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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Francis S. Branin, Jr. v. Stein Roe Investment Counsel, LLC, et al, the Court of Chancery considered whether Plaintiff’s claim for indemnification for expenditures related to litigation that had begun in 2002, but not was resolved with finality until 2012, was time-barred. The Court concluded that the statute of limitations on Branin’s indemnification claim did not begin to run until the underlying litigation was resolved, and thus his claim was timely. The Court granted Branin’s motion to strike Defendants’ affirmative defenses and granted his motion for summary judgment on Defendants’ obligation to indemnify him. The Court also found that Branin was entitled to prejudgment simple interest at the statutory legal rate, as well as fees incurred in successfully prosecuting his indemnification claim.
After Plaintiff Francis S. Branin, Jr. (“Branin” or the “Plaintiff”) resigned from Bessemer Trust, N.A. (“Bessemer”) on July 12, 2002, he began working for Defendant Stein Roe Investment Counsel LLC (“SRIC LLC”). On November 22, 2002, Bessemer sued Branin for improperly soliciting its clients and impairing its goodwill in violation of a New York implied covenant (“New York Action”). In 2012, after a decade of litigation, Branin successfully defended against all claims. On April 17, 2013, Branin turned to the Court to enforce a purported indemnification right against SRIC LLC, Stein Roe Investment Counsel, Inc., and Atlantic Trust Group, Inc. (collectively, the “Defendants”).
This case involves a plaintiff who sought advancement for his legal fees and expenses in connection with insider trading charges. In opining on the defendant’s motion to dismiss or stay the action and the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, the Court considered various issues, including the four-factor analysis of McWane and the difference between advancement and indemnification.
Nipro Diagnostics, Inc. (“Nipro”), the defendant, acquired Home Diagnostics, Inc. (“HDI”) on March 15, 2010. Soon after the merger, the SEC began an investigation of George H. Holley (“Holley”), the founder and chairman of HDI and the plaintiff in this case, for suspicious trading in HDI stock around the time of the merger announcement (the “SEC Investigation”). On May 20, 2010, Holley requested that HDI advance his expenses in the SEC Investigation, and executed an undertaking (required with any advancement) promising to repay HDI for any advanced expenses if it were ultimately determined that Holley was not entitled to indemnification. From June 2010 to November 2010, Nipro advanced Holley’s expenses relating to the SEC Investigation. On January 13, 2011, the SEC commenced an action against Holley for violating federal securities laws by disclosing information about the merger (the “SEC Action”). On February 4, 2011, Holley was indicted in the U.S. District Court for the State of New Jersey for insider trading (the “Criminal Action”). On August 19, 2011, the New Jersey U.S. Attorney’s Office obtained a stay of the SEC Action. Holley eventually pled guilty to two counts of insider trading in the Criminal Action.
This case involves a claim for advancement of legal fees by plaintiff Scott Pontone (“Pontone”), a director and officer of two Delaware corporations, based on indemnification and expense advancement provisions of the corporations’ bylaws. Faced with both a motion to dismiss for lack of standing and Pontone’s motion for summary judgment, the Court granted in part and denied in part the motion to dismiss, and granted partial summary judgment in Pontone’s favor with respect to advancement of certain legal fees and expenses. The Court also found that Pontone was entitled to advancement as to 75% of his “fees on fees” in prosecuting this action.
Pontone was the Vice President of Old Milso, a New York regional casket manufacturer, when it was acquired by The York Group, Inc. (“York”) in 2005. After the acquisition, Pontone served as a director and Executive Vice President of Both York and the successor entity Milso Industries Corporation (“New Milso”) until 2007. In May 2010, Pontone entered into a consulting arrangement with a competitor, Batesville Casket Company (“Batesville”). In August 2010, York and New Milso instituted an action in a federal court in Pennsylvania (the “Underlying Action”) against Pontone and Batesville alleging that they engaged in a wrongful scheme to induce several employees and many of their most lucrative customers to switch to Batesville. The Underlying Action is still ongoing.