Justia Securities Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
Morris v. Spectra Energy Partners
After a $3.3 billion “roll up” of minority-held units involving a merger between Enbridge, Inc. and Spectra Energy Partners L.P. (“SEP”), Paul Morris, a former SEP minority unitholder, lost standing to litigate an alleged $661 million derivative suit on behalf of SEP against its general partner, Spectra Energy Partners (DE) GP, LP (“SEP GP”). Morris repeated the derivative claim dismissal by filing a new class action complaint that alleged the Enbridge/SEP merger exchange ratio was unfair because SEP GP agreed to a merger that did not reflect the material value of his derivative claims. The Court of Chancery granted SEP GP’s motion to dismiss the new complaint for lack of standing. The court held that, to have standing to bring a post-merger claim, Morris had to allege a viable and material derivative claim that the buyer would not assert and provided no value for in the merger. Focusing on the materiality requirement, the court first discounted the $661 million recovery to $112 million to reflect the public unitholders’ beneficial interest in the derivative litigation recovery. The court then discounted the $112 million further to $28 million to reflect what the court estimated was a one in four chance of success in the litigation. After the discounting, the $28 million, less than 1% of the merger consideration, was immaterial to a $3.3 billion merger. On appeal, Morris argued the trial court should not have dismissed the plaintiff’s direct claims for lack of standing. After its review, the Delaware Supreme Court agreed with Morris finding that, on a motion to dismiss for lack of standing, he sufficiently pled a direct claim attacking the fairness of the merger itself for SEP GP’s failure to secure value for his pending derivative claims. The Court of Chancery’s judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Morris v. Spectra Energy Partners" on Justia Law
In Re Solera Insurance Coverage Appeals
Insurance providers asked the Delaware Supreme Court whether certain costs incurred in connection with an appraisal action under 8 Del. C. 262 were precluded from coverage under the primary and excess directors’ and officers’ insurance policies (the “D&O Policies”) issued to Solera Holdings, Inc. (“Solera”). An affiliate of Vista Equity acquired Solera in 2016. That transaction gave rise to litigation, including an appraisal action. Solera requested coverage under the D&O Policies for the Appraisal Action. The insurers denied the request. Solera then filed suit against the insurers for breach of contract and declaratory judgment, seeking coverage for pre-judgment interest and defense expenses incurred in connection with the Appraisal Action. However, Solera did not seek coverage for the underlying fair value amount paid to the dissenting stockholders, upon which the pre-judgment interest was based. The issuer of the primary policy settled, and the excess policy insurers moved for summary judgment. The superior court denied the motion, interpreting the policy to hold that: (1) a “Securities Claim” under the policy was not limited to a claim alleging wrongdoing, and the Appraisal Action was for a “violation” under the Securities Claim definition; (2) because the “Loss” definition was not limited by any other language, the policy covered pre-judgment interest on a non-covered loss; and (3) as to defense expenses, Delaware law implied a prejudice requirement in insurance contract consent clauses, and Solera’s breach of the consent clause did not bar coverage for defense expenses absent a showing of prejudice. The Insurers appealed, contending that the superior court erred in holding that the Appraisal Action could be covered under the D&O Policies for a violation of a “Securities Claim.” The Supreme Court disagreed with the superior court's determination the Appraisal Action was for a “violation,” concluding the Appraisal Action did not fall within the definition of a “Securities Claim.” Because the Appraisal Action was not a Securities Claim, the remaining issues were moot. View "In Re Solera Insurance Coverage Appeals" on Justia Law
Brigade Leveraged Capital Structures Fund Ltd v. Stillwater Mining Co.
In 2017, Sibanye Gold Ltd. (“Sibanye”) acquired Stillwater Mining Co. (“Stillwater”) through a reverse triangular merger. Under the terms of the merger agreement, each Stillwater share at closing was converted into the right to receive $18 of merger consideration. Between the signing and the closing of the merger, the commodity price for palladium (which Stillwater mined) increased by nine percent, improving Stillwater’s value. Certain former Stillwater stockholders dissented to the merger, perfected their statutory appraisal rights, and pursued this litigation. During the appraisal trial, petitioners argued the flawed deal process made the deal price an unreliable indicator of fair value and that increased commodity prices raised Stillwater’s fair value substantially between the signing and closing of the merger. In 2019, the Delaware Court of Chancery issued an opinion, holding that the $18 per share deal price was the most persuasive indicator of Stillwater’s fair value at the time of the merger. The court did not award an upward adjustment for the increased commodity prices. Petitioners appealed the Court of Chancery’s decision, arguing that the court abused its discretion when it ignored the flawed sale process and petitioners’ argument for an upward adjustment to the merger consideration. After review of the parties’ briefs and the record on appeal, and after oral argument, the Delaware Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed the Court of Chancery. View "Brigade Leveraged Capital Structures Fund Ltd v. Stillwater Mining Co." on Justia Law
Fir Tree Value Master Fund v. Jarden Corp
Martin Franklin, the Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of Jarden Corporation, negotiated the corporation’s sale to Newell Brands for $59.21 per share in cash and stock. Several large Jarden stockholders refused to accept the sale price and petitioned for appraisal in the Court of Chancery. The Court of Chancery found that, of all the valuation methods presented by the parties’ experts, only the $48.31 unaffected market price of Jarden stock could be used reliably to determine the fair value. The court placed little or no weight on other valuation metrics because the CEO dominated the sales process, there were no comparable companies to assess, and the parties’ experts presented such wildly divergent discounted cash flow models that, in the end, the models were unhelpful to the court. On appeal, the petitioners argued the Court of Chancery erred as a matter of law when it adopted Jarden’s unaffected market price as fair value because it ignored what petitioners claim is a “long-recognized principle of Delaware law” that a corporation’s stock price does not equal its fair value. They also claimed the court abused its discretion by refusing to give greater weight to a discounted cash flow analysis populated with data selected by petitioners, ignoring market-based evidence of a higher value, and refusing to use the deal price as a “floor” for fair value. Finding no abuse of discretion or other reversible error, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Chancery. View "Fir Tree Value Master Fund v. Jarden Corp" on Justia Law
Salzberg v. Sciabacucchi
The issue raised on appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court centered on 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 indeed 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.” The Supreme Court disagreed and reversed, finding that such a provision could survive a facial challenge under Delaware law. View "Salzberg v. Sciabacucchi" on Justia Law
Salzberg, et al. v. Sciabacucchi
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
ISN Software Corporation v. Richards, Layton & Finger, P.A.
For tax reasons ISN Software Corporation wanted to convert from a C corporation to an S corporation. But four of its eight stockholders, representing about 25 percent of the outstanding stock, could not qualify as S Corporation stockholders. ISN sought advice from Richards, Layton & Finger, P.A. (RLF) about its options. RLF advised ISN that before a conversion ISN could use a merger to cash out some or all of the four stockholders. The cashed-out stockholders could then accept ISN’s cash-out offer or exercise appraisal rights under Delaware law. ISN did not proceed with the conversion, but decided to use a merger to cash out three of the four non-qualifying stockholders. After ISN completed the merger, RLF notified ISN that its advice might not have been correct. All four stockholders, including the remaining stockholder whom ISN wanted to exclude, were entitled to appraisal rights. ISN decided not to try and unwind the merger, instead proceeding with the merger and notified all four stockholders they were entitled to appraisal. ISN and RLF agreed that RLF would continue to represent ISN in any appraisal action. Three of the four stockholders, including the stockholder ISN wanted to exclude, eventually demanded appraisal. Years later, when things did not turn out as ISN had hoped (the appraised value of ISN stock ended up substantially higher than ISN had reserved for), ISN filed a legal malpractice claim against RLF. The Superior Court dismissed ISN’s August 1, 2018 complaint on statute of limitations grounds. The court found that the statute of limitations expired three years after RLF informed ISN of the erroneous advice, or, at the latest, three years after the stockholder ISN sought to exclude demanded appraisal. On appeal, ISN argued its legal malpractice claim did not accrue until after the appraisal action valued ISN’s stock because only then could ISN claim damages. Although it applied a different analysis, the Delaware Supreme Court agreed with the Superior Court that the statute of limitations began to run in January 2013. By the time ISN filed its malpractice claim on August 1, 2018, the statute of limitations had expired. Thus, the Superior Court’s judgment was affirmed. View "ISN Software Corporation v. Richards, Layton & Finger, P.A." on Justia Law
In Re Verizon Insurance Coverage Appeals
In 2006, Verizon divested its print and electronic directories business to its stockholders in a tax-free “spin-off” transaction. As part of the transaction, Verizon created Idearc, Inc. and appointed John Diercksen, a Verizon executive, to serve as Idearc’s sole director. Verizon then distributed Idearc common stock to Verizon shareholders. Idearc launched as a separate business with $9.1 billion in debt. In connection with the Idearc spinoff, Verizon and Idearc purchased primary and excess Executive and Organizational Liability Policies (“Idearc Runoff Policies"). The Idearc Runoff Policies covered certain claims made against defined insureds during the six-year policy period that exceeded a $7.5 million retention. Relevant here, Endorsement No. 7 to the policies stated that “[i]n connection with any Securities Claim,” and “for any Loss . . . incurred while a Securities Claim is jointly made and maintained against both the Organization and one or more Insured Person(s), this policy shall pay 100% of such Loss up to the Limit of Liability of the policy.” “Securities Claim” was defined in pertinent part as a “Claim” against an “Insured Person” “[a]lleging a violation of any federal, state, local or foreign regulation, rule or statute regulating securities (including, but not limited to, the purchase or sale or offer or solicitation of an offer to purchase or sell securities).” Under the policy, Verizon could recover its “Defense Costs” when a Securities Claim was brought against it and covered directors and officers, and Verizon indemnified those directors and officers. Idearc operated as an independent, publicly traded company until it filed for bankruptcy in 2009; a litigation trust was set up to pursue claims against Verizon on behalf of creditors. Primary amongst the allegations was Dickersen and Verizon saddled Idearc with excessive debt at the time of the spin-off. This appeal turned on the definition of a "Securities Claim;" the Superior Court found the definition ambiguous. Using extrinsic evidence, the court held that fiduciary duty, unlawful dividend, and fraudulent transfer claims brought by a bankruptcy trustee against Verizon Communications Inc. and others were Securities Claims covered under the policy. The Delaware Supreme Court disagreed, finding that, applying the plain meaning of the Securities Claim definition in the policy, the litigation trustee’s complaint did not allege any violations of regulations, rules, or statutes regulating securities. Thus, the Superior Court’s grant of summary judgment to Verizon was reversed and that court directed to enter summary judgment in favor of the Insurers. View "In Re Verizon Insurance Coverage Appeals" on Justia Law
Marchand v. Barnhill, et al.
Blue Bell Creameries USA, Inc. suffered a listeria outbreak in early 2015, causing the company to recall all of its products, shut down production at all of its plants, and lay off over a third of its workforce. Three people died as a result of the listeria outbreak. Pertinent here, stockholders also suffered losses because, after the operational shutdown, Blue Bell suffered a liquidity crisis that forced it to accept a dilutive private equity investment. Based on these unfortunate events, a stockholder brought a derivative suit against two key executives and against Blue Bell’s directors claiming breaches of the defendants’ fiduciary duties. The complaint alleges that the executives breached their duties of care and loyalty by knowingly disregarding contamination risks and failing to oversee the safety of Blue Bell’s food-making operations, and that the directors breached their duty of loyalty. The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to plead demand futility. The Court of Chancery granted the motion as to both claims. The Delaware reversed: "the mundane reality that Blue Bell is in a highly regulated industry and complied with some of the applicable regulations does not foreclose any pleading-stage inference that the directors’ lack of attentiveness rose to the level of bad faith indifference required to state a 'Caremark' claim. ... The complaint pled facts supporting a fair inference that no board-level system of monitoring or reporting on food safety existed." View "Marchand v. Barnhill, et al." on Justia Law
Leaf Invenergy Co. v. Invenergy Renewables LLC
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