Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
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A Delaware superior court held that Plaintiffs-Appellees-Cross-Appellants, two doctors who started a laboratory testing enterprise known as Bako Diagnostics (“Bako”), breached certain restrictive covenants when they left Bako to form a new, competing laboratory enterprise. Despite fee-shifting provisions in certain of the contracts, the trial court declined to award attorneys’ fees. The Delaware Supreme Court agreed with the superior court’s determinations that the two doctors breached certain of the restrictive covenants. But because it appeared that the superior court may have misapplied the formula that both sides employed for calculating damages, the Court remanded the case for the trial court to clarify how it derived its damages award and for any needed revisions. Further, the Supreme Court disagreed that no attorneys’ fees were warranted under certain of the contracts. View "Bako Pathology LP v. Bakotic" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was a breach-of-contract dispute involving a stock purchase agreement for the sale of all the shares of stock of International Specialty Products Inc. (“International Specialty”). The selling shareholders were nine trusts and RFH Investment Holdings LLC (the “Heyman Parties”). The purchaser was Appellee Ashland Inc., a leading global specialty chemical company. International Specialty had two wholly owned subsidiaries that went with the sale, Appellee ISP Environmental Services Inc. and Appellee Chemco LLC (“Chemco”). ISP Environmental owned a property known as the Linden property, which for years had been home to chemical manufacturing operations and had an extensive environmental history. As part of the transaction, the parties agreed that the Heyman Parties would keep the Linden property. At the time of closing on the Stock Purchase Agreement, ISP Environmental caused the Linden property to be transferred to Appellant Linden Property Holdings LLC, the Heyman Parties’ designated entity for that purpose. A dispute arose between the parties as to who was responsible for the Linden property’s pre-closing, environmental liabilities. The parties agreed the Heyman Parties assumed responsibility in the agreement for the environmental contamination on the property itself. They disagreed as to who was responsible for environmental contamination to areas that were not part of the Linden property but were contaminated because of the activities on the Linden property. Ashland claimed that under the agreement, the Heyman Parties were responsible for all of the liabilities. The Heyman Parties claimed they never assumed any liability in the agreement for the off-site liabilities. The Superior Court agreed with Ashland and found that the Heyman Parties assumed responsibility in the agreement for the Linden property’s off-site environmental liabilities. The Delaware Supreme Court concluded, however, that under the unambiguous language of the agreement, the Heyman Parties assumed liability only for the Linden property’s on-site environmental liabilities, and assumed no liability for the property’s off-site liabilities. View "The Samuel J. Heyman 1981 Continuing Trust for Lazarus S. Heyman v. Ashland LLC" on Justia Law

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The issue this appeal presented for the Delaware Supreme Court’s review asked for a determination of whether premiums paid on insurance policies declared void ab initio for lack of an insurable interest should be returned. Geronta Funding argued Delaware law required the automatic return of all premiums paid on the void policy. Brighthouse Life Insurance Company argued a party must prove entitlement to restitution. The trial court agreed with Brighthouse and relied on the Restatement (Second) of Contracts to determine whether Geronta was entitled to restitution. Specifically, the court held that Geronta could obtain restitution if it could prove excusable ignorance or that it was not equally at fault. Applying this test, the court ruled that Geronta was only entitled to the return of the premiums it paid after alerting Brighthouse to the void nature of the policy at issue. Geronta appealed this ruling, arguing that the court erred when it adopted the Restatement instead of automatically returning the premiums, erred in its actual application of the Restatement, even assuming that is the proper test, and erred by precluding certain testimony from Geronta witnesses. Because this was a matter of first impression, the Supreme Court adopted restitution under a fault-based analysis as framed by the Restatement as the test to determine whether premiums should be returned when a party presents a viable legal theory, such as unjust enrichment, and seeks the return of paid premiums as a remedy. The Court held, however, that despite applying the Restatement, the Superior Court’s application of the Restatement failed to account for the relevant questions encompassed by that approach. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s holdings regarding entitlement to premiums and remanded for further consideration, but found no fault in the Superior Court preclusion of certain testimony from Geronta’s witnesses. View "Geronta Funding v. Brighthouse Life Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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This appeal involved a breach of contract claim arising out of an indemnitee’s refusal to repay money advanced pursuant to an LLC Agreement. Under the Agreement, a Person was entitled to indemnification if the Person acted in good faith and in a manner believed to be in or not opposed to the best interests of the Company. The indemnification payments were further conditioned on the Person’s written undertaking to repay all amounts advanced under the LLC Agreement if it was later determined that the Person did not satisfy the standard of conduct, and thus, was not entitled to indemnification. New Wood Resources operated a plywood and veneer manufacturing facility in Mississippi known as Winston Plywood & Veneer LLC (“WPV”). Dr. Richard Baldwin (“Baldwin”) served as a manager of New Wood starting in September of 2013, and served as a member of New Wood’s Board of Managers. Baldwin was asked to invest in New Wood, and to oversee the revitalization of a newly acquired plywood mill in Louisville, Mississippi. The WPV manufacturing facility in Louisville had been dormant for years and was in need of repair. New Wood began to make repairs so that it could operate a mill. However, prior to the WPV facility’s completion, the facility was destroyed by an EF-4 tornado. WPV received funding from FEMA, and Baldwin took the lead role on behalf of New Wood to restore the WPV facility and transform it into a functioning and profitable plywood manufacturing facility. In 2016, just before the WPV mill was set to begin operations, Baldwin was terminated from his position as the President and General Manager of WPV. The Delaware Court addressed the narrow issue of whether the LLC Agreement pertinent here contained an implied covenant of good faith that would require the determination of a Person’s entitlement to indemnification to be made in good faith. After review of the Agreement, the Court held that it did. It therefore reversed and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Baldwin v. New Wood Resources LLC" on Justia Law

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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