Justia Civil Procedure 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
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
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
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