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Summaries and analysis of recent Delaware court decisions concerning business-related litigation.
Morris James Blogs
This is the rare decision that declines to approve the settlement of a derivative suit. The Court rejected the settlement because the proposed terms required the corporation, as a nominal defendant, to release breach of fiduciary duty claims against the director defendants in return for which those directors would agree to make disclosures already required by law. The Court viewed that agreeing to do what you had to do anyway as providing no real consideration for the release of the claims. This result illustrates the scrutiny the Court of Chancery applies to such settlements that affect corporate and stockholder rights.
In 2014, the Delaware Supreme Court in Kahn v. MFW held that the business judgment standard could apply to review of a controlling stockholder merger if at the outset the controlling stockholder conditioned the squeeze-out transaction on negotiation and approval by a committee of independent and disinterested directors and the informed, uncoerced approval of a majority of the minority stockholders (dual stage approvals). The Delaware Supreme Court later affirmed a Delaware Court of Chancery transcript opinion holding that MFW could apply to a pleadings-stage dismissal where the controlling stockholder did not condition its initial proposal on the dual stage approvals, at least where the board, with the majority stockholder’s participation, did so in a resolution establishing a special committee to negotiate prior to any substantive negotiations. The question remained, however, how much latitude the court would afford a controlling stockholder who did not ab initio condition its merger transaction on the requisite dual stage approvals. In Flood v. Synutra International, C. A. No. 101, 2018 (Del. Oct. 9, 2018), the Supreme Court in a majority opinion provided additional guidance, holding that the MFW standard of review could apply to a transaction where the controlling stockholder did not from the beginning condition its transaction on the requisite dual stage approvals, as long as those conditions were established prior to any substantive economic negotiations. The court’s holding and its reasoning provide important guidance to transactional planners and litigators assessing whether to challenge a controlling stockholder merger transaction. More ›
Superior Court of Delaware CCLD Finds 6 Del. C. 1-308 Permits Parties to Reserve Their Rights Without Pleading Duress
In this decision by the Complex Commercial Litigation Division, the Court held, for the first time, that under 6 Del. C. 1-308, a party may make a payment with a reservation of rights under without having to plead duress. The Court held that this section was designed to permit parties to a contract – like the plaintiff here – to continue performance even while a dispute between parties is unresolved. In doing so, the Court held that Section 1-308 superseded the Supreme Court’s decision in Western Natural Gas Company v. Cities Service Gas Company, 201 A.2d 164 (Del. 1964) in that respect.
Under Kahn v. M&F Worldwide Corp., 88 A.3d 635 (Del. 2014), commonly referred to as MFW, a controller may gain the benefit of business judgment review when it conditions a transaction—from the outset (i.e., ab initio)—on two procedural protections. Those involve approval by (i) an independent special committee and (ii) a majority of the minority stockholders. The point of the timing requirement is that the controller disables its influence from the beginning, instead of using the option as a bargaining chip when negotiating economic terms. More ›
This decision provides an excellent summary on Delaware law concerning when the Court will enjoin litigation in another jurisdiction to enforce a contract’s forum selection clause, as the Court did in this case. It also notes a potential trap for the unwary in situations where the clause selects only a court lacking jurisdiction to hear the dispute, rendering the forum selection invalid. That may occur for Delaware forum selection clauses when the Court of Chancery is the sole selected forum but cannot hear the dispute because of its limited subject matter jurisdiction. To avoid that problem, it would be best to identify an alternative within the jurisdiction, or accept any court within the jurisdiction.
This is a good decision for its explanation of when a non-compete agreement will be enforced when it does not have a geographical limit. If the agreement speaks to not engaging “in competition with” the former employer, that provides a limit based on what customers the old employer had and is enforceable as a result.
Delaware will enforce non-compete agreements against former employees, but generally California law bars such agreements. This decision explains how to determine which state’s law applies by looking to how important is the public policy of each state on the issue before the Court. Because California does enforce a choice of Delaware law when that choice is the subject of negotiation, not coercion, the Delaware choice of law was upheld. Note that under a different California statue then in force, a contrary result was reached in the Ascension Insurance Holdings v.Underwood case.
When something bad occurs in a business, it now seems inevitable that the directors may be sued. The most popular form of suit now seems to be a securities claim based on a failure to have disclosed the danger the entity faced that has now come home to do it harm. This decision shows why securities claims are in fashion for those events. For as it points out, there is not liability under Delaware corporate law for simply failing to prevent harm to the corporation. Something more is needed to show the directors acted in bad faith, such as a red flag warning of the need to act to prevent the harm. Thus, the decision dismissed a complaint that only alleged the directors did not do as much as might have been done to prevent the bad events from harming their entity.
This is an interesting decision because it holds that an entity may bring a fraudulent inducement claim for statements made before it was formed when the statements caused it to be formed for a new business. It is also interesting because it awards attorney fees for lying during a trial.
Appraisal cases often must deal with whether to admit evidence that deals with post-merger events. The argument is that those events show whether the predictions of future earnings are accurate measures of value. This decision deals with post-signing evidence but is nonetheless instructive of the Court’s general willingness to give such evidence the weight it deserves all things considered.
Akorn Inc. v. Fresemus Kabi A.G., C.A. 2018-0300-JTL (May 22, 2018) and Sandys v. Pincus, C.A. 9512-CB (July 2, 2018)
Corporate investigations present complicated issue surrounding what must later be produced in litigation. Context means everything in those disputes. Discovery into the decision by a SLC is much more limited than in other litigation, for example. But these two transcript rulings are useful for their insights into how the Court of Chancery handles disputes over discovery into the investigation process. More ›
This decision on a undisputed factual record interpreted a contractual right to put stock by rejecting one side’s argument as “commercially irrational.” It also held that the valid exercise of the put made the holder a creditor of the company entitled to enforce the put against the surviving party of a merger.
How to interpret the provisions of preferred stock is often a difficult task. Any preference must be spelled out and any doubts resolved against preferring one class of stock over common stock. This decision holds that the preferred stock must show evidence it was intended to a preference at least when the authorization for that stock is ambiguous. The decision also affirms that stockholder rights to inspect records cannot be taken away by a certificate of incorporation.
Appraisal litigation is unique under Delaware law. In almost every instance you can think of, once an event provides a right to recover damages (such as a fire caused by negligence), what happens later is relevant to determining the amount of damages. For example, the actual future earnings of a business is relevant to a claim for lost profits. But, that is not always so in an appraisal case. There the valuation of the company involved is determined as of “the point just before the merger transaction ‘on the date of the merger,’” see Merion Capital v. Lender Processing Services, (Del. Ch. Dec. 16, 2016). More ›
This is an important decision that applies recent United States Supreme Court jurisdiction cases to a non-resident’s Delaware complaint. While the opinion carefully reviews a string of such cases ending with Bristol-Meyers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California that is worth reading, the bottom line is that it holds that a non-resident of Delaware cannot bring a tort claim against a non-Delaware entity unless she can show its actions in Delaware that directly lead to her injury. This may effectively end the past practice of filing mass tort litigation in the Delaware Superior Court on behalf of non-residents of Delaware, at least against non-Delaware entities.