Justia Securities Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Corporate Compliance
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At issue before the Delaware Supreme Court in these cases was the validity of a provision in several Delaware corporations’ charters requiring actions arising under the federal Securities Act of 1933 (the “Securities Act” or “1933 Act”) to be filed in a federal court. Blue Apron Holdings, Inc., Roku, Inc., and Stitch Fix, Inc. were all Delaware corporations that launched initial public offerings in 2017. Before filing their registration statements with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”), each company adopted a federal-forum provision. Appellee Matthew Sciabacucchi bought shares of each company in its initial public offering or a short time later. He then sought a declaratory judgment in the Court of Chancery that the FFPs were invalid under Delaware law. The Court of Chancery held that the FFPs were invalid because the “constitutive documents of a Delaware corporation cannot bind a plaintiff to a particular forum when the claim does not involve rights or relationships that were established by or under Delaware’s corporate law.” Because the Supreme Court determined such a provision could survive a facial challenge under Delaware law, judgment was reversed. View "Salzberg, et al. v. Sciabacucchi" on Justia Law

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Tibet, a holding company, “effectively control[led]” Yunnan, a manufacturer. Tibet attempted to raise capital for Yunnan's operations through an initial public offering (IPO). Zou was an investor in Tibet and the sole director of CT, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tibet. Tibet’s control of Yunnan flowed through CT. Zou told Downs, a managing director at the investment bank A&S, about the IPO. A&S agreed to serve as Tibet’s placement agent. Zou and downs were neither signatories to Tibet’s IPO registration statement nor named as directors of Tibet but were listed as non-voting board observers chosen by A&S without formal powers or duties. The registration statement explained, “they may nevertheless significantly influence the outcome of matters submitted to the Board.” The registration statement omitted information that Yunnan had defaulted on a loan from the Chinese government months earlier. Before Tibet filed its amended final prospectus, the Chinese government froze Yunnan’s assets. Tibet did not disclose that. The IPO closed, offering three million public shares at $5.50 per share. The Agricultural Bank of China auctioned off Yunnan’s assets, which prompted the NASDAQ to halt trading in Tibet’s stock. Plaintiffs sued Zou, Downs, Tibet, A&S, and others on behalf of a class of stock purchasers under the Securities Act of 1933, 15 U.S.C. 77k(a). The Third Circuit directed the entry of summary judgment in favor of Zou and Downs, holding that a nonvoting board observer affiliated with an issuer’s placement agent is not a “person who, with his consent, is named in the registration statement as being or about to become a director[ ] [or] person performing similar functions,” under section 77k(a). The court noted the registration statement’s description of the defendants, whose functions are not “similar” to those of board directors. View "Obasi Investment Ltd v. Tibet Pharmaceuticals Inc" 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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Former shareholders alleged that Altisource and several of its officers (collectively AAMC) inflated the price of its stock through false and misleading statements. When these mistruths were revealed to the market, they claimed, the price of AAMC’s stock plummeted, costing shareholders billions of dollars. The district court dismissed the complaint, concluding that Plaintiffs failed to satisfy the requirements of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (PSLRA), 15 U.S.C. 78u– 4. The Third Circuit affirmed. Plaintiffs failed to adequately plead three elements of a Rule 10b-5 claim: a material misrepresentation (or omission), scienter, and loss causation, with “particularity” as required by PSLRA. The economic harm suffered by AAMC’s investors is "regrettable," but plaintiffs failed to plausibly allege that this harm arose from fraud. When a stock experiences the rapid rise and fall that occurred here, it will not usually prove difficult to mine from the economic wreckage a few discrepancies in the now-deflated company’s records. View "City of Cambridge Retirement System v. Altisource Asset Management Corp." on Justia Law

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Olagues is a self-proclaimed stock options expert, traveling the country to file pro se claims under section 16(b) of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934, which permits a shareholder to bring an insider trading action to disgorge “short-swing” profits that an insider obtained improperly. Any recovery goes only to the company. In one such suit, the district court granted a motion to strike Olagues’ complaint and dismiss the action, stating Olagues, as a pro se litigant, could not pursue a section 16(b) claim on behalf of TimkenSteel because he would be representing the interests of the company. The Sixth Circuit affirmed that Olagues cannot proceed pro se but remanded to give Olagues the opportunity to retain counsel and file an amended complaint with counsel. View "Olagues v. Timken" on Justia Law

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The question before the Delaware Supreme Court in this case was whether the Court of Chancery properly applied Kahn v. M&F Worldwide Corp., 88 A.3d 635 (Del. 2014) (“MFW”) by reading it as: (1) allowing for the application of the business judgment rule if the controlling stockholder conditions its bid on both of the key procedural protections at the beginning stages of the process of considering a going private proposal and before any economic negotiations commence; and (2) requiring the Court of Chancery to apply traditional principles of due care and to hold that no litigable question of due care exists if the complaint fails to allege that an independent special committee acted with gross negligence. In the Supreme Court's previous affirmance of the Court of Chancery in Swomley v. Schlecht, 128 A.3d 992 (Del. 2015), the Court held that an interpretation of MFW based on these principles was correct. Accordingly, the Court affirmed. View "Flood v. Synutra International, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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Guadalupe Ontiveros, as minority shareholder in Omega Electric, Inc. (Omega), sued majority shareholder Kent Constable, his wife Karen, and Omega, asserting direct and derivative claims arising from a dispute over management of Omega and its assets. In response to Ontiveros's claim of involuntary dissolution of Omega, Appellants filed a motion to stay proceedings and appoint appraisers to fix the value of Ontiveros's stock. The superior court granted the motion, staying the action. Ontiveros then tried to dismiss his claim for involuntary dissolution without prejudice, but the court clerk would not accept his filing because the matter had been stayed. Ontiveros thus filed a motion, asking the court to revoke its order granting Appellants' motion, or in the alternative, to reconsider and then vacate the order. The court treated that motion as a motion for leave to file a dismissal with prejudice under Code of Civil Procedure section 581 (e), granted the motion, and allowed Ontiveros to dismiss his cause of action for involuntary dissolution of Omega. Without the existence of that claim, the court found no basis on which to stay the action and order an appraisal of the stock. As such, the court lifted the stay, terminating the procedure. Appellants appealed, contending the court abused its discretion in granting Ontiveros's motion. In addition, Appellants argued the trial court improperly interpreted section 2000 in granting the motion. Ontiveros countered by arguing the trial court's order was not appealable. The Court of Appeal determined Appellants presented an appealable issue, and was persuaded the trial court abused its discretion here: the superior court relied upon that code section as a mechanism to lift the stay and terminate the section 2000 special proceeding, misapplying the law. Consequently, the trial court's order was reversed. View "Ontiveros v. Constable" on Justia Law

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In March 2016, soon after The Fresh Market (the “Company”) announced plans to go private, the Company publicly filed certain required disclosures under the federal securities laws. Given that the transaction involved a tender offer, the required disclosures included a Solicitation/Recommendation Statement on Schedule 14D-9 which articulated the Board’s reasons for recommending that stockholders accept the tender offer from an entity controlled by private equity firm Apollo Global Management LLC (“Apollo”) for $28.5 in cash per share. Apollo publicly filed a Schedule TO, which included its own narrative of the background to the transaction. The 14D-9 incorporated Apollo’s Schedule TO by reference. After reading these disclosures, as the tender offer was still pending, plaintiff-stockholder Elizabeth Morrison suspected the Company’s directors had breached their fiduciary duties in the course of the sale process, and she sought Company books and records pursuant to Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law. The Company denied her request, and the tender offer closed as scheduled on April 21 with 68.2% of outstanding shares validly tendered. This case calls into question the integrity of a stockholder vote purported to qualify for “cleansing” pursuant to Corwin v. KKR Fin. Holdings LLC, 125 A.3d 304 (Del. 2015). In reversing the Court of Chancery's judgment in favor of the Company, the Delaware Supreme Court held "'partial and elliptical disclosures' cannot facilitate the protection of the business judgment rule under the Corwin doctrine." View "Morrison, et al. v. Berry, et al." on Justia Law

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Kohl’s operates more than 1000 stores, 65 percent of which are leased. In 2011, Kohl’s announced that it was correcting several years of its financial filings because of multiple lease accounting errors. Plaintiffs, led by the Pension Fund, filed suit under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. 78j(b), SEC Rule 10b-5, and the “controlling person” provisions of 15 U.S.C. 78t(a), alleging that Kohl’s and two executives defrauded investors by publishing false and misleading information prior to the corrections. The Fund argued that one can infer that the defendants knew that these statements were false or recklessly disregarded that possibility because Kohl’s recently had made similar lease accounting errors. Despite those earlier errors, it was pursuing aggressive investments in leased properties, and at the same time, company insiders sold considerable amounts of stock. The district court dismissed the complaint with prejudice for failure to meet the enhanced pleading requirements for scienter imposed by the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, reasoning that the complaint fell short and the Fund did not suggest how an amendment might help. The Fund made a strong case that many of Kohl’s disclosures regarding its lease accounting practices were false but that is not enough. The Fund provided very few facts that would point either toward or away from scienter. View "Pension Trust Fund for Operating Engineers v. Kohl's Corp." on Justia Law

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Karna Kornkven, Eric Molbert, and Kristi Benz ("Siblings") appeal after the district court entered judgment in favor of their brother, Lauris Molbert. The parties' father, Ralph Molbert, owned the controlling interest in the Bank of Steele and its holding company, H.O.M.E., Inc. Lauris, the oldest child, became a director of the bank in 1983 and director of the holding company in 1986 and was actively involved in the operations of both entities. Ralph and Beverly Molbert intended for Lauris Molbert to own and control the bank and holding company and pursued this intention through their estate plan. In December 1992, Ralph and Beverly Molbert gifted their children shares of H.O.M.E. stock and recorded the gift for tax purposes in 1992. It was understood that Ralph and Beverly intended to restrict these gifted shares. Following the gift of H.O.M.E. shares to the Molbert children, H.O.M.E. board minutes signed by Ralph and Beverly described the development of a shareholder agreement to restrict the gifted shares. In July 1993, the parties discussed the agreement while on a family vacation to Whitefish, Montana. The parties executed the stock purchase agreement following the Whitefish vacation. Ralph signed the agreement as H.O.M.E. president. Share certificates were issued after execution of the agreement stating the gifted shares were restricted by the stock purchase agreement. The agreement granted Lauris the right to vote the Siblings' shares. The agreement also granted him the irrevocable right to purchase the Siblings' shares at book value. Lauris sent written notice to the Siblings that he was exercising the call option set forth in Paragraph Seven of the stock purchase agreement. The Siblings refused to transfer their shares. Molbert sued the Siblings for specific performance, seeking a judgment requiring them to sell their shares to him in exchange for the book value payment. The Siblings counterclaimed, alleging the stock purchase agreement was void because Lauris engaged in fraud by failing to disclose that the agreement granted him a purchase option at book value. The Siblings also alleged the agreement lacked consideration and Lauris breached fiduciary duties owed to them. The Siblings sought relief in the form of cancellation of the agreement. Judgment was entered in Lauris' favor; finding no reversible error in that judgment, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Molbert v. Kornkven" on Justia Law