Articles Posted in Corporate Compliance

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Caris Life Sciences, Inc. operated three business units: Caris Diagnostics, TargetNow and Casrisome. The Diagnostics unit was consistently profitable. TargetNow generated revenue but not profits, and Carisome was in the developmental stage. To secure financing for TargetNow and Carisome, Caris sold Caris Diagnostics to Miraca Holdings. The transaction was structured using a "spin/merge" structure: Caris transferred ownership of TargetNow and Carisome to a new subsidiary, then spun off that subsidiary to its stockholders. Owning only Caris Diagnostics, Caris merged with a wholly owned subsidiary of Miraca. Plaintiff Kurt Fox sued on behalf of a class of option holders of Caris. Fox alleged that Caris breached the terms of the Stock Incentive Plan because members of management as Plan Administrator, rather than the Board of Directors, determined how much the option holders would receive. Regardless of who made the determination, the $0.61 per share attributed to the spun off company was not a good faith determination, and resulted from an arbitrary and capricious process. The Court of Chancery found that fair market value was not determined, and the value received by the option holders was not determined in good faith and that the ultimate value per option was determined through a process that was "arbitrary and capricious." Caris appealed, arguing the Court of Chancery erred in arriving at its judgment. Finding no reversible error in the Court of Chancery's judgment, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed. View "CDX Holdings, Inc. v. Fox" on Justia Law

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The Court of Chancery issued four opinions which were appealed to the Delaware Supreme Court. In sum, the appeal and cross-appeal in this case centered on the Chancery Court’s final judgment finding that RBC Capital Markets, LLC aided and abetted breaches of fiduciary duty by former directors of Rural/Metro Corporation ("Rural" or the "Company") in connection with the sale of the Company to an affiliate of Warburg Pincus LLC, a private equity firm. RBC raised six issues on appeal, namely: (1) whether the trial court erred by holding that the board of directors breached its duty of care under an enhanced scrutiny standard; (2) whether the trial court erred by holding that the board of directors violated its fiduciary duty of disclosure by making material misstatements and omissions in Rural’s proxy statement, dated May 26, 2011; (3) whether the trial court erred by finding that RBC aided and abetted breaches of fiduciary duty by the board of directors; (4) whether the trial court erred by finding that the board of directors’ conduct proximately caused damages; (5) whether the trial court erred in applying the Delaware Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act ("DUCATA"); and (6) whether the trial court erred in calculating damages. After careful consideration of each of RBC’s arguments on appeal, the Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed the "principal legal holdings" of the Court of Chancery. View "RBC Capital Markets, LLC v. Jervis" on Justia Law

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This case involved an appeal from a complicated transaction between a private company whose equity was wholly owned by the family of A.R. Sanchez, Jr., Sanchez Resources, LLC (the “Private Sanchez Company”), and a public company in which the Sanchez family constituted the largest stockholder bloc with some 16% of the shares and that was dependent on the Private Sanchez Company for all of its management services, Sanchez Energy Corporation (the “Sanchez Public Company”). The transaction at issue required the Sanchez Public Company to pay $78 million to: (i) help the Private Sanchez Company buy out the interests of a private equity investor; (ii) acquire an interest in certain properties with energy-producing potential from the Private Sanchez Company; (iii) facilitate the joint production of 80,000 acres of property between the Sanchez Private and Public Companies; and (iv) fund a cash payment of $14.4 million to the Private Sanchez Company. In this derivative action, the plaintiffs alleged that this transaction involved a gross overpayment by the Sanchez Public Company, which unfairly benefited the Private Sanchez Company by allowing it to use the Sanchez Public Company‟s funds to buy out their private equity partner, obtain a large cash payment for itself, and obtain a contractual right to a lucrative royalty stream that was unduly favorable to the Private Sanchez Company and thus unfairly onerous to the Sanchez Public Company. As to the latter, the plaintiffs alleged that the royalty payment was not only unfair, but was undisclosed to the Sanchez Public Company stockholders, and that it was the Sanchez family's desire to conceal the royalty obligation that led to a convoluted transaction structure. The Court of Chancery dismissed the complaint, finding that the defendants were correct in their contention that plaintiffs had not pled demand excusal under "Aronson v. Lewis," (473 A.2d 805 (1984)). "Determining whether a plaintiff has pled facts supporting an inference that a director cannot act independently of an interested director for purposes of demand excusal under "Aronson" can be difficult. And this case illustrates that." Because of that, the Supreme Court found that plaintiffs pled facts supporting an inference that a majority of the board who approved the interested transaction they challenged could not consider a demand impartially. Therefore, the Court reversed and remanded so that plaintiffs could prosecute this derivative action. View "Delaware County Employees Retirement Fund, et al. v. Sanchez, et al." on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs filed a challenge in the Court of Chancery to a stock-for-stock merger between KKR & Co. L.P. ("KKR") and KKR Financial Holdings LLC ("Financial Holdings") in which KKR acquired each share of Financial Holdings's stock for 0.51 of a share of KKR stock, a 35% premium to the unaffected market price. The plaintiffs' primary argument was that the transaction was presumptively subject to the entire fairness standard of review because Financial Holdings's primary business was financing KKR's leveraged buyout activities, and instead of having employees manage the company's day-to-day operations, Financial Holdings was managed by KKR Financial Advisors, an affiliate of KKR, under a contractual management agreement that could only be terminated by Financial Holdings if it paid a termination fee. As a result, the plaintiffs alleged that KKR was a controlling stockholder of Financial Holdings, which was an LLC, not a corporation. The Court of Chancery held that the business judgment rule was invoked as the appropriate standard of review for a post-closing damages action when a merger that is not subject to the entire fairness standard of review has been approved by a fully informed, uncoerced majority of the disinterested stockholders. For that and other reasons, the Court of Chancery dismissed plaintiffs' complaint. In this decision, the Delaware Supreme Court found that the Chancellor was correct in finding that the voluntary judgment of the disinterested stockholders to approve the merger invoked the business judgment rule standard of review and that the plaintiffs' complaint should have been dismissed. "Delaware corporate law has long been reluctant to second-guess the judgment of a disinterested stockholder majority that determines that a transaction with a party other than a controlling stockholder is in their best interests." View "Corwin, et al. v. KKR Financial Holdings LLC., et al." on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit certified a question of Delaware law to the Delaware Supreme Court: "If a shareholder demands that a board of directors investigate both an underlying wrongdoing and subsequent misstatements by corporate officers about that wrongdoing, what factors should a court consider in deciding whether the board acted in a grossly negligent fashion by focusing its investigation solely on the underlying wrongdoing?" The plaintiffs in this case made a demand that the board of JPMorgan Chase & Co. investigate two related issues regarding a high-profile situation, what the Second Circuit has called the "London Whale debacle." According to the Second Circuit, these issues were: (1) the failure of JPMorgan‘s risk management policies to prevent the trading that resulted in corporate losses; and (2) supposed false and misleading statements made by JPMorgan management in the wake of the emergence of the problem. According to the plaintiffs, the board investigative committee only made findings as to the former issue by arguing that what management knew when it made disclosures was the subject of several pages of the report. In the Delaware Supreme Court's view, Delaware law on the relevant topic required that the decision of an independent committee to refuse a demand should only be set aside if particularized facts were pled supporting an inference that the committee, despite being comprised solely of independent directors, breached its duty of loyalty, or breached its duty of care, in the sense of having committed gross negligence. The Court concluded that the determination of what constituted gross negligence in the circumstances by definition required a review of the relevant circumstances facing the directors charged with acting. The Court requested more information from the Second Circuit prior to answering the certified question. View "Espinoza v. Dimon, et al." on Justia Law

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Defendants-appellants Hill International, Inc., David Richter, Camille Andrews, Brian Clymer, Alan Fellheimer, Irvin Richter, Steven Kramer and Gary Mazzucco sought review of Court of Chancery orders dated June 5, 2015 and June 16, 2015. In its June 5, 2015 Order, the Court of Chancery enjoined Hill from conducting any business at its June 9, 2015 Annual Meeting, other than convening the meeting for the sole purpose of adjourning it for a minimum of 21 days, in order to permit plaintiff-appellee Opportunity Partners L.P. to present certain items of business and director nominations at Hill’s 2015 Annual Meeting. On June 16, 2015, the Court of Chancery entered the Order dated June 5, 2015 as a partial final judgment pursuant to Court of Chancery Rule 54(b). This expedited appeal presented for the Supreme Court's resolution a dispute over the proper interpretation of certain provisions of Articles II and III of Hill’s Bylaws as Amended and Restated on November 12, 2007. The sections of the Bylaws at issue, specifically language in Sections 2.2 and 3.3, concerned the operative date for determining the time within which stockholders must give notice of any shareholder proposals or director nominees to be considered at Hill’s upcoming annual meeting. After review of the bylaws and the Court of Chancery's orders, the Supreme Court found reversible error and affirmed. View "Hill International, Inc., et al. v. Opportunity Partners, L.P." on Justia Law