Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court

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In 2008, Invenergy Wind LLC, a wind energy developer, was raising money for a Series B investment round, and Leaf Clean Energy Company (“Leaf Parent”), an investment fund, expressed interest. After extensive negotiations, Leaf Parent invested $30 million in Invenergy Series B notes through a vehicle called Leaf Invenergy Company (“Leaf”). The agreement governing the Series B notes gave noteholders such as Leaf the right to convert to equity and incorporated an LLC agreement that the noteholders and Invenergy would execute upon conversion. The Series B Note Agreement and the Series B LLCA also included provisions that prohibited Invenergy from conducting a “Material Partial Sale” without Leaf’s consent unless Invenergy paid Leaf a premium called a “Target Multiple.” Although the parties renegotiated several aspects of their agreements with one another over the next few years, the consent provisions persisted in substantially similar form into a Third Amended and Restated LLC Agreement, which was the operative agreement in this dispute. Leaf filed suit after Invenergy closed a $1.8 billion asset sale - a transaction that Invenergy conceded was a Material Partial Sale - without first obtaining Leaf’s consent or redeeming Leaf’s interest for the Target Multiple. After a trial, the Court of Chancery concluded that, although Invenergy had breached the Material Partial Sale consent provisions, Leaf was not entitled to the Target Multiple. The court then awarded only nominal damages because, according to the court, Invenergy had engaged in an “efficient breach.” The Court of Chancery directed the parties to complete a buyout of Leaf’s interests pursuant to another LLC Agreement provision that Invenergy had invoked after Leaf had filed suit. The Delaware Supreme Court disagreed with the Court of Chancery’s interpretation of the consent provision and its award of nominal damages and therefore reversed. Because Invenergy conducted a Material Partial Sale without Leaf’s consent and without paying Leaf the Target Multiple, Leaf was entitled to the Target Multiple as contractual damages. The Court awarded Leaf the Target Multiple in damages on condition that it surrenderd its membership interests in Invenergy. View "Leaf Invenergy Co. v. Invenergy Renewables LLC" on Justia Law

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The Court of Chancery found that the fair value of Aruba Networks, Inc., as defined by 8 Del. C. 262, was $17.13 per share, which was the thirty-day average market price at which its shares traded before the media reported news of the transaction that gave rise to the appellants’ appraisal rights. The issue this case presented for the Delaware Supreme Court's review centered on whether the Court of Chancery abused its discretion in arriving at Aruba’s thirty-day average unaffected market price as the fair value of the appellants’ shares. Because the Court of Chancery’s decision to use Aruba’s stock price instead of the deal price minus synergies was rooted in an erroneous factual finding that lacked record support, the Supreme Court answered that in the positive and reversed the Court of Chancery’s judgment. On remand, the Court of Chancery was directed to enter a final judgment for petitioners, awarding them $19.10 per share, which reflected the deal price minus the portion of synergies left with the seller as estimated by the respondent in this case, Aruba. View "Verition Partners Master Fund Ltd., et al. v. Aruba Networks, Inc." on Justia Law

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Nicholas Olenik, a stockholder of nominal defendant Earthstone Energy, Inc., brought class and derivative claims against defendants, challenging a business combination between Earthstone and Bold Energy III LLC. As alleged in the complaint, EnCap Investments L.P. controlled Earthstone and Bold and caused Earthstone stockholders to approve an unfair transaction based on a misleading proxy statement. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, claiming the proxy statement disclosed fully and fairly all material facts about the transaction, and Earthstone conditioned its offer on the approval of a special committee and the vote of a majority of the minority stockholders. The Court of Chancery agreed with the defendants and dismissed the case. While the parties briefed this appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court decided Flood v. Synutra International, Inc. Under Synutra, to invoke the MFW protections in a controller-led transaction, the controller must “self-disable before the start of substantive economic negotiations.” The controller and the board’s special committee must also “bargain under the pressures exerted on both of them by these protections.” The Court cautioned that the MFW protections would not result in dismissal when the “plaintiff has pled facts that support a reasonable inference that the two procedural protections were not put in place early and before substantive economic negotiations took place.” So the Supreme Court determined the Court of Chancery held correctly plaintiff failed to state a disclosure claim. But, the complaint should not have been dismissed in its entirety: applying Synutra, which the Court of Chancery did not have the benefit of at the time of its decision, plaintiff pled facts supporting a reasonable inference that EnCap, Earthstone, and Bold engaged in substantive economic negotiations before the Earthstone special committee put in place the MFW conditions. The Court of Chancery’s decision was affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Olenik v. Lodzinski, et al." on Justia Law

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Nicholas Olenik, a stockholder of nominal defendant Earthstone Energy, Inc., brought class and derivative claims against defendants challenging a business combination between Earthstone and Bold Energy III LLC. As alleged in the complaint, EnCap Investments L.P. controlled Earthstone and Bold and caused Earthstone stockholders to approve an unfair transaction based on a misleading proxy statement. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on several grounds, principal among them that the proxy statement disclosed fully and fairly all material facts about the transaction, and Earthstone conditioned its offer on the approval of a special committee and the vote of a majority of the minority stockholders. The Court of Chancery agreed with defendants and dismissed the case. Two grounds were central to the court’s ruling: (1) the proxy statement informed the stockholders of all material facts about the transaction; and (2) although the court recognized that EnCap, Earthstone, and Bold worked on the transaction for months before the Earthstone special committee extended an offer with the so-called MFW conditions, it found those lengthy interactions “never rose to the level of bargaining: they were entirely exploratory in nature.” Thus, in the court’s view, the MFW protections applied, and the transaction was subject to business judgment review resulting in dismissal. While this appeal was pending, the Delaware Supreme Court decided Flood v. Synutra International, Inc. Under Synutra, to invoke the MFW protections in a controller-led transaction, the controller must “self-disable before the start of substantive economic negotiations.” The controller and the board’s special committee must also “bargain under the pressures exerted on both of them by these protections.” The Court cautioned that the MFW protections will not result in dismissal when the “plaintiff has pled facts that support a reasonable inference that the two procedural protections were not put in place early and before substantive economic negotiations took place.” The Supreme Court determined the Court of Chancery held correctly that plaintiff failed to state a disclosure claim. But, the complaint should not have been dismissed in its entirety: applying Synutra and its guidance on the MFW timing issue, which the Court of Chancery did not have the benefit of at the time of its decision, plaintiff has pled facts supporting a reasonable inference that EnCap, Earthstone, and Bold engaged in substantive economic negotiations before the Earthstone special committee put in place the MFW conditions. The Supreme Court also found no merit to defendants’ alternative ground for affirmance based on EnCap’s supposed lack of control of Earthstone. The Court of Chancery’s decision was affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Olenik v. Lodzinski, et al." 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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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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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