Articles Posted in Business Law

by
This appeal arose from a merger agreement under which two companies involved in the gas pipeline business, Energy Transfer Equity, L.P. (“ETE”), agreed to acquire the assets of The Williams Companies, Inc., (“Williams”). The Merger Agreement signed by Williams and ETE contemplated two steps: (1) Williams would merge into a new entity, Energy Transfer Corp LP (“ETC”); and (2) the transfer of Williams’ assets to ETE in exchange for Class E partnership units “would” be a tax-free exchange of a partnership interest for assets under Section 721(a) of the Internal Revenue Code. After the parties entered into the Agreement, the energy market suffered a severe decline which caused a significant loss in the value of assets of the type held by Williams and ETE. This caused the transaction to become financially undesirable to ETE. This issue ultimately led to ETE’s tax counsel, Latham & Watkins, LLP (Latham) being unwilling to issue the 721 opinion. Since the 721 opinion was a condition of the transaction, ETE indicated that it would not proceed with the merger. Williams then sought to enjoin ETE from terminating the Merger Agreement. The Court of Chancery rejected Williams’ arguments. After review, the Supreme Court found the Court of Chancery adopted an unduly narrow view of the obligations imposed by the covenants in the Agreement. The Supreme Court agreed with Williams that if a proper analysis of ETE’s covenants led to a conclusion that ETE breached those covenants, the burden would have shifted to ETE to prove that its breaches did not materially contribute to the failure of the closing condition. Since the facts as found by the Court of Chancery were that ETE’s lack of conduct did not contribute to Latham’s decision not to issue the 721 opinion, the Supreme Court was satisfied that when the burden of proving that ETE’s alleged breach of covenants is properly placed on it, ETE did meet its burden of proving that any alleged breach of covenant did not materially contribute to the failure of the Latham condition. The Court also agrees with the Court of Chancery’s finding that ETE was not estopped from terminating the Agreement. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Chancery was affirmed. View "Williams Companies, Inc. v. Energy Transfer Equity, L.P." on Justia Law

by
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

by
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

by
Philip Shawe and his mother, Shirley Shawe, filed an interlocutory appeal of an August 13, 2015 Chancery Court opinion and July 18, 2016 order appointing a custodian to sell TransPerfect Global, Inc., a Delaware corporation. After a six-day trial the Court issued an opinion concluding that the “warring factions” were hopelessly deadlocked as stockholders and directors. The court carefully considered three alternatives to address the dysfunction and deadlock, and in the end decided that the circumstances of the case required the appointment of a custodian to sell the company. On appeal, the Shawes did not challenge the Court’s factual findings; instead, Philip Shawe claimed for the first time on appeal that the court exceeded its statutory authority when it ordered the custodian to sell a solvent company. Alternatively, Shawe contended that less drastic measures were available to address the deadlock. Shirley Shawe argued for the first time on appeal that the custodian’s sale of the company might result in an unconstitutional taking of her one share of TransPerfect Global stock. The Supreme Court disagreed with the Shawes and affirmed the Chancery Court’s judgment. View "Shawe v. Elting" on Justia Law

by
Philip Shawe appealed a Chancery Court order sanctioning him for misconduct throughout litigation with his current business partner and former romantic partner, Elizabeth Elting. After an evidentiary hearing, the Chancery Court found that Shawe deleted documents from his computer, recklessly failed to safeguard his cell phone, improperly gained access to Elting’s e-mails, and lied multiple times under oath. The court also found that Shawe’s improper conduct impeded the administration of justice, unduly complicated the proceedings, and caused the court to make false factual findings. The Court ordered Shawe to pay 100% of the fees Elting incurred in connection with bringing the motion for sanctions, and 33% of the fees she incurred litigating the merits of the case, awarding Elting a total of $7,103,755 in fees and expenses. Shawe appealed, arguing: (1) the Court erred by finding that he acted in bad faith when he deleted the files from his laptop and failed to safeguard his cell phone; (2) the Court erred for failing to afford him criminal due process protections before sanctioning him for “perjury”; and (3) the Court erred by awarding Elting an excessive fee. After review, the Supreme Court found no errors and affirmed. View "Shawe v. Elting" on Justia Law

by
The plaintiff was a limited partner/unitholder in a publicly-traded master limited partnership (“MLP”). The general partner proposed that the partnership be acquired through merger with another limited partnership in the MLP family. The seller and buyer were indirectly owned by the same entity, creating a conflict of interest. The general partner in this case sought refuge in two of the safe harbor conflict resolution provisions of the partnership agreement: “Special Approval” of the transaction by an independent Conflicts Committee, and “Unaffiliated Unitholder Approval.” The plaintiff alleged in its complaint that the general partner failed to satisfy the Special Approval safe harbor because the Conflicts Committee was itself conflicted. The general partner moved to dismiss the complaint and claimed that, in the absence of express contractual obligations not to mislead investors or to unfairly manipulate the Conflicts Committee process, the general partner need only satisfy what the partnership agreement expressly required: to obtain the safe harbor approvals and follow the minimal disclosure requirements. The Court of Chancery “side-stepped” the Conflicts Committee safe harbor, but accepted the general partner’s argument that the Unaffiliated Unitholder Approval safe harbor required dismissal of the case. The court held that, even though the proxy statement might have contained materially misleading disclosures, fiduciary duty principles could not be used to impose disclosure obligations on the general partner beyond those in the partnership agreement, because the partnership agreement disclaimed fiduciary duties. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the Court of Chancery erred when it concluded that the general partner satisfied the Unaffiliated Unitholder Approval safe harbor, because he alleged sufficient facts to show that the approval was obtained through false and misleading statements. The Supreme Court determined that the lower court focused too narrowly on the partnership agreement’s disclosure requirements. “Instead, the center of attention should have been on the conflict resolution provision of the partnership agreement.” The Supreme found that the plaintiff pled sufficient facts, that neither safe harbor was available to the general partner because it allegedly made false and misleading statements to secure Unaffiliated Unitholder Approval, and allegedly used a conflicted Conflicts Committee to obtain Special Approval. Thus, the Court reversed the Court of Chancery’s order dismissing Counts I and II of the complaint. View "Dieckman v. Regency GP LP, Regency GP LLC" on Justia Law

by
The Court of Chancery held that a conflicts committee approved a conflict transaction that it did not believe was in the best interests of the limited partnership it was charged with protecting. A problem emerged for the derivative plaintiff (who won at trial), because after trial but before any judicial ruling on the merits, the limited partnership was acquired in a merger. The claims brought by the plaintiff were thus transferred to the buyer in the merger. Plaintiff’s standing was extinguished, and his only recourse was to challenge the fairness of the merger by alleging that the value of his claims was not reflected in consideration of the merger. The Court of Chancery rejected defendants’ argument that plaintiff’s claims were considered when the limited partnership merged. However, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Chancery: plaintiff’s claims were, and remained, derivative in nature. Derivative plaintiffs do not make claims belonging to them individually. Here, the derivative plaintiff only sought monetary relief for the limited partnership. Plaintiff lost standing to continue his derivative action when the merger closed. View "El Paso Pipeline GP Company, LLC, et al. v. Brinckerhoff" on Justia Law

by
This appeal in a derivative suit brought by a stockholder of Zynga, Inc. centered on whether the Court of Chancery correctly found that a majority of the Zynga board could impartially consider a demand and thus correctly dismissed the complaint for failure to plead demand excusal under Court of Chancery Rule 23.1. The Supreme Court reversed dismissal of plaintiff's complaint: "Fortunately for the derivative plaintiff, however, he was able to plead particularized facts regarding three directors that create a reasonable doubt that these directors can impartially consider a demand. [. . .] in our view, the combination of these facts creates a pleading stage reasonable doubt as to the ability of these directors to act independently on a demand adverse to the controller's interests. When these three directors are considered incapable of impartially considering a demand, a majority of the nine member Zynga board is compromised for Rule 23.1 purposes and demand is excused." View "Sandys v. Pincus, et al." on Justia Law

by
Trascent Management Consulting, LLC hired a top executive, George Bouri, giving him part ownership, naming him Managing Principal, and naming him as a member of the Board of Managers of Trascent with responsibility for human resources, IT, and finance. Bouri occupied these positions for about sixteen months. When Trascent terminated Bouri and sued him, for among other things, violating his employment agreement, Bouri sought advancement to defend himself in accordance with the plain language of both his employment agreement and Trascent’s LLC agreement. Belatedly in the process of defending Bouri’s motion for summary judgment, Trascent argued that the same employment contract on which many of its claims against Bouri were premised was induced by fraud and that Bouri could not receive advancement because the employment agreement was thereby invalid (and presumably that he would not have become a member of Trascent’s board, and thus be entitled to advancement, under the LLC agreement absent that contract). The Court of Chancery rejected that defense to advancement, relying on the plain language of the agreements, which required that advancement be provided until a court made a final, nonappealable determination that indemnification was not required, and on the summary nature of the proceedings under 6 Del. C. sec. 18-108 (the LLC analogue to 8 Del. C. sec. 145). Trascent appealed, arguing the Court of Chancery erred in that ruling. Finding no reversible error after its review, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Chancery's judgment. View "Transcent Management Consulting, LLC v. Bouri" on Justia Law

by
In 2003, Zubin Mehta and Gregory Shalov formed Finger Lakes Capital Partners as an investment vehicle to own several operating companies. Mehta and Shalov contacted Lyrical Partners L.P. to participate in their venture. The parties signed a term sheet covering their overall relationship, as well as topics relating to two specific investments. On the advice of counsel, Finger Lakes held each of its portfolio companies as separate limited liability companies with separate operating agreements. Over the course of a decade, the companies did not perform as expected. Finger Lakes asked Lyrical for additional capital. The parties agreed to allow Lyrical to “clawback” its investment money as added protection for its continued investment in the enterprise. Only one investment performed well and generated a substantial return when it was sold. The others failed or incurred substantial losses. The parties disagreed about how the proceeds from the one profitable investment should have been distributed under the network of agreements governing their business relationship. The Court of Chancery held that the proceeds should have been distributed first in accordance with the operating agreement governing the investment in the profitable portfolio company; the term sheet and clawback agreement would then be applied to reallocate the distribution under their terms. Finger Lakes argued on appeal that the profitable investment entity’s operating agreement superseded the overarching term sheet and clawback agreement; even if the clawback agreement was not superseded, the Court of Chancery applied it incorrectly; Lyrical could not recover its unpaid management fees through a setoff or recoupment; and, the Court of Chancery improperly limited Finger Lakes’ indemnification to expenses incurred until Finger Lakes was awarded a partial judgment on the pleadings, instead of awarding indemnification for all expenses related to these proceedings. With one exception, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Chancery’s judgment with respect to that court's interpretation of the operating agreements. The Supreme Court found, however, that the Court of Chancery erred when it held that Lyrical could use setoff or recoupment to recover time-barred management fees. Further, Lyrical could not assert its time-barred claims by way of recoupment because the defensive claims did not arise from the same transaction as Finger Lakes’ claims. View "Finger Lakes Capital Partners, LLC v. Honeoye Lake Acquisition, LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Business Law, Contracts