Justia Corporate Compliance Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Corporate Compliance
Chris Ronnie v. U.S. Department of Labor
Petitioner was employed at Office Depot as a senior financial analyst. He was responsible for, among other things, ensuring data integrity. One of Ronnie’s principal duties was to calculate and report a metric called “Sales Lift.” Sales Lift is a metric designed to quantify the cost-reduction benefit of closing redundant retail stores. Petitioner identified two potential accounting errors that he believed signaled securities fraud related to the Sales Lift. Petitioner alleged that after he reported the issue, his relationship with his boss became strained. Eventually, Petitioner was terminated at that meeting for failing to perform the task of identifying the cause of the data discrepancy. Petitioner filed complaint with the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and OSHA dismissed his complaint. Petitioner petitioned for review of the ARB’s decision. The Eleventh Circuit denied the petition. The court explained that Petitioner failed to allege sufficient facts to establish that a reasonable person with his training and experience would believe this conduct constituted a SOX violation, the ARB’s decision was not arbitrary or capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law. The court wrote that Petitioner’s assertions that Office Depot intentionally manipulated sales data and that his assigned task of investigating the discrepancy was a stalling tactic are mere speculation, which alone is not enough to create a genuine issue of fact as to the objective reasonableness of Petitioner’s belief. View "Chris Ronnie v. U.S. Department of Labor" on Justia Law
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
Holifield v. XRI Investment Holdings LLC
Defendants-appellants and cross-appellees, Gregory Holifield (“Holifield”) and GH Blue Holdings, LLC (“Blue”), appealed a Court of Chancery memorandum opinion in favor of plaintiff- appellee and cross-appellant, XRI Investment Holdings LLC (“XRI”). The issue this case presented was whether Holifield validly transferred his limited liability membership units in XRI to Blue on June 6, 2018. The resolution of that issue bore on the ultimate dispute between the parties (not at issue here) on whether XRI validly delivered to Holifield a strict foreclosure notice purporting to foreclose on the XRI membership units, or whether such notice was incorrectly delivered to him because Blue was, in fact, the owner of the units following the transfer. Following a one-day trial, the Court of Chancery determined that the transfer of the units from Holifield to Blue was invalid because it was not a permitted transfer under XRI’s limited liability company agreement, which provided that noncompliant transfers of XRI interests were “void.” The trial court, in interpreting the Delaware Supreme Court's holding in CompoSecure, L.L.C. v. CardUX, LLC, 206 A.3d 807 (Del. 2018), held that the use of the word “void” in XRI’s LLC agreement rendered the transfer incurably void, such that affirmative defenses did not apply. Despite this holding, the trial court, in dicta, further found that XRI had acquiesced in the transfer. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed Court of Chancery’s judgment with respect to the Blue Transfer, but reversed the judgment insofar as it precluded XRI’s recovery for breach of contract damages and recoupment of legal expenses advanced to Holifield. The Court held that the trial court’s finding of acquiescence as to only one of the alleged breaches did not bar either remedy, and the Court remanded the case for the trial court to make further determinations. View "Holifield v. XRI Investment Holdings LLC" on Justia Law
SEC v. Barton
The Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) sued Defendant as well as other individual Defendants and corporate entities for securities violations. Defendant appealed the district court’s order appointing a receiver over all corporations and entities controlled by him. A central dispute between the parties is what test the district court should have applied before imposing a receivership. Defendant argued the district court abused its discretion because it did not apply the standard or make the proper findings under the factors set forth in Netsphere (“Netsphere factors”). The SEC responded that Netsphere is inapplicable and the district court’s findings were sufficient under First Financial. The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court’s order appointing a receiver. The court granted in part Defendant’s motion for a partial stay pending appeal. The court explained that, as Defendant points out, the district court’s order denying the stay discussed events and actions that took place after the receivership was already in place. Accordingly, the court vacated the appointment of the receiver and remanded so that the district court may consider whether to appoint a new receivership under the Netsphere factors. The court immediately suspended the receiver’s power to sell or dispose of property belonging to receivership entities, including the power to complete sales or disposals of property already approved by the district court. The court explained that the suspension does not apply to activities in furtherance of sales or dispositions of property that have already occurred or been approved by the district court. The court clarified that “activities in furtherance” do not include the completion of the sale of any property. View "SEC v. Barton" on Justia Law
Dorsey v. Dorsey
In 2019, Matt Dorsey brought an action against his father, Tom Dorsey, seeking formal accounting, dissolution, and winding up of their joint dairy operation, Dorsey Organics, LLC. The district court appointed a Special Master; the Special Master subsequently recommended to the district court that it grant partial summary judgment to Tom on Counts Four (breach of contract) and Five (constructive fraud). Without receiving a definitive ruling from the district court on the recommendations regarding the motions for summary judgment, the case then proceeded to a four-day hearing presided over by the Special Master, which resulted in the Special Master making Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. The district court adopted, with almost no changes, the Special Master’s Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, which relied upon the accounting of Tom's expert and rejected the opinions of Matt's expert. The district court then entered a judgment incorporating, with few changes, the Special Master’s Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. The district court also denied Tom's request for attorney fees. Matt appealed, arguing: (1) the district court failed to properly review the evidence before accepting the findings of the Special Master; (2) questioned whether a court could override the terms of a contract even though the contract’s terms arguably produced an inequitable result; (3) Tom wrongfully dissociated from Dorsey Organics prior to its dissolution and the winding up of its affairs; and (4) challenged whether summary judgment was properly granted on Counts Four and Five of the Third Amended Complaint. The Idaho Supreme Court concluded the district court erred in failing to independently review the record before adopting the Special Master's Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. Accordingly, the Court vacated the district court's conclusions that relied on the Special Master's findings. The case was thus remanded for further proceedings. View "Dorsey v. Dorsey" on Justia Law
CCSB Financial Corp. v. Totta
The corporate charter of a bank holding company capped at 10% the stock that could be voted by a “person” in any stockholder vote. During a proxy contest for three seats of a staggered board, the CCSB board of directors instructed the inspector of elections not to count 37,175 shares voted in favor of a dissident slate of directors. According to the board, the 37,175 shares exceeded the 10% voting limitation because certain stockholders were acting in concert with each other. If the votes had been counted, the dissident slate of directors would have been elected. The CCSB corporate charter also provided that the board’s “acting in concert” determination, if made in good faith and on information reasonably available, “shall be conclusive and binding on the Corporation and its stockholders.” In a summary proceeding brought by the plaintiffs, the Court of Chancery found: (1) the “conclusive and binding” charter provision invalid under Delaware corporate law; (2) the board’s instruction to the inspector of elections invalid because the individuals identified by the board were not acting in concert; and (3) the board’s election interference did not withstand enhanced scrutiny review. The court also awarded the plaintiffs attorneys’ fees for having conferred a benefit on CCSB. CCSB argued the Court of Chancery erred when it invalidated the charter provision and reinstated the excluded votes. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Chancery: plaintiffs proved that the board breached its duty of loyalty by instructing the inspector of elections to disregard the 37,175 votes. "The charter provision cannot be used to exculpate the CCSB directors from a breach of the duty of loyalty. Further, the court’s legal conclusion and factual findings that the stockholders did not act in concert withstand appellate review." View "CCSB Financial Corp. v. Totta" on Justia Law
Bullinger v. Sundog Interactive, et al.
Michael Bullinger appealed a district court judgment dismissing his declaratory judgment action seeking a determination of whether Sundog Interactive, Inc. (“Sundog”) violated N.D.C.C. § 10-19.1-88 and whether the individual defendants, Brent Teiken, Eric Dukart, Jonathan Rademacher, and Matthew Gustafson breached their fiduciary duties. Bullinger argued the court erred in failing to make adequate findings, erred in its application of N.D.C.C. § 10-19.1-88(10), erred in finding Bullinger has been paid the fair value of his ownership in Sundog, erred in finding Bullinger was not entitled to damages as a result of the individual defendants’ breach of their fiduciary duties, and erred in denying Bullinger costs and attorney’s fees. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the trial court’s findings were inadequate to permit appellate review, therefore judgment was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Bullinger v. Sundog Interactive, et al." on Justia Law
Benjamin Reetz v. Aon Hewitt Investment Consulting, Inc.
On behalf of a class, Plaintiff sued Aon Hewitt Investment Consulting for investment advice given to Lowe’s Home Improvement to help manage its employees’ retirement plans. Aon, first as an investment consultant and later as a delegated fiduciary, owed the plan fiduciary duties under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Plaintiff claimed that Aon’s conduct violated the core duties of loyalty and prudence. After a five-day bench trial, the district court held that Aon, in fact, did not breach its fiduciary duties. Plaintiff appealed. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the district court that Aon’s recommendation was not motivated by self-interest. And Plaintiff’s contention that Aon’s research conducted before it was Lowe’s delegated fiduciary could not discharge its duty of prudence also falls short. Aon engaged in a reasoned decision-making process by reviewing comparable funds. It makes no difference here that the review occurred when it established the fund (which was before Aon became Lowe’s delegated fiduciary). Plus, it continued to monitor the fund. So Aon did not violate the duty of prudence. View "Benjamin Reetz v. Aon Hewitt Investment Consulting, Inc." on Justia Law
Discover Property Cslty v. Blue Bell
A Listeria outbreak led to a shutdown of Blue Bell factories and a nationwide recall of its products. Consequently, Blue Bell suffered a substantial financial loss. A shareholder of Blue Bell Creameries brought a derivative action against Blue Bell’s directors and officers, alleging a breach of fiduciary duties. The shareholder, on behalf of Blue Bell, alleged that Blue Bell’s officers and directors breached their fiduciary duties of care and loyalty by failing “to comply with regulations and establish controls.” The Blue Bell Defendants appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Discover Property & Casualty Insurance Company and the Travelers Indemnity Company of Connecticut. The Fifth Circuit affirmed. Here, only the duty to defend is at issue because the parties have stipulated that “If the district court finds there is no duty to defend, it may also find there is no duty to indemnify, but otherwise the duty to indemnify will not be a subject of the Parties’ motions.” Accordingly, the court wrote that it is confined by Texas’s “eight-corners rule,” which directs courts to determine an insurer’s duty to defend based on: (1) the pleading against the insured in the underlying litigation and (2) the terms of the insurance policy. The court explained that while it disagrees with the district court’s determination as to whether the directors and officers are “insureds” in relation to the shareholder lawsuit, it agreed with its determination that the complaint in the shareholder lawsuit does not allege any “occurrence” or seek “damages because of bodily injury.” Each issue is independently sufficient for affirmance. View "Discover Property Cslty v. Blue Bell" on Justia Law
Estate of James P. Keeter, Deceased, et al. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue
This appeal turns on the meaning of the phrase “partner level determinations” in Section 6230(a)(2)(A)(i) of the now-repealed Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 (“TEFRA”). When the IRS adjusts the tax items of a partnership, these partnership-level changes often require corresponding adjustments to “affected items” on the individual partners’ income tax returns. The IRS makes these resulting partner-level changes using one of two procedures. If adjusting a partner-taxpayer’s affected item “require[s] partner level determinations,” the IRS must send the taxpayer a notice of deficiency describing the adjustment to the taxpayer’s tax liability, and the taxpayer has the right to challenge the adjustments in court before paying. If, on the other hand, adjusting the affected item does not “require partner level determinations,” the IRS generally must make a direct assessment against the taxpayer, and the taxpayer may challenge the adjustment only in a post-payment refund action. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the Tax Court. The court explained that making the relevant adjustments requires an individualized assessment of each taxpayer’s unique circumstances, we hold that they “require partner level determinations,” mandating deficiency procedures. The court explained that none of the authorities on which taxpayers rely addressed the ultimate question in this case—whether adjusting losses claimed on sales of property from a sham partnership requires partner-level determinations. Instead, all the on-point caselaw bolsters our conclusion. The court explained that because it concluded that the IRS was required to make partner-level determinations to adjust the taxpayers’ reported losses and itemized deductions, the IRS properly employed deficiency procedures to make these adjustments. View "Estate of James P. Keeter, Deceased, et al. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law