Justia Corporate Compliance Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Gammons v. Adroit Medical Systems, Inc.
The United States Court of Appeals affirmed a district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Adroit Medical Systems, Inc., Grazyna Gammons, Kelley Patten, and Gene Gammons. The plaintiff, Scott Gammons, alleged that his father and stepfamily, who controlled the family business, Adroit, were diverting company funds for personal use without accounting for tax consequences. He claimed that after he reported their financial misdeeds to the IRS, they fired him. Scott brought an action under federal and state whistleblower statutes and state common law.The court found that while Scott’s reporting of alleged financial malfeasance to the IRS was protected conduct and may have contributed to his termination, the defendants had clear and convincing evidence that they would have fired Scott due to his attempted hostile takeover of the company, irrespective of his whistleblowing. Scott had obtained an emergency conservatorship over his father, Gene, which he used to control the family business. When the conservatorship was dissolved, the defendants regained control and promptly fired Scott.Scott also brought claims under the Tennessee Public Protection Act (TPPA) and state common law. The court found that Scott failed to show that the defendants’ legitimate reason for terminating him was pretextual. The court also rejected Scott’s state common law claims, holding that the individual defendants were immune from tortious interference claims as they were acting within their corporate capacities and did not personally benefit from Scott’s termination. View "Gammons v. Adroit Medical Systems, Inc." on Justia Law
Graham v. Peltz
Hackers compromised customer-payment information at several Wendy’s franchisee restaurants. Shareholders took legal action against Wendy’s directors and officers on the corporation’s behalf to remedy any wrongdoing that might have allowed the breach to occur. Three shareholder derivative legal efforts ensued—two actions and one pre-suit demand—leading to a series of mediation sessions. Two derivative actions (filed by Graham and Caracci) were consolidated and resulted in a settlement, which the district court approved after appointing one of the settling shareholder’s attorneys as the lead counsel. Those decisions drew unsuccessful objections from Caracci, who had not participated in the latest settlement discussions. No other shareholder objected. Caracci appealed decisions made by the district court, which together had the effect of dramatically reducing Caracci’s entitlement to an attorney’s fees award.The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The court acted within the bounds of its wide discretion to manage shareholder litigation in its appointment of a lead counsel, its approval of the settlement, and its interlocutory orders on discovery and the mediation privilege. View "Graham v. Peltz" on Justia Law
Helena Agri-Enterprises, LLC v. Great Lakes Grain, LLC
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
Billy F. Hawk, Jr., GST Non-Exempt Marital Trust v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue
After Hawk died, his wife, Nancy, decided to sell the family business, Holiday Bowl and made a deal with MidCoast, which claimed an interest in acquiring companies with corporate tax liabilities that it could set off against its net-operating losses. Holiday first sold its bowling alleys to Bowl New England, receiving $4.2 million in cash and generating about $1 million in federal taxes. Nancy and Billy’s estate then sold Holiday Bowl to MidCoast for about $3.4 million,"in essence exchanging one pile of cash for another minus the tax debt MidCoast agreed to pay." MidCoast never paid the taxes. The United States filed a transferee-liability action against Nancy and Hawk’s estate. The Tax Court ruled for the government. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, reasoning that the Hawks were transferees of a delinquent taxpayer under 26 U.S.C. 6901, and that Tennessee has adopted the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act, which provides remedies to creditors (like the United States) when insolvent debtors fraudulently transfer assets to third parties. Holiday Bowl owed taxes. “Congress, with assistance from the courts, has constructed a formidable defense against taxpayer efforts to traffic in net operating losses and other corporate tax benefits.” View "Billy F. Hawk, Jr., GST Non-Exempt Marital Trust v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law
Olagues v. Timken
Olagues is a self-proclaimed stock options expert, traveling the country to file pro se claims under section 16(b) of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934, which permits a shareholder to bring an insider trading action to disgorge “short-swing” profits that an insider obtained improperly. Any recovery goes only to the company. In one such suit, the district court granted a motion to strike Olagues’ complaint and dismiss the action, stating Olagues, as a pro se litigant, could not pursue a section 16(b) claim on behalf of TimkenSteel because he would be representing the interests of the company. The Sixth Circuit affirmed that Olagues cannot proceed pro se but remanded to give Olagues the opportunity to retain counsel and file an amended complaint with counsel. View "Olagues v. Timken" on Justia Law
Norfolk County Retirement System v. Community Health Systems, Inc.
Community, the nation’s largest for-profit hospital system, obtained about 30 percent of its revenue from Medicare reimbursement. Instead of using one of the systems commonly in use for determining whether Medicare patients need in-patient care, Community used its own system, Blue Book, which directed doctors to provide inpatient services for many conditions that other hospitals would treat as outpatient cases. Community paid higher bonuses to doctors who admitted more inpatients and fired doctors who did not meet quotas. Community’s internal audits found that its hospitals were improperly classifying many patients; its Medicare consultant told management that the Blue Book put the company at risk of a fraud suit. Community attempted a hostile takeover of a competitor, Tenet. Tenet publicly disclosed to the SEC, expert analyses and other information suggesting that Community’s profits depended largely on Medicare fraud. Community issued press releases, denying Tenet’s allegations, but ultimately corroborated many of Tenet’s claims. Community’s shareholders sued Community and its CFO and CEO, alleging that the disclosure caused a decline in stock prices. The district court rejected the claim. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The Tenet complaint at least plausibly presents an exception to the general rule that a disclosure in the form of a complaint would be regarded, by the market, as comprising mere allegations rather than truth. The plaintiffs plausibly alleged that the value of Community’s shares fell because of revelations about practices that Community had previously concealed. View "Norfolk County Retirement System v. Community Health Systems, Inc." on Justia Law