Main Menu

Kathleen A. Murphy

Attorney

Showing 25 posts by Kathleen A. Murphy.

Chancery Dismisses GoPro Derivative Action for Failure to Allege Directors Intentionally Made Inflated Revenue Forecasts or Failed to Exercise Appropriate Caremark Oversight

In re GoPro, Inc. S’holder Deriv. Litig., C.A. No. 2018-0784-JRS (Del. Ch. Apr. 28, 2020)

This opinion serves as a reminder that particularized allegations of non-exculpated wrongdoing are necessary to support the contention that a demand would be futile. Vice Chancellor Joseph R. Slights, III dismissed a breach of fiduciary duty derivative action for failure to allege demand futility with the detail prescribed by Chancery Court Rule 23.1. The plaintiffs, GoPro, Inc. stockholders, filed suit against officers and directors after complications with the launch of a new drone caused the company to miss its revenue forecast. The complaint alleged that pre-suit demand was futile because a majority of the board faced liability for its knowledge of, but failure to disclose, the company’s revenue shortfall and were beholden to the CEO/controlling stockholder such that they could not exercise independence. The missed revenue projections also spurred a federal securities class action suit, naming three of the same defendants, where a ruling denying a dismissal motion found that the class plaintiffs well pled that the named overlapping defendants made false or misleading statements regarding the drone. More ›

Share

Superior Court Allows Fraudulent Inducement and Breach of Contract Claims to Proceed in Parallel Based on Rescissory Damages Request

Posted In CCLD, Fraud

Firmenich Inc. v. Natural Flavors, Inc., C.A. No. N19C-01-320 MMJ [CCLD] (Del. Super. Apr. 7, 2020).

Fraud claims that overlap with breach of contract claims often are subject to dismissal under Delaware law. Sometimes, however, fraud and contract claims may proceed in parallel, as the Complex Commercial Litigation Division of the Superior Court determined in Natural Flavors. Here, the Superior Court declined to dismiss a fraudulent inducement claim seeking rescissory damages notwithstanding an alternatively-pled breach of contract claim. The litigation concerned an Asset Purchase Agreement and allegations of fraud arising from a former employee’s whistleblowing. After the plaintiff-buyer’s initial fraud claim was dismissed as impermissibly bootstrapped to its breach of contract claim, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint for rescissory damages as compensation for alleged fraudulent inducement to enter into the APA, while alternatively seeking relief for alleged breach of the APA. The defendant-seller, again, sought dismissal of the fraud claim as duplicative of the breach of contract count. More ›

Share

Chemours v. DowDuPont: Chancery Requires Subsidiary to Arbitrate Separation Agreement Dispute with Parent Despite the Subsidiary’s Lack of “Real World” Consent to the Separation Agreement

The Chemours Co. v. DowDuPont Inc., et al., C.A. No. 2019-0351-SG (Del. Ch. Mar. 30, 2020).

The subsidiary-plaintiff, created after the reorganization of the parent-defendant, brought an action against its parent and related entities challenging the enforceability of the Separation Agreement memorializing the terms of the subsidiary’s spin-off, including its arbitration clause. According to the subsidiary, certain liabilities assigned to the subsidiary in the spin-off were “vastly and wrongfully underestimated” by the parent, and the subsidiary brought suit to limit its obligations for those liabilities. The defendants moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because the Separation Agreement contained an arbitration clause.        More ›

Share

Chancery Enforces LLC Agreement Arbitration Clause and Finds that Member’s Resignation Did Not Prevent Enforcement

360 Campaign Consulting, LLC v. Diversity Communication, LLC, C.A. No. 2019-0807-MTZ (Del. Ch. Mar. 20, 2020).

Following a dispute between the two members of a Delaware LLC, Plaintiff filed an eleven (11) count complaint against the Defendant former member, the LLC, its manager and others. Defendant moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction based on an arbitration provision in the LLC Agreement. The Court’s threshold question was whether it (as opposed to an arbitrator) had jurisdiction to decide whether the dispute was arbitrable, an issue otherwise known as substantive arbitrability.  More ›

Share

Chancery Sustains Breach of Fiduciary Duty Claim Against Long-Time Friend and Financial Advisor, and Addresses Double-Derivative Standing for Alternative Entities

Bamford v. Penfold, L.P., C.A. No. 2019-0005-JTL (Del. Ch. Feb. 28, 2019).

After realizing that a 2016 reorganization stripped them of their voting and other governance rights in a highly profitable limited liability company, the plaintiffs brought direct and derivative claims against their former business partner and the entities he controlled. The defendant and his entities moved to dismiss, which the Court largely denied. Of particular note were the Court’s rulings about one of the breach of fiduciary duty claims and the plaintiffs’ standing to bring double-derivative claims challenging pre-organization conduct.     More ›

Share

Chancery Addresses Civil Conspiracy Elements

Posted In Chancery

O’Gara v. Coleman, C.A. No. 2018-0708-KSJM (Del. Ch. Feb. 14, 2020).

This action arose out of corporate infighting among certain directors and investors at a nutrient-infused water company. The plaintiff, the company’s founder, brought tort and contracts claims against certain former directors and current stockholders, accusing them of wrongfully attempting to seize control of the company. The parties settled several claims, but some defendants and claims remained. In this motion to dismiss decision, the Court of Chancery addresses, inter alia, the elements of a claim for civil conspiracy and, relatedly, the conspiracy theory of jurisdiction.  More ›

Share

Chancery Follows Recent Precedent Finding Pre-Suit Correspondence to be a Litigation Demand, Dismisses Derivative Complaint for Failure to Allege Wrongful Refusal

Dahle v. Pope, C.A. No. 2019-0136-SG (Del. Ch. Jan. 31, 2020).

Incorporating the analysis set forth in Solak ex rel Ultragenyx Pharmaceutical, Inc. v. Welch, 2019 WL 5588877 (Del. Ch. Oct. 30, 2019), the Court of Chancery again dismissed a derivative complaint under Rule 23.1 after finding that the plaintiffs’ pre-suit correspondence was a litigation demand. More ›

Share

Chancery Further Explains the “Proper Purpose” Requirement for Section 220 Demands

Lebanon County Employees’ Retirement Fund v. AmerisourceBergen Corp., C.A. No. 2019-0527-JTL (Del. Ch. Jan. 13, 2020).

Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law (“DGCL”) provides stockholders seeking information for a proper purpose with the right to inspect a corporation’s books and records. This recent decision provides additional guidance by (i) rejecting a “purpose-plus-an-end” test as inconsistent with the text of Section 220 and Delaware Supreme Court precedent; and (ii) explaining that a stockholder may have a proper purpose to investigate wrongdoing regardless of whether she can show potentially viable claims against a board of directors.  More ›

Share

Delaware Superior Court CCLD Clarifies When a Plaintiff is on Inquiry Notice to Bring a Claim for Limitations Period Purposes

Ocimum Biosolutions (India) Ltd. v. AstraZeneca UK Ltd., C.A. No. N15C-08-168 AML CCLD (Del. Super. Dec. 10, 2019).

Even in circumstances where a statutory limitations period can be tolled, tolling typically will cease once a plaintiff may be charged with inquiry notice of its potential claims. In this dispute brought against the biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca arising out of database subscription arrangement, the Complex Commercial Litigation Division of the Delaware Superior Court held that defendant AstraZeneca was entitled to summary judgment because the plaintiff Ocimum Biosolutions had inquiry notice of its claims for breach of contract and misappropriation of trade secrets more than three years before commencing suit.  More ›

Share

Chancery Provides Further Clarity Regarding Material Adverse Effect Clauses in Merger Agreements

Posted In M&A, MAEs

Channel Medsystems, Inc. v. Boston Scientific Corp., C.A. No. 2018-0673-AGB (Del. Ch. Dec. 18, 2019).

Material adverse effect clauses provide a form of buy-side protection in merger agreements. These often are complex provisions permitting the buyer to avoid closing under the right circumstances, usually involving an actual or reasonably expected serious business deterioration. Channel Medsystems represents the latest decision from the Delaware courts interpreting and applying a material adverse effect clause. Here, the Court of Chancery held that a buyer’s termination of a merger agreement was invalid because the fraudulent conduct of an officer of the seller, which rendered certain contractual representations materially false, did not have, nor was reasonably expected at the time of termination to have, a material adverse effect on the seller. More ›

Share

Chancery Examines Partnership Agreement Allowing Deference to General Partner’s Decisions While Acting in its Individual Capacity and Instances in Which a Tortious Interference Claim can Extend to a General Partner’s Controllers

Posted In LP Agreements

Bandera Master Fund LP v. Boardwalk Pipeline Partners, LP, C.A. No. 2018-0372-JTL (Del. Ch. Oct. 7, 2019).

The Court of Chancery held that plaintiff former common unitholders failed to state a claim for breach of fiduciary duties in connection with the general partner’s alleged wrongful exercise of its call right to purchase all of the common units after the price of those units plummeted following the general partner’s public announcement of its intent to exercise the call right.  The governing limited partnership agreement established different duties and standards of conduct depending upon whether the general partner was acting in an individual capacity or in an official capacity as the general partner.  The Court reasoned that because the general partner was acting in its individual capacity in the exercise of its call right, the most deferential standard of conduct provided for in the partnership agreement, which eliminated the general partner’s duty to the limited partner common unitholders and the partnership, applied to this allegedly conflicted transaction.  The Court noted that the plaintiffs’ request to apply the partnership agreement’s more heightened standard of conduct to the exercise of the call right misapplied Delaware Supreme Court precedent set forth in Allen v. El Paso Pipeline GP Co., L.L.C., 2015 WL 813053, at *1 (Del. Feb. 26, 2015).  In Allen, the Supreme Court interpreted a nearly identical partnership agreement provision, and based on that provision, ruled that the general partner’s ability to act in its individual capacity “parallels the ability of a corporate fiduciary to exercise rights that are not held or exercised in a fiduciary capacity.”  More ›

Share

Chancery Refuses to Reform Operating Agreement to Impose Class Voting Requirements Not Contained in the Plain Language of the Agreement

Posted In LLC Agreements

JJS, Ltd. v. Steelpoint CP Holdings, LLC, C.A. No. 2019-0072-KSJM (Del. Ch. Oct. 11, 2019).

The Court of Chancery held that plaintiff common unitholders of an LLC failed to state a claim for breach of the operating agreement and failed to adequately plead reformation in connection with their challenge to an asset sale that resulted in the senior preferred unitholder receiving the entirety of the sale consideration.  Applying fundamental tenets of contract interpretation, the Court reasoned that the plain language of the operating agreement only required a majority vote of the combined total of preferred and common unit holders, and not a majority vote of each separate class of preferred and common unitholders, to approve the asset sale.  The Court also rejected the plaintiffs’ claim for reformation to impose a separate voting class requirement that was contained in a term sheet that preceded the operating agreement, but was ultimately omitted from the final operating agreement.  In analyzing the reformation claim, the Court relied upon West Willow-Bay Court, LLC v. Robino-Bay Court Plaza, LLC, 2009 WL 3247992 (Del. Ch. Oct. 6, 2009), in which the plaintiffs unsuccessfully sought reformation based upon a unilateral mistake that a contract amendment did not comport with a prior memorandum of understanding.  The Court found that the common unitholders reformation claim was insufficient for the same reasons relied upon by the Court in West Willow-Bay: (i) the term sheet was not binding; (ii) even a cursory review of the voting provision in the operating agreement would have put the plaintiffs on notice that it differed from the term sheet; and (iii) it was not apparent that the voting provision in the operating agreement was unacceptable to the plaintiffs.  Accordingly, the Court dismissed both the plaintiffs’ claim for breach of the operating agreement and their alternative claim for reformation.        

Share

Delaware Supreme Court Provides Additional Guidance on Pleading Direct Claims Against Controllers and Control Groups

Sheldon v. Pinto Technology Ventures, L.P., No. 81, 2019 (Del. Oct. 4, 2019).

The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Chancery’s dismissal of an alleged direct claim for dilution of the voting and economic interests of plaintiff stockholders because they failed to adequately plead that several venture capital firms constituted a “control group.”  The Court began its analysis with a review of the standard for a controller or control group under Delaware law.  In Gentile v. Rossette, 906 A.2d 91 (Del. 2006), the Court ruled that multiple stockholders can constitute a control group if they are connected in some legally significant way, such as by contract or other agreement, or working together towards a shared goal.  The Court noted the guideposts that define a “control group” established by In re Hansen Medical, Inc. Stockholders Litigation, 2018 WL 3025525 (Del. Ch. June 18, 2018) and van der Fluit v. Yates, 2017 WL 5953514 (Del. Ch. Nov. 30, 2017). More ›

Share

Chancery Rejects Attempt to Allege Gentile v. Rossette Direct Claims for Dilutive Preferred Stock Issuances

Silverberg v. Padda, C.A. No. 2017-0250-KSJM (Del. Ch. Sept. 19, 2019).

The Court of Chancery held that plaintiff common stockholders’ fiduciary duty claims challenging the company’s overpayment for dilutive preferred stock issuances were derivative in nature because plaintiffs failed to adequately plead the existence of a controller or control group that benefited at the expense of the minority stockholders.  The Court evaluated the common stockholders’ arguments under the standard set forth by Gentile v. Rossette, 906 A.2d 91 (Del. 2006), which provides that minority stockholders may seek direct relief for dilution claims when a controller or control group benefits at the expense of the minority stockholders’ economic and voting rights.  Gentile requires that a plaintiff plead facts sufficient to establish that a control group’s members are connected in some “legally significant way” and work together toward a shared goal, such as voting or other decision making.  The Court also relied upon Dubroff v. Wren Holdings, which emphasized that the existence of a control group does not require a formal contract, but there must be some indicia of an actual agreement that amounts to more than mere parallel interests among the group members.  More ›

Share

Chancery Court Offers Guidance on Arbitration Provision Carve-Outs

The Innovation Institute, LLC v. St. Joseph Health Source, Inc., C.A. No. 2019-0156 JRS (Del. Ch. Aug. 28, 2019).

Despite the plaintiff’s request for specific performance and an arbitration provision that carved-out equitable claims, the Court of Chancery stayed the action and deferred to the arbitrator the decision on arbitrability.  The limited liability company operating agreement at issue contained a mandatory arbitration provision that referred all disputes to arbitration “[e]xcept to the extent that a party is entitled to equitable relief…” and incorporated the AAA arbitration rules.  In reaching his decision, the Vice Chancellor evaluated the arbitration provision under the standard set forth in James & Jackson, LLC v. Willie Gary, LLC, and clarified in McLaughlin v. McCannWillie Gary set forth a two-part test to determine whether the parties agreed to submit the issue of arbitrability to an arbitrator:  the arbitration provision must (1) resolve all disputes; and (2) incorporate rules that permit an arbitrator to determine arbitrability.  McLaughlin later clarified Willie Gary by cautioning against an overly narrow reading of the first prong of Willie Gary, ruling that courts should only determine arbitrability when the carve-out is so “obviously broad and substantial” that it overcomes the presumption in favor of permitting the arbitrator to decide arbitrability.  The Vice Chancellor concluded that the scope of the equitable relief carve-out in the operating agreement was not “so obviously broad and substantial as to overcome the heavy presumption” that the parties intended to submit the issue of arbitrability to an arbitrator to decide whether their dispute is subject to arbitration under the arbitration provision. The Court therefore held the equitable carve-out did not apply to enable the Court to decide arbitrability.    

Share
kmurphy@morrisjames.com
T 302.888.6847
Kathleen A. Murphy is an attorney in the Corporate and Commercial Litigation Group.  She focuses her practice on corporate, fiduciary, and commercial litigation. Prior to joining …
View Bio

awards

  • US News Best Law Firms
  • JD Supra Readers Choice Award
  • Delaware Today Top Lawyers
  • Super Lawyers
Back to Page