Delaware Docket

Timely, brief summaries of cases handed down by the Delaware Court of Chancery and the Delaware Supreme Court.

 

INSPECTION RIGHTS ARE NOT GRANTED FOR FISHING EXPEDITIONS

By Scott E. Waxman and Annamarie C. Larson

In David A. Hoeller v. Tempur Sealy International, Inc., C.A. No. 2018-0336-JRS (Del. Ch. February 12, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery denied a shareholder’s request to inspect the Company’s books and records, because he failed to provide a credible basis to suspect mismanagement or wrongdoing. 

Tempur Sealy (the “Company”) is a mattress manufacturer incorporated in Delaware and supplies products to various retailers and department stores.  In 2015, Mattress Firm and Sleepy’s accounted for approximately 24% of the Company’s overall sales.  In February 2016, Mattress Firm acquired the holding company for Sleepy’s.  The Company took this opportunity to renegotiate the Master Retailing Agreements (the “Agreements”) they had in place with Mattress Firm and Sleepy’s in order to exact more favorable terms.

In August 2016, Mattress Firm announced that it was being acquired by a European manufacturer with a vertically integrated product line.  The Company continued to renegotiate the Agreements to seek more favorable terms.

During this time, the Company’s public disclosures emphasized that the Company’s dependence on a relatively small number of large customers created risk.  However, the Company’s CEO stated at a conference that he was “very optimistic long-term” and that “within a quarter or two, we’ll be back on what I’ll call a normal basis [with Mattress Firm].”

In January 2017, at an industry convention, Mattress Firm advised the Company that it would terminate the Agreements and no longer sell its products unless the Company agreed to different terms.  Shortly thereafter, Mattress Firm proposed more balanced terms in favor of the Company, but the Company was unwilling to compromise.  Toward the end of January 2017, the Company terminated the Agreements immediately and stated that it would send no further products to Mattress Firm.  Mattress Firm sued for breach of contract and other claims.

In October 2017, a Company shareholder named David A. Hoeller (the “Plaintiff”) served a books and records demand seeking to investigate potential wrongdoing, distribution of false information, and breach of fiduciary duty in connection with the Company’s termination of the Agreements.  The Company rejected the Plaintiff’s demand but eventually produced four documents, including an email chain, a list of meetings, and board meeting minutes. 

The Court’s analysis started by summarizing Section 220, which permits a stockholder of a Delaware corporation to inspect the corporation’s books and records if the demand complies with (1) the statute’s form and manner requirements, and (2) states a proper purpose.  While investigation of mismanagement or wrongdoing is a proper purpose, the stockholder must present a credible basis from which the court can infer that mismanagement or wrongdoing occurred.

The Plaintiff contended that mismanagement of the Company’s relationship with Mattress Firm led to the loss of its largest customer.  The Court stated that when a stockholder’s purpose in seeking books and records is on account of alleged breach by the board of its duty of oversight (i.e., a Caremark claim), the stockholder must provide some evidence from which the Court can infer that the board failed to implement a reporting system or ignored obvious signs of concern.  The Court found that such evidence was lacking in this case.  The fact that the Company lost a major customer and was sued for breach of contract by such customer is not enough in itself to warrant a Caremark claim.  Moreover, there was no evidence that the Company officers were motivated by self-interest in the negotiations with Mattress Firm.

Finally, the Court dismissed the Plaintiff’s argument that the CEO distributed false or misleading information, because (1) the Plaintiff was not able to prove that the CEO knew his statements were false when made, and (2) the CEO’s statements contained no representations of fact and were simply “expressions of opinions about the future.”  Regarding the Company’s SEC filings, the Court found that the Company repeatedly disclosed the business risk of losing its largest customer.

In short, while “[i]nvestigations of meritorious allegations of possible mismanagement, waste or wrongdoing” are beneficial to a corporation, “indiscriminate fishing expeditions” are not.

Court Refuses to Reform Contract Failing to Find a Scrivener’s Error

By: Scott E. Waxman and Douglas A. Logan

In, In re 11 West Partners, LLC, the Delaware Court of Chancery  (the “Court”) refused to reform a contract with clear language, finding the argument of a scrivener’s error unconvincing. While the Court noted that it found all of the parties’ testimony believable, the Court did not find clear and convincing evidence that a mistake was made in drafting the contract in question.

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Stockholder Makes Demand on United Airlines and Encounters Turbulence

By: Joanna Diakos and Tom Sperber

In City of Tamarac Firefighters’ Pension Trust Fund v. Corvi, et. al, C.A. No. 2017-0341-KSJM, the Delaware Chancery Court issued a Memorandum Opinion granting a motion to dismiss under Chancery Rule 23.1 for failing to prove that pre-litigation demand of the Board was wrongfully refused. The City of Tamarac Firefighters’ Pension Trust Fund (“Plaintiff”), a stockholder of United Continental Holdings, Inc., the owner and operator of United Airlines (collectively, “United”), brought derivative claims against United and its board of directors (the “Board”) (collectively with United, “Defendants”) demanding either a claw-back of an allegedly excessive separation compensation award or the rescission of the separation agreement altogether. The Court found that Plaintiff failed to plead particularized facts raising a reasonable doubt that Defendants acted with due care and in good faith in rejecting Plaintiff’s demand.

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IN REJECTING DEFENDANTS’ MOTION FOR DISMISSAL, CHANCERY COURT FINDS THAT INDIVIDUAL FIDUCIARY MAY BE HELD LIABLE FOR TRADES THAT AN ASSOCIATED ENTITY OR FUND MAKES

By: Scott E. Waxman and Adrienne Wimberly

In the consolidated stockholder derivative litigation, In re Fitbit, Inc., CA No. 2017-0402-JRS (Del. Ch. Dec. 14, 2018), the Delaware Court of Chancery denied the Defendants’ motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ insider trading and breach of fiduciary duty claims. The claims stem from alleged insider knowledge of members of Fitbit’s Board of Directors (the Board) and chief financial officer that Fitbit’s PurePulse™ technology was not as accurate as the company claimed. Plaintiffs alleged that members of the Board structured the company’s Initial Public Offering (IPO) and Secondary Offering (together, “the Offerings”) to benefit Fitbit insiders and voted to waive employee lock-up agreements, thereby allowing those insiders, to prematurely sell stock in the Secondary Offering. As a result of their sales, the alleged insiders sold about 6.2 million shares for over $115 million in the IPO and about 9.62 million shares for over $270 million in the Secondary Offering.

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CHANCERY COURT DENIES MOTION TO PERFECT SERVICE FOR SERVICE ON DISSOLVED LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY

By: Scott Waxman and Greyson Blue

In Tratado de Libre Commercio, LLC v. Splitcast Technology, LLC, C.A. No. 2019-0014-JRS (Del. Ch. Mar. 6, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery examined the requirements for perfecting service upon a dissolved limited liability company (“LLC”). In ruling that Tratado de Libre Commercio, LLC (“Tratado”) had failed to perfect service of process on a dissolved entity, Splitcast Technology LLC (“Splitcast”), the Court highlighted its broad authority to establish service of process requirements under Court of Chancery Rule 4(d)(7) (“Rule 4(d)(7)”) in claims against defunct entities. The Court’s decision both illustrates the scope of its authority and confirms its willingness to hold that court-mandated standards for delivering service upon defunct corporations also apply in the context of defunct LLCs.

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Fiduciary Duty Claim Against Selling Company CEO Survives Motion to Dismiss with Aiding and Abetting Claim Missing the Mark

By: Annette Becker and Michael Payant

In In re Xura, Inc. Stockholder Litigation (C.A. No. 12698-VCS), the Delaware Court of Chancery (the “Court”) denied a motion to dismiss brought by defendants Phillippe Tartavull (“Tartavull”) and Siris Capital Group (“Siris”, and collectively with Tartavull, the “Defendants”) in a case filed by Obsidian Management LLC (“Obsidian” or “Plaintiff”) for breach of fiduciary duty in connection with the sale of Xura, Inc. (“Xura”) to a Siris affiliate. The Court held that Plaintiff pled a viable breach of fiduciary duty claim against Tartavull as CEO of Xura. The Court granted a motion to dismiss as to an aiding and abetting claim brought against Siris holding that Plaintiff failed to plead a viable claim.

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Know Thyself: Self-Awareness in Corporate Valuations

By: Annette Becker and Kristen Berry

In Kendall Hoyd and Silver Spur Capital Partners, LP v. Trussway Holdings, LLC (C.A. No. 2017-0260-SG), the Delaware Court of Chancery (the “Court“) addressed the perennial challenges related to corporate valuations. The central question involved the determination of a corporation’s proper price-per-share in the context of an appraisal action arising from the conversion of a corporation into an LLC by merger. The Court rejected the use of “comparable companies” and “precedent transaction” analyses, defaulting to the use of discounted cash flow (DCF) analyses in the formulation of its corporate valuation.

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CHANCERY COURT DISMISSES STOCKHOLDER CLAIM FOR BREACH OF FIDUCIARY DUTY, DESPITE BOARD’S INACCURATE DISCLOSURES

By: Holly Hatfield and Adam Heyd

In Steven H. Busch v. Edward J. Richardson et. al. and Richardson Electronics, Ltd., C.A. No. 2017-0868-AGB (Del. Ch. November 14, 2018), the Delaware Court of Chancery (the “Court”) dismissed a plaintiff’s stockholder suit against certain board members of Richardson Electronics Ltd. (the “Company”) for breach of fiduciary duty.  The Court found that the Company’s board (the “Board”) exercised valid business judgment in rejecting the plaintiff’s demand to unwind certain Company transactions, despite the Board’s failure to disclose certain related party transactions to the plaintiff and other stockholders.

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CHANCERY COURT GRANTS DEFENDANT’S MOTION ON THE PLEADINGS WHERE NAMED DEFENDANTS DID NOT OWE ANY OF THE CONTRACTUAL OR FIDUCIARY OBLIGATIONS PLAINTIFF TRIED TO ENFORCE

By: Scott Waxman and Samantha Beatty

In Ross v. Institutional Longevity Assets LLC, C.A. No. 2017-0186-TMR (Del. Ch. Feb. 26, 2019), the Chancery Court, in a motion for judgement on the pleadings, found that the plain language of a limited liability company’s operating agreement was sufficient to affirm the notion that the plaintiff had failed to establish a set of facts to support his breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty claims. The Court found that (i) where the language of a contract is clear, the parties’ disagreement will not render a contract ambiguous; (ii) where a plaintiff has not identified gaps in the language of a contract, there can be no evidence that an implied covenant of good faith has been breached, and (iii) where a fiduciary duty claim arises out of the same conduct as a contract claim, the fiduciary claim is superfluous.

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Chancery Court Rules Inequitable Conduct May Be Considered Within the Scope of a Section 225 Review

By: Claire S. White and Will Smith

In Robert G. Brown v. Lorrence T. Kellar et. al, Civil Action No. 2018-0687-MTZ (Del. Ch. December 21, 2018), the Delaware Court of Chancery granted in part and denied in part a motion for summary judgment by the plaintiff-stockholder, Robert G. Brown (“Brown”), to determine the composition of the board of directors (the “Board”) of SPAR Group, Inc. (“SGRP”), pursuant to 8 Del. C. § 225 (the “225 Action”). Denying Brown’s motion in part, the Court held that the 225 Action should survive summary judgment and continue to trial because the defendant-directors, the incumbent Board members of SGRP (the “Director Defendants”), asserted inequitable conduct by Brown bearing on the Board’s composition. Upholding Brown’s motion in part, the Court held that certain disputed written stockholder consents were effective on delivery under 8 Del. C. § 228(e), even though the Board had not taken action to deliver prompt notice of such written consents to SGRP’s stockholders as required pursuant to Section 228(e).

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COURT OF CHANCERY FINDS NO BUYER DUTY TO MAXIMIZE CONTINGENT SALE CONSIDERATION OWED TO SELLER

By Scott E. Waxman and Thomas F. Meyer

In Glidepath Ltd. v. Beumer Corp., C.A. No. 12220-VCL (Del. Ch. February 21, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery held that the buyer of a company did not breach transaction documents or violate the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing in maximizing the long-term value of the company at the expense of short-term profits that would have resulted in greater contingent consideration being paid to the seller plaintiffs (the “Sellers”).

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WHEN SOMEONE SHOWS YOU WHO THEY ARE, BELIEVE THEM THE FIRST TIME, OR RISK YOUR CLAIMS BEING TIME BARRED

By Scott Waxman and Adrienne Wimberly

In Winklevoss Capital Fund, LLC et al. v. Stephen Shaw, et al., C.A. No. 2018-0398-JRS, the Delaware Court of Chancery, in a Memorandum Opinion, granted a Motion to Dismiss counterclaims against individual Plaintiffs Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss and their investment firm (altogether “Plaintiffs”) because the claims were barred by laches. In an attempt to capitalize on the publicity from their depiction in the movie The Social Network, the Winklevoss twins, Tyler and Cameron, launched an investment firm, Winklevoss Capital Fund, LLC (WCF). The twins selected Treats! LLC, founded by Stephen Shaw, to be one of their first investments. Treats! LLC owns and operates Treats! magazine, a print and digital magazine depicting nude and semi-nude photographs of models and celebrities. In August 2012, WCF invested $1,310,000 in Treats! in exchange for 1,310,000 series A preferred units under a written Purchase Agreement and Amended LLC Agreement. WCF also loaned Treats! $20,000 as evidenced by a promissory note delivered in October 2012. However, the business relationship between the parties quickly soured as the twins refused to allow Shaw to publicly announce their investment in Treats! and the twins believed Shaw was mismanaging the company.

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