Justia Corporate Compliance Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
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
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
Coster v. UIP Companies, Inc.
Marion Coster and Steven Schwat – the two UIP Companies stockholders who each owned fifty percent of the company – deadlocked after attempting several times to elect directors. In response to the director election deadlock, Coster filed a petition for appointment of a custodian for UIP. The UIP board responded by issuing stock to a long-time employee representing a one-third interest in UIP. The stock issuance diluted Coster’s ownership interest, broke the deadlock, and mooted the custodian action. Coster countered by requesting that the Delaware Court of Chancery cancel the stock issuance. After trial, the Court of Chancery found that the stock sale met the most exacting standard of judicial review under Delaware law – entire fairness. On appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court concluded that the court erred by evaluating the stock sale solely under the entire fairness standard of review, reasoning that even though the stock sale price might have been entirely fair, issuing stock while a contested board election was taking place interfered with Coster’s voting rights as a half owner of UIP. Therefore, the court needed to conduct a further review to assess whether the board approved the stock issuance for inequitable reasons. If not, the court still had to decide whether the board, even if it acted in good faith, approved the stock sale to thwart Coster’s leverage to vote against the board’s director nominees and to moot the custodian action. To uphold the stock issuance under those circumstances, the board had to demonstrate a compelling justification to interfere with Coster’s voting rights. On remand, the Court of Chancery found that the UIP board had not acted for inequitable purposes and had compelling justifications for the dilutive stock issuance. Upon return, the Supreme Court agreed with the court’s assessment and "appreciate[d] its work to address the issues remanded for reconsideration." View "Coster v. UIP Companies, Inc." on Justia Law
In Re Tesla Motors, Inc. Stockholder Litigation
At issue before the Delaware Supreme Court in this case was the 2016 all-stock acquisition of SolarCity Corporation (“SolarCity”) by Tesla, Inc. (“Tesla”). Tesla’s stockholders claimed CEO Elon Musk caused Tesla to overpay for SolarCity through his alleged domination and control of the Tesla board of directors. At trial, the foundational premise of their theory of liability was that SolarCity was insolvent at the time of the Acquisition. Because the Court of Chancery assumed, without deciding, that Musk was a controlling stockholder, it applied Delaware’s most stringent "entire fairness" standard of review, and the Court of Chancery found the Acquisition to be entirely fair. In this appeal, the two sides disputed various aspects of the trial court’s legal analysis, including, primarily, the degree of importance the trial court placed on market evidence in determining whether the price Tesla paid was fair. Appellants did not challenge any of the trial court’s factual findings. Rather, they raised only a legal challenge, focused solely on the application of the entire fairness test. After careful consideration, the Delaware Supreme Court was convinced that the trial court’s decision was supported by the evidence and that the court committed no reversible error in applying the entire fairness test. View "In Re Tesla Motors, Inc. Stockholder Litigation" on Justia Law
Terrell v. Kiromic Biopharma, Inc.
The Delaware Court of Chancery was asked to resolve a dispute between a company and one of its former directors over the meaning of a stock option agreement and option grant notice. Applying the plain text of the agreement, the Court of Chancery determined that the dispute was to be resolved in accordance with a board committee’s interpretation of the agreement and notice. After the board, acting through a committee, interpreted the agreement and notice in a manner favorable to the company, the Court of Chancery, without hearing further from the former director, promptly dismissed the former director’s complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Delaware Supreme Court found the Court of Chancery properly stayed the action to permit the board’s committee to interpret the agreement and notice in the first instance. The Supreme Court disagreed, however, with the court’s decision to dismiss the former director’s complaint without any meaningful review of the committee’s interpretation. The Court of Chancery’s order of dismissal was therefore reversed, and the case remanded for a review of the committee’s conclusions. View "Terrell v. Kiromic Biopharma, Inc." on Justia Law
Daniel v. Hawkins
The Delaware Court of Chancery entered judgment in favor of appellee Sharon Hawkins on her request for a declaration that the irrevocable proxy which provided appellant W. Bradley Daniel (“Daniel”) with voting power over all 100 shares of N.D. Management, Inc. (“Danco GP”) (the “Irrevocable Proxy”), did not bind a subsequent owner of such Danco GP shares. The Court of Chancery also held that an addendum to the Irrevocable Proxy did not obligate the current owner of the Danco GP shares, MedApproach, L.P. (the “Partnership”), to demand that the buyer in a sale to an unaffiliated third party bind itself to the Irrevocable Proxy. Daniel appealed the Court of Chancery’s judgment that the Irrevocable Proxy did not run with the Majority Shares, arguing the court erred by: (1) rather than interpreting and applying the plain language of the Irrevocable Proxy as written, the court relied on the Restatement (Third) of Agency, which was not adopted until nearly a decade after the parties entered into the Irrevocable Proxy; (2) reading additional language into the Irrevocable Proxy in order to support its finding that the broad “catch-all” language that the parties included to prevent termination of the Irrevocable Proxy did not encompass a sale of the shares; and (3) not giving effect to all of the terms of the Irrevocable Proxy and improperly limiting the assignment clause of the Irrevocable Proxy so as not to bind assigns of the stockholder. Finding no reversible error, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Chancery. View "Daniel v. Hawkins" on Justia Law
Griffith v. Stein
An objector appealed a Delaware Court of Chancery decision approving a litigation settlement for claims alleging excessive non-employee director compensation. Initially, the parties agreed to a preliminary settlement and presented it to the Court of Chancery for approval. The Court of Chancery sided with the objector and refused to approve a non-monetary settlement of the derivative claims. The court also awarded the objector fees. After the court denied a motion to dismiss, the parties came up with a new settlement that included a financial benefit to the corporation. The objector renewed his objection, this time arguing that the new settlement improperly released future claims challenging compensation awards and that the plaintiff was not an adequate representative for the corporation’s interests. The Court of Chancery approved the new settlement and refused to award the objector additional attorneys’ fees. On appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court, the objector argued the court erred by: (1) approving an overbroad release; (2) approving the settlement without finding that the plaintiff was an adequate representative of the corporation’s interests; and (3) reducing the objector’s fee because the court believed it would have rejected the original settlement agreement without the objection. Though the Supreme Court acknowledged the Court of Chancery and the parties worked diligently to bring this dispute to a close, it reversed the judgment because the settlement agreement released future claims arising out of, or contemplated by, the settlement itself instead of releasing liability for the claims brought in the litigation. View "Griffith v. Stein" on Justia Law
Coster v. UIP Companies, Inc.
The two equal stockholders of UIP Companies, Inc. were deadlocked and could not elect new directors. One of the stockholders, Marion Coster, filed suit in the Court of Chancery and requested appointment of a custodian for UIP. In response, the three-person UIP board of directors — composed of the other equal stockholder and board chairman, Steven Schwat, and the two other directors aligned with him— voted to issue a one-third interest in UIP stock to their fellow director, Peter Bonnell, who was also a friend of Schwat and long-time UIP employee (the “Stock Sale”). Coster filed a second action in the Court of Chancery, claiming that the board breached its fiduciary duties by approving the Stock Sale. She asked the court to cancel the Stock Sale. After consolidating the two actions, the Court of Chancery found what was apparent given the timing of the Stock Sale: the conflicted UIP board issued stock to Bonnell to dilute Coster’s UIP interest below 50%, break the stockholder deadlock for electing directors, and end the Custodian Action. Ultimately, however, the court decided not to cancel the Stock Sale. The Delaware Supreme Court reversed the Court of Chancery on the conclusive effect of its entire fairness review and remanded for the court to consider the board’s motivations and purpose for the Stock Sale. "If the board approved the Stock Sale for inequitable reasons, the Court of Chancery should have cancelled the Stock Sale. And if the board, acting in good faith, approved the Stock Sale for the 'primary purpose of thwarting' Coster’s vote to elect directors or reduce her leverage as an equal stockholder, it must 'demonstrat[e] a compelling justification for such action' to withstand judicial scrutiny." View "Coster v. UIP Companies, Inc." on Justia Law
Backer v. Palisades Growth Capital
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
Amerisourcebergen Corp v. Lebanon County Employees’ Retirement Fund
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