Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

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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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This was a “take-home” asbestos case in which an employee’s now-deceased wife sued the companies who supplied asbestos products to her husband’s employer. Her husband’s employer caused him to work with those products, and the asbestos in them came home on his clothes. The wife’s theory of recovery against the asbestos product manufacturers was under section 388 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, an asbestos product manufacturer has a duty to warn foreseeable users of the dangers of its products, to the extent the asbestos product manufacturer has actual or constructive knowledge of that danger, and when it is unlikely that the user will discover the dangerous condition.2 The legal question underlying this appeal reduced to whether the spouse of an employee harmed by take-home asbestos exposure could sue an asbestos product manufacturer and recover if it failed to provide warnings and safe laundering instructions to her spouse’s employer, so he could protect himself or whoever laundered his clothes. "When applying section 388, the mundane realities of life make the spouses of employees who launder asbestos-covered clothes foreseeable plaintiffs to whom the manufacturers can be held liable. Taking into account, though, the argument that the asbestos product manufacturers are not in a position to warn employees directly, much less the other people who might launder employees’ clothes," the Delaware Supreme Court reversed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant-manufacturers. "If, as the Manufacturers suggest, claims from plaintiffs with more momentary exposure to and tenuous relationship to an exposed employee are filed in the future, the answer is to address those cases then in a reasoned way that takes into account the practicalities that must inform our common law. But, the answer is not to ignore the equity due to the plaintiff before us, and the plaintiffs like her, who base their claims on a clearly foreseeable consequence of common, and necessary, human conduct: workers often have family members who launder their work clothes, and if those work clothes are covered in asbestos dust, those family members can suffer serious injury and even death." View "Ramsey v. Georgia Southern University Advanced Development Ctr" on Justia Law

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Jane D.W. Doe, the deceased plaintiff whose estate was the appellant, was validly arrested by a Delaware State Police Officer for shoplifting, and “was subject to an outstanding capias.” Doe alleged that, rather than properly processing her arrest, the Officer instead told her that if she performed oral sex on him, he would take her home and she could just turn herself in on the capias the next day. If she refused, he would “take her to court, where bail would be set, and . . . she would have to spend the weekend in jail.” The Officer originally denied that the oral sex occurred, but after DNA evidence of the oral sex was found on Doe’s jacket. The State charged the Officer with multiple crimes, including: (1) “intentionally compel[ling] or induc[ing] [Doe] to engage in sexual penetration/intercourse;” and (2) “solicit[ing] a personal benefit from [Doe] for having violated his duty” to bring her in on her capias. What was disputed in this appeal was whether the jury verdict finding that the State was not responsible in tort as the officer’s employer for this misconduct should have been affirmed. The Delaware Supreme Court agreed with Doe that the jury verdict should have been vacated, finding that the jury was improperly asked to decide whether the employer of a police officer who received oral sex from an arrestee for his own personal gratification, and with no purpose to serve his employer, was acting within the scope of his employment. This question was submitted to the jury because the Supreme Court found in its initial decision (“Doe I”) that the jury should have decided the issue. In a second decision (“Doe II”), the Supreme Court adhered to the law of the case and did not revisit that earlier ruling. In this decision, the Court admitted it erred in leaving this issue of law to the jury, and for leaving the superior court in "the impossible position of crafting sensible jury instructions to implement a mandate that was not well-thought-out." The Court held, as a matter of law, if a police officer makes a valid arrest and then uses that leverage to obtain sex from his arrestee, his misconduct need not fall within the scope of his employment under section 228 of the Restatement (Second) of Agency to trigger his employer’s liability. In so finding, the Supreme Court took into account the unique, coercive authority entrusted in police under Delaware law, and the reality that when an arrestee is under an officer’s authority, she cannot resist that authority without committing a crime. The Court vacated the jury verdict in this case and remanded for entry of a judgment in Doe's favor on the issue of liability, with a jury trial to follow on the issue of damages. View "Sherman v. Dept of Public Safety" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, at issue before the Delaware Supreme Court was whether stipulated court orders agreed to in 2005 by a property owner and the Town of Cheswold prevented the Town from enacting new ordinances affecting the property. Applying res judicata, the Superior Court found that they did, and entered a judgment prohibiting the Town from enacting any ordinance impairing the property owner’s existing development rights. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the 2005 stipulated orders did not prohibit the Town from enacting future ordinances affecting the property. "If the Town eventually adopts a new ordinance, any future litigation over the property owner’s vested rights should be resolved by applying the balancing test in In re 244.5 Acres of Land, 808 A.2d 753 (Del. 2002)." View "Town of Cheswold v. Central Delaware Business Park" on Justia Law

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This appeal involved a single-vehicle accident that occurred on Omar Road in Sussex County, Delaware. Ashlee Reed was the driver; Jacqueline Pavik was her passenger. Reed was injured in the accident. Pavik died from injuries she received. At the time, Omar Road was undergoing reconstruction. The accident occurred on a Sunday night when no construction was taking place and the road was open to the public. Reed and Pavik’s parents alleged that the accident was caused by an unsafe road condition known as raveling, which caused Reed to lose control of her vehicle and crash into trees off the roadway. George & Lynch, Inc. (George & Lynch) was the general contractor in charge of construction. Reed and Pavik’s parents brought suit against a number of entities, but this appeal involved only George & Lynch. Among other things, the parents claimed George & Lynch was negligent for failing to place adequate temporary traffic control signs or devices warning the public of road conditions. The Superior Court granted summary judgment in favor of George & Lynch, holding that it had no duty to post temporary traffic control signs or devices warning about the condition of the road on the weekend the accident occurred, regardless of whether it anticipated that raveling would occur because of a predicted storm over the upcoming weekend. The Superior Court also held that certain repair work that the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) performed on Omar Road on the day of the accident broke any causal link between George & Lynch’s alleged negligence and the accident. The question before the Delaware Supreme Court was whether the Superior Court’s summary judgment analysis was legally correct. The Supreme Court concluded it was not and that the judgment of the Superior Court had to be reversed. View "Pavik v. George & Lynch, Inc." on Justia Law

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According to the allegations of the complaint, the plaintiffs were adult and minor Argentinean citizens. The defendants, Philip Morris USA Inc. (“PM USA”) and Philip Morris Global Brands, Inc. (“PM Global”), owned Massalin Particulares, S.A., a tobacco production company. In 1984, Massalin created a brokerage company, Tabacos Nortes, to purchase tobacco from small, family-owned farms in Misiones, Argentina. The plaintiffs owned and live on these farms, raising livestock and growing produce for their own consumption adjacent to the tobacco plants. Tabacos Nortes required the farmers to purchase and use herbicides and pesticides, which it sold to the farmers on credit. Monsanto Company developed, marketed, and supplied the herbicide “Roundup,” which, according to the complaint, contained chemical ingredients and toxins capable of causing “genetic, teratogenic, and/or developmental injury to humans.” The plaintiffs mixed chemicals like Roundup and sprayed the tobacco crops by hand with chemicals from containers on their backs. As alleged in the complaint, the defendants knew that the plaintiffs’ personal crops, livestock, and water would be contaminated with the herbicides and pesticides. The plaintiffs further alleged the defendants never recommended protective measures, but knew the plaintiffs lacked protective equipment and the knowledge required for safe use of the chemicals. In consolidated appeals the issue before the Delaware Supreme Court was whether a trial court must first determine that an available alternative forum existed before dismissing a case for forum non conveniens. The Supreme Court held that an available alternative forum should be considered as part of the forum non conveniens analysis, but was not a threshold requirement. Because the Superior Court considered the availability of an alternative forum as a factor in its forum non conveniens analysis, its judgment was affirmed. View "Aranda, et al. v. Philip Morris USA Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit certified a question of Delaware law to the Delaware Supreme Court. The plaintiff-appellants worked on banana plantations in Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Panama at various times in the 1970s and 1980s. The defendants-appellees included United States corporations that manufactured and distributed a pesticide called dibromochloropropane (“DBCP”), and other United States corporations that owned and operated the banana plantations. The plaintiffs alleged they suffered adverse health consequences from exposure to DBCP while working on the banana plantations. In 1993, a putative class action lawsuit was filed in state court in Texas; all plaintiffs to this suit were members of the putative class. Before a decision was made on class certification, defendants impleaded a company partially owned by the State of Israel ​and used its joinder as a basis to remove the case to federal court under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). After removal, the case was consolidated with other DBCP-related class actions in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas. The cases were consolidated. The Texas District Court granted defendants' motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens. The certified question to the Delaware Court centered on whether a class action's tolling ended when a federal district court dismisses a matter for forum non conveniens and, consequently, denies as moot “all pending motions,” which included the motion for class certification, even where the dismissal incorporated a return jurisdiction clause stating that “the court will resume jurisdiction over the action as if the case had never been dismissed for f.n.c.” If it did not end at that time, when did it end based on the facts specific to this case? The Delaware Court responded the federal district court dismissal in 1995 on grounds of forum non conveniens and consequent denial as moot of “all pending motions,” including the motion for class certification, did not end class action tolling. Class action tolling ended when class action certification was denied in Texas state court on June 3, 2010. View "Marquinez, et al. v. Dow Chemical Company, et al." on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit certified a question of Delaware law to the Delaware Supreme Court. The plaintiff-appellants worked on banana plantations in Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Panama at various times in the 1970s and 1980s. The defendants-appellees included United States corporations that manufactured and distributed a pesticide called dibromochloropropane (“DBCP”), and other United States corporations that owned and operated the banana plantations. The plaintiffs alleged they suffered adverse health consequences from exposure to DBCP while working on the banana plantations. In 1993, a putative class action lawsuit was filed in state court in Texas; all plaintiffs to this suit were members of the putative class. Before a decision was made on class certification, defendants impleaded a company partially owned by the State of Israel ​and used its joinder as a basis to remove the case to federal court under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). After removal, the case was consolidated with other DBCP-related class actions in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas. The cases were consolidated. The Texas District Court granted defendants' motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens. The certified question to the Delaware Court centered on whether a class action's tolling ended when a federal district court dismisses a matter for forum non conveniens and, consequently, denies as moot “all pending motions,” which included the motion for class certification, even where the dismissal incorporated a return jurisdiction clause stating that “the court will resume jurisdiction over the action as if the case had never been dismissed for f.n.c.” If it did not end at that time, when did it end based on the facts specific to this case? The Delaware Court responded the federal district court dismissal in 1995 on grounds of forum non conveniens and consequent denial as moot of “all pending motions,” including the motion for class certification, did not end class action tolling. Class action tolling ended when class action certification was denied in Texas state court on June 3, 2010. View "Marquinez, et al. v. Dow Chemical Company, 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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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