Each calendar quarter, the Delaware Quarterly analyzes and summarizes key decisions of the Delaware courts on corporate and commercial issues, as Delaware’s Supreme Court and Court of Chancery are generally regarded as the country’s premier business courts, and their decisions carry significant influence over matters of corporate law across the nation.
This Quarter’s Highlights
Deserving particular attention this quarter are two decisions: the Delaware Supreme Court’s opinion in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Indiana Electrical Workers Pension Trust Fund IBEW, where the high court adopted the Garner doctrine exception to the attorney- client privilege and ordered production of privileged documents in a books and records action; and the Court of Chancery’s ruling in LG Electronics, Inc. v. InterDigital Communications, Inc., where Vice Chancellor Laster applied the McWane doctrine for the first time to an earlier-filed arbitration proceeding.
In Wal-Mart, the Supreme Court issued its highly-anticipated decision affirming then-Chancellor Strine’s decision to adopt the “Garner doctrine” and order the production of a broad scope of documents, including attorney-client privileged communications and attorney work product, in a Section 220 books and records proceeding in which the plaintiff’s purported purpose was to evaluate demand futility with respect to the board and investigate potential breaches of fiduciary duty in connection with allegations of corporate bribery and the company’s internal investigation of those allegations. While the decision has been highly publicized for its potentially wide-ranging privilege ruling, it may have less real world ramifications than expected given the narrow circumstances under which privileged documents may become discoverable.
This Quarter’s Highlights............................................. 1
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Indiana Electrical Workers Pension Trust Fund IBEW 2
LG Electronics, Inc. v. InterDigital Communications, Inc. 5
Additional Developments In Delaware Business And Securities Law 8
Alternative Entities.................................... 8
Attorney’s Fees.......................................... 9
Books and Records Actions............................. 10
Contract Interpretation............................ 10
Derivative Actions........................................... 12
Discovery Disputes......................................... 12
Fiduciary Duties.............................................. 13
Jonathan W. Miller email@example.com
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James P. Smith III email@example.com
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Matthew L. DiRisio firstname.lastname@example.org
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Practice and Procedure.................................... 17
This Quarter’s Authors................................... 20
The Delaware Quarterly Advisory Board.... 20
LG Electronics is also of interest, as it marks the Court of Chancery’s first ever dismissal of an action in favor of an earlier-filed arbitration under the McWane doctrine.
Rejecting arguments that an arbitration cannot constitute a “prior action” under McWane, and that no Delaware court had ever so applied the doctrine, Vice Chancellor Laster found that the lack of prior precedent was due to the fact that actions involving earlier-filed arbitrations are generally decided on substantive arbitrability grounds or dismissed for an arbitral tribunal to make that determination and, as such, that an arbitration involving the same parties with
an arbitral tribunal capable of doing prompt and complete justice presented the “rare instance” where the court could apply McWane to an earlier-filed arbitration.
Each of these developments is discussed in greater detail below, followed by synopses of other recent decisions issued by the Delaware courts across a broad range of corporate governance topics, including: alternative entities; arbitrations; attorney’s fees; books and records actions; contract interpretation; derivative actions; dissolution proceedings; fiduciary duties; indemnification; jurisdiction; settlements; standing; and various issues of Delaware practice and procedure.
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Indiana Electrical Workers Pension Trust Fund IBEW1
On July 23, 2014, the Delaware Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Indiana Electrical Workers Pension Trust Fund IBEW, in which
the Court of Chancery – and then-Chancellor Strine – had eight months previously rattled the corporate world by ordering Wal-Mart to produce, among other things, privileged documents in the context of a books and records action under 8 Del. C. § 220. Sitting en banc, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Chancery’s broad ruling on the scope of documents to which plaintiff was entitled (including, e.g., documents from officers and lower-level employees, back-up tapes and documents constituting attorney work product) and formally adopted the so-called “Garner doctrine” – an exception to the sacrosanct principle that privileged communications between lawyer and client are protected from discovery when “a corporation is in suit against its stockholders
on charges of acting inimically to stockholder interests”
Mart achieved notoriety by way of its potentially wide- ranging privilege ruling, it may well find more lasting impact through less celebrated portions of the opinion.
In April 2012, the New York Times published an article based on information from a whistleblower that documented, in extensive detail, a purported bribery scheme involving Wal-Mart de Mexico, S.A. de C.V.
(“WalMex”) – a Mexican subsidiary of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (“Wal-Mart” or the “Company”) – in which management
of WalMex had reportedly paid a series of bribes to Mexican government officials.2 The whistleblower contemporaneously sent a package of documents to Wal- Mart stockholder Indiana Electrical Workers Pension Trust Fund IBEW (“IBEW”).
According to the Times article, upon learning of the potential bribery, Wal-Mart executives rejected a proposal from General Counsel of Wal-Mart International to conduct a thorough investigation, instead permitting only a “preliminary inquiry.”3 When even the truncated investigation proved enough to conclude that substantial evidence of bribery existed, the Wal-Mart executives criticized the investigators as “too aggressive” and promptly transferred control of the investigation from the General Counsel of Wal-Mart International to the General Counsel of WalMex – one of its primary targets.4 Not surprisingly, the WalMex General Counsel quickly cleared himself and others of any wrongdoing and concluded that there was no evidence of bribery.5
Based on the Times article and the whistleblower documents, IBEW sent Wal-Mart a demand to inspect its books and records under 8 Del. C. § 220 in order to
investigate, as stated in IBEW’s demand letter: (1) potential mismanagement; (2) possible breaches of fiduciary
duty; and (3) whether a pre-suit demand on the Wal- Mart board of directors (the “Board”) would be futile.6 Although Wal-Mart produced over 3,000 documents in
response, including Board and Audit Committee materials and documents concerning the Company’s compliance program, it declined to produce documents that it deemed privileged or not “necessary and essential” to IBEW’s
- in the context of both plenary actions and § 220
proceedings. As discussed below, however, while Wal-
1 95 A.3d 1264 (Del. 2014).
- David Barstow, “Vast Mexico Bribery Case Hushed Up by Wal-Mart After Top-Level Strug- gle,” The New York Times (Apr. 21, 2012), http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/business/ at-wal-mart-in-mexico-a-bribe-inquiry-silenced.html?pagewanted=all.
- Id. During this investigation, the Global General Counsel for Wal-Mart, who advocated for a more comprehensive inquiry, resigned.
6 95 A.3d at 1268-69.
stated purposes.7 IBEW filed a § 220 action in the Court of Chancery, alleging that Wal-Mart failed to fully comply with the demand.
The Court Of Chancery’s Decision
On October 15, 2013, after hearing oral argument, Chancellor Strine rendered a final order requiring Wal- Mart to produce documents relating to the WalMex bribery allegations themselves, including potential breaches of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”), as well as
the ensuing investigation by the Company.8 The court expressly included within the reach of his order, among other things: (i) documents in the custody of officers and lower-level employees; (ii) documents from back-up tapes; and (iii) unspecified documents “known to exist” by the “Office of the General Counsel” (also undefined).9 Of greater note, the court ruled that documents responsive to those categories but otherwise immune from disclosure under the attorney-client privilege or work product
doctrine must be produced, subject to IBEW’s commitment to maintain their confidentiality.10
Chancellor Strine based his ruling on the so-called “Garner doctrine,” an exception to the attorney-client privilege in limited situations involving a stockholder’s suit on behalf of a company for fiduciary breaches by the company’s directors. The Chancellor characterized the Wal-Mart proceeding as a “quintessential” Garner
case because it analyzed the futility of demand when the compliance mechanism within Wal-Mart allowed control of an investigation to be entrusted to a target of that very investigation.11 And, the court reasoned, because counsel
7 Id. at 1269.
8 Id. at 1270.
- Although this ruling was appealed by Wal-Mart, the dispute was limited to whether or not the term “Office of the General Counsel” was vague and ambiguous. Id. at 1275.
- Id. at 1270. As to the whistleblower documents, the court ruled that they had been disclosed without the authorization of Wal-Mart and struck them from the record. At the hearing on Wal-Mart’s motion to strike, Chancellor Strine discussed the strong presump- tion against such motions, particularly in light of the fact that many of the documents at issue were already publicly available from the New York Times, Congressional websites, or in an Arkansas litigation seeking to restrain the whistleblower from future unauthorized disclosures. Thus, Chancellor Strine denied the motion to strike as it pertained to these already-disclosed documents, but did order the return of documents that had not been made publicly available. Essential to the return of these documents was the fact that the whistleblower did not reveal his or her identity – strongly suggesting that the whistleblow- er was not authorized to reveal this information on behalf of the company, but rather stole this information, and IBEW was in possession of that stolen property. Thus, the Chancellor drew a line between a party’s failure to protect its confidential information, which would effectively constitute a waiver of privilege, and the deliberate theft by a trusted employee. See Trial Transcript, Indiana Electrical Workers Pension Trust Fund IBEW v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 2013 WL 3818579 at *24 (May 16, 2013).
- Final Order and Judgment, Indiana Elec. Workers Pension Trust Fund IBEW v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. 7779-CS, 2013 WL 5636296, at *26 (Del. Ch. Oct. 15, 2013).
and compliance personnel were allegedly involved in the misconduct, there could well be no non-privileged sources for the most relevant information.12
The Supreme Court’s Affirmance
On appeal, Wal-Mart advanced several arguments directed to the breadth of the Court of Chancery’s order, which it argued exceeded the principle that § 220 only requires the production of documents that are “necessary and essential” to the stockholder’s proper purpose
and unavailable from another source.13 For its part, IBEW argued that Chancellor Strine erred in striking the whistleblower documents from the record.
Noting that “[t]he standard of review this Court applies to the Court of Chancery’s exercise of statutorily conferred discretion is highly deferential,”14 the Court found no abuse of discretion and upheld the Court of Chancery’s order
in its entirety, including the production of, most notably:
(i) documents from officers and lower-level employees, whether or not they had been provided to the Wal-Mart Board; and (ii) privileged documents and attorney work product to the extent they are otherwise responsive, pursuant to the exception formulated by the Fifth Circuit decision in Garner v. Wolfinbarger.15
Officer & Lower-Level Documents
Wal-Mart appealed Chancellor Strine’s ruling that the documents of officers and lower-level employees were “necessary and essential” to IBEW’s proper purpose, arguing that because only the Board’s knowledge is relevant to a demand futility analysis, documents never seen by Board members are not necessary and essential.16 The Supreme Court disagreed. Reiterating that the necessary and essential standard is highly fact-specific and requires close contextual examination, the Court observed that IBEW’s purpose was not only to assess demand futility, but also to investigate the underlying bribery allegations and the resulting investigation.17 In addition, the Court referred to the Court of Chancery’s finding that officer-level documents were, in any event, material to the demand futility analysis in this particular context – an investigation into the failure of internal controls, mismanagement of an internal investigation, and
- 95 A.3d at 1271. See also 8 Del. C. § 220(b); Saito v. McKesson HBOC, Inc., 806 A.2d 113, 116 (Del. 2002).
- Id. at 1272 (relying on, inter alia, Remco Ins. Co. v. State Ins. Dep’t., 519 A.2d 633, 637-38 (Del. 1986)).
15 Id. at 1272-73; 1279-81; Garner v. Wolfinbarger, 430 F.2d 1093 (5th Cir. 1970).
16 Id. at 1272.
17 Id. at 1272-73.
failure to comply with the FCPA – where officer documents could be the only way to establish futility. In particular, such documents could establish director knowledge by showing that such officers (i) had key information about the investigation, (ii) had a reporting relationship to the Board and (iii) acted on that reporting obligation.18
Relatedly, Wal-Mart argued that the Court of Chancery abused its discretion by creating a presumption that officer knowledge could be imputed wholesale to the Board. The Supreme Court disagreed, finding that the Chancellor did not create a presumption, but rather drew the reasonable inference that officers with a reporting relationship to members of the Board would, in fact, so report.
The Garner Doctrine
By affirming the Court of Chancery’s ruling, the Supreme Court formally recognized the Garner doctrine under Delaware law. That doctrine is an exception to the attorney-client privilege in recognition of the paradox that occurs when a corporation is involved in litigation against its stockholders. As the Fifth Circuit recognized:
The attorney-client privilege still has viability for the corporate client. The corporation is not barred from asserting it merely because those demanding information enjoy the status of stockholders. But where the corporation is in suit against its stockholders on charges of acting inimically to stockholder interests, protection of those interests as well as those of the corporation and of the public require that the availability of the privilege be subject to the right of the stockholders to show cause why it should not be invoked in the particular instance.19
The Court upheld the Court of Chancery’s application of the doctrine based on a number of factors delineated by the Fifth Circuit:20
- The number of shareholders and the percentage of stock they represent;
- The bona fides of the shareholders;
- The nature of the shareholders’ claim and whether it is obviously colorable;
- The apparent necessity or desirability of the shareholders having the information and the availability of it from other sources;
18 Id. at 1273.
19 Garner, 430 F.2d at 1103-04.
20 Id. at 1104.
- If the shareholders’ claim is of wrongful action (criminal, illegal, or of doubtful legality) by the corporation;
- Whether the communication is of advice concerning the litigation itself;
- Whether the shareholders are blindly fishing; and
- The risk of exposure of trade secrets or other confidential information.
The Court also recited two essential limitations to this doctrine: (i) before Garner can apply, the Chancery Court must first apply the “necessary and essential” standard under § 220; and (ii) this exception to the rules of privilege is “narrow, exacting, and intended to be very difficult to satisfy.” 21
Applying the factors above and observing that the Court of Chancery indeed applied the necessary and essential test prior to proceeding to the Garner analysis, the Supreme Court agreed with the Chancellor that obtaining documents by other means where, as here, a colorable basis for concluding that the wrongdoing was in the manner in which the investigation itself was conducted, would be extremely difficult.22
Although Wal-Mart argued that the Delaware Supreme Court had never adopted Garner in a plenary proceeding, let alone a § 220 action, the Court noted several instances in which it had implicitly approved of Garner without formally deciding the issue, and that it had been applied previously by the Court of Chancery.23
Finally, the Court observed that a separate analysis for documents protected by the work product doctrine was not required. Indeed, since the Garner factors mirror the requirements of Court of Chancery Rule 26(b)(3), which allows the production of non-opinion work product documents upon a showing of substantial need and that the equivalent information is not available by means that would not cause undue hardship. Thus, a showing of good cause under Garner also authorizes the production of attorney work product.24
21 95 A.3d at 1278.
22 Id. at 1278-80.
23 Id. at 1277-78.
24 Id. at 1280-81. The Court likewise upheld the Court of Chancery’s rulings (i) ordering the review and production of responsive documents on back-up tapes and (ii) striking the documents received by IBEW from the anonymous whistleblower that were not already publicized by the New York Times or Congress. Wal-Mart argued, and the Court agreed, that the materials were stolen by a former employee and were disseminated without Wal-Mart’s consent. This conclusion was supported by the anonymity of the whistleblow- er, which constituted strong circumstantial evidence of conversion. Nevertheless, the Delaware Supreme Court noted that these documents may yet be produced to IBEW as documents that should have been produced in accordance with the Court of Chancery’s
While the decision was instantly notorious because of its forcing a corporation to produce privileged documents and will certainly have some impact on § 220 and derivative practice, Wal-Mart is not likely to have any sweeping effect on the attorney-client privilege; that aspect of the holding must be viewed against both the unusually detailed allegations of wrongdoing in this case and the highly- deferential standard of review. Not often does a national newspaper spell out probable criminal conduct with the precision and detail in the Times article triggering this action. Indeed, in the run-of-the-mill books and records
or derivative action, several of the determinative factors would have little bearing. As the Supreme Court itself indicated, Garner will almost certainly be reserved for extreme factual circumstances and, in our estimation, will probably run a distant second in the “future impact” race to the portion of the ruling addressing officer and lower-level employee documents.
Defendants have long relied on the argument Wal-Mart made (unsuccessfully) in both the Court of Chancery and the Supreme Court: board knowledge is the only relevant factor, so documents reaching below the board level are irrelevant. The Court of Chancery’s rejection of that principle, and the Supreme Court’s affirmance
of that rejection, will not be lost on plaintiffs’ counsel, who will immediately add this case as a weapon. And it
appears that that portion of the ruling is not nearly as fact- dependent as the Garner portion. To be sure, the Court placed emphasis on the indicia of misconduct during the investigation itself (as opposed to the underlying bribery allegations), but imposing a discovery rule by imputing knowledge to directors based on a reporting relationship could have a very slippery slope, particularly without a definition of “lower-level.” If nothing else, defense counsel will likely have a more spirited fight on their hands from § 220 plaintiffs viewing Wal-Mart as a gateway to documents below the director level.
LG Electronics, Inc. v. InterDigital Communications, Inc.25
In LG Electronics, a case of first impression, the Delaware Court of Chancery invoked the first-filed rule – known in Delaware as the McWane doctrine – in dismissing the
where a “prior action” involving the same parties and issues is pending in a “court capable of doing prompt and complete justice.”26 In the nearly 45 years since McWane was decided, no Delaware court had previously invoked the doctrine in favor of an earlier-filed arbitration, rather than a judicial proceeding. Until now. As discussed below, the implications of the LG Electronics decision may be even more important than its immediate result.
In 2006, plaintiff LG Electronics, Inc. (“LG”) and defendants, collectively referred to as “InterDigital,” entered into
a Wireless Patent License Agreement (the “License Agreement”).27 In 2011, InterDigital filed an administrative complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission (“ITC”) against several parties, including LG and two of its subsidiaries, alleging that they had infringed InterDigital’s patents.28 In January 2012, LG moved to terminate the ITC proceeding on the grounds that the dispute was arbitrable under the License Agreement’s provisions and, after multiple rounds of appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the ITC to dismiss the case.29
In March 2012, while the ITC proceeding was still pending,
LG filed an arbitration demand against InterDigital in the International Centre for Dispute Resolution, seeking a determination that its use of the patents InterDigital
claimed it had infringed was authorized under the License Agreement.30 Subsequently, the parties entered into
a non-disclosure agreement regarding “Confidential Settlement Communications” (the “NDA”).
In the arbitration, the parties disputed whether the NDA prohibited submission of certain pre-NDA communications to the arbitration panel. InterDigital sought a ruling from the arbitration panel that it was not prohibited from submitting such evidence. The arbitration panel rejected InterDigital’s request as “premature,” as it concerned the admissibility of evidence rather than interpretation of the NDA. InterDigital then submitted its response brief to the arbitration panel.31
LG claims that InterDigital’s response brief improperly disclosed confidential settlement communications to the arbitration panel prohibited by the NDA.32 After InterDigital refused LG’s request to withdraw its brief, LG filed suit
in the Delaware Court of Chancery seeking injunctive
action before it in favor of an earlier-filed arbitration. In
McWane, the Delaware Supreme Court held that courts have the discretion to stay or dismiss a Delaware action
- McWane Cast Iron Pipe Corp. v. McDowell-Wellman Eng’g Co., 263 A.2d 281 (Del. 1970).
- Id. at *1.
- Id. at *2.
order. See 95 A.3d at 1274, 1281-82.
25 C.A. No. 9747-VCL, opinion (Del. Ch. Aug. 20, 2014).
relief compelling InterDigital to withdraw its brief and barring InterDigital from breaching the NDA in the future.33 InterDigital moved to dismiss.34
The Court’s Analysis Under McWane
In McWane, the Delaware Supreme Court held that courts should freely exercise their discretion to stay or dismiss a Delaware action “when there is a prior action pending elsewhere, in a court capable of doing prompt and complete justice, involving the same parties and the same issues.”35 Applying this three-pronged test, Vice Chancellor Laster concluded that all three criteria were satisfied in LG Electronics.
LG first argued that a first-filed arbitration cannot constitute a “prior action” under McWane.36 In support of this position, LG pointed to the lack of any prior precedent applying McWane in this context.37 The court rejected LG’s argument, explaining that “[t]here is a logical reason for the dearth of cases other than the inapplicability of McWane to a prior pending arbitration,” namely that McWane typically does not (and would not) come up in the context of a prior pending arbitration.38 As Vice Chancellor Laster explained:
In most cases involving an existing arbitration, the defendant will move to dismiss the later-filed action on the grounds that the parties are required to arbitrate the
dispute. The court will then rule on the issue of substantive arbitrability or, depending on the parties’ contract, dismiss the action so that the arbitral tribunal can rule on that issue. If the dispute is arbitrable, McWane never comes up. If the dispute is not arbitrable, then the arbitral tribunal is not “capable of doing prompt and complete justice” and McWane does not apply.39
By contrast, in the LG Electronics case, although the parties agreed that the arbitration panel had the power to determine whether the underlying dispute – i.e., patent infringement – was arbitrable, they also agreed that the Delaware action arose out of a separate agreement, the NDA, which did not itself contain an arbitration provision.
As the court explained, the case therefore presented that “rare instance” in which McWane could apply in the context of an arbitration.40
Vice Chancellor Laster then went on to find that the two primary policy rationales for the McWane doctrine – to avoid duplication of time, effort, and expense, and to avoid the possibility of inconsistent rulings – applied with equal force to a first-filed arbitration.41 The court also
noted that arbitrations have been treated as prior actions for other purposes, such as issue and claim preclusion.42 Accordingly, the court held that there is no “principled distinction” for purposes of the McWane doctrine between a first-filed action pending in a court in another jurisdiction and a first-filed arbitration.43
Arbitration Panel “Capable of Doing Prompt and Complete Justice”
Vice Chancellor Laster next considered whether the arbitration panel was “capable of doing prompt and complete justice” with respect to the NDA dispute between LG and InterDigital. On this point, LG argued that the arbitration panel could not provide prompt and complete justice because (i) the NDA does not contain an arbitration provision, and (ii) the arbitration panel cannot award equitable relief.44 The court rejected both arguments.
The court began by analyzing the language of the NDA, which provided that “any Party shall have the right . . .
to have the provisions of this Agreement specifically enforced by any court, agency, or tribunal having personal jurisdiction over the Party.”45 Although finding that this language fell short of an express agreement to arbitrate,
it did not, the court concluded, indicate that the parties intended to restrict themselves to a judicial forum. On the contrary, the court pointed out, the word “tribunal” is broad enough to include an arbitration panel.46
Moreover, the court went on to explain, even in the absence of an express arbitration provision, Delaware courts are generally reluctant to get involved in procedural disputes, such as evidentiary matters, that are ancillary to an arbitration.47 Even though the dispute at issue between LG and InterDigital arose out of a separate contract, it was, at bottom, a procedural issue relating to the same “subject matter” of the underlying arbitration – namely, whether LG infringed InterDigital’s patents – and there was no debate as to whether that underlying dispute was arbitrable;
- Id. at *2-3.
- McWane, 263 A.2d at 283. 36 C.A. No. 9747-VCL, at *4-5.
- Id. at *5.
- Id. at *5-6.
- Id. at *6.
- Id. at *6-7 (quoting the NDA). 46 Id., at *7.
- Id. (citing SOC-SMG, Inc. v. Day & Zimmerman, Inc., 2010 WL 3634204, at *3 (Del. Ch. Sept.
indeed, LG itself initiated the arbitration.48 The court noted that several federal appellate decisions supported this holding,49 and further stated that “[i]f the Tribunal errs, LG can seek judicial review after the award becomes final.”50
The court then went on to address LG’s argument that the arbitration panel was incapable of awarding LG the equitable relief it sought because the License Agreement provided that the arbitration panel shall act “as arbitrators at law only.”51 LG argued that the phrase “arbitrators at law” means that the arbitrators only have the power of a “court of law,” as distinguished from a “court of equity.”52 Traditionally, courts of law and equity were separate,
and only courts of equity could grant equitable relief.53 Although nearly all American jurisdictions have abolished this historical distinction, Delaware retains it.54 If LG’s interpretation were correct, then “arbitrators at law,” like courts of law under the traditional conception, would not have the power to grant injunctive relief.55
Vice Chancellor Laster rejected this argument, concluding that “arbitrators at law” has nothing to do with the traditional division between law and equity.56 Rather, the court observed, the License Agreement states that it
shall be governed by the AAA International Rules, which expressly distinguish between an arbitrator who applies “the substantive law(s) or rules of law . . . applicable to the dispute” and an arbitrator who reaches a decision as an “amiable compositeur or ex aequo et bono.”57 As the
court explained, the former are “those who apply the legal precedent of a particular legal system as a court would,” whereas the latter “would be free to resolve the dispute by applying broader principles of fairness, largely without reference to the law of a particular legal system.”58
Finding the latter to be the relevant distinction, the court held that the reference to “arbitrators at law” establishes simply that the arbitrators are to apply legal principles as a court would, and was not intended to limit the power of the
arbitration panel to those possessed by a traditional “court of law.”59 Accordingly, the arbitration panel did not lack the power to award injunctive relief.60
Finally, the court rejected LG’s argument that even if the arbitration panel could award some forms of injunctive relief, the relief it sought was still outside the scope of the arbitration panel’s powers.61 Specifically, LG sought an injunction prohibiting InterDigital from breaching
the NDA by improperly disclosing or using confidential settlement communications not only in the arbitration, but “elsewhere.”62 Vice Chancellor Laster rejected this argument, holding that any claim based on possible future breaches of the NDA in other jurisdictions was not ripe, and that the arbitration panel could decide whether to enjoin any future breaches of the NDA within the arbitration.63 With respect to LG’s more immediate grievance – InterDigital’s offending brief submitted in the arbitration – the arbitration panel was well within its authority to grant LG’s requested relief by simply striking the brief or the offending portions thereof.64 Accordingly, the court held that the arbitration panel was capable of awarding LG the relief it seeks, and the second element under McWane was satisfied.65
“Same Parties and Issues”
Finally, Vice Chancellor Laster had little trouble concluding that the third element under McWane – that the Delaware action and the earlier-filed action involve the same parties and issues – was satisfied.66 While there was no dispute that the parties were the same, LG contended that the issues were different.67 In rejecting this argument, the court observed that the “same parties and issues” requirement does not require that the issues be identical; “[s]ubstantial or functional identity is sufficient.”68 Here, the issue in
both actions was whether InterDigital’s submission of its arbitration brief before the arbitration panel breached the NDA.69 Thus, the court concluded, “substantial or functional identity” was met.70
- Id. at *8.
- Id. at *9 (citing Trustmark Ins. Co. v. John Hancock Life Ins. Co., (U.S.A.), 631 F.3d 869, 874 (7th Cir. 2011) (Easterbrook, J.); Savers Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Nat’l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, PA, 748 F.3d 708, 722 (6th Cir. 2014); Michaels v. Mariforum Shipping, S.A., 624 F.2d 411, 414-15 (2d Cir. 1980)).
- Id. at *10.
53 Id. at *10-14.
- Id. at *15.
- Id. at *15-16 (quoting the version of the AAA International Rules in effect when the License Agreement was executed).
- Id. at *16.
59 Id. at *17-18.
- Id. at *19.
- Id. at *20.
- Id. (quoting AT&T Corp. v. Prime Security Distribs., Inc., C.A. No. 15177-VCJ, 1996 WL 633300, at *2 (Del. Ch. Oct. 24, 1996)).
- Id. at *20.
Finding that all three elements under McWane were met – i.e., (i) the arbitration was a “prior action,” (ii) the arbitration panel was “capable of doing prompt and complete justice,” and (iii) the arbitration involved the “same parties and issues” – the court exercised its discretion in favor of the first-filed arbitration and granted InterDigital’s motion to dismiss the action before it.71
Additional Developments In Delaware Business And Securities Law
Beyond those topics addressed above, the Delaware courts also issued noteworthy decisions in the following areas of law during the past quarter.
In Seaport Village Ltd. v. Seaport Village Operating Co.,
First, although LG Electronics concerned the application
LLC, et al.,75
Vice Chancellor Laster, in a letter opinion
of the McWane doctrine to a first-filed arbitration, its reasoning is by no means so limited. Vice Chancellor Laster held that the two primary policy rationales underlying the McWane doctrine – to avoid duplication of time, effort, and expense, and to avoid the possibility of conflicting rulings – applied with equal force to a first- filed arbitration.72 The same can also be said of most administrative proceedings. Indeed, many administrative
proceedings come before tribunals with special expertise which may render them even more “capable” than a court “of doing prompt and complete justice” between the parties. The LG Electronics decision suggests that the Court of Chancery would show similar deference to such proceedings under McWane.
Second, the decision reinforces that the Delaware courts are loathe to intervene in a procedural dispute in a pending arbitration. Although Vice Chancellor Laster stated in his opinion that “LG can seek judicial review after the award becomes final,” the reality is that review of arbitral awards is typically quite limited73 and the
arbitration panel’s consideration of inadmissible evidence is not generally a ground for vacatur.74 In addition, in some arbitrations, the arbitrators issue an award without a written opinion. In such cases, meaningful review of the
award – let alone evidentiary rulings made along the way – may not be possible. Parties and their advisors should take these factors into account when entering into agreements to arbitrate.
- Id. at *5-6.
- See TD Ameritrade, Inc. v. McLaughlin, Piven, Vogel Sec., Inc., 953 A.2d 726, 732 (Del.
Ch. 2008) (quoting Way Bakery v. Truck Drivers, Local No. 164, 363 F.3d 590, 593 (6th Cir. 2004)) (“Review of an arbitration award is one of the narrowest standards of judicial review in all of American jurisprudence.”).
- See Delaware Arbitration Act, 10 Del. C. § 5714(a) (providing five narrow grounds upon which an arbitration award will be vacated).
holding that LLC agreements are binding even if unsigned,
found that an LLC was entitled to attorney’s fees in connection with actions in Delaware and California under the fee-shifting provision of the LLC agreement. Even though the LLC had not signed the agreement, the court nonetheless found that it was still bound to its terms under Section 18-101(7) of the Delaware LLC Act, which provides that “[a] limited liability company is bound by
its limited liability company agreement whether or not the limited liability company executes the limited liability company agreement.” The LLC agreement entitled the prevailing party to fees and expenses incurred in any
action brought by a party against another party arising out of the agreement, and the court found that (i) there was no question that the LLC was the prevailing party, (ii) both
lawsuits arose out of the LLC agreement and (iii) attorney’s fees requested were reasonable.
Contract Interpretation; Oral Partnership
In Grunstein v. Silva,76 Vice Chancellor Noble, in a memorandum opinion, found that plaintiffs were not entitled to relief for defendants’ alleged violation of an oral partnership agreement which purportedly
governed the parties’ relationship in connection with the acquisition of a $2 billion company, because plaintiffs were unable to present sufficient evidence as to the terms of the agreement. Plaintiff lawyer claimed that he and defendant investor had agreed that they were fifty-fifty partners in the deal, and plaintiff financier claimed that
the parties had agreed that he would refinance the debt for the transaction. In connection with a revised merger agreement, the acquiring entities became companies controlled by the investor, and after closing, the investor refused to recognize the lawyer as a fifty-fifty partner or the financier’s right to refinance the debt. The court found that the parties, four sophisticated businessmen, had not entered into a valid oral partnership agreement, because
75 C.A. No. 8841-VCL, 2014 WL 4782817 (Del. Ch. Sept. 24, 2014).
76 C.A. No. 3932-VCN, 2014 WL 4473641 (Del. Ch. Sept. 5, 2014).
the parties’ understanding of and negotiations of the agreement were incomplete. The evidence established that the parties never finalized the material terms of the agreement, and the court noted that the parties offered self-interested testimony lacking reliability given, among other things, the parties’ sizeable financial interests in the outcome of the litigation. While plaintiffs claimed that defendants were unjustly enriched by plaintiffs’ work on
the deal, the court disagreed, finding that plaintiffs acted in their own self-interest, recognizing the risk that defendant investor may not agree to the final terms of the partnership agreement.
In Levey v. Brownstone Asset Mgmt., LP,77 Vice Chancellor Laster, in a post-trial memorandum opinion, found that
a former partner in a financial services boutique did not continue to own an equity stake in the business after he quit and was only entitled to the value of his capital
account at the time of his resignation. Plaintiff had sought a declaration that his withdrawal was ineffective and that he continued to own an equity interest in the business, entitling him to his pro rata share of distributions from the business since his attempted withdrawal in January
2006. Although there was conflicting evidence presented at trial as to whether plaintiff had properly withdrawn,
the court found that the evidence established at least an implied agreement for withdrawal which was enforceable under the Delaware Limited Liability Company Act and the Delaware Limited Partnership Act. Accordingly, the court found that plaintiff’s withdrawal was valid and that plaintiff was only entitled to the value of his capital account on
the date of his resignation plus pre- and post-judgment interest.
In Kahuku Holdings, LLC v. MNA Kahuku, LLC,78 Vice Chancellor Glasscock, in a letter opinion addressing the arbitrability and proper location for a dispute over equity distributions between two members of a Delaware LLC operating a wind farm in Hawaii, denied plaintiff’s motion to enjoin a pending arbitration. Defendant initiated an arbitration proceeding in Hawaii; in response, plaintiff filed suit in Delaware seeking to enjoin the arbitration, while the defendant filed a mirror-image action in Hawaii seeking
to compel arbitration. The court found that the arbitration provision in the LLC agreement established that the parties agreed to both arbitrate and to litigate arbitrability in
Hawaii, denied plaintiff’s motion and ordered the parties to confer and determine whether the case should be dismissed or stayed pending a ruling in Hawaii concerning arbitrability.
In In re Gardner Denver, Inc. Shareholder Litigation,79 Vice Chancellor Noble, in a transcript decision approving a proposed $29 million settlement of litigation over the $3.9 billion acquisition of Gardner Denver by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. L.P., awarded plaintiffs’ counsel $8.25 million in attorney’s fees. While defendants had agreed to pay $1 million in attorney’s fees for certain therapeutic benefits and the waiver of otherwise applicable “don’t ask/don’t waive” standstill provisions and various supplemental disclosures, plaintiffs additionally sought 25 percent of the settlement proceeds. The court considered the various Sugarland80 factors – including (i) the benefits achieved
by counsel, (ii) the effort of and time spent by counsel, (iii) the contingent nature of counsel’s fee, and (iv) the difficulty of the litigation and standing and ability of counsel – and found that an $8.25 million award was warranted based on counsel’s hard work, the time spent on a difficult litigation and the substantial benefits secured for plaintiffs.
In In re Orchard Enterprises, Inc. Stockholder Litigation,81 Vice Chancellor Laster, in a memorandum opinion addressing whether a fee award should be split between parallel proceedings, found that stockholder plaintiffs in an appraisal proceeding lacked standing to pursue a fee award in a related class action challenging the merger between The Orchard Enterprises, Inc. and Dimensional Associates, LLC on breach of fiduciary duty grounds. The appraisal plaintiffs argued that they were entitled to attorney’s fees for causally contributing to the settlement of the class action and would receive less consideration than other minority stockholders if they were required
to pay their own fees. The court overruled the appraisal plaintiffs’ objection – finding that the appraisal plaintiffs had not undertaken to serve the interests of the class as a whole and accordingly lacked standing to obtain a fee
award. The court found that class action plaintiffs, however, had contributed to an increase in share price and created
a common benefit and, applying traditional Sugarland82 factors, awarded them attorney’s fees of $2.25 million for achieving a settlement of over $10 million for the class.
77 C.A. No. 5714-VCL, 2014 WL 3811237 (Del. Ch. Aug. 1, 2014).
78 C.A. No. 9991-VCG, 2014 WL 4699618 (Del. Ch. Sept. 15, 2014).
79 C.A. No. 8505-VCN, 2014 WL 4373669 (Del. Ch. Sept. 3, 2014).
80 Sugarland Indus., Inc. v. Thomas, 420 A.2d 142 (Del. 1980).
81 C.A. No. 7840-VCL, 2014 WL 4181912 (Del. Ch. Aug. 22, 2014).
82 Sugarland, 420 A.2d 142 (Del. 1980).
In Sutherland v. Sutherland,83 Vice Chancellor Noble, in a letter opinion applying the corporate benefit doctrine to an attorney’s fee award, rejected plaintiff’s request for $1.4 million in connection with a long-running series of lawsuits and limited the fee award to $275,000 after
determining that plaintiff’s actions resulted in only minimal benefits to the company. While defendants did not dispute that plaintiff was entitled to some fees, they argued
that the fee request was too high because the benefits achieved through the litigation were either therapeutic or speculative. The court agreed, finding that while plaintiff’s litigation efforts brought about some positive change to the company, including reforms of corporate spending caps and revised employment agreements for certain executives, the benefits were minimal. Applying the traditional Sugarland84 factors, the court thus awarded plaintiff a fraction of the requested fee.
In In re Astex Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Stockholders Litigation,85 Vice Chancellor Laster, in a letter opinion conditioning the payment of a “mootness fee” (attorney’s fees for mooted claims) on prior class notice, denied the parties’ request to enter a proposed order withdrawing plaintiffs’ request for attorney’s fees after the parties reached an agreement to pay plaintiffs’ counsel a mootness fee in connection with a class action challenging a merger. Plaintiffs had asserted disclosure claims, and the company had supplemented its disclosures in response. The court, in refusing to enter the order, found that the parties had failed to provide notice to the remaining
class members under In re Advanced Mammography Sys., Inc. Shareholders Litigation,86 which recognized that a corporate defendant may agree to pay a reasonable mootness fee to plaintiffs’ counsel as long as all class members are informed and given an opportunity to object
- e.g., if the proposed fee payment is a buy off or if the class member objects to the use of corporate funds to pay the fee. The court ordered the parties to submit a revised order contemplating notice to the class.
Books and Records Actions
In Caspian Select Credit Master Fund Ltd. v. Key Plastics Corp.,87 Vice Chancellor Noble, in a letter opinion, addressed a dispute over the proper scope for the inspection of books and records pursuant to 8 Del.
83 C.A. No, 2399-VCN, 2014 WL 3906500 (Del. Ch. Jul. 31, 2014).
84 Sugarland, 420 A.2d 142 (Del. 1980).
85 C.A. No. 8917-VCL, 2014 WL 4180342 (Del Ch. Aug 25, 2014).
86 C.A. No. 14831-CA, 1996 WL 633409 (Del. Ch. Oct. 30, 1996)
87 C.A. No. 8625-VCN, 2014 WL 4771864 (Del. Ch. Sept. 3, 2014).
C. § 220. The court had previously granted plaintiff stockholder’s books and records inspection request, finding that plaintiff’s purpose for the request – to investigate waste and wrongdoing linked to a company loan – constituted a “proper purpose” under the statute. While the court found that the documents identified by plaintiff are properly subject to inspection, the court noted that the document requests included “broadly-inclusive adjectives,” such as “all,” that create a reasonable concern on the part of a defendant that producing such documents would “be burdensome and, probably, impossible.”
The court noted that while literal compliance might not be possible, defendants must make at least a credible showing of the reasonableness of their retrieval efforts in responding to plaintiff’s requests.
In Bennett v. Lally,88 Vice Chancellor Noble, in a letter opinion, denied defendant’s motion to dismiss breach of fiduciary duty claims, finding that defendant’s business relationship with plaintiffs could have evolved into a fiduciary relationship requiring him to protect plaintiffs’ interests. Defendant worked as a lobbyist and promoter for plaintiffs in connection with plaintiffs’ efforts to open a Delaware medical marijuana care facility. The parties entered into an agreement and an amended agreement which contained non-compete and confidentiality provisions. Defendant eventually ceased working for plaintiffs and began working for a competitor pursuing the same business opportunity, and plaintiffs initiated the instant action seeking injunctive relief and claiming that, among other things, defendant breached fiduciary duties
by using confidential information and for taking a corporate opportunity from them. The court found that the agency relationship between the parties could have resulted in defendant owing certain duties to plaintiffs. The court dismissed plaintiffs’ claims for breach of the confidentiality provision in the original agreement, because the entity that signed that agreement had dissolved.
In Black Horse Capital, LP v. Xstelos Holdings, Inc.,89 Vice Chancellor Parsons, in a memorandum opinion addressing claims over an alleged oral side agreement, granted defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ claims
for breach of contract, fraudulent inducement, promissory estoppel and unjust enrichment. While acquiring CPEX Pharmaceuticals, plaintiff Cheval Holdings and defendant Xstelos Holdings (then operating as Footstar, Inc.) formed FCB Holdings to effect the merger. Plaintiffs claimed that
88 C.A. No. 9545-VCN, 2014 WL 4674623 (Del. Ch. Sept. 5, 2014)
89 C.A. No. 8642-VCP (Del. Ch. Sept. 30, 2014).
defendant breached an oral contract when defendant refused to give plaintiff certain assets that were acquired by FCB Holdings through the merger. Defendants argued that the oral agreement about the assets was too vague to be enforceable and was barred by the parole evidence rule as it conflicted with the written agreements executed at the time of the merger. The court agreed, finding that
the facts alleged about the oral agreement were too vague to establish that an enforceable contract existed.
In Comerica Bank v. Global Payments Direct, Inc.,90 Chancellor Bouchard, in a post-trial memorandum opinion, found that certain exclusivity and non-competition obligations between plaintiff and defendant ended
when the service agreement between the parties was terminated. Plaintiff and defendant had entered into a business relationship to process credit and debit cards, and plaintiff elected not to renew the parties’ service agreement in October 2013 and to dissolve the joint venture in May 2014. Plaintiff commenced the instant action seeking, among other things, a declaratory judgment that it was no longer bound by the exclusivity obligations in the service agreement. Plaintiff argued that the exclusivity obligations terminated, even though
plaintiff planned to extend the terms and conditions of the service agreement under the extension provision in that agreement. The court agreed, finding that any extension of the agreement included only those terms and conditions necessary to perform the services during the transition period. The court found that any terms not necessary to providing services, including the exclusivity obligations, had terminated.
In MPT of Hoboken TRS, LLC v. HUMC Holdco, LLC,91 Vice Chancellor Noble, in a memorandum opinion, granted
in part and denied in part the parties’ cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings in connection with a dispute over whether members of an LLC breached the LLC’s operating agreement, a convertible note and/or both. Plaintiffs argued that a tax distribution qualified as “any distribution” under the note, thereby requiring a pro rata distribution of the payment to plaintiffs. Plaintiffs relied on a definition in the operating agreement to support their argument. Defendants claimed that the tax distribution did not qualify as “any distribution” – pointing to other terms in the note. The court found that the provision was ambiguous and denied the parties’ motions. Similarly, the court found that a provision in the operating agreement was ambiguous and denied the parties’ motions with
respect to the breach of contract and declaratory judgment claims based on that provision. The court noted that it could not rely on an affidavit defendants submitted stating that they had made certain disputed payments – a document extraneous to the pleadings – at this stage in the proceedings. Finally, the court dismissed defendants’ counterclaim for fraud in the inducement, because defendants failed to plead fraud with particularity.
In Simon-Mills II, LLC v. Kan Am USA XVI LP,92 Vice Chancellor Glasscock, in a memorandum opinion, addressed and denied cross motions for summary judgment on contract enforcement claims over a call option that set the currency to be exchanged for defendants’ interest as plaintiff’s shares in a limited
partnership, Mills Corp., that had since dissolved. While plaintiff instead tendered its shares in a successor partnership, Simon Group, defendants argued that the call option could not be enforced because plaintiff could not tender the consideration bargained for – i.e., shares of Mills Corp. – and that Simon Group shares were less valuable. The court found that material disputes of fact remained – primarily differences between Mills Corp. shares and Simon Group shares and whether the parties
intended the call right to lapse if Mills Corp. shares became unavailable – and denied summary judgment.
In Veloric v. J.G. Wentworth, Inc.,93 Chancellor Bouchard, in a memorandum opinion, granted defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ breach of contract and related claims, finding that defendants had not breached a tax receivable agreement by failing to make payments under that agreement. Pursuant to the agreement, plaintiffs were
not entitled to receive any payments until after the tenth anniversary of the agreement unless there had been a change of control as defined in the agreement. Plaintiffs alleged that a change of control had occurred in 2011 or, alternatively, in 2013 and that defendants were in breach of the agreement for failing to make tax payments to plaintiffs
- amounting to approximately $35 million. Defendants argued that there had not been a change in control and that the payment provision had not been triggered. The court analyzed the change of control provision and the business transactions that plaintiffs claimed had triggered the provision and found that plaintiffs’ construction of the provision was not reasonable.
90 C.A. No. 9707-CB, 2014 WL 3567610 (Del. Ch. Jul. 21, 2014).
91 C.A. No. 8442-VCN, 2014 WL 3611674 (Del. Ch. Jul. 22, 2014).
92 C.A No. 8520-VCG (Del. Ch. Sept. 30, 2014).
93 C.A. No. 9051-CB, 2014 WL 4639217 (Del. Ch. Sept. 18, 2014).
In Levey v. Brownstone Asset Management, LP,94 Vice Chancellor Lester, in a letter opinion, determined that the legal rate of interest for damages awarded to plaintiff should be a floating rate – one that changed whenever the Federal Reserve discount rate changed over the relevant time period. The court previously awarded plaintiff approximately $35,000 plus pre- and post- judgment interest at a legal rate, compounded quarterly, from January 26, 2006 until the date of payment. Plaintiff
argued that the interest rate should remain at the constant rate in effect on January 26, 2006. Defendants argued that the floating rate should apply. The court agreed with defendants, finding that applying the fluctuating interest rate served the twin purposes identified in Gholl v. eMachines, Inc.95 – to compensate plaintiff for the loss of use of its capital during the pendency of the proceeding and to disgorge the benefit defendants enjoyed during the same period. The court noted that applying the floating rate replicates the economic circumstances that existed during the litigation and avoids over- or under- compensating plaintiff.
a “double derivative” action brought on behalf of a non- wholly owned subsidiary, the Master recommended that the case be dismissed.
In Friedman v. Khosrowshahi, et al.,97 Chancellor Bouchard, in a memorandum opinion, dismissed plaintiff’s derivative claims for breach of fiduciary duty and unjust enrichment under Rule 23.1. Plaintiff alleged that the decision of the board of Expedia, Inc. to accelerate the vesting of a grant of restricted stock to the CEO violated the company’s compensation plan – as one of the vesting conditions of the plan had not be satisfied – and that the decision could not have been a valid exercise of business judgment.
Defendants argued that the condition at issue was only a business goal that could be amended or waived by the compensation committee, and the court found this
reading of the plan to be reasonable. The court examined whether plaintiff established demand futility under Aronson
v. Lewis98and found that plaintiff had not. Plaintiff failed to allege particularized facts creating a reasonable doubt that the directors were disinterested and independent and that the challenged transaction was not the product of valid business judgment, noting that plaintiff had not alleged a clear or intentional violation of the plan.
In Belendiuk v. Carrion, et al.,96 Master LeGrow, in a
In Chen v. Howard-Anderson,99
Vice Chancellor Laster, in a
Master’s Report, recommended that plaintiff’s “double derivative” action be dismissed because plaintiff had not adequately alleged that Verizon Communications’ board wrongfully refused plaintiff’s demand and that a demand on its non-wholly owned subsidiary Verizon
Wireless’s board would have been futile. Plaintiff claimed that defendant board members breached fiduciary duties and acted improperly in connection with the over-billing of Verizon’s customers. The Master found that plaintiff did not establish that the committee of the board tasked with responding to plaintiff’s demand failed to properly hire and manage the law firm addressing the demand, noting that that there was no “prescribed procedure”
for how a committee should conduct its investigation. Moreover, even if plaintiff had alleged particularized facts demonstrating that the board did not exercise valid business judgment, which it had not, plaintiff did not and could not allege that demand on the board would have been futile. Because Delaware law requires a showing of demand futility for both the parent and subsidiary in
transcript ruling addressing alleged document production
failings, granted plaintiffs’ motion to compel discovery. The court found that discovery into defendants’ expedited production was warranted because defendants failed
to produce certain management projections and related documents from 2012 while producing similar documents from other years. The court also found that the parties’ agreement regarding the parameters of discovery called for the production of these documents. The court ordered discovery into defendants’ production, including the disclosure of the search terms defendants used, the instructions provided to the document review team and
a detailed affidavit outlining the specific steps taken by the law firm in producing the documents. The court
denied plaintiffs’ motion for sanctions without prejudice
- but invited plaintiffs to re-file the motion if needed after considering the additional discovery.
94 C.A. No. 5714-VCL (Del. Ch. Aug. 29, 2014).
95 C.A. No. 19444-VCP, 2004 WL 2847865 (Del. Ch. Nov. 24, 2004).
96 C.A. No. 9026-ML, 2014 WL 3589500 (Del. Ch. Jul. 22, 2014).
97 C.A. No. 9161-CB, 2014 WL 3519188 (Del. Ch. Jul. 16, 2014).
98 472 A.2d 805 (Del. 1984).
99 C.A. No. 5878-VCL (Del. Ch. Sept. 4, 2014).
In Matthew v. Laudamiel,100 Vice Chancellor Noble, in a letter opinion addressing the breadth of discovery
permitted under Court of Chancery Rule 26(b)(1), granted defendant’s discovery requests. The court found that defendant was entitled to discovery on plaintiff’s plans for a dissolved entity’s proprietary information and technology because Rule 26(b)(1) permits liberal discovery on any matter relevant to the subject matter of the pending action. The court also permitted defendants to view
an unredacted settlement agreement between plaintiff and the settling defendants because the non-settling defendants had the right to contribution and the discovery of the settlement information would allow the remaining defendants to assess liability and the unredacted settlement information could provide a basis for a reduction in damages against the non-settling defendants.
In PCMS Int’l, Inc. v. 2295113 Canada, Inc.,101 Vice Chancellor Laster granted plaintiff’s motion to enforce a discovery order under which defendant was required to produce documents and information from a separate legal entity with the same sole officer and director as defendant. The court found that the individual who controlled defendant knowingly and intentionally failed to produce responsive documents which contained information that contradicted information that he had previously provided to counsel. The court relied on Court of Chancery Rule 37(d), which provides that if a party fails to comply with a discovery order, the court may: (i) designate facts taken
to be established for the purposes of the action; and (ii) prohibit the disobedient party from introducing designated matters into evidence. The court listed the facts that would be taken as established in the instant action and
prohibited defendant from introducing evidence that would contradict those facts.
In Comerica Bank v. Global Payments Direct, Inc.,102 Chancellor Bouchard, in a post-trial memorandum opinion, found that: (i) plaintiff, as a joint venturer, was contractually entitled to information that it sought from a dissolving joint venture while transitioning from one credit card payment processor to another; and (ii) cause existed for the court to intervene in the wind up of the joint venture and to appoint a liquidating trustee to oversee the process. While finding that plaintiff was entitled to the information to effectuate its transition to a new payment processor, the court found that the cost should be borne by the dissolving entity, Global
Payments Comerica Alliance, LLC (“Alliance”), and not the defendant. The court reasoned that the LLC Agreement entitled plaintiff to the information but did not shift costs to defendant. In addition, the court found that cause existed for appointing a liquidating trustee under the Delaware Limited Liability Company Act based on defendant’s inability to timely and orderly conduct the process, along with the deep division between the parties.
Breach of Fiduciary Duty
In Capano v. Capano,103 Vice Chancellor Noble, in a memorandum opinion, dismissed several claims of Joseph and Gerard Capano against their brother, Louis, in connection with their challenge to certain agreements entered into in 2000 and 2001 through which Louis bought out Gerard’s share of the family business and
to a merger initiated by Louis in 2013 to cash Joseph out of the business. The court first considered whether
Gerard’s claims were barred by laches and found that for the majority of his claims, Gerard had either pled facts supporting tolling or was protected by the statute of limitations – except for the fraud claims that were barred. The court then considered whether Joseph had standing to challenge the 2000 and 2001 agreements and found that he lacked standing because he was neither a party to nor beneficiary of the agreements. However, the court found that Joseph did have standing to challenge the merger, and that his merger-related claims, including claims against Louis for breach of fiduciary duty, survived.
The company’s operating agreement required any transfer of interest to be approved by a majority vote and no such vote took place in connection with the merger. Joseph’s claim for aiding and abetting breaches of fiduciary duty against entities controlled by Louis survived, but the court dismissed Joseph’s fraud claims for not having been pled with particularity.
In Zutrau v. Jansing,104 Vice Chancellor Parsons, in a post-trial memorandum opinion, found that defendant, the president, sole director and majority stockholder of a private Delaware corporation, breached his fiduciary duties in connection with various self-serving business decisions and a reverse stock split through which he cashed out plaintiff’s shares in the company at an unfair
price. Plaintiff, a former employee and minority stockholder of the company, asserted derivative claims for various actions that defendant undertook while running the
100 C.A. No. 5957-VCN, 2014 WL 3586594 (Del. Ch. Jul. 21, 2014).
101 C.A. No. 8406-VCL (Del. Ch. Jul. 16, 2014).
102 C.A. No. 9707-CB, 2014 WL 3779025 (Del. Ch. Aug. 1, 2014).
103 C.A. No. 8721-VCN, 2014 WL 2964071 (Del. Ch. Jun. 30, 2014).
104 C.A. No. 7457-VCP, 2014 WL 3772859 (Del. Ch. Jul. 31, 2014).
business after plaintiff had been terminated. Defendant then executed the reverse stock split, and plaintiff added claims challenging the transaction, including direct claims for breach of fiduciary duty, violation of 8 Del C. § 155 and equitable fraud. The court found that defendant had breached his fiduciary duties by, among other things:
(i) paying himself excessive compensation; (ii) charging personal expenses on the company credit card; and (iii) implementing the reverse stock split at an unfair price based on a biased, incorrect valuation. The court also found that plaintiff had not established equitable fraud, as there was no evidence that the alleged promises at issue were false when made and that defendant’s counterclaim to setoff damages was barred by collateral estoppel.
Breach of Fiduciary Duty; Demand Futility
In In re Ebix Stockholder Litigation,105 Vice Chancellor Noble, in a memorandum opinion addressing shareholder claims against a board for granting the company’s CEO
a golden parachute, granted in part and denied in part defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff stockholders’ action, which was originally brought to challenge a
going-private merger that subsequently was abandoned. Plaintiffs amended their complaint to challenge conduct surrounding the approval of, effect of, and disclosures about a 2009 Acquisition Bonus Agreement (“ABA”) for Ebix, Inc.’s CEO. Plaintiffs asserted several claims against the company and its board, including: (i) a declaratory judgment claim regarding certain terms of the ABA; (ii) direct breach of fiduciary duty claims regarding the ABA and the validity of a 2010 stock incentive plan; and (iii) a derivative breach of fiduciary duty claim regarding the ABA. Plaintiffs also asserted direct and derivative claims against the CEO. Defendants argued that the claims relating to the ABA were either barred by laches or not ripe, and that all of the other claims were derivative and should be dismissed, as demand was not excused. The court found that the declaratory judgment, fiduciary duty and unjust enrichment claims brought against the CEO were not ripe because there was no pending transaction, and that plaintiffs’ claim that the ABA was improperly adopted as an unreasonable anti-takeover device was barred by laches. In connection with the derivative claims, the court found that demand was not excused as to the claims involving the adoption of the ABA but that demand was excused as to the breach of fiduciary claims relating to the compensation directors received under the stock incentive plan. Finally, the court sustained the direct claims
for material misstatements related to the ABA base price in the 2010 proxy and the continued anti-takeover effects of the ABA.
Corporate Duties; Disclosure Duties
In Buttonwood Tree Value Partners, L.P. v. R.L. Polk
& Co. Inc.,106 Vice Chancellor Glasscock, in a letter opinion, dismissed claims against a corporate defendant, finding that a corporation owes no fiduciary duties to
its stockholders. Plaintiffs asserted claims against the board and against the corporation itself, alleging that the corporation failed to disclose material facts in connection with a tender offer, which resulted in plaintiffs selling stock at an inadequate price. The court found that while a corporation owes a disclosure duty – not a fiduciary duty – to its stockholders and could violate that duty by
committing legal or equitable fraud, plaintiffs did not allege fraud. Moreover, such a fraud action may not be brought as a class action since proof of fraud requires a showing of reasonable reliance for each individual plaintiff. The court also found that a corporation cannot aid and abet a breach of fiduciary duty by its directors, because corporations
act through their directors. Finally, the court found that the corporation is not an indispensable party to the action under Court of Chancery Rule 19, because plaintiffs have not pled facts supporting an unjust enrichment claim against the corporation and because plaintiffs are able to obtain full relief from the other defendants if such relief is warranted.
Duty of Loyalty; Entire Fairness
In Ross Holdings v. Advance Realty Group,107 Vice Chancellor Noble, in a post-trial memorandum opinion noteworthy for finding a fair price, but unfair process, applied entire fairness as the standard of review and found that defendants breached their fiduciary duties to plaintiff minority unitholders of an LLC in connection with a self-interested reorganization of the LLC because the reorganization process was not fair. The court found that defendants owed fiduciary duties to plaintiffs because board members of an LLC owe fiduciary duties unless the LLC’s operating agreement narrows or eliminates these duties. The court applied the entire fairness standard, reasoning that the board had exhibited disloyalty and bad faith. While the court found that the reorganization
resulted in a fair price for plaintiffs, the court found that the process was unfair because: (i) defendants controlled the timing and structure of the transaction and executed it in
105 C.A. No. 8526-VCN, 2014 WL 3699955 (Del. Ch. Jul. 24, 2014).
106 C.A. No. 9250-VCG, 2014 WL 3954987 (Del. Ch. Aug. 7, 2014).
107 C.A. No. 4113-VCN, 2014 WL 4374261 (Del. Ch. Sept. 4, 2014).
a self-interested manner; (ii) the board made little effort to ensure that the minority unitholders’ interests were represented; (iii) the board valued their own units higher than the minority’s units; (iv) defendants orchestrated the reorganization without notice to plaintiffs and plaintiffs
were unable to advocate for more favorable terms; and (v) the board did not receive a fairness opinion in connection with the transaction. However, because plaintiffs benefitted from the transaction, monetary damages were not available but the court invited plaintiffs to apply for attorneys’ fees and costs.
In In re Nine Systems Corp. Shareholder Litigation,108 Vice Chancellor Noble, in a post-trial memorandum opinion applying entire fairness as the standard of review, found that while the challenged recapitalization was achieved at a fair price, the process was not fair and that controlling stockholders and affiliated directors breached their fiduciary duties to minority shareholders. The court found that the process was not fair because, among other things: (i) the lone independent director had no effective bargaining power to challenge the transaction; (ii) the
valuation process was inadequate; and (iii) the board failed to disclose material information to stockholders. However, the court found that it would be inappropriate to award monetary damages to plaintiffs because the transaction was achieved at a fair price, making plaintiffs’ requested damages speculative in nature. Nonetheless, the court invited plaintiffs to submit a petition for attorneys’ fees and costs.
Duty of Loyalty; Unclean Hands
In QC Communications Inc. v. Quartarone,109 Vice Chancellor Glasscock, in a memorandum opinion, found that defendant Anthony J. Quartarone breached his fiduciary duty of loyalty to plaintiff QC Communications Inc. (“QC”) by diverting revenues due to QC to his own company, defendant Q Media, Inc. (“Q Media”). Plaintiff alleged that: (i) defendant Quartarone, an officer and director of QC and the founder, sole director and officer of Q Media, breached his duty of loyalty; (ii) Quartarone and Q Media were unjustly enriched; and (iii) Quartarone engaged in conversion and civil theft. The court found that Quartarone had received undisclosed payments at Q Media that should have flowed to QC and that this was a
breach “in the most fundamental way possible” of the duty of loyalty that Quartarone owed to QC. Defendants argued that the plaintiff was not entitled to recovery for these
U.S.C. § 317 and QC was not entitled to reap the rewards of the illegal activity. The court disagreed, finding the doctrine of unclean hands inapplicable. Even if Quartarone was involved in payola, defendants had not demonstrated that QC was implicated in the illegal conduct. The court did not address plaintiff’s remaining claims because those claims would lead to the same recovery that the court already granted as a result of Quartarone’s breach of fiduciary duty.
Entire Fairness; Freeze-out Merger
In Swomley v. Schlecht,110 Vice Chancellor Laster, in a transcript ruling, applied the Delaware Supreme Court’s recent decision in Kahn v. M & F Worldwide Corp.111 to
a private freeze-out merger, found that the business judgment standard of review applied and dismissed unfair price claims at the pleading stage. The court held that business judgment review was appropriate for this controlling stockholder transaction because the merger: (i) had been negotiated by a special committee
of independent directors with its own financial and legal advisors; (ii) was conditioned on the approval of a non- waivable majority-of-the-minority vote; and (iii) made use of disclosures to minority stockholders through a “public- company style proxy statement” that was supplemented and that fairly summarized the financial advisor’s analysis. The court applied the price factor and found that because the special committee improved the merger price by
$0.25, the tactics of the special committee did not amount to gross negligence. The court noted that the stockholders’ exclusive remedy was to seek appraisal assuming that they did not vote the deal down.
Revlon Duties; 102(b)(7)
In Dent v. Ramtron Int’l Corp.,112 Vice Chancellor Parsons, in a memorandum opinion, granted defendants’ motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Plaintiff alleged that defendant directors of Ramtron International Corporation (“Ramtron”) breached their fiduciary duties and the duty of candor in connection with the 2012 sale of Ramtron to Cypress Semiconductor Corporation (“Cypress”), and that Cypress aided and abetted these breaches. The court first addressed plaintiff’s Revlon113 claim, noting that because Ramtron had an exculpatory charter provision pursuant to 8 Del. C.
§102(b)(7), plaintiff must establish a breach of the duty of loyalty or bad faith conduct. The court dismissed plaintiff’s
payments, because they constituted payola under 47
C.A. No. 9355-VCL (Del. Ch. Aug. 27, 2014).
88 A.3d 635 (Del. 2014).
108 C.A. No. 3940-VCN, 2014 WL 4383127 (Del. Ch. Sept. 4, 2014).
C.A. No. 7950-VCP, 2014 WL 2931180 (Del. Ch. Jun. 30, 2014).
109 C.A. No. 8218-VCG, 2014 WL 3974525 (Del. Ch. Aug. 15, 2014).
Revlon, Inc. v. MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings, Inc., 506 A.2d 173 (Del. 1986).
breach of fiduciary duty claim, noting that the sale process was lengthy and public and that defendants negotiated a sale at a 71% premium to Ramtron’s unaffected stock price. The court then considered plaintiff’s duty of candor claim that defendants failed to disclose material information.
The court rejected that claim, finding that the proxy statement was sufficient and that the information sought by plaintiff, such as management projections, would not have significantly altered the “total mix” of information available to stockholders. Finally, the court dismissed plaintiff’s aiding and abetting claim against Cypress, finding that the deal was negotiated at arm’s-length – evidence precluding a showing that Cypress knowingly participated in any breaches.
In Pontone v. Milso Indus. Corp.,114 Vice Chancellor Parsons, in a lengthy memorandum opinion addressing the fee advancement rights of a corporate officer in the face of
the arguably overlapping indemnification obligations of his former and current employer, granted in part and denied in part defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s action seeking advancement of attorney’s fees that
plaintiff incurred in litigation pending between the parties in Pennsylvania. The matter arose out of an underlying dispute over plaintiff’s alleged breaches of a settlement agreement pursuant to which defendants were required to pay plaintiff (a former officer and director of defendant corporations) a salary for three years in exchange for certain non-compete conditions. Defendants argued that plaintiff had no standing to seek attorney’s fees because plaintiff had not incurred any out-of-pocket expenses,
as plaintiff’s current employer is required to provide advancement and indemnification. The court agreed and granted the motion to dismiss with respect to the fees that had been paid by plaintiff’s current employer. The court denied the motion with respect to any fees that had not been paid by plaintiff’s current employer. The court also found that plaintiff could recover 75 percent of the “fees on fees” that plaintiff incurred in the instant action.
In Branin v. Stein Roe Investment Counsel, LLC,115 Vice Chancellor Noble, in a memorandum opinion, found that defendants’ amendment of Stein Roe Investment Counsel LLC’s (“SRIC”) bylaws to limit plaintiff’s indemnification rights after defendants had learned that plaintiff had been
sued was not applicable to the lawsuit filed against plaintiff before the amendment. Defendants argued that the post- amendment indemnification provision applied, but the court disagreed. The court held that the pre-amendment indemnification provision controlled, because plaintiff’s right to indemnification accrued when the lawsuit was
filed and that right could not be unilaterally rescinded by subsequent amendment. Defendants also argued that plaintiff was not entitled to indemnification because he was sued in his personal capacity rather than as an employee of SRIC. The court disagreed, finding that there was an adequate “nexus or causal connection” between the lawsuit and plaintiff’s capacity as an employee. However, the court denied plaintiff’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, because factual issues remained with respect to whether plaintiff acted in good faith and in a manner reasonably believed to be within the scope of his authority.
Temporary Restraining Order
In ExamWorks, Inc. v. DeStefano,116 Vice Chancellor Noble, in a letter opinion, denied a request for a temporary restraining order against a former executive of ExamWorks who, after leaving plaintiffs’ employ, subsequently
became CEO of a major competitor. Although the court believed there might be merit to the claims that the former executive breached the parties’ non-competition, non- solicitation, and confidentiality agreements, the court
held that a balancing of the equities counseled against the extraordinary relief. The court found that a TRO would put the executive out of work and have repercussions for his family’s well-being; ExamWorks, by contrast, would only suffer marginal injury from the work of an executive terminated nearly one year prior, and any harm to the company could also be minimized through an expedited hearing on the merits.
Forum Selection Bylaws; Fiduciary Duties
In City of Providence v. First Citizens BancShares, Inc.,117 Chancellor Bouchard, in a memorandum opinion upholding a Delaware corporation’s forum selection bylaw requiring that shareholder suits be brought in North Carolina where the company was headquartered, granted defendants’ motions to dismiss on jurisdictional grounds. Plaintiff alleged that the forum selection bylaw was facially
invalid as a matter of law and that the First Citizens board
114 C.A. No. 8842-VCP,2014 WL 4178303 (Del. Ch. Aug. 22, 2014).
115 C.A. No. 8481-VCN, 2014 WL 2961084 (Del. Ch. Jun. 30, 2014).
116 C.A. No. 10044-VCN (Del. Ch. Sept. 26, 2014).
117 C.A. No. 9795-CB, 2014 WL 4409816 (Del. Ch. Sept. 8, 2014).
members breached their fiduciary duties by adopting the exclusive jurisdiction bylaw on the same day they voted for a related-party merger. The court disagreed, finding that the forum selection bylaw was facially valid as it was virtually identical to the one found to be valid in Boilermakers Local 154 Retirement Fund v. Chevron
Corp.118 In Chevron, the court had explained “[s]tockholders are on notice that, as to those subjects that are subject
of regulation by bylaw under 8 Del. C. § 109(b), [including forum selection], the board itself may act unilaterally to adopt bylaws addressing those subjects.” The court found that defendants had not breached their fiduciary duties in adopting the bylaw and that it would not be inequitable to litigate the underlying merger claims in the selected forum.
Practice and Procedure
Authentication of Evidence
In Durham v. Grapetree, LLC,119 Vice Chancellor Glasscock, in a letter opinion, found that pro se plaintiff had not
met his burden of authenticating documentation that he previously submitted to the court regarding expenses that were purportedly owed to him from defendant LLC. The court had previously ruled that plaintiff, a member of a family-owned and -operated LLC, was entitled to
reimbursement for certain expenses that he had incurred in managing the company’s properties, but that plaintiff had not properly authenticated the documents supporting his reimbursement request. The court invited plaintiff to remedy this defect, and the parties submitted additional briefing. Plaintiff submitted an affidavit in which he swore that every document he had submitted was true and correct and “made no further attempt to authenticate
the supporting documents, beyond these general and conclusory allegations.” The court found plaintiff’s
submission of a “random sampling” of invoices, with no further explanation, unpersuasive and only awarded plaintiff approximately $1,500 of plaintiff’s over $20,000 reimbursement request.
Motions for Reargument
In CCC Atlantic, LLC v. Grey,120 Vice Chancellor Noble, in a letter opinion, denied plaintiff’s motion for reargument pursuant to Court of Chancery Rule 59(f) in connection with the court’s July 3, 2013 order dismissing plaintiff’s claim for breach of fiduciary duty based on plaintiff’s lack of standing. The court had found that a receiver order
in a separate action against plaintiff gave the receiver
all rights to the settlement proceeds that plaintiff was seeking. Plaintiff argued that the motion for reargument should be granted because the receivership order was vacated on June 30, 2014. The court noted that a motion for reargument may be granted if the court’s decision was predicated upon a misunderstanding of a material fact or a misapplication of the law that was outcome determinative.
In addition, reargument is generally only available to re-examine the existing record – not to consider new
evidence. The court denied plaintiff’s motion, because:
(i) plaintiff did not allege that the court misunderstood a material fact; (ii) plaintiff’s submission of new evidence was in contravention of general practice under Rule 59(f); and (iii) the new information provided by plaintiff was not outcome determinative.
In Pontone v. Milso Industries Corp.,121 Vice Chancellor Parsons, in a letter opinion addressing a Rule 59(f) reargument motion concerning the court’s prior decision on the advanceability of fees and expenses for compulsory counterclaims, denied the motion. Although
the court had previously held that for fees and expenses for counterclaims to be advanceable, the counterclaims must be compulsory, plaintiff argued that the court had misinterpreted the Roven122standard for the advanceability of counterclaims and that the counterclaims that the court had found non-compulsory were in fact compulsory. The court denied plaintiff’s motion, finding that plaintiff failed to identify any overlooked precedent or principle that would control the outcome. The court also noted that while courts may consider new evidence on a motion for reargument
if that evidence became known to plaintiff after trial and could not reasonably have been discovered earlier, the evidence that plaintiff was seeking to introduce – an expert report – was not the sort of evidence that a court would consider after the fact. In addition, the court noted that even if the new evidence were considered, it would not change the court’s decision.
Motion to Dismiss; Entire Fairness Review
In In re Cornerstone Therapeutics Inc. Stockholder Litigation,123 Vice Chancellor Glasscock, in a memorandum opinion addressing the motion-to-dismiss standard applicable to disinterested special committee members
in a “controller transaction” otherwise subjection to entire fairness review, denied defendant directors’ motion to dismiss them from an action challenging a controlling stockholder freeze-out merger. Plaintiffs brought
73 A.3d 934 (Del. Ch. 2013).
C.A. No. 7615-VCP, 2014 WL 4352341 (Del. Ch. Sept. 3, 2014).
C.A. No. 7325-VCG, 2014 WL 3565980 (Del. Ch. Jul. 21, 2014).
Citadel Holding Corp. v. Roven, 603 A.2d 818 (Del. 1992).
C.A. No. 8739-VCN, 2014 WL 3893578 (Del. Ch. Aug. 4, 2014).
C.A. No. 9795-CB, 2014 WL 4418169 (Del. Ch. Sept. 10, 2014).
claims against the directors for breaches of fiduciary duty and against the company for aiding and abetting those breaches. The court noted that the controlling stockholder transaction, which was not conditioned at the outset on a non-waivable majority-of-the-minority stockholder vote, was subject to entire fairness review and must be reviewed on a developed factual record with respect to the disinterested directors who served on the special committee and who voted in favor of the transaction – even though they were exculpated for duty of care violations under the company’s Section 102(b)
(7) exculpation provision. Defendants argued that the pendency of entire fairness claims against the controlling stockholder does not relieve plaintiffs’ obligation to plead that the disinterested directors breached non-exculpated fiduciary duties with particularity. The court disagreed, finding that where entire fairness is the standard of review ab initio, the negotiating and facilitating directors must await a developed record, post-trial, before their liability is determined. The court dismissed the aiding and abetting
claims against the company, noting that a corporation cannot aid and abet violations by the fiduciaries who serve it.124
Motion to Expedite
In Cook v. Whitman,125 Vice Chancellor Glasscock, in a letter opinion, denied plaintiff’s motion to expedite
decision on defendants’ motion to dismiss or stay in light of an upcoming settlement hearing in a related derivative action pending in California. Plaintiff requested expedited
resolution before the California settlement hearing, arguing that the settlement, if approved, would release certain claims asserted against defendants in the instant action. The court noted that its decision on the motion to stay would have no preclusive effect on the California court, nor would it bear on the fairness of the proposed settlement, which plaintiff conceded it could oppose at the settlement hearing. While plaintiff argued that a favorable ruling here would have provided plaintiff with useful leverage at the settlement hearing, the court explained that it would not “act as a stalking horse for issues that a sister court will have before it, and which that court is perfectly qualified
124 On September 26, 2014, the court certified its September 10, 2014 ruling for an inter- locutory appeal, finding that (i) its ruling concerned a substantial issue, as the director defendants could be dismissed from the litigation if the court’s decision was reversed, (ii) its ruling established a legal right, as it held the director defendants as parties to the litiga- tion unable to assert a 102(b)(7) defense, and (iii) decisions of the court were conflicting on the determinative questions of law – namely, that there are conflicting decisions regarding whether, under entire fairness review, a breach of duty on the part of facially disinterested directors who negotiated with the controller needs to be specifically pled and whether
an exculpation provision adopted pursuant to Section 102(b)(7) is properly decided at the pleadings stage. See C.A. No. 8922-VCG (Del. Ch. Sept. 26, 2014).
125 C.A. No. 9458-VCG, 2014 WL 3592088 (Del. Ch. Jul. 22, 2014).
to resolve.” The court concluded that the harm that plaintiff would suffer in the absence of an expedited decision, if any, did not outweigh the costs of expedition.
Status Quo Orders
In Salamone v. Gorman,126 Vice Chancellor Noble, in a letter opinion, granted a status quo order in connection with an ongoing control dispute. Westech Capital Corp.’s (“Westech”) majority stockholder sought to cure a board deadlock by amending Westech’s bylaws to permit stockholders to remove and replace officers. The majority stockholder then purported to remove a board member through written consent and named himself as the replacement. Plaintiffs brought the instant action, requesting that the court, among other things, declare
the bylaw invalid. The court granted the status quo order, finding that Westech and its stockholders would be irreparably harmed by uncertainty over the compensation of the board. The court noted the tension between
the stockholder franchise and the board’s managerial authority and the fact that bylaws should define process and procedure but not the board’s substantive business decisions. However, the court did not decide that issue, because with a more complete development of the parties’ contentions, there was a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits that the bylaw was improper – enough for purposes of deciding the status quo order. The court also found that the balance of equities weighed in favor of protecting Westech from uncertainty over the composition of its board.
In Scott v. Dondero,127 Vice Chancellor Glasscock, in a letter opinion, denied plaintiff’s motion to lift a stay that the court had previously entered pending the resolution of a Texas action involving the central issue at play in the Delaware action. The parties, a husband and wife engaged in divorce proceedings in Texas, brought claims in Texas and in Delaware in connection with a trust which defendant wife claimed was a sham created to evade her husband’s obligations under a prenuptial agreement. Defendant
wife had sent a letter for an accounting of the trust, and plaintiff husband filed the instant action seeking, among other things, a declaration that his wife had no basis for the accounting because she lacked standing. The court previously entered a stay pending the Texas litigation as the Texas action would resolve the question of whether defendant wife had creditor status. The court found that no circumstances had changed since the stay was entered
126 C.A. No. 9870-VCN, 2014 WL 3905598 (Del. Ch. Jul. 31, 2014).
127 C.A. No. 9041-VCG, 2014 WL 4406996 (Del. Ch. Sept. 8, 2014).
and that the claims at issue in the instant action were related to the Texas action. Accordingly, the court found no basis to lift the stay.
In Carter Farm, LLC v. New Castle County,128 Vice Chancellor Glasscock, in a memorandum opinion, dismissed an action that was filed in 2005, finding that the parties had reached a binding settlement in 2007 that remains in effect despite the parties’ subsequent efforts to renegotiate the agreement. Plaintiff real estate
developer brought this action against defendant county in connection with a dispute over a real estate development plan. The parties reached a settlement in 2007 but never executed final settlement documents or a stipulation
of dismissal. While the parties operated under the settlement agreement for three years, in 2010, the parties unsuccessfully sought to negotiate a new settlement.
In 2014, defendant filed a motion to enforce the 2007 agreement. Plaintiff argued that the parties orally agreed to rescind the agreement in 2010, and that they subsequently reached a new oral settlement agreement. The court found that the evidence established that the parties had not orally rescinded the 2007 settlement agreement and had not entered into any subsequent agreement. The court found that the 2007 settlement was enforceable and that the parties contractually surrendered their litigation rights in exchange for the rights and obligations set forth in that agreement. As such, the court dismissed the case with prejudice but noted that either party could initiate litigation if the 2007 agreement had been breached.
In Bishop Macram Max Gassis v. Corkery,129 Vice Chancellor Glasscock, in a letter opinion, granted defendants’ motions to dismiss in connection with litigation over control of a charitable corporation. Plaintiff brought suit against defendant directors of the charitable fund
after plaintiff was removed as a director and member in September 2013. Plaintiff claimed that the corporation impermissibly used plaintiff’s trademark property – his name and likeness – to raise funds after plaintiff was removed. The court found that plaintiff lacked standing in connection with his derivative claims because plaintiff was no longer a director or member of the fund. The court also dismissed plaintiff’s claims for misappropriation of his name and likeness because the claims had been brought against the individual directors, not the fund, and the complaint
only contained allegations that the fund misappropriated plaintiff’s name for its own use. The court explained that it is not enough for a corporate officer to simply know of a tortious act, and that the officer can only be held liable for misfeasance or active negligence, not nonfeasance or omission.
In CCC Atlantic, LLC v. Grey,130 Vice Chancellor Noble, in a letter opinion, granted defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claim for breach of fiduciary duty based on plaintiff’s lack of standing. Plaintiff CCC Atlantic, LLC alleged that defendants Joseph Grey, Esq. and his law firm breached fiduciary duties owed plaintiff when they
refused to turn over $125,000 in settlement proceeds from a separate dispute. Defendants argued that CCC Atlantic lacked standing to assert a fiduciary duty claim because
it had no cognizable interest in the $125,000 and other parties had interests senior to plaintiff’s that extinguished its claim to the funds. The court agreed, finding that a receiver order in a separate action against CCC Atlantic gave plaintiff’s receiver all rights to the settlement proceeds. As such, plaintiff had no claim to the funds and no standing to pursue the breach of fiduciary duty claim relating to the possession or control of those funds.
In Lucas v. Hanson,131 Master LeGrow, in a final report, recommended that the court grant defendants’ motions to dismiss, because plaintiff did not have standing and the court did not have personal jurisdiction over some
defendants. The underlying dispute involved certain funds of a Delaware limited partnership, and defendants argued that plaintiff lacked standing, as plaintiff failed to allege that plaintiff was a limited partner of the partnership. Master LeGrow agreed, refusing to “constructively amend” the complaint and explaining that the court could not look outside the four corners of the complaint in deciding
a motion to dismiss. Certain defendants, all residents of Iowa, also argued that the court lacked personal jurisdiction over them. Master LeGrow agreed, noting that plaintiff made no effort to satisfy minimum contacts
analysis and rejecting plaintiff’s argument that defendants consented to jurisdiction by signing the partnership agreement, because plaintiff failed to file a copy of the agreement with the court.
128 C.A. No. 1641-VCG, 2014 WL 3555958 (Del. Ch. Jul. 17, 2014).
129 C.A. No. 8868-VCG, 2014 WL 3565418 (Del. Ch. Jul. 21, 2014).
130 C.A. No. 8739-VCN, 2014 WL 3044444 (Del. Ch. Jul. 3, 2014).
131 C.A. No. 9424-ML, 2014 WL 2958166 (Del. Ch. Jul. 1, 2014).
This Quarter’s Authors
Jonathan W. Miller, John E. Schreiber and Matthew L. DiRisio are partners, and Jill K. Freedman, Ian C. Eisner, Andrew
S. Jick, Joseph Litman, Kimberly L. Paschall, Zachary L. Sorman, and Alexandra Kushner are associates, in the Litigation Department of Winston & Strawn LLP, resident in the Firm’s New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. offices.
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