Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court

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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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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 (together with amendments, the “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”). The 14D-9 incorporated certain required schedules by reference. After reading these disclosures, as the tender offer was still pending, stockholder-plaintiff 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. Litigation over the Section 220 demand ensued, and Plaintiff obtained several key documents, such as board minutes and a crucial e-mail from Ray Berry’s counsel to the Company’s lawyers. Plaintiff then filed this action, including a breach of fiduciary duty claim against all ten of the Company’s directors, including Ray Berry, and a claim for aiding and abetting the breach against Ray Berry’s son, Brett Berry, who did not serve on the Board. The thrust of Plaintiff’s breach of fiduciary duty claim was that Ray and Brett Berry teamed up with Apollo to buy The Fresh Market at a discount by deceiving the Board and inducing the directors to put the Company up for sale through a process that “allowed the Berrys and Apollo to maintain an improper bidding advantage” and “predictably emerge[] as the sole bidder for Fresh Market” at a price below fair value. Plaintiff also alleged the Board and the stockholders were misled into believing that Ray Berry would openmindedly consider partnering with any private equity firm willing to outbid Apollo, but, instead, “[t]he reality of the situation was that Ray Berry (a) had already formed the belief that Apollo was uniquely well situated to buy Fresh Market; (b) had already entered into an undisclosed agreement with Apollo; and (c) was incentivized not to create price competition for Apollo.” In moving to dismiss, Defendants argued that Corwin v. KKR Fin. Holdings LLC, 125 A.3d 304, 312 (Del. 2015) applied. The Court of Chancery stated that this matter “presents an exemplary case of the utility of th[e] ratification doctrine, as set forth in Corwin and [In re Volcano Corp. S’holder Litig., 143 A.3d 727 (Del. Ch. 2016)].” The Delaware Supreme Court disagreed, finding defendants did not show under Corwin, that the vote was fully informed. Thus, “the business judgment rule is not invoked.” The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Chancery’s decision and remanded for further proceedings. View "Morrison, et al. v. Berry, et al." on Justia Law

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The Court of Chancery initially found that Wal-Mart stockholders who were attempting to prosecute derivative claims in Delaware could no longer do so because a federal court in Arkansas had reached a final judgment on the issue of demand futility first, and the stockholders were adequately represented in that action. But the derivative plaintiffs in Delaware asserted that applying issue preclusion in this context violated their Due Process rights. The Delaware Supreme Court surmised this dispute implicated complex questions regarding the relationship among competing derivative plaintiffs (and whether they may be said to be in “privity” with one another); whether failure to seek board-level company documents renders a derivative plaintiff’s representation inadequate; policies underlying issue preclusion; and Delaware courts’ obligation to respect the judgments of other jurisdictions. The Delaware Chancellor reiterated that, under the present state of the law, the subsequent plaintiffs’ Due Process rights were not violated. Nevertheless, the Chancellor suggested that the Delaware Supreme Court adopt a rule that a judgment in a derivative action could not bind a corporation or other stockholders until the suit has survived a Rule 23.1 motion to dismiss The Chancellor reasoned that such a rule would better protect derivative plaintiffs’ Due Process rights, even when they were adequately represented in the first action. The Delaware Supreme Court declined to adopt the Chancellor’s recommendation and instead, affirmed the Original Opinion granting Defendants’ motion to dismiss because, under the governing federal law, there was no Due Process violation. View "California State Teachers' Retirement System, et al. v. Alvarez, et al." on Justia Law

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The Court of Chancery initially found that Wal-Mart stockholders who were attempting to prosecute derivative claims in Delaware could no longer do so because a federal court in Arkansas had reached a final judgment on the issue of demand futility first, and the stockholders were adequately represented in that action. But the derivative plaintiffs in Delaware asserted that applying issue preclusion in this context violated their Due Process rights. The Delaware Supreme Court surmised this dispute implicated complex questions regarding the relationship among competing derivative plaintiffs (and whether they may be said to be in “privity” with one another); whether failure to seek board-level company documents renders a derivative plaintiff’s representation inadequate; policies underlying issue preclusion; and Delaware courts’ obligation to respect the judgments of other jurisdictions. The Delaware Chancellor reiterated that, under the present state of the law, the subsequent plaintiffs’ Due Process rights were not violated. Nevertheless, the Chancellor suggested that the Delaware Supreme Court adopt a rule that a judgment in a derivative action could not bind a corporation or other stockholders until the suit has survived a Rule 23.1 motion to dismiss The Chancellor reasoned that such a rule would better protect derivative plaintiffs’ Due Process rights, even when they were adequately represented in the first action. The Delaware Supreme Court declined to adopt the Chancellor’s recommendation and instead, affirmed the Original Opinion granting Defendants’ motion to dismiss because, under the governing federal law, there was no Due Process violation. View "California State Teachers' Retirement System, et al. v. Alvarez, et al." on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the issue before the Delaware Supreme Court was the limits of the stockholder ratification defense when directors make equity awards to themselves under the general parameters of an equity incentive plan. In the absence of stockholder approval, if a stockholder properly challenges equity incentive plan awards the directors grant to themselves, the directors must prove that the awards are entirely fair to the corporation. But, when the stockholders have approved an equity incentive plan, the affirmative defense of stockholder ratification comes into play. Here, the Equity Incentive Plan (“EIP”) approved by the stockholders left it to the discretion of the directors to allocate up to 30% of all option or restricted stock shares available as awards to themselves. The plaintiffs alleged facts leading to a pleading-stage reasonable inference that the directors breached their fiduciary duties by awarding excessive equity awards to themselves under the EIP. Thus, a stockholder ratification defense was not available to dismiss the case, and the directors had to demonstrate the fairness of the awards to the Company. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Chancery’s decision dismissing the complaint and remanded for further proceedings. View "In Re Investors Bancorp, Inc. Stockholder Litigation" on Justia Law

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The remaining petitioners in this matter were former stockholders of Dell, Inc. who validly exercised their appraisal rights instead of voting for a buyout led by the Company’s founder and CEO, Michael Dell, and affiliates of a private equity firm, Silver Lake Partners (“Silver Lake”). In perfecting their appraisal rights, petitioners acted on their belief that Dell’s shares were worth more than the deal price of $13.75 per share, which was already a 37% premium to the Company’s ninety-day-average unaffected stock price. The Delaware appraisal statute allows stockholders who perfect their appraisal rights to receive “fair value” for their shares as of the merger date instead of the merger consideration. Furthermore, the statute requires the Court of Chancery to assess the “fair value” of such shares and, in doing so, “take into account all relevant factors.” The trial court took into account all the relevant factors presented by the parties in advocating for their view of fair value and arrived at its own determination of fair value. The Delaware Supreme Court found the problem with the trial court’s opinion was not that it failed to take into account the stock price and deal price; the court erred because its reasons for giving that data no weight (and for relying instead exclusively on its own discounted cash flow (“DCF”) analysis to reach a fair value calculation of $17.62) did not follow from the court’s key factual findings and from relevant, accepted financial principles. "[T]he evidence suggests that the market for Dell’s shares was actually efficient and, therefore, likely a possible proxy for fair value. Further, the trial court concluded that several features of management-led buyout (MBO) transactions render the deal prices resulting from such transactions unreliable. But the trial court’s own findings suggest that, even though this was an MBO transaction, these features were largely absent here. Moreover, even if it were not possible to determine the precise amount of that market data’s imperfection, as the Court of Chancery concluded, the trial court’s decision to rely 'exclusively' on its own DCF analysis is based on several assumptions that are not grounded in relevant, accepted financial principles." View "Dell, Inc. v. Magnetar Global Event Driven Master Fund Ltd, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Peter Brinckerhoff and his trust, were long-term investors in Enbridge Energy Partners, L.P. (“EEP”), a Delaware master limited partnership (“MLP”). A benefit under Delaware law of this business structure was the ability to eliminate common law duties in favor of contractual ones, thereby restricting disputes to the four corners of the limited partnership agreement (“LPA”). This was not the first lawsuit between Brinckerhoff and the Enbridge MLP entities over a conflicted transaction. In 2009, Brinckerhoff filed suit against most of the same defendants in the current dispute, and challenged a transaction between the sponsor and the limited partnership. Enbridge, Inc. (“Enbridge”), the ultimate parent entity that controlled EEP’s general partner, Enbridge Energy Company, Inc. (“EEP GP”), proposed a joint venture agreement (“JVA”) between EEP and Enbridge. Brinckerhoff contested the fairness of the transaction on a number of grounds. After several rounds in the Court of Chancery leading to the dismissal of his claims, and a trip to the Delaware Supreme Court, Brinckerhoff eventually came up short when the Court of Chancery’s ruling that he had waived his claims for reformation and rescission of the transaction by failing to assert them first in the Court of Chancery was affirmed. A dispute over the Clipper project would again go before the Court of Chancery. In 2014, Enbridge proposed that EEP repurchase Enbridge’s interest in the Alberta Clipper project excluding the expansion rights that were part of the earlier transaction. As part of the billion dollar transaction, EEP would issue to Enbridge a new class of EEP partnership securities, repay outstanding loans made by EEP GP to EEP, and, amend the LPA to effect a “Special Tax Allocation” whereby the public investors would be allocated items of gross income that would otherwise be allocated to EEP GP. According to Brinckerhoff, the Special Tax Allocation unfairly benefited Enbridge by reducing its tax obligations by hundreds of millions of dollars while increasing the taxes of the public investors, thereby undermining the investor’s long-term tax advantages in their MLP investment. The Court of Chancery did its best to reconcile earlier decisions interpreting the same or a similar LPA, and ended up dismissing the complaint. On appeal, Brinckerhoff challenged the reasonableness of the Court of Chancery’s interpretation of the LPA. The Supreme Court agreed with the defendants that the Special Tax Allocation did not breach Sections 5.2(c) and 15.3(b) governing new unit issuance and tax allocations. But, the Court found that the Court of Chancery erred when it held that other “good faith” provisions of the LPA “modified” Section 6.6(e)’s specific requirement that the Alberta Clipper transaction be “fair and reasonable to the Partnership.” View "Brinckerhoff v. Enbridge Energy Company, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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Noteholders succeeded in securing warrants that the issuer of the notes had promised as a result of the resolution of a previous event of default. When addressing the merits, the Court of Chancery held that the promise of warrants had become a right of the noteholders under the notes, as amended after the default. On that ground, the Court of Chancery awarded the noteholders the warrants they sought. The noteholders then sought to recover their attorneys’ fees based on a fee-shifting provision in the notes which entitled the noteholders to attorneys’ fees if: (1)”any indebtedness” evidenced by the notes was collected in a court proceeding; or (2) the notes were placed in the hands of attorneys for collection after default. But, the Court of Chancery denied this request and the noteholders appealed. After review, the Delaware Supreme Court found that because the warrants were a form of indebtedness that the noteholders had to collect through an action in the Court of Chancery, the noteholders were entitled to attorneys’ fees. The noteholders were also entitled to attorneys’ fees because they had to seek the assistance of counsel to collect the warrants after default. View "Washington v. Preferred Communication Systems, Inc." on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs were all affiliates of Arthur and Angela Williams, who owned stock in Citigroup. The defendants were Citigroup and eight of its officers and directors. In 1998, Citicorp and Travelers Group, Inc. merged, forming Citigroup. At that point, Arthur Williams's shares in Travelers Group were converted into 17.6 million shares of Citigroup common stock, which were valued at the time of the merger at $35 per share. In 2007, the Williamses had these shares transferred into AHW Investment Partnership, MFS Inc., and seven grantor-retained annuity trusts, all of which the Williamses controlled. In 2007, the Williamses sold one million shares at $55 per share. But, the Williamses halted their plan to sell all of their Citigroup stock because, based on Citigroup's filings and financial statements, they concluded that there was little downside to retaining their remaining 16.6 million shares. The Williamses allegedly held those shares for the next twenty-two months, finally selling them in March 2009 for $3.09 per share. After selling their 16.6 million shares, the Williamses sued Citigroup in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, arguing that their decision not to sell all of their shares in May 2007, and their similar decisions to hold on at least three later dates, were due to Citigroup‘s failure to disclose accurate information about its true financial condition from 2007 to 2009. The Second Circuit certified a question of Delaware law to the Delaware Supreme Court arising from an appeal of a New York District Court decision. The Second Circuit asked whether the claims of a plaintiff against a corporate defendant alleging damages based on the plaintiff‘s continuing to hold the corporation's stock in reliance on the defendant's misstatements as the stock diminished in value properly brought as direct or derivative claims. The Delaware Court answered: the holder claims in this action were direct. "This is because under the laws governing those claims [(]those of either New York or Florida[)] the claims belong to the stockholder who allegedly relied on the corporation's misstatements to her detriment. Under those state laws, the holder claims are not derivative because they are personal to the stockholder and do not belong to the corporation itself." View "Citigroup Inc., et al. v. AHW Investment Partnership, MFS, Inc., et al." on Justia Law