Justia Corporate Compliance Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
EpicentRx, Inc. v. Super. Ct.
EpicentRx, Inc. and several of its officers, employees, and affiliates (collectively, the defendants) challenged a trial court order denying their motion to dismiss plaintiff-shareholder EpiRx, L.P.’s (EpiRx) lawsuit on forum non conveniens grounds. The defendants sought dismissal of the case based on mandatory forum selection clauses in EpicentRx’s certificate of incorporation and bylaws, which designated the Delaware Court of Chancery as the exclusive forum to resolve shareholder disputes like the present case. The trial court declined to enforce the forum selection clauses after finding that litigants did not have a right to a civil jury trial in the Delaware Court of Chancery and, therefore, enforcement of the clauses would deprive EpiRx of its inviolate right to a jury trial in violation of California public policy. The California Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court that enforcement of the forum selection clauses in EpicentRx’s corporate documents would operate as an implied waiver of EpiRx’s right to a jury trial, thus the Court concluded the trial court properly declined to enforce the forum selection clauses at issue, and denied the defendants’ request for writ relief. View "EpicentRx, Inc. v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law
Kanter v. Reed
Plaintiffs were stockholders of Sempra when the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility (Aliso Canyon facility) experienced a natural gas leak (Aliso gas leak). Sempra was a California corporation “whose operating units invest[ed] in, develop[ed], and operate[d] energy infrastructure, and provide[d] gas and electricity services to [its] customers in North and South America.” One of Sempra’s wholly-owned subsidiaries, Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas), maintained the Aliso Canyon facility. Defendants were either officer of Sempra or members of the Board or officers or members of the board of directors of SoCalGas at the time of the Aliso gas leak. When Plaintiffs filed the operative amended complaint, eight of the Board members had also been Board members at the time of the leak. The trial court issued the judgment of dismissal, which Plaintiffs timely appealed. The Second Appellate District affirmed. The court concluded that a director acts with “reckless disregard” of his duties, within the meaning of section 204, subdivision (a)(10)(iv), when the director (1) does an intentional act or intentionally fails to act in accordance with those duties, (2) with knowledge, or with reason to have knowledge, that (3) the director’s conduct creates a substantial risk of serious harm to the corporation or its shareholders. The court held that Plaintiffs have not alleged particularized facts supporting their Caremark theory of liability and thus have failed to plead to demand futility as required under section 800, subdivision (b)(2). View "Kanter v. Reed" on Justia Law
Takiguchi v. Venetian Condominiums Maintenance Corp.
Venetian Condominiums Maintenance Corporation was a condominium project with 368 condominium units in the University Town Center area of San Diego. It was a nonprofit mutual benefit corporation governed by the California Nonprofit Mutual Benefit Corporation Law. Ali Ghorbanzadeh owned 18 units at the Venetian. He was elected to Venetian’s board of directors in 2008. In 2009, Ghorbanzadeh appointed his son Sean Gorban to the board. They controlled the three-member board continuously from 2009 through at least 2021. Guy Takiguchi was elected as the third director in 2015. From 2009 to 2021, the board repeatedly failed to hold annual elections, either due to the absence of a quorum or for other reasons. Ghorbanzadeh’s seat was up for re-election at the 2020 annual meeting, and there were two other candidates for the seat, including Nishime. The Ballot Box, Inc. contracted as the Venetian's inspector of elections, declaring there was no quorum for the meeting because Ballot Box had only received 166 ballots, and the quorum was 188. Nishime participated in the January 20, 2021 meeting remotely by computer and took multiple screenshots of the participants. Nishime was able to identify eight members who were present (representing 37 units). Had those units been counted with written ballots, there would have been a quorum of 203 present at the meeting. The eight participating members who represented units for which no ballot had been submitted included Ghorbanzadeh (representing 18 units), his son Sean Gorban (representing one unit), his other son Brian Gorban (representing three units), and an ally of Ghorbanzadeh’s who was also running for the director’s seat (representing one unit). An allegation asserted Ghorbanzadeh and his allies did not submit their ballots “in a deliberate and tactical effort to not reach quorum so they could remain in power another year or two.” Venetian submitted no evidence refuting this accusation. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court properly ordered Venetian to hold a meeting for the purpose of counting the 166 written ballots cast for its January 20, 2021 annual member meeting and election. Substantial evidence supported the trial court’s finding that there was a quorum present for that meeting. By adjourning the meeting based on the purported absence of a quorum, Venetian failed to conduct the scheduled meeting or cover the noticed agenda items, which included counting the ballots and determining the results. View "Takiguchi v. Venetian Condominiums Maintenance Corp." on Justia Law
Reliant Life Shares, LLC v. Cooper
Reliant Life Shares, LLC (Reliant or LLC) was a profitable limited liability company owned in equal parts by three members. Two of them, SM and DC, were longtime friends and business partners. After DC stopped working out of the offices of Reliant because of a medical condition, no one at Reliant expected him to return to work, but SM assured CDC he remained a loyal business partner. Before long, however, SM and the third member of Reliant, SG, tried to force out DC, splitting the company’s profits and other revenues 50/50 and paying DC nothing. The LLC sued DC, seeking a declaratory judgment that he was properly removed as a member of the LLC. DC cross-complained against the parties and the LLC, alleging breach of contract, fraud, breach of the duty of loyalty and several other causes of action, seeking damages, an accounting and imposition of a constructive trust over funds obtained through violation of fiduciary duties. The jury awarded DC damages and valued his equity interest. The LLC, SM, SG, and several of their entities appealed. They assert a multitude of arguments for reversal of the judgment. The Second Appellate District found no merit in any of the claims and affirmed the judgment in full. The court found that the trial court acted well within its discretion when it decided alter ego claims in phase one. Further, the court found no merit in the election of remedies argument, either as it relates to prejudgment interest or anything else. View "Reliant Life Shares, LLC v. Cooper" on Justia Law
Lake Lindero Homeowners Assn., Inc. v. Barone
Defendant appealed an order under Corporations Code section 7616 confirming the validity of an election removing the former board of the Lake Lindero Homeowners Association, Inc. (the Association) and electing a new board of directors. Defendant made two contentions: (1) the election was not valid because it contravened the Association’s bylaws and statutory provision governing board recall elections, and (2) section 7616 did not authorize Plaintiffs' action or the trial court’s order validating the recall election. The Second Appellate District affirmed. The court held that the appeal is not moot: material questions remain regarding the construction of the bylaws and statutes governing the vote required to remove the association’s board of directors. Further, the court explained that the trial court correctly determined the former board was validly recalled under the Association’s bylaws and statutory law. The court explained that the trial court correctly recognized section 7616, subdivision (d) authorizes the court to “direct such other relief as may be just and proper” in connection with confirming the validity of a board election. Here, the complaint alleged Defendant, in his role as CEO and with the sanction of a majority of the former board, was engaged in frustrating the new board’s efforts to fulfill its duties under the Association’s bylaws. Having confirmed the validity of the new board’s election, the statute plainly authorized the trial court to enter an order confirming Defendant had no authority to act on behalf of the Association, as was “just and proper” under the Association’s bylaws. View "Lake Lindero Homeowners Assn., Inc. v. Barone" on Justia Law
Farnum v. Iris Biotechnologies Inc.
Iris, incorporated in 1999, went public in 2007. In 2019, the SEC revoked the registration of Iris’s securities. Since its incorporation, Chin has been chairman of Iris’s three-member board of directors, its president, secretary, CEO, CFO, and majority shareholder. Chin’s sister was also a board member. Farnum was a board member, 2003-2014, and owned eight percent of Iris’s stock. In 2014, Farnum requested inspection of corporate minutes, documents relating to the acquisition of Iris’s subsidiary, and cash flow statements, then, in his capacity as a board member and shareholder, sought a writ of mandate. Before the hearing on Farnum’s petition, Farnum was voted off Iris’s board. The court denied Farnum’s petition (Corporations Code 1602) because Farnum no longer had standing to inspect corporate records due to his ejection from the board, and his request was “overbroad and lack[ed] a statement of purpose reasonably related to his interests as a shareholder.”Weeks later, Farnum served 31 inspection requests on Iris and subsequently filed another mandamus petition. The superior court denied the petition and Farnum’s associated request for attorney fees. On remand with respect to certain records, Farnum sought reimbursement of his expenses in enforcing his rights as a shareholder ($91,000). The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the request. Farnum scored “only a partial victory” given the scope of what he sought; there was no showing that on the whole, Iris acted without justification in refusing Farnum’s inspection demands. View "Farnum v. Iris Biotechnologies Inc." on Justia Law
Karton v. Musick, Peeler, Garrett LLP
A client who retained Plaintiff, the Law Corporation, to represent him in a marital dissolution action. The client assigned the judgments to Musick Peeler & Garrett LLC (Musick Peeler). In October 2019, the Law Corporation filed a motion (the setoff motion) in the superior court to set off against its judgment debt to Musick Peeler a debt that Dougherty allegedly owes to the Law Corporation. The client’s alleged tortious actions to hinder, delay, or defraud the Law Corporation in its efforts to collect on a 1999 default judgment prior to our opinion vacating that judgment and declaring it void in 2009. The trial court denied the motion and the Law Corporation appealed. The Second Appellate District affirmed. The court explained that to the extent the Law Corporation incurred any fees or costs in connection with its defense against the collateral attack actions in California, they were incurred in defending actions by the client, not a third person. These actions, therefore, do not support a setoff claim based on the tort of another doctrine. Further, even if the Law Corporation’s motion was procedurally proper, the Law Corporation failed to support its setoff claims with relevant evidence and, therefore, the court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion. View "Karton v. Musick, Peeler, Garrett LLP" on Justia Law
ZF Micro Solutions, Inc. v. TAT Capital Partners, Ltd.
ZF Micro Solutions, Inc., the successor of now deceased ZF Micro Devices, Inc., alleged TAT Capital Partners, Ltd., murdered its predecessor by inserting a board member who poisoned it. The trial court decided the claim for breach of TAT’s fiduciary duty as a director was equitable rather than legal and, after a court trial, entered judgment for TAT. ZF Micro Solutions argued this was error. The Court of Appeal agreed, holding that while examining the performance of a board member’s fiduciary duties would be required, resolution of this claim did not implicate the powers of equity, and it should have been tried as a matter at law. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "ZF Micro Solutions, Inc. v. TAT Capital Partners, Ltd." on Justia Law
Crane v. R. R. Crane Investment Corp., Inc.
Plaintiff initiated an action for involuntary dissolution of R. R. Crane Investment Corporation, Inc. (R. R. Crane), a family-owned investment business that he shared with his brother. To avoid corporate dissolution, the brother and R. R. Crane invoked the statutory appraisal and buyout provisions of the Corporations Code.1 In December of 2020, after a prolonged appraisal process, the trial court confirmed the fair value of Plaintiff’s shares at over $6.1 million, valued as of November 13, 2017, the date Plaintiff filed for dissolution. On appeal, Plaintiff contends the trial court erred by failing to award him prejudgment interest on the valuation of his shares. He argues he was entitled to interest at a rate of 10 percent per annum from the date he first sought dissolution until the eventual purchase of his shares more than three years later. The Second Appellate District disagreed and affirmed the trial court’s ruling. The court held that it disagrees that prejudgment interest must be added to the appraised value of Plaintiff’s shares. The court explained that a plaintiff’s entitlement to prejudgment interest pursuant to Civil Code section 3287, subdivision (a), does not apply to a buyout of shares under Corporations Code section 2000. Further, the court wrote that Plaintiff’s alternative contention that he is entitled to prejudgment interest under Civil Code section 3288also fails. The trial court correctly applied the plain language of Civil Code section 3288 and concluded that the valuation award “is not based on the breach of an obligation not arising from contract or a showing of oppression, fraud, or malice.” View "Crane v. R. R. Crane Investment Corp., Inc." 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