Author: waxman

Court of Chancery Discusses Statute of Limitations in Claim for Indemnification

By Scott Waxman and Stephanie S. Liu

In Francis S. Branin, Jr. v. Stein Roe Investment Counsel, LLC, et al, the Court of Chancery considered whether Plaintiff’s claim for indemnification for expenditures related to litigation that had begun in 2002, but not was resolved with finality until 2012, was time-barred. The Court concluded that the statute of limitations on Branin’s indemnification claim did not begin to run until the underlying litigation was resolved, and thus his claim was timely. The Court granted Branin’s motion to strike Defendants’ affirmative defenses and granted his motion for summary judgment on Defendants’ obligation to indemnify him. The Court also found that Branin was entitled to prejudgment simple interest at the statutory legal rate, as well as fees incurred in successfully prosecuting his indemnification claim.

After Plaintiff Francis S. Branin, Jr. (“Branin” or the “Plaintiff”) resigned from Bessemer Trust, N.A. (“Bessemer”) on July 12, 2002, he began working for Defendant Stein Roe Investment Counsel LLC (“SRIC LLC”). On November 22, 2002, Bessemer sued Branin for improperly soliciting its clients and impairing its goodwill in violation of a New York implied covenant (“New York Action”). In 2012, after a decade of litigation, Branin successfully defended against all claims. On April 17, 2013, Branin turned to the Court to enforce a purported indemnification right against SRIC LLC, Stein Roe Investment Counsel, Inc., and Atlantic Trust Group, Inc. (collectively, the “Defendants”).

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Delaware Court of Chancery Reiterates Standard for Terminating a Receivership and Finds 10% Net Recovery Contingency for a Receiver Fee Reasonable under Delaware General Corporate Law

By Scott Waxman and Anthony L Yerry

In Jagodzinski v. Silicon Valley Innovation Company, LLC, Christian Jagodzinski, a unitholder in Silicon Valley Innovation Company, LLC (“SVIC”), fueled by personal disputes with Bram Portnoy, the receiver of SVIC, brought a motion to terminate the court-appointed receivership over SVIC or, alternatively, to reduce the receiver’s pay.  Setting aside the personal disputes between Portnoy and Jagodzinski, the Delaware Court of Chancery ruled that Jagodzinski failed to make a sufficient showing to justify terminating the receivership but held that the 10% contingency portion of Portnoy’s fees are to be based off of the net, instead of the gross, recovery of the receivership.

In 2000, Jagodzinski invested $1 million in SVIC, which was an incubator for other startup technology companies.  After about four years of allegedly successful investments, SVIC stopped sending reports to the equity holders.  Jagodzinski unsuccessfully attempted to contact SVIC and investigate the state of the company’s affairs.  Eventually on February 18, 2011, Jagodzinski initiated a books and records action against SVIC in the Delaware Court of Chancery.  The then manager of SVIC refused to cooperate with the court, and the court appointed Portnoy as a limited receiver of SVIC with the specific task of collecting the books and records of the SVIC.

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Delaware Chancery Court Addresses Alleged Breaches of LLC Agreement

By Scott Waxman and Sophia Lee Shin

NewYork.com Internet Holdings, Inc. v. Entertainment Benefits Group, LLC, et al., involves a dispute between the two owners, each with a 50% interest, of NewYork.com Entertainment Group, LLC (“NYEG” or the “Company”). The plaintiff alleged that the Company’s board (the “Board”) was deadlocked because it had been excluded from all decision-making and sought dissolution, and the defendant counterclaimed for various breaches by the plaintiff of the Company’s operating agreement; the plaintiff then moved to strike the defendant’s counterclaim or dismiss it in its entirety. In this opinion, the court granted in part and denied in part the plaintiff’s motion to strike, and denied in its entirety the plaintiff’s motion to dismiss.

The plaintiff and defendant in this case were the two owners of NYEG. The principals of the plaintiff, NewYork.com Internet Holdings, Inc. (“NYIH”), were the original registrants of the domain name NewYork.com, a website that sells and markets travel and entertainment tickets in New York. The defendant, Entertainment Benefits Group, LLC (“EBG”), is in the business of selling and marketing travel and entertainment tickets.

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Chancery Court Dismisses Derivative Lawsuit against GM Directors Relating to Recalled Ignition Switches, Finding That Plaintiffs Failed to Show Demand Futility

By Scott Waxman and Lauren Garraux

In a June 26, 2015 Memorandum Opinion, Vice Chancellor Sam Glasscock III dismissed a derivative complaint filed by stockholders of General Motors (“GM”) relating to defective ignition switches that led to the recall of approximately 13 million GM vehicles beginning in February 2014.  According to Vice Chancellor Glasscock, Plaintiffs failed to adequately plead bad faith on the part of the GM directors named as defendants in the lawsuit and, therefore, failed to show demand futility under Chancery Rule 23.1.

The general facts underlying this derivative lawsuit have been widely publicized and relate to GM’s recall of approximately 13 million vehicles for issues with the vehicles’ ignition switch, which caused a vehicle’s engine and electrical system to shut off, disabling power steering and power brakes and causing the vehicle’s airbags to not deploy in the event of a crash.

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Delaware Chancery Court Allows Disclosure of Privileged Information to LLC Members Under Garner Fiduciary Exception

By Scott Waxman and Claire White

In De Vries v. Del Mar, L.L.C., two minority limited liability company members of Del Mar, L.L.C. (the “Company”) sought to compel disclosure of privileged information relating to the settlement of a $3.0 million loan to the Company, the transfer of the Company’s primary asset to the lender in post-settlement negotiations, and potential mismanagement and self-dealing by the managing member of the Company, Baja Management, LLC (“Baja”), and its president and sole managing member, Kenneth Jowdy (“Jowdy”). The Court held that the plaintiffs demonstrated sufficient “good cause” to compel inspection of privileged books and records of the Company related to the post-settlement events under the Garner doctrine of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, adopted by the Delaware Supreme Court in Wal-Mart Stores v. Indiana Electrical Workers Pension Trust Fund IBEW, No. 614, 2013 (Del. July 23, 20

The Company was formed for the principal purpose of owning and developing a hotel, golf course and residential properties in Baja California, Mexico, and its main asset consisted of 9,238 acres of undeveloped land, valued at $68.9 million (the “Property”). Baja, the Company’s majority and managing member, owned 93% of the Company’s membership interests, and the remaining interests were held by various minority members who invested $500,000 each in exchange for a 0.5% interest in a private placement round in 2005. The Company obtained a secured loan of $3.0 million from a “hard money” lender in 2006, but failed to raise substantial investment funds for full development of the Property. Jowdy, the sole managing member of Baja, personally guaranteed the loan. In 2010, the Company defaulted on the loan, and the Company and Jowdy executed confessions of judgment for the full amount of the loan (and interest). Following settlement negotiations, and the Company’s inability to satisfy the judgments with further financing, the Company agreed to transfer the Property to the lender in lieu of the lender recording the judgments against the Company and Jowdy.

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Chancery Court Holds That a General Partner Breached a Limited Partnership Agreement for Failure to Act in the Best Interests of the Master Limited Partnership; $171 Million in Damages

By Scott Waxman and Joshua Haft

The Chancery Court held that a general partner of a master limited partnership breached the entity’s limited partnership agreement by failing to act in the best interests of the entity and instead acting in a manner that benefited the parent of its general partner and increased distributions to the entity’s common unitholders. The Chancery Court focused on the general partner’s failure to consider lessons learned from a similar past transaction and the inadequacy of the financial advisor’s fairness opinion.

In In re: El Paso Pipeline Partners, L.P. Derivative Litigation, plaintiff challenged two transactions in which El Paso Corporation (“Parent”) sold to El Paso Pipeline Partners, L.P., a master limited partnership (“El Paso MLP”), its interest in two subsidiaries of Parent, Southern LNG Company, L.L.C. and Elba Express, L.L.C. (collectively, “Elba”). Both subsidiaries were engaged in the liquefied natural gas (“LNG”) business. Parent is the parent company of El Paso MLP’s general partner, El Paso Pipeline GP Company, L.L.C. (the “General Partner”); and thus, Parent exercised control over El Paso MLP through the General Partner. In the first transaction, in March 2010, Parent dropped-down a 51% interest in Elba to El Paso MLP for total consideration of $963 million (the “Spring Dropdown”). In the second transaction, in November 2010, Parent dropped-down to El Paso MLP the remaining 49% interest in Elba for at least $931 million and 15% of another Parent subsidiary, for total consideration of $1.412 billion (the “Fall Dropdown”).

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Chancery Court Holds that both Exclusive and Nonexclusive Forum Selection Clauses Can Supplant the McWane First Filed Doctrine

By Scott Waxman and David Valenti

The Chancery Court held that the McWane first filed doctrine does not necessarily require a complaint to be dismissed or stayed in favor of a case pending in another state involving similar claims, parties, and facts, when the claim is based on an agreement including a bargained for, nonexclusive and irrevocable forum selection clause.

On April 15, 2015, the Chancery Court in Utilipath v. Baxter, C.A. No. 9922-VCP (Del. Ch. April 15, 2015) (Parsons, V.C.) denied a Motion to Dismiss a complaint attempting to compel enforcement of an alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”) provision in a Redemption Agreement as it pertained to a dispute over closing net working capital. Prior to August, 2013, defendants Baxter McLindon Hayes, Jr., Baxter McLindon Hayes III, and Jarrod Tyson Hayes (the “Hayes Defendants”) were the sole members of defendant Utilipath, LLC (“Old Utilipath,” and together with Hayes Defendants, the “Defendants”), a North Carolina LLC. In August 2013, the Hayes Defendants transferred all of their membership interests in Old Utilipath to defendant Utilipath Holdings, Inc. (“Holdings”), a North Carolina corporation. Subsequently Old Utilipath merged with plaintiff Utilipath, LLC, (“Utilipath”) a Delaware LLC, resulting in Holdings becoming the parent company of Utilipath.

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Chancery Court Finds Arbitration Clause in Limited Liability Company Agreement Survives Company’s Conversion into Corporation Despite Corporation’s Litigation Only Approach

By Scott Waxman and Peter C. Seel

In 3850 & 3860 Colonial Blvd., LLC v. Griffin, the Chancery Court denied a motion to dismiss and stayed the proceedings on all counts, finding that the arbitration clause in the limited liability company agreement controlled and the case must be submitted to an arbitrator to decide the issue of substantive arbitrability.

On February 26, 2015, the Chancery Court in 3850 & 3860 Colonial Blvd., LLC v. Griffin, C.A. No. 9575-VCN (Del. Ch. February 26, 2015) (Noble, V.C.) addressed the recurring theme of substantive arbitrability in a dispute that involved the conversion of a limited liability company into a corporation and their conflicting dispute resolution mechanisms. In 2007, defendant Christopher Griffin (the “Defendant”) formed Rubicon Media LLC (“Rubicon LLC”). In 2011, the Defendant reformed Rubicon LLC’s capital structure and, in 2013, converted Rubicon LLC into a corporation: Rubicon Inc. (“Rubicon Inc.,” and together with the Defendant, the “Defendants”). Among other things, the conversion of Rubicon LLC into Rubicon Inc. altered the rights of shareholders with respect to the dispute resolution process. The operative clause in the LLC Agreement (the “LLC Provision”) directs the parties to resolve disputes through mediation and arbitration, whereas the corresponding provision in the Certificate of Incorporation (the “Charter Provision”) designates the Delaware Court of Chancery as the exclusive forum for all disputes.

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Chancery Court Finds No Fiduciary Duty for Limited Partners

By Scott Waxman and Eric Jay

Chancery Court grants motion to dismiss against former limited partners seeking damages for a freeze-out merger they claimed was a self-dealing transaction by the general partner and its affiliates.  The Court granted the motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction with regard to the general partner defendants based on a standard arbitration clause that referenced AAA Rules. The Court also granted the motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim with regard to the affiliated limited partner defendants because majority ownership of the merged entities, without more, did not create a fiduciary duty to the plaintiffs.

On February 10, 2015, Vice Chancellor Parsons issued a memorandum opinion in Lewis v. AimCo Properties, L.P., 2015 WL 557995, (Del. Ch. Feb. 10, 2015) granting Motions to Dismiss for each group of defendants in the case. The case was brought by several former holders of limited partnership units (“Plaintiffs”) in four Delaware limited partnerships (the “Partnerships”). Each of the Partnerships was managed by corporate entity general partners (“GP Defendants”) that were each indirectly owned by Apartment Investment and Management Company (“AimCo”).  AimCo also indirectly held a majority of the limited partnership units of each Partnership through various affiliates (together with various officers, the “LP Defendants”).

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Fiduciary and Contractual Claims Arising from LLC Management Dispute Survive a Motion to Dismiss

By Scott Waxman and Ryan Drzemiecki

In an ongoing dispute between the members of a Delaware limited liability company, Vice Chancellor Parsons was tasked with resolving pre-trial motions filed by both the managing member defendants and the non-managing member plaintiffs. Except for plaintiffs’ claim of waste, V.C. Parsons denied the defendants’ Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss finding that, drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of plaintiffs, facts have been pleaded that make the defendants’ inappropriate at this stage of the litigation.  In addition, V.C. Parsons denied plaintiffs motion of summary judgment, which sought to remove the defendant LLC from its position as managing member, finding that the plaintiffs have not yet produced evidence sufficient to meet their burden of showing that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

This case involves an ongoing dispute between the managing member and non-managing members of Dunes Point West, LLC, a Delaware limited liability company (the “Company”). The Company was formed in 2006 to acquire and operate an apartment complex in in the State of Kansas (the “Apartment Complex”). Presently, Louis Cortese and the 2009 Caiola Family Trust (“Plaintiffs”) collectively hold 90% of the membership interests in the Company. Defendants include the Company’s managing member and holder of 10% of its membership interests, PWA, LLC, a Kansas limited liability company (“PWA”) and Ward Katz, the managing member of PWA.

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Chancery Court Finds Majority Partner Breached Contractual and Fiduciary Obligations to the Minority

By Scott Waxman and Claire White

In this Chancery Court decision, VC Laster examined damages owing to plaintiffs for claims of breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duties of care and loyalty in connection with the sale of a partnership’s assets.  The plaintiffs, partners in a D.C. partnership, had proved at trial that the sale by the majority partners (U.S. Cellular) to a related party was not entirely fair to them, as minority holders.

On the breach of contract claim, VC Laster found that defendants had breached a confidentiality provision in the partnership agreement by sharing confidential information regarding the partnership with a valuation firm, for the purposes of obtaining a valuation for the sale transaction.  Notwithstanding the breach, only nominal damages were awarded as plaintiffs failed to show proof of actual injury from the breach.  Among other facts, the Count highlighted that the confidentiality provision in the partnership agreement could have been waived by the majority partners.

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Mehta v. Smurfit-Stone Container Corp., C.A. No. 6891-VCL (October 20, 2014) (Laster, V.C.)

By Scott Waxman and Caitlin Howe

Pro se plaintiffs, Ram and Neena Mehta (the “Mehtas”), owned common stock of defendant Smurfit-Stone Container Corporation (“Smurfit”), which, after reorganizing in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, merged with a wholly-owned acquisition subsidiary of Rock-Tenn Company (“Rock-Tenn Sub” and “Rock-Tenn Parent”, respectively). The Mehtas challenged (i) decisions leading to Smurfit’s bankruptcy, (ii) the merger with Rock-Tenn Sub, and (iii) Rock-Tenn Sub’s failure to pay the Mehtas the merger consideration from the Rock-Tenn Sub/Smurfit merger. The defendants moved to dismiss the Mehtas’ claims for failure to state a claim, and Vice Chancellor Laster granted the defendants’ motion with respect to claims (i) and (ii); however, claim (iii) survives, with the caveat that the Mehtas are not entitled to indirect or consequential damages.

On June 21, 2010, Smurfit emerged from a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, having cancelled and re-issued 95% of its stock to its former creditors and the remainder to its shareholders, including the Mehtas who owned 1,486 shares after the reorganization. Less than six months later, Smurfit and Rock-Tenn Parent announced their plans for a merger for cash and Rock-Tenn Parent stock consideration. The Mehtas timely filed a demand for appraisal, and the merger was subsequently consummated. However, the Mehtas eventually withdrew their demand and never filed a petition for appraisal. The Mehtas did not receive any merger consideration.

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