Justia Securities Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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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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Between 2004 and 2008, respondents HEI Resources, Inc. (“HEI”), and the Heartland Development Corporation (“HEDC”), both corporations whose principal place of business is Colorado, formed, capitalized, and operated eight separate joint ventures related to the exploration and drilling of oil and gas wells. They solicited investors for what they called Los Ojuelos Joint Ventures by cold calling thousands of individuals from all over the country. Those who joined the ventures became parties to an agreement organized as a general partnership under the Texas Revised Partnership Act. In 2009, the Securities Commissioner for the State of Colorado (“the Commissioner”) initiated this enforcement action, alleging that respondents had violated the Colorado Securities Act (CSA) by, among other things, offering and selling unregistered securities to investors nationwide through the use of unlicensed sales representatives and in the guise of general partnerships. The Commissioner alleged that HEDC and HEI used the general partnership form deliberately in order to avoid regulation. Each of the Commissioner’s claims required that the Commissioner prove that the general partnerships were securities, so the trial was bifurcated to permit resolution of that threshold question. THe Colorado Supreme Court granted review in this matter to determine how courts should evaluate whether an interest in a “general partnership” is an “investment contract” under the CSA. The Court concluded that when faced with an assertion that an interest in a general partnership is an investment contract and thus within the CSA’s definition of a “security,” the plaintiff bears the burden of proving this claim by a preponderance of the evidence. No presumption beyond that burden applies. Accordingly, the Court reversed the court of appeals’ judgment on the question of whether courts should apply a “strong presumption,” and the Court remanded the case to the trial court for further findings. View "Chan v. HEI Resources, Inc." 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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Frankie Ware died in 2011, survived by his wife, Carolyn Ware, and their three children, Dana Ware, Angela Ware Mohr, and Richard Ware. Richard was married to Melisa Ware. Carolyn was appointed executor of Frankie’s estate. At the time of his death, Frankie owned 25 percent of four different family corporations. Carolyn owned another 25 percent of each, and Richard owned 50 percent of each. Frankie’s will placed the majority of Frankie’s assets, including his shares in the four family corporations, into two testamentary trusts for which Carolyn, Richard, Angela, and Dana were appointed trustees. The primary beneficiary of both trusts was Carolyn, but one trust allowed potential, limited distributions to Richard, Angela, and Dana. Prolonged litigation between Carolyn and Richard ensued over disagreements regarding how to dispose of Frankie’s shares in the four corporations and how to manage the four corporations. Richard eventually filed for dissolution of the four corporations. The trial court ultimately consolidated the estate case with the corporate dissolution case, and denied Angela and Dana’s motions to join/intervene in both cases. It also appointed a corporate receiver (Derek Henderson) in the dissolution case by agreed order that also authorized dissolution. The chancery court ultimately ordered that the shares be offered for sale to the corporations, and it approved the dissolution and sale of the corporations. Angela and Dana appealed the trial court’s denial of their attempts to join or intervene in the two cases. Carolyn appeals a multitude of issues surrounding the trial court’s decisions regarding the corporations and shares. Richard cross-appealed the trial court’s net asset value determination date and methodology. The Receiver argued the trial court’s judgment should have been affirmed on all issues. In the estate case, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the chancery court’s determination that the estate had to offer the shares to the corporation prior to transferring them to the trusts; the corporations filed their breach of contract claim after the expiration of the statute of limitations. The Court affirmed the chancery court’s denial of Angela and Dana’s motions to intervene, and it affirmed the chancery court’s decision in the dissolution case. The Court reversed the judgment to the extent that it allowed the corporations to purchase shares from the estate. The cases were remanded to the chancery court for a determination of how to distribute the money from the corporate sales, in which the estate held 25 percent of the corporate shares. View "In The Matter of The Estate of Frankie Don Ware" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a putative class action lawsuit against brokerage firm Hornor, Townsend & Kent (“HTK”) and its parent company The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company. The complaint alleged that HTK breached its fiduciary duties under Georgia law and that Penn Mutual aided and abetted that breach. The district court concluded that the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act (“SLUSA”) barred Plaintiff from using a class action to bring those state law claims.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal. The court explained that SLUSA’s bar applies when “(1) the suit is a ‘covered class action,’ (2) the plaintiffs’ claims are based on state law, (3) one or more ‘covered securities’ has been purchased or sold, and (4) the defendant [allegedly] misrepresented or omitted a material fact ‘in connection with the purchase or sale of such security.’”Here, the only disputed issue is whether Plaintiff’s complaint alleges a misrepresentation or omission. The court reasoned that the district court correctly dismissed the actions because the complaint alleges “an untrue statement or omission of material fact in connection with the purchase or sale of a covered security." View "Jeffrey A. Cochran v. The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company, et al" on Justia Law

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Taj Jerry Mahabub, founder and Chief Executive Officer (“CEO”) of GenAudio, Inc. (“GenAudio”; collectively referred to as “Appellants”) attempted to secure a software licensing deal with Apple, Inc. (“Apple”). Mahabub intended to integrate GenAudio’s three-dimensional audio software, “AstoundSound,” into Apple’s products. While Appellants were pursuing that collaboration, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) commenced an investigation into Mr. Mahabub’s conduct: Mahabub was suspected of defrauding investors by fabricating statements about Apple’s interest in GenAudio’s software and violating registration provisions of the securities laws in connection with sales of GenAudio securities. The district court found Mahabub defrauded investors and violated the securities laws. The court determined that Appellants were liable for knowingly or recklessly making six fraudulent misstatements in connection with two offerings of GenAudio’s securities in violation of the antifraud provisions of the securities laws. Appellants appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the SEC. View "SEC v. GenAudio Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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Leslie Murphy, a former shareholder of Covisint Corporation, brought an action against Samuel Inman, III and other former Covisint directors, alleging they breached their statutory and common-law fiduciary duties owed to plaintiff when Covisint entered into a cash-out merger agreement with OpenText Corporation in 2017. Defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing plaintiff lacked standing because his claim was derivative in nature and he did not satisfy the requirements for bringing a derivative shareholder action under MCL 450.1493a. Plaintiff responded that he was permitted to bring a direct shareholder action under MCL 450.1541a, and that defendants owed common-law fiduciary duties to plaintiff as a shareholder. The trial court granted defendants’ motion, ruling that plaintiff lacked standing to bring a direct shareholder action because he could not demonstrate an injury to himself without showing injury to the corporation, nor could he show harm separate and distinct from that of other Covisint shareholders. The court also rejected plaintiff’s common-law theory because it arose out of the same alleged injury as his statutory claim. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Michigan Supreme Court reversed, however, finding that a shareholder who alleges the directors of the target corporation breached their fiduciary duties owed to the shareholder in handling a cash-out merger could bring that claim as a direct shareholder action. The Court of Appeals erred by concluding that plaintiff’s claim was derivative. View "Murphy v. Inman" on Justia Law

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In March 2012, First Solar, Inc. stockholders filed a class action lawsuit against the company alleging that it violated federal securities laws by making false or misleading public disclosures ("Smilovits Action"). National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA (“National Union”) provided insurance coverage for the Smilovits Action under a 2011–12 $10 million “claims made” directors and officers insurance policy. While the Smilovits Action was pending, First Solar stockholders who opted out of the Smilovits Action filed what has been referred to as the Maverick Action. The Maverick Action alleged violations of the same federal securities laws as the Smilovits Action, as well as violations of Arizona statutes and claims for fraud and negligent misrepresentation. In this appeal the issue presented for the Delaware Supreme Court's review was whether the Smilovits securities class action, and a later Maverick follow-on action were related actions, such that the follow-on action was excluded from insurance coverage under later-issued policies. The Superior Court found that the follow-on action was “fundamentally identical” to the first-filed action and therefore excluded from coverage under the later-issued policies. The Supreme Court found that even though the court applied an incorrect standard to assess the relatedness of the two actions, judgment was affirmed nonetheless because under either the erroneous “fundamentally identical” standard or the correct relatedness standard defined by the policies, the later-issued insurance policies did not cover the follow-on action. View "First Solar, Inc. v. National Union First Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA" on Justia Law

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The Enterprises, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, suffered financial losses in 2008 when the housing market collapsed. The Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA), created the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), tasked with regulating the Enterprises, including stepping in as conservator, 12 U.S.C. 4511. FHFA placed the Enterprises into conservatorship, then negotiated preferred stock purchase agreements (PSPAs) with the Treasury Department to allow the Enterprises to draw up to $100 billion in exchange for senior preferred non-voting stock having quarterly fixed-rate dividends. A “net worth sweep” under the PSPAs replaced the fixed-rate dividend formula with a variable one that required the Enterprises to make quarterly payments equal to their entire net worth, minus a small capital reserve amount, causing the Enterprises to transfer most of their equity to Treasury, leaving no residual value for shareholders.In a companion case, the Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of shareholders’ direct claims challenging the net worth sweep and concluded that the shareholders’ derivatively pled allegations should also be dismissed.The Washington Federal Plaintiffs alleged direct takings and illegal exaction claims, predicated on the imposition of the conservatorships, rather than on FHFA's subsequent actions. The Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of those claims. Where Congress mandates the review process for an allegedly unlawful agency action, plaintiffs may not assert a takings claim asserting the agency acted in violation of a statute or regulation. These Plaintiffs also lack standing to assert their substantively derivative claims as direct claims. View "Washington Federal v. United States" on Justia Law