Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court

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This appeal involved a single-vehicle accident that occurred on Omar Road in Sussex County, Delaware. Ashlee Reed was the driver; Jacqueline Pavik was her passenger. Reed was injured in the accident. Pavik died from injuries she received. At the time, Omar Road was undergoing reconstruction. The accident occurred on a Sunday night when no construction was taking place and the road was open to the public. Reed and Pavik’s parents alleged that the accident was caused by an unsafe road condition known as raveling, which caused Reed to lose control of her vehicle and crash into trees off the roadway. George & Lynch, Inc. (George & Lynch) was the general contractor in charge of construction. Reed and Pavik’s parents brought suit against a number of entities, but this appeal involved only George & Lynch. Among other things, the parents claimed George & Lynch was negligent for failing to place adequate temporary traffic control signs or devices warning the public of road conditions. The Superior Court granted summary judgment in favor of George & Lynch, holding that it had no duty to post temporary traffic control signs or devices warning about the condition of the road on the weekend the accident occurred, regardless of whether it anticipated that raveling would occur because of a predicted storm over the upcoming weekend. The Superior Court also held that certain repair work that the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) performed on Omar Road on the day of the accident broke any causal link between George & Lynch’s alleged negligence and the accident. The question before the Delaware Supreme Court was whether the Superior Court’s summary judgment analysis was legally correct. The Supreme Court concluded it was not and that the judgment of the Superior Court had to be reversed. View "Pavik v. George & Lynch, Inc." on Justia Law

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According to the allegations of the complaint, the plaintiffs were adult and minor Argentinean citizens. The defendants, Philip Morris USA Inc. (“PM USA”) and Philip Morris Global Brands, Inc. (“PM Global”), owned Massalin Particulares, S.A., a tobacco production company. In 1984, Massalin created a brokerage company, Tabacos Nortes, to purchase tobacco from small, family-owned farms in Misiones, Argentina. The plaintiffs owned and live on these farms, raising livestock and growing produce for their own consumption adjacent to the tobacco plants. Tabacos Nortes required the farmers to purchase and use herbicides and pesticides, which it sold to the farmers on credit. Monsanto Company developed, marketed, and supplied the herbicide “Roundup,” which, according to the complaint, contained chemical ingredients and toxins capable of causing “genetic, teratogenic, and/or developmental injury to humans.” The plaintiffs mixed chemicals like Roundup and sprayed the tobacco crops by hand with chemicals from containers on their backs. As alleged in the complaint, the defendants knew that the plaintiffs’ personal crops, livestock, and water would be contaminated with the herbicides and pesticides. The plaintiffs further alleged the defendants never recommended protective measures, but knew the plaintiffs lacked protective equipment and the knowledge required for safe use of the chemicals. In consolidated appeals the issue before the Delaware Supreme Court was whether a trial court must first determine that an available alternative forum existed before dismissing a case for forum non conveniens. The Supreme Court held that an available alternative forum should be considered as part of the forum non conveniens analysis, but was not a threshold requirement. Because the Superior Court considered the availability of an alternative forum as a factor in its forum non conveniens analysis, its judgment was affirmed. View "Aranda, et al. v. Philip Morris USA Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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According to the allegations of the complaint, the plaintiffs were adult and minor Argentinean citizens. The defendants, Philip Morris USA Inc. (“PM USA”) and Philip Morris Global Brands, Inc. (“PM Global”), owned Massalin Particulares, S.A., a tobacco production company. In 1984, Massalin created a brokerage company, Tabacos Nortes, to purchase tobacco from small, family-owned farms in Misiones, Argentina. The plaintiffs owned and live on these farms, raising livestock and growing produce for their own consumption adjacent to the tobacco plants. Tabacos Nortes required the farmers to purchase and use herbicides and pesticides, which it sold to the farmers on credit. Monsanto Company developed, marketed, and supplied the herbicide “Roundup,” which, according to the complaint, contained chemical ingredients and toxins capable of causing “genetic, teratogenic, and/or developmental injury to humans.” The plaintiffs mixed chemicals like Roundup and sprayed the tobacco crops by hand with chemicals from containers on their backs. As alleged in the complaint, the defendants knew that the plaintiffs’ personal crops, livestock, and water would be contaminated with the herbicides and pesticides. The plaintiffs further alleged the defendants never recommended protective measures, but knew the plaintiffs lacked protective equipment and the knowledge required for safe use of the chemicals. In consolidated appeals the issue before the Delaware Supreme Court was whether a trial court must first determine that an available alternative forum existed before dismissing a case for forum non conveniens. The Supreme Court held that an available alternative forum should be considered as part of the forum non conveniens analysis, but was not a threshold requirement. Because the Superior Court considered the availability of an alternative forum as a factor in its forum non conveniens analysis, its judgment was affirmed. View "Aranda, et al. v. Philip Morris USA Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit certified a question of Delaware law to the Delaware Supreme Court. The plaintiff-appellants worked on banana plantations in Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Panama at various times in the 1970s and 1980s. The defendants-appellees included United States corporations that manufactured and distributed a pesticide called dibromochloropropane (“DBCP”), and other United States corporations that owned and operated the banana plantations. The plaintiffs alleged they suffered adverse health consequences from exposure to DBCP while working on the banana plantations. In 1993, a putative class action lawsuit was filed in state court in Texas; all plaintiffs to this suit were members of the putative class. Before a decision was made on class certification, defendants impleaded a company partially owned by the State of Israel ​and used its joinder as a basis to remove the case to federal court under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). After removal, the case was consolidated with other DBCP-related class actions in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas. The cases were consolidated. The Texas District Court granted defendants' motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens. The certified question to the Delaware Court centered on whether a class action's tolling ended when a federal district court dismisses a matter for forum non conveniens and, consequently, denies as moot “all pending motions,” which included the motion for class certification, even where the dismissal incorporated a return jurisdiction clause stating that “the court will resume jurisdiction over the action as if the case had never been dismissed for f.n.c.” If it did not end at that time, when did it end based on the facts specific to this case? The Delaware Court responded the federal district court dismissal in 1995 on grounds of forum non conveniens and consequent denial as moot of “all pending motions,” including the motion for class certification, did not end class action tolling. Class action tolling ended when class action certification was denied in Texas state court on June 3, 2010. View "Marquinez, et al. v. Dow Chemical Company, et al." on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit certified a question of Delaware law to the Delaware Supreme Court. The plaintiff-appellants worked on banana plantations in Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Panama at various times in the 1970s and 1980s. The defendants-appellees included United States corporations that manufactured and distributed a pesticide called dibromochloropropane (“DBCP”), and other United States corporations that owned and operated the banana plantations. The plaintiffs alleged they suffered adverse health consequences from exposure to DBCP while working on the banana plantations. In 1993, a putative class action lawsuit was filed in state court in Texas; all plaintiffs to this suit were members of the putative class. Before a decision was made on class certification, defendants impleaded a company partially owned by the State of Israel ​and used its joinder as a basis to remove the case to federal court under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). After removal, the case was consolidated with other DBCP-related class actions in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas. The cases were consolidated. The Texas District Court granted defendants' motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens. The certified question to the Delaware Court centered on whether a class action's tolling ended when a federal district court dismisses a matter for forum non conveniens and, consequently, denies as moot “all pending motions,” which included the motion for class certification, even where the dismissal incorporated a return jurisdiction clause stating that “the court will resume jurisdiction over the action as if the case had never been dismissed for f.n.c.” If it did not end at that time, when did it end based on the facts specific to this case? The Delaware Court responded the federal district court dismissal in 1995 on grounds of forum non conveniens and consequent denial as moot of “all pending motions,” including the motion for class certification, did not end class action tolling. Class action tolling ended when class action certification was denied in Texas state court on June 3, 2010. View "Marquinez, et al. v. Dow Chemical Company, et al." on Justia Law

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Diamond Resorts International’s board of directors recommended to its stockholders that they sell their shares to a private equity buyer, Apollo Global Management, for cash in a two-step merger transaction involving a front-end tender offer followed by a back-end merger. The proxy statement had a detailed recitation of the background leading to the merger, and the reasons for and against it. But notably absent from that recitation was that the company’s founder, largest stockholder, and Chairman, had abstained from supporting the procession of the merger discussions, and from ultimately approving the deal, because he was "disappointed with the price and the Company’s management for not having run the business in a manner that would command a higher price, and that in his view, it was not the right time to sell the Company." On a motion to dismiss, the Court of Chancery held that the complaint challenging the merger should have been dismissed because the stockholders’ acceptance of the first-step tender offer was fully informed, rejecting the plaintiffs’ argument that the omission of the Chairman’s reasons for abstaining rendered the proxy statement materially misleading. The issue this case presented for the Delaware Supreme Court's review was whether that ruling was correct. The Supreme Court agreed with the plaintiffs that it was not, and that the defendants’ argument that the reasons for a dissenting or abstaining board member’s vote can never be material was incorrect. "Precisely because Delaware law gives important effect to an informed stockholder decision, Delaware law also requires that the disclosures the board makes to stockholders contain the material facts and not describe events in a materially misleading way." Here, the Court found the founder and Chairman’s views regarding the wisdom of selling the company were ones that reasonable stockholders would have found material in deciding whether to vote for the merger or seek appraisal, and the failure to disclose them rendered the facts that were disclosed misleadingly incomplete. View "Appel v. Berkman, et al." on Justia Law

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The Court of Chancery initially found that Wal-Mart stockholders who were attempting to prosecute derivative claims in Delaware could no longer do so because a federal court in Arkansas had reached a final judgment on the issue of demand futility first, and the stockholders were adequately represented in that action. But the derivative plaintiffs in Delaware asserted that applying issue preclusion in this context violated their Due Process rights. The Delaware Supreme Court surmised this dispute implicated complex questions regarding the relationship among competing derivative plaintiffs (and whether they may be said to be in “privity” with one another); whether failure to seek board-level company documents renders a derivative plaintiff’s representation inadequate; policies underlying issue preclusion; and Delaware courts’ obligation to respect the judgments of other jurisdictions. The Delaware Chancellor reiterated that, under the present state of the law, the subsequent plaintiffs’ Due Process rights were not violated. Nevertheless, the Chancellor suggested that the Delaware Supreme Court adopt a rule that a judgment in a derivative action could not bind a corporation or other stockholders until the suit has survived a Rule 23.1 motion to dismiss The Chancellor reasoned that such a rule would better protect derivative plaintiffs’ Due Process rights, even when they were adequately represented in the first action. The Delaware Supreme Court declined to adopt the Chancellor’s recommendation and instead, affirmed the Original Opinion granting Defendants’ motion to dismiss because, under the governing federal law, there was no Due Process violation. View "California State Teachers' Retirement System, et al. v. Alvarez, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Michael Laine slipped and fell on ice near a gas pump on the premises of a convenience store-gasoline station operated by the defendant-appellee, Speedway, LLC (“Speedway”). He was the driver of a Modern Maturity Center shuttle bus and slipped when he stepped off the shuttle to fill its tank with gasoline. The fall caused him to sustain serious physical injuries. The ice was caused by a light, freezing rain which was then falling. Laine filed suit against Speedway, alleging that negligence on Speedway’s part was the proximate cause of his injuries. The Superior Court granted summary judgment for Speedway, holding that under the “continuing storm” doctrine, Speedway was permitted to wait until the freezing rain had ended and a reasonable time thereafter before clearing ice from its gasoline station surface. This appeal raised two questions for the Delaware Supreme Court’s review: (1) should the Court continue to recognize the “continuing storm” doctrine; and (2) whether the doctrine applied to the facts of this case. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the continuing storm doctrine should continue to be recognized and that it did apply to the facts of this case. Therefore, the Court affirmed the Superior Court’s judgment. View "Laine v. Speedway, LLC" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the issue before the Delaware Supreme Court was the limits of the stockholder ratification defense when directors make equity awards to themselves under the general parameters of an equity incentive plan. In the absence of stockholder approval, if a stockholder properly challenges equity incentive plan awards the directors grant to themselves, the directors must prove that the awards are entirely fair to the corporation. But, when the stockholders have approved an equity incentive plan, the affirmative defense of stockholder ratification comes into play. Here, the Equity Incentive Plan (“EIP”) approved by the stockholders left it to the discretion of the directors to allocate up to 30% of all option or restricted stock shares available as awards to themselves. The plaintiffs alleged facts leading to a pleading-stage reasonable inference that the directors breached their fiduciary duties by awarding excessive equity awards to themselves under the EIP. Thus, a stockholder ratification defense was not available to dismiss the case, and the directors had to demonstrate the fairness of the awards to the Company. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Chancery’s decision dismissing the complaint and remanded for further proceedings. View "In Re Investors Bancorp, Inc. Stockholder Litigation" on Justia Law

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A stormwater pipe ruptured beneath a coal ash pond at Duke Energy Corporation’s Dan River Steam Station in North Carolina. The spill sent a slurry of coal ash and wastewater into the Dan River, fouling the river for many miles downstream. In May 2015, Duke Energy pled guilty to nine misdemeanor criminal violations of the Federal Clean Water Act and paid a fine exceeding $100 million. The plaintiffs, stockholders of Duke Energy, filed a derivative suit in the Court of Chancery against certain of Duke Energy’s directors and officers, seeking to hold the directors personally liable for the damages the Company suffered from the spill. The directors moved to dismiss the derivative complaint, claiming the plaintiffs were required under Court of Chancery Rule 23.1 to make a demand on the board of directors before instituting litigation. Plaintiffs responded that demand was futile because the board’s mismanagement of the Company’s environmental concerns rose to the level of a "Caremark" violation, which posed a substantial risk of the directors’ personal liability for damages caused by the spill and enforcement action. The Court of Chancery disagreed and dismissed the derivative complaint. The Delaware Supreme Court concurred with the Court of Chancery that the plaintiffs did not sufficiently allege that the directors faced a substantial likelihood of personal liability for a Caremark violation. Instead, the directors at most faced the risk of an exculpated breach of the duty of care. Thus, the stockholders were required to make a demand on the board to consider the claims before filing suit. View "City of Birmingham Retirement & Relief System v. Good, et al." on Justia Law