Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court

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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

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Stockholder-plaintiff KT4 Partners LLC appealed the Court of Chancery’s post-trial order granting in part and denying in part KT4’s request to inspect various books and records of appellee Palantir Technologies Inc., a privately held technology company. The Court of Chancery found that KT4 had shown a proper purpose of investigating suspected wrongdoing in three areas: (1) “Palantir’s serial failures to hold annual stockholder meetings”; (2) Palantir’s amendments of its Investors’ Rights Agreement in a way that “eviscerated KT4’s (and other similarly situated stockholders’) contractual information rights after KT4 sought to exercise those rights”; and (3) Palantir’s potential violation of two stockholder agreements by failing to give stockholders notice and the opportunity to exercise their rights of first refusal, co-sale rights, and rights of first offer as to certain stock transactions. The Court ordered Palantir to produce the company’s stock ledger, its list of stockholders, information about the company’s directors and officers, year-end audited financial statements, books and records relating to annual stockholder meetings, books and records relating to any cofounder's sales of Palantir stock. The Court otherwise denied KT4's requests, including a request to inspect emails related to Investors' Rights Agreement amendments. Both sides appealed, but the Delaware Supreme Court was satisfied the Court of Chancery did not abuse its discretion with respect to all but two issues: (1) denying wholesale requests to inspect email relating to the Investors' Rights Agreement; (2) and requests to temper the jurisdictional use restriction imposed by the court. "Given that the court found a credible basis to investigate potential wrongdoing related to the violation of contracts executed in California, governed by California law, and among parties living or based in California, the basis for limiting KT4’s use in litigation of the inspection materials to Delaware and specifically the Court of Chancery was tenuous in the first place, and the court lacked reasonable grounds for denying the limited modifications that KT4 requested." View "KT4 Partners LLC v. Palantir Technologies, Inc." on Justia Law

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Homeland Insurance Company of New York appealed a superior court judgment entered against it in the amount of $13.5 million plus pre-judgment interest. The litigation that led to the judgment was initiated by CorVel Corporation, a Delaware company that operated a national Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) network. Homeland issued CorVel a claims-made errors and omissions liability policy with limits of $10 million and a policy period of October 31, 2005 to October 31, 2006. Thereafter, Homeland issued similar renewal policies. CorVel’s PPO network included agreements with medical providers in Louisiana. In late 2004 and early 2005, Louisiana medical providers began filing claims asserting that CorVel had improperly discounted medical payments without providing proper notice in violation of a Louisiana PPO statute. Litigation in Louisiana ultimately involved millions of dollars of claims against CorVel. In 2011, CorVel entered into a settlement of the litigation. As part of the settlement consideration, CorVel paid $9 million. In 2015, CorVel filed its complaint in this case, alleging that Homeland owed it damages and penalties under another Louisiana statute, La. R.S. 22:1973. CorVel alleged that Homeland knowingly misrepresented facts or policy provisions in a complaint that Homeland filed in a declaratory judgment action in Delaware in 2011. The alleged misrepresentation was an averment that CorVel had not timely reported the PPO claims in accordance with the policy’s requirements. The damages CorVel sought were the $9 million that it paid to settle the Louisiana litigation, penalties, attorneys’ fees, and pre-judgment interest. The Delaware superior court agreed with CorVel’s claim and awarded it $9 million in damages, $4.5 million in penalties, and pre-judgment interest. Homeland argued on appeal: (1) the allegation in its declaratory judgment complaint was a statement of a coverage position that could not give rise to a finding of bad faith under either Delaware or Louisiana law; (2) no causal connection existed between the allegation in the declaratory judgment complaint and CorVel’s decision to settle the PPO claims; and (3) the applicable statute of limitations barred CorVel’s claim. The Delaware Supreme Court concluded that the statute of limitations did bar CorVel’s claim and that the superior court erred by ruling that it did not. Because the statute of limitations barred CorVel’s claim, the Court did not address Homeland’s first two arguments. View "Homeland Insurance v. Corvel Corp" on Justia Law