Applying its reading of those standards, the Court found the stock sale was not approved for inequitable purposes and had some good faith basis, and therefore was not invalid under Schnell. The Court also found that the stock sale was not primarily motivated by thwarting the co-owner’s vote, but, instead, was motivated by the best interests of the company and a desire to moot litigation that threatened it in the circumstances. The Court further found that, in any event, the company had a compelling justification for its action and an appropriately tailored response, and thus satisfied Blasius.
Chancery Orders Additional Information to Consider Dissolution Petition
In re Matter of Global Safety Labs, Inc., C.A. No. 2022-0309-JTL (Del. Ch. May 12, 2022)
This case concerned the dissolution procedures of the DGCL, specifically Section 280, which with Section 281 establishes an optional, court-supervised wind-up process that provides a safe harbor from post-dissolution liability. In this decision, the Court of Chancery faults the paucity of information the Court regularly sees in such actions, which often proceed ex parte. The Court explained that it requires more information to grant relief, including “about the entity, its history, the path that led to the relief being sought, and the parties who could be affected by the relief.” The Court cited first-day declarations in a bankruptcy proceeding as a helpful model.
Chancery Requires Fuller Disclosure for Receiver Appointment
In re VBR Agency LLC, C.A. No. 2022-0328-JTL (Del. Ch. Apr. 20, 2022)
Petitioners often call upon the Court of Chancery to appoint receivers to settle a company’s business. As this decision describes, “[i]n recent years, the members of the court have been forced to address actions taken by custodians or receivers who obtained appointments on … scant records. In some of those situations, the custodian or receiver has taken action that caused the court to question whether the appointment should have been made, or the court has learned information that might have caused the court to decline to make the appointment in the first instance. … Delaware has a significant interest in ensuring that questionable individuals do not use judicial proceedings to gain control over Delaware entities. Delaware likewise has an interest in ensuring that its entities are not used as vehicles for improper schemes.” Here, considering these concerns, the Court declined to make an appointment, first requiring additional information beyond that in the petition. The petitioner sought an appointment allegedly for the purpose of litigation involving a defunct LLC. The Court viewed as material additional information regarding the regulatory or legal histories of the receiver and any affiliates, as well as the receiver’s specific plans for the LLC beyond the general purposes stated in the petition.
Chancery Addresses Fiduciary Duty Claims Involving Activist Investor
Goldstein v. Denner, C.A. No. 2020-1061-JTL (Del. Ch. May 26, 2022)
In this case, an activist investor and director was alleged to have concealed an eventual acquiror’s expression of interest while he leveraged that inside information to buy more stock and profit after the short-swing period’s expiration. And others at the company were alleged to have manipulated the company’s projections to justify the deal price at a lower valuation. The Court of Chancery found well-pled fiduciary duty claims against the alleged wrongdoers and aligned parties that avoided a Corwin dismissal. Among other things, the Court’s decision illustrates constellations of facts sufficient to question the independence of otherwise disinterested fiduciaries. Here, such combinations involved directors’ symbiotic relationships with an activist investor that resulted in repeat directorships in targeted companies.
Chancery Enforces LLC Members’ Right to Approve Amendments to LLC Agreement
Zohar III Ltd. v. Stila Styles LLC, C.A. No. 2021-0384-JRS (Del. Ch. May 26, 2022)
This decision arises out of control disputes involving the portfolio companies of the entity Zohar III – here, the limited liability company Stila Styles LLC. Stila Styles’ Manager had approved via written consent a transaction that purported to create new units, with those new units controlling who served as the LLC’s Manager. The LLC agreement did authorize the Manager to create new units. But it generally authorized amendment or modification of the agreement “only by the Members.” Because the transaction effectively amended the LLC agreement by taking away certain Members’ rights respecting the Manager role, and the Manager did not obtain the Members’ approval, the Manager’s written consent approving the transaction was invalid and the transaction was void.
Supreme Court Finds Enforceable Preliminary Agreement
Cox Communications v. T-Mobile, No. 340, 2021 (Del. Mar. 3, 2022)
Delaware courts have a “general aversion” to enforcing agreements to agree. But Delaware law also recognizes enforceable preliminary agreements that create an obligation to try to negotiate a final agreement on all material terms in good faith. Here, two companies, Cox Communications and T-Mobile, disputed whether a particular provision of a settlement agreement was enforceable and to what extent. The provision related to Cox partnering with a mobile network provider and generally obligated Cox to negotiate with T-Mobile. Those negotiations failed, Cox partnered with Verizon, and this suit resulted. The Court of Chancery entered an injunction that enforced the provision by prohibiting Cox from partnering with another provider besides T-Mobile. On appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court vacated the injunction and reversed, finding the provision left open several material terms of a future definitive agreement, was not itself an enforceable agreement, and instead was a “Type II” preliminary agreement that obligated the parties to negotiate open items in good faith. The Supreme Court remanded the case for a determination of whether the parties fulfilled that obligation.
Chancery Finds it Lacks Discretion to Decline Jurisdiction Over a Case Where Jurisdiction Exists Under Section 111 of the DGCL
S’holders Rep. Serv. LLC v. DC Capital Partners Fund II, L.P., C.A. No. 2021-0465-KSJM (Del. Ch. Feb. 14, 2022)
While the Court of Chancery has exclusive subject matter jurisdiction over claims and remedies sounding in equity, Section 111 of the DGCL grants the Court concurrent, non-exclusive jurisdiction in cases involving the interpretation of certain corporate instruments—regardless of whether those claims or the relief sought are equitable in nature. In DC Capital Partners, the plaintiff elected to bring legal (rather than equitable) claims involving the interpretation of stock purchase agreements in the Court of Chancery pursuant to Section 111’s concurrent subject matter jurisdiction. The defendants argued that because the claims did not otherwise fall within the Court’s subject matter jurisdiction, and because Section 111 provides for concurrent rather than exclusive jurisdiction, the Court had the discretion to decline to hear the case. Specifically, the defendants noted that Section 111 provides that certain claims “may” be brought in the Court of Chancery and argued that this permissive language provided the Court with the discretion not to hear such claims. The Court rejected the defendants’ contention, finding that the discretion to bring a claim in the Court of Chancery pursuant to Section 111 belongs to the plaintiff, not the Court. Therefore, the Court held that once a plaintiff elects to bring a claim in Chancery authorized under Section 111, the Court lacks the discretion to decline to hear the case based on subject matter jurisdiction.
Chancery Denies Petition to Appoint Custodian to Revive Abandoned Delaware Corporation for Use as Blank Check Company
In re Forum Mobile, C.A. No. 2020-0346-JTL (Del. Ch. Feb. 3, 2022)
In Forum Mobile, the Court of Chancery denied a petition to appoint a custodian pursuant to DGCL Section 226(a)(3). The petitioner sought to revive an abandoned and defunct Delaware corporation for use as a blank check company. Specifically, the petitioner sought to effectuate a reverse merger of the defunct company with a new business, allowing the new business to access public markets without implementing the formal IPO process. Holding that “the plain language of Section 226(b) does not contemplate that a custodian appointed under Section 226(a)(3) could revivify a corporation,” the Court denied the petition, reasoning that custodians appointed pursuant to Section 226(a)(3) are limited to “liquidating the affairs of the abandoned corporation and distributing its assets.” More ›