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A stormwater pipe ruptured beneath a coal ash pond at Duke Energy Corporation’s Dan River Steam Station in North Carolina. The spill sent a slurry of coal ash and wastewater into the Dan River, fouling the river for many miles downstream. In May 2015, Duke Energy pled guilty to nine misdemeanor criminal violations of the Federal Clean Water Act and paid a fine exceeding $100 million. The plaintiffs, stockholders of Duke Energy, filed a derivative suit in the Court of Chancery against certain of Duke Energy’s directors and officers, seeking to hold the directors personally liable for the damages the Company suffered from the spill. The directors moved to dismiss the derivative complaint, claiming the plaintiffs were required under Court of Chancery Rule 23.1 to make a demand on the board of directors before instituting litigation. Plaintiffs responded that demand was futile because the board’s mismanagement of the Company’s environmental concerns rose to the level of a "Caremark" violation, which posed a substantial risk of the directors’ personal liability for damages caused by the spill and enforcement action. The Court of Chancery disagreed and dismissed the derivative complaint. The Delaware Supreme Court concurred with the Court of Chancery that the plaintiffs did not sufficiently allege that the directors faced a substantial likelihood of personal liability for a Caremark violation. Instead, the directors at most faced the risk of an exculpated breach of the duty of care. Thus, the stockholders were required to make a demand on the board to consider the claims before filing suit. View "City of Birmingham Retirement & Relief System v. Good, et al." 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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At issue in this appeal are 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. The Court of Chancery has recognized a ratification defense for discretionary plans as long as the plan has “meaningful limits” on the awards directors can make to themselves. 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. Plaintiffs have 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. The Delaware Supreme Court determined 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 Court reversed the Court of Chancery’s decision dismissing the complaint and remanded this matter for further proceedings. View "In Re Investors Bancorp, Inc. Stockholder Litigation" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Delaware Supreme Court in this matter was whether unelected officials from the Delaware parks and forest departments (whose power was expressly limited) could ban (except for a narrow exception for hunting) the possession of guns in state parks and forests in contravention of Delawareans’ rights under the State’s constitution. "Clearly they cannot. They lack such authority because they may not pass unconstitutional laws, and the regulations completely eviscerate a core right to keep and bear arms for defense of self and family outside the home -- a right this Court has already recognized." As such, the regulations were ruled unconstitutional on their face. View "Bridgeville Rifle & Pistol Club, Ltd. v. Small" on Justia Law

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Grandparents petitioned for third-party visitation rights, and the parents objected. The Family Court essentially found the parents’ objections were not unreasonable. The grandparents had attacked the parents on social media, disparaged their parenting abilities, demoralized their son (the father), and sought to meddle in the parents’ relationships with their children. Nonetheless, the court awarded the grandparents the right to visitation in a “supervised, therapeutic setting.” The court believed that visitation in such a controlled environment, and under the supervision of a trained professional, would minimize the parents’ concerns and render their objections “clearly unreasonable.” The Delaware Supreme Court determined the trial court record provided no basis for supporting the conclusion that therapeutic, supervised visitation would adequately address the reasonable objections of the parents. Furthermore, the Court found the grandparents presented no evidence to support a finding that therapeutic, supervised visitation would not substantially interfere with the parent-child relationship. Therefore, the Court held the Family Court abused its discretion in awarding visitation to the grandparents, and reversed its decision. View "Grant v. Grant" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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A Cayman Islands investment fund and two of its Delaware subsidiaries (collectively “Gramercy”) sued a bank organized under Delaware law with offices in Illinois and Bulgaria (Bulgarian-American Enterprise Fund, or “Bulgarian-American”) and an Irish bank headquartered in Dublin (Allied Irish Banks, P.L.C., or “Allied”) over claims they admitted arose under Bulgarian law and had no connection to activity that took place in Delaware. Delaware was the second forum in which Gramercy sought to press its Bulgarian claims. The first forum was Illinois, where: (i) after extensive discovery and briefing on the issue of forum non conveniens, the Circuit Court of Cook County in Chicago granted a motion to dismiss; (ii) the Illinois Appellate Court unanimously affirmed the Circuit Court’s dismissal; and (iii) the Illinois Supreme Court denied Gramercy’s petition for leave to appeal. Rather than going to Bulgaria and suing in the forum whose laws governed its claims and where its investment in Bulgarian-American took place, Gramercy sued in Delaware. Bulgarian-American and Allied filed a motion to dismiss, arguing Bulgaria was the appropriate forum for the litigation. In granting Bulgarian-American and Allied’s motion and holding that Gramercy’s suit did not merit the overwhelming hardship standard afforded to first-filed actions under Cryo-Maid, the Delaware Court of Chancery was forced to address confusing arguments about this Court’s forum non conveniens precedent, in particular, the relationship among the Delaware Supreme Court’s longstanding decisions in “CryoMaid” and “McWane,” and a more recent decision, “Lisa, S.A. v. Mayorga.” Ultimately, the Delaware Supreme Court determined the Court of Chancery correctly held that because the Delaware action was not first filed, and that to obtain dismissal on forum non conveniens grounds, Bulgarian-American and Allied did not need to show overwhelming hardship. But, because the Illinois case was no longer pending, and was not dismissed on the merits like the first-filed action in Lisa, McWane was no longer the proper focus for the Court of Chancery’s analysis. The Illinois action had relevance in the forum non conveniens analysis because it meant that analysis would not be tilted in Gramercy’s favor under the overwhelming hardship standard. But, because the Illinois action was not dismissed on its merits, but instead for forum non conveniens, it should not have shifted the Court’s focus from Cryo-Maid to McWane. Between Cryo-Maid’s overwhelming hardship standard and McWane’s discretionary standard lies an intermediate analysis that applies to situations like Gramercy’s: a straightforward assessment of the CryoMaid factors, where dismissal is appropriate if those factors weigh in favor of that outcome. View "Gramercy Emerging Markets Fund, et al. v. Allied Irish Banks, P.L.C., et al." on Justia Law

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Curtis White appealed a superior court’s denial of his claim for post-conviction relief under “Strickland,” which contended that White was prejudiced when his trial counsel unreasonably failed to accede to his request to ask for a lesser included offense instruction. In the post-conviction proceeding, trial counsel admitted that he did not understand the lesser included offense of the major charge that his client faced. White was charged with First Degree Reckless Endangering after he fired a gun on a residential block, and asked his counsel to seek a lesser included offense instruction on the crime of Second Degree Reckless Endangering. His counsel did not, believing that: (1) at the very least his client’s use of a gun created a risk of “serious physical injury;” (2) First Degree Reckless Endangering encompassed not just a risk of death, but also a risk of serious physical injury; and (3) therefore he could not seek the lesser included offense instruction. The Delaware Supreme Court determined a reasonable jury could have found White guilty of Second Degree Reckless Endangering because there was evidence that White was not pointing his gun at anyone in particular and was instead aiming blindly behind himself. Thus, there were factual grounds to give the lesser included offense instruction. Because trial counsel conceded he acted without a tactical purpose, and there was no plausible tactical reason for failing to request the instruction, the Supreme Court concluded counsel’s performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness for purposes of “Strickland.” And because a jury could have concluded that White was guilty of Second Degree Reckless Endangering rather than First Degree Reckless Endangering, there was prejudice under Strickland. For those reasons, the Supreme Court reversed. View "White v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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In 2011, Heartland Payment Systems, Inc. (“Heartland”), a credit card processing company, wanted to expand its school operations. To pursue this strategy, Heartland purchased some of the assets of School Link Technologies, Inc. (“SL-Tech”). SL-Tech marketed software products to schools to manage their foodservice operations. Through the purchase of SL-Tech, Heartland acquired WebSMARTT, a software program that allowed schools to monitor school meal nutrition through point of sale, free and reduced meal eligibility tracking, menu planning, nutrient analysis, and recordkeeping. It was intended that WebSMARTT and similar applications collect and use data collected through the programs to model the effect of menu plans on staffing, equipment, and other costs. The parties executed three contracts involving Heartland, SL-Tech, and SLTech’s CEO, Lawrence Goodman to create “inTEAM” the software to be built from the WebSMARTT technology. The contracts contained non-compete, non- solicitation, exclusivity, cross-marketing, and support obligations. The parties quickly lost sight of their post-closing contractual obligations: inTEAM developed the new software; Goodman tried to solicit one of Heartland’s customers. Heartland paired with one of inTEAM’s biggest competitors to submit a bid to provide software to the Texas Department of Agriculture. The disputes eventually found their way to the Court of Chancery through breach of contract claims and counterclaims. After trial, the Court of Chancery found inTEAM did not breach any of its contractual obligations, but Goodman and Heartland had breached certain of theirs. The Delaware Supreme Court reversed the Court of Chancery’s finding that Goodman and inTEAM did not breach their non-compete obligations under the various agreements, but otherwise affirmed the court’s decision. As for the remaining issues, the Court of Chancery properly found that Heartland breached its contractual obligations by collaborating with an inTEAM competitor, and Goodman breached by soliciting a customer of Heartland. The court also did not abuse its discretion when it required an extension of the non-competes and assessed damages against Goodman. The Supreme Court therefore affirmed in part and reversed the Court of Chancery’s decision. View "Heartland Payment Systems, LLC v. InTeam Associates LLC, et al." on Justia Law

Posted in: Business Law, Contracts

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Appellant Prentiss Butcher appealed after he was convicted and sentenced for Possession of a Firearm By a Person Prohibited. At sentencing, the Superior Court held that Butcher had two prior “violent felony” convictions warranting a ten-year mandatory minimum sentence pursuant to Section 1448(e)(1)(c). On appeal, Butcher argued that the Superior Court erred in sentencing him because one of the two predicate offenses was no longer designated a violent felony when he committed Person Prohibited. Thus, this appeal required the Delaware Supreme Court to determine which version of Section 4201(c) controlled when a sentencing court must decide whether a prior conviction constitutes a predicate violent felony for the purpose of enhanced sentencing under Section 1448(e). The Supreme Court concluded a sentencing court must look to the version of Section 4201(c) in effect upon commission of the Section 1448 offense for which a defendant is being sentenced. Because the Superior Court in this case applied a version of Section 4201(c) that was no longer in effect when Butcher violated Section 1448, it vacated the Sentence Order and remanded for resentencing. View "Butcher v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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DFC Global Corporation (“DFC”) provided alternative consumer financial services, predominately payday loans. The 2014 transaction giving rise to this appraisal action resulted in DFC being taken private by Lone Star, a private equity firm. DFC was a highly leveraged company. Its capital structure was comprised of about $1.1 billion of debt as compared to a $367.4 million equity market capitalization, 20 resulting in a debt-to-equity ratio of 300% and a debt-to-total capitalization ratio of 75%. In the years leading up to the merger, DFC faced heightened regulatory scrutiny in the US, UK and Canada. The parties challenged DFC’s valuation for merger purposes. The Delaware Supreme Court surmised DFC wanted the Court to establish a presumption that in certain cases involving arm’s-length mergers, the price of the transaction giving rise to appraisal rights was the best estimate of fair value. The Supreme Court declined to do so, which in the Court’s view had no basis in the statutory text, which gave the Court of Chancery in the first instance the discretion to “determine the fair value of the shares” by taking into account “all relevant factors.” The Supreme Court must give deference to the Court of Chancery if its determination of fair value has a reasonable basis in the record and in accepted financial principles relevant to determining the value of corporations and their stock. Ultimately, the Delaware Supreme Court reversed and remanded the Court of Chancery’s valuation, remanding for the Chancellor to reassess the weight he chooses to afford various factors potentially relevant to fair value, and he may conclude that his findings regarding the competitive process leading to the transaction, when considered in light of other relevant factors, such as the views of the debt markets regarding the company’s expected performance and the failure of the company to meet its revised projections, suggest that the deal price was the most reliable indication of fair value. View "DFC Global Corporation v. Muirfield Value Partners, L.P., et al." on Justia Law