Topic: Indemnification

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)

Chancery Court Reexamines the Limits of Indemnification of Corporate Directors, Officers, and Others

By: Susan Apel and Benjamin Kendall

In Dore v. Sweports, Ltd., C.A. No. 10513-VCL (Del. Ch. January 31, 2017), plaintiffs John A. Dore, Michael J. O’Rourke, and Michael C. Moody (together, “Plaintiffs”) sought indemnification under the Delaware General Corporation Law (“DGCL”) and corporate bylaws, for expenses incurred in connection with three legal proceedings that occurred in Illinois, as well as those incurred enforcing their indemnification rights in Delaware.

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Delaware Chancery Court Refers Issues of Arbitrability to Arbitrator in Officer Indemnification and Advancement Dispute

By: Shoshannah Katz and James Parks

In Meyers, et al. v. Quiz-Dia LLC, et al., C.A. No. 9878-VCL (Del. Ch. Ct. December 2, 2016), the Chancery Court referred the issue of arbitrability with respect to certain indemnification claims made by former officers of the Quiznos family of companies pursuant to their employment agreements to arbitration and stayed the proceedings as to those claims, while refusing to grant a stay of the proceedings with respect to separate claims for indemnification and advancement arising under a range of other agreements.

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Advance the Rupees, Please: Sutherland Global Holdings Must Advance Former-Director’s Legal Fees Related to Failed Land Deal in India

By: Joanna Diakos Kordalis and Jonathan Miner

In Narayanan v. Sutherland Global Holdings C.A. No. 11757-VCMR (Del. Ch. July 5, 2016), Vice Chancellor Montgomery-Reeves of the Delaware Chancery Court held, in a post-trial opinion, that the bylaws of Sutherland Global Holdings, Inc. (“Sutherland”) and an indemnification agreement between Sutherland and Plaintiff Muthu Narayanan (“Plaintiff”) are disjunctive and must be read separately, allowing Plaintiff to prevail on his claim for advancement of legal fees and expenses.

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Delaware Chancery Court Awards Advancement of Fees in Connection with Post-Merger Indemnification Claims

By: Scott E. Waxman and Sophia Lee Shin

In Joel Z. Hyatt and Albert A. Gore, Jr. v. Al Jazeera America Holdings II, LLC and Al Jazeera International (USA) Inc., the Delaware Court of Chancery reviewed a motion for summary judgment in connection with a dispute regarding the advancement of fees for the litigation of various post-merger indemnification claims. The Chancery Court held that the plaintiffs were entitled to advancement for certain claims, but not for others, depending on whether the underlying facts of each claim required the plaintiffs to defend their actions as former officers or directors.

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Chancery Court Finds Non-Reliance Language Insufficient to Bar Extra-Contractual Fraud Claims

By Lisa Stark and Mark Hammes

In FdG Logistics v. A&R Logistics, C.A. No. 9706-CB (Del. Ch. Feb. 23, 2016), the Court of Chancery held that a non-reliance provision contained in a merger agreement was ineffective to bar a buyer’s fraud claims based on extra-contractual statements made during the due diligence and negotiation process because the non-reliance provision was formulated solely as a limitation on the seller’s representations and warranties.  According to the Court, for a non-reliance provision to be effective against a buyer, it must be formulated as an affirmative promise by the buyer that it did not rely on any extra-contractual statements made by the seller during the sales process.  The decision clarifies the Court of Chancery’s 2015 decision in Prairie Capital III, L.P. v. Double E Holding Corp., C.A. No. 10127-VCL (Del. Ch. Nov. 24, 2015) in which the Court emphasized that “no magic words” are required for a non-reliance provision to be effective.

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CHANCERY COURT GRANTS SUMMARY JUDGMENT FOR ADVANCEMENTS OF FEES AND EXPENSES

By Eric Feldman and Michael Bill

On a motion for summary judgment in Marino v. Patriot Rail, the Delaware Court of Chancery confirmed, under Section 145 of the Delaware General Corporation Law (the “DGCL), that the advancement rights of officers and directors of a Delaware corporation, acting in their capacity as such, (i) continue after they leave office with respect to actions taken while in office, (ii) cannot be amended or eliminated retroactively unless the source of such rights provides otherwise, and (iii) do not apply to actions taken after an officer or director leaves office.

The case involves an underlying action that took place in a California court between Patriot Rail Company LLC (the “Company”) and Sierra Railroad Company (“Sierra”) which ended in favor of Sierra. Sierra moved to amend the judgment to add, among others, Gary Marino, the former Chairman, President and CEO of the Company, as a judgment debtor (the “Post-Judgment Motion”).  The Company existed as a Delaware corporation until May 1, 2013, when it converted to a Delaware limited liability company.  Prior to the time of such conversion, on June 18, 2012, the Company, which was partially owned indirectly by Marino, had been sold to a third party and Marino resigned from all of his positions with the Company.  Marino asked the Company to advance the fees and expenses that he would incur to oppose Sierra’s Post-Judgment Motion, but the Company denied the request. Marino subsequently commenced this action seeking the advancements of attorneys’ fees and expenses; the Company answered, and the parties cross-moved for summary judgment.  As the Company was a Delaware corporation during the time that Marino was an officer and director of it, and the conversion did not affect the obligations or liabilities of the Company arising prior to its conversion, the organizational documents of the Company during the time in which it was a Delaware corporation and the DGCL were relevant to the advancement issues.

The Company’s certificate of incorporation stated: “This Corporation shall indemnify and shall advance expenses on behalf of its officers and directors to the fullest extent permitted by law in existence either now or hereafter.” Marino and the Company disagreed as to whether this language continued to cover Marino after he ceased being an officer or director of the Company against claims arising during his service.  Marino contended, and the Court agreed, that Marino remained covered for claims challenging the propriety of his actions taken while he was serving as an officer and director of the Company.  The Court looked at Section 145 of the DGCL—Delaware’s indemnification and advancement statute—because the Company’s certificate of incorporation contemplated advancement “to the fullest extent permitted by law.”  The Court paid particular attention to (i) Section 145(e), which authorizes advancements, (ii) Section 145(j), which addresses the extent to which a covered person’s indemnification and advancement rights continue after the person leaves their position, and (iii) Section 145(f), which restricts a corporation’s ability to alter the rights after a person has served in reliance upon them.

After looking at the statutory history of Section 145 and prior precedent, the Court determined that Section 145 allows a corporation to grant mandatory advancement rights to directors and officers that provide coverage conditioned solely on an undertaking (Section 145(e)). The granted rights continue to provide coverage for actions taken by individuals during their service, even after the individuals have ceased to serve, unless the governing provision clearly states otherwise (Section 145(j)).  And, unless the governing provision provides otherwise, the granted rights cannot be altered or eliminated retroactively with respect to prior actions, after a director or officer has already exposed themselves to potential suit by acting on the corporation’s behalf (Section 145(f)).  The Court noted that this structure is set up to “encourage capable men [and women] to serve as corporate directors” as they will be “secure in the knowledge that expenses incurred by them in upholding their honesty and integrity as directors will be borne by the corporation they serve.”

Thus, when Marino agreed to serve in a covered capacity, Marino became “entitled to receive mandatory indemnification and advancements to the fullest extent of Delaware law” as part of the consideration offered to him by the Company and was entitled to advancement for covered claims. The Court therefore found that Marino was entitled to receive advancement in the Sierra Post-Judgment Motion for actions taken by Marino during his service and in his capacity as a director or officer of the Company.

However, certain of the claims made by Sierra in the Post-Judgment Motion related to actions taken by Marino after he ceased serving as a director and officer of the Company and taken on behalf of himself or other entities which he directly or indirectly controlled. The Court found that Marino was not entitled to advancement with respect to any such claims.

Marino v. Patriot Rail, C.A. No. 11605-VCL (Del. Ch. February 29, 2015)

Chancery Court Denies Defendant Fund Manager’s Request to Pay Ongoing Legal Fees from Disputed Assets; Permits Payment of Administrative Fees Incurred in Completing Necessary SEC and Tax Filings

By Scott Waxman and Max Kaplan

By letter-order dated November 25, 2015, Vice Chancellor John W. Noble issued a “Status Quo Order” in Capital Link Fund I, LLC v. Capital Point Management, LP. By this order, the court approved disbursement of certain administrative fees sought by defendants from the assets in dispute, but denied defendants’ request to pay its legal fees from the same disputed assets.

Plaintiffs in this action are limited partners to an investment fund of which defendant Capital Point Management, LP (“CPMLP”) is the general partner. In July of 2014, CPMLP caused the partnership to sell all of its assets to defendant Princeton Capital Corporation (“Princeton Capital”)—a CPMLP affiliate. Plaintiffs allege that CPMLP, in violation of the controlling partnership agreement, did so without providing notice to or obtaining approval from the limited partners or the partnership’s Board of Advisors.

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Court of Chancery Reallocates Limited Liability Company Distributions According to Prior Agreements between the Parties

By Andrew Skouvakis and Thomas Meyer

In Finger Lakes Capital Partners, LLC v. Honeoye Lake Acquisition, LLC, the Court of Chancery held that proceeds from a limited liability company’s liquidity event distributed to the members of the limited liability company should be reallocated in accordance with prior agreements between the members. The Court found that an integration clause in the limited liability company agreement did not supersede allocation provisions in the prior agreements.

In 2003, Zubin Mehta and Gregory Shalov formed Finger Lakes Capital Partners, LLC (“Finger Lakes”) to sponsor investments in portfolio companies. Lyrical Partners, L.P. (“Lyrical”) provided the majority of the capital for these investments. In 2004, Mehta, Shalov, and Lyrical executed a binding term sheet (the “Term Sheet”) addressing the ongoing business relationship between Finger Lakes and Lyrical. Under the Term Sheet, Lyrical received a 25% ownership interest in Finger Lakes and was entitled to a percentage of portfolio company management fees that would otherwise go to Finger Lakes.

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