Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
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Stillwater Mining Company filed suit against its directors’ and officers’ liability insurers to recover the expenses it incurred defending a Delaware stockholder appraisal action. The superior court granted the insurers’ motions to dismiss after it found that Delaware law applied to the dispute and the Delaware Supreme Court’s decision in In re Solera Ins. Coverage Appeals (“Solera II”) precluded coverage for losses incurred in a stockholder appraisal action under a similar D&O policy. The primary issue on appeal was whether Delaware or Montana law applied to the claims in Stillwater’s amended complaint. Stillwater argued that the superior court should have applied Montana law because Montana had the most significant relationship to the dispute and the parties. If Montana law applied, according to Stillwater, it could recover its defense costs because Montana recognized coverage by estoppel, meaning the insurers were estopped to deny coverage when they failed to defend Stillwater in the appraisal action. Before the Delaware Supreme Court issued Solera II, the Solera I court held that D&O insureds could recover losses incurred in a stockholder appraisal action. Taking advantage of that favorable ruling, Stillwater argued in its complaint that Delaware law applied to the interpretation of the policies. Then when Solera II was issued, Stillwater reversed position and claimed that Montana law applied to the policies. Its amended complaint dropped all indemnity claims for covered losses in favor of three contractual claims for the duty to advance defense costs and a statutory claim under Montana law. In the Supreme Court's view, Stillwater’s amended claims raised the same Delaware interests that Stillwater identified in its original complaint – applying one consistent body of law to insurance policies that cover comprehensively the insured’s directors’, officers’, and corporate liability across many jurisdictions. It then held the superior court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Stillwater's motions. View "Stillwater Mining Company v. National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA" on Justia Law

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The issue this appeal presented for the Delaware Supreme Court’s review asked for a determination of whether premiums paid on insurance policies declared void ab initio for lack of an insurable interest should be returned. Geronta Funding argued Delaware law required the automatic return of all premiums paid on the void policy. Brighthouse Life Insurance Company argued a party must prove entitlement to restitution. The trial court agreed with Brighthouse and relied on the Restatement (Second) of Contracts to determine whether Geronta was entitled to restitution. Specifically, the court held that Geronta could obtain restitution if it could prove excusable ignorance or that it was not equally at fault. Applying this test, the court ruled that Geronta was only entitled to the return of the premiums it paid after alerting Brighthouse to the void nature of the policy at issue. Geronta appealed this ruling, arguing that the court erred when it adopted the Restatement instead of automatically returning the premiums, erred in its actual application of the Restatement, even assuming that is the proper test, and erred by precluding certain testimony from Geronta witnesses. Because this was a matter of first impression, the Supreme Court adopted restitution under a fault-based analysis as framed by the Restatement as the test to determine whether premiums should be returned when a party presents a viable legal theory, such as unjust enrichment, and seeks the return of paid premiums as a remedy. The Court held, however, that despite applying the Restatement, the Superior Court’s application of the Restatement failed to account for the relevant questions encompassed by that approach. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s holdings regarding entitlement to premiums and remanded for further consideration, but found no fault in the Superior Court preclusion of certain testimony from Geronta’s witnesses. View "Geronta Funding v. Brighthouse Life Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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An objector appealed a Delaware Court of Chancery decision approving a litigation settlement for claims alleging excessive non-employee director compensation. Initially, the parties agreed to a preliminary settlement and presented it to the Court of Chancery for approval. The Court of Chancery sided with the objector and refused to approve a non-monetary settlement of the derivative claims. The court also awarded the objector fees. After the court denied a motion to dismiss, the parties came up with a new settlement that included a financial benefit to the corporation. The objector renewed his objection, this time arguing that the new settlement improperly released future claims challenging compensation awards and that the plaintiff was not an adequate representative for the corporation’s interests. The Court of Chancery approved the new settlement and refused to award the objector additional attorneys’ fees. On appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court, the objector argued the court erred by: (1) approving an overbroad release; (2) approving the settlement without finding that the plaintiff was an adequate representative of the corporation’s interests; and (3) reducing the objector’s fee because the court believed it would have rejected the original settlement agreement without the objection. Though the Supreme Court acknowledged the Court of Chancery and the parties worked diligently to bring this dispute to a close, it reversed the judgment because the settlement agreement released future claims arising out of, or contemplated by, the settlement itself instead of releasing liability for the claims brought in the litigation. View "Griffith v. Stein" on Justia Law

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This appeal involved a breach of contract claim arising out of an indemnitee’s refusal to repay money advanced pursuant to an LLC Agreement. Under the Agreement, a Person was entitled to indemnification if the Person acted in good faith and in a manner believed to be in or not opposed to the best interests of the Company. The indemnification payments were further conditioned on the Person’s written undertaking to repay all amounts advanced under the LLC Agreement if it was later determined that the Person did not satisfy the standard of conduct, and thus, was not entitled to indemnification. New Wood Resources operated a plywood and veneer manufacturing facility in Mississippi known as Winston Plywood & Veneer LLC (“WPV”). Dr. Richard Baldwin (“Baldwin”) served as a manager of New Wood starting in September of 2013, and served as a member of New Wood’s Board of Managers. Baldwin was asked to invest in New Wood, and to oversee the revitalization of a newly acquired plywood mill in Louisville, Mississippi. The WPV manufacturing facility in Louisville had been dormant for years and was in need of repair. New Wood began to make repairs so that it could operate a mill. However, prior to the WPV facility’s completion, the facility was destroyed by an EF-4 tornado. WPV received funding from FEMA, and Baldwin took the lead role on behalf of New Wood to restore the WPV facility and transform it into a functioning and profitable plywood manufacturing facility. In 2016, just before the WPV mill was set to begin operations, Baldwin was terminated from his position as the President and General Manager of WPV. The Delaware Court addressed the narrow issue of whether the LLC Agreement pertinent here contained an implied covenant of good faith that would require the determination of a Person’s entitlement to indemnification to be made in good faith. After review of the Agreement, the Court held that it did. It therefore reversed and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Baldwin v. New Wood Resources LLC" on Justia Law

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In negotiations leading up to a merger in which Brookfield Property Partners, L.P. and its affiliates acquired GGP, Inc., Brookfield became concerned over the number of GGP stockholders who might seek appraisal under 8 Del. C. § 262. Brookfield sought to include in the merger agreement an appraisal-rights closing condition that would allow it to terminate the transaction if a specified number of GGP shares demanded appraisal. But a special committee of GGP directors charged with negotiating the terms of the merger agreement opposed this condition, and Brookfield relented. According to former GGP stockholders, GGP’s directors, urged on by Brookfield, structured the merger so that the GGP stockholders’ appraisal rights were eviscerated. The GGP stockholders claimed that, by divorcing the appraisal remedy from the large pre-closing dividend and linking it to a meager “per share merger consideration,” Brookfield and the GGP directors led them to believe that a fair value determination in an appraisal proceeding would be limited to the value of post-dividend GGP. This description of appraisal rights, coupled with other descriptions of how the transaction was to be effected, led the stockholders to believe that their appraisal rights had either been eliminated or so reduced as to be meaningless. And by agreeing to do this, they said, the GGP directors, with the aid of Brookfield, breached their fiduciary duties. The stockholders sued. The Court of Chancery concluded that, because it could consider the pre-closing dividend as a “relevant factor” under the appraisal statute, the defendants’ structuring of the merger did not deny the stockholders their right to seek appraisal. The Delaware Supreme Court reversed the Court of Chancery: "the disclosures, having described the merger and appraisal rights in a confusing manner, did not provide the stockholders the information they needed to decide whether to dissent and demand appraisal. ... it is reasonably conceivable to us that GGP’s directors, aided and abetted by Brookfield, consciously crafted the transaction and the related disclosures in such a way as to deter GGP’s stockholders from exercising their appraisal rights." View "In Re GGP, Inc. Stockholder Litigation" on Justia Law

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In a final judgment, the Delaware Court of Chancery ordered NVIDIA Corporation (“NVIDIA” or the “Company”) to produce books and records to certain NVIDIA stockholders under Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law. In the underlying action, the stockholders alleged certain NVIDIA executives knowingly made false or misleading statements during Company earnings calls that artificially inflated NVIDIA’s stock price, and then those same executives sold their stock at inflated prices. As such, the stockholders sought to inspect books and records to investigate possible wrongdoing and mismanagement at the Company, to assess the ability of the board to consider a demand for action, to determine whether the Company’s board members were fit to serve on the board, and to take the appropriate action in response to the investigation. In resisting the request, NVIDIA argued the stockholders were not entitled to the relief they sought because: (1) the scope of the original demands failed to satisfy the form and manner requirements; (2) the documents sought at the trial were not requested in the original demands; (3) the stockholders failed to show a proper purpose; (4) the stockholders failed to show a credible basis to infer wrongdoing; and (5) the requests were overbroad and not tailored to the stockholders’ stated purpose. The Court of Chancery rejected these arguments and ordered the production of two sets of documents—certain communications with the CEO and certain specific sets of emails. The Delaware Supreme Court held: (1) the stockholders’ original demands did not violate Section 220’s form and manner requirements; (2) the stockholders did not expand their requests throughout litigation; (3) the Court of Chancery did not err in holding that sufficiently reliable hearsay evidence may be used to show proper purpose in a Section 220 litigation, but did err in allowing the stockholders in this case to rely on hearsay evidence because the stockholders’ actions deprived NVIDIA of the opportunity to test the stockholders’ stated purpose; (4) the Court of Chancery did not err in holding that the stockholders proved a credible basis to infer wrongdoing; and (5) the documents ordered to be produced by the Court of Chancery were essential and sufficient to the stockholders’ stated purpose. Thus, the judgment of the Court of Chancery is affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "NVIDIA Corporation v. City of Westland Police & Fire Retirement System" on Justia Law

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Kevin Diep, a stockholder of El Pollo Loco Holdings, Inc. (“EPL”), filed derivative claims against some members of EPL’s board of directors and management, as well as a private investment firm. The suit focused on two acts of alleged wrongdoing: concealing the negative impact of price increases during an earnings call and selling EPL stock while in possession of material non-public financial information. After the Delaware Court of Chancery denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss, the EPL board of directors designated a special litigation committee of the board (“SLC”) with exclusive authority to investigate the derivative claims and to take whatever action was in EPL’s best interests. After a lengthy investigation and extensive report, the SLC moved to terminate the derivative claims. All defendants but the private investment firm settled with Diep while the dismissal motion was pending. The Court of Chancery granted the SLC’s motion after applying the two-step review under Zapata Corp. v. Maldonado, 430 A.2d 779 (Del. 1981). Diep appealed, but after its review of the record, including the SLC’s report, and the Court of Chancery’s decision, the Delaware Supreme Court found that the court properly evaluated the SLC’s independence, investigation, and conclusions, and affirm the judgment of dismissal. View "Diep v. Trimaran Pollo Partners, L.L.C." on Justia Law

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Zelda Sheppard appealed a superior court’s affirmance of an Industrial Accident Board (“IAB” or “Board”) decision granting Allen Family Foods’ (“Employer”) Petition for Review (“Petition”). The IAB determined that Sheppard’s prescribed narcotic pain medications were no longer compensable. Sheppard sought to dismiss the Petition at the conclusion of Employer’s case-in-chief during the IAB hearing, arguing that the matter should have been considered under the utilization review process. After hearing the case on the merits, the IAB disagreed, holding that Employer no longer needed to compensate Sheppard for her medical expenses after a two-month weaning period from the narcotic pain medications. On appeal, Sheppard argued the IAB erred as a matter of law when it denied Sheppard’s Motion to Dismiss Employer’s Petition because Employer failed to articulate a good faith change in condition or circumstance relating to the causal relationship of Sheppard’s treatment to the work injury. Accordingly, Sheppard argued that the Employer was required to proceed with the utilization review process before seeking termination of her benefits. The Delaware Supreme Court determined the IAB’s decision was supported by substantial evidence, therefore the superior court’s decision was affirmed. View "Sheppard v. Allen Family Foods" on Justia Law

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The Delaware Supreme Court addressed whether approval of a corporation’s Class B stockholders was required to transfer pledged assets to secured creditors in connection with what was, in essence, a privately structured foreclosure transaction. Stream TV Network, Inc. (“Stream” or the “Company”), along with Mathu and Raja Rajan, argued that the agreement authorizing the secured creditors to transfer Stream’s pledged assets (the “Omnibus Agreement”) was invalid because Stream’s unambiguous certificate of incorporation (“Charter”) required the approval of Stream’s Class B stockholders. Stream’s Charter required a majority vote of Class B stockholders for any “sale, lease or other disposition of all or substantially all of the assets or intellectual property of the company.” Stream argued the trial court erred by applying a common law insolvency exception to Section 271 in interpreting the Charter, and that the enactment of 8 Del. C. 271 and its predecessor superseded any common law exceptions. It contended that, in any event, such a “board only” common law exception never existed in Delaware. SeeCubic, Inc. argued the court correctly found that neither the Charter, nor Section 271, required approval of the Class B shares to effectuate the Omnibus Agreement. Because the Supreme Court agreed that a majority vote of Class B stockholders was required under Stream’s charter, it vacated the injunction, reversed the declaratory judgment, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Steam TV Networks, Inc. v. SeeCubic, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2014, Elizabeth Elting, a co-founder of TransPerfect Global, Inc. (“TPG”), asked the Delaware Court of Chancery to appoint a custodian to sell the Company because of a hopeless deadlock between Elting and fellow co-founder, Philip Shawe. More than eight years later, Elting sold her shares to Shawe, who won a court-ordered auction supervised by Robert Pincus, a custodian duly appointed by the Court of Chancery. The parties executed the sale agreement (the “SPA”) in November 2017. A contentious relationship emerged between Shawe and Pincus, resulting in "seemingly endless" litigation in Delaware, New York and Nevada, millions in contested legal fees, and an inability to agree on any material aspect of Pincus' tenure as Custodian, up to and including his discharge. This case consolidated three challenges brought by Shawe and TPG to orders of the Court of Chancery, each implicating Pincus’ right to petition the trial court for reimbursement of fees and expenses under the SPA and various court orders. In sum, the Delaware Supreme Court: (1) reversed and vacated the Court of Chancery’s October 17, 2019 Contempt Order and Sanction only as they applied to Shawe; affirmed the Contempt Order and Sanction as they applied to TPG; (3) affirmed the court’s April 14, 2021 Discharge Order terminating the custodianship of Pincus; and (4) affirmed the April 30, 2021 Fee Order awarding Pincus $3,242,251 in fees, subject to the qualification that TransPerfect Global, Inc. was the only party liable for the $1,148,291 Contempt Sanction. View "Transperfect Global, Inc., et al. v. Pincus, et al." on Justia Law