In Morris vs. Spectra Energy Partners (DE) GP, LP, the Court of Chancery of the State of Delaware found that a limited partner adequately pled that the general partner of a master limited partnership breached its contractual duty to act in good faith in connection with a conflicted transaction between the master limited partnership and the indirect parent of the general partner. The Court also dismissed claims for breach of the implied contractual covenant of good faith and fair dealing and tortious interference with a partnership agreement.
In Brinckerhoff v. Enbridge Energy Co., Inc., et al., C.A. No. 11314-VCS (April 29, 2016), the Delaware Court of Chancery reiterated its adherence to the principle stated in the Delaware Revised Uniform Limited Partnership Act (“DRULPA”) of giving “maximum effect to the principle of freedom of contract and to the enforceability of partnership agreements” as well as to the ability under DRULPA of parties to a limited partnership agreement to define their respective standards of care and scope of duties and liabilities, including to eliminate default fiduciary duties, and dismissed the plaintiff’s claims.
In Employees Retirement System of the City of St. Louis v. TC Pipelines GP, Inc., et al, (C.A. No. 11603-VCG), Vice Chancellor Glasscock granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss claims relating to the purchase of pipeline assets from the general partner’s parent. The Court of Chancery held that the transaction was “fair and reasonable” to the master limited partnership because it was approved by a special committee and that the general partner did not breach the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. In this case, the Court of Chancery reaffirmed parties’ abilities to contract freely when forming alternative entities such as a master limited partnership and confirmed that judicial review of such contractual terms is very limited.
The Chancery Court held that a plaintiff’s claim that a general partner was liable for breach of a limited partnership agreement, for which the general partner was previously found liable by the Chancery Court, was best viewed as a dual-natured claim. Dual-natured claims should be viewed as derivative for purposes of Chancery Court Rule 23.1 and the demand doctrine, but should be viewed as direct for purposes of claim termination after a merger that extinguished a limited partnership. Thus, the Chancery Court granted pro-rata recovery of a liability award for breach of a limited partnership agreement to limited partners who were not affiliated with the general partner at the time of the related-party merger that resulted in termination of the limited partnership.
The Chancery Court held that a general partner of a master limited partnership breached the entity’s limited partnership agreement by failing to act in the best interests of the entity and instead acting in a manner that benefited the parent of its general partner and increased distributions to the entity’s common unitholders. The Chancery Court focused on the general partner’s failure to consider lessons learned from a similar past transaction and the inadequacy of the financial advisor’s fairness opinion.
In In re: El Paso Pipeline Partners, L.P. Derivative Litigation, plaintiff challenged two transactions in which El Paso Corporation (“Parent”) sold to El Paso Pipeline Partners, L.P., a master limited partnership (“El Paso MLP”), its interest in two subsidiaries of Parent, Southern LNG Company, L.L.C. and Elba Express, L.L.C. (collectively, “Elba”). Both subsidiaries were engaged in the liquefied natural gas (“LNG”) business. Parent is the parent company of El Paso MLP’s general partner, El Paso Pipeline GP Company, L.L.C. (the “General Partner”); and thus, Parent exercised control over El Paso MLP through the General Partner. In the first transaction, in March 2010, Parent dropped-down a 51% interest in Elba to El Paso MLP for total consideration of $963 million (the “Spring Dropdown”). In the second transaction, in November 2010, Parent dropped-down to El Paso MLP the remaining 49% interest in Elba for at least $931 million and 15% of another Parent subsidiary, for total consideration of $1.412 billion (the “Fall Dropdown”).
In In re: El Paso Pipeline Partners L.P. Derivative Litigation, the Delaware Court of Chancery granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on claims for breach of contract and breach of the implied contractual covenant of good faith and fair dealing in connection with a conflicted transaction.
In March 2010, El Paso Pipeline Partners, L.P., a Delaware limited partnership that operates as a publicly traded master limited partnership (the “MLP”), purchased a 51% interest in two entities that owned certain liquid natural gas (“LNG”) assets (the “Drop-down”) from its parent corporation that “sponsored” the MLP, El Paso Corporation (the “Parent”). Parent also indirectly owned the general partner of the MLP, El Paso Pipeline GP, L.L.C. (the “General Partner”), giving it control over and an economic interest in the MLP. As a result, the proposed Drop-down created a conflict of interest for the General Partner.