Justia Corporate Compliance Opinion Summaries
Miller v. Brightstar Asia, Ltd.
Plaintiff appealed the dismissal of his direct suit against Defendant Brightstar Asia, Ltd. In connection with the sale of his company, Harvestar, to Brightstar Asia, Plaintiff entered into a contract with Brightstar Asia, Harvestar, and his co-founder. The contract provided that conflicted transactions between Brightstar Asia and Harvestar must be on “terms no less favorable to” Harvestar than those of an arms-length transaction. Plaintiff alleged in his complaint that Brightstar Asia engaged in conflicted transactions that rendered his options rights worthless. Those actions, according to Plaintiff, breached both the express terms of the contract and the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The district court dismissed his complaint for raising claims that could be brought only in a derivative suit. The Second Circuit agreed that Plaintiff can bring a claim for breach of the express conflicted-transactions provision only in a derivative suit. However, the court held that Plaintiff may bring a direct suit for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing because that covenant is based on his individual options rights. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part and vacated in part the district court’s judgment. The court explained that the inquiry into whether a claim is direct, and a plaintiff, therefore, has “standing” to bring it, is not an Article III standing inquiry Even if the district court were right that Plaintiff’s claims had to be brought in a derivative suit, it should have dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim. View "Miller v. Brightstar Asia, Ltd." on Justia Law
Friend of Camden v. Brandt
Plaintiff, who owned a 1 percent interest in a limited liability company (LLC), filed a lawsuit seeking judicial dissolution of the LLC under Corporations Code section 17707.03. Defendants, other members of the LLC who together held 50 percent of the membership interests, filed a motion to avoid the dissolution by purchasing Plaintiff’s 1 percent interest. Then Plaintiff, together with other members owning 49 percent of the membership interests in the LLC—for a total of 50 percent—voted to dissolve the LLC. The issue on appeal is whether the vote to dissolve the LLC extinguished the right Defendants otherwise would have had to purchase Plaintiff’s 1 percent interest and avoid dissolution of the LLC. The Second Appellate District concluded, in accordance with the plain language of section 17707.01, that the answer is “yes,” and the vote of 50 percent of the LLC membership interests to dissolve the LLC must be given effect. Consequently, the court held that the trial court erred when it issued an order appointing appraisers to determine the price Defendants must pay to purchase Plaintiff’s 1 percent membership interest. The court ordered the trial court to dismiss the buyout proceeding as moot and directed the parties to wind up the activities of the LLC. View "Friend of Camden v. Brandt" on Justia Law
Jerrell Whitten v. Ronald F. Clarke, et al.
Plaintiff, a shareholder and citizen of Illinois, brought this shareholder derivative action alleging breach of fiduciary duties by FleetCor’s directors and executives without first making a demand on the board. Plaintiff argued that demand was excused because a majority of the board faced a substantial likelihood of liability for their breach of fiduciary duties. The district court held that Plaintiff had failed to adequately plead that demand was excused and dismissed Plaintiff’s claims. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s complaint under Rule 23.1. The court held that Plaintiff failed to plead particularized facts showing demand was excused. The court explained that because Plaintiff failed to adequately plead Board knowledge of the allegedly fraudulent scheme, all three of his claims that purportedly show that a majority of the Board faced a substantial likelihood of liability fail. View "Jerrell Whitten v. Ronald F. Clarke, et al." on Justia Law
United States v. Scarfo
Four defendants, who have multiple ties to organized crime, were convicted for their roles in the unlawful takeover and looting of FirstPlus Financial, a publicly traded mortgage loan company. Their scheme began with the defendants’ and their co-conspirators’ extortion of FirstPlus’s board of directors and its chairman, using lies and threats to gain control of the company. Once they forced the old leadership out, the defendants drained the company of its value by causing it to enter into expensive consulting and legal-services agreements with themselves, causing it to acquire (at vastly inflated prices) shell companies they personally owned, and using bogus trusts to funnel FirstPlus’s assets into their own accounts. They ultimately bankrupted FirstPlus, leaving its shareholders with worthless stock.Each defendant was convicted of more than 20 counts of criminal behavior and given a substantial prison sentence. In a consolidated appeal, the Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to the investigation, the charges and evidence against them, the pretrial process, the government’s compliance with its disclosure obligations, the trial, the forfeiture proceedings, and their sentences. The government conceded that the district court’s assessment of one defendant’s forfeiture obligations was improper under a Supreme Court decision handed down during the pendency of this appeal and remanded that assessment. View "United States v. Scarfo" on Justia Law
Hill v. Cohen
Under Pennsylvania law, a court may appoint a custodian to take control of a corporation if the corporation’s board of directors is deadlocked or if the directors’ acts are illegal, oppressive, fraudulent, or wasteful. The eight-person FRBK Board of Directors became evenly split into two factions until one of the Hill Directors died. The Madonna Directors immediately used their new numerical advantage to start rearranging the bank’s leadership and took steps to fill the Board vacancy with an ally.The Hill Directors sued. Within hours, the district court ordered the Madonna Directors to cease their actions. Nine days later, without an evidentiary hearing or fact-finding, the court appointed a custodian to take control of FRBK and to hold a special shareholders’ meeting to fill the vacant Board seat. The following month, the court – without prompting from any shareholder or Board member – directed the custodian to add a Board seat and to fill that seat at the special shareholders’ meeting.The Third Circuit reversed. The decision to displace the corporate governance structure of a publicly-traded company did not reflect the required caution, circumspection, or justification for such a drastic step. FRBK’s bylaws describe how the Board should proceed after the death of a director. The Madonna Directors followed those instructions. The court abused its discretion by hastily supplanting the Bylaws with its own process. There was no deadlock, illegality, oppression, or any other ground for appointing a custodian. View "Hill v. Cohen" on Justia Law
Arbitrage Event-Driven Fund v. Tribune Media Co.
Tribune and Sinclair announced an agreement to merge. Tribune abandoned the merger and sued Sinclair, accusing it of failing to comply with its contractual commitment to “use reasonable best efforts” to satisfy the demands of the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department and the FCC, both of which could block the merger. Sinclair settled that suit for $60 million; the settlement disclaims liability. While the merger agreement was in place, investors bought and sold Tribune’s stock. In this class action investors alleged violations of the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 by failing to disclose that Sinclair was “playing hardball with the regulators,” increasing the risk that the merger would be stymied.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The principal claims, which rest on the 1934 Act, failed under the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Questionable statements, such as predictions that the merger was likely to proceed, were forward-looking and shielded from liability because Tribune expressly cautioned investors about the need for regulatory approval and the fact that the merging firms could prove unwilling to do what regulators sought, 15 U.S.C. 78u–5(c)(1)..With respect to the 1933 Act, the registration statement and prospectus through which the shares were offered stated all of the material facts. The relevant “hardball” actions occurred after the plaintiffs purchased shares. “Plaintiffs suppose that, during a major corporate transaction, managers’ thoughts must be an open book." No statute or regulation requires that. View "Arbitrage Event-Driven Fund v. Tribune Media Co." on Justia Law
Evans v. Avande, Inc.
Evans served as CEO and a director of Avande, a privately held Delaware corporation that provides medical claims management services to insurance companies and healthcare organizations. Following Evans’s termination, Avande performed an audit and discovered suspect transactions undertaken by Evans while he was serving as CEO. Avande filed suit, alleging breach of fiduciary duty based on alleged self-dealing transactions and improper expenditures and tortious interference, defamation, and conversion based on acts that Evans allegedly committed after his termination. Evans was found liable for about $65,000 in damages, plus interest. Evans demanded advancement for expenses incurred in connection with the action.The Delaware Chancery court entered judgment in favor of Avande. Avande established that there is no causal link between Evans’s status as a former officer of Avande and the tortious inference and defamation claims; those claims solely concerned Evans’s post-termination conduct. Avande demonstrated that Evans did not succeed but was found liable. View "Evans v. Avande, Inc." on Justia Law
West Dakota Oil v. Kathrein Trucking, et al.
Lee Kathrein appealed a judgment piercing the veil of Kathrein Trucking, LLC. In May 2020, West Dakota Oil, Inc. sued Kathrein Trucking, LLC and its owner, Kathrein, for failing to pay for fuel West Dakota provided. West Dakota amended its complaint in January 2021 and alleged breach of contract, unjust enrichment and quantum meruit. A bench trial was held in June 2021. In September 2021, the district court issued a memorandum opinion finding in favor of West Dakota. The court issued its findings of fact and judgment, ordering Kathrein Trucking and Kathrein to pay $63,412.35, jointly and severally. In deciding to pierce the veil of Kathrein Trucking, the district court found Kathrein disregarded the formalities required of limited liability companies, provided West Dakota title to a trailer Kathrein personally owned as security for the company’s debt, charged items at West Dakota that Kathrein personally used, and utilized company assets for personal use. The court found Kathrein operated his company as an alter ego based on a totality of the circumstances and the rubric for factors used to pierce a veil. After reviewing the record, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the evidence did not support findings under the applicable factors or a conclusion the company’s veil should have been pierced. The decision to pierce the veil and hold Kathrein personally liable was reversed. View "West Dakota Oil v. Kathrein Trucking, et al." on Justia Law
NOELLE LEE V. ROBERT FISHER
Plaintiff brought a shareholder derivative action alleging that The Gap, Inc. and its directors (collectively, Gap) failed to create meaningful diversity within company leadership roles, and that Gap made false statements to shareholders in its proxy statements about the level of diversity it had achieved. Gap’s bylaws contain a forum-selection clause that requires “any derivative action or proceeding brought on behalf of the Corporation” to be adjudicated in the Delaware Court of Chancery.Notwithstanding the forum-selection clause, Plaintiff brought her derivative lawsuit in a federal district court in California, alleging a violation of Section 14(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. Section 78n(a), along with various state law claims. The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s complaint based on its application of the doctrine of forum non conveniens, holding that she was bound by the forum selection clause.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal and held that Plaintiff did not meet her burden to show that enforcing Gap’s forum-selection clause contravenes federal public policy, rejecting as unavailing the evidence Plaintiff identified as supporting her position: the Securities Exchange Act’s anti-waiver provision and exclusive federal jurisdiction provision, Delaware state case law, and a federal court’s obligation to hear cases within its jurisdiction. The court, therefore, concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing the complaint. View "NOELLE LEE V. ROBERT FISHER" on Justia Law
Sirott v. Superior Court of Contra Costa County
EBO filed suit after unsuccessfully seeking to lease a space in a building owned by the Taylor LLC, including derivative claims brought by EBO on behalf of Taylor, alleging that the denial of the lease caused Taylor to suffer economic injury. The defendants argued that EBO lacked standing under Corporations Code section 17709.02 to pursue them because during the litigation it relinquished its interest in and was no longer a member of the Taylor LLC. The court determined that it nonetheless had statutory discretion to allow EBO to maintain the derivative claims.The court of appeal vacated. Section 17709.02 requires a party to maintain continuous membership in a limited liability company to represent it derivatively, just as section 800 requires a party to maintain continuous ownership in a corporation to represent it derivatively. The statutory discretion conferred on trial courts under section 17709.02(a)(1), to permit “[a]ny member [of an LLC] who does not meet these requirements” to maintain a derivative suit does not permit courts to excuse a former member from the continuous membership requirement. While equitable considerations may warrant exceptions to the continuous membership requirement, no such considerations were presented here. View "Sirott v. Superior Court of Contra Costa County" on Justia Law