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Showing 85 posts by Lewis H. Lazarus.

Chancery Finds Tortious Interference By Financial Industry Competitor and Addresses the Requirements for Obtaining Permanent Injunctive Relief

Preston Hollow Capital LLC v. Nuveen LLC, C.A. No. 2019-0169-SG (Del. Ch. April 9, 2020). 

This case illustrates the type of competitive conduct that will qualify as tortious interference with business relationships while demonstrating that permanent injunctive relief is unavailable absent a likelihood of future irreparable harm.  More ›

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LLC May Not Reverse Decision to Enter into Contractual Call Option Buyout Process with Members

Walsh v. White House Post Productions, LLC, C.A. No. 2019-0419-KSJM (Del. Ch. Mar. 25, 2020).  

Parties to LLC agreements often provide for buyout provisions upon specified events, such as when a member ceases to be an employee. The provisions set forth a process by which the parties agree up front to a price to acquire the departing member’s interest. In this case, the Court prohibited an LLC from withdrawing from a contractually agreed-upon process to buy its members’ shares once the LLC initiated the process. More ›

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Delaware Supreme Court Finds Limited Liability Partnership Agreement Chose the “Aggregate Model” and Partner Withdrawal Caused Dissolution

United States v. Sanofi-Aventis U.S. LLC, No. 256, 2019 (Del. Mar. 17, 2020).  

In this case, the Delaware Supreme Court answered three certified questions from the United States Third Circuit Court of Appeals concerning the effect of a partner’s withdrawal from a Delaware limited liability partnership formed to prosecute a qui tam action. The Court ruled that unambiguous language in the Partnership Agreement opting out of the “entity model” of partnership provided in the Delaware Revised Uniform Partnership Act meant that the partner’s withdrawal dissolved the partnership (Question 1). The Court also held that the entity that was continuing litigation through an amended complaint after the partner’s withdrawal was a new and different partnership (Question 2). Moreover, because the old entity dissolved at such an early point in the litigation, and because the partners had formed it solely to prosecute the litigation, the old partnership could not continue the litigation because to do so was inconsistent with the agreement’s requirements for a prompt liquidation (Question 3).  More ›

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Chancery Allows Fiduciary Duty Claims to Proceed against Minority Members Who Blocked Financings in Order to Bankrupt Company and Facilitate Unfair Asset Purchase

Skye Mineral Investors, LLC v. DXS Capital (U.S.) Ltd., C.A. No. 2018-0059-JRS (Del. Ch. Feb. 24, 2020) (Slights, V.C.).

Where parties to an LLC agreement do not unambiguously disclaim fiduciary duties, then Delaware law provides by default that managers owe traditional fiduciary duties to the entity and its members. The corporate law principles relating to fiduciary duties of controlling shareholders also apply, including that a minority member who exercises actual control may owe fiduciary duties. In this decision, the Court held that plaintiffs, the majority members of an LLC, adequately alleged that minority members exercised contractual blocking rights in a manner that gave them actual control over financing decisions and then used that control to implement in bad faith a scheme to enable the minority members to acquire the LLC’s assets on the cheap. With those allegations, the Court sustained a non-exculpated claim against the minority members for direct and derivative contract- and fiduciary-based claims. More ›

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Delaware Corporate and Commercial Case Law 2019 Year in Review

This top ten list summarizes significant decisions of the Delaware Supreme Court and the Delaware Court of Chancery over the past calendar year. Our criteria for selection are that the decision either meaningfully changed Delaware law or provided clarity or guidance on issues relevant to corporate and commercial litigation in Delaware. We present the decisions in no particular order. The list does not include every significant decision, but provides litigants and litigators with an array of decisions on varied issues likely to affect business transactions or business litigation.  More ›

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Court of Chancery Finds the Delaware Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act Grants Standing for Insureds with Contingent, Unmatured Claims to Sue Insurers, but Dismisses Certain Claims as Time-Barred

Burkhart v. Genworth Fin. Inc., C.A. No. 2018-0691-JRS (Del. Ch. Jan. 31, 2020). 

This case illustrates not only that plaintiffs who have only unmatured and contingent claims against a transferor have standing to seek relief under the Delaware Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (“DUFTA”), but also that they must comply with that statute’s rules for timely filing to avoid dismissal. Here, the plaintiffs are a class of insureds who hold long-term care insurance policies and insurance agents who receive commission payments from selling the insurance policies. The defendant is Genworth Life Insurance Company (“GLIC”), which underwrote the insurance policies at issue. GLIC allegedly made fraudulent transfers between 2012 and 2014 while GLIC was near insolvency by: (1) declaring $410 million in dividends, and (2) terminating intra-company contracts that provided financial support. The plaintiffs filed an action in 2018 in which they argue that GLIC’s fraudulent transfers violate the DUFTA.  More ›

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Appraisal of Panera Bread: Court of Chancery Again Defers to Deal Price, Denies Request for a Refund of the Amount of Synergies

Posted In Appraisal, M&A

In re Appraisal of Panera Bread Co., C.A. No. 2017-0593-MTZ (Del. Ch. Jan. 31, 2020).

JAB Holdings B.V. (“JAB”), a private company that also owns Einstein Bros., Caribou Coffee and Krispy Kreme, acquired Panera Bread Company (“Panera”) via a cash-out merger for $315.00 per share on July 18, 2017. Multiple dissenting shareholders (the “Petitioners”) filed an appraisal action, asserting that the fair value of their shares was $361.00 per share. Post-trial, the Court of Chancery disagreed with the Petitioners, ruling that the deal price minus synergies was the best evidence of fair value. This was because Panera had followed a reliable sale process and any flaws in that process did not undermine its reliability. Specifically, the Court held that, among other factors, the parties’ arm’s length negotiations, Panera’s disinterested and independent board, price increases during negotiations, the fact that no other parties bid on Panera either before or after the announcement of the merger, and the outreach that Panera did with potential buyers provided persuasive evidence of a reliable sale process. More ›

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Court of Chancery Finds Possibility of Actual Control and the Doctrine of Inherent Coercion Preclude Summary Judgment Based on Disinterested Stockholder Approval

The standard of review and who has the burden of proof are important issues in any trial of stockholder litigation. One instance where entire fairness is the standard of review is a merger where a controlling stockholder is on both sides of the transaction. Since the Delaware Supreme Court’s Kahn v. Lynch decision in 1994, Delaware law in that circumstance has mandated an entire fairness standard of review with the burden on the controlling stockholder and the proponents of the transaction to prove that the transaction was fair. But what happens when, after discovery, Plaintiffs fail to adduce evidence that a purported controlling stockholder in fact coerced the minority stockholders into approving the transaction? The Court of Chancery answered that question in In Re Tesla Motors, Inc. Stockholder Litigation, Cons. C.A. No. 12711-VCS (February 4, 2020), holding that disputed issues of fact remain to be resolved as to whether Elon Musk, as the owner of 22.1% of Tesla’s shares, was a controlling stockholder. The possibility that he might be a controlling stockholder invokes the potential for inherent coercion and therefore prevents summary judgment based on an informed Corwin-cleansing vote of a majority of the disinterested stockholders. More ›

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Supreme Court Affirms Dismissal of Uber Derivative Action for Failure to Plead Demand Futility

Mcelrath v. Kalanick, No. 181-2019 (Del. Jan. 13, 2020). 

This case exemplifies the Delaware courts’ approach to examining demand futility. In 2016, Uber Technologies, Inc. (“Uber”) acquired Ottomotto LLC (“Otto”), a company started by a contingent of employees from Google’s autonomous vehicles group, in order for Uber to gain expertise in developing autonomous vehicles. The shareholder-plaintiff brought a claim, on behalf of Uber, against some of Uber’s directors. The plaintiff alleged that Uber’s directors ignored the risks presented by Otto’s alleged theft of Google’s intellectual property, which eventually led to Uber paying a settlement of $245 million to Google and terminating its employment agreement with Otto’s founder. More ›

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Chancery Dismisses Stockholder Claims that a Minority Owner was a Controlling Stockholder or that a Majority of the Board was Beholden to the Minority Owner in Approving a Merger Transaction with the Minority Owner

In re: Essendant, Inc. Stockholder Litigation, C.A. No. 2018-0789-JRS (Del. Ch. Dec. 30, 2019).

When as here a Delaware corporation’s charter contains an exculpation provision under Section 102(b)(7) of the Delaware General Corporation Law, stockholders who bring suit against directors who approve a merger transaction must allege violations of the duty of loyalty to state a non-exculpated claim. They may state such a claim if they adequately plead that a controlling stockholder breached duties for self-interested reasons, or that a majority of the board was self-interested or beholden to the buyer. They may also attempt to state a non-exculpated claim by claiming that a majority of the board acted in bad faith. To meet this bad faith standard, a plaintiff must plead facts showing that the decision to approve the transaction lacked any rationally conceivable basis associated with maximizing stockholder value. As the Court explained, allegations of mis- or non-disclosure will not suffice unless plaintiffs plead intentional misstatements or omissions based on a “factual narrative that would allow any inferential explanation of why these fiduciaries would so abandon their duties as to engage in bad faith." (emphasis in original). More ›

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Chancery Examines Computer Misuse Claims Against Former Employee and Awards Defamation Damages Against Former Employer

Laser Tone Business Systems LLC v. Delaware Micro-Computer LLC, C.A. No. 2017-0439-TMR (Del. Ch. Nov. 27, 2019).

In one of her final opinions before joining the Delaware Supreme Court, Vice Chancellor Montgomery-Reeves addressed various statutory computer misuse claims against a former employee and awarded $100,000 in compensatory damages for the former employer’s libel and slander. In Laser Tone v. Delaware Micro-Computer, plaintiff, a photocopier company, terminated the defendant employee after he refused to sign a non-compete agreement. In its subsequent lawsuit, plaintiff claimed that the defendant stole company information and deleted certain data from his company computer and cell phone devices before departing. Certain of plaintiff’s executives then communicated to third parties that the defendant was “a thief and a drug user.” Plaintiff brought a cause of action against the defendant for violating the Delaware Misuse of Computer System Information Act (“DMCSIA”) by allegedly stealing data and deleting certain other information from company systems. The defendant counterclaimed for libel and slander, arguing that plaintiff’s communications were false and had caused him significant mental and reputational harm.

After a two-day trial on the merits, the Court of Chancery found insufficient evidence to support a majority of the plaintiff’s theories of liability, but did find that the defendant had deleted certain data from his company laptop in violation of the DMCSIA. Finding no non-speculative evidence of harm, however, the Court awarded only nominal damages. The Court also found that plaintiff failed to prove that the defendant had stolen any data. Having determined that plaintiff failed to prove the defendant was a “thief,” the Court denied plaintiff’s affirmative defense of truth and entered judgment for the defendant on his defamation counterclaims. The Court, in its discretion, awarded $100,000 in damages, basing the award on evidence that the defendant had “lost two jobs, customers, and friends; and, [because] he fear[ed] his business [was] in jeopardy.”

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Chancery Denies Motion for Reargument, Finding No Change to Delaware Legal Principles for Existence of “Control Group” of Stockholders

Silverberg v. Padda, C.A. No. 2017-0250-KSJM (Del. Ch. Oct. 18, 2019)

Delaware courts recognize that a group of stockholders can constitute a “control group” when those stockholders “are connected in some legally significant way—such as by contract, common ownership, agreement, or other arrangement…” and work together toward a shared goal.  Sheldon v. Pinto Tech. Ventures, L.P., 2019 WL 4892348, at *4 (Del. Oct. 4, 2019) (citing Dubroff v. Wren Hldgs., LLC, 2009 WL 1478697, at *3 (Del. Ch. May 22, 2009)).  Under such circumstances, the control group stockholders may owe fiduciary duties to the corporation’s minority stockholders.  Where a minority stockholder adequately pleads (1) the existence of a control group;  and (2) a self-dealing breach of fiduciary duties by that control group, the minority stockholder’s claims may be both direct and derivative. Gentile v. Rossette, 906 A.2d 91, 99-100 (Del. 2006).  In Silverberg v. Padda, Plaintiffs argued that they had alleged a direct claim by pleading that a control group of stockholders had breached fiduciary duties by approving alleged dilutive preferred stock issuances.  After the Court dismissed this claim based on Plaintiffs’ failure adequately to allege a control group, as opposed to mere parallel action,  Plaintiffs asserted in a motion for reargument that the Delaware Supreme Court’s recent Sheldon opinion had established a new legal principle to assess the existence of a control group.  The Court disagreed, ruling that Sheldon had reaffirmed the Dubroff standard that the Court had applied in dismissing Plaintiffs’ claims.  See Morris James blog post of October 14, 2019 (discussing the Court’s earlier decision).  The Court re-affirmed its holding that Plaintiffs’ allegations did not suffice to allege a control group because the agreement between the allegedly controlling stockholders (1) did not relate to the challenged transaction; (2) included persons other than the purported control group members; and (3) did not bind the signatories with respect to their votes on the challenged transaction.  Because the Court determined that Sheldon did not affect the Court’s holding that such allegations do not suffice to establish a control group, the Court denied Plaintiffs’ motion for reargument.

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Delaware Supreme Court Finds an Insurance Policy Covering “Securities Claims” Did Not Apply to Claims for Violations of Common Law or Statutes Not Specific to the Regulation of Securities

In re Verizon Ins. Coverage Appeals, Nos. 558, 560, 561 (Del. Oct. 31, 2019).

The Delaware Supreme Court, applying principles of contract interpretation under Delaware law, held that claims of breach of fiduciary duty, unlawful dividends and fraudulent transfer were not Securities Claims reflecting a violation of any “regulation, rule or statute regulating securities” and hence the defendant’s director and officer insurance policy that covered such claims did not apply. The Supreme Court thus reversed a holding of the Delaware Superior Court that the insurance coverage applied because the claims “pertain[ed] to laws one must follow when engaging in securities transactions.”  The Supreme Court held that the unambiguous plain meaning of the policy language was that the parties intended coverage only for claims arising under regulations, rules or statutes that “regulate securities.” Using that definition, the Supreme Court held that claims of breach of fiduciary duty, aiding and abetting fiduciary duty breaches, and promoter liability were not Securities Claims because they do not involve regulations, rules and statutes regulating securities.  Likewise, the claim for unlawful dividends arose under statutes that regulated dividends, not securities, and the fraudulent transfer claims arose under statutes that were not “specific to transfers involving securities.”  The Supreme Court rejected as overly broad Verizon’s interpretation that the phrase “regulating securities” included any “laws one must follow when engaging in securities transactions,” holding that that interpretation would encompass claims unrelated to securities and would render meaningless the limitation that coverage applied only to violations of rules or statutes “regulating securities.”  The Supreme Court thus remanded the case to the Superior Court to enter judgment for the insurer-defendants.

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Chancery Finds Safe Harbor Conflicts Committee Not Validly Constituted in Master Limited Partnership Dispute

Dieckman v. Regency GP LP, C.A. No. 11130-CB (Del. Ch. Oct. 29, 2019).

The Dieckman v. Regency GP LP matter has been in the Delaware courts for several years.  The Court of Chancery originally dismissed the complaint attacking a conflicted merger transaction primarily on the ground that plaintiff had failed to plead that a unitholder approval safe harbor provision contained in the limited partnership agreement was inapplicable.  The Delaware Supreme Court reversed, holding that plaintiff had adequately pleaded that unitholder approval was secured by false and misleading information and, further, that approval by a Conflicts Committee was tainted by conflicts involving its members.  Plaintiff amended his complaint and, following briefing on a motion to dismiss, the Court of Chancery sustained plaintiff’s claim that the General Partner had approved the transaction even though members of its board did not believe that the transaction was in the best interests of the limited partnership. More ›

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Chancery Construes LLC Agreement as Imposing Only the Managerial Duty to Act in Good Faith and Dismisses Claims for Failure to Plead Bad Faith

MKE Holdings v. Schwartz, C.A. No. 2018-0729-SG (Del. Ch. Sept. 26, 2019).

Under Delaware law, the managers of a limited liability company owe the entity and its members the traditional common law fiduciary duties of care and loyalty.  But parties may eliminate or modify those duties under the LLC’s operating agreement and impose contractual duties instead.  When they do so, Delaware courts will analyze any challenged conduct of the manager against those contractual duties.  Here, the Court of Chancery found the managers’ contractual duty to be a narrow one: act with a good faith belief that their conduct was in or not opposed to the LLC’s best interests. More ›

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llazarus@morrisjames.com
T 302.888.6970
Lewis H. Lazarus, Chair of the Morris James Litigation Practice Group, focuses his practice on corporate governance and commercial matters in the Delaware Court of Chancery. He has …
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