Justia Securities Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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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 C. 271 and its predecessor superseded any common law exceptions.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

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In October 2018, a Boeing 737 MAX airliner crashed in the sea near Indonesia, killing everyone on board. In March 2019, a second 737 MAX crashed in Ethiopia, again killing everyone on board. Within days of the second crash, all 737 MAX airliners around the world were grounded. The FAA kept the planes grounded until November 2020, when it was satisfied that serious problems with the planes’ flight control systems had been corrected. The Pension Plan, a shareholder of the Boeing Company, filed a derivative suit on behalf of Boeing under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. 78n(a)(1), alleging that Boeing officers and board members made materially false and misleading public statements about the development and operation of the 737 MAX in Boeing’s 2017, 2018, and 2019 proxy materials.The district court dismissed the suit without addressing the merits, applying a Boeing bylaw that gives the company the right to insist that any derivative actions be filed in the Delaware Court of Chancery. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Because the federal Exchange Act gives federal courts exclusive jurisdiction over actions under it, applying the bylaw to this case would mean that the derivative action could not be heard in any forum. That result would be contrary to Delaware corporation law, which respects the non-waiver provision in Section 29(a) of the federal Exchange Act, 15 U.S.C. 78cc(a). View "Seafarers Pension Plan v. Bradway" on Justia Law

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Christopher Kjelgren appealed a district court judgment entered in favor of Cavare, Inc., and the subsequent order denying his motion for relief from the judgment. In 2017, Cavare, Inc. (also referred to as “Cavare USA”) commenced this action seeking a judgment declaring Cavare USA the rightful owner of a one-third interest in Petroleum Services Drilling Motors, Inc. (“PSDM”), and claiming breach of fiduciary duty, conversion, and unjust enrichment to recover $230,000 in shareholder distributions that PSDM had made to Kjelgren. Following a bench trial, the district court found Cavare USA was the owner of the disputed PSDM shares and $230,000 in shareholder distributions issued to Kjelgren belonged to Cavare USA. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the court’s finding that Cavare, Inc. was the rightful owner of disputed shares corresponding to a one-third interest in Petroleum Services Drilling Motors, Inc. was not clearly erroneous. Furthermore, the Supreme Court concluded the court did not abuse its discretion in denying his motion for relief from the judgment under N.D.R.Civ.P. 60. View "Cavare v. Kjelgren" on Justia Law

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In 2017, the Delaware Court of Chancery held that Plaintiff Robert Lenois had pled with particularity that the controlling stockholder of Erin Energy Corporation (“Erin” or the “Company”) had acted in bad faith. It further held that Lenois had pled either “very serious claims of bad faith” or “a duty of care claim” against the remainder of Erin’s board in connection with two integrated transactions. In those transactions, the controller allegedly obtained an unfair windfall by selling certain Nigerian oil assets to Erin. The trial court dismissed the derivative claims on standing grounds (i.e., holding that demand was not excused). Lenois appealed that decision. During the pendency of the appeal, Erin voluntarily filed for bankruptcy. The Chapter 7 Trustee obtained the permission of the Bankruptcy Court to pursue, on a direct basis, the claims that had been asserted in the Lenois action in the Court of Chancery. As a result of the bankruptcy proceedings, which vested the Trustee with control over the claims, the Delaware Supreme Court determined that the sole issue on appeal was moot. The case was remanded to the Court of Chancery to resolve two pending motions — a Rule 60(b) motion and the Trustee’s motion pursuant to Rule 25(c) to be substituted for nominal defendant Erin and then realigned as plaintiff (the “Realignment Motion”). The Court of Chancery denied the Rule 60(b) motion and summarily denied the Rule 25(c) motion. Here, the Supreme Court reversed, holding the Court of Chancery should have granted the Trustee’s Substitution and Realignment Motion. View "Lenois v. Lukman" on Justia Law