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Summaries and analysis of recent Delaware court decisions concerning business-related litigation.
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Showing 53 posts by Lewis H. Lazarus.
As this case illustrates, Delaware courts generally respect and enforce forum selection clauses, even those excluding Delaware, when, under the law governing the parties’ agreement, the parties validly choose another jurisdiction. Plaintiffs, a Swiss holding company and its largest equity owner, Richard Herrling (“Herrling”), brought an action in the Delaware Court of Chancery to enforce a Restructuring and Loan Agreement (“R&L Agreement”) entered into with defendants, Allomet Corporation and Yanchep LLC (jointly “Defendants”). The R&L Agreement contemplated the formation of a new Austrian holding company to implement a joint venture between Plaintiffs and Defendants to carry out the business of Allomet. Under the R & L Agreement, Herrling had advanced certain loans to keep the Allomet Corporation solvent while the parties completed negotiations for the joint venture. After the parties could not agree on the terms for the full legal implementation of the joint venture, Herrling walked away from the negotiations. He and the Swiss holding company to which he had transferred his interest in the Austrian holding company then filed a complaint for breach of contract in the Court of Chancery seeking specific performance of the R&L Agreement. More ›
Plaintiff P&TI Acquisition Co. brought a breach of contract action asserting that Defendants violated a 2012 stock purchase agreement (“SPA”). The SPA governed various assets Defendants, including PhilTem Holdings, Inc. and a PhilTem subsidiary (collectively “PhilTem”), sold to the Plaintiff. It prohibited Defendants and their “Affiliates” from soliciting or employing any PhilTem employees before February 2017. The SPA defined “Affiliate” as a party that controls, is controlled by, or is under common control with any defendant, and “Control” was defined as the power to direct or cause the direction of the management and policies of an Affiliate. Plaintiff alleged that the Defendants caused an affiliate to solicit for employment a PhilTem CEO and a CFO as early as 2014. More ›
Delaware law permits parties conducting their business as limited liability companies to include mandatory arbitration or forum selection clauses in their LLC agreements, even those naming a forum outside of Delaware. And the State’s public policy supports enforcing contracts, including forum selection clauses, unless specifically prohibited by statute or upon a showing of fraud or overreaching. There is an important statutory exception in this context. Under Delaware’s LLC statute, 6 Del. C. § 18-109(d), other than for arbitration, a non-managing member of an LLC cannot waive its right to sue in the Delaware courts for matters relating to the LLC’s “organization or internal affairs.” More ›
Stockholders who seek to inspect the books and records of a Delaware corporation to investigate mismanagement merely have to demonstrate a “credible suspicion” that officers or directors have breached their fiduciary duties. That low standard means that in most instances either companies themselves or courts respond to narrowly tailored requests by producing, or ordering produced, necessary and specific information to enable a stockholder to investigate alleged wrongdoing.
Recently, the scope of permissible inspection has extended to emails, leading some commentators to become concerned that the courts have tilted the playing field too much in favor of stockholders. As the recent case of Hoeller v. Tempur Sealy International, C.A. No. 2018-0336-JRS, demonstrates, however, the Delaware courts will not permit a stockholder any inspection if he cannot demonstrate a credible suspicion of cognizable wrongdoing, and the mere allegation that a company unexpectedly lost a major customer does not suffice to raise a credible suspicion of fiduciary wrongdoing. More ›
This top ten list summarizes significant decisions of the Delaware Supreme Court and the Delaware Court of Chancery over the past calendar year 2018. The article was originally published in Transaction Advisors.
The cases selected either meaningfully changed Delaware law or provided clarity or guidance on issues relevant to corporate and commercial litigation in Delaware.
One: City of North Miami Beach General Employees’ Retirement Plan v. Dr. Pepper Snapple Group Inc., 189 A.3d 188 (Del. Ch. June 1, 2018) (Bouchard, Chancellor)
This decision arose out of a merger involving the Dr. Pepper and Keurig companies. In a reverse triangular merger, a parent company uses a subsidiary to acquire a target, with the target absorbing that subsidiary. That is how Dr. Pepper and Keurig structured their deal. The result was Dr. Pepper stockholders getting cash but retaining their stock, and Keurig’s stockholders getting a controlling interest in Dr. Pepper. Certain Dr. Pepper stockholders sued in the Court of Chancery, asserting that they had appraisal rights to a judicially-determined fair value in connection with the deal under Section 262 of the Delaware General Corporation Law (DGCL), which were being violated. More ›
In 2014, the Delaware Supreme Court in Kahn v. MFW held that the business judgment standard could apply to review of a controlling stockholder merger if at the outset the controlling stockholder conditioned the squeeze-out transaction on negotiation and approval by a committee of independent and disinterested directors and the informed, uncoerced approval of a majority of the minority stockholders (dual stage approvals). The Delaware Supreme Court later affirmed a Delaware Court of Chancery transcript opinion holding that MFW could apply to a pleadings-stage dismissal where the controlling stockholder did not condition its initial proposal on the dual stage approvals, at least where the board, with the majority stockholder’s participation, did so in a resolution establishing a special committee to negotiate prior to any substantive negotiations. The question remained, however, how much latitude the court would afford a controlling stockholder who did not ab initio condition its merger transaction on the requisite dual stage approvals. In Flood v. Synutra International, C. A. No. 101, 2018 (Del. Oct. 9, 2018), the Supreme Court in a majority opinion provided additional guidance, holding that the MFW standard of review could apply to a transaction where the controlling stockholder did not from the beginning condition its transaction on the requisite dual stage approvals, as long as those conditions were established prior to any substantive economic negotiations. The court’s holding and its reasoning provide important guidance to transactional planners and litigators assessing whether to challenge a controlling stockholder merger transaction. More ›
Delaware statutes enabling formation of unincorporated entities like limited liability companies (LLCs) and limited partnerships afford freedom for owners to structure business relationships as they see fit. This freedom carries with it the responsibility to accurately and completely describe the parties’ rights and duties. It also means that when disputes arise among owners or managers, a Delaware court will resolve the dispute through application of principles of contract interpretation. Moreover, if the parties in their foundational agreement do not address an issue, the court will apply default rules under the applicable business entity statute. The recent case of Domain Associates LLC v. Shah, C.A. No. 12921-VCL (Aug. 13, 2018), well illustrates these principles—the court applied default rules under the Limited Liability Company Act to hold that an expelled member of a Delaware LLC was entitled to the fair value of his interest and not simply to the value of his capital account. More ›
When friends go into business, their ties may fray if the business experiences difficulty and the parties have different views of how to proceed and who is responsible. If the principals are directors of a Delaware corporation, however, their duty of loyalty requires them to eschew self-interest and to do what is best for the corporation and its stakeholders. Moreover, when conflict arises, vague promises among friends do not supplant the requirements for binding agreements. More ›
Parties who form Delaware limited liability companies to organize their business affairs do so to structure their relationships contractually. This enables them to organize the governance and economic rights in a manner tailored to the enterprise they are establishing. They do so secure in the knowledge that the Delaware Limited Liability Company Act expressly provides that it is the policy of the Delaware act “to give maximum effect to the principle of freedom of contract and to the enforcement of limited liability company agreements.” If the parties ever have a dispute over their internal affairs, then a Delaware court will apply well-settled principles of contract interpretation to resolve it. The recent decision of Capone v. LDH Management Holdings, C.A. No. 11687-VCG (Del. Ch. Apr. 25, 2018), illustrates the court’s application of contract law principles to determine that two Delaware LLCs’ affairs were not wound up in compliance with the Delaware LLC Act resulting in the nullification of prior-filed certificates of cancellation. More ›
Morris James attorneys Lewis Lazarus, Albert Manwaring and Albert Carroll authored an article published in Transaction Advisors titled Delaware Corporate and Commercial Case Law Year in Review – 2017. The article summarizes ten significant decisions of the Delaware Supreme Court and the Delaware Court of Chancery over the past year, including matters such as appraisal rights, duties in the master limited partnership context, director compensation awards, and preclusion in shareholder derivative litigation. Continue reading for the full article. More ›
A cardinal principle of Delaware law is that directors manage the business and affairs of a Delaware corporation. This includes decisions regarding whether to pursue claims against officers and directors whose breach of duty may have injured the company. A stockholder who believes that the board is not pursuing claims of wrongdoing that harmed the company must first demand that the board investigate or pursue those claims so that the board has an opportunity to exhaust intra-corporate remedies.
It is only if the stockholder believes that demand would be futile that the stockholder can skip that step and file a derivative claim on behalf of the corporation. In that circumstance the stockholder must plead adequately why demand would have been futile or have the action dismissed for failure to do so. Lenois v. Lukman, C. A. No. 11963-VCMR (Del. Ch. Nov. 7) is the most recent guidance from the court on the topic of demand futility and the case illustrates, among other things, that the mere fact that one officer or director may have acted in bad faith does not suffice to excuse demand if the plaintiff is unable to plead particularized facts demonstrating that a majority of the board could not act impartially upon a stockholder demand. Where a company has an exculpatory provision in its charter under Section 102(b)(7) that means a plaintiff must plead facts showing that a majority of the board faces a risk of liability for claims not otherwise exculpated, i.e., claims for violation of the duty of loyalty or for not acting in good faith. More ›
Delaware jurisprudence encourages decision-making by boards of independent and disinterested directors. If a transaction does not involve a controlling stockholder and is approved by a majority of disinterested and independent directors, then a plaintiff cannot attack the transaction and seek damages except upon pleading that a majority of the board acted in bad faith. More ›
Companies often defend against stockholder requests to inspect books and records by contending that the plaintiff stockholder lacks a proper purpose or that his or her stated purpose is not the real purpose. Less common is a contention that the stockholder lacks standing because his or her shares were canceled due to misconduct harmful to the company, a remedy provided for in a stockholder agreement. Such a claim raises issues under Section 202 of the Delaware General Corporation Law as to the enforceability of the remedy where the restrictions set forth in the stockholder agreement were not conspicuously noted on the share certificate. The recent case of Henry v. Phixios Holdings, C.A. No. 12504-VCMR (July 10), provides guidance on the requirements to enforce a restriction on the ownership or alienability of shares of a Delaware corporation when the restriction is not conspicuously noted on the share certificate. As the Chancery Court held, such a restriction is not enforceable except upon proof that the stockholder had actual knowledge prior to purchase of the shares or subsequently agreed or voted to approve the restriction, proof that Phixios failed to provide. More ›
Stockholders who believe that a board breached its fiduciary duties in connection with information provided to stockholders asked to vote for a merger transaction can either seek to enjoin the transaction or seek damages post-closing. Of course, the court cannot enjoin a transaction if a stockholder who files a complaint fails to seek injunctive relief, even where that stockholder also alleges disclosure violations. In that circumstance the stockholder post-closing must determine whether to pursue damages, including through quasi-appraisal. In light of the Delaware courts' jurisprudence post-Corwin, such claims are unlikely to succeed where a majority of the disinterested stockholders have approved the merger unless the plaintiff can demonstrate a material disclosure violation or stockholder coercion to approve the merger for reasons unrelated to its merits. The recent Delaware Court of Chancery decision of In Re Cyan Stockholders Litigation, C. A. No. 11027-CB (May 11), dismissing post-closing plaintiffs' claims for breach of fiduciary duty demonstrates the risks stockholder plaintiffs run when they do not seek equitable relief to enjoin a merger transaction and are unable to plead a material disclosure violation sufficient to vitiate approval of the merger transaction by a majority of disinterested stockholders. More ›
Contract interpretation is a staple of litigation in the Delaware Court of Chancery. Disputes over the meaning of commercial contracts, foundational documents such as certificates of incorporation or bylaws or agreements governing alternative entities such as limited liability companies or limited partnerships require the court to interpret language in contracts. More ›