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Karna Kornkven, Eric Molbert, and Kristi Benz ("Siblings") appeal after the district court entered judgment in favor of their brother, Lauris Molbert. The parties' father, Ralph Molbert, owned the controlling interest in the Bank of Steele and its holding company, H.O.M.E., Inc. Lauris, the oldest child, became a director of the bank in 1983 and director of the holding company in 1986 and was actively involved in the operations of both entities. Ralph and Beverly Molbert intended for Lauris Molbert to own and control the bank and holding company and pursued this intention through their estate plan. In December 1992, Ralph and Beverly Molbert gifted their children shares of H.O.M.E. stock and recorded the gift for tax purposes in 1992. It was understood that Ralph and Beverly intended to restrict these gifted shares. Following the gift of H.O.M.E. shares to the Molbert children, H.O.M.E. board minutes signed by Ralph and Beverly described the development of a shareholder agreement to restrict the gifted shares. In July 1993, the parties discussed the agreement while on a family vacation to Whitefish, Montana. The parties executed the stock purchase agreement following the Whitefish vacation. Ralph signed the agreement as H.O.M.E. president. Share certificates were issued after execution of the agreement stating the gifted shares were restricted by the stock purchase agreement. The agreement granted Lauris the right to vote the Siblings' shares. The agreement also granted him the irrevocable right to purchase the Siblings' shares at book value. Lauris sent written notice to the Siblings that he was exercising the call option set forth in Paragraph Seven of the stock purchase agreement. The Siblings refused to transfer their shares. Molbert sued the Siblings for specific performance, seeking a judgment requiring them to sell their shares to him in exchange for the book value payment. The Siblings counterclaimed, alleging the stock purchase agreement was void because Lauris engaged in fraud by failing to disclose that the agreement granted him a purchase option at book value. The Siblings also alleged the agreement lacked consideration and Lauris breached fiduciary duties owed to them. The Siblings sought relief in the form of cancellation of the agreement. Judgment was entered in Lauris' favor; finding no reversible error in that judgment, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Molbert v. Kornkven" on Justia Law

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Google agreed with competitors, such as Apple, not to initiate contact to recruit each others' employees. In 2010, the Department of Justice filed a civil antitrust action, alleging that the agreements illegally diminished competition for tech employees, denying them job opportunities and suppressing wages. On the same day, the companies entered into a stipulated judgment, admitting no liability but agreeing to an injunction prohibiting the "no cold call" arrangements. Google posted a statement online announcing the settlement and denying any wrongdoing, with a link to a Department of Justice press release, describing the settlement terms. There was widespread media coverage. In 2011, class action lawsuits were filed against the companies by employees who alleged that the cold calling restrictions had caused them wage losses. A consolidated action sought over $3 billion in damages on behalf of more than 100,000 employees. A derivative suit, filed by shareholders in 2014, claimed that the company suffered financial losses resulting from the antitrust and class action suits and that the agreements harmed the company’s reputation and stifled innovation. Based on a three-year statute of limitations, the trial court dismissed. The court of appeal affirmed, finding the suit untimely because plaintiffs should have been aware of the facts giving rise to their claims by at least the time of the Department of Justice antitrust action in 2010. View "Police Retirement System of St. Louis v. Page" on Justia Law

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A corporate shareholder sought a shareholder list to mail proxy solicitations for an annual director election. The corporation required a signed confidentiality agreement in exchange for releasing the list. After obtaining and using the list, the shareholder later declared the agreement unenforceable, and refused to return or destroy the list. The corporation sued, seeking to that the shareholder had breached the confidentiality agreement and that the corporation was not obligated to provide the shareholder access to its confidential information for two years. After the superior court refused to continue trial or issue written rulings on the shareholder’s two pending summary judgment motions, the shareholder declined to participate in the trial. The court proceeded, ruled in favor of the corporation, and denied the shareholder’s subsequent disqualification motion. The shareholder appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court determined the superior court did not err in determining the shareholder had materially breached a valid, enforceable contract and did not err or abuse its discretion in its pretrial decisions or in denying the post-trial disqualification motion. But because the declaratory relief granted by the superior court regarding the shareholder’s statutory right to seek corporate information no longer pertained to a live controversy, the Court vacated it as moot without considering the merits. View "Pederson v. Arctic Slope Regional Corporation" on Justia Law

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Employee-shareholders Steven Nichols, Deborah Deavours, Terry Akers, Thomas Dryden, and Gary Evans appealed a circuit court’s dismissal of their action against HealthSouth Corporation ("HealthSouth"). The employee shareholders at one time were all HealthSouth employees and holders of HealthSouth stock. In 2003, the employee shareholders sued HealthSouth, Richard Scrushy, Weston Smith, William Owens, and the accounting firm Ernst & Young, alleging fraud and negligence. The action was delayed for 11 years for a variety of reasons, including a stay imposed until related criminal prosecutions were completed and a stay imposed pending the resolution of federal and state class actions. In their original complaint (and in several subsequent amended complaints) the employee shareholders alleged that HealthSouth and several of its executive officers mislead investors by filing false financial statements of HealthSouth from 1987 forward. When the employee shareholders filed their action, the Alabama Supreme Court's precedent held: (1) that "[n]either Rule 23.1[, Ala. R. Civ. P.,] nor any other provision of Alabama law required stockholders' causes of action that involve the conduct of officers, directors, agents, and employees be brought only in a derivative action," and (2) that claims by shareholders against a corporation alleging "fraud, intentional misrepresentations and omissions of material facts, suppression, conspiracy to defraud, and breach of fiduciary duty" "do not seek compensation for injury to the [corporation] as a result of negligence or mismanagement," and therefore "are not derivative in nature." In the present case, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the employee shareholders' claims were direct rather than derivative and that, the trial court erred in dismissing the employee shareholders' claims for failure to comply with Rule 23.1, Ala. R. Civ. P. Furthermore, the Court found employee shareholders' eighth amended complaint related back to their original complaint and thus the claims asserted therein were not barred by the statute of limitations. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court was reversed and the cause remanded for further proceedings. View "Nichols v. HealthSouth Corporation" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Franklin Eng appealed a judgment in favor of defendants Michael Patrick Brown and Gerald Levy following a jury trial. Eng claimed that Brown and Levy breached their fiduciary duties to him as purported partners or joint venturers in the ownership and operation of the Tin Fish Gaslamp, a seafood restaurant in San Diego. The jury found that Eng, Brown, and Levy entered into a partnership or joint venture, but it was terminated when they formed a corporation, B.L.E. Fish, Inc. to purchase and operate the restaurant. Eng's claim for breach of fiduciary duty based on a partnership or joint venture was therefore unsupportable. Eng argued on appeal that, among other things:(1) the trial court erred by denying his request, in a motion in limine, that the court find that the parties created a partnership as a matter of law; (2) the court erred by denying his motion in limine seeking to exclude any evidence or argument that B.L.E. Fish merged with or superseded the partnership; (3) the court erred by granting Brown and Levy's motion to amend their answer to assert an affirmative defense based on merger or supersession; (4) the court erred by denying Eng's motion for directed verdict; (5) the court committed instructional error (and a related error in the special verdict) regarding merger and supersession; (6) the court erred in its response to a juror question during deliberations; (7) the court erred by denying Eng's motion to amend his complaint to add a claim for breach of fiduciary duties based on the parties' corporate relationship; (8) the court erred by denying Eng's motion to strike the testimony of a defense expert witness; and (9) the court erred by denying Eng's ex parte application for the release of juror contact information. Finding no reversible errors, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Eng v. Brown" on Justia Law

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The 2016 amendment to Corporations Code section 17707.06 applied to a certificate of cancellation filed by plaintiff in 2014. The Court of Appeal held that plaintiff concealed the certificate of cancellation and then unsuccessfully challenged its authenticity, prolonging the proceedings into 2016 when the changes to section 17707.06 took effect. The court reasoned that, had plaintiff been forthcoming, the case would have been dismissed under the prior law. In this case, it would be unfair to reward plaintiff's delay by allowing it to take advantage of the 2016 law. View "DD Hair Lounge v. St. Farm General Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Somers alleged that Digital terminated his employment after he reported suspected securities-law violations to senior management. Somers sued, alleging whistleblower retaliation under the Dodd-Frank Act. The Ninth Circuit affirmed denial of a motion to dismiss. The Supreme Court reversed. Dodd-Frank’s anti-retaliation provision does not extend to an individual, like Somers, who has not reported a violation to the Securities and Exchange Commission. While the Sarbanes-Oxley Act applies to all “employees” who report misconduct to the SEC, any other federal agency, Congress, or an internal supervisor. 18 U.S.C. 1514A(a)(1), Dodd-Frank defines a “whistleblower” as “any individual who provides . . . information relating to a violation of the securities laws to the Commission, in a manner established, by rule or regulation, by the Commission,” 15 U.S.C. 78u– 6(a)(6). A whistleblower is eligible for an award if original information provided to the SEC leads to a successful enforcement action; he is protected from retaliation for “making disclosures that are required or protected under” Sarbanes-Oxley or other specified laws. An individual who falls outside the protected category of “whistleblowers” is ineligible to seek redress under Dodd-Frank, regardless of the conduct in which that individual engages. The statute’s retaliation protections, like its financial rewards, are reserved for employees who have done what Dodd-Frank seeks to achieve by reporting unlawful activity to the SEC. View "Digital Realty Trust, Inc. v. Somers" on Justia Law

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Martensen was a supervisor in the Chicago Stock Exchange’s unit responsible for examining compliance with trading regulations. He was fired in 2016. He claimed his firing violated 15 U.S.C. 78u–6(h), a part of the Dodd-Frank Act that protects whistleblowers. Martensen’s complaint did not allege that he reported any unlawful activity to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his suit. Only a person who has reported “a violation of the securities laws to the Commission” is covered by 78u–6(h). The judge was wrong to reject Martensen’s proposal to file an amended complaint alleging that he had reported fraud to the SEC, but remand would be pointless. The report was unrelated to his discharge. A report to the SEC does not prevent employers from responding adversely to later reports that do not concern fraud or any other violation of the securities laws and never reach the SEC. Martensen acknowledged that the Exchange did not retaliate against him for the act that made him a whistleblower and did not argue that an internal complaint, which resulted in his firing, was “required or protected” by any particular rule of the Chicago Stock Exchange. View "Martensen v. Chicago Stock Exchange, Inc." on Justia Law

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Diamond Resorts International’s board of directors recommended to its stockholders that they sell their shares to a private equity buyer, Apollo Global Management, for cash in a two-step merger transaction involving a front-end tender offer followed by a back-end merger. The proxy statement had a detailed recitation of the background leading to the merger, and the reasons for and against it. But notably absent from that recitation was that the company’s founder, largest stockholder, and Chairman, had abstained from supporting the procession of the merger discussions, and from ultimately approving the deal, because he was "disappointed with the price and the Company’s management for not having run the business in a manner that would command a higher price, and that in his view, it was not the right time to sell the Company." On a motion to dismiss, the Court of Chancery held that the complaint challenging the merger should have been dismissed because the stockholders’ acceptance of the first-step tender offer was fully informed, rejecting the plaintiffs’ argument that the omission of the Chairman’s reasons for abstaining rendered the proxy statement materially misleading. The issue this case presented for the Delaware Supreme Court's review was whether that ruling was correct. The Supreme Court agreed with the plaintiffs that it was not, and that the defendants’ argument that the reasons for a dissenting or abstaining board member’s vote can never be material was incorrect. "Precisely because Delaware law gives important effect to an informed stockholder decision, Delaware law also requires that the disclosures the board makes to stockholders contain the material facts and not describe events in a materially misleading way." Here, the Court found the founder and Chairman’s views regarding the wisdom of selling the company were ones that reasonable stockholders would have found material in deciding whether to vote for the merger or seek appraisal, and the failure to disclose them rendered the facts that were disclosed misleadingly incomplete. View "Appel v. Berkman, et al." on Justia Law

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Turtle Creek Crossing, LLC, a minority interest holder in Kimco Hattiesburg, L.P., filed an action in circuit court after it learned it would receive no distribution from the sale of the partnership’s only asset, a multimillion-dollar shopping center. In its complaint, Turtle Creek alleged its fellow partners breached their fiduciary duties and conspired with each other, the partnership, and a sister partnership to market and sell the asset in such a way as to keep Turtle Creek from profiting. According to the defendants, the predominant claim was for an accounting - an equitable claim that belonges in chancery court; had this case been filed in chancery court, there would be a strong argument for the chancery court’s original jurisdiction over the accounting claim, as well as pendant jurisdiction over the legal claims. Turtle Creek did not file this action in chancery court. It filed it in circuit court. And the circuit court also had original jurisdiction, not only over the accounting claim, but also Turtle Creek’s other legal claims. Because Turtle Creek chose a forum with proper subject-matter jurisdiction, the Mississippi Supreme Court determined that choice must be respected. The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court’s denial of the motion to transfer and remanded for further proceedings. View "KD Hattiesburg 1128, Inc. v. Turtle Creek Crossing, LLC" on Justia Law