In Coyne v. Fusion Healthworks, LLC Civil Action No. 2018-0011-MTZ (Del. Ch. April 30, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery denied a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim (the “Motion”) filed by Fusion Healthworks, LLC (the “LLC”), James Sheehan with his personal medical practice, and Andrew Lietzke, with his personal medical practice (collectively, the “Defendants”). In denying the Motion, the court reiterated the standing principal that, when presented with a contractual ambiguity, dismissal at the motion to dismiss stage is only appropriate “if the defendants’ interpretation [of the ambiguity] is the only reasonable construction as a matter of law.” Coyne highlights the critical nature of competent drafting of LLC Agreements.Read More
John Schnatter’s falling-out with Papa John’s, the company he founded in the back of his father’s bar in Louisville, Kentucky, has been highly publicized since the dispute began in late 2017. Now, the Delaware Court of Chancery has waded into the fray. In John Schnatter v. Papa John’s International, Inc., C.A. No. 2018-0542-AGB (Del. Ch. Jan. 15, 2019), the Court ruled in favor of Schnatter, granting his demand to inspect four categories of the Company’s books and records, subject to certain limitations and exclusions.Read More
By: Joanna Diakos and Tom Sperber
In City of Tamarac Firefighters’ Pension Trust Fund v. Corvi, et. al, C.A. No. 2017-0341-KSJM, the Delaware Chancery Court issued a Memorandum Opinion granting a motion to dismiss under Chancery Rule 23.1 for failing to prove that pre-litigation demand of the Board was wrongfully refused. The City of Tamarac Firefighters’ Pension Trust Fund (“Plaintiff”), a stockholder of United Continental Holdings, Inc., the owner and operator of United Airlines (collectively, “United”), brought derivative claims against United and its board of directors (the “Board”) (collectively with United, “Defendants”) demanding either a claw-back of an allegedly excessive separation compensation award or the rescission of the separation agreement altogether. The Court found that Plaintiff failed to plead particularized facts raising a reasonable doubt that Defendants acted with due care and in good faith in rejecting Plaintiff’s demand.Read More
In the consolidated stockholder derivative litigation, In re Fitbit, Inc., CA No. 2017-0402-JRS (Del. Ch. Dec. 14, 2018), the Delaware Court of Chancery denied the Defendants’ motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ insider trading and breach of fiduciary duty claims. The claims stem from alleged insider knowledge of members of Fitbit’s Board of Directors (the Board) and chief financial officer that Fitbit’s PurePulse™ technology was not as accurate as the company claimed. Plaintiffs alleged that members of the Board structured the company’s Initial Public Offering (IPO) and Secondary Offering (together, “the Offerings”) to benefit Fitbit insiders and voted to waive employee lock-up agreements, thereby allowing those insiders, to prematurely sell stock in the Secondary Offering. As a result of their sales, the alleged insiders sold about 6.2 million shares for over $115 million in the IPO and about 9.62 million shares for over $270 million in the Secondary Offering.Read More
In Tratado de Libre Commercio, LLC v. Splitcast Technology, LLC, C.A. No. 2019-0014-JRS (Del. Ch. Mar. 6, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery examined the requirements for perfecting service upon a dissolved limited liability company (“LLC”). In ruling that Tratado de Libre Commercio, LLC (“Tratado”) had failed to perfect service of process on a dissolved entity, Splitcast Technology LLC (“Splitcast”), the Court highlighted its broad authority to establish service of process requirements under Court of Chancery Rule 4(d)(7) (“Rule 4(d)(7)”) in claims against defunct entities. The Court’s decision both illustrates the scope of its authority and confirms its willingness to hold that court-mandated standards for delivering service upon defunct corporations also apply in the context of defunct LLCs.Read More
In Ross v. Institutional Longevity Assets LLC, C.A. No. 2017-0186-TMR (Del. Ch. Feb. 26, 2019), the Chancery Court, in a motion for judgement on the pleadings, found that the plain language of a limited liability company’s operating agreement was sufficient to affirm the notion that the plaintiff had failed to establish a set of facts to support his breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty claims. The Court found that (i) where the language of a contract is clear, the parties’ disagreement will not render a contract ambiguous; (ii) where a plaintiff has not identified gaps in the language of a contract, there can be no evidence that an implied covenant of good faith has been breached, and (iii) where a fiduciary duty claim arises out of the same conduct as a contract claim, the fiduciary claim is superfluous.Read More
In Robert G. Brown v. Lorrence T. Kellar et. al, Civil Action No. 2018-0687-MTZ (Del. Ch. December 21, 2018), the Delaware Court of Chancery granted in part and denied in part a motion for summary judgment by the plaintiff-stockholder, Robert G. Brown (“Brown”), to determine the composition of the board of directors (the “Board”) of SPAR Group, Inc. (“SGRP”), pursuant to 8 Del. C. § 225 (the “225 Action”). Denying Brown’s motion in part, the Court held that the 225 Action should survive summary judgment and continue to trial because the defendant-directors, the incumbent Board members of SGRP (the “Director Defendants”), asserted inequitable conduct by Brown bearing on the Board’s composition. Upholding Brown’s motion in part, the Court held that certain disputed written stockholder consents were effective on delivery under 8 Del. C. § 228(e), even though the Board had not taken action to deliver prompt notice of such written consents to SGRP’s stockholders as required pursuant to Section 228(e).
In CHC Investments, LLC v. FirstSun Capital Bancorp, C.A. No. 2018-0610-KSLM (Del. Ch. January 24, 2019), the Court of Chancery (the “Court”), in a motion to dismiss, found that CHC Investments, LLC’s (“CHC” and “Plaintiff”) pending plenary claims rendered CHC’s purpose for demanding inspection corporate books and records pursuant to Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporate Law (“Section 220”) improper, and granted FirstSun Capital Bancorp’s (“FirstSun” and “Defendant”) motion to dismiss.Read More
In Matthew Sciabacucchi v. Matthew B. Salzberg, et al., C.A. No. 207-0931-JTL (Del. Ch. Dec. 19, 2018), the Court of Chancery invalidated a provision in the charter documents of certain Delaware corporations that specified the federal courts as the exclusive forum for claims arising under the Securities Act of 1933 (the “1933 Act”).Read More
In Durham v. Grapetree, LLC, Civil Action No. 2018-0174-SG (Del. Ch. January 31, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery granted in part and denied in part a suit to compel books and records under Section 18-305 of the Delaware Limited Liability Company Act. Durham is illustrative of the rule that books and records requests are not a proper method to conduct plenary discovery into a business entity or its management, especially if driven by animus, but must be related to a proper purpose established by the requestor in his or her demand on the business.Read More
by David L. Forney and Tom Sperber
In Klein v. H.I.G. Capital, L.L.C., et. al, C.A. No. 2017-0862-AGB, the Delaware Chancery Court issued a Memorandum Opinion granting in part and denying in part a motion to dismiss under Court of Chancery Rule 23.1 for failing to make a demand and under Court of Chancery Rule 12(b)(6) for failing to state a claim of relief. Melvyn Klein (“Plaintiff”), a stockholder of Surgery Partners, Inc. (“SP”), brought direct and derivative claims against one of SP’s directors Michael Doyle (“Doyle”), SP’s controlling stockholder H.I.G. Capital, L.L.C. (“HIG”), and Bain Capital Private Equity, LP (“Bain”) (collectively, “Defendants”), alleging breaches of fiduciary duty against Defendants stemming from three interdependent transactions that were allegedly conflicted and unfair. The Court found that demand was futile because the Plaintiff sufficiently alleged that the board was interested, and found that Plaintiff stated claims for breach of fiduciary and aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty by HIG and Bain, respectively, because Defendants failed to show that the conflicted transactions were entirely fair.
The board of directors of SP (the “Board”) approved, and SP entered into, three transactions on May 9, 2017 (the “Transactions”). The Transactions consist of: (1) SP acquiring National Surgical Healthcare for $760 million; (2) HIG selling its shares of SP to Bain at a price of $19 per share; and (3) SP issuing to Bain 310,000 shares of a new class of stock of SP at a price of $1,000 per share. These transactions were interrelated and dependent on each other; if one fell through, the others would fail as well. The Board approved the Transactions without a special committee and with no publicly disclosed abstentions. No public stockholders voted on the transactions as HIG approved each by written consent as majority stockholder. Bain and SP used the same law firm and accounting firm to represent them during negotiations. Once the Transactions were finalized, Bain was SP’s controlling stockholder.
Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging eight claims. Of those claims, four were pled directly and four were pled derivatively. Each direct claim had a corresponding derivative claim. Counts I and V asserted claims for breach of fiduciary duty against the Board of LP (all of whom were dropped from the complaint except for Doyle) for entering into the Transactions without ensuring that the share issuance to Bain was entirely fair. Counts II and VI were claims for breach of fiduciary duty against Bain and HIG for entering into a conflicted transaction in the share issuance to Bain. Counts III and VII alleged claims of breach of fiduciary duty against HIG, in the alternative, as the sole controlling stockholder for entering into the conflicted transaction. Lastly, Counts IV and VIII asserted that Bain aided and abetted breaches of fiduciary duty by HIG and Doyle.
In deciding Defendants’ motion to dismiss, the Court first turned to whether Counts I-IV were properly brought as direct claims. The Court observed that the claims brought by Plaintiff constitute “a classic form of an ‘overpayment’ claim,” which must normally be pled derivatively. Plaintiff, however, argued that his claim resembles the claim brought in Gentile v. Rosette, where the Delaware Supreme Court recognized a situation where a corporate overpayment claim implicated both direct and derivative injury. The Court, in rejecting Plaintiff’s argument, cited several subsequent Delaware cases that limited the holding in Gentile to its facts and applied it only where the challenged transaction resulted in an improper transfer of both economic value and voting power from the minority stockholders to the controlling stockholder. The Court also observed that not only was Bain not yet the controlling stockholder before the share issuance, but that even if it was, its increase in voting power would not have been so great as to have triggered the Gentile rule. Furthermore, the Court pointed to the structure of the share issuance for the proposition that common stockholders’ shares will only be diluted if and when Bain converts its preferred shares into common stock. Ultimately, the Court found that Plaintiff’s claims could not be brought directly, and therefore dismissed Counts I-IV.
The Court next turned to the question of whether Plaintiff was excused from making demand on the Board on the basis of demand futility. In assessing Plaintiff’s futility allegation, the Court applied the test articulated in Aronson v. Lewis, under which a Plaintiff must “provide particularized factual allegations that raise a reasonable doubt that (1) the directors are disinterested and independent [or] (2) the challenged transaction was otherwise the product of a valid exercise of business judgment.” Of the Board’s seven members, Plaintiff conceded that two were disinterested, while Defendants conceded that three were interested. The Court, therefore, was tasked with determining whether either of the two remaining directors, Doyle and Brent Turner, were conflicted. The Court found that the complaint raised a reasonable doubt as to whether Doyle could make decisions regarding the Transactions independently by alleging that SP engaged him in a consulting agreement that paid him more per month than he made as SP’s CEO. On that basis, the Court found that Plaintiff had properly alleged that making demand on the board was futile.
Once the Court determined that demand was excused, it addressed the merits of Plaintiff’s remaining claims (V-VIII). First, the Court turned to Count VI, which argued in the alternative that Bain and HIG had breached fiduciary duties by acting as a “control group.” The Court dispatched Plaintiff’s argument quickly by pointing out that there was never any allegation that Bain owned any stock, let alone a controlling percentage of stock, prior to the Transactions. Ultimately, the Court dismissed Count VI for failing to state a claim.
The Court then examined Count VII, in which Plaintiff alleged that HIG breached its fiduciary duty by issuing the new shares to Bain. The Court determined that entire fairness was the proper standard of review, observing that that standard is triggered when a controlling stockholder effectuates a conflicted transaction. The Court determined that HIG was conflicted in entering into the issuance of new shares to Bain because that transaction was a condition precedent to HIG’s sale of its own shares to Bain. Entire fairness is an onerous standard for a defendant to overcome, requiring the controlling stockholder to “show, conclusively, that the challenged transaction was entirely fair based solely on the allegations of the complaint and the documents integral to it.” Because Defendants failed to show entire fairness, the Court denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss Count VII.
Count VIII alleged that Bain aided and abetted HIG’s breach of fiduciary duty. The Court found that Plaintiff’s allegations that Bain was aware of its shared legal representation with HIG, as well as the interrelated nature of the three transactions, and the lack of a stockholder vote, inferred Bain’s “knowing participation” in HIG’s breach. The Court, therefore, denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss as to Count VIII.
Lastly, due to the inclusion of an exculpatory provision in SP’s certificate of incorporation, the Court dismissed Plaintiff’s Count V for failing to allege that Doyle acted in bad faith or had personal interest in the transactions.
In Himawan, et al. v. Cephalon, Inc., et al., C.A. No. 2018-0075-SG (Del. Ch. Dec. 28, 2018), the Delaware Court of Chancery in a Memorandum Opinion denied a motion to dismiss a breach of contract claim brought against defendants Cephalon, Inc. (“Cephalon”), Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. (“Teva”) and Teva’s affiliate Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. (“Teva USA”) by former shareholders of Ception, Inc. (“Ception”), a biotech company acquired by Cephalon in a merger transaction. The case concerns a dispute over the phrase “commercially reasonable efforts” as used in an earn-out provision in the merger agreement. The decision highlights pleadings requirements for supporting an initial claim for breach of an objective contractual standard.Read More