Tag: contract interpretation

Court Refuses to Reform Contract Failing to Find a Scrivener’s Error

By: Scott E. Waxman and Douglas A. Logan

In, In re 11 West Partners, LLC, the Delaware Court of Chancery  (the “Court”) refused to reform a contract with clear language, finding the argument of a scrivener’s error unconvincing. While the Court noted that it found all of the parties’ testimony believable, the Court did not find clear and convincing evidence that a mistake was made in drafting the contract in question.

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CONTRACT LANGUAGE MUST BE UNAMBIGUOUS FOR CHANCERY COURT TO GRANT DISMISSAL AS MATTER OF LAW

By: Scott E. Waxman and Douglas A. Logan

In Fortis Advisors LLC v. Stora Enso AB letter opinion 180810, Stora Enso AB (the “Defendant”) filed a motion to dismiss the claims by Fortis Advisors LLC (the “Plaintiff”), alleging the merger agreement (the “Merger Agreement”) entered into by each of the parties unambiguously did not obligate the Defendant to make further payments to the Plaintiff. The Chancery Court disagreed, finding the language of the Merger Agreement ambiguous, therefore denying the Defendant’s motion.

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Back to Basics: Delaware Court of Chancery Uses Contract Principles To Determine Dispute Involving Several Provisions of a LLC Agreement

By: Scott E. Waxman and former Associate Rashida Stevens

The Delaware Court of Chancery (“Court”) applied contract principles in interpreting a limited liability company (“LLC”) agreement to determine the impact of a written consent attempting to terminate the founder’s position as President and CEO in Matthew Godden and Tobias Bachteler (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) v. Harley V. Franco (“Franco”) C.A. No. 2018-0504-VCL (Del. Ch. August 21, 2018). The Court declined to grant fully the Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment because it was not clear whether or not the provisions of the LLC agreement governing the termination were satisfied.

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Delaware Chancery Court Makes Groundbreaking “Material Adverse Effect” Finding Allowing Buyer to Terminate Merger Agreement

By: Peter Flocos, Lisa Stark, Rick Giovannelli and Mark Hammes

In a landmark decision, a Delaware court has, for what is widely believed to be the first time ever, found that a material adverse effect actually occurred in an acquisition transaction, giving the buyer a right to terminate the pending transaction.  In Akorn, Inc. v. Fresenius Kabi AG,[1] the Delaware Court of Chancery (the “Court”) held, following a trial, that the buyer properly terminated the parties’ merger agreement, due to such a material adverse effect between signing and closing, under the terms of the agreement and the pertinent Delaware case law.  Unlike prior decisions rejecting buyer material adverse effect claims,[2] the Court found that a pre-closing decline in the business of the target – Akorn – was not merely a “cyclical trend” and was likely to have a post-closing, durationally-significant effect that was “material when viewed from the longer-term perspective of a reasonable acquiror.”[3]  Although groundbreaking, the Akorn decision reflects that the Delaware courts will still approach the question of whether an MAE has occurred on a case-by-case basis and does not establish a particular “bright line” test.

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DISPUTE OVER PUT RIGHT ILLUSTRATES THE POTENTIAL PITFALLS OF AMBIGUOUS CONTRACT LANGUAGE

By: David Forney and Adam Heyd

In QC Holdings, Inc. v. Allconnect, Inc., C.A. No. 2017-0715-JTL (Del. Ch. August 28, 2018), plaintiff QC Holdings, Inc. (“QC Holdings”), a former stockholder of defendant Allconnect, Inc. (the “Company”), brought a claim against the Company to enforce its right (the “Put Right”) under a Put Agreement to sell its Company shares (the “Put Shares”) to the Company in exchange for $5 million (the “Put Price”).  The Company had refused to pay the Put Price on the basis that it was contractually restricted from doing so on the date required under the Put Agreement, and therefore the Put Right was extinguished and never survived a subsequent merger of the Company when those restrictions arguably lifted. The Delaware Court of Chancery  held that the Company’s arguments would have resulted in an improper forfeiture of QC Holdings’ contractual rights to the Put Price and that the exercise of the Put Right constituted a redemption of the Put Shares prior to the merger and a continuing contractual obligation by the Company to pay the Put Price.  The Court ordered the Company to pay the Put Price to QC Holdings out of an escrow set up at the merger closing for this purpose.

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Court of Chancery Dismisses Fraud Claim for Alleged Extra-Contractual Misrepresentations Based on Anti-Reliance Clause

By: Claire S. White and Rachel P. Worth

In ChyronHego Corporation, et al., v. Cliff Wight and CFX Holdings, Inc., C.A. No. 2017-0548-SG (Del. Ch. July 31, 2018), the Delaware Court of Chancery granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claim for extra-contractual fraud on the basis that the stock purchase agreement contained an effective anti-reliance clause that precluded such claim. The Court found that the anti-reliance clause rebutted the common law fraud element of reliance on any extra-contractual representations, as described further below.  At the same time, the Court dismissed the defendants’ motion to dismiss claims for fraud and breaches of express representations and warranties under the stock purchase agreement, finding that the plaintiffs had sufficiently pleaded the elements of these claims.

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COURT OF CHANCERY HOLDS THERE MUST BE A GAP IN AGREEMENT FOR AN IMPLIED COVENANT OF GOOD FAITH AND FAIR DEALING

By: Scott E. Waxman and Douglas A. Logan

In Christopher Miller, et al., v. HCP & Company, et al., memorandum opinion 180201, the Court of Chancery granted a motion to dismiss because the underlying Limited Liability Company Agreement did not contain a “gap” for an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing to fill. Rather, the Court of Chancery held that the Limited Liability Company Agreement contained negotiated investor favorable provisions regarding good faith and fair dealing, thus undercutting any argument that the Court of Chancery should read an implied covenant into the operating agreement.

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Director’s Breach of Contract Lawsuit Found to Violate the Underlying Contract’s Confidentiality Clause

By: David Forney and Benjamin Kendall

In Cappella Holdings, LLC v. Anderson, C.A. No. 9809-VCS (Del. Ch. Nov. 29, 2017), the Chancery Court dismissed a director’s breach of contract claims against his former employer relating to alleged violations of an anti-dilution provision in his employment agreement.  The Court instead found that the director’s initial complaint, which included highly sensitive information about the company, violated the confidentiality provision of the underlying contract on which his claims were based.

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Chancery Court Denies Cross-Motions for Partial Summary Judgment Due to Ambiguities in Contract Language of LLC Agreement Governing Joint Venture

By Scott E. Waxman and Rachel Cheasty Sanders

In AM General Holdings LLC v. The Renco Group, Inc., C.A. No. 7639-VCS  and The Renco Group, Inc. v. MacAndrews AMG Holdings LLC, C.A. No. 7668-VCS (Del. Ch. May 17, 2017), the Delaware Court of Chancery denied cross-motions for partial summary judgment after reviewing the LLC Agreement of AM General Holdings LLC, which governs the joint venture relationship between Plaintiff, The Renco Group, Inc. (“Renco”), and Defendant, MacAndrews AMG Holdings LLC (“MacAndrews”), both members of AM General Holdings LLC (the “Company”).  Renco brought suit against MacAndrews alleging that MacAndrews, the managing member of the Company, caused the Company to distribute $72.8 million to MacAndrews in breach of the Company’s LLC Agreement.  Renco contended that, according to the LLC Agreement, the $72.8 million should have been distributed to Renco instead.  Both parties pointed to several provisions of the LLC Agreement governing the distribution at issue, and both parties contended that these provisions were clear and unambiguous.  After reviewing the provisions, however, the Court determined that the provisions were, in fact, ambiguous and thus, the case could not be disposed of through summary judgment proceedings.

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Chancery Court Rules Against Enforcement of a Call Right Due to Failure to Tender the Contractual Consideration

By: Jill B. Louis and Gilbert A. Perales

In Simon-Mills II, LLC, et al., v. KanAm USA XVI Limited Partnership, et al., C.A. No. 8520-VCG (Del. Ch. March 30, 2017), the Court of Chancery denied Plaintiffs’ request to enforce its call right and granted Defendants’ request for declaratory judgment when the contracted consideration for the call right could not be tendered.

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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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Court of Chancery Upholds Validity of General Release Between Company and Former President, Grants Summary Judgment in Former President’s Favor

By: David Forney and Tami Mack

In Seiden v. Kaneko, C.A. No 9861-VCS (Del. Ch. March 22, 2017), the Court of Chancery held that the general release that Southern China Livestock, Inc. (the “Company”) had entered into with former President Shu Kaneko (“Kaneko”) in exchange for Kaneko’s assistance in recovering certain Company shares was binding and enforceable.  Thus, the Court held that Kaneko had been released from all claims asserted against him by the Company’s receiver (the “Receiver”) and granted summary judgment in Kaneko’s favor.

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