About This Blog
Summaries and analysis of recent Delaware court decisions concerning business-related litigation.
Morris James Blogs
Showing 19 posts in Chancery.
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 ›
Chancery Holds That Res Judicata Precludes Plaintiff’s Claim for Information Rights Under Merger Agreement
The doctrine of res judicata bars a plaintiff from splitting claims arising from a single transaction into multiple actions. As this decision illustrates, the requirement to plead all claims arising from a transaction in a lawsuit to avoid claim preclusion on res judicata grounds may include a claim for information rights arising from a merger agreement. A party with information rights should carefully evaluate those rights when bringing a claim for breach of contract, and should not assume that subsequent claims for information rights under the contract will avoid claim preclusion under the doctrine of res judicata. More ›
Chancery Finds Pleadings Sufficient to Support Claim that a Corporate Self-Tender Offer was Coercive
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 Appraisal Decision Illustrates the Importance of Reliable Expert Testimony and Witness Credibility to Fair Value Determinations
Even when its role is to determine the fair value of shares in an appraisal proceeding, credibility matters to the Court of Chancery. Following a three-party business combination, Petitioners (former minority stockholders) exercised appraisal rights under 8 Del. C. § 262. Petitioners and Respondent agreed to use a discounted cash flow analysis to determine the fair value because there was insufficient market-based evidence of fair market value. But the parties’ experts disagreed on the input values and results of the DCF analysis, leaving the Court to “grappl[e] with expert-generated valuation conclusions that [were] solar systems apart.” Mem. Op. 2.
After a lengthy comparison of the competing DCF analyses, the Court concluded that Petitioners’ calculation (with minor adjustments) represented fair value. By contrast, Respondent’s position suffered from significant credibility issues. One of the executives involved in the business combination transactions requested a backdated valuation, misrepresented the date of the valuation in discovery responses, and continued with its misrepresentation until the eve of trial. The Court also found Respondent’s expert was not credible because elements of his valuation approach were bespoke, were not used in the industry, and relied heavily on the ipse dixit of the expert. Complicating things further, Respondent disagreed with its own expert’s calculations and conclusions. These factors, combined with the superior DCF analysis by Petitioner’s expert, led the Court to accept Petitioner’s fair value calculation with only minor adjustments.
Parties who resolve a case through a mediation conducted under Court of Chancery Rule 174 should include all material provisions in any mediation term sheet. As the Order in Starkman demonstrates, Rule 174 provides no opportunity for a party to introduce mediation communications to assert that a signed mediation agreement does not accurately reflect the parties’ discussions. More ›
Chancery Balances the Obligation to Defend an Arbitral Award from Collateral Attack with the Obligation to Defer to a Broad Agreement to Arbitrate
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 Declines to Establish New Rule Concerning Books and Records Inspections Related to Proxy Contests
Section 220 of the DGCL grants stockholders a qualified right to inspect corporate books and records “necessary and essential” to a “proper purpose.” One recognized proper purpose is investigating potential corporate wrongdoing or mismanagement. In such cases, the stockholder must establish a “credible basis” for the suspicion before the Court of Chancery will order inspection. When a stockholder makes that showing, the Court has permitted use of the produced books and records to mount a proxy contest. However, as the Court of Chancery observes in this decision, no Delaware court has compelled inspection “when the stockholder’s only stated purpose for inspection is a desire to communicate with other stockholders in furtherance of a potential proxy contest.” And under the facts and circumstances of this case, the Court declines to be first. More ›
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 ›
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 ›
Chancery Enters Sanctions in TransPerfect Litigation for Violating Exclusive Jurisdiction Provision in Court Order
This decision arose out of the dispute between once deadlocked co-owners of TransPerfect Global that played out in the Delaware courts over several years. That heavily-litigated controversy resulted in the appointment of a Custodian by the Court of Chancery and a forced sale of the company as part of a Final Order, with one of the co-owners, Phil Shawe, prevailing as the buyer. More ›
Chancery Finds Safe Harbor Conflicts Committee Not Validly Constituted in Master Limited Partnership Dispute
The Dieckman v. Regency GP LP matter has been in the Delaware courts for several years. The Court of Chancery originally dismissed the complaint attacking a conflicted merger transaction primarily on the ground that plaintiff had failed to plead that a unitholder approval safe harbor provision contained in the limited partnership agreement was inapplicable. The Delaware Supreme Court reversed, holding that plaintiff had adequately pleaded that unitholder approval was secured by false and misleading information and, further, that approval by a Conflicts Committee was tainted by conflicts involving its members. Plaintiff amended his complaint and, following briefing on a motion to dismiss, the Court of Chancery sustained plaintiff’s claim that the General Partner had approved the transaction even though members of its board did not believe that the transaction was in the best interests of the limited partnership. More ›
Chancery Finds “Constellation” of Personal and Professional Relations Between Directors and Controlling Stockholder Excuses Demand
A stockholder plaintiff seeking to bring a derivative claim on behalf of a corporation must first demand authorization from the board of directors or allege why making such a demand would be futile due to the board’s assumed partiality under the alleged facts and circumstances. One way of establishing demand futility is alleging with particularity significant personal or professional ties to an interested party, like a conflicted controlling stockholder. BGC Partners illustrates the type and degree of relationships that may excuse the pre-suit demand requirement and overcome a motion to dismiss under Court of Chancery Rule 23.1. This is a developing area of Delaware law, arguably involving a heightened sensitivity to the significance of personal relationships. As BGC Partners observes, the Delaware Supreme Court has reversed Court of Chancery findings of director independence in the demand futility context three times in the past four years. More ›
Chancery Construes LLC Agreement as Imposing Only the Managerial Duty to Act in Good Faith and Dismisses Claims for Failure to Plead Bad Faith
Under Delaware law, the managers of a limited liability company owe the entity and its members the traditional common law fiduciary duties of care and loyalty. But parties may eliminate or modify those duties under the LLC’s operating agreement and impose contractual duties instead. When they do so, Delaware courts will analyze any challenged conduct of the manager against those contractual duties. Here, the Court of Chancery found the managers’ contractual duty to be a narrow one: act with a good faith belief that their conduct was in or not opposed to the LLC’s best interests. More ›
Chancery Upholds Caremark Claim Based on Alleged Failure to Adequately Monitor Biopharmaceutical Company’s Clinical Trials
The Delaware courts have observed that a Caremark claim for failure of oversight against a board is among the most difficult to sustain. Nonetheless, a set of particularized allegations showing serious oversight shortcomings regarding a mission-critical topic will succeed, as illustrated by the Delaware Supreme Court’s recent decision in Marchand v. Barnhill, 212 A. 3d 805 (Del. 2019). Clovis is the latest example. More ›
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 ›