Delaware Docket

Timely, brief summaries of cases handed down by the Delaware Court of Chancery and the Delaware Supreme Court.

 

In re Cornerstone Therapeutics Inc. Stockholder Litigation, Consolidated C.A. No. 8922-VCG (Sept. 26, 2014) (Glasscock, V.C.)

By Annette Becker and Mark Hammes

In In Re Cornerstone Therapeutics Inc. S’holder Litig., 2014 WL 4418169 (Del. Ch. Sept. 10, 2014), Defendant directors of Cornerstone Therapeutics Inc. (“Cornerstone”) brought a motion to dismiss based on an exculpatory provision in Cornerstone’s certificate of incorporation pursuant to Section 102(b)(7) of the Delaware General Corporation Laws in the context of a controlling stockholder freeze-out merger. In the memorandum opinion, the Court denied the motion to dismiss, finding that, since entire fairness applied to the transaction at the outset, the director defendants must await a determination of entire fairness at trial before the Court could consider whether they were exculpated by the provision. The director defendants moved for interlocutory appeal under Delaware Supreme Court Rule 42 challenging the denial of the Court’s decision regarding the motion to dismiss.

This decision considers the motion for interlocutory appeal. The Court held that the defendant directors are entitled to an interlocutory appeal of the order denying the motion to dismiss. An interlocutory appeal may be certified by the Court only when the appealed decision (1) determines a substantial issue, (2) establishes a legal right, and (3) meets one or more criteria further enumerated in Rule 42, including that the decision falls under any of the criteria for certification of questions of law set forth in Rule 41. Here, the denial of the motion, if reversed, would result in dismissal of the defendant directors from the suit, so it is a substantial issue. Further, it establishes a legal right in that it necessitates the defendant directors be held as parties to the litigation. Finally, it satisfies the further “conflicting decisions” qualification set forth in Rule 41(b)(ii) because decisions of the Courts of Chancery have been conflicting as to whether, in a transaction subject to entire fairness review at the outset, in which there is a claim for “breach of duty on the part of facially disinterested directors who negotiated …. or otherwise facilitated the transaction needs to be specifically pled” and whether an exculpatory provision must be ignored at the motion to dismiss stage to await consideration of entire fairness at trial. As a result, the Court granted the defendant directors’ application for certification of interlocutory appeal.

InReCornerstorneTherapeuticsStockholder

Oklahoma Firefighters Pension & Retirement System v. Citigroup Inc., C.A. No. 9587-ML (Sept. 30, 2014) (LeGrow, A., M.C.)

By Annette Becker and Caitlin Howe

This final report stems from plaintiff-shareholder Oklahoma Firefighters Pension & Retirement System’s (“Oklahoma Firefighters” or “Plaintiff”) demand under 8 Del. C. §220 for access to defendant Citigroup Inc.’s (“Citigroup” or “Defendant”) books and records in connection with alleged fraud and money laundering at two Citigroup subsidiaries. Following a paper record trial in June 2014, the court concluded in its draft report that Plaintiff had a proper purpose in seeking access to the books and records, but the court narrowed the scope of Plaintiff’s initial request.  At the present phase of the case, Citigroup objects to the conclusions reached in the draft report, arguing that the incidents at the subsidiaries do not give Plaintiff a credible basis from which to infer wrongdoing or mismanagement on the part of the Citigroup Board of Directors.  Moreover, Citigroup contends that even if Plaintiff’s purpose were proper, the scope of the documents requested is still too broad.

The demand arises from incidents at Banco Nacional de Mexico, S.A. (“Banamex”) and Banamex USA, which together account for 10% of the global profits of Citigroup.  At Banamex, a fraudulent accounts receivables finance arrangement was discovered, which caused Citigroup to adjust downward its 2013 fourth quarter and full year financials by $235 million. Investigations into the fraud indicated that Citigroup may not have had the proper internal controls in place to prevent fraud, and Moody’s subsequently downgraded Banamex’s debt and deposit ratings due to the allegations surrounding the bank. Another smaller fraud of $30 million was also uncovered at Banamex.  At Banamex USA, grand jury subpoenas were issued by the United States District Attorney for the District of Massachusetts regarding compliance with Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) and Anti-Money Laundering (“AML”) regulations.  The grand jury subpoenas were issued subsequent to a number of consent orders between Citigroup and various financial regulatory agencies regarding insufficient BSA and AML controls, risk management, the flow of drug cartel-related funds, and general oversight.  In response to the BSA and AML concerns, the Citigroup Board of Directors charged the Board’s Audit Committee with responsibility for legal compliance oversight.

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Wolst v. Monster Beverage Corporation, C.A. No. 9154-VCP (Del. Ch. October 3, 2014) (Noble, V.C.)

By David Bernstein and Meredith Laitner

On October 3, 2014, the Delaware Chancery Court issued its ruling in Wolst v. Monster Beverage Corporation, C.A. No. 9154-VCP (Del. Ch. October 3, 2014) (Noble, V.C.), rejecting the plaintiff’s request to inspect Monster Beverage Corporation’s books and records pursuant to Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law.

The plaintiff’s stated purpose for her request to inspect Monster’s books was to determine whether there was a basis for her to bring a derivative suit against Monster based on insider trading that occurred seven years ago.  A class action regarding the insider trading had been settled for $16.25 million and a prior derivative suit, in which the plaintiff had been a participant, had been dismissed for failure to make a demand on the Board.  Subsequently a demand on the Board had been made and rejected.

The Court held that the possible new derivative suit that was the reason for the plaintiff’s Section 220 demand was time-barred by laches. Further, Vice Chancellor Noble refused to extend to derivative claims the general rule that a class action tolls the statute of limitations for the members of the class pursuing individual direct claims.

WolstvMonsterBeverage

Quadrant Structured Products Company v. Vertin, C.A. No. 6990-VCL (October 1, 2014) (Laster, V.C.)

By William Axtman and Dotun Obadina

In Quadrant Structured Products Company v. Vertin, creditor plaintiff Quadrant Structured Products Company, Ltd. (“Quadrant”) asserted breach of fiduciary duty claims derivatively against the Board of Directors (the “Board”) of the Athilon Capital Corp. (the “Company”) and EBF & Associates (“EBF”), the holder of all of equity and certain junior debt of the Company.  EBF also managed the operations of the Company through service and license agreements between the Company and an affiliate of EBF, Athilon Structured Investment Advisors, LLC (“ASIA”), and appointed all five directors of the Board, three of which are current employees of EBF.

Quadrant, as holder of senior notes of the Company, asserted that (a) the Company was insolvent and (b) the directors of the Board and EBF breached their fiduciary duty of loyalty and committed corporate waste by (i) continuing to unnecessarily make interest payments on the junior debt, even though such payments could be deferred for an extended period of time (past the likely date of dissolution and liquidation of the Company), (ii) paying excessive service and license fees to ASIA and EBF to operate the Company, and (iii) changing the Company’s business model to take on greater risk under a strategy where EBF would  benefit from any upside as the sole holder of the junior debt and the Company’s equity, but the Company’s more senior creditors (including Quadrant) would bear the cost of any downside.  In addition, Quadrant asserted claims under the Delaware Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act based on the non-deferral of interest on the junior debt and the payment of excessive service and license fees to ASIA and EBF to operate the Company.

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JD Holdings, L.L.C., et. al. v. The Revocable Trust of John Q. Hammons, et. al., C.A. 7480-VCL (Laster, V.C.)

By Masha Trainor and Ryan Drzemiecki

This case involves a dispute over interpretation of a right of first refusal clause. In 2005, John Q. Hammons, a hotel entrepreneur, entered into a complex transaction (the “2005 Transaction”), structured as a triangular merger, in which Hammons’ publicly traded company, John Q. Hammons Hotels, Inc., emerged as indirect wholly-owned subsidiary of JD Holdings, LLC, which is controlled by Jonathan Eilian. As part of the 2005 Transaction, Hammons granted Eilian a right of first refusal (the “ROFR”) to purchase any interest in a hotel or other real property described therein (each a “JQH Subject Hotel”).

The plaintiffs, entities affiliated with Eilian (“Plaintiff”), originally filed suit to obtain a declaration regarding the meaning of certain provisions of the ROFR Agreement. Subsequently, Hammons died. The parties agreed that, pursuant to the ROFR Agreement, Hammons’ death triggered a 90-day period during which Eilian would negotiate exclusively with JQH Trust and Hammons’ estate (“Defendant”) to determine whether Eilian would buy the JQH Subject Hotels. However, they disagreed about the JQH Trust’s obligations following the expiration of the exclusivity period. Plaintiff argued that the ROFR clause required the JQH Trust to liquidate all of the JQH Subject Hotels for cash within a certain period after Hammons’ death even if the parties did not agree on a transaction during the exclusivity period, and the ROFR would apply to any such sale. In the answer and counterclaim to the amended complaint, Defendant rejected this interpretation of the ROFR, contending, among other things, that the ROFR failed to create any affirmative obligation to sell and, even if it did, would be void under the rule against perpetuities. The parties have cross-moved for judgment on the pleadings on this and other claims and counterclaims.

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Jefferson v. Dominion Holdings, Inc., C.A. No. 8663-VCN (September 24, 2014) (Noble, V.C.)

By Jamie Bruce and Carty Bibee

On September 24, 2014, Vice Chancellor Noble issued his opinion in Jefferson v. Dominion Holdings, Inc., a matter involving a dispute between a corporation and one of its stockholders over the scope, and attendant confidentiality concerns, in the stockholder’s inspection of the books and records of the corporation under 8 Del. C. § 220.

The Court concluded after trial that the plaintiff stockholder Jefferson (“Plaintiff Stockholder”) demonstrated that valuing his stock in defendant Dominion Holdings, Inc. (“Defendant Corporation”) was a proper purpose for his requested inspection.  In this Order, Vice Chancellor Noble addressed two issues: (1) the scope of the production of books and records and (2) the confidentiality concerns of Defendant Corporation.

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Seaport Village Ltd. v. Seaport Village Operating Company, LLC, C.A. No. 8841-VCL (Sept. 24, 2014) (Laster, V.C.)

By Nick Froio and Zack Sager

Seaport Village Operating Company, LLC (the “LLC”) sought to recover from Seaport Village Ltd. (“Limited”) attorneys’ fees and expenses that the LLC incurred in two related actions.  The limited liability company agreement of the LLC (the “LLC Agreement”) provided that if any action was brought by a party against another party relating to or arising out of the LLC Agreement, the prevailing party shall be entitled to recover from the other party reasonable attorneys’ fees, costs and expenses.  Limited’s only defense was that because the LLC did not sign the LLC Agreement, it was not a “party” to the LLC Agreement.  The Court of Chancery rejected this argument citing Section 18-101(7) of the Delaware Limited Liability Company Act, which states that “[a] limited liability company is bound by its limited liability company agreement whether or not the limited liability company executes the limited liability company agreement.”  The court held that since the LLC was bound to the LLC Agreement and that, as a matter of contract law principles, “only parties to a contract are bound by that contract,” the LLC was a party to the LLC Agreement and could enforce the fee-shifting provision.

SeaportVillageLtdvSeaportVillageOperating

In re Nine Systems Corp. S’Holders Litig., Consol. C.A. No. 3940-VCN (September 4, 2014) (Noble, V.C.)

By Marisa DiLemme

In re Nine Systems Corp. S’Holders Litig. involves the 2002 recapitalization of a two-year-old start-up company, Streaming Media Corporation, later known as Nine Systems Corporation (the “Corporation”).  The Corporation was going to have to liquidate unless it could carry out two acquisitions, and the purpose of the 2002 recapitalization was to fund these acquisitions. The recapitalization was approved by four of the directors of the Board of the Corporation, one the CEO of the Corporation and the other three employees of three private equity funds, two of which provided the financing needed for the acquisitions through the recapitalization, and the third of which was given a 90-day option to participate in the recapitalization but did not do so.  The fifth director, whose firm had brought in minority stockholders, was not kept informed regarding the recapitalization, which was highly dilutive to the minority stockholders, and never fully approved it.  The terms of the recapitalization were proposed by the director whose firm was the largest participant in the recapitalization based on his estimate that the Corporation was worth $4 million, without any independent valuation of the Corporation.  After the acquisitions, the Corporation became successful, and it was sold four years later for $175 million.

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Pontone v. Milso, C.A. No. 8842-VCP (August 22, 2014) (Parsons, V.C.)

By Jamie Bruce and Mark Hammes

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.

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In re Orchard Enterprises, Inc. Stockholder Litigation, Consolidated C.A. No. 7840-VCL

By Scott Waxman and Porter Sesnon

On August 22, 2014, Vice Chancellor Laster approved a fee award for counsel to certain plaintiff-stockholders related to a settlement of a class action claim alleging breaches of fiduciary duties related to a freeze-out merger.  The settlement amounted to $10.725 million. In the same opinion, V.C. Laster denied a fee award due to lack of standing to counsel for other stockholders in the same freeze-out merger, who separately litigated an appraisal claim, and which was relied upon by the successful class action plaintiffs.

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In Re Astex Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Stockholders Litigation, Consolidated C.A. No. 8917-VCL

By Wilson Chu and Jason Jones

On August 25, 2014, Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster denied a stipulated dismissal order involving the payment of a “mootness fee” as part of the settlement of a disclosure claim because it did not comply with the requirements of In re Advanced Mammography Sys., Inc. S’holders Litig., 1996 WL 633409 (Del. Ch. Oct. 30, 1996). 

Astex Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (“Astex”) and Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co, Ltd. (“Otsuka”) entered into an Agreement and Plan of Merger. Various stockholder plaintiffs filed lawsuits asserting claims against Astex, its Board of Directors, and Otsuka, and the court certified a class. One claim asserted that Astex’s stockholders lacked sufficient information to make an informed decision about tendering their shares or seeking appraisal.  In response, Astex filed a supplemental Schedule 14D-9 containing additional disclosures on October 1, 2013.  After the defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings, the named plaintiffs concluded that their remaining claims lacked merit. The parties then submitted a stipulated dismissal order, which included an agreement whereby defendants would pay a mootness fee relating to the disclosure claim. The court denied the proposed dismissal order pending further submission by the parties explaining how they complied, or proposed to comply, with Advanced Mammography.

Advanced Mammography provides that the board may exercise its business judgment to pay a mootness fee, but it is necessary to (i) notify the court and (ii) provide notice to the class and provide an opportunity for the class to be heard.  In addition, “in the context of a claim that is acknowledged to be moot and in which no consideration has been paid to the class, it is not appropriate for the court to purport to release any claims of the class.”  Id. at *1.  Notice to the class allows the class to argue that the case is not moot, but rather that the mootness fee is in fact a buyout; and enables members of the class to object to such use of corporate funds.  Id.  In this case, the stipulated dismissal order did not provide notice to the class, and as a result, Vice Chancellor Laster denied the proposal and requested that the parties submit a revised order contemplating notice to the class.

InReAstex

Comerica Bank v. Global Payments Direct, Inc., C.A. No. 9707-CB (Aug. 1, 2014) (Bouchard, C.)

By Scott Waxman and Zack Sager

This case involves the unfriendly winding up of a two-member Delaware limited liability company (the “LLC”). One of the issues raised in this case was whether “cause” existed for the Court of Chancery to intervene and wind up the LLC’s affairs and appoint a liquidating trustee under Section 18-803(a) of the Delaware Limited Liability Company Act (the “LLC Act”). One of the members of the LLC (“Global”) argued that the Court did not have cause because a deadlock did not exist among the parties entitled to wind up the LLC. Global argued that because it was the 51% owner of the LLC and had the right to make any decisions necessary to wind up the LLC, no deadlock existed.

In rejecting Global’s argument, the Court stated that nothing in the LLC Act “requires a finding of deadlock as a prerequisite to this Court assuming control of the wind up process of a Delaware LLC and/or appointing a liquidating trustee.” According to the Court, ample cause existed because Global was unwilling to wind up the LLC in an orderly and timely manner and took a confrontational approach that was contradictory to its obligation to wind up the LLC promptly so as to maximize the value of the property distributed to the members. Chancellor Bouchard noted that although the “contours of [default fiduciary duties] may be different after dissolution of an LLC during the wind up period, they continue to encompass, in my view, an obligation to distribute the assets of the company promptly consistent with maximizing their value.”

Comerica Bank v Global Payments Direct

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