Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court

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In early 2013, CITGO Petroleum Corp. Sunline Commercial Carriers, Inc., to ship its product through a Master Agreement, which was to be implemented by another agreement, a Term Agreement. The Master was set to expire on December 31, 2014, but could be terminated by either party on 60 days’ notice. The Term “remain[ed] in effect until the Master Agreement is expired or terminated” but also contained another sentence stating that it was a “1 Year agreement with a start date of April 1, 2013.” The Term required that CITGO ship a monthly minimum to Sunline, or compensate Sunline for failing to do so. Not long into their relationship, CITGO breached the agreement by failing to ship the monthly minimum, creating a “shortfall.” After breaching, CITGO used its leverage to obtain concessions that allowed it to make up the shortfall at the end of the parties’ contractual relationship. On March 31, 2014, CITGO sent Sunline a termination notice. Over the next two months, all of the Term Agreement’s specific provisions seemed to govern the parties’ relationship. During this time, CITGO shipped enough product to Sunline to meet its previously accrued shortfalls. But if the Term Agreement’s minimum monthly requirement remained in place, CITGO failed meet the minimum and generated additional shortfalls. At the end of May, CITGO stopped using Sunline to ship oil. Sunline sued and eventually moved for summary judgment, arguing that the Term Agreement remained in effect until May 31, 2014; CITGO was therefore still liable for the shortfalls generated before the termination notice; and CITGO generated shortfalls in April and May. In response, CITGO argued that the Term Agreement ended on March 31, 2014, the day CITGO sent its termination notice; that only the Master Agreement continued through May 31, 2014; and as a result, CITGO had no obligation to meet the Term Agreement’s minimum barrel requirements. The Superior Court held, as a matter of law, that the Term Agreement ended on March 31, 2014. Sunline appealed, arguing that the Superior Court’s contractual interpretation was inconsistent with the Term Agreement’s text, and that, in the alternative, the Term Agreement was ambiguous and parol evidence had to be considered. The Delaware Supreme Court reversed, finding the Term Agreement was meant to continue in force as long as the Master Agreement did. The Term Agreement contained conceivably conflicting terms, which could not be indisputably reconciled on the face of the contract, and was therefore ambiguous. The Court also reversed the Superior Court holding the oil shipped in April and May satisfied CITGO’s shortfall liability. The Superior Court failed to consider parol evidence because of its earlier finding that the Term Agreement expired, as a matter of law, on March 31, 2014. The parol evidence made summary judgment inappropriate as it supported the reasonableness of Sunline’s interpretation. View "Sunline Commercial Carriers, Inc. v. Citgo Petroleum Corporation" on Justia Law

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This appeal concerned a dispute over which party to a failed commercial real estate sale is entitled to the buyer’s deposit. The seller, 913 Market, LLC, claims that it was entitled to the deposit because the buyer failed to close the deal on the agreed date, and brought this action against the buyer claiming breach of contract and seeking a declaratory judgment regarding its rights under the purchase agreement. The buyer, Kamal Bathla, made two reasons why the deposit is rightfully his: (1) 913 Market could not convey title free and clear of all liens and encumbrances, as required by the purchase agreement, due to potential claims by a previous potential buyer of the building that had also failed to close; and (2) one of the conditions precedent was not satisfied because the title insurance commitment he received contained an exception, relating to litigation risk from the previous potential buyer, that did not exist in 913 Market’s existing title insurance policy. In either case, Bathla maintained, he was relieved of any obligation to close, and therefore had a right to get his money back. The Superior Court granted summary judgment for 913 Market. In rejecting Bathla’s first argument, the court reasoned that potential claims by the previous failed buyer did not cloud title because the previous buyer “had not perfected (nor did it seek to perfect) a lis pendens claim.” In rejecting Bathla’s second argument, the court read the purchase agreement as establishing a test based not on “what exceptions the Purchaser’s title insurance carrier might insist upon,” but rather on “whether Seller was able to convey satisfactory title, which it did.” The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s decision. "Contrary to Bathla’s exhortations, the mere possibility that a previous potential buyer who failed to close might later claim an interest in the building does not constitute a lien or encumbrance under the purchase agreement, and the condition precedent identified by Bathla does not require that he obtain a title commitment with exceptions that mirror those of 913 Market’s existing policy. And ultimately, the basic premise of Bathla’s case - that there was a genuine risk that the previous potential buyer would sue Bathla over the property - is implausible and does not provide a basis under the contract to avoid the obligation to close." View "Bathla v. 913 Market, LLC" on Justia Law

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Appellant CompoSecure, LLC. appealed a nearly $17 million Chancery Court judgment for past-due commissions, legal fees and expenses, pre-judgment interest, and contract damages arising out of a sales agreement with Appellee CardUX, LLC. On appeal, CompoSecure argued the Court of Chancery erred by holding: (1) the Sales Agreement was voidable, not void, under CompoSecure’s Amended and Restated Limited Liability Company Agreement; and (2) CompoSecure impliedly ratified the Sales Agreement. CardUX argued that, even if CompoSecure were correct, the Delaware Supreme Court should enforce the Sales Agreement based on a provision in the LLC Agreement that addresses reliance by third parties on certain company actions, or based upon quantum meruit. After review, the Supreme Court determined the trial court needed to determine whether the Sales Agreement was a “Restricted Activity” as that term was defined by the parties’ contract. The Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Chancery’s conclusions that: (1) the Related Party Provision (leaving aside the Restricted Activities Provision) rendered the Sales Agreement voidable, not void, and was therefore subject to equitable defenses; (2) the parties impliedly ratified the Sales Agreement under New Jersey law; and (3) the Third Party Reliance Provision did not save the Sales Agreement from a failure to comply with the Related Party or Restricted Activities Provisions. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded for further proceedings. View "Composecure, L.L.C. v. Cardux, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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After months of negotiations, the parties in this case signed versions of two transaction agreements: a limited liability company agreement, and a contribution and assignment agreement. However, a serious question existed as to whether the parties intended to be bound by these signed documents. And whether there exists a valid, binding contract implicated the other main issue raised on appeal—namely, whether the Delaware Supreme Court could exercise jurisdiction over the defendant. If at least one of these transaction documents was a valid, independently enforceable contract, then the Supreme Court had jurisdiction via a forum selection clause favoring Delaware. If neither document was independently enforceable, and if earlier agreements did not provide another means of exercising jurisdiction over the defendant, then Delaware courts lacked personal jurisdiction over the defendant, and the plaintiffs’ claims for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and other causes of action against the defendant were properly dismissed. The Court of Chancery determined that neither transaction document was enforceable, and dismissed the case for lack of personal jurisdiction, even after finding one of the parties in contempt of its status quo order. In this case, the Supreme Court found evidence within the four corners of the documents and other powerful, contemporaneous evidence, including the execution of the agreements, that suggested the parties intended to be bound. "But we acknowledge that there is also evidence that cuts the other way. Given that this is a question of fact, we remand to the Court of Chancery to make such a finding." If either document is enforceable, then the forum selection provisions were also enforceable. The Court of Chancery erred in finding that its jurisdiction to enforce the previously issued contempt order depended on the enforceability of the transaction documents. It had jurisdiction to enforce its order regardless of the transaction documents’ enforceability. View "Eagle Force Holdings, LLC, et al. v. Campbell" on Justia Law

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Alcon Laboratories Holding Corporation, a developer of artificial lenses, was exploring electroactive intraocular lens (“EAIOL”) that used electric power and changes in eye pupil size to “trigger” the focus of an artificial lens. Elenza, Inc. and Alcon decided to jointly pursue the technology, first by signing a Non-Disclosure Agreement (“NDA”), followed by a Stock Purchase Agreement (“SPA”). Unfortunately, the project fizzled after Elenza failed to meet development milestones in the SPA. Much to Elenza’s surprise, two years later, Alcon filed a patent application for an EAIOL and announced that it was working with Google, Inc. to develop an EAIOL. Elenza filed suit in Delaware, claiming Alcon breached its agreements with Elenza and misappropriated Elenza’s EAIOL trade secrets. Before trial, the Superior Court granted in part Alcon’s motion for summary judgment, finding that Elenza failed to support its trade secret claims. The court also limited Elenza’s damage claims. The contract claims went to trial, and a jury found against Elenza on all claims. On appeal, Elenza argued to the Delaware Supreme Court that the Superior Court erred when it granted summary judgment on its trade secret claims. According to Elenza, at the summary judgment stage, its trade secret disclosures were sufficient to prove that trade secrets existed and that Alcon used or disclosed those secrets in its later development efforts. The Supreme Court did not reach Elenza’s claim on appeal that it raised disputed factual issues about the existence of trade secrets because the Court agreed with the Superior Court that, at summary judgment, Elenza failed to support its claim that Alcon improperly used or disclosed any of Elenza’s alleged trade secrets. View "Elenza, Inc. v. Alcon Laboratories Holding Corporation, et al." on Justia Law

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When Exelon Generation Acquisitions purchased Deere & Company’s wind energy business, it agreed to make earn-out payments to Deere if it reached certain milestones in the development of three wind farms that were underway at the time of the sale. Included in the sale was a binding power purchase agreement Deere secured from a local utility to purchase energy from the wind farm once it became operational. One of the three projects at issue in this appeal, the Blissfield Wind Project (in Lenawee County, Michigan) could not come to fruition because of civic opposition. Exelon managed to acquire another nascent wind farm from a different developer (Gratiot County, Michigan). Exelon managed to persuade the local utility to transfer the power purchase agreement there. The Gratiot County site was successful. Deere learned of Exelon’s success with the new site (and use of the power purchase agreement) and sue to recover the earn-out payment. Deere argued the earn-out payment obligation traveled from the Lenawee County farm to the Gratiot County farm. Exelon denied that it relocated the project, instead, it was prevented from developing the Blissfield farm by forces beyond its control. The Superior Court sided with Deere’s interpretation of the power purchase agreement, and ordered Exelon to pay the earn-out. The Delaware Supreme Court disagreed with this interpretation of the purchase agreement and reversed. View "Exelon Generation Acquisitions, LLC v. Deere & Company" on Justia Law

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In 2011, Heartland Payment Systems, Inc. (“Heartland”), a credit card processing company, wanted to expand its school operations. To pursue this strategy, Heartland purchased some of the assets of School Link Technologies, Inc. (“SL-Tech”). SL-Tech marketed software products to schools to manage their foodservice operations. Through the purchase of SL-Tech, Heartland acquired WebSMARTT, a software program that allowed schools to monitor school meal nutrition through point of sale, free and reduced meal eligibility tracking, menu planning, nutrient analysis, and recordkeeping. It was intended that WebSMARTT and similar applications collect and use data collected through the programs to model the effect of menu plans on staffing, equipment, and other costs. The parties executed three contracts involving Heartland, SL-Tech, and SLTech’s CEO, Lawrence Goodman to create “inTEAM” the software to be built from the WebSMARTT technology. The contracts contained non-compete, non- solicitation, exclusivity, cross-marketing, and support obligations. The parties quickly lost sight of their post-closing contractual obligations: inTEAM developed the new software; Goodman tried to solicit one of Heartland’s customers. Heartland paired with one of inTEAM’s biggest competitors to submit a bid to provide software to the Texas Department of Agriculture. The disputes eventually found their way to the Court of Chancery through breach of contract claims and counterclaims. After trial, the Court of Chancery found inTEAM did not breach any of its contractual obligations, but Goodman and Heartland had breached certain of theirs. The Delaware Supreme Court reversed the Court of Chancery’s finding that Goodman and inTEAM did not breach their non-compete obligations under the various agreements, but otherwise affirmed the court’s decision. As for the remaining issues, the Court of Chancery properly found that Heartland breached its contractual obligations by collaborating with an inTEAM competitor, and Goodman breached by soliciting a customer of Heartland. The court also did not abuse its discretion when it required an extension of the non-competes and assessed damages against Goodman. The Supreme Court therefore affirmed in part and reversed the Court of Chancery’s decision. View "Heartland Payment Systems, LLC v. InTeam Associates LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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Chicago Bridge & Iron Company N.V. (“Chicago Bridge”) and Westinghouse Electric Company (“Westinghouse”) had an extensive collaboration and complicated commercial relationship involving the construction of nuclear power plants by Chicago Bridge’s subsidiary, CB&I Stone & Webster, Inc. (“Stone”). As delays and cost overruns mounted, this relationship became contentious. To resolve their differences, Chicago Bridge agreed to sell Stone to Westinghouse. The purchase agreement was unusual in a few key respects: (1) the purchase price at closing by Westinghouse was set in the contract at zero ; and (2) Westinghouse agreed that its sole remedy if Chicago Bridge breached its representations and warranties was to refuse to close, and that Chicago Bridge would have no liability for monetary damages post-closing (the “Liability Bar”). In contesting Chicago Bridge’s calculation of the Final Purchase Price, Westinghouse asserted that Chicago Bridge (which had been paid zero at closing and had invested approximately $1 billion in the plants in the six months leading to the December 31, 2015 closing) owed it nearly $2 billion. Westinghouse conceded the overwhelming percentage of its claims were based on the proposition that Chicago Bridge’s historical financial statements (the ones on which Westinghouse could make no post-closing claim) were not based on a proper application of generally accepted accounting principles (“GAAP”). Chicago Bridge and Westinghouse unsuccessfully attempted to resolve their differences. But, once it was clear that Westinghouse would seek to have the Independent Auditor review Chicago Bridge’s accounting practices, Chicago Bridge filed this action seeking a declaration that Westinghouse’s changes based on assertions that Stone’s financial statements and accounting methodologies were not GAAP compliant were not appropriate disputes for the Independent Auditor to resolve when those changes were, in essence, claims that Chicago Bridge breached the Purchase Agreement’s representations and warranties and therefore were foreclosed by the Liability Bar. Westinghouse moved for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that the Purchase Agreement established a mandatory process for resolving the parties’ disagreements. The Court of Chancery ruled in favor of Westinghouse, reading the process the Purchase Agreement set out for calculating certain payments (called the “True Up”) as providing Westinghouse with a wide-ranging right to challenge any accounting principle used by Chicago Bridge. The Delaware Supreme Court concluded the Court of Chancery erred in interpreting the Purchase Agreement this way. The Court therefore reversed and required entry of a judgment on the pleadings for Chicago Bridge. View "Chicago Bridge & Iron Company N.V. v. Westinghouse Electric Co." on Justia Law

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In 2003, Zubin Mehta and Gregory Shalov formed Finger Lakes Capital Partners as an investment vehicle to own several operating companies. Mehta and Shalov contacted Lyrical Partners L.P. to participate in their venture. The parties signed a term sheet covering their overall relationship, as well as topics relating to two specific investments. On the advice of counsel, Finger Lakes held each of its portfolio companies as separate limited liability companies with separate operating agreements. Over the course of a decade, the companies did not perform as expected. Finger Lakes asked Lyrical for additional capital. The parties agreed to allow Lyrical to “clawback” its investment money as added protection for its continued investment in the enterprise. Only one investment performed well and generated a substantial return when it was sold. The others failed or incurred substantial losses. The parties disagreed about how the proceeds from the one profitable investment should have been distributed under the network of agreements governing their business relationship. The Court of Chancery held that the proceeds should have been distributed first in accordance with the operating agreement governing the investment in the profitable portfolio company; the term sheet and clawback agreement would then be applied to reallocate the distribution under their terms. Finger Lakes argued on appeal that the profitable investment entity’s operating agreement superseded the overarching term sheet and clawback agreement; even if the clawback agreement was not superseded, the Court of Chancery applied it incorrectly; Lyrical could not recover its unpaid management fees through a setoff or recoupment; and, the Court of Chancery improperly limited Finger Lakes’ indemnification to expenses incurred until Finger Lakes was awarded a partial judgment on the pleadings, instead of awarding indemnification for all expenses related to these proceedings. With one exception, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Chancery’s judgment with respect to that court's interpretation of the operating agreements. The Supreme Court found, however, that the Court of Chancery erred when it held that Lyrical could use setoff or recoupment to recover time-barred management fees. Further, Lyrical could not assert its time-barred claims by way of recoupment because the defensive claims did not arise from the same transaction as Finger Lakes’ claims. View "Finger Lakes Capital Partners, LLC v. Honeoye Lake Acquisition, LLC" on Justia Law

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Appellant Greenville Country Club, through its workers’ compensation carrier, Guard Insurance (“Guard”), appealed a Superior Court Order affirming a decision of the Industrial Accident Board (the “Board”). While working for Greenville Country Club, Jordan Rash suffered injuries to his lumbar spine in two separately compensable work accidents. The first accident occurred in 2009 while the country club was insured by Guard Insurance Group. The second accident occurred in 2012 while the country club was insured by Technology Insurance (“Technology”). In 2014, Rash filed two Petitions to Determine Additional Compensation, one against Guard and one against Technology. After a hearing, the Board determined that the condition at issue was a recurrence of the 2009 work injury and not an aggravation of the 2012 work injury, and concluded that Guard was therefore wholly liable for the additional compensation to Rash. Guard appealed, arguing: (1) the Board failed to properly apply the rule for determining successive carrier liability; and (2) there was no substantial evidence to support the Board’s finding that Rash fully recovered from the 2012 accident or that his ongoing condition was solely caused by the 2009 work accident. After review, the Delaware Supreme Court found no error in the Board’s decision, and that the decision was supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Board's decision. View "Greenville Country Club (Guard Insurance) v. Greenville Country Club (Technology Insurance)" on Justia Law