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Summaries and analysis of recent Delaware court decisions concerning business-related litigation.

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Photo of Delaware Business Litigation Report Matthew F. Lintner
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mlintner@morrisjames.com
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Matthew F. Lintner is a partner in the firm's Corporate and Commercial Litigation Group. He has extensive experience litigating complex corporate, commercial, and fiduciary …

Showing 23 posts by Matthew F. Lintner.

Chancery Finds Pleadings Sufficient to Support Claim that a Corporate Self-Tender Offer was Coercive

Posted In Chancery, M&A

Davidow v. LRN Corp., C.A. No. 2019-0150-MTZ (Del. Ch. Feb. 25, 2020).

Delaware law does not invoke the entire fairness test for a voluntary, noncoercive offer by a corporation to buy its own shares. But, as this decision illustrates, Delaware courts will apply the entire fairness test where the self-tender is coercive or the board is interested or lacks independence in approving the transaction. More ›

Chancery Denies Motions for Summary Judgment in Tesla Litigation, Questions Remain as to Whether Musk is a Controlling Stockholder

In re Tesla Motors, Inc. S’holder Litig., C.A. No. 12711-VCS (Del. Ch. Feb. 4, 2020).

The Delaware Court of Chancery denied plaintiffs’ and defendants’ (including Elon Musk’s) motions for summary judgment on the grounds that genuine issues of material fact still remain to be determined at trial. The plaintiffs brought the action based on the allegation that Musk improperly influenced the Tesla board of directors to approve Tesla’s acquisition of SolarCity, another entity owned partially by Musk that was purportedly on the verge of insolvency.  More ›

Chancery Rejects Challenge to Financing Made Open to All Investors, Reasons the LLC Operating Agreement Allows Self-Interested Conduct, so any Claims Must Assert Bad Faith

MKE Holdings Ltd. v. Schwartz, C.A. No. 2018-0729-SG (Del. Ch. Jan. 29, 2020).

Verdesian Life Sciences, LLC is an agricultural company focused upon rolling up various companies with proprietary plant health technologies. All members of the Board of Managers of Verdesian were appointed by Paine Schwartz Partners, LLC (“Paine”), a private equity firm that owned over seventy percent of the Class A Units of the company. Paine also benefited from a management agreement that entitled it to receive certain management fees tied to acquisitions. The LLC Operating Agreement required the Managers to perform their duties in good faith and in a manner they reasonably believed to be in or not opposed to the best interests of Verdesian. However, the Operating Agreement also allowed Managers and Members to “consider only such interests and factors as such Manager or Member desires, including its, his or her own interests” when facing discretionary decisions. The Court of Chancery concluded that the Operating Agreement “directs the Managers to operate in good faith and with ordinary care and effectively exculpates Managers for conflicted, negligent and other detrimental decisions … so long as taken in good faith.” More ›

Delaware Court of Chancery Grants Motion to Dismiss Disclosure Claims Because Hedge Fund had Sufficient Information to Consider Corporation’s Self-Tender Offer

Chatham Asset Mgmt., LLC v. Papanier, C.A. No. 2017-0088-AGB (Del. Ch. Jan. 13, 2020).

The directors of a Delaware corporation that makes a self-tender offer must disclose all material facts. A fact is material if there is a substantial likelihood that a reasonable stockholder would consider it important in deciding whether to tender. More ›

CCLD Finds that Statute of Limitations for Tortious Interference Claim was Tolled until Key Documents Relating to the Alleged Scheme were Released

BTIG, LLC v. Palantir Technologies, Inc., C.A. No. N19C-08-314 EMD CCLD (Del. Sup. Ct. Jan. 3, 2020).

In this decision denying a motion to dismiss, the Superior Court’s Complex Commercial Litigation Division found that the plaintiff sufficiently alleged facts to toll the statute of limitations under the “time of discovery” rule, which is also known as the doctrine of “inherently unknowable injury.” More ›

Chancery Balances the Obligation to Defend an Arbitral Award from Collateral Attack with the Obligation to Defer to a Broad Agreement to Arbitrate

Gulf LNC Energy, LLC v. Eni USA Gas Marketing LLC, C.A. No. 2019-0460-AGB (Del. Ch. Dec. 30, 2019). 

Plaintiff (“Gulf”) invested over $1 billion to construct a facility designed to unload imported liquefied natural gas (“LNG”) in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Defendant (“Eni”) entered a “Terminal Use Agreement” (“TUA”) with Gulf to use the facility over a twenty-year period. When domestic production of LNG through shale boomed, importation became economically unfeasible and Eni did not use the facility other than one initial shipment. The TUA contained a provision requiring that any types of disputes under the agreement be arbitrated. In an initial arbitration, the panel determined that the purposes of the twenty-year TUA were “substantially frustrated,” terminated the agreement as of 2016, and awarded Gulf nearly $500 million in compensation for the benefits conferred upon Eni by Gulf’s partial performance. The arbitrators explicitly did not address Eni’s claims that Gulf had breached the TUA, finding the claim “academic” and deserving of no further consideration in light of the agreement’s termination. More ›

Chancery Addresses Pleading Standards for Caremark Claims

Posted In Caremark, Chancery

In re LendingClub Corp., Consol. C.A. No. 12984-VCM (Del. Ch. Oct. 31, 2019).

Delaware law sets a high bar to sufficiently plead a Caremark claim for failure of board oversight, especially when the plaintiff must satisfy the heightened pleading requirements for establishing demand futility under Court of Chancery Rule 23.1.  To overcome those hurdles, a plaintiff must plead with particularity that the board of directors either (i) utterly failed to implement any reporting or information systems or controls to address the risk that ultimately manifested, or (ii) having implemented such safeguards, consciously failed to oversee their operation and thereby disabled themselves from being informed of the risk that ultimately manifested.  For either Caremark prong, the plaintiff must sufficiently plead bad faith, essentially that the directors knew they were not discharging their fiduciary duties. More ›

Chancery Denies Section 220 Bid for Executive Compensation Records Involving Facebook

Southeastern Pa. Trans. Auth. v. Facebook, Inc., C.A. No. 2019-0228-JRS (Oct. 29, 2019)

Shareholders of a Delaware corporation have a qualified right to access corporate books and records for a “proper purpose.” One such proper purpose is to investigate potential mismanagement or fiduciary wrongdoing. Indeed, Delaware law encourages shareholders to use this “tool at hand” prior to bringing a derivative action. But this type of inspection has an important precondition: the shareholder must advance some evidence to suggest a “credible basis” from which the Court can infer actionable wrongdoing. As this decision involving Facebook illustrates, the credible basis standard is lenient but not meaningless, and may turn on, among other things, the potential for monetary damages arising out of the alleged wrongdoing. After a trial on a paper record, the Court of Chancery denied an attempt by two stockholders of defendant Facebook, Inc. to obtain additional documents related to the company’s executive compensation practices. More ›

Court of Chancery Clarifies a Plaintiff’s Ability to Bind a Non-Signatory to a Forum Selection Provision

Neurvana Medical, LLC v. Balt USA, LLC, C.A. No. 2019-0034-KSJM (Del. Ch. Sep. 18, 2019), reargument denied (Oct. 10, 2019).

In Neurvana Medical, LLC v. Balt USA, LLC, the Court of Chancery declined to exercise personal jurisdiction over a French company, Balt International, S.A.S., the parent of Balt USA, LLC.  The Court rejected Neurvana’s argument that Balt International was so “closely related” to the asset purchase agreement at issue that the agreement’s forum selection clause bound Balt International, even though Balt International was a non-signatory.  The Court also declined to assert jurisdiction over Balt International based on the assertion that Balt USA was Balt International’s agent.  Thus, the Court granted Balt International’s motion to dismiss. More ›

Chancery Enforces Preferred Stock Consent Rights, and Reasons that Designee of a Corporate Stockholder Is an “Affiliate” of that Stockholder for Purposes of an “Interested Party” Clause

Posted In Preferred Stock

PWP Xerion Holdings III LLC v. Red Leaf Resources Inc., C.A. No. 2017-0235-JTL (Del. Ch. Oct. 23, 2019).

Preferred stockholders frequently obtain the right to veto specific types of transactions.  Here, plaintiff PWP Xerion Holdings III LLC (“Xerion”), a hedge fund that acquired Series A Preferred Stock in Red Leaf Resources Inc. (the “Company”), obtained consent rights for certain events, including (i) any transaction “with or for the benefit of any director or officer (or their respective affiliates)”; and (ii) any change of “the business or business plan” of the Company.  In this decision, the Court of Chancery grants partial summary judgment on Xerion’s claims that the Company violated these consent rights.    More ›

Delaware Superior Court Finds Purchase Agreement Language Limits the Scope of Possible Claims Concerning Earn-Out Dispute

Posted In CCLD, Earn-Out

Collab9, LLC v. En Pointe Technologies Sales, LLC, C.A. No. N16C-12-032 (MMJ) (CCLD) (Del. Super. Sept. 17, 2019).

Under an asset purchase agreement (“APA”), the purchaser (“PCM”) acquired substantially all of the assets of the “En Pointe” business from the seller (“Collab9”).  The APA provided for an earn-out payment, calculated upon a percentage of En Pointe’s Adjusted Gross Profit over several years.  The APA provided that the purchaser “shall have sole discretion with regard to all matters relating to the operation of the Business.”  The agreement further disclaimed any express or implied obligation on the part of the purchaser to take any action, or omit to take any action, to maximize the earn-out amount, and stated that the purchaser “owes no duty, as a fiduciary or otherwise” to the seller.  The APA also contained a clear combined integration and anti-reliance provision. More ›

Chancery Explains When Deal Price is a Persuasive Indicator of Fair Value in an Appraisal Proceeding

Posted In Appraisal

In re Appraisal of Stillwater Mining Co., Consol. C.A. No. 2017-0385-JTL (Del. Ch. Aug. 21, 2019).

Recent Delaware Supreme Court decisions on appraisal proceedings have stressed the pivotal importance of the deal price in establishing fair value.  In this case, the Court of Chancery faced an appraisal for a transaction in which the company’s General Counsel expressed ongoing concerns about the CEO’s potential conflict in spearheading the sale process.  That gave rise to the question:  In measuring fair value, what weight should be accorded to the deal price when there is some “hint of self-interest” that may have compromised the market check?  More ›

Chancery Explains the Rule “Equity will not Enjoin a Libel” – and its Limited Exception

Preston Hollow Capital LLC v. Nuveen LLC, C.A. No. 2019-0169-SG (Del. Ch. Aug. 13, 2019).

The Court of Chancery in several recent decisions has addressed the limited circumstances in which it may have jurisdiction to enjoin future speech.  See, e.g., Perlman v. Vox Media, Inc., 2019 WL 2647520 (Del. Ch. Jun. 27, 2019); Organovo Hldgs., Inc. v. Dimitrov, 162 A. 3d 102 (Del. Ch. 2017).  Here, Vice Chancellor Glasscock explains the maxim “[e]quity will not enjoin a libel” and the limited potential exceptions.  In particular, and subject to constitutional free speech limitations, Chancery may enjoin future speech in the nature of “trade libel” as a remedy for a separate “non-speech” business tort over which it has jurisdiction. More ›

CCLD Holds that D&O Policy’s Duty to Defend “Securities Claims” Extends to Appraisal Proceedings under 8 Del. C. § 262

CCLD Holds that D&O Policy’s Duty to Defend “Securities Claims” Extends to Appraisal Proceedings under 8 Del. C. § 262, that Pre-Judgment Interest on an Appraisal Award May be a Covered “Loss” and that a Breach of Consent-to-Defense Clause does not Bar Coverage Absent Prejudice to Insurer

Solera Holdings, Inc. v. XL Specialty Ins. Co., N18C-08-315 AML CCLD (Del. Super. Ct. Jul. 31, 2019).

The Complex Commercial Litigation Division of Delaware’s Superior Court has become a leading venue for complex insurance coverage disputes.  This decision addresses D&O insurers’ denial of coverage for over $13 million spent defending an appraisal proceeding under 8 Del. C. § 262, as well as $38.4 million in pre-judgment interest on the appraisal award.  More ›

Chancery Dismisses Merger Challenge Concerning Board’s Delegation of Merger Negotiations and Management’s Undisclosed Compensation Discussions

Posted In Fiduciary Duty, M&A

In re Towers Watson & Co. Stockholder Litigation, C.A. No. 2018-0132-KSJM (Del. Ch. July 25, 2019).

The ultimate responsibility for considering a merger falls on the board to carry out consistent with each director's fiduciary duties.  But management usually takes the lead role in negotiating with the counterparty.  It is not uncommon for stockholder plaintiffs to make hay out of a board allowing potentially conflicted members of management to pick up that mantle.  Sometimes those circumstances support a claim for breach of fiduciary duty and sometimes they do not.  This motion to dismiss decision addresses claims in that context, with the Court of Chancery finding the case falls in the latter category. More ›