Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court

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Plaintiff Alex Tiger and John Dowling decided to revive the Boast tennis apparel brand. The pair started Boast Investors, LLC, which would later be converted into the named defendant in this case, BAI Capital Holdings, Inc. (“BAI”), as well as Branded Boast, LLC. Boast Investors owned a majority interest in Branded Boast, which in turn purchased the Boast intellectual property from tennis player Bill St. John’s holding company, Boast, Inc. Over the next several years, Tiger and Dowling had several conflicts in managing Boast Investors. Tiger and Dowling attempted to resolve their disagreements through negotiations but were not able to do so. In late 2014, Tiger delivered his first 8 Del. C. 220 (Delaware General Corporation Law "Section 220") demand to BAI, requesting 22 categories of documents. The stated purposes of Tiger’s inspection demand were to, among other things, value his shares, investigate potential mismanagement, and investigate director independence. BAI responded with a proposed confidentiality agreement, which would have Tiger from using BAI documents in subsequent litigation. Tiger rejected this proposal. BAI made a revised proposal that prohibited use of the documents in litigation other than derivative actions. Tiger then requested that BAI produce all documents that were not confidential, but BAI demurred. In 2017, Tiger sent a second Section 220 demand. BAI again offered Tiger the opportunity to review Tiger’s demanded documents but once again asked Tiger to sign a confidentiality agreement. As before, Tiger asked BAI to produce all non-confidential materials, but BAI again asked for a confidentiality agreement. In a report that was adopted by the Court of Chancery, a Master in Chancery held that books and records produced to a stockholder under Section 220 were “presumptively subject to a ‘reasonable confidentiality order.’” And in response to the stockholder’s request for a time limitation on such a confidentiality order, the Master responded that, because the stockholder had not demonstrated the existence of exigent circumstances, confidentiality should be maintained “indefinitely, unless and until the stockholder files suit, at which point confidentiality would be governed by the applicable court rules.” After the Court of Chancery adopted the Master’s Report, the stockholder appealed. The Delaware Supreme Court held that, although the Court of Chancery may condition Section 220 inspections on the entry of a reasonable confidentiality order, such inspections were not subject to a presumption of confidentiality. Furthermore, when the court, in the exercise of its discretion, enters a confidentiality order, the order’s temporal duration was not dependent on a showing of the absence of exigent circumstances by the stockholder. "Rather, the Court of Chancery should weigh the stockholder’s legitimate interests in free communication against the corporation’s legitimate interests in confidentiality." Nevertheless, although the Supreme Court disagreed with the Master’s formulation of the principles governing confidentiality in the Section 220 inspection context, the confidentiality order that the Court of Chancery ultimately entered seemed reasonable, and not an abuse of discretion, given the facts and circumstances of this case. View "Tiger v. Boast Apparel, Inc." on Justia Law

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Ohio residents Craig Richards and his wife Gloria filed suit against defendants in the Delaware, claiming that Mr. Richards’ exposure to asbestos-containing products at home and in the workplace caused his mesothelioma. The parties agreed that Ohio law applied to this case. To make the causal link between Mr. Richards’ asbestos exposure and his disease, the Richards served an expert report relying on a cumulative exposure theory, meaning that every non-minimal exposure to asbestos attributable to each defendant combined to cause Mr. Richards’ injury. After the Richards served their expert report, the Ohio Supreme Court decided Schwartz v. Honeywell International, Inc. , 102 N.E.3d 477 (Ohio 2018). In Schwartz, the Ohio Supreme Court rejected an expert’s cumulative exposure theory for a number of reasons, including its inconsistency with an Ohio asbestos causation statute. The Richards’ attorneys became aware of the Schwartz decision during summary judgment briefing. Instead of asking for leave to serve a supplemental expert report based on another theory of causation, the Richards argued in opposition to summary judgment that the Ohio asbestos causation statute and the Schwartz decision did not require any expert report. According to the Richards, as long as there was factual evidence in the record showing, in the words of the Ohio statute, the manner, proximity, frequency, and length of exposure to asbestos, summary judgment should have been denied. The Superior Court disagreed and held that, to defeat summary judgment, the Richards had to still offer expert medical evidence of specific causation, meaning that the asbestos exposure attributable to each defendant caused Mr. Richards’ mesothelioma. The Superior Court also denied reargument and found untimely the Richards’ later attempt to supplement their expert report. The Richards appealed the Superior Court’s dismissal rulings, arguing that the court misinterpreted Ohio law, and should have granted them leave to supplement their expert report after the court’s summary judgment rulings. As the Delaware Supreme Court read the Ohio asbestos causation statute and Ohio Supreme Court precedent, neither the Ohio General Assembly nor the Court intended to abrogate the general rule in Ohio in toxic tort cases that a plaintiff must provide expert medical evidence “(1) that the toxin is capable of causing the medical condition or ailment (general causation), and (2) that the toxic substance in fact caused the claimant’s medical condition (specific causation).” Thus, the Supreme Court determined the Superior Court correctly concluded expert medical evidence on specific causation had to be offered by the Richards to avoid summary judgment. The Superior Court also did not abuse its discretion in denying reargument and the Richards’ request to supplement their expert report after the court’s summary judgment ruling. View "Richards v. Copes-Vulcan, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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Blue Bell Creameries USA, Inc. suffered a listeria outbreak in early 2015, causing the company to recall all of its products, shut down production at all of its plants, and lay off over a third of its workforce. Three people died as a result of the listeria outbreak. Pertinent here, stockholders also suffered losses because, after the operational shutdown, Blue Bell suffered a liquidity crisis that forced it to accept a dilutive private equity investment. Based on these unfortunate events, a stockholder brought a derivative suit against two key executives and against Blue Bell’s directors claiming breaches of the defendants’ fiduciary duties. The complaint alleges that the executives breached their duties of care and loyalty by knowingly disregarding contamination risks and failing to oversee the safety of Blue Bell’s food-making operations, and that the directors breached their duty of loyalty. The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to plead demand futility. The Court of Chancery granted the motion as to both claims. The Delaware reversed: "the mundane reality that Blue Bell is in a highly regulated industry and complied with some of the applicable regulations does not foreclose any pleading-stage inference that the directors’ lack of attentiveness rose to the level of bad faith indifference required to state a 'Caremark' claim. ... The complaint pled facts supporting a fair inference that no board-level system of monitoring or reporting on food safety existed." View "Marchand v. Barnhill, et al." on Justia Law

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Two cases consolidated for review by the Delaware Supreme Court involved automobile accidents. John Henry and Charles Fritz sustained injuries in accidents while operating employer-owned vehicles during the course of their employment. In both cases, the accidents were allegedly caused by a third-party tortfeasor. Both employees received workers’ compensation from their respective employers’ insurance carriers. In each case, the vehicle was covered by an automobile liability insurance policy issued to the employer by Cincinnati Insurance Company. The superior court issued an order in Henry’s case first, finding the exclusive-remedy provision in the Delaware Workers’ Compensation Act in effect at the time of his accident precluded Henry from receiving underinsured motorist benefits under the Cincinnati policy. Following that decision, the Fritz court granted Cincinnati’s motion for summary judgment on the same ground. Henry and Fritz argued on appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court that the superior court erred in finding the Act’s exclusivity provision precluded them from receiving underinsured motorist benefits through the automobile liability policies their respective employers purchased from Cincinnati. The Supreme Court agreed both trial courts erred in finding the Act’s exclusivity provision prevented underinsured motorist benefits. The Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Henry v. Cincinnati Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The City of Lewes and its Historic Preservation Commission approved Ernest and Deborah Nepa’s plans to renovate a house in the historic district. The Nepas violated the conditions of the approvals by building a two story addition on the back of the house and increasing its already nonconforming setbacks from neighboring properties. After the City discovered the violations and issued a stop work order, the Nepas applied to the City’s board of adjustment for three area variances to complete the unauthorized addition; the board turned them down. The Nepas appealed the variance denials to the Superior Court, arguing that the City Code provision used by the board to evaluate their variance applications conflicted with a more lenient state law addressing municipal variances. The Superior Court agreed and reversed the board’s decision. On appeal, the City argued the Superior Court erred because the state statute relied on, 22 Del. C. 327(a)(3), only prohibited the City from loosening the state law requirements for granting a variance. The City was thus free to require stricter standards. The Delaware Supreme Court agreed with the City and reversed the Superior Court’s decision. “As long as the variance standards applied by the City of Lewes’ board of adjustment meet the minimum state statutory standards, nothing in the state statute prohibits the City, through its board of adjustment, from applying variance standards stricter than those set by the State.” View "City of Lewes & The Board of Adjustment v. Nepa" on Justia Law

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Tiffany Greenfield appealed after the lawsuit she filed on behalf of minor Ethan Ford, was dismissed. Greenfield alleged that the defendants, who worked for the Delaware Division of Family Services (“DFS”), contributed in some way (as case workers, others as managers and supervisors) to four faulty investigations of reports that Ford and his half-sister, Autumn Milligan, were being abused and neglected by their mother, Tanasia Milligan. According to Greenfield’s complaint, the defendants’ dereliction of duty resulted in the tragic death of Autumn and permanent and irreversible damage to Ford that she averred necessitated long-term physical care and psychological services. The Delaware Supreme Court determined that Ford’s guardian sought redress from individuals who were charged with protecting him but who were unable to do so. "Those same individuals, however, are also required to preserve and foster the family unit, which creates an obvious tension between their duties that requires the exercise of judgment. Under such circumstances, our law requires that complaints against such individuals be written to a higher standard. We agree with the Superior Court that Greenfield’s complaint did not satisfy that standard and therefore affirm." View "Greenfield v. DFS Director Miles, et al." on Justia Law

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This appeal centered on a manufactured housing community owner’s attempt to raise the rent for its homeowner–tenants after installing a new water filtration system and commissioning a report on market rents for comparable manufactured housing communities. After the homeowners petitioned for an arbitration under the Rent Justification Act, the arbitrator concluded that the rent increase was justified. On appeal, however, the Superior Court reversed on the grounds that the community owner did not establish that the installation of the water filtration system “was an increase in its costs” or that the expenditure caused “its original expected return [to] decline[].” The community owner appealed the Superior Court’s decision. The Delaware Supreme Court found after its review of this matter that the Superior Court overruled the arbitrator’s order allowing the rent increase, finding that the community owner “would have had to offer evidence about its original costs and original expected return and how the expenditure . . . altered that relationship.” Because that reasoning grafted onto the Act a requirement that the statute did not contain, the Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court’s judgment and remanded the case for the entry of a judgment affirming the arbitrator’s order. View "Sandhill Acres MHC, LC v. Sandhill Acres Home Owners Association" on Justia Law

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The issue this medical negligence case presented for the Delaware Supreme Court’s review centered on the dismissal of claims against two physicians on statute-of-limitations grounds, and whether that dismissal barred the prosecution of a timely filed claim based on the same underlying facts against the physicians’ employer under the doctrine of respondeat superior. The Superior Court, relying on the Supreme Court’s decision in Greco v. University of Delaware, 619 A.2d 900 (Del. 1993), ruled that the dismissal of the physicians effectively extinguished the claims against the physicians’ employer and therefore entered summary judgment in the employer’s favor. The Supreme Court found the Superior Court correctly read Greco, and under Greco’s teaching, the Superior Court’s dismissal was proper. In this en banc decision, however, the Supreme Court concluded Greco had to be overruled to the extent that it held that, if a plaintiff failed to sue the employee whose malpractice allegedly injured her within the statute of limitations, she was for that reason alone barred from suing the employer under principles of respondeat superior. Because in this case plaintiff sued the employer in a timely manner, settled principles of law authorized the plaintiff to proceed against that employer. “Although the plaintiff must of course prove her claim against the employer, including that the employee was negligent, the fact that she failed to sue the employee in a timely manner does not act to immunize the employer. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Superior Court.” View "Verrastro v. Bayhospitalists, LLC" on Justia Law

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Nicholas Olenik, a stockholder of nominal defendant Earthstone Energy, Inc., brought class and derivative claims against defendants challenging a business combination between Earthstone and Bold Energy III LLC. As alleged in the complaint, EnCap Investments L.P. controlled Earthstone and Bold and caused Earthstone stockholders to approve an unfair transaction based on a misleading proxy statement. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on several grounds, principal among them that the proxy statement disclosed fully and fairly all material facts about the transaction, and Earthstone conditioned its offer on the approval of a special committee and the vote of a majority of the minority stockholders. The Court of Chancery agreed with defendants and dismissed the case. Two grounds were central to the court’s ruling: (1) the proxy statement informed the stockholders of all material facts about the transaction; and (2) although the court recognized that EnCap, Earthstone, and Bold worked on the transaction for months before the Earthstone special committee extended an offer with the so-called MFW conditions, it found those lengthy interactions “never rose to the level of bargaining: they were entirely exploratory in nature.” Thus, in the court’s view, the MFW protections applied, and the transaction was subject to business judgment review resulting in dismissal. While this appeal was pending, the Delaware Supreme Court decided Flood v. Synutra International, Inc. Under Synutra, to invoke the MFW protections in a controller-led transaction, the controller must “self-disable before the start of substantive economic negotiations.” The controller and the board’s special committee must also “bargain under the pressures exerted on both of them by these protections.” The Court cautioned that the MFW protections will not result in dismissal when the “plaintiff has pled facts that support a reasonable inference that the two procedural protections were not put in place early and before substantive economic negotiations took place.” The Supreme Court determined the Court of Chancery held correctly that plaintiff failed to state a disclosure claim. But, the complaint should not have been dismissed in its entirety: applying Synutra and its guidance on the MFW timing issue, which the Court of Chancery did not have the benefit of at the time of its decision, plaintiff has pled facts supporting a reasonable inference that EnCap, Earthstone, and Bold engaged in substantive economic negotiations before the Earthstone special committee put in place the MFW conditions. The Supreme Court also found no merit to defendants’ alternative ground for affirmance based on EnCap’s supposed lack of control of Earthstone. The Court of Chancery’s decision was affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Olenik v. Lodzinski, et al." on Justia Law

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This case arose out of a 2013, hit-and-run investigation that escalated into an officer-involved shooting. Michael Rogers appealed a superior court order granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants Corporal Matthew Morgan, the State of Delaware, and the Department of Public Safety Division of State Police. Corporal Morgan responded to a hit-and-run call and ran the license plate of the offending vehicle, which belonged to Michael. Corporal Morgan traveled to Michael’s home, where Michael’s elderly mother, Lorraine Rogers, answered the door. Ms. Rogers, who lived with her son, invited Corporal Morgan into the home as she went to wake Rogers, who was heavily inebriated and asleep in his bedroom. When Rogers refused to step outside to investigate damage to his vehicle, Corporal Morgan gripped Rogers' arm to lead him outside. Rogers immediately began fighting Corporal Morgan, who ended the fight by shooting Rogers. The State then charged Rogers with resisting arrest and several counts of assault. At the first criminal trial, Rogers filed a motion to suppress evidence resulting from Corporal Morgan’s entrance into the home, which Michael claimed was a warrantless search without valid consent. The court denied Roger's motion to suppress, finding his mother invited the Corporal into the home, and neither Rogers nor his mother revoked consent. The jury was unable to reach a verdict, resulting in a mistrial. The State re-indicted Rogers for assault and resisting arrest; Rogers pled nolo contendere to resisting arrest charge, and the State dropped the assault charges. Rogers' plea resulted in his conviction for one count of resisting arrest with force or violence, for which he was sentenced to jail time followed by probation. Michael filed this civil action in Superior Court alleging federal and state invasion of privacy claims, among other counts. Corporal Morgan moved for summary judgment on the grounds that collateral estoppel barred Michael’s invasion of privacy claims, since the judge in the criminal trial had found that Corporal Morgan had permission to be in the home when the altercation ensued. The superior court agreed with the Corporal and granted summary judgment. Finding no reversible error in the superior court's judgment, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed. View "Rogers v. Morgan, et al." on Justia Law