Justia Contracts Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Corporate Compliance
Discover Property Cslty v. Blue Bell
A Listeria outbreak led to a shutdown of Blue Bell factories and a nationwide recall of its products. Consequently, Blue Bell suffered a substantial financial loss. A shareholder of Blue Bell Creameries brought a derivative action against Blue Bell’s directors and officers, alleging a breach of fiduciary duties. The shareholder, on behalf of Blue Bell, alleged that Blue Bell’s officers and directors breached their fiduciary duties of care and loyalty by failing “to comply with regulations and establish controls.” The Blue Bell Defendants appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Discover Property & Casualty Insurance Company and the Travelers Indemnity Company of Connecticut. The Fifth Circuit affirmed. Here, only the duty to defend is at issue because the parties have stipulated that “If the district court finds there is no duty to defend, it may also find there is no duty to indemnify, but otherwise the duty to indemnify will not be a subject of the Parties’ motions.” Accordingly, the court wrote that it is confined by Texas’s “eight-corners rule,” which directs courts to determine an insurer’s duty to defend based on: (1) the pleading against the insured in the underlying litigation and (2) the terms of the insurance policy. The court explained that while it disagrees with the district court’s determination as to whether the directors and officers are “insureds” in relation to the shareholder lawsuit, it agreed with its determination that the complaint in the shareholder lawsuit does not allege any “occurrence” or seek “damages because of bodily injury.” Each issue is independently sufficient for affirmance. View "Discover Property Cslty v. Blue Bell" on Justia Law
Adelsperger v. Elkside Development LLC
Elkside Development, LLC (Elkside) owned and operated the Osprey Point RV Resort in Lakeside, Oregon. Part of Elkside’s business model involved selling membership contracts that conferred free use of the campground, among other benefits. In April 2017, Barnett Resorts LLC, an Oregon limited liability company operated by member-managers Stefani and Chris Barnett, purchased Elkside. Shortly after the purchase, the Barnetts sent a letter to all campground members, identifying them as “owners” of the resort, and indicating that they would not honor Elkside’s membership contracts. Plaintiffs, a group of 71 people who, collectively, were party to 39 membership contracts with Elkside, brought suit alleging a variety of claims against Stefani and Chris Barnett individually, and against the company, Barnett Resorts LLC. On appeal, this case raised three issues relating to: (1) a breach of contract claim; (2) an intentional interference with contract claim; and (3) a statutory claim of elder abuse, based on the fact that the majority of the membership contracts had been held by plaintiffs over the age of 65. As to the claims against the Barnetts individually, the trial court granted summary judgment for defendants, relying on ORS 63.165 and Cortez v. Nacco Materials Handling Group, 337 P3d 111 (2014). Plaintiffs argued, in part, that whether ORS 63.165 shielded the Barnetts from liability required considering whether their actions were entirely in support of the LLC, or whether they were, instead, in furtherance of a non-LLC individual motive. The Court of Appeals affirmed without opinion. The Oregon Supreme Court allowed review and reversed in part the Court of Appeals and the trial court. Specifically, the Supreme Court reversed as to the elder abuse claim, affirmed as to the breach of contract claim, and affirmed the intentional interference claim by an equally divided court. View "Adelsperger v. Elkside Development LLC" on Justia Law
Towers Watson & Co. v. National Union Fire Insurance Company
In 2015, Towers Watson & Co. (“Towers Watson”), a Delaware company headquartered in Virginia, purchased directors and officers (“D&O”) liability insurance coverage from several insurance companies, including National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, Pa. (“National Union”) as the primary insurer. Following Towers Watson’s merger with another company, Towers Watson shareholders filed several lawsuits against Towers Watson’s chairman and CEO and others, alleging that the shareholders received below-market consideration for their shares in the merger. The litigation was settled, and Towers Watson sought indemnity coverage from its insurers under the relevant D&O policies. The insurers refused the indemnity request, citing a so-called “bump-up” exclusion in the policies. This declaratory judgment action followed. The district court sided with Towers Watson and held that the bump-up exclusion “does not unambiguously” preclude indemnity coverage for the underlying settlements. The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded for further proceedings. Under Virginia law, it will not do to merely identify any conceivable basis to hold that an insurance-coverage exclusion does not apply before stripping the exclusion of all force. Rather, the language of the exclusion must reasonably lend itself to an “equally possible” interpretation precluding the exclusion’s applicability. Here, however, the district court’s chosen interpretation, which disregarded the Policy’s plain language and inserted terms not included by the parties, cannot be characterized as one of two “equally possible” constructions. View "Towers Watson & Co. v. National Union Fire Insurance Company" on Justia Law
Reliant Life Shares, LLC v. Cooper
Reliant Life Shares, LLC (Reliant or LLC) was a profitable limited liability company owned in equal parts by three members. Two of them, SM and DC, were longtime friends and business partners. After DC stopped working out of the offices of Reliant because of a medical condition, no one at Reliant expected him to return to work, but SM assured CDC he remained a loyal business partner. Before long, however, SM and the third member of Reliant, SG, tried to force out DC, splitting the company’s profits and other revenues 50/50 and paying DC nothing. The LLC sued DC, seeking a declaratory judgment that he was properly removed as a member of the LLC. DC cross-complained against the parties and the LLC, alleging breach of contract, fraud, breach of the duty of loyalty and several other causes of action, seeking damages, an accounting and imposition of a constructive trust over funds obtained through violation of fiduciary duties. The jury awarded DC damages and valued his equity interest. The LLC, SM, SG, and several of their entities appealed. They assert a multitude of arguments for reversal of the judgment. The Second Appellate District found no merit in any of the claims and affirmed the judgment in full. The court found that the trial court acted well within its discretion when it decided alter ego claims in phase one. Further, the court found no merit in the election of remedies argument, either as it relates to prejudgment interest or anything else. View "Reliant Life Shares, LLC v. Cooper" on Justia Law
Civelli v. J.P. Morgan Chase
Plaintiff, an investor and venture capitalist and the CEO of InterOil Corporation (“InterOil”), developed a business relationship. Throughout that relationship, Plaintiff (and “entities controlled and beneficially owned by him”) provided loans, cash advances, and funds to the CEO and InterOil. Plaintiff and the CEO continued to have a business relationship until 2016, at which point the CEO’s actions and words made Plaintiff concerned he would not receive his shares back from the CEO. In late 2017, as part of a larger suit against the CEO, Plaintiff and Aster Panama sued the J.P. Morgan Defendants for (1) breach of trust and fiduciary duty, (2) negligence, and (3) conspiracy to commit theft. The district court granted summary judgment on all counts relating to the J.P. Morgan defendants and awarded them attorneys’ fees under the Texas Theft Liability Act (“TTLA”). The Fifth Circuit affirmed. Under Texas law, the only question is whether the J.P. Morgan Defendants expressly accepted a duty to ensure the stocks were kept in trust for Plaintiff or Aster Panama. That could have been done by express agreement or by the bank’s acceptance of a deposit that contained writing that set forth “by clear direction what the bank is required to do.” Texas courts require a large amount of evidence to show that a bank has accepted such a duty. Here, no jury could find that the proffered statements and emails were sufficient evidence of intent from the J.P. Morgan Defendants to show an express agreement that they “owe[d] a duty to restrict the use of the funds for certain purposes.” View "Civelli v. J.P. Morgan Chase" on Justia Law
Miller v. Brightstar Asia, Ltd.
Plaintiff appealed the dismissal of his direct suit against Defendant Brightstar Asia, Ltd. In connection with the sale of his company, Harvestar, to Brightstar Asia, Plaintiff entered into a contract with Brightstar Asia, Harvestar, and his co-founder. The contract provided that conflicted transactions between Brightstar Asia and Harvestar must be on “terms no less favorable to” Harvestar than those of an arms-length transaction. Plaintiff alleged in his complaint that Brightstar Asia engaged in conflicted transactions that rendered his options rights worthless. Those actions, according to Plaintiff, breached both the express terms of the contract and the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The district court dismissed his complaint for raising claims that could be brought only in a derivative suit. The Second Circuit agreed that Plaintiff can bring a claim for breach of the express conflicted-transactions provision only in a derivative suit. However, the court held that Plaintiff may bring a direct suit for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing because that covenant is based on his individual options rights. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part and vacated in part the district court’s judgment. The court explained that the inquiry into whether a claim is direct, and a plaintiff, therefore, has “standing” to bring it, is not an Article III standing inquiry Even if the district court were right that Plaintiff’s claims had to be brought in a derivative suit, it should have dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim. View "Miller v. Brightstar Asia, Ltd." on Justia Law
Jerrell Whitten v. Ronald F. Clarke, et al.
Plaintiff, a shareholder and citizen of Illinois, brought this shareholder derivative action alleging breach of fiduciary duties by FleetCor’s directors and executives without first making a demand on the board. Plaintiff argued that demand was excused because a majority of the board faced a substantial likelihood of liability for their breach of fiduciary duties. The district court held that Plaintiff had failed to adequately plead that demand was excused and dismissed Plaintiff’s claims. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s complaint under Rule 23.1. The court held that Plaintiff failed to plead particularized facts showing demand was excused. The court explained that because Plaintiff failed to adequately plead Board knowledge of the allegedly fraudulent scheme, all three of his claims that purportedly show that a majority of the Board faced a substantial likelihood of liability fail. View "Jerrell Whitten v. Ronald F. Clarke, et al." on Justia Law
Borer v. Eyak Corporation
A winning candidate for a seat on the board of directors of an Alaska Native Corporation declined to sign the corporation’s confidentiality agreement and code of conduct. When the corporation denied him a seat on the board, he sought a declaratory judgment that these agreements were unlawful and an injunction that he be seated on the board. He argued that the scope of the confidentiality agreement was so broad, and the code of conduct so apt to be used to suppress dissenting directors, that they were inconsistent with directors’ fiduciary duties to the corporation. The Alaska Supreme Court determined he did not challenge the application of these agreements to any concrete factual situations, therefore, his claims were not ripe for adjudication. The Court therefore affirmed the judgment and the award of attorney’s fees against him. View "Borer v. Eyak Corporation" on Justia Law
Sterling National Bank v. Block
Sterling Bank purchased Damian Services. The stock purchase agreement set up a two-million-dollar escrow to resolve disputes arising after the purchase and established comprehensive rights, obligations, remedies, and procedures for resolving disputes. After the purchase, a former Damian employee called some of Damian’s clients to tell them of a billing practice that the sellers had instituted years earlier. When Sterling learned of the situation, it investigated with the help of a forensic accountant. Sterling concluded that under the sellers’ management, Damian had overcharged its clients by over one million dollars. Sterling refunded the overpayments to its current clients, then unsuccessfully demanded indemnification from the escrow, claiming that the sellers had misrepresented Damian’s liabilities and vulnerability to litigation.The district court granted the sellers summary judgment, reasoning that Sterling missed the deadline for claiming indemnification under the stock purchase agreement. The court denied the sellers’ request for statutory interest on the escrow money.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Whether Sterling’s demand for indemnification was late depends on disputed facts. Even if the demand was late, however, the agreement’s elaborate terms provide that any delay could be held against Sterling only “to the extent that [sellers] irrevocably forfeit rights or defenses by reason of such failure.” Undisputed facts show that the sellers have not irrevocably forfeited any claims or defenses. View "Sterling National Bank v. Block" on Justia Law
Ex parte Maynard, Cooper & Gale, P.C.
Maynard, Cooper & Gale, P.C. ("MCG"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate its July 30, 2018 order denying MCG's motion for a change of venue and to enter an order transferring the underlying action to the Madison Circuit Court on the basis of the doctrine of forum non conveniens. In late 2017, AAL USA, Inc. ("AAL"), a Delaware corporation doing business in Alabama, and Oleg Sirbu, a resident of Dubai, United Arab Emirates (collectively, "the plaintiffs"), sued MCG, asserting a claim of legal malpractice pursuant to the Alabama Legal Services Liability Act ("the ALSLA"), and seeking, among other relief, disgorgement of all attorney fees paid by the plaintiffs to MCG. AAL maintained, repaired, and overhauled helicopters through various government contracts or subcontracts on United States military bases. MCG represented the plaintiffs from 2014 through October 28, 2016; two MCG attorneys, Jon Levin and J. Andrew Watson III, were shareholders of MCG whose allegedly wrongful conduct was performed within the line and scope of their employment with MCG. The events giving rise to this litigation began in September 2016, when AAL received a "base-debarment" letter notifying it that it no longer had access to certain military bases outside the continental United States. MCG chief financial officer Keith Woolford forwarded this letter to MCG, and, according to the plaintiffs, MCG "immediately embarked in a central role in [MCG CEO Paul] Daigle's and Woolford's scheme to steal the assets of AAL." The complaint alleged that Levin worked closely with Woolford and Daigle to draft the APA pursuant to which Black Hall Aerospace, Inc., Daigle, and Woolford would purchase all of AAL's assets, as a way to cure the base-debarment problem. The plaintiffs alleged that MCG knew that the APA would "gut" the plaintiffs –- its current clients –- while simultaneously benefiting Daigle, Woolford, and BHA –- other clients of MCG -- and that this "clear and irreconcilable conflict of interest ... was never disclosed to [the plaintiffs]." The Alabama Supreme Court concluded MCG carried its burden of showing that Madison County's connection to the action was strong and that Jefferson County's connection to the action was weak. Thus, the circuit court exceeded its discretion in refusing to transfer the case to the Madison Circuit Court in the interest of justice. MCG's petition for a writ of mandamus was granted. View "Ex parte Maynard, Cooper & Gale, P.C." on Justia Law