Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
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Two questions of law were certified to the Delaware Supreme Court by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit: (1) when faced with an action brought by an estate under 18 Del. C. 2704(b), an innocent downstream investor in a stranger-originated life insurance (“STOLI”) policy, or its securities intermediary, could assert certain defenses under the Delaware Uniform Commercial Code; and (2) whether downstream investors in a STOLI policy could sue to recover any premiums they paid. The Court answered question one in the negative: in the sui generis context of STOLI schemes, these defenses are not available. The Court answered question two in the affirmative: yes, if the party being sued can prove its entitlement to those premiums under a viable legal theory. View "Wells Fargo Bank v. Estate of Phyllis M. Malkin" on Justia Law

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Pursuant to the Ownership Interest Purchase Agreement dated April 23, 2014 (the “Agreement”), Appellant North American Leasing, Inc. purchased Appellant NASDI, LLC, and Appellant Yankee Environmental Services, LLC. NASDI was in the business of providing demolition and site redevelopment services throughout the United States. The seller was Appellee NASDI Holdings, LLC, which before the sale, possessed all ownership interests in NASDI and Yankee. Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Corporation (“Great Lakes”), the parent company of NASDI Holdings, agreed that performance and payment bonds on existing projects being performed by NASDI and Yankee at the time of the sale would remain in place for the duration of each project. The Agreement also provided that North American Leasing, NASDI, Yankee, and Appellant Dore & Associates Contracting, Inc. (“Dore”), would indemnify NASDI Holdings and its affiliates for any losses arising from those bonds that Great Lakes agreed would remain in place on existing projects. After the sale of NASDI and Yankee was completed, Great Lakes incurred losses from performance and payment bonds on a project known as the Bayonne Bridge project. The Defendants have taken the position throughout this litigation that they have no obligation to indemnify the Plaintiffs because the Plaintiffs’ claims notices were untimely under the Agreement. The Court of Chancery rejected the Defendants’ contention and entered judgment against the Defendants for the total amount of the Plaintiffs’ claim. Finding no reversible error in this judgment, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed. View "North American Leasing, Inc. v. NASDI Holdings, LLC" on Justia Law

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This appeal involved a challenge to how Geico General Insurance Company (“GEICO”) processed insurance claims under 21 Del. C. 2118. Section 2118 provided that certain motor vehicle owners had to obtain personal injury protection (“PIP”) insurance. Plaintiffs, all of whose claims for medical expense reimbursement under a PIP policy were denied in whole or in part, were either GEICO PIP policyholders who were injured in automobile accidents or their treatment providers. Plaintiffs alleged GEICO used two automated processing rules that arbitrarily denied or reduced payments without consideration of the reasonableness or necessity of submitted claims and without any human involvement. Plaintiffs argued GEICO’s use of the automated rules to deny or reduce payments: (1) breached the applicable insurance contract; (2) amounted to bad faith breach of contract; and (3) violated Section 2118. Having reviewed the parties’ briefs and the record on appeal, and after oral argument, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s ruling that the judiciary had the authority to issue a declaratory judgment that GEICO’s use of the automated rules violated Section 2118. The Supreme Court also affirmed the Superior Court’s judgment as to the breach of contract and bad faith breach of contract claims. The Court concluded, however, that the issuance of the declaratory judgment was improper. View "GEICO General Insurance Company v. Green" on Justia Law

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In Section 9(e) of a settlement agreement between Cox Communications and Sprint Corporation (T-Mobile U.S., Inc.'s predecessor-in-interest, Cox agreed that, before it offered wireless mobile services to its customers, it would enter into a “definitive” exclusive provider agreement with Sprint “on terms to be mutually agreed upon between the parties for an initial period of 36 months[.]” Cox and Sprint never entered into such a partnership. After T-Mobile finalized a purchase of Sprint in April 2020, the combined entity bid for Cox’s business, but Cox decided to partner with Verizon. After hearing that it would not be Cox’s exclusive partner, T-Mobile accused Cox of breaching the Settlement Agreement. Cox sued T-Mobile in Delaware's Court of Chancery, seeking a declaration that Section 9(e) was either an unenforceable “agreement to agree” or a Type II preliminary agreement requiring Cox and T-Mobile to negotiate in good faith. According to Cox, it was free to partner with Verizon because these good-faith negotiations failed. Shortly before trial, Cox also suggested that whatever Section 9(e) means, T-Mobile could not enforce it because the Settlement Agreement was between Cox and Sprint, and Cox never consented to an assignment. T-Mobile filed a compulsory counterclaim for breach of contract. In support of this claim, T-Mobile offered that Section 9(e) meant that, although Cox was not obligated to provide wireless mobile services, if it wished to do so, it had to first enter into an exclusive provider agreement with T-Mobile as the conceded successor-in-interest to Sprint. For T-Mobile, the failure of the parties’ attempt to negotiate the definitive terms of the agreement meant that Cox could not enter the wireless mobile market at all. The Court of Chancery agreed with T-Mobile and permanently enjoined Cox from “partnering with any mobile network operator other than T-Mobile to provide Wireless Mobile Service before entering into an agreement with T-Mobile. The Delaware Supreme Court disagreed with the Court of Chancery, finding the Settlement Agreement was a Type II preliminary agreement that obligates the parties to negotiate open items in good faith. The judgment was reversed, the injunction vacated, and the matter remanded so that the Court of Chancery could determine whether Cox and T-Mobile discharged their obligations to negotiate in good faith. View "Cox Communications, Inc. v. T-Mobile US, Inc." on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from a dispute over a Stock Purchase Agreement (“SPA”) formed between Valley Joist BD Holdings, LLC (“VJ Holdings”) and EBSCO, Industries Inc. (“EBSCO”). In December 2017, EBSCO sold all of its stock in Valley Joist, Inc. to VJ Holdings. After closing, VJ Holdings discovered structural defects in one of the buildings acquired as part of the transaction. In July 2018, VJ Holdings sought indemnification from EBSCO through the procedure outlined in the SPA. Two years after receiving no response to the notice, VJ Holdings filed suit in the Superior Court for breach of contract and fraud in the inducement. The Superior Court granted EBSCO’s motion to dismiss the fraud claim for failure to plead sufficient facts to satisfy Superior Court Civil Rule 9(b). The court also dismissed the breach of contract claim as barred under the SPA’s one-year contractual statute of limitations. VJ Holdings appealed: (1) challenging whether it pled sufficient facts to show pre-closing knowledge of fraud; and (2) challenged whether the Superior Court properly relied on a bootstrapping doctrine to dismiss the fraud claim. The Delaware Supreme Court reversed, finding that the allegations in the complaint, when viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, lead to a reasonable inference that EBSCO knew of the structural defects in the building at the time of closing the SPA, contrary to its representation in the SPA that the building was in good operating condition and repair. As for the bootstrapping argument, the Supreme Court determined the Superior Court did not rely on a bootstrapping doctrine to dismiss the fraud claim. View "Valley Joist BD Holdings, LLC v. EBSCO Industries, Inc." on Justia Law

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MAPS Hotel and Resorts One LLC (the “Buyer”) agreed to purchase fifteen hotel properties from AB Stable VIII LLC (the “Seller”) for $5.8 billion. In response to the pandemic and without securing the Buyer’s consent, the Seller made drastic changes to its hotel operations, due in part to the damage the pandemic inflicted on the hospitality industry. The transaction was also plagued by problems with fraudulent deeds covering some of the hotel properties. The Buyer eventually called off the deal, relying on the Seller’s failure to comply with the sale agreement. The Seller sued in the Delaware Court of Chancery to require the Buyer to complete the transaction. The Court of Chancery concluded that the Buyer could terminate the sale agreement because the Seller breached a covenant and a condition in the sale agreement. According to the court, the Seller violated the ordinary course covenant by failing to operate in the ordinary course of its business - closing hotels, laying off or furloughing thousands of employees, and implementing other drastic changes to its business - without the Buyer’s consent. Additionally, a condition requiring title insurance for the hotel properties failed because the title insurers’ commitment letters had a broad exception covering the fraudulent deeds, and the Buyer did not cause the failure. On appeal, the Seller argued it satisfied the Ordinary Course Covenant because the covenant did not preclude it from taking reasonable, industry-standard steps in response to the pandemic; the court’s ruling negated the parties’ allocation of pandemic risk to the Buyer through the Material Adverse Effect provision; and its breach of the notice requirement in the covenant was immaterial. The Seller also claimed the Court of Chancery gave too expansive a reading to the exception in the title insurance condition, or, alternatively, that the court incorrectly found that the Buyer did not contribute materially to its breach. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Chancery’s judgment, finding the court concluded correctly that the Seller’s drastic changes to its hotel operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic without first obtaining the Buyer’s consent breached the ordinary course covenant and excused the Buyer from closing. Because the Seller’s failure to comply with the ordinary course covenant was dispositive of the appeal, the Supreme Court did not reach whether the Seller also breached the title insurance condition. View "AB Stable VIII LLC v. Maps Hotels and Resorts One LLC" on Justia Law

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In 2001, Lavastone Capital LLC (Lavastone) entered into an agreement with Coventry First LLC (Coventry) to purchase “life settlements” – life-insurance policies sold on the secondary market. One was that of Beverly Berland. Lincoln Financial (Lincoln) issued the policy to Berland in 2006. But Berland did not act alone in acquiring it. A few months before, she approached a business called “Simba.” As Simba pitched it, the transaction allowed clients to “create dollars today by using a paper asset, (a life insurance policy not yet issued from a major insurance carrier insuring your life)” by selling it on the secondary market. Clients did not need to put up any money upfront. Instead, they got nonrecourse loans to finance the transactions, which allowed them to make all necessary payments without tapping into personal funds. The only collateral for the loan was the life-insurance policy itself. Berland agreed to participate in several transactions with Simba, profiting greatly. Lavastone kept the policy in force, paying all relevant premiums to Lincoln Financial. Upon Berland’s death more than seven years later, Lincoln paid Lavastone $5,041,032.06 in death benefits under the policy. In December 2018, Berland’s estate filed a complaint against Lavastone in the District Court, seeking to recover the death benefits that Lavastone received under 18 Del C. 2704(b). In 2020, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. In 2021, the District Court certified the three questions of law to the Delaware Supreme Court. The Supreme Court responded: (1) a death-benefit payment made on a policy that is void ab initio under 18 Del. C. 2704(a) and PHL Variable Insurance Co. v. Price Dawe 2006 Insurance Trust was made “under [a] contract” within the meaning of 18 Del. C. 2704(b); (2) so long as the use of nonrecourse funding did not allow the insured or his or her trust to obtain the policy “without actually paying the premiums” and the insured or his or her trust procured or effected the policy in good faith, for a lawful insurance purpose, and not as a cover for a wagering contract; and (3) an estate could profit under 18 Del. C. 2704(b) where the policy was procured in part by fraud on the part of the decedent and the decedent profited from the previous sale of the policy, if the recipient of the policy benefits cannot establish that it was a victim of the fraud. View "Lavastone Capital LLC v. Estate of Beverly E. Berland" on Justia Law

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Appellant, Concerned Citizens of the Estates of Fairway Village, was an unincorporated association composed of people who own property in Fairway Village (the “Community”), a planned residential community located in Ocean View, Delaware. Appellants Julius and Peggy Solomon, Edward Leary, Kenneth and Denise Smith, and Terry and Carmela Thornes (collectively, the “Homeowners”) owned properties in the Community and were members of Concerned Citizens of the Estates of Fairway Village. Appellee Fairway Cap, LLC was the Community's developer. Demand for vacant townhomes in the Community was weaker than the developers expected. In the winter of 2016, Fairway Cap, LLC hired a real estate consultant who recommended converting unsold townhome lots into a rental community. Fairway Cap, LLC accepted the advice, secured funding, and began working on the rental properties. Appellee Fairway Village Construction, Inc. was an entity involved in the construction. The Homeowners discovered the plan after seeing an advertisement for “The Reserve at Fairway Village,” a forthcoming rental community. The Homeowners raised various objections to the rental community, including that the proposed units did not conform with existing dwellings and would lower property values. The Town of Ocean View and Fairway Cap, LLC rejected all the objections, concluding that the planned construction complied with the housing code and was allowed under the Community’s governing documents. This appeal presented two questions for the Delaware Supreme Court's review: (1) whether the Court of Chancery erred by holding that the Community’s governing documents allowed the developer to build rental properties; and (2) whether the Court of Chancery erred by awarding damages for a wrongful injunction after releasing the bond posted with the court. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Chancery's judgment. View "Concerned Citizens of the Estates of Fairway Village v. Fairway Cap" on Justia Law

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GXP Capital, LLC filed two lawsuits against defendants in different federal courts. GXP alleged defendants violated non-disclosure agreements by using confidential information to buy key assets at bargain prices from GXP’s parent company. Those cases were dismissed for lack of personal and subject matter jurisdiction. GXP then filed a third suit in Delaware Superior Court, which stayed the case on forum non conveniens grounds to allow GXP to file the same case in California state court - a forum the court decided had a greater connection to the dispute and was more convenient for the parties. On appeal GXP argued: (1) the Superior Court did not apply the correct forum non conveniens analysis when Delaware was not the first-filed action, the prior-filed lawsuits have been dismissed, and no litigation was pending in another forum; and (2) defendants waived any inconvenience objections in Delaware under the forum selection clause in their non-disclosure agreements. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed, finding the trial court properly exercised its discretion in this case’s procedural posture to stay the Delaware case in lieu of dismissal when another forum with jurisdiction existed and that forum was the more convenient forum to resolve the dispute. “And certain of the defendants’ consent to non-exclusive jurisdiction in California did not waive their right to object to venue in other jurisdictions, including Delaware.” View "GXP Capital v. Argonaut Manufacturing Services, et al" on Justia Law

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In 2014, appellant and cross-appellee LCT Capital, LLC (“LCT”) helped appellee and cross-appellants NGL Energy Partners, LP and NGL Energy Holdings LLC (collectively, “NGL”) acquire TransMontaigne, a refined petroleum products distributor. LCT played an "unusually" valuable role in the transaction. The transaction generated $500 million in value for NGL, more than double the $200 million price that NGL paid to acquire TransMontaigne. NGL’s CEO Mike Krimbill represented on several occasions that LCT would receive an unusually large investment banking fee, but the parties failed to reach an agreement on all of the material terms. After negotiations broke down completely, LCT filed suit seeking compensation for its work under several theories, including quantum meruit and common law fraud. At trial, LCT presented a unitary theory of damages that focused on the value of the services that it provided, measured by the fee that Krimbill proposed for LCT’s work. Nonetheless, the jury verdict sheet had two separate lines for damages awards, one for the quantum meruit claim and another for the fraud claim. The jury found NGL liable for both counts, awarded LCT an amount of quantum meruit damages equal to a standard investment banking fee, and awarded LCT a much larger amount of fraud damages approximately equal to the unusually large fee that Krimbill proposed. Following post-trial briefing, the superior court set aside the jury’s awards and ordered a new trial on damages. LCT and NGL both filed interlocutory appeals of the superior court’s order. On appeal, LCT argued that benefit-of-the-bargain damages were available without an enforceable contract. On cross-appeal, NGL argued the superior court erred by ordering a new trial on damages because the jury’s quantum meruit award fully compensated LCT for its harm. NGL also argued it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the fraud claim. Finally, NGL argued the superior court provided the jury with erroneous fraudulent misrepresentation jury instructions. After review, the Delaware Supreme Court found LCT was not entitled to benefit-of-the-bargain damages and that the Superior Court did not abuse its discretion by ordering a new trial on quantum meruit damages. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court also held the superior court abused its discretion by ordering a new trial on fraud damages because LCT did not assert any independent damages to support its fraud claim. Accordingly, the Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the superior court’s judgment. View "LCT Capital, LLC v. NGL Energy Partners LP" on Justia Law