Topic: Indemnification

Chancery Court Reaffirms Protection of Mandatory Advancement Rights

By: David Forney and Rich Minice

In Nielsen v. EBTH Inc., C.A. No. 2019-0164-MTZ (Del. Ch. Sep. 30, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery reaffirmed its standard favoring advancement of expenses to officers or directors of a company where the corporation provides mandatory advancement rights either by its certificate of incorporation (“Charter”) or separate indemnification agreements. The court granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs because they (i) either used their corporate powers or such powers were necessary for the commission of the alleged misconduct in the underlying action; or (ii) the alleged misconduct in the underlying action is inextricably intertwined with the actions taken in the plaintiffs’ former capacities as officers or directors, such that the plaintiffs would necessarily be required to disprove allegations that they acted improperly as such. Advancement is appropriate when either of the two prongs for this nexus test are met.

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INDEMNIFICATION PROVIDED FOR SUCCESS ON THE MERITS, EVEN IF ON A TECHNICALITY

By: C.J. Voss and Rich Minice

In Brown v. Rite Aid Corp., C.A. No. 2017-0480-MTZ (Del. Ch. May 24, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery granted the motion for partial summary judgment of plaintiff Franklin Brown (“Brown”), entitling Brown to indemnification by defendant Rite Aid Corporation (“Rite Aid”) for legal fees and expenses Brown incurred in proceedings arising out of a corporate fraud and accounting scandal in 2002. The court re-affirmed the principles that mandatory indemnification is dependent strictly on the outcome of the underlying action and that the “indemnitee need not be adjudged innocent in some ethical or moral sense,” a defendant need not pursue victory efficiently, and that indemnification is based on the reason by which a defendant is party to the action.

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Words Matter: Chancery Court Holds that Indemnification Provision in Equity Purchase Agreement Does Not Cover Advancement of Expenses for Officer Conduct Unauthorized by the Board

By: Annette Becker and Adrienne Wimberly

In Computer Science Corporation v. Eric Pulier, et al., C.A. No. 11011-CB (Del. Ch. June 27, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery denied Plaintiff Computer Sciences Corporation’s (“CSC”) motion for partial summary judgement seeking to recover a portion of funds advanced to a former officer of ServiceMesh, Inc. (an entity CSC had acquired) for legal expenses incurred in defending a separate action. The Court held that based on its interpretation of the plain language of the indemnification provision in the relevant acquisition agreement that the indemnification provision was not broad enough to encompass the advancement of legal expenses in question.

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COURT OF CHANCERY HOLDS THAT MEMBER OF LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY IS ENTITLED TO ADVANCEMENT WHILE DEFENDING A LAWSUIT IN ITS “OFFICIAL CAPACITY”

By Scott E. Waxman and Frank J. Mazzucco

In Freeman Family LLC v. Park Avenue Landing LLC, C.A. No. 2018-0683-TMR (Del. Ch. April 30, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery (the “Court”) held that a member of a limited liability company, in defending a lawsuit in its “official capacity” brought by the company’s managing member, was entitled to advancement of litigation expenses under the company’s operating agreement.

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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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MANDATORY INDEMNIFICATION PROVIDED UNDER BYLAWS TO AGENT DUE TO ACTIONS TAKEN ON COMPANY’S BEHALF

By: Annette BeckerRich Minice

In Fred L. Pasternack v. Northeastern Aviation Corp., C.A. No. 12082-VCMR (Del. Ch. Nov. 9, 2018), the Delaware Court of Chancery awarded mandatory indemnification for legal expenses and fees-on-fees to Fred Pasternack (“Pasternack”), a former pilot for Northeastern Aviation Corp. (“Northeastern”) under Northeastern’s Bylaws (the “Bylaws”) because he was determined to be an agent of Northeastern when attending a random drug test to maintain his pilot certification.

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Chancery Court Holds that Party Seeking Indemnification under Contract Procedure Loses Ability to Claim Excused Performance due to Material Breach

By Christopher J. Voss and Michael C. Payant

In Post Holdings, Inc., et al. v. NPE Seller Rep LLC, et al., Chancellor Andre G. Bouchard granted defendant NPE Seller Rep LLC’s (“Seller Representative”) motion for judgment on the pleadings on its counterclaim seeking payment of tax refunds and insurance proceeds allegedly owing under a stock purchase agreement (the “Agreement”). In rendering its decision, the Court concluded that once a party has made a contractual indemnification demand based on a counterparty’s alleged material breach, such party cannot rely on the same breach to excuse non-performance of its own obligations under the contract. The Court also found that unliquidated indemnification claims could not be the basis for an offset of amounts owed in the absence of contract language to the contrary.

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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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COURT OF CHANCERY CONSTRUES INDEMNIFICATION CLAUSES FOR LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY OFFICERS

By: Scott Waxman and Michael Bill

In Meyers et al. v. Quiz-Dia LLC et al., No. 9878-VCL (Del. Ch. June 6, 2017), the Court of Chancery, entered a summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs entitling them to indemnification from Quizmark LLC (“Quizmark”) and QCE Gift Card LLC (“QCE Gift Card”). The Chancery Court also determined that the plaintiffs were not entitled to indemnification from Quiz-Dia LLC (“Quiz-Dia”).

The plaintiffs, Greg MacDonald (“MacDonald”) and Dennis Smyth (“Smyth”), were officers of the principal operating entity of Quiznos, QCE LLC (“OpCo”), and claim to have been officers of all of OpCo’s subsidiaries, including Quizmark, QCE Gift Card, and Quiz-Dia (collectively, the “Subs”). By 2012, various investment funds (the “Funds”) had accumulated substantial positions in OpCo’s debt and OpCo was having difficulty operating its business. This granted the Funds the power to declare a default under OpCo’s loan agreements. To neutralize the threat of default, OpCo entered into a complex restructuring transaction which transferred the ultimate ownership of OpCo and its subsidiaries to the Funds (the “Restructuring”). MacDonald and Smythe left Quiznos shortly thereafter.

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Chancery Court Cites Inelegant Drafting When Allowing an Indemnification Claim to Proceed

By Whitney Smith and Dean Brazier

In EMSI Acquisition, Inc. v. Contrarian Funds, LLC, et al., C.A. No. 12648-VCS (Del. Ch. May 3, 2017) the Delaware Chancery Court denied a motion to dismiss brought by defendants who were sellers (“Sellers”) in the acquisition of EMSI Holding Company (“EMSI”) by an affiliate of private equity firm Beecken Petty O’Keefe & Company where “inelegant drafting” created an ambiguity that may make the Sellers liable for EMSI’s fraudulent representations and warranties.  To reach this conclusion, the Court considered whether the provisions of the Stock Purchase Agreement (“SPA”) permitted the plaintiff (“Buyer”) to seek indemnification beyond the cap on liability and, if so, whether the Sellers could be liable for the allegedly fraudulent representations and warranties from EMSI.  The Court concluded that the SPA contained conflicting provisions with interpretations that could reasonably support either party’s claims and the conflicts could not be resolved on a motion to dismiss.

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Chancery Court Reaffirms Liberal Interpretation of Mandatory Indemnification Statute, Grants Summary Judgment in Favor of Former CFO

By:  Megan Wotherspoon and Tami Mack

In Horne v. OptimisCorp, C.A. No. 12268-VCS (Del. Ch. March 3, 2017) the Chancery Court granted plaintiff William Horne’s motion for summary judgment, holding that his demand for indemnification of fees and costs he incurred in connection with the successful defense of a case brought by defendant OptimisCorp against him and others were reasonable on their face.   The Court granted summary judgment in favor of a plaintiff, awarding in excess of $1 million in litigation fees and expenses incurred in the underlying action and in connection with the prosecution of the indemnification action, and interest on such amounts.

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Chancery Court Enforces LLC Agreement’s Forum Selection Clause in Fee Advancement Claim

By: Scott Waxman and Mark Hammes

In Merinoff v. Empire Merchants, C.A. No. 12920-VCS (Del. Ch. Feb. 2, 2017), the Court of Chancery held that a forum selection clause in the LLC agreement of Empire Merchants, LLC (“Empire”) precluded an action by the managers and officers of Empire to obtain advancement of legal fees from being brought in the Delaware Court of Chancery.

Plaintiff officers and managers of Empire were defendants in a separate action brought by Empire in New York alleging that they carried out a massive and long running bootlegging scheme to illegally divert wine and spirits from Maryland into New York. Plaintiffs filed a claim in the Delaware Court of Chancery asserting that Empire’s LLC Agreement entitled them to advancement of legal fees that they would incur in defending that action. Empire asserted that its LLC agreement required such claims to be brought in New York and moved to dismiss under Court of Chancery Rule 12(b)(3) for improper venue.

The Court first recited the plain language of Empire’s LLC agreement, which provided that “any suit, action, or other legal proceeding arising out of this Agreement shall be brought in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York or in any courts of the state of New York sitting in the Borough of Manhattan….” It further included a carve-out stating that “[n]otwithstanding the foregoing, any legal proceeding arising out of this Agreement which, under [Delaware’s Limited Liability Company] Act or, to the extent made applicable to the Company pursuant to this Agreement, the DGCL, is required to be brought in the Delaware Court of Chancery may only be brought in the Delaware Court of Chancery….”

The Court then explained that the Delaware Limited Liability Company Act does not contain any provisions regarding venue for claims relating to advancement of fees, but the DGCL, in § 145, states that the Delaware Court of Chancery shall have “exclusive jurisdiction” to hear such claims with respect to corporations. Plaintiffs argued that since the Empire LLC agreement incorporated certain terms from the DGCL, the carve-out in the Empire LLC agreement applied and they were required to bring this action in Delaware.

The Court rejected plaintiff’s arguments for two reasons. First, the portions of the DGCL incorporated into Empire’s LLC agreement related only to the standards for duties owed by managers and officers to Empire, not to advancement of fees. Second, even if the DGCL were applicable to plaintiff’s advancement claims, the statutory grant of “exclusive jurisdiction” to the Delaware Court of Chancery merely allocates jurisdiction among the Delaware courts, it does not constitute a “claim against the world that no court outside of Delaware can exercise jurisdiction….” Because this action therefore could have been brought elsewhere, it did not fall into the carve-out, which only captures actions “required” to be brought in Delaware. Thus the Court granted Empire’s motion to dismiss for improper venue.

Merinoff v. Empire Merchants C.A. No. 12920-VCS (Del. Ch. Ct. February 2, 2017)

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