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Lewis H. Lazarus

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Showing 107 posts by Lewis H. Lazarus.

Superior Court Dismisses Tortious Interference with Contract Claim against Corporate Officer

American Bottling Co. v. Repole, C.A. No. N19C-03-048 AML CCLD (Del. Super. Dec. 30, 2020)

This case illustrates that a Delaware court will dismiss a claim against an officer for tortious interference with a contract to which his or her company is a party unless a plaintiff can assert non-conclusory allegations that the officer acted outside the scope of his or her agency. In this case, the plaintiff and defendant-company were parties to a distribution agreement. The plaintiff brought a claim for tortious interference with contract against the CEO and chairman of the defendant-company claiming that the CEO terminated the agreement to enrich himself and his management team to the detriment of the plaintiff.  More ›

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Chancery Grants Books and Records Mismanagement Inspection Related to Rejected Financing Proposal Despite Potential Lack of Actionable Claim

Alexandria Venture Investments LLC v. Verseau Therapeutics Inc., C.A. No. 2020-0593-PAF (Del. Ch. Dec. 18, 2020)

This case highlights that the potential lack of an actionable claim generally is not a valid defense to a demand for books and records where the stockholder meets the low threshold of proving a credible basis to suspect wrongdoing. Plaintiffs sought to compel inspection of books and records of Verseau Therapeutics, Inc. (“Verseau”), pursuant to Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law, to investigate whether Verseau’s directors violated their fiduciary duties by rejecting a financing proposal (made by the plaintiffs) to favor the interests of certain directors and affiliates. Verseau objected, arguing in part that plaintiffs did not have a credible basis to suspect wrongdoing because a majority of independent and disinterested Verseau directors had made all relevant decisions.  More ›

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Chancery Upholds Claim that CEO Breached Her Duty of Care Relating to a Misleading Proxy Statement

City of Warren General Employees’ Retirement System v. Roche, C.A. No. 2019-0740-PAF (Del. Ch. Nov. 30, 2020)

This case illustrates that an officer’s support for a sale of the corporation does not trigger the “entire fairness” standard where a majority of the members of the board of directors are not alleged to have been interested or lacked independence, and the plaintiff’s allegations otherwise do not support that the officer deceived the board. As also illustrated here, however, materially incomplete or inaccurate disclosures in a proxy statement may state a non-exculpated claim against officers for a breach of the duty of care. More ›

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Chancery Sustains Complaint for Breach of Fiduciary Duty against Viacom Controllers

In re Viacom Inc. Stockholders Litig., C.A. No. 2019-0948-JRS (Del. Ch. Dec. 29, 2020), as corrected (Dec. 30, 2020)

This case exemplifies that the Court of Chancery will review a transaction under the entire fairness standard where a controller receives a non-ratable benefit and the controller fails to condition the transaction on the approval of a special committee and of a majority of the disinterested minority stockholders. Plaintiffs, minority stockholders of Viacom International (“Viacom”), sued Shari Redstone, her corporate entities (together with Ms. Redstone, the “Controllers”), and Viacom directors that were allegedly loyal to Ms. Redstone. Ms. Redstone indirectly controls both Viacom and CBS Corporation (“CBS”). Among other things, the plaintiffs contended that the Controllers breached their fiduciary duties in causing the merger between Viacom and CBS on terms beneficial to the Controllers but detrimental to Viacom’s public stockholders.   More ›

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Chancery Grants Leave to Move for Fees for Overly Aggressive Books and Records Defenses

Pettry v. Gilead Sciences, Inc., C.A. No. 2020-0132-KSJM (Del. Ch. Nov. 24, 2020)

This case illustrates that the Court of Chancery will not accept overly aggressive defenses to books and records actions and may grant fees to discourage such tactics. Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law permits a stockholder plaintiff who has a “credible basis” to suspect wrongdoing by officers and directors to demand inspection of books and records relating to that misconduct. In this case, plaintiff-stockholders of Gilead Sciences, Inc. (“Gilead”) sought to inspect Gilead’s books and records to investigate misconduct. Gilead was subject to numerous lawsuits and government investigations arising out of alleged anticompetitive conduct, mass torts, breach of patents, and false claims relating to the development and marketing of its HIV drugs. The plaintiffs sought books and records about Gilead’s (1) anticompetitive agreements, (2) policies and procedures, (3) senior management materials, (4) communications with the government, and (5) director questionnaires. Gilead refused to produce any documents, even though the plaintiffs had a credible basis to suspect wrongdoing and the records they sought related directly to the misconduct. The Court of Chancery found that “Gilead exemplified the trend of overly aggressive litigation strategies by blocking legitimate discovery, misrepresenting the record, and taking positions for no apparent purpose other than obstructing the exercise of Plaintiffs’ statutory rights.” The Court, therefore, granted plaintiffs leave to move for fee shifting.  More ›

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CCLD Holds Indemnification Provision Does Not Cover First-Party Claims

Ashland LLC v. Samuel J. Heyman 1981 Continuing Trust for Lazarus S. Heyman, C.A. No. N15C-10-176 EMD CCLD (Del. Super. Ct. Nov. 10, 2020)

This case illustrates that Delaware courts will follow the “American Rule” that parties must pay their own legal fees unless they otherwise agree. In this case, the parties’ Stock Purchase Agreement (“SPA”) required defendants to indemnify against “Losses” – which was defined to include reasonable attorneys’ fees and expenses. The Court previously had found that the defendants breached a section of the SPA. Plaintiff then sought to recover as “Losses” its attorneys’ fees and expenses in proving the breach. The Court reasoned that indemnification provisions are presumed not to provide for fee-shifting in claims between the parties (first-party claims) absent a clear and unequivocal articulation of that intent. While there is no specific language that must be used, the SPA here contained a separate, relatively straightforward and narrower prevailing party fee-shifting provision, which did not apply to the claims at issue. Because the indemnification provision did not clearly support fee-shifting for first-party claims, and because the plaintiff was not entitled to attorneys’ fees based on the straightforward fee-shifting provision to which the parties had agreed, the Court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment that plaintiff was not entitled to recover its attorneys’ fees and expenses under the indemnification provision.

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Enforcing a “Draconian” Bargain, Chancery Grants Motion to Dismiss Claims Arising from Right to Repurchase Interest Upon Termination

Moscowitz v. Theory Entertainment LLC, C.A. No. 2019-0780-MTZ (Del. Ch. Oct. 28, 2020)
This case illustrates that the Court will enforce parties’ agreements even if they reflect a bad bargain for one party. Plaintiff Todd Moscowitz, a co-founder of Theory Entertainment LLC (“Theory” or the “Company”), resigned from Theory without giving prior notice, which triggered a “for cause” termination provision under agreements he had entered into with the Company. The termination provision allowed Theory to repurchase Moscowitz’s entire equity stake for a fraction of its value. To avoid that potential outcome, Plaintiff’s resignation notice contained language purporting to preserve his membership interest in Theory and to render his resignation void ab initio if a court were later to determine otherwise. More ›

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High Court Affirms Deal Price Was Reliable Indicator of Fair Value Despite Flawed Process

Brigade Leveraged Capital Structures Fund Ltd. v. Stillwater Mining Co., C.A. No. 427, 2019 (Del. Oct. 12, 2020)

This case illustrates that, notwithstanding a flawed process for the sale of a company, the deal price may still provide a reliable indicator of the fair value of shares in an appraisal action. Petitioners had contended that the Court of Chancery abused its discretion in upholding a rushed sale process and in failing to make an upward adjustment to the deal price based on an increase in the company’s value post-signing. More ›

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Chancery Rejects Conspiracy Jurisdiction Over Foreign Defendant

Lacey v. Mota-Velasco, C.A. No. 2019-312-SG (Del. Ch. Oct. 6, 2020)

Under Istituto Bancario, a foreign defendant alleged to be part of a conspiracy may be subject to personal jurisdiction in Delaware, but only if the plaintiff alleges, among other requirements, and consistent with the Delaware long-arm statute and due process, an act in Delaware in furtherance of the conspiracy. Conspiracy jurisdiction is not an independent basis of jurisdiction but rather provides a framework by which the Delaware courts evaluate whether there are sufficient minimum contacts to justify the exercise of personal jurisdiction.  More ›

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Court of Chancery Dismisses Claim of Aiding and Abetting Against a Minority Stockholder

A claim for aiding and abetting a breach of fiduciary duty fails if a plaintiff cannot allege an underlying breach. In that circumstance there is no breach to aid and abet. Where a plaintiff sufficiently alleges a breach, however, it still also must allege, in non-conclusory terms, facts sufficient to show knowing participation in the alleged breach to state a claim for aiding and abetting. In Jacobs v. Meghi, C. A. No. 2019-1022-MTZ (Del. Ch. Oct. 8, 2020), the Court of Chancery parsed the allegations of plaintiff’s complaint to conclude that it had failed to allege “specific facts supporting an inference of knowing participation in a breach” (Id. at 1) and dismissed plaintiff’s complaint against the alleged aider and abettor. As explained below, the Court also denied plaintiff’s claim for unjust enrichment.   More ›

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Chancery Awards No Damages to Either Party After the Break-Up of the Anthem/Cigna Merger

In re Anthem-Cigna Merger Litigation, C.A. No. 2017-0114- JTL (Del. Ch. August 31, 2020)

This action arose out of a failed merger transaction involving the second and third largest health insurers in the United States, Anthem, Inc. and Cigna Corporation (“the Merger”). The parties had entered into a merger agreement on July 23, 2015 (“Merger Agreement”). Either party could terminate if the transaction did not close by January 31, 2017, a date later extended to April 30, 2017. The parties each agreed to covenants to cooperate and to use their best efforts to accomplish the Merger (“Efforts Covenants”). Specifically, they agreed to take all reasonable steps to consummate the Merger (the “Reasonable Best Efforts Covenant”) and to take “any and all actions” necessary to avoid impediments to the Merger from government entities (the “Regulatory Efforts Covenant”). The parties authorized Anthem to take the lead in working with government entities to facilitate the Merger, but the parties were required to cooperate to obtain regulatory approval (the “Regulatory Cooperation Covenant”). The parties’ obligations to close the Merger were subject to the condition that no governmental entity or court had acted to enjoin the consummation of the Merger (the “No Injunction Condition”).  More ›

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Chancery Upholds Class Claims Alleging Breaches of Fiduciary Duty in Alleged Controlling Stockholder’s Tender Offer

In re Coty Inc. Stockholder Litigation, C.A. No. 2019-0336-AGB (Del. Ch. Aug. 17, 2020)  

JAB Holding Company S.à.r.l. and its affiliates (together “JAB”) completed a partial tender offer (the “Tender Offer”) for shares of Coty Inc. (“Coty”) on April 25, 2019, increasing its ownership stake from 40% to 60% of the outstanding Coty shares. At the time of the Tender Offer, Coty had a nine-member board of directors – four directors affiliated with JAB (the “JAB Directors”) and five individual directors (the “Individual Directors”). Pierre Laubies, the CEO of Coty, was one of the Individual Directors. Although Laubies was the only Individual Director with a management position at Coty, he, like all of the Individual Directors, had professional ties to JAB and its officers, with Laubies having formerly served as CEO of a JAB affiliate.  More ›

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CCLD Applies Anti-Reliance Provisions, Dismisses Buyer’s Fraud Claims

Posted In CCLD, Fraud Claims, M&A

Infomedia Group, Inc. v. Orange Health Solutions Inc., C.A. No. N19C-10-212 AML CCLD (Del. Super. Ct. July 31, 2020)

This case is a strong reminder that Delaware will enforce anti-reliance clauses to bar claims for fraud where sophisticated parties voluntarily agree to the anti-reliance clauses. Here, plaintiff Infomedia Group, Inc., d/b/a Carenet Health Services entered into an asset purchase agreement (the “Purchase Agreement”) with defendant Orange Health Solutions, Inc. (“Citra”).  More ›

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Chancery Rejects Implied Covenant Claim for Failure to Prove that, Had the Issue Been Negotiated, Both Parties Would Have Agreed

Roundpoint Mortgage Servicing Corp. v. Freedom Mortgage Corp., C.A. No. 2020-0161-SG (Del. Ch. July 22, 2020)

To establish an implied contractual obligation pursuant to the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, a party must prove that, even though the contract does not state the term at issue, the parties would have agreed to it had they thought to negotiate it at the time of contracting. Here, the Court of Chancery post-trial denied an acquirer’s implied covenant claim even though the result arguably resulted in unfairness from a financial point of view to the acquirer. As illustrated by this case, unfairness alone to one party does not necessarily prove that both parties would have agreed to the implied term had they thought to negotiate about it. More ›

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Entire Fairness Standard Applies Where Controller Has Substantive Discussions with Minority Stockholders before Agreeing to MFW Protections

In re HomeFed Corporation Stockholder Litigation, C.A. 2019-0592-AGB (Del. Ch. July 13, 2020)
This case illustrates that the Court of Chancery will apply the entire fairness standard to review a squeeze-out merger by a controller, if the controller engages in substantive economic discussions before the company has enacted the procedural protections outlined in Kahn v. M & F Worldwide Corp, 88 A.3d 635 (Del. 2014) (“MFW”) that would permit business judgment review. In this case, Jefferies Financial Group Inc. (“Jefferies” or the “Controller”), which owned 70% of HomeFed Corporation (“HomeFed”), acquired the remaining shares of HomeFed in a share exchange in which each HomeFed minority shareholder received two Jefferies shares in exchange for one of its HomeFed shares (the “Transaction”). A HomeFed director originally proposed the 2:1 share exchange to Jefferies in September 2017, and Jefferies subsequently discussed the share exchange with HomeFed’s second largest shareholder Beck, Mack and Oliver, LLC (“BMO”). In December 2017, HomeFed’s board of directors (the “Board”) formed a special committee (the “Special Committee”) that had the exclusive power to evaluate and negotiate a potential transaction. When the parties were unable to agree to merger terms, the Special Committee “paused” its process in March 2018. Despite pausing the Special Committee, Jefferies continued to discuss a potential transaction with BMO for the next year.  More ›

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llazarus@morrisjames.com
T 302.888.6970
Lewis Lazarus focuses his practice on corporate governance and commercial matters in the Delaware Court of Chancery. He has been lead counsel in trials arising out of mergers and …
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