Justia Corporate Compliance Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Contracts
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
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
Borer v. Eyak Corporation
A winning candidate for a seat on the board of directors of an Alaska Native Corporation declined to sign the corporation’s confidentiality agreement and code of conduct. When the corporation denied him a seat on the board, he sought a declaratory judgment that these agreements were unlawful and an injunction that he be seated on the board. He argued that the scope of the confidentiality agreement was so broad, and the code of conduct so apt to be used to suppress dissenting directors, that they were inconsistent with directors’ fiduciary duties to the corporation. The Alaska Supreme Court determined he did not challenge the application of these agreements to any concrete factual situations, therefore, his claims were not ripe for adjudication. The Court therefore affirmed the judgment and the award of attorney’s fees against him. View "Borer v. Eyak Corporation" on Justia Law
Sterling National Bank v. Block
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
Ex parte Maynard, Cooper & Gale, P.C.
Maynard, Cooper & Gale, P.C. ("MCG"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate its July 30, 2018 order denying MCG's motion for a change of venue and to enter an order transferring the underlying action to the Madison Circuit Court on the basis of the doctrine of forum non conveniens. In late 2017, AAL USA, Inc. ("AAL"), a Delaware corporation doing business in Alabama, and Oleg Sirbu, a resident of Dubai, United Arab Emirates (collectively, "the plaintiffs"), sued MCG, asserting a claim of legal malpractice pursuant to the Alabama Legal Services Liability Act ("the ALSLA"), and seeking, among other relief, disgorgement of all attorney fees paid by the plaintiffs to MCG. AAL maintained, repaired, and overhauled helicopters through various government contracts or subcontracts on United States military bases. MCG represented the plaintiffs from 2014 through October 28, 2016; two MCG attorneys, Jon Levin and J. Andrew Watson III, were shareholders of MCG whose allegedly wrongful conduct was performed within the line and scope of their employment with MCG. The events giving rise to this litigation began in September 2016, when AAL received a "base-debarment" letter notifying it that it no longer had access to certain military bases outside the continental United States. MCG chief financial officer Keith Woolford forwarded this letter to MCG, and, according to the plaintiffs, MCG "immediately embarked in a central role in [MCG CEO Paul] Daigle's and Woolford's scheme to steal the assets of AAL." The complaint alleged that Levin worked closely with Woolford and Daigle to draft the APA pursuant to which Black Hall Aerospace, Inc., Daigle, and Woolford would purchase all of AAL's assets, as a way to cure the base-debarment problem. The plaintiffs alleged that MCG knew that the APA would "gut" the plaintiffs –- its current clients –- while simultaneously benefiting Daigle, Woolford, and BHA –- other clients of MCG -- and that this "clear and irreconcilable conflict of interest ... was never disclosed to [the plaintiffs]." The Alabama Supreme Court concluded MCG carried its burden of showing that Madison County's connection to the action was strong and that Jefferson County's connection to the action was weak. Thus, the circuit court exceeded its discretion in refusing to transfer the case to the Madison Circuit Court in the interest of justice. MCG's petition for a writ of mandamus was granted. View "Ex parte Maynard, Cooper & Gale, P.C." on Justia Law
Pederson v. Arctic Slope Regional Corporation
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
KD Hattiesburg 1128, Inc. v. Turtle Creek Crossing, LLC
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
Applied Medical Corp. v. Thomas
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
Cont’l Cas. Co. v. Symons
In 1998 IGF bought Continental’s crop-insurance business at a price to be determined at either side’s option by the exercise of a put or call. In 2001 Continental exercised its put option; under the contractual formula, IGF owed Continental $25.4 million. Around that same time, IGF sold its business to Acceptance for $40 million. The Symons, who controlled IGF, structured the purchase price: $16.5 million to IGF; $9 million to IGF's parent companies Symons International and Goran in exchange for noncompetition agreements; and $15 million to Granite, an affiliated Symons-controlled company, for a reinsurance treaty. Continental, still unpaid, sued for breach of contract and fraudulent transfer. The court found for Continental and pierced the corporate veil to impose liability on the controlling companies and individuals. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding Symons International liable for breach of the 1998 sale agreement; Symons International, Goran, Granite, and the Symons liable as transferees under the Indiana Uniform False Transfer Act; and the Symons liable under an alter-ego theory. The Symons businesses observed corporate formalities only in their most basic sense. The noncompetes only made sense as a fraudulent diversion of the purchase money, not as legitimate protection from competition. The reinsurance treaty. which was suggested bySymons and outside industry norms, was unjustified and overpriced. View "Cont'l Cas. Co. v. Symons" on Justia Law
Northbound Grp., Inc. v. Norvax, Inc.
Northbound generates and sells life insurance leads, using the brand name “Leadbot,” but ran out of cash with a frozen line of credit and revenue that did not support its overhead. Norvax generates and sells health insurance leads. An asset purchase agreement was signed in 2009, “by and between” Northbound and Leadbot LLC, a subsidiary of Norvax that was formed to purchase the assets of Northbound. Under the agreement, Leadbot LLC was obligated to use the assets it acquired from Northbound in furtherance of the Leadbot brand. The purchase price was not paid in cash. Instead Northbound would receive an “earn-out” calculated as a percentage of the monthly net revenue of Leadbot LLC. The agreement also contained an Illinois choice-of-law clause. Northbound claims that Leadbot LLC and Norvax violated the agreement. The district court dismissed some claims and granted summary judgment for defendants on the remainder. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, reasoning that Norvax was not actually a party to the contract that was allegedly breached, nor is there any basis for holding Norvax liable for any breach by a subsidiary. View "Northbound Grp., Inc. v. Norvax, Inc." on Justia Law