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Summaries and analysis of recent Delaware court decisions concerning business-related litigation.
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Court Of Chancery Stays Control Dispute Involving Kentucky Retirement Systems In Favor of Kentucky Plenary Action
This decision deals with the oft encountered problem of a race to different courthouses by counterparties. What makes this decision readworthy is the context: a summary control dispute involving a Delaware alternative entity, one invested in by a Kentucky state agency (Kentucky Retirement Systems). While the Court of Chancery may choose to not stay its hand in favor of even an earlier-filed plenary action in the control dispute context, that is by no means a blanket rule. This is an instance where the Court of Chancery cited its inherent discretionary authority to issue a stay sua sponte in the interests of comity and the orderly and efficient administration of justice. Among the factors supporting the Court’s decision to stay its hand in favor of a contemporaneously-filed plenary action involving the same parties and issues in Kentucky state court were Kentucky consent-to-forum and choice of law clauses in the parties’ contract.
This decision explains the difference between agreeing to have a dispute decided by an expert rather than an arbitrator. The distinction is important because it may determine what the third-party adjudicator can review before reaching a decision, what questions it may address, and what role a court might play. For example, an expert may be confined to reviewing only a selected set of documents without resort to extrinsic types of evidence. That might not be what one party expected or desires. But it is a possible result under Delaware law, where the distinction is recognized, unlike in some other jurisdictions. In short, it is best to be specific about the exact type of adjudicator you want in your contract’s alternative dispute resolution provisions if your contract is governed by Delaware law.
In what it is hoped is the final act in the TransPerfect case, this decision upholds the sale process used by the Custodian to sell TransPerfect. While certainly a unique case, the decision does provide guidance on the discretion of a Court-appointed custodian in selling a deadlocked corporation.
The backdrop to this decision is an interesting and unfortunate one involving a divorce, allegations of illegal obscene material possessed by the former husband, followed by a civil lawsuit between the former spouses after the former husband was acquitted. Under the facts of this case, the Court finds the homeowner insurance provider has a duty to defend the former wife given the allegations of intentional and negligent conduct in her providing a harddrive and statements to the authorities about her former husband, which allegedly led to his physical injury.
In Amalgamated Bank v. Yahoo!, Inc., C.A. No. 10774-VCL (Del. Ch. Feb. 2, 2016), Plaintiff Amalgamated Bank’s Section 220 books and records demand sought, among other things, the emails of certain Yahoo officers and directors. Yahoo objected to the request as overly broad, but the Court found differently. Continuing the trend from Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Ind. Elec. Workers Pension Trust Fund IBEW, 95 A.3d 1264, 1271 (Del. 2014), which first permitted access beyond board materials, the Court ordered inspection of certain Yahoo director and officer documents and communications. In addition, the Court found that the directors’ and officers’ personal email accounts were subject to inspection if they were used to conduct business. This development signals to corporate officers and directors’ that personal emails may be discoverable in a 220 Action if the emails are essential to fulfilling a plaintiff’s proper purpose. More ›
These two decisions hold that an advancement claim should be treated as a claim of a general creditor by a company in liquidation. Hence, those claims do not get priority in payment along with administrative expenses of the receivership.
The Rites of Spring are upon us: budding flowers, warmer temperatures, and a Delaware court issuing an important decision just before the annual Tulane Corporate Law Institute begins. This year the honor of issuing that decision fell to Chancellor Bouchard who issued his opinion in Strougo v. Hollander, C.A. No. 9770-CB (Del. Ch.) on March 16, 2015. The opinion addressed plaintiff’s motion for partial judgment on the pleadings that a fee-shifting bylaw adopted after the challenged transaction did not apply to him. The Court found that the fee-shifting bylaw did not apply to the plaintiff in this case, and in reaching this conclusion, made some interesting comments that will undoubtedly further the debate over the proposed legislation to eliminate fee-shifting bylaws and regulate forum selection bylaws. More ›
This article was originally published in the Under 8 Del. C. Section 220, stockholders of Delaware companies are entitled to inspect certain books and records of the company upon stating a proper purpose. A long-recognized proper purpose for a books-and-records demand is an interest in valuing one's stock. In The Ravenswood Investment L.P. v. Winmill & Co., C.A. No. 7048-VCN (Del. Ch. May 30, 2014), the Court of Chancery decided the "novel" issue of whether a company, in response to a books-and-records demand, may condition the provision of nonpublic financial information on a trading restriction. Finding that the trading restriction would "inappropriately frustrate a fundamental stockholder right" to value its stock, the court held that the company could not require an agreement on the part of the requesting stockholder not to trade its stock for a certain period of time after receipt of the requested information. More ›