Articles Posted in Business Law

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After months of negotiations, the parties in this case signed versions of two transaction agreements: a limited liability company agreement, and a contribution and assignment agreement. However, a serious question existed as to whether the parties intended to be bound by these signed documents. And whether there exists a valid, binding contract implicated the other main issue raised on appeal—namely, whether the Delaware Supreme Court could exercise jurisdiction over the defendant. If at least one of these transaction documents was a valid, independently enforceable contract, then the Supreme Court had jurisdiction via a forum selection clause favoring Delaware. If neither document was independently enforceable, and if earlier agreements did not provide another means of exercising jurisdiction over the defendant, then Delaware courts lacked personal jurisdiction over the defendant, and the plaintiffs’ claims for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and other causes of action against the defendant were properly dismissed. The Court of Chancery determined that neither transaction document was enforceable, and dismissed the case for lack of personal jurisdiction, even after finding one of the parties in contempt of its status quo order. In this case, the Supreme Court found evidence within the four corners of the documents and other powerful, contemporaneous evidence, including the execution of the agreements, that suggested the parties intended to be bound. "But we acknowledge that there is also evidence that cuts the other way. Given that this is a question of fact, we remand to the Court of Chancery to make such a finding." If either document is enforceable, then the forum selection provisions were also enforceable. The Court of Chancery erred in finding that its jurisdiction to enforce the previously issued contempt order depended on the enforceability of the transaction documents. It had jurisdiction to enforce its order regardless of the transaction documents’ enforceability. View "Eagle Force Holdings, LLC, et al. v. Campbell" on Justia Law

Posted in: Business Law, Contracts

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Alcon Laboratories Holding Corporation, a developer of artificial lenses, was exploring electroactive intraocular lens (“EAIOL”) that used electric power and changes in eye pupil size to “trigger” the focus of an artificial lens. Elenza, Inc. and Alcon decided to jointly pursue the technology, first by signing a Non-Disclosure Agreement (“NDA”), followed by a Stock Purchase Agreement (“SPA”). Unfortunately, the project fizzled after Elenza failed to meet development milestones in the SPA. Much to Elenza’s surprise, two years later, Alcon filed a patent application for an EAIOL and announced that it was working with Google, Inc. to develop an EAIOL. Elenza filed suit in Delaware, claiming Alcon breached its agreements with Elenza and misappropriated Elenza’s EAIOL trade secrets. Before trial, the Superior Court granted in part Alcon’s motion for summary judgment, finding that Elenza failed to support its trade secret claims. The court also limited Elenza’s damage claims. The contract claims went to trial, and a jury found against Elenza on all claims. On appeal, Elenza argued to the Delaware Supreme Court that the Superior Court erred when it granted summary judgment on its trade secret claims. According to Elenza, at the summary judgment stage, its trade secret disclosures were sufficient to prove that trade secrets existed and that Alcon used or disclosed those secrets in its later development efforts. The Supreme Court did not reach Elenza’s claim on appeal that it raised disputed factual issues about the existence of trade secrets because the Court agreed with the Superior Court that, at summary judgment, Elenza failed to support its claim that Alcon improperly used or disclosed any of Elenza’s alleged trade secrets. View "Elenza, Inc. v. Alcon Laboratories Holding Corporation, et al." on Justia Law

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Diamond Resorts International’s board of directors recommended to its stockholders that they sell their shares to a private equity buyer, Apollo Global Management, for cash in a two-step merger transaction involving a front-end tender offer followed by a back-end merger. The proxy statement had a detailed recitation of the background leading to the merger, and the reasons for and against it. But notably absent from that recitation was that the company’s founder, largest stockholder, and Chairman, had abstained from supporting the procession of the merger discussions, and from ultimately approving the deal, because he was "disappointed with the price and the Company’s management for not having run the business in a manner that would command a higher price, and that in his view, it was not the right time to sell the Company." On a motion to dismiss, the Court of Chancery held that the complaint challenging the merger should have been dismissed because the stockholders’ acceptance of the first-step tender offer was fully informed, rejecting the plaintiffs’ argument that the omission of the Chairman’s reasons for abstaining rendered the proxy statement materially misleading. The issue this case presented for the Delaware Supreme Court's review was whether that ruling was correct. The Supreme Court agreed with the plaintiffs that it was not, and that the defendants’ argument that the reasons for a dissenting or abstaining board member’s vote can never be material was incorrect. "Precisely because Delaware law gives important effect to an informed stockholder decision, Delaware law also requires that the disclosures the board makes to stockholders contain the material facts and not describe events in a materially misleading way." Here, the Court found the founder and Chairman’s views regarding the wisdom of selling the company were ones that reasonable stockholders would have found material in deciding whether to vote for the merger or seek appraisal, and the failure to disclose them rendered the facts that were disclosed misleadingly incomplete. View "Appel v. Berkman, 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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When Exelon Generation Acquisitions purchased Deere & Company’s wind energy business, it agreed to make earn-out payments to Deere if it reached certain milestones in the development of three wind farms that were underway at the time of the sale. Included in the sale was a binding power purchase agreement Deere secured from a local utility to purchase energy from the wind farm once it became operational. One of the three projects at issue in this appeal, the Blissfield Wind Project (in Lenawee County, Michigan) could not come to fruition because of civic opposition. Exelon managed to acquire another nascent wind farm from a different developer (Gratiot County, Michigan). Exelon managed to persuade the local utility to transfer the power purchase agreement there. The Gratiot County site was successful. Deere learned of Exelon’s success with the new site (and use of the power purchase agreement) and sue to recover the earn-out payment. Deere argued the earn-out payment obligation traveled from the Lenawee County farm to the Gratiot County farm. Exelon denied that it relocated the project, instead, it was prevented from developing the Blissfield farm by forces beyond its control. The Superior Court sided with Deere’s interpretation of the power purchase agreement, and ordered Exelon to pay the earn-out. The Delaware Supreme Court disagreed with this interpretation of the purchase agreement and reversed. View "Exelon Generation Acquisitions, LLC v. Deere & Company" 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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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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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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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