In In re PLX Technology, Inc. Stockholders Litigation, C.A. No. 9880-VCL (Del. Ch. October 16, 2018), the Delaware Chancery Court found that the actions of an activist stockholder in the context of a sale transaction aided and abetted the defendant board of directors in a breach of its fiduciary duty of disclosure but that there was insufficient evidence that the breach ultimately resulted in damages.
By: Annette Becker and Nolan Thomas
In Organovo Holdings, Inc., v. Georgi Dimitrov, C.A. No. 10536-VCL (Del. Ch. June 5, 2017), the Delaware Court of Chancery granted the defendant’s motion to vacate the entry of a default judgment entered against him, holding that the Court did not have subject matter jurisdiction over the case since the remedies sought by plaintiff were not equitable remedies that provided a basis for subject matter jurisdiction. The Court analyzed the means by which the Court of Chancery, a court of equity, could exercise subject matter jurisdiction over a case, and held that none of those existed in this case.
In Yu v. GSM Nation, LLC, C.A. No. 12293-VCMR (Del. Ch. July 7, 2017), the Court of Chancery dismissed the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Looking at the complaint holistically, the Court found plaintiff’s nominal pleading of equitable claims and relief insufficient to create jurisdiction where the alleged non-repayment of debt could be adequately remedied at law.
In Kurt Fox v. CDX Holdings, Inc. (f/k/a Caris Life Sciences, Inc.), C.A. No. 8031-VCL (Del. Ch. July 28, 2015), the Delaware Court of Chancery confirmed that Delaware’s merger statutes do not effect a statutory conversion of options at the effective time of a merger. Rather, the treatment of stock options in a merger is governed by the underlying stock option plan, which must be amended in connection with a merger if the treatment of options in the merger differs from the treatment contemplated by the plan. The Court also confirmed that a standard qualification in stock option plans, requiring a corporation’s board of directors to determine the fair market value of the option for purposes of cashing out the options, could not be satisfied by informal board action or a delegation to management or a third party.
This class action arose from a 2011 spin-off/merger transaction pursuant to which Miraca Holdings, Inc. (“Miraca”) acquired CDX Holdings, Inc. (formerly known as Caris Life Sciences, Inc.) (“Caris”) for $725 million (the “Merger”). Immediately prior to the Merger, Caris spun off two of its three subsidiaries to its stockholders (the “Spin-Off”). In the Merger, each share of Caris stock was converted into the right to receive $4.46 in cash. Each option was terminated with the right to receive the difference between $5.07 per share and the exercise price of the option, minus 8% of the total option proceeds, which were held back to fund an escrow account from which Miraca could satisfy indemnification claims brought post-closing.
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.
In Lake Treasure Holdings, Ltd., the plaintiffs, investors in a now-defunct start-up, Foundry Hill Holdings LP (the “Partnership”), sued the Partnership, one of its founders (Ulric Taylor (“Taylor”)), one of Taylor’s subsequent business partners (Christopher Klee (“Klee”)), and various other Partnership-related entities and operating subsidiaries for breach of fiduciary duty and aiding and abetting the breach of fiduciary duty, as well as under the Delaware Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (“DUFTA”) and Delaware Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“DUTSA”), in connection with a series of transactions whereby all of the assets of the Partnership were ultimately transferred to entities owned and/or controlled by Taylor and Klee.
Taylor controlled the Partnership through his control of the Partnership’s general partner. As a result, the Court initially found that Taylor owed fiduciary duties, including the duty of loyalty, to the Partnership and its limited partners. In analyzing the transactions at issue, the Court further found that Taylor stood on both sides of such transactions and that therefore the entire fairness standard applied in analyzing such transactions. In applying the entire fairness test, the Court held that Taylor had breached his duty of loyalty when he granted a security interest in all of the assets of the Partnership, including its primary asset, high frequency trading software, to Klee in exchange for a $28,000 loan from Klee to the Partnership. Prior to the $28,000 loan by Klee, Taylor and Klee had previously contemplated Klee purchasing the software for $500,000 with an enterprise valuation of $3 million. 3 months following the granting of the security interest, as foreseen by Taylor and Klee at the time the loan was made, the Partnership defaulted on the loan, Klee foreclosed on the security interest, and Taylor amicably surrendered all of the assets of the Partnership, including all interest in the software, to an entity controlled by Klee. The Court determined that Taylor and Klee “acted in concert to move the Partnership’s high frequency trading software out of the Partnership and into an entity where Taylor and Klee could enjoy its benefits.” Upon finding the fiduciary duty breach by Taylor, the Court then also found that Klee had aided and abetted such breach of fiduciary duty.
On July 14, 2014, Master in Chancery Kim E. Ayvazian issued her draft report in Kostyszn v. Martuscelli, a dispute between the purchasers (“Plaintiffs”) and sellers (“Defendants”) of Paciugo Gelato and Café (the “Business”), an ongoing business which Plaintiffs purchased in December 2011 for a purchase price of $272,500.00. According to Plaintiffs, their decision to purchase the Business and the purchase price were based on sales information provided to them by Defendants, as well as subsequent statements made by Defendants regarding, among other things, business earnings, on-site sales, catering sales and profits.
In August 2013, Plaintiffs commenced a lawsuit against Defendants in the Delaware Chancery Court alleging that this information and Defendants’ statements were false and misleading, and directly resulted in Plaintiffs both calculating a purchase price that was more than they otherwise would have been willing to pay for the Business and entering into a long-term lease exposing the assets of the Business to risk and the Plaintiffs to personal liability if the Business ultimately failed. In their amended complaint (the “Amended Complaint”), Plaintiffs asserted claims against Defendants for breach of contract, breach of warranty, indemnification, equitable fraud, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, intentional misrepresentation and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and sought indemnification and monetary damages from Defendants, as well as cancellation of the agreement to purchase the Business. Defendants moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint on grounds that the Chancery Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ claims. In her draft report, Master Ayvazian recommended that the Court dismiss Plaintiffs’ equitable claim (for equitable fraud) with prejudice, decline to apply the “clean up” doctrine to address Plaintiffs’ remaining legal claims and to allow Plaintiffs to transfer those remaining legal claims to a court of law.