Justia Corporate Compliance Opinion Summaries

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Through several corporations, members of the Boersen family have farmed in Michigan for several generations. After 2016's poor crop, their corporate entities could not cover their debts. One creditor, Helena, obtained a nearly 15-million-dollar judgment against the Boersen entities and family members who ran them. Much of the farm equipment was repossessed and, unable to obtain financing, the Boersens discontinued farming until 1999, when family members Stacy and Nick formed new entities, secured financing to lease the land and remaining equipment, and resumed farming. Because the original defendants could not pay their debt, Helena sued Stacy and Nick and their new companies.The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The leases do not transfer the debtors’ assets; none of the involved entities owes any money to Helena. Stacy and Nick’s use of the family farm’s production history to obtain crop insurance does not constitute a “transfer of assets.” Neither Stacy nor Nick was an owner, manager, or shareholder of any of the Boersen entities covered by the judgment; no Boersen legacy owner or guarantor serves as an officer of or is otherwise employed by, either new company. No original Boersen defendant received anything of value from the new companies other than fair market value payments on leases. Nor was either new company used to commit a wrong against Helena. View "Helena Agri-Enterprises, LLC v. Great Lakes Grain, LLC" on Justia Law

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Appellant Alex Bäcker was the co-founder and majority common stockholder of QLess, Inc. In June 2019, the Company’s board removed Alex as CEO following an internal investigation into workplace complaints. Alex eventually relented to the change and expressed support for his successor, Kevin Grauman. In the week leading up to the November 15, 2019 board meeting, the Company’s outside counsel circulated board resolutions that, among other things, would appoint Grauman to the board. Alex made a series of statements that collectively represented support for Grauman’s appointment. On the eve of the board meeting, the Company’s independent director unexpectedly resigned, giving Alex a board majority. Alex leapt into action, devising a secret counter agenda to fire Grauman and lock-in Alex’s control of the Company. Alex caught his fellow directors by surprise at the meeting, passing his counter agenda over objections and seizing control of the Company. Palisades Growth Capital II, L.P., the majority owner of the Company’s Series A preferred stock, filed a complaint in the Court of Chancery seeking to reverse Alex’s actions. Following a paper trial, the court held that, even if technically legal, the board’s actions were invalid as a matter of equity because Alex affirmatively deceived a fellow director to establish a quorum. After review of the parties briefs and the record on appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court held the Court of Chancery's finding of affirmative deception was not clearly erroneous. The Supreme Court also held that the Court of Chancery did not impose an equitable notice requirement for regular board meetings, that Appellants failed to properly raise an equitable participation defense below, and that the Court of Chancery did not exercise its equitable powers to grant relief for a de facto breach of contract claim. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Chancery’s March 26, 2020 Memorandum Opinion. View "Backer v. Palisades Growth Capital" on Justia Law

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Sterling Bank purchased Damian Services. The stock purchase agreement set up a two-million-dollar escrow to resolve disputes arising after the purchase and established comprehensive rights, obligations, remedies, and procedures for resolving disputes. After the purchase, a former Damian employee called some of Damian’s clients to tell them of a billing practice that the sellers had instituted years earlier. When Sterling learned of the situation, it investigated with the help of a forensic accountant. Sterling concluded that under the sellers’ management, Damian had overcharged its clients by over one million dollars. Sterling refunded the overpayments to its current clients, then unsuccessfully demanded indemnification from the escrow, claiming that the sellers had misrepresented Damian’s liabilities and vulnerability to litigation.The district court granted the sellers summary judgment, reasoning that Sterling missed the deadline for claiming indemnification under the stock purchase agreement. The court denied the sellers’ request for statutory interest on the escrow money.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Whether Sterling’s demand for indemnification was late depends on disputed facts. Even if the demand was late, however, the agreement’s elaborate terms provide that any delay could be held against Sterling only “to the extent that [sellers] irrevocably forfeit[] rights or defenses by reason of such failure.” Undisputed facts show that the sellers have not irrevocably forfeited any claims or defenses. View "Sterling National Bank v. Block" on Justia Law

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Aspen agreed to pay FBR, an investment banking firm, 1.25 percent of the aggregate consideration paid to Aspen’s shareholders in the event of an acquisition or merger. Markel subsequently became the parent of Aspen and agreed to pay Aspen shareholders $135,700,000 in cash plus additional compensation based on the future value of Aspen’s business. FBR provided a fairness opinion and received 1.25 percent of the cash consideration. Aspen shareholders obtained “contingent value rights” to the additional compensation (CVR Holders) and challenged Markel’s valuation of the CVRs. The Delaware District Court has not yet issued a valuation opinion. FBR indicated its intent to claim 1.25 percent of the additional compensation.The CVR Holders sought a declaratory judgment that FBR is not entitled to further payment. FBR removed to the District of Nebraska, which dismissed the action because the CVR Holders failed to establish Article III standing. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. While the Holders' contract-based claims to a share of the additional compensation may be a legally protected interest, they have not suffered an injury that is concrete and particularized and actual or imminent. The final amount of the additional compensation has not been determined; no payments have been made. The Holders' only injury in fact is not fairly attributable to FBR asserting a competing claim, and cannot be redressed at this time by the judicial decision they seek. The additional compensation will be paid by Markel, a non-party. View "Yeransian v. B. Riley & Co., LLC" on Justia Law

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The Court of Chancery issued a memorandum opinion in an action brought under Delaware's Corporation Law, section 220 (the "DGCL"). The opinion ordered AmerisourceBergen Corporation to produce certain books and records to Lebanon County Employees Retirement Fund and Teamsters Local 443 Health Services & Insurance Plan (“Plaintiffs”) and granting Plaintiffs leave to take a Rule 30(b)(6) deposition “to explore what types of books and records exist and who has them.” The Company claimed Plaintiffs’ inspection demand, which, among other things, was aimed at investigating possible breaches of fiduciary duty, mismanagement, and other wrongdoing, was fatally deficient because it did not disclose Plaintiffs’ ultimate objective, which was what they intended to do with the books and records in the event that they confirmed their suspicion of wrongdoing. The Company also contended the Court of Chancery erred by holding Plaintiffs were not required to establish a credible basis to suspect actionable wrongdoing. And finally, the Company argued the Court of Chancery erred as a matter of law when it allowed Plaintiffs to take a post-trial Rule 30(b)(6) deposition. After review, the Delaware Supreme Court held that when a Section 220 inspection demand stated a proper investigatory purpose, it did not need to identify the particular course of action the stockholder will take if the books and records confirm the stockholder’s suspicion of wrongdoing. In addition, the Court held that, although the actionability of wrongdoing can be a relevant factor for the Court of Chancery to consider when assessing the legitimacy of a stockholder’s stated purpose, an investigating stockholder was not required in all cases to establish the wrongdoing under investigation was actionable. Finally, the Court found the Court of Chancery’s allowance of the post-trial deposition was not an abuse of discretion. View "Amerisourcebergen Corp v. Lebanon County Employees' Retirement Fund" on Justia Law

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Margaret Stockham, as personal representative of the estate of Herbert Stockham, deceased ("Stockham"), appealed a circuit court judgment denying her motion for reimbursement for costs and attorney fees. The costs and fees at issue in this appeal related to a lawsuit brought by a beneficiary of three trusts that each held preferred and common stock in SVI Corporation, on whose board of directors Stockham served. Judgment was entered in favor of Stockham and other defendants. Stockham filed a motion for reimbursement of fees and expenses for defense of the beneficiary's action against Herbert Stockham. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the circuit court erred indenting Stockham's motion for reimbursement of costs and attorney fees based on the beneficiary's newly-revised argument Herbert had willfully and wantonly committed material breaches of the trusts. Accordingly, the Court reversed the circuit court's judgment and remanded this case for the circuit court to reconsider Stockham's motion for reimbursement without consideration of the beneficiary's newly raised arguments. View "Stockham v. Ladd" on Justia Law

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CEW Properties, Inc. was a firearms dealer licensed by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (“ATF”). In 2017, the ATF conducted a compliance inspection of CEW. Inspectors found that CEW had failed to: (1) record properly the acquisition and disposition of firearms; (2) conduct background checks on transferees; and (3) complete correctly the ATF form that documents the transfer of a firearm. The inspection discovered hundreds of violations. ATF therefore issued a notice to revoke CEW’s license. CEW requested a hearing, stipulating to the violations but arguing they were not “willful.” Following the hearing, ATF issued a final notice of revocation. CEW sought judicial review in district court. The court found the violations to be willful and granted summary judgment for ATF. CEW contested the district court’s finding that its violations of the Gun Control Act were “willful.” Because there was no genuine dispute the evidence was sufficient for ATF to conclude that CEW willfully violated firearms regulations, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. View "CEW Properties v. U.S. Department of Justice" on Justia Law

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Applecars is a member of a network of Wisconsin used-car dealerships. McCormick owned a majority share in each dealership. Each dealership received management services from Capital M, which McCormick also owned. Capital M tracked shared dealership inventory, held employee records, and issued identical employee handbooks for each dealership; Capital M’s operations manager hired and fired each dealership’s general manager. The employees of each dealership gathered as one for events several times per year. The dealerships advertised on a single website, which included some language suggesting a single entity and some indicators that each dealership is a separate entity. Each dealership properly maintained corporate formalities and records. Capital M billed each dealership separately. Each dealership had a distinct general manager, bank accounts, and financial reports. The dealerships separately filed and paid taxes, paid employees, and entered into contracts.Prince worked at Applecars for several months before he was fired. Prince claims his firing was retaliatory and sued Applecars and its affiliates for racial discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The court granted the defendants summary judgment, noting that Applecars had fewer than 15 employees and was not subject to Title VII. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. There is insufficient evidence to support Prince’s theory that the court should pierce the corporate veil of the network, aggregating the number of employees such that Title VII would apply. View "Prince v. Appleton Auto LLC" on Justia Law

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Since 2010, appellant Mark Spanakos has tried to gain control over and revive Hawk Systems, Inc., a void Delaware corporation, by filing a series of direct and derivative actions in Florida against former Hawk Systems insiders and taking several steps outside of court to establish himself as the Company’s majority stockholder and sole director. Spanakos was successful in his direct Florida litigation, having won a Partial Final Judgment in one action and favorable Summary Judgment rulings in another. Spanakos’s derivative claims in the third Florida action, however, were stayed to allow Spanakos to clarify his standing to pursue those claims. Accordingly, in 2018 Spanakos filed suit in the Delaware Court of Chancery seeking: (1) a declaration that he controlled a majority of the voting shares of Hawk Systems and that he was the validly elected, sole director and officer of Hawk Systems; or (2) in the alternative, an order compelling the company to hold an annual election of directors under 8 Del. C. sections 223(a) and 211(c). Following a trial, briefing, and post-trial argument, the Court of Chancery denied both of Spanakos’s requests for relief, ruling that he had not carried his burden of proof to obtain any of the relief that he sought. On appeal, Spanakos argues that the Court of Chancery abused its discretion when it declined to order a stockholders’ meeting for the election of directors despite the fact that Spanakos satisfied the elements of Section 211. Having reviewed the record on appeal and the court’s opinion below, the Delaware Supreme Court found the Court of Chancery did not abuse its discretion when it declined to compel a stockholders’ meeting given the unique facts of this case. View "Spanakos v. Page, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a member of the Board of Directors of Eagle Forum, filed suit against Eagle Forum and others, alleging violations of the organization's bylaws and breach of fiduciary duties in connection with the organization's attempt to remove plaintiff and others from the Board.The Eighth Circuit held that plaintiff waived the Bylaws claim set forth in his original complaint; the district court did not err in dismissing plaintiff's claim that Eagle Forum violated Illinois law by not permitting proxy voting; the district court acted within the scope of its "informed discretion" by awarding attorneys' fees by relying on its inherent power, because Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 was not "up to the task" in this situation; the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding attorney's fees to Eagle Forum under its inherent power as a sanction against plaintiff for acting in bad faith; the district court provided a reasoned basis for its award of $9,851.25 in attorneys' fees to Eagle Forum by relying on and analyzing the invoice submitted by Eagle Forum. View "Schlafly v. Eagle Forum" on Justia Law