Topic: Contract Interpretation

YES, WE HAVE NO ESTOPPEL: CHANCERY COURT RULES DERIVATIVE, DISMISSES DILUTED STOCKHOLDERS’ EX-TEXAS MERGER-RELATED CLAIMS

 By Remsen Kinne and Adrienne Wimberly

In Sheldon v. Pinto Technology Ventures, C.A. No. 2017-0838-MTZ (Del. Ch. Jan. 25, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery in a Memorandum Opinion granted a motion to dismiss breach of fiduciary duty claims and other allegations brought by the founder and an early stockholder (“Plaintiffs”) of non-party IDEV Technologies, Inc., a Delaware corporation (“IDEV”). The Court found that Plaintiffs’ primary claims were derivative, rejecting Plaintiffs’ assertion that Defendants were judicially estopped by a Texas state court ruling from arguing for that characterization of the claims, and dismissed the complaint for failure to comply with Chancery Court Rule 23.1’s derivative claims demand or demand futility pleading requirements.

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Delaware Chancery Court Rejects Fraud-Based and Uncapped Indemnification Claims of Great Hill Partners Against the Founders of Plimus

By:  Peter N. Flocos and Joanna Diakos

In a case arising out of the purchase by Great Hill Partners of Plimus (now known as BlueSnap, Inc.), the Delaware Court of Chancery, after a 10-day trial and extensive post-trial briefing and oral argument, recently rejected all of the fraud-based claims made by Great Hill against the two founders of Plimus, Messrs. Daniel Kleinberg and Tomer Herzog (the “founders”), who were also directors and major shareholders of Plimus at the time of the transaction. The Court’s decision in Great Hill Equity Partners IV, LP v. SIG Growth Equity Fund I, LLLP, No. 7906-VCG, 2018 WL 6311829 (Del. Ch. Dec. 3, 2018), is notable for its rejection of several claims Great Hill pressed for years after initiating the litigation in September 2012.

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Back to Basics: Delaware Court of Chancery Uses Contract Principles To Determine Dispute Involving Several Provisions of a LLC Agreement

By: Scott E. Waxman and former Associate Rashida Stevens

The Delaware Court of Chancery (“Court”) applied contract principles in interpreting a limited liability company (“LLC”) agreement to determine the impact of a written consent attempting to terminate the founder’s position as President and CEO in Matthew Godden and Tobias Bachteler (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) v. Harley V. Franco (“Franco”) C.A. No. 2018-0504-VCL (Del. Ch. August 21, 2018). The Court declined to grant fully the Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment because it was not clear whether or not the provisions of the LLC agreement governing the termination were satisfied.

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IN RULING ON MOTION TO DISMISS, CHANCERY COURT ALLOWS ADMISSION OF EXTRINSIC EVIDENCE TO RESOLVE AMBIGUITY IN PREFERRED STOCK CERTIFICATE OF DESIGNATIONS

By Michelle R. McCreery Repp and Stephanie A. Winkler

In Cedarview Opportunities Master Fund, L.P. v. Spanish Broadcasting System, Inc., CA No. 2017-0785-AGB (Del. Ch. Aug. 27, 2018), the Court of Chancery granted in part and denied in part the motion of Spanish Broadcasting System (“SBS” or the “Company”) to dismiss Plaintiffs’ claims, which were based on alleged breaches by the Company of its certificate of incorporation and certificate of designations for its preferred stock, under Court of Chancery Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim and Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of ripeness. In ruling on one aspect of the Company’s motion to dismiss, the Court notably held that the parties should be permitted to admit extrinsic evidence to resolve an ambiguity with respect to the terms governing preferred stock, and in doing so, expressly declined to apply two arguably conflicting principles historically used by Delaware courts in resolving such an ambiguity, the application of which would not necessitate or permit the admission of extrinsic evidence.

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CHANCERY COURT FINDS THAT LANGUAGE OF LIMITED PARTNERSHIP AGREEMENT GOVERNS WHICH CLAIMS SURVIVE SUMMARY JUDGMENT IN MASTER LIMITED PARTNERSHIP’S RELATED PARTY TRANSACTION

By Scott Waxman and Adrienne Wimberly

In Mesirov v. Enbridge Company, Inc., et al. C.A. No. 11314-VCS (Del. Ch. Aug.29, 2018), the Delaware Chancery Court dismissed five of eight counts alleged with respect to a transaction where Enbridge Energy Company (EEP) repurchased for $1 billion a two-thirds interest in Alberta Clipper Pipelines (AC interest), despite the fact that EEP had sold that same interest years prior for $800 million and the business had steadily declined since such sale.  The dismissals were based primarily upon the language and obligations included in EEP’s limited partnership agreement.

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Delaware Chancery Court Makes Groundbreaking “Material Adverse Effect” Finding Allowing Buyer to Terminate Merger Agreement

By: Peter Flocos, Lisa Stark, Rick Giovannelli and Mark Hammes

In a landmark decision, a Delaware court has, for what is widely believed to be the first time ever, found that a material adverse effect actually occurred in an acquisition transaction, giving the buyer a right to terminate the pending transaction.  In Akorn, Inc. v. Fresenius Kabi AG,[1] the Delaware Court of Chancery (the “Court”) held, following a trial, that the buyer properly terminated the parties’ merger agreement, due to such a material adverse effect between signing and closing, under the terms of the agreement and the pertinent Delaware case law.  Unlike prior decisions rejecting buyer material adverse effect claims,[2] the Court found that a pre-closing decline in the business of the target – Akorn – was not merely a “cyclical trend” and was likely to have a post-closing, durationally-significant effect that was “material when viewed from the longer-term perspective of a reasonable acquiror.”[3]  Although groundbreaking, the Akorn decision reflects that the Delaware courts will still approach the question of whether an MAE has occurred on a case-by-case basis and does not establish a particular “bright line” test.

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Chancery Court Enforces LLC Agreement, Further Demonstrating that LLCs are Creatures of Contract

By Scott E. Waxman and Priya Chadha

In A&J Capital, Inc. v. Law Office of Krug, C.A. No. 2018-0240-JRS (July 18, 2018), A&J Capital, Inc. (“A&J”) sought a declaratory judgment that it was improperly removed from its position as manager of LA Metropolis Condo, I LLC (the “Company”) because it was not given notice or an opportunity to be heard prior to removal.  Vice Chancellor Slights denied A&J’s motion for summary judgment, holding that A&J’s removal was proper under both the Company’s governing documents and common law.

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Court of Chancery Dismisses Fraud Claim for Alleged Extra-Contractual Misrepresentations Based on Anti-Reliance Clause

By: Claire S. White and Rachel P. Worth

In ChyronHego Corporation, et al., v. Cliff Wight and CFX Holdings, Inc., C.A. No. 2017-0548-SG (Del. Ch. July 31, 2018), the Delaware Court of Chancery granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claim for extra-contractual fraud on the basis that the stock purchase agreement contained an effective anti-reliance clause that precluded such claim. The Court found that the anti-reliance clause rebutted the common law fraud element of reliance on any extra-contractual representations, as described further below.  At the same time, the Court dismissed the defendants’ motion to dismiss claims for fraud and breaches of express representations and warranties under the stock purchase agreement, finding that the plaintiffs had sufficiently pleaded the elements of these claims.

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Chancery Court Denies Motion to Dismiss a Breach of Contract Claim Based on Language in Limited Partnership Agreement

By: Scott E. Waxman and Stephanie S. Liu

In Ms. Mary Giddings Wenske, et al. v. Blue Bell Creameries, Inc., et al., the Delaware Chancery Court denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss a breach of contract claim, finding that Plaintiffs had pled a set of facts that allow a reasonable inference that Defendants breached the standards set forth in its partnership agreement.

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CHANCERY COURT FINDS REQUEST FOR SPECIFIC ENFORCEMENT OF A PARTNERSHIP INTEREST CALL RIGHT IS PROVED BY CLEAR AND CONVINCING EVIDENCE

By Scott E. Waxman and Joseph Phelps

In Simon-Mills II, LLC v. Kan Am USA XVI Ltd. Partnership, No. 8520-VCG (Del. Ch. May 30, 2018), the plaintiffs, a number of entities organized under an umbrella real estate investment trust and referred to as “Simon,” sought specific performance of a call right applicable to partnership interests under a joint venture agreement (the “JVA”) with the defendant Kan Am, a group of Delaware limited partnerships.  In exchange for the called units, Simon proposed to issue to Kan Am units (the “Successor Units”) that it argued had “substantially the same” rights as the originally contemplated consideration units (the “Original Units”).  The Court of Chancery concluded that the Successor Units did indeed have “substantially the same” rights as the Original Units, within the meaning of the JVA, and that Simon proved by clear and convincing evidence that it was entitled to specific performance of the call right. Read More

Chancery Court Applies Contract Terms to Clarify Difference Between Void and Voidable Stock Issuances

By Jessica Pearlman and Jonathan Miner

Southpaw Credit Opportunity Master Fund, L.P. v. Roma Restaurant Holdings, Inc., C.A. No. 2017-0059-TMR (Del. Ch. Feb. 1, 2018) came before the Delaware Court of Chancery as a dispute over control of the board of directors of Roma Restaurant Holdings, Inc. (“Roma” or the “Company”). Plaintiffs were a stockholder group that had taken a majority position in Roma’s common stock. After learning of Plaintiffs’ majority position, the Roma board adopted a new equity compensation plan and issued sufficient shares of restricted stock to Roma employees to dilute Plaintiffs below a majority ownership position. Plaintiffs considered the dilutive restricted stock issuances as invalid for a number of reasons, including the Company’s failure to obtain contractually mandated stockholder agreement joinder documents from each recipient before issuance, and presented Roma with a written consent that removed two of Roma’s current directors (the “Defendant Directors”) and replaced them with Plaintiffs’ nominees. Roma contested the validity of Plaintiffs’ written consent and the case came before the Court under Section 225 of the Delaware General Corporation Law (DGCL) to determine the proper composition of Roma’s board of directors. Vice Chancellor Montgomery-Reeves found that the disputed restricted stock issuances were void and could not be counted toward a stockholder vote.

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Director’s Breach of Contract Lawsuit Found to Violate the Underlying Contract’s Confidentiality Clause

By: David Forney and Benjamin Kendall

In Cappella Holdings, LLC v. Anderson, C.A. No. 9809-VCS (Del. Ch. Nov. 29, 2017), the Chancery Court dismissed a director’s breach of contract claims against his former employer relating to alleged violations of an anti-dilution provision in his employment agreement.  The Court instead found that the director’s initial complaint, which included highly sensitive information about the company, violated the confidentiality provision of the underlying contract on which his claims were based.

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