Justia Corporate Compliance Opinion Summaries

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MCL 450.4515(1)(e) provided alternative statutes of limitations: one based on the time of discovery of the cause of action and the other based on the time of accrual of the cause of action. Plaintiffs were former employees of defendant ePrize who acquired ownership units in the company. Plaintiffs alleged founder Jeff Linkner orally promised them that their interests in ePrize would never be diluted or subordinated. In its fifth operating agreement, executed in 2009, ePrize stock issued in Series C and Series B Units carried distribution priority over the common units held by plaintiffs. The Operating Agreement further provided that if the company were ever sold, Series C Units would receive the first $68.25 million of any available distribution. In 2012, ePrize sold substantially all of its assets and, pursuant to the Operating Agreement, distributed nearly $100 million in net proceeds to the holders of Series C and Series B Units. Plaintiffs received nothing for their common shares. Plaintiffs thereafter sued, bringing claims for LLC member oppression, breach of contract, and breach of fiduciary duty. The trial court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment, concluding that the three-year limitation period in MCL 450.4515(1)(e) constituted a statute of limitations, rather than a statute of repose, and that plaintiffs' claims accrued in 2009. The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding plaintiffs’ claims did not accrue until 2012, when ePrize sold substantially all of its assets, because until that sale plaintiffs had not incurred a calculable financial injury and any damage claim before that time would have been “speculative.” Accordingly, the Court concluded that plaintiffs’ claims were timely filed before the expiration of the three-year limitation period. The Michigan Supreme Court agreed with the trial court's reasoning: plaintiffs’ actions for damages under MCL 450.4515(1)(e) were barred by the three-year statute of limitations unless plaintiffs could establish on remand that they were entitled to tolling. View "Frank v. Linkner" on Justia Law

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After Thomas, a member of the Board of Directors of Applied Medical Corporation, was removed from the Board in January 2012, Applied exercised its right to repurchase shares of its stock issued to Thomas as part of stock incentive plans. Thomas objected to the repurchase price, and in August 2012 Applied filed suit. In June, 2015, the trial court granted summary judgment against Applied. The court of appeal affirmed as to Applied’s fraud-based claims, but reversed as to Applied’s claims based on breach of contract and conversion. A conversion claim may be based on either ownership or the right to possession at the time of conversion. Applied’s fraud claims were barred by the applicable statute of limitations; the court rejected Applied’s argument that those claims, first alleged in 2014, were timely under either the discovery rule or the relation back doctrine. View "Applied Medical Corp. v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Peter Brinckerhoff and his trust, were long-term investors in Enbridge Energy Partners, L.P. (“EEP”), a Delaware master limited partnership (“MLP”). A benefit under Delaware law of this business structure was the ability to eliminate common law duties in favor of contractual ones, thereby restricting disputes to the four corners of the limited partnership agreement (“LPA”). This was not the first lawsuit between Brinckerhoff and the Enbridge MLP entities over a conflicted transaction. In 2009, Brinckerhoff filed suit against most of the same defendants in the current dispute, and challenged a transaction between the sponsor and the limited partnership. Enbridge, Inc. (“Enbridge”), the ultimate parent entity that controlled EEP’s general partner, Enbridge Energy Company, Inc. (“EEP GP”), proposed a joint venture agreement (“JVA”) between EEP and Enbridge. Brinckerhoff contested the fairness of the transaction on a number of grounds. After several rounds in the Court of Chancery leading to the dismissal of his claims, and a trip to the Delaware Supreme Court, Brinckerhoff eventually came up short when the Court of Chancery’s ruling that he had waived his claims for reformation and rescission of the transaction by failing to assert them first in the Court of Chancery was affirmed. A dispute over the Clipper project would again go before the Court of Chancery. In 2014, Enbridge proposed that EEP repurchase Enbridge’s interest in the Alberta Clipper project excluding the expansion rights that were part of the earlier transaction. As part of the billion dollar transaction, EEP would issue to Enbridge a new class of EEP partnership securities, repay outstanding loans made by EEP GP to EEP, and, amend the LPA to effect a “Special Tax Allocation” whereby the public investors would be allocated items of gross income that would otherwise be allocated to EEP GP. According to Brinckerhoff, the Special Tax Allocation unfairly benefited Enbridge by reducing its tax obligations by hundreds of millions of dollars while increasing the taxes of the public investors, thereby undermining the investor’s long-term tax advantages in their MLP investment. The Court of Chancery did its best to reconcile earlier decisions interpreting the same or a similar LPA, and ended up dismissing the complaint. On appeal, Brinckerhoff challenged the reasonableness of the Court of Chancery’s interpretation of the LPA. The Supreme Court agreed with the defendants that the Special Tax Allocation did not breach Sections 5.2(c) and 15.3(b) governing new unit issuance and tax allocations. But, the Court found that the Court of Chancery erred when it held that other “good faith” provisions of the LPA “modified” Section 6.6(e)’s specific requirement that the Alberta Clipper transaction be “fair and reasonable to the Partnership.” View "Brinckerhoff v. Enbridge Energy Company, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, who purchased EveryWare securities in 2013-2014, alleged a “pump and dump” scheme by EveryWare’s principal shareholders and officers to inflate the price of EveryWare shares and then sell their EveryWare shares before prices plummeted. They claim that EveryWare’s CEO released EveryWare’s financial projections for 2013, despite actually knowing those projections to be false and misleading and, months later, told investors, with the intent to deceive, manipulate, or defraud, that EveryWare was on track to meet its projections and that when EveryWare offered a portion of its shares to investors in September 2013, and submitted a registration statement and a prospectus in connection with that offering, EveryWare’s underwriters and directors signed documents, incorporating EveryWare’s financial projections and failing to disclose material downward trends in the business. The Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal of plaintiffs’ claims under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and the Securities Act of 1933. The Exchange Act claims failed because plaintiffs did not allege particularized facts giving rise to a strong inference that defendants acted with the requisite scienter; the Securities Act claims failed because plaintiffs did not allege any well-pleaded material statement or omission in the registration statement or the prospectus. View "IBEW Local No. 58 Annuity Fund v. EveryWare Global, Inc." on Justia Law

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Philip Shawe and his mother, Shirley Shawe, filed an interlocutory appeal of an August 13, 2015 Chancery Court opinion and July 18, 2016 order appointing a custodian to sell TransPerfect Global, Inc., a Delaware corporation. After a six-day trial the Court issued an opinion concluding that the “warring factions” were hopelessly deadlocked as stockholders and directors. The court carefully considered three alternatives to address the dysfunction and deadlock, and in the end decided that the circumstances of the case required the appointment of a custodian to sell the company. On appeal, the Shawes did not challenge the Court’s factual findings; instead, Philip Shawe claimed for the first time on appeal that the court exceeded its statutory authority when it ordered the custodian to sell a solvent company. Alternatively, Shawe contended that less drastic measures were available to address the deadlock. Shirley Shawe argued for the first time on appeal that the custodian’s sale of the company might result in an unconstitutional taking of her one share of TransPerfect Global stock. The Supreme Court disagreed with the Shawes and affirmed the Chancery Court’s judgment. View "Shawe v. Elting" on Justia Law

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Richard, Father, Mother, and sister (Kathryn) formed the family Corporation in 1990. Under its articles of incorporation and bylaws, each family member served as a lifetime director. Mother died in 2000. In 2010, the remaining family members elected Phyllis to a three-year term on the board. Father died in 2010. Phyllis’s term expired in 2013. Under Indiana Code 23-17-12-3, a nonprofit corporation must be governed at all times by at least three directors. Richard claimed that when Phyllis’s term expired, the Corporation was no longer lawfully constituted and the two remaining board members could not act on the Corporation’s behalf or exercise corporate powers. Indiana law provides that when a nonprofit director’s term expires without further action by the board: “the director continues to serve until … a successor is elected, designated, or appointed and qualifies.” That language is reflected in the Corporation’s bylaws and the 2010 resolution appointing Phyllis to the board. Kathryn and Phyllis voted in 2013 to elect Phyllis to a second term. The board then took several actions over Richard’s objections, including authorizing gifts to Saint Francis (on whose board Kathryn also serves) and electing Kathryn’s son as a fourth board member. Richard filed suit, as an individual and derivatively. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal. Under Indiana law, only a shareholder or member of a corporation may bring a derivative action on the corporation’s behalf. Richard is neither a shareholder nor a member. The Corporation’s articles of incorporation provide that it “shall have no members.” Richard’s purported individual claims for money judgment belong to the Corporation and his other individual claims failed on their merits. View "Doermer v. Callen" on Justia Law

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The three underlying legal actions, involving breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, stock valuation, bankruptcy, and appeals, took place in Illinois. Plaintiffs, including attorneys involved in the underlying actions, sought to indemnification in post-trial proceedings. Defendant is a Delaware corporation with offices in Illinois. The Delaware Court of Chancery awarded plaintiffs $79,540.14 for pursuing the post-trial action and $241,492.50 for the Illinois proceedings, plus 20% of the expenses they incurred enforcing their indemnification right through this proceeding. The court cited the corporations’ bylaws, under which the plaintiffs are entitled to mandatory if indemnification would be permitted under the Delaware General Corporation Law and Section 145(a) of that law. View "Dore v. Sweports Ltd." on Justia Law

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A 16-count complaint alleged conspiracy to funnel valuable pharmaceutical interests away from an entity in which the Plaintiff, CelestialRX, LLC, is a member. The claims include allegedly improper self-dealing by two members of a three-member LLC. On motions to dismiss and for summary judgment, the Delaware Chancery Court rejected a claim that plaintiffs had contractually released certain claims and analyzed the LLC agreement to conclude that good faith—a subjective standard, applies separately to both the transaction and to the conflicted party’s analysis of whether it is “fair and reasonable,” but must be read consistently with the purpose of specific standards, which is to permit conflicted transactions in certain circumstances. The court urged the parties to mediate the dispute. View "CelestialRX Investments, LLC.v. Krivulka" on Justia Law

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IBM's proposed purchase of Merge Healthcare was supported by a vote of close to 80% of Merge stockholders. Former Merge stockholders sought post-closing damages against the company’s directors for what they alleged was an improper sale process. Merge did not have an exculpation clause in its corporate charter, so its directors have potential liability for acts violating their duty of care, in the context of an allegedly less-than-rigorous sales process. The Delaware Court of Chancery dismissed. Demonstrating such a violation of the duty of care is not trivial: it requires a demonstration of gross negligence, but it is less formidable than showing disloyalty. Regardless of that standard, the uncoerced vote of a majority of disinterested shares in favor of the merger cleansed any such violations, raising the presumption that the directors acted within their proper business judgment. View "In Re Merge Healthcare Inc. Stockholder Litigation" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff was a limited partner/unitholder in a publicly-traded master limited partnership (“MLP”). The general partner proposed that the partnership be acquired through merger with another limited partnership in the MLP family. The seller and buyer were indirectly owned by the same entity, creating a conflict of interest. The general partner in this case sought refuge in two of the safe harbor conflict resolution provisions of the partnership agreement: “Special Approval” of the transaction by an independent Conflicts Committee, and “Unaffiliated Unitholder Approval.” The plaintiff alleged in its complaint that the general partner failed to satisfy the Special Approval safe harbor because the Conflicts Committee was itself conflicted. The general partner moved to dismiss the complaint and claimed that, in the absence of express contractual obligations not to mislead investors or to unfairly manipulate the Conflicts Committee process, the general partner need only satisfy what the partnership agreement expressly required: to obtain the safe harbor approvals and follow the minimal disclosure requirements. The Court of Chancery “side-stepped” the Conflicts Committee safe harbor, but accepted the general partner’s argument that the Unaffiliated Unitholder Approval safe harbor required dismissal of the case. The court held that, even though the proxy statement might have contained materially misleading disclosures, fiduciary duty principles could not be used to impose disclosure obligations on the general partner beyond those in the partnership agreement, because the partnership agreement disclaimed fiduciary duties. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the Court of Chancery erred when it concluded that the general partner satisfied the Unaffiliated Unitholder Approval safe harbor, because he alleged sufficient facts to show that the approval was obtained through false and misleading statements. The Supreme Court determined that the lower court focused too narrowly on the partnership agreement’s disclosure requirements. “Instead, the center of attention should have been on the conflict resolution provision of the partnership agreement.” The Supreme found that the plaintiff pled sufficient facts, that neither safe harbor was available to the general partner because it allegedly made false and misleading statements to secure Unaffiliated Unitholder Approval, and allegedly used a conflicted Conflicts Committee to obtain Special Approval. Thus, the Court reversed the Court of Chancery’s order dismissing Counts I and II of the complaint. View "Dieckman v. Regency GP LP, Regency GP LLC" on Justia Law