Justia Class Action Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
Griffith v. Stein
An objector appealed a Delaware Court of Chancery decision approving a litigation settlement for claims alleging excessive non-employee director compensation. Initially, the parties agreed to a preliminary settlement and presented it to the Court of Chancery for approval. The Court of Chancery sided with the objector and refused to approve a non-monetary settlement of the derivative claims. The court also awarded the objector fees. After the court denied a motion to dismiss, the parties came up with a new settlement that included a financial benefit to the corporation. The objector renewed his objection, this time arguing that the new settlement improperly released future claims challenging compensation awards and that the plaintiff was not an adequate representative for the corporation’s interests. The Court of Chancery approved the new settlement and refused to award the objector additional attorneys’ fees. On appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court, the objector argued the court erred by: (1) approving an overbroad release; (2) approving the settlement without finding that the plaintiff was an adequate representative of the corporation’s interests; and (3) reducing the objector’s fee because the court believed it would have rejected the original settlement agreement without the objection. Though the Supreme Court acknowledged the Court of Chancery and the parties worked diligently to bring this dispute to a close, it reversed the judgment because the settlement agreement released future claims arising out of, or contemplated by, the settlement itself instead of releasing liability for the claims brought in the litigation. View "Griffith v. Stein" on Justia Law
First Solar, Inc. v. National Union First Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA
In March 2012, First Solar, Inc. stockholders filed a class action lawsuit against the company alleging that it violated federal securities laws by making false or misleading public disclosures ("Smilovits Action"). National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA (“National Union”) provided insurance coverage for the Smilovits Action under a 2011–12 $10 million “claims made” directors and officers insurance policy. While the Smilovits Action was pending, First Solar stockholders who opted out of the Smilovits Action filed what has been referred to as the Maverick Action. The Maverick Action alleged violations of the same federal securities laws as the Smilovits Action, as well as violations of Arizona statutes and claims for fraud and negligent misrepresentation. In this appeal the issue presented for the Delaware Supreme Court's review was whether the Smilovits securities class action, and a later Maverick follow-on action were related actions, such that the follow-on action was excluded from insurance coverage under later-issued policies. The Superior Court found that the follow-on action was “fundamentally identical” to the first-filed action and therefore excluded from coverage under the later-issued policies. The Supreme Court found that even though the court applied an incorrect standard to assess the relatedness of the two actions, judgment was affirmed nonetheless because under either the erroneous “fundamentally identical” standard or the correct relatedness standard defined by the policies, the later-issued insurance policies did not cover the follow-on action. View "First Solar, Inc. v. National Union First Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA" on Justia Law
Morris v. Spectra Energy Partners
After a $3.3 billion “roll up” of minority-held units involving a merger between Enbridge, Inc. and Spectra Energy Partners L.P. (“SEP”), Paul Morris, a former SEP minority unitholder, lost standing to litigate an alleged $661 million derivative suit on behalf of SEP against its general partner, Spectra Energy Partners (DE) GP, LP (“SEP GP”). Morris repeated the derivative claim dismissal by filing a new class action complaint that alleged the Enbridge/SEP merger exchange ratio was unfair because SEP GP agreed to a merger that did not reflect the material value of his derivative claims. The Court of Chancery granted SEP GP’s motion to dismiss the new complaint for lack of standing. The court held that, to have standing to bring a post-merger claim, Morris had to allege a viable and material derivative claim that the buyer would not assert and provided no value for in the merger. Focusing on the materiality requirement, the court first discounted the $661 million recovery to $112 million to reflect the public unitholders’ beneficial interest in the derivative litigation recovery. The court then discounted the $112 million further to $28 million to reflect what the court estimated was a one in four chance of success in the litigation. After the discounting, the $28 million, less than 1% of the merger consideration, was immaterial to a $3.3 billion merger. On appeal, Morris argued the trial court should not have dismissed the plaintiff’s direct claims for lack of standing. After its review, the Delaware Supreme Court agreed with Morris finding that, on a motion to dismiss for lack of standing, he sufficiently pled a direct claim attacking the fairness of the merger itself for SEP GP’s failure to secure value for his pending derivative claims. The Court of Chancery’s judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Morris v. Spectra Energy Partners" on Justia Law
Olenik v. Lodzinski, et al.
Nicholas Olenik, a stockholder of nominal defendant Earthstone Energy, Inc., brought class and derivative claims against defendants, challenging a business combination between Earthstone and Bold Energy III LLC. As alleged in the complaint, EnCap Investments L.P. controlled Earthstone and Bold and caused Earthstone stockholders to approve an unfair transaction based on a misleading proxy statement. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, claiming the proxy statement disclosed fully and fairly all material facts about the transaction, and Earthstone conditioned its offer on the approval of a special committee and the vote of a majority of the minority stockholders. The Court of Chancery agreed with the defendants and dismissed the case. While the parties briefed this appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court decided Flood v. Synutra International, Inc. Under Synutra, to invoke the MFW protections in a controller-led transaction, the controller must “self-disable before the start of substantive economic negotiations.” The controller and the board’s special committee must also “bargain under the pressures exerted on both of them by these protections.” The Court cautioned that the MFW protections would not result in dismissal when the “plaintiff has pled facts that support a reasonable inference that the two procedural protections were not put in place early and before substantive economic negotiations took place.” So the Supreme Court determined the Court of Chancery held correctly plaintiff failed to state a disclosure claim. But, the complaint should not have been dismissed in its entirety: applying Synutra, which the Court of Chancery did not have the benefit of at the time of its decision, plaintiff pled facts supporting a reasonable inference that EnCap, Earthstone, and Bold engaged in substantive economic negotiations before the Earthstone special committee put in place the MFW conditions. The Court of Chancery’s decision was affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Olenik v. Lodzinski, et al." on Justia Law
Morrison, et al. v. Berry, et al.
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 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”) for $28.5 in cash per share. Apollo publicly filed a Schedule TO, which included its own narrative of the background to the transaction. The 14D-9 incorporated Apollo’s Schedule TO by reference. After reading these disclosures, as the tender offer was still pending, plaintiff-stockholder 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 on April 21 with 68.2% of outstanding shares validly tendered. This case calls into question the integrity of a stockholder vote purported to qualify for “cleansing” pursuant to Corwin v. KKR Fin. Holdings LLC, 125 A.3d 304 (Del. 2015). In reversing the Court of Chancery's judgment in favor of the Company, the Delaware Supreme Court held "'partial and elliptical disclosures' cannot facilitate the protection of the business judgment rule under the Corwin doctrine." View "Morrison, et al. v. Berry, et al." on Justia Law
Marquinez, et al. v. Dow Chemical Company, et al.
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
California State Teachers’ Retirement System, et al. v. Alvarez, et al.
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
CDX Holdings, Inc. v. Fox
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
Culverhouse v. Paulson & Co., Inc.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit certified a question of law arising out of an appeal of a decision by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida to the Delaware Supreme Court. Paulson Advantage Plus, L.P. (the “Investment Fund”) was a Delaware limited partnership that invested in corporate securities. Paulson Advisers, LLC, a Delaware limited liability company, and Paulson & Co., a Delaware corporation (the Investment Fund Managers) were the general partners and managers of the Investment Fund. One of the Investment Fund’s limited partners was HedgeForum Paulson Advantage Plus, LLC, (the “Feeder Fund”). The Feeder Fund was managed and sponsored by Citigroup Alternative Investments, LLC. AMACAR CPO, Inc. was the Feeder Fund’s managing member. Along with other investors, Plaintiff-appellant Hugh Culverhouse was a member of the Feeder Fund, not a limited partner in the Investment Fund. Culverhouse filed a putative class action against the Investment Fund Managers in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The first amended complaint alleged that between 2007 and 2011, the Investment Fund invested about $800 million in a Chinese forestry company. Following another investment firm’s report claiming that the forestry company had overstated its timber holdings and engaged in questionable related-party transactions, the Investment Fund sold its holdings for about a $460 million loss. On appeal of the dismissal for lack of standing, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit determined that resolution of the appeal depended on an unsettled issue of Delaware law. The Eleventh Circuit posited the question to the Delaware Supreme Court on whether the diminution in the value of a limited liability company, serving as a feeder fund in a limited partnership, provides a basis for an investor’s direct suit against the general partners when the company and the partnership allocated losses to investors’ individual capital accounts and did not issue transferrable shares and losses were shared by investors in proportion to their investments. The Delaware Court answered in the negative. View "Culverhouse v. Paulson & Co., Inc." on Justia Law
Clark v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.
The plaintiffs both have policies with State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company and both submitted claims that State Farm failed to pay within the statutory thirty-day period. The plaintiffs earlier alleged that State Farm had failed to make the required statutory interest payments to them and other claimants whose PIP claims had not been processed within thirty days. When that theory did not pan out and they faced summary judgment, the plaintiffs reformulated their pursuit of class-wide relief by proposing to file an amended complaint seeking a declaratory judgment from the Superior Court that State Farm must process all PIP claims within thirty days. The Superior Court denied the motion for leave to amend, reasoning that amending the complaint would be futile because no case or controversy existed because the plaintiffs had been paid the required statutory interest. The court then granted summary judgment to State Farm. In this appeal, the plaintiffs alleged that the Superior Court was wrong to dismiss their claim, arguing that they have a ripe disagreement with State Farm over its failure to comply invariably with the thirty-day deadline set forth in 21 Del. C. 2118B(c). After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court, but on a somewhat different ground. The plaintiffs were correct that absent declaratory (or injunctive) relief, it may be that they and other class members will have a claim in the future processed by State Farm in more than thirty days. But, the Court agreed with the Superior Court that the amended complaint is futile because as plainly written, section 2118B(c) did not impose an invariable standard that every PIP claim must be processed within thirty days and, in fact, contemplated that will not be the case by establishing a statutory consequence for the failure to do so. View "Clark v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co." on Justia Law