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Summaries and analysis of recent Delaware court decisions concerning business-related litigation.
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Showing 59 posts by Lewis H. Lazarus.
Chancery Upholds Adequacy of Description of Buyer’s Indemnification Claims but Finds Indemnification Request for Pending Litigation Unripe Because Buyer Failed to Allege it Had “Incurred” Losses
Sellers in merger agreements generally agree to indemnify buyers for certain “Losses” but require the buyers to provide timely notice of claims. Whether an indemnification claim succeeds depends on the language the parties use to define the indemnification obligation. In Horton, the seller agreed that indemnification claims would survive if the buyer provided by June 24, 2018 written notice “stating in sufficient detail the nature of, and factual and legal basis for, any such claim for indemnification” and an estimate and calculation of the amount of Losses, if known, resulting therefrom. The buyer timely sent a notice of indemnification with one-paragraph descriptions of the factual and legal basis of each of its five claims, which it said “may involve breaches of representations and warranties in the Merger Agreement.” It also sought a second category of indemnification for Losses arising out of pending litigation. As to the first category, the Court found the buyer’s one-paragraph descriptions sufficient even though the buyer did not specify the specific sections of the merger agreement it claimed were breached. This was because “sellers are charged with knowledge of their representations and warranties in the Merger Agreement.” As to the second category, the Court granted the seller’s motion to dismiss without prejudice, because the buyer had not adequately pleaded that it had incurred any costs, fees or adverse judgments in the litigation.
Since the Delaware Supreme Court’s 2015 Corwin v. KKR Financial Holdings decision, practitioners in merger transactions have been able to advise clients that a transaction otherwise subject to enhanced scrutiny could be subject to business judgment review if the transaction is approved by a majority of fully informed, noncoerced shareholders. A plaintiff nonetheless can avoid dismissal under this standard if it is able to allege a material misrepresentation or omission in the proxy statement and hence that any shareholder vote was not fully informed. Where the disclosures are adequate defendants can obtain dismissal at the motion to dismiss stage even if the narrative actually disclosed might be troubling. The idea is that where the disinterested shareholders approve the transaction on full information, there is no reason to subject the transaction to further scrutiny. This puts a premium on the quality of the disclosure. The recent case of Chester County Employees’ Retirement Fund v. KCG Holdings, C. A. No. 2017-0421-KSJM (June 21, 2019), illustrates that a failure to provide full disclosure can be fatal to defendants’ motions to dismiss asking the court to dismiss a challenge to a merger transaction at the pleadings stage More ›
Delaware courts construe advance notice by-laws against the drafter in favor of stockholder electoral rights. In this case, the defendants had advance notice by-laws that permitted the company to request additional information for certain purposes after receiving notice of a dissident slate of directors, and required a response within 5 days. Pursuant to that by-law, defendants had sent a questionnaire with over 90 questions to the dissident slate. When the dissidents did not supply the requested information within 5 days, defendants advised that their failure to comply resulted in their nominations being defective. The stockholder supporting the dissident slate sued and asked the Court of Chancery to find the nominations complied with the advance notice by-law and to require that the dissidents be freely presented and votes for them counted. Construing the by-law at issue, the Court held that the plaintiff had established that a portion of questions asked exceeded the permissible scope of information requests under the by-laws. Thus, the failure to answer them was not a basis for finding the nominations invalid. The Court therefore ordered that the nominations be presented and that defendants count votes cast for the dissident slate.
Addressing an issue for which there is a split in authority, the Delaware Superior Court held that a Civil Investigative Demand (“CID”) initiated by government authorities will trigger an insurer’s duty to defend and indemnify an insured. After plaintiff Conduent State Healthcare came under investigation for Medicaid fraud, defendant AIG declined to advance defense costs, arguing that the investigation, by itself, did not constitute an insurable claim under plaintiff’s policy. The Superior Court held that the policy language providing coverage for a “Claim alleging a Wrongful Act” extended to the CID. The Court rejected the argument that “investigating an unlawful act by the insured, is different from alleging an unlawful act,” finding that to be a distinction without a difference. The Court relied upon insurance contract interpretation principles and construed the policy against its drafter, holding that the duty to defend and indemnify should be interpreted broadly in favor of coverage.
Windy City Investments Holdings LLC v. Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America f/k/a Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association-College Retirement Equities Fund, C. A. No. 2018-0419-MTZ (Del. Ch. May 31, 2019).
Claims seeking to enforce earn-outs are frequent. Parties often contractually agree that earn-out disputes are subject to an expert determination, rather than litigation in a judicial forum, and courts often dismiss disputes on that basis. This case arises in the somewhat familiar scenario where the parties’ dispute concerns contractual provisions related to, but not subject to, that expert determination, and thus falls within a court’s purview. More ›
The typical claim for breach of fiduciary duty arises out of a single transaction or event, or several closely-related transactions or events. Still, as the Klein decision illustrates, there are circumstances in which the Court of Chancery will find an adequately stated breach of fiduciary duty claim arising out of a course of disruptive conduct. More ›
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 ›