Topic: Aiding and Abetting

Court of Chancery Dismisses Breach of Fiduciary Duty Claim as Duplicative of Breach of Contract Claim

By: Scott Waxman and Zack Sager

In MHS Capital LLC v. Goggin, the Delaware Court of Chancery granted a motion to dismiss a breach of fiduciary duty claim against the manager of a Delaware limited liability company because all of the manager’s conduct that could have formed the basis of such claim was covered by the duties of the manager delineated in the limited liability company agreement.  The Court also analyzed and dismissed claims for, among other things, fraud, breach of the implied contractual covenant of good faith and fair dealing, unjust enrichment, and misappropriation of trade secrets.

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CONTROLLING STOCKHOLDER CANNOT ADVANCE ITS OWN SELF-INTEREST AT EXPENSE OF MINORITY STOCKHOLDERS

By: C. J. Voss and Rich Minice

In Carr v. New Enterprise Associates, Inc., C.A. No. 20170381-AGB (Del. Ch. Mar. 26, 2018), the Delaware Court of Chancery, in denying in part and granting in part a motion to dismiss, reaffirmed the principle that a controlling stockholder, when acting outside its capacity as a stockholder, cannot use the corporation to advance the controlling stockholder’s self-interest at the expense of minority stockholders.  In the context of defendants’ motion to dismiss, the court found that it was reasonably conceivable that the controlling stockholder of American Cardiac Therapeutics, Inc. (“ACT”) and its conflicted board of directors had breached their duty of loyalty to ACT’s minority stockholders by approving a sale of a warrant to a third party that included an option to acquire ACT, allegedly at an unfairly low price, in order to incentivize the third party to also acquire and invest in the controlling stockholder’s other portfolio companies.

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MULTI-BILLION DOLLAR INVESTMENT MANAGER AND DIRECTORS REMAIN AT RISK

By: Kevin Stichter and Samira Torshizi

In Cumming v. Edens, et al., C.A. No. 13007-VCS (Del. Ch. Feb. 20, 2018), the Court of Chancery denied a motion to dismiss a derivative suit for breach of fiduciary duties brought by a stockholder of New Senior Investment Group, Inc. (“New Senior”) against New Senior’s board of directors (the “Board”) and related parties in connection with New Senior’s $640 million acquisition of Holiday Acquisition Holdings LLC (“Holiday”). The Court made clear that compliance with Section 144 does not necessarily provide a safe harbor against claims for breach of fiduciary duty and invoke business judgment review of an interested transaction. Because the complaint alleged with specificity “that the Board acted out of self-interest or with allegiance to interest other than the stockholders,” the court applied the entire fairness standard of review and concluded that the transaction was not fair to New Senior stockholders. Read More

Delaware Court Of Chancery Ruling Provides a Cautionary Tale for Investment Fund Directors Seeking to Monetize Their Investment

Delaware Court Of Chancery Ruling Provides a Cautionary Tale for Investment Fund Directors Seeking to Monetize Their Investment

By Jill B. Louis and Ernest L. Simons

In The Frederick Hsu Living Trust v. ODN Holding Corp., et al., one of the founders of ODN Holding Corporation (the “Company”) filed suit against the controlling stockholder, the board and certain officers of the Company for cash redemptions of preferred stock allegedly made in violation of statutory and common law instead of using the Company’s cash to maximize the value of the Company for the long term benefit of all stockholders. The Delaware Court of Chancery granted defendants’ motions to dismiss claims of waste and unlawful redemption. However, the Court of Chancery denied defendants’ motions to dismiss claims of breach of fiduciary duty, aiding and abetting a breach of fiduciary duty, and unjust enrichment finding that the allegations of the Plaintiff supported a reasonable inference that the entire fairness standard would apply and that individual defendants may have acted in bad faith.

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Chancery Court Holds That Stockholder Vote on Merger Was Neither Fully-Informed nor Uncoerced

By: Lisa R. Stark and Taylor B. Bartholomew

In In re Saba Software, Inc. Stockholder Litigation, C.A. No. 10697-VCS (Del. Ch. Mar. 31, 2017, revised Apr. 11, 2017), the Delaware Court of Chancery held that the board of Saba Software, Inc. could not invoke the business judgment rule under the Corwin doctrine in response to a fiduciary challenge arising from Saba’s acquisition by Vector Capital Management, L.P.  According to the Court, plaintiff pled facts which supported a reasonable inference that the stockholder vote approving the acquisition was neither fully-informed nor uncoerced.  The Court also denied defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claims that the Saba board breached its duty of loyalty and engaged in acts of bad faith by rushing the sales process, refusing to consider alternatives to the merger and granting itself substantial equity awards.

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Court of Chancery Dismisses Breach of Fiduciary Duty Claim as Duplicative of Breach of Contract Claim

By Scott Waxman and Zack Sager

In CIM Urban Lending GP, LLC v. Cantor Commercial Real Estate Sponsor, L.P., the Delaware Court of Chancery dismissed a breach of fiduciary duty claim against a general partner of a Delaware limited partnership because there was no independent factual basis for the breach of fiduciary duty claim apart from the plaintiffs’ breach of contract claim.

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Delaware Supreme Court Affirms Financial Advisor Liability for Aiding and Abetting

By Whitney Smith and Elise Gabriel

The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed RBC Capital Markets, LLC’s (“RBC”) liability for aiding and abetting a board’s fiduciary breaches based on RBC’s undisclosed conflicts of interest and its deliberately misleading the board during the company’s sales process.  The Court also upheld the Chancery Court’s finding that RBC bore 83% responsibility for the shareholders’ damages, resulting in a $75 million award against RBC, plus pre- and post-judgment interest.

In RBC Capital Markets, LLC, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Chancery Court’s holding that RBC was liable for aiding and abetting breaches of fiduciary duty by the board of Rural/Metro Corporation (“Rural”) in connection with the sale of Rural to private equity firm Warburg Pincus LLC (“Warburg”).  The Rural board’s underlying breaches of fiduciary duties were its failure to be actively and reasonably informed when overseeing the sales process and to be adequately informed about Rural’s value, and also its breach of the duty of disclosure for including RBC’s flawed valuation analysis as well as false and misleading information about RBC’s conflicts of interest in the company’s proxy statement.  RBC, in turn, knowingly induced the breaches by exploiting its own conflicted interests to the detriment of Rural and by creating an “information vacuum” for the Rural board in order to push the sale forward.

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Delaware Chancery Court Asserts Personal Jurisdiction over Third Party Defendants in Connection with Contribution Sought for the Advancement of Legal Fees and Costs

By Annette Becker and Sophia Lee Shin

In Konstantino v. AngioScore, Inc. v. Quattro Vascular PTE Ltd, et al., the Delaware Court of Chancery reviewed a motion to dismiss filed by three Singapore entity defendants seeking dismissal of a third party claim brought by AngioScore, Inc. (“AngioScore”) for lack of personal jurisdiction and by the Singapore entity defendants and a Delaware entity defendant for failure to state a claim for contribution and tortious interference with contract in connection with the manufacture and sale of a competing product. The Court of Chancery denied the third party defendants’ motion in part, holding that the Court had personal jurisdiction over the three Singapore entity defendants under the conspiracy theory of jurisdiction, and that AngioScore stated a claim for contribution from all of the third party defendants, and granted the motion in part, holding that AngioScore had not stated a claim for tortious interference with contract.

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Delaware Court of Chancery Declines to Dismiss Claims for Breach of Contract and Breach of Fiduciary Duties

By Nick Froio and Zack Sager

In CMS Investment Holdings, LLC v. Castle, the Delaware Court of Chancery declined to dismiss claims for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duties, aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duties, and civil conspiracy, among others.

In Castle, the Plaintiff, CMS Investment Holdings, LLC, was a member of, and holder of Class A units in, RP Holdings Group, LLC, a Delaware limited liability company (the “Company”). The business of the Company (i.e., providing non-legal administrative services in connection with mortgage foreclosures) was created by the principal Defendants (i.e., five individuals who practiced law in Colorado and Arkansas). The Defendants held Class B and C units in the Company and ran the business in their various capacities as employees, officers, and managers of the Company. The Plaintiff’s complaint alleged that the Defendants, along with several of their affiliated entities, intentionally failed to make distributions to the Plaintiff, as a Class A unitholder, in favor of the Defendants in violation of the Company’s limited liability company agreement (the “LLC Agreement”). The Plaintiff also alleged that the Defendants purposefully took actions to block the Company from receiving much-needed debt refinancing, facilitated the Company‘s decline into insolvency, secretly negotiated with its creditors, and then, through their affiliated entities, purchased on favorable terms a major part of the Company’s business back from the Company in receivership.

The Plaintiff brought direct claims against the Defendants alleging (1) breach of the LLC Agreement and the implied contractual covenant of good faith and fair dealing, (2) breach of fiduciary duties, (3) aiding and abetting breaches of fiduciary duties, (4) civil conspiracy, and (5) violation of the Delaware Uniform Fraudulent Transfers Act. The Defendants filed a motion to dismiss for failing to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

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Sound the Alarm? Not so Fast as Chancery Court Dismisses Derivative Suit Alleging Self-Interested “Pump-And-Dump” Scheme Arising Out of Alarm Company’s Repurchase of $450 Million in Stock from Hedge Fund Investor

By Lauren Garraux and Phillip Kardis

In his April 28, 2015 Memorandum Opinion, Vice Chancellor Parsons dismissed a derivative suit brought by ADT Corp. stockholder Walter E. Ryan, Jr. (“Plaintiff”) against the Company’s board of directors, Corvex Management LP (“Corvex”), a hedge fund investor, and Corvex’s principal arising out of the Company’s repurchase of $450 million in stock held by Corvex, a move that led to a drop in the Company’s stock price.  Citing Chancery Court Rule 23.1, Vice Chancellor Parsons dismissed the suit because Plaintiff had neither made a pre-suit demand on the Company’s board nor met his burden of proving that demand should be excused as futile under Aronson.

Plaintiff commenced this derivative action on August 1, 2014 and filed an amended complaint on October 3, 2014, asserting claims of breach of fiduciary duties of care and loyalty against ADT’s board of directors, aiding and abetting those breaches against Corvex and unjust enrichment against Corvex and Corvex principal Keith Meister (“Meister”) who, during the time period relevant to the complaint, held a seat on ADT’s board and audit committee.  Plaintiff’s claims arose out of what Plaintiff characterized as a self-interested “pump-and-dump” scheme pursuant to which Meister managed to “pump up” the price of ADT’s stock and then convinced his fellow board members to repurchase most of Corvex’s ADT stock in November 2013 at $44.01 per share for an approximate total of $450 million, the alleged “dump.”  Following the repurchase, ADT was left in a “far-worse-than forecasted financial condition,” with “diminished future prospects” and a slipping stock price that ultimately settled around $28 per share in the first few days of February 2014.

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In Re Comverge, Inc. Shareholders Litigation

By Sherwin Salar and Whitney Smith

In Re Comverge, Inc. Shareholders Litigation involves a stockholder challenge to a merger between Comverge, Inc. and H.I.G Capital, L.L.C.  The plaintiff stockholders of Comverge contend that the Comverge board of directors (the “Board”) breached their fiduciary duties by: (1) conducting a flawed sales process and not suing HIG for an alleged breach of a non-disclosure agreement between the parties (the “NDA”); and (2) agreeing to deal protection measures that precluded the possibility of a topping bid.  On November 25, 2014, Vice Chancellor Parsons granted HIG’s motion to dismiss with respect to the first claim, but denied the motion on the second claim.  Furthermore, Vice Chancellor Parsons dismissed Plaintiffs’ claim that HIG aided and abetted the Board’s breaches of fiduciary duties, stating that even if there was a predicate breach of fiduciary duties by the Board, the Plaintiffs only allege conclusory facts that do not support a claim that HIG participated in those breaches.

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In Re: Crimson Exploration Inc. Stockholder Litigation, C.A. No. 8541-VCP (October 24, 2014) (Parsons, V.C.)

By William Axtman and Ryan Drzemiecki

In Re: Crimson Exploration Inc. Stockholder Litigation involved a consolidated class action claim made by certain minority stockholders (“Plaintiffs”) of Crimson Exploration, Inc. (“Crimson”) challenging the completed acquisition of Crimson by Contango Oil & Gas Co. (“Contango”).  The transaction was structured as a stock-for-stock merger (the “Merger”), with the Crimson stockholders holding approximately 20.3 % of the combined entity following the merger and an exchange ratio representing a 7.7% premium based on the April 29, 2013 trading price of Contango common stock and Crimson common stock.  Plaintiffs also alleged that the members of Crimson’s Board of Directors (the “Directors”) and various entities affiliated with the investment management firm Oaktree Capital Management, L.P. (“Oaktree”) breached their respective fiduciary duties by selling Crimson below market value for self-serving reasons.  In total, Plaintiffs brought claims against Crimson, the Directors, Oaktree, Contango Acquisition, Inc. (the “Merger Sub”) and Contango (“Defendants”).

A major premise of Plaintiffs’ complaint is that Oaktree controlled Crimson and thereby had fiduciary duties to the minority stockholders of Crimson.  Oaktree owned roughly 33.7% of Crimson’s pre-Merger outstanding shares and a significant portion of Crimson’s $175 million Second Lien Credit Agreement, which Contango agreed to payoff after the signing of the Merger, including a 1% prepayment fee (the “Prepayment”).  Also, in connection with the Merger, Oaktree negotiated to receive a Registration Rights Agreement (the “RRA”) so that it had the option to sell its stock in the post-Merger combined entity through a private placement.

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