Justia Corporate Compliance Opinion Summaries
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This appeal turns on the meaning of the phrase “partner level determinations” in Section 6230(a)(2)(A)(i) of the now-repealed Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 (“TEFRA”).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
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
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
Thomas Connelly v. United States
Plaintiffs, two brothers, were the sole shareholders of Crown C Corporation. The corporation obtained life insurance on each brother so that if one died, the corporation could use the proceeds to redeem his shares. When one brother died, the Internal Revenue Service assessed taxes on his estate, which included his stock interest in the corporation. According to the IRS, the corporation’s fair market value includes the life insurance proceeds intended for the stock redemption. The brother's estate argues otherwise and sued for a tax refund. The district court agreed with the IRS. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that here the estate argues that the court should look to the stock-purchase agreement to value of the brother’s shares because it satisfies these criteria. But the estate glosses over an important component missing from the stock purchase agreement: some fixed or determinable price to which we can look when valuing the brother’s shares. Further, the Treasury regulation that clarifies how to value stock subject to a buy-sell agreement refers to the price in such agreements and “the effect, if any, that is given to the . . . price in determining the value of the securities for estate tax purposes.” 26 C.F.R. Section 20.2031-2(h). Here, the stock-purchase agreement fixed no price nor prescribed a formula for arriving at one. Further, the court explained that the proceeds were simply an asset that increased shareholders’ equity. A fair market value of the brother's shares must account for that reality. View "Thomas Connelly v. United States" on Justia Law
Adelsperger v. Elkside Development LLC
Elkside Development, LLC (Elkside) owned and operated the Osprey Point RV Resort in Lakeside, Oregon. Part of Elkside’s business model involved selling membership contracts that conferred free use of the campground, among other benefits. In April 2017, Barnett Resorts LLC, an Oregon limited liability company operated by member-managers Stefani and Chris Barnett, purchased Elkside. Shortly after the purchase, the Barnetts sent a letter to all campground members, identifying them as “owners” of the resort, and indicating that they would not honor Elkside’s membership contracts. Plaintiffs, a group of 71 people who, collectively, were party to 39 membership contracts with Elkside, brought suit alleging a variety of claims against Stefani and Chris Barnett individually, and against the company, Barnett Resorts LLC. On appeal, this case raised three issues relating to: (1) a breach of contract claim; (2) an intentional interference with contract claim; and (3) a statutory claim of elder abuse, based on the fact that the majority of the membership contracts had been held by plaintiffs over the age of 65. As to the claims against the Barnetts individually, the trial court granted summary judgment for defendants, relying on ORS 63.165 and Cortez v. Nacco Materials Handling Group, 337 P3d 111 (2014). Plaintiffs argued, in part, that whether ORS 63.165 shielded the Barnetts from liability required considering whether their actions were entirely in support of the LLC, or whether they were, instead, in furtherance of a non-LLC individual motive. The Court of Appeals affirmed without opinion. The Oregon Supreme Court allowed review and reversed in part the Court of Appeals and the trial court. Specifically, the Supreme Court reversed as to the elder abuse claim, affirmed as to the breach of contract claim, and affirmed the intentional interference claim by an equally divided court. View "Adelsperger v. Elkside Development LLC" on Justia Law
Towers Watson & Co. v. National Union Fire Insurance Company
In 2015, Towers Watson & Co. (“Towers Watson”), a Delaware company headquartered in Virginia, purchased directors and officers (“D&O”) liability insurance coverage from several insurance companies, including National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, Pa. (“National Union”) as the primary insurer. Following Towers Watson’s merger with another company, Towers Watson shareholders filed several lawsuits against Towers Watson’s chairman and CEO and others, alleging that the shareholders received below-market consideration for their shares in the merger. The litigation was settled, and Towers Watson sought indemnity coverage from its insurers under the relevant D&O policies. The insurers refused the indemnity request, citing a so-called “bump-up” exclusion in the policies. This declaratory judgment action followed. The district court sided with Towers Watson and held that the bump-up exclusion “does not unambiguously” preclude indemnity coverage for the underlying settlements. The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded for further proceedings. Under Virginia law, it will not do to merely identify any conceivable basis to hold that an insurance-coverage exclusion does not apply before stripping the exclusion of all force. Rather, the language of the exclusion must reasonably lend itself to an “equally possible” interpretation precluding the exclusion’s applicability. Here, however, the district court’s chosen interpretation, which disregarded the Policy’s plain language and inserted terms not included by the parties, cannot be characterized as one of two “equally possible” constructions. View "Towers Watson & Co. v. National Union Fire Insurance Company" 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
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