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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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