In Charles F. Dolan v. Altice USA, Inc. et al., Case No. 2018-0651-JRS (Del. Ch. June 27, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery address Defendants’ 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss filed in response to the Plaintiff’s complaint containing the following six causes of action: (i) breach of contract, (ii) breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, (iii) equitable fraud, (iv) promissory estoppel, (v) negligent misrepresentation, and (vi) declaratory relief. Defendants include telecommunications and media companies Altice USA, Inc. and Altice Europe N.V. (collectively, “Altice”). Additionally, Plaintiffs named as nominal defendants Cablevision Systems Corporation (“Cablevision”) and News 12 Networks, LLC (“News12”). Plaintiffs include members of the Dolan family, the controlling shareholders of Cablevision and News12 prior to the sale of those companies to Altice. The Court denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss on the Dolan family’s claims for breach of contract, promissory estoppel, and declaratory relief and granted the motion pertaining to the claims for breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, equitable fraud, and negligent misrepresentation. (1)Read More
In Howland v. Kumar, C.A. no. 2018-0804-KSJM, the Delaware Chancery Court issued a Memorandum Opinion under Chancery Rule 12(b)(6) denying a motion to dismiss claims of breach of fiduciary duty and unjust enrichment on the basis that the defendants repriced stock options that they held immediately prior to making a public announcement that was sure to increase the stock price. The Court also ruled under Chancery Rule 23.1 that the plaintiff adequately plead demand excusal. Thomas S. Howland, Jr. (“Plaintiff”), a stockholder of Anixa Biosciences, Inc. (“Anixa”), brought two derivative claims against Anixa and its directors and officers. The Anixa board of directors consisted of Chairman, President, and CEO Amit Kumar (“Kumar”), Lewis H. Titterton, Jr. (“Titterton”), Arnold M. Baskies (“Baskies”), John Monahan (“Monahan”), and David Cavalier (“Cavalier”). The officers included Kumar, John A. Roop (“Roop”), Michael J. Catelani (“Catelani”) and Anthony Campisi (“Campisi”, collectively, “Individual Defendants,” and, collectively with Anixa, “Defendants”).Read More
In AlixPartners, LLP v. Benichou, (C.A. No. 2018-0600-KSJM (Del. Ch. May 10, 2019)), the Court of Chancery decided, as a matter of first impression, that the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”) narrowly provides a cause of action in Delaware for unauthorized computer access or unauthorized access to information; it does not cover incidents involving misuse of information that was obtained through authorized access.Read More
In Coca-Cola Beverages Florida Holdings, LLC v. Goins, the Court of Chancery granted in part and denied in part a motion to dismiss a claim for breach of the implied contractual covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and, in so doing, found that the discretion afforded to a Delaware limited liability company under an agreement was required to be exercised in good faith. In addition, the Court analyzed a motion to dismiss claims for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, quantum meruit, and fraud.Read More
In Aron English and Richard Peppe v. Charles K. Narang, et al., C.A. No. 2018-0221-AGB (Del. Ch. March 20, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery (the “Court”) dismissed a stockholder suit against the board members of NCI, Inc., a publicly-traded company (the “Company”), for failure to state a claims for relief in connection with allegations of breach of fiduciary duty, and against H.I.G. Capital, LLC (“HIG”) for aiding and abetting such breach during a sale of the Company to HIG. The Court held that the controlling stockholder’s alleged need for liquidity was not sufficient to compel review of the Company sale under an “entire fairness” standard, and that the vote of stockholders approving the sale was fully informed.Read More
In Coyne v. Fusion Healthworks, LLC Civil Action No. 2018-0011-MTZ (Del. Ch. April 30, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery denied a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim (the “Motion”) filed by Fusion Healthworks, LLC (the “LLC”), James Sheehan with his personal medical practice, and Andrew Lietzke, with his personal medical practice (collectively, the “Defendants”). In denying the Motion, the court reiterated the standing principal that, when presented with a contractual ambiguity, dismissal at the motion to dismiss stage is only appropriate “if the defendants’ interpretation [of the ambiguity] is the only reasonable construction as a matter of law.” Coyne highlights the critical nature of competent drafting of LLC Agreements.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
In CHC Investments, LLC v. FirstSun Capital Bancorp, C.A. No. 2018-0610-KSLM (Del. Ch. January 24, 2019), the Court of Chancery (the “Court”), in a motion to dismiss, found that CHC Investments, LLC’s (“CHC” and “Plaintiff”) pending plenary claims rendered CHC’s purpose for demanding inspection corporate books and records pursuant to Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporate Law (“Section 220”) improper, and granted FirstSun Capital Bancorp’s (“FirstSun” and “Defendant”) motion to dismiss.Read More
by David L. Forney and Tom Sperber
In Klein v. H.I.G. Capital, L.L.C., et. al, C.A. No. 2017-0862-AGB, the Delaware Chancery Court issued a Memorandum Opinion granting in part and denying in part a motion to dismiss under Court of Chancery Rule 23.1 for failing to make a demand and under Court of Chancery Rule 12(b)(6) for failing to state a claim of relief. Melvyn Klein (“Plaintiff”), a stockholder of Surgery Partners, Inc. (“SP”), brought direct and derivative claims against one of SP’s directors Michael Doyle (“Doyle”), SP’s controlling stockholder H.I.G. Capital, L.L.C. (“HIG”), and Bain Capital Private Equity, LP (“Bain”) (collectively, “Defendants”), alleging breaches of fiduciary duty against Defendants stemming from three interdependent transactions that were allegedly conflicted and unfair. The Court found that demand was futile because the Plaintiff sufficiently alleged that the board was interested, and found that Plaintiff stated claims for breach of fiduciary and aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty by HIG and Bain, respectively, because Defendants failed to show that the conflicted transactions were entirely fair.
The board of directors of SP (the “Board”) approved, and SP entered into, three transactions on May 9, 2017 (the “Transactions”). The Transactions consist of: (1) SP acquiring National Surgical Healthcare for $760 million; (2) HIG selling its shares of SP to Bain at a price of $19 per share; and (3) SP issuing to Bain 310,000 shares of a new class of stock of SP at a price of $1,000 per share. These transactions were interrelated and dependent on each other; if one fell through, the others would fail as well. The Board approved the Transactions without a special committee and with no publicly disclosed abstentions. No public stockholders voted on the transactions as HIG approved each by written consent as majority stockholder. Bain and SP used the same law firm and accounting firm to represent them during negotiations. Once the Transactions were finalized, Bain was SP’s controlling stockholder.
Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging eight claims. Of those claims, four were pled directly and four were pled derivatively. Each direct claim had a corresponding derivative claim. Counts I and V asserted claims for breach of fiduciary duty against the Board of LP (all of whom were dropped from the complaint except for Doyle) for entering into the Transactions without ensuring that the share issuance to Bain was entirely fair. Counts II and VI were claims for breach of fiduciary duty against Bain and HIG for entering into a conflicted transaction in the share issuance to Bain. Counts III and VII alleged claims of breach of fiduciary duty against HIG, in the alternative, as the sole controlling stockholder for entering into the conflicted transaction. Lastly, Counts IV and VIII asserted that Bain aided and abetted breaches of fiduciary duty by HIG and Doyle.
In deciding Defendants’ motion to dismiss, the Court first turned to whether Counts I-IV were properly brought as direct claims. The Court observed that the claims brought by Plaintiff constitute “a classic form of an ‘overpayment’ claim,” which must normally be pled derivatively. Plaintiff, however, argued that his claim resembles the claim brought in Gentile v. Rosette, where the Delaware Supreme Court recognized a situation where a corporate overpayment claim implicated both direct and derivative injury. The Court, in rejecting Plaintiff’s argument, cited several subsequent Delaware cases that limited the holding in Gentile to its facts and applied it only where the challenged transaction resulted in an improper transfer of both economic value and voting power from the minority stockholders to the controlling stockholder. The Court also observed that not only was Bain not yet the controlling stockholder before the share issuance, but that even if it was, its increase in voting power would not have been so great as to have triggered the Gentile rule. Furthermore, the Court pointed to the structure of the share issuance for the proposition that common stockholders’ shares will only be diluted if and when Bain converts its preferred shares into common stock. Ultimately, the Court found that Plaintiff’s claims could not be brought directly, and therefore dismissed Counts I-IV.
The Court next turned to the question of whether Plaintiff was excused from making demand on the Board on the basis of demand futility. In assessing Plaintiff’s futility allegation, the Court applied the test articulated in Aronson v. Lewis, under which a Plaintiff must “provide particularized factual allegations that raise a reasonable doubt that (1) the directors are disinterested and independent [or] (2) the challenged transaction was otherwise the product of a valid exercise of business judgment.” Of the Board’s seven members, Plaintiff conceded that two were disinterested, while Defendants conceded that three were interested. The Court, therefore, was tasked with determining whether either of the two remaining directors, Doyle and Brent Turner, were conflicted. The Court found that the complaint raised a reasonable doubt as to whether Doyle could make decisions regarding the Transactions independently by alleging that SP engaged him in a consulting agreement that paid him more per month than he made as SP’s CEO. On that basis, the Court found that Plaintiff had properly alleged that making demand on the board was futile.
Once the Court determined that demand was excused, it addressed the merits of Plaintiff’s remaining claims (V-VIII). First, the Court turned to Count VI, which argued in the alternative that Bain and HIG had breached fiduciary duties by acting as a “control group.” The Court dispatched Plaintiff’s argument quickly by pointing out that there was never any allegation that Bain owned any stock, let alone a controlling percentage of stock, prior to the Transactions. Ultimately, the Court dismissed Count VI for failing to state a claim.
The Court then examined Count VII, in which Plaintiff alleged that HIG breached its fiduciary duty by issuing the new shares to Bain. The Court determined that entire fairness was the proper standard of review, observing that that standard is triggered when a controlling stockholder effectuates a conflicted transaction. The Court determined that HIG was conflicted in entering into the issuance of new shares to Bain because that transaction was a condition precedent to HIG’s sale of its own shares to Bain. Entire fairness is an onerous standard for a defendant to overcome, requiring the controlling stockholder to “show, conclusively, that the challenged transaction was entirely fair based solely on the allegations of the complaint and the documents integral to it.” Because Defendants failed to show entire fairness, the Court denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss Count VII.
Count VIII alleged that Bain aided and abetted HIG’s breach of fiduciary duty. The Court found that Plaintiff’s allegations that Bain was aware of its shared legal representation with HIG, as well as the interrelated nature of the three transactions, and the lack of a stockholder vote, inferred Bain’s “knowing participation” in HIG’s breach. The Court, therefore, denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss as to Count VIII.
Lastly, due to the inclusion of an exculpatory provision in SP’s certificate of incorporation, the Court dismissed Plaintiff’s Count V for failing to allege that Doyle acted in bad faith or had personal interest in the transactions.
In In re Tangoe, Inc. Stockholders Litigation, C.A. No. 2017-0650-JRS (Del. Ch. Nov. 20, 2018), the Delaware Court of Chancery denied the director defendants’ motion to dismiss the stockholder plaintiffs’ claim for breach of fiduciary duties on the basis that the stockholder vote approving the transaction was not informed and the defendants were therefore not entitled to business judgment rule deference at the pleading stage. The Court also found that the plaintiffs had adequately pled a breach of the fiduciary duty of loyalty against each of the director defendants, which would not be covered by the exculpatory clause in the company’s certificate of incorporation.Read More