Author: bruce

Chancery Court Holds Merger Agreement’s Forum Selection Clause Trumps Stockholders Agreement

By Jamie Bruce and Mark Hammes

Chancery Court finds that three individual stockholders, as beneficiaries of a merger agreement, were equitably estopped from challenging the valid forum selection clause contained therein despite the fact that they did not personally sign the merger agreement.

In McWane, Inc. v. Lanier, C.A. No. 9488-VCP (Del. Ch. January 30, 2015) (Parsons, V.C.), the Chancery Court denied a motion to dismiss or stay from three individual defendant stockholders who argued that the Court lacked personal jurisdiction over them in a dispute regarding whether certain representations and warranties in a merger agreement were violated.  The court determined that a forum selection clause in a stockholders agreement they had personally signed was trumped by the forum selection clause in the merger agreement that they had not personally signed.  The court determined that not only was the clause in the stockholders agreement merely permissive compared to the merger agreement’s mandatory language, but also that the stockholders agreement fundamentally related to the merger agreement, and the defendants, as beneficiaries of the merger agreement, were equitably estopped from challenging the forum selection clause in the merger agreement.

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In re TPC Group Inc. Shareholders Litigation, Consolidated C.A. No. 7865-VCN (October 29, 2014) (Noble, V.C.)

By Jamie Bruce and Lauren Garraux

The issue before the Court in In re TPC Group Inc. Shareholders Litigation was whether plaintiffs, shareholders of TPC Group Inc. (“TPC”) (“Plaintiffs”), were entitled to attorneys’ fees due to an increase in the merger price obtained between their commencement of shareholder litigation challenging the merger and the acquisition’s closing under an amended merger agreement.  Shortly after TPC announced its acquisition by First Reserve Corporation, SK Capital Partners and their affiliates (collective, the “PE Group”), Plaintiffs filed complaints in Delaware Chancery Court challenging the intended merger on a number of grounds, including inadequate price.  Ultimately, Plaintiffs’ claims were mooted by subsequent bidding and a supplemental proxy statement, which resulted in, inter alia, an increase of $5 per share ($79 million aggregate), an increase which TPC, its board and PE Group (collectively, “Defendants”) attributed to a competing proposal.

According to the Court, the critical issue with respect to Plaintiffs’ request was causation, i.e., whether Plaintiffs’ legal challenge was the cause of the price increase.  Under Delaware law, it is presumed that plaintiffs are a cause; therefore, the burden is on the defendant to prove, by the preponderance of the evidence, that no causal connection (whether direct or indirect) existed between the price increase and plaintiffs’ litigation efforts.  PE Group submitted affidavits citing concern over a competing proposal, negative publicity, public opposition by a significant shareholder, and the potential for an unfavorable evaluation by Institutional Shareholder Services when deciding whether PE Group should raise its bid.  While acknowledging that these affidavits were self-serving, the Court indicated that Defendants’ account was the most credible and was consistent with the record, and the Court concluded that Defendants had met their burden in this regard and, therefore, denied Plaintiffs’ request for attorneys’ fees relating to an increase in the merger price.

InReTPC

Jefferson v. Dominion Holdings, Inc., C.A. No. 8663-VCN (September 24, 2014) (Noble, V.C.)

By Jamie Bruce and Carty Bibee

On September 24, 2014, Vice Chancellor Noble issued his opinion in Jefferson v. Dominion Holdings, Inc., a matter involving a dispute between a corporation and one of its stockholders over the scope, and attendant confidentiality concerns, in the stockholder’s inspection of the books and records of the corporation under 8 Del. C. § 220.

The Court concluded after trial that the plaintiff stockholder Jefferson (“Plaintiff Stockholder”) demonstrated that valuing his stock in defendant Dominion Holdings, Inc. (“Defendant Corporation”) was a proper purpose for his requested inspection.  In this Order, Vice Chancellor Noble addressed two issues: (1) the scope of the production of books and records and (2) the confidentiality concerns of Defendant Corporation.

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Pontone v. Milso, C.A. No. 8842-VCP (August 22, 2014) (Parsons, V.C.)

By Jamie Bruce and Mark Hammes

This case involves a claim for advancement of legal fees by plaintiff Scott Pontone (“Pontone”), a director and officer of two Delaware corporations, based on indemnification and expense advancement provisions of the corporations’ bylaws. Faced with both a motion to dismiss for lack of standing and Pontone’s motion for summary judgment, the Court granted in part and denied in part the  motion to dismiss, and granted partial summary judgment in Pontone’s favor with respect to advancement of certain legal fees and expenses.  The Court also found that Pontone was entitled to advancement as to 75% of his “fees on fees” in prosecuting this action.

Pontone was the Vice President of Old Milso, a New York regional casket manufacturer, when it was acquired by The York Group, Inc. (“York”) in 2005.  After the acquisition, Pontone served as a director and Executive Vice President of Both York and the successor entity Milso Industries Corporation (“New Milso”) until 2007.  In May 2010, Pontone entered into a consulting arrangement with a competitor, Batesville Casket Company (“Batesville”).  In August 2010, York and New Milso instituted an action in a federal court in Pennsylvania (the “Underlying Action”) against Pontone and Batesville alleging that they engaged in a wrongful scheme to induce several employees and many of their most lucrative customers to switch to Batesville.  The Underlying Action is still ongoing.

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Oracle Partners, L.P. v. Biolase, Inc., C.A. No. 9438-VCN (Del. Ch. May 21, 2014), aff’d, C.A. No. 270, 2014 (Del. June 12, 2014)

By Jamie Bruce and Ryan Drzemiecki

In his May 21, 2014 opinion in Oracle Partners, L.P. v. Biolase, Inc., C.A. No. 9438-VCN (Del. Ch. May 21, 2014), Vice Chancellor Noble addressed the issue of what was said, and the legal effect of the statements made, during a telephonic meeting (the “Meeting”) of the board of directors of Biolase, Inc. (“Biolase”) on Friday, February 28, 2014.

Prior to the Meeting, Biolase had six directors.  On the Monday following the meeting, Biolase issued a press release stating that two of the directors — Alexander Arrow, M.D. (“Arrow”) and Samuel Low, D.D.S. (“Low”) — had resigned from the board and two new directors — Paul Clark (“Clark”) and Jeffrey Nugent (“Nugent”) — had been appointed in their place.  In a contradictory Form 8-K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) three days later, which included the press release as an exhibit, the Company disclosed only that Clark and Nugent had been appointed to the board, which had apparently increased to eight members.

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