Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court

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CompoSecure, L.L.C., a manufacturer of metal credit cards, sought to invalidate the Sales Representative Agreement (the “Sales Agreement”) it signed with CardUX, LLC. The Delaware Court of Chancery held in a February 2018 post-trial decision that the Sales Agreement had not been properly approved under CompoSecure’s Amended and Restated Limited Liability Company Agreement, but that CompoSecure had impliedly ratified the Sales Agreement by its conduct. CompoSecure appealed. In a November 2018 opinion, the Delaware Supreme Court agreed with the trial court’s analysis as far as it went, but remanded to the trial court to answer a potentially outcome-determinative question that it had not answered: whether the Sales Agreement was a “Restricted Activity” under the LLC Agreement. If it was a Restricted Activity, the Supreme Court noted that the Sales Agreement would have been void and unenforceable. In its report on remand, the Court of Chancery held that the Sales Agreement was not a Restricted Activity, and thus, the Sales Agreement was not void. The Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Chancery’s conclusions, and affirmed. View "Composecure, L.L.C. v. Cardux, LLC f/k/a Affluent Card, LLC" on Justia Law

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Robert Nederlander, Sr. (“Robert”) controlled Nederlander of San Francisco Associates (“Nederlander”), a California general partnership. Carole Shorenstein Hays (“Carole”) and her family controlled CSH Theatres L.L.C. (“CSH”), a Delaware LLC. Nederlander and CSH each owned a fifty-percent membership interest in Shorenstein Hays-Nederlander Theatres LLC (“SHN”), a Delaware LLC that operated theaters in San Francisco under SHN’s Plan of Conversion and Operating Agreement of the Company (the “LLC Agreement”). In 2010, CSH Curran LLC, an entity that Carole co-managed, purchased the Curran Theatre in San Francisco (the “Curran”). SHN had been operating under a lease from the Curran’s then-owners, the Lurie Company, since the beginning of the partnership. Carole and her husband, Dr. Jeffrey Hays (“Jeff”) (collectively, the “Hayses”), did not extend that lease with SHN when it expired in 2014. Thereafter, the Hayses began staging productions at the Curran. In February 2014, CSH sued Nederlander in the Delaware Court of Chancery for a declaratory judgment that it had no legal obligation to renew the Curran lease. In September 2018, Nederlander sought a preliminary injunction against CSH and the Hayes to prevent them from staging two theatrical productions at the Curran (the “PI Action”). In the PI Action, Nederlander asserted four counts, but focused its injunction efforts on Count I, which asserted breach of contract claims (based upon the “provisions of Section 7.02 of the LLC Agreement or the contractual fiduciary duties owed to SHN and its members under the LLC Agreement) against all defendants in that action. The trial court denied that motion and shortly thereafter entered a partial final judgment as to Count I of Nederlander’s Complaint, pursuant to Court of Chancery Rule 54(b), to allow for an immediate appeal of the PI Decision. Nederlander argued on appeal that the trial court erred in the Declaratory Judgment Action by refusing to enforce Section 7.02(a) of the LLC Agreement against the Hayses. The Delaware Supreme Court agreed with Nederlander that the Court of Chancery misinterpreted Section 7.02(a) and that the Hayses could not stage competitive productions (not falling within Section 7.02(b)’s exceptions) at the Curran that violated its contractual duty to maximize SHN’s economic success. Accordingly, the Court reversed that aspect of the trial court’s decision. Because Nederlander did not challenge the court’s rulings in the Declaratory Judgment Action as to damages and other forms of relief, the Supreme Court declined to remand that action. Further, in view of the reversal of the trial court’s interpretation of Section 7.02(a) in the Declaratory Judgment Action, the Supreme Court ordered remand of the PI Action for further proceedings. The Court found no error with any other aspect of the trial court’s decisions. View "In Re: Shorenstein Hays-Nederlander Theatres LLC Appeals" on Justia Law

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In 2008, Invenergy Wind LLC, a wind energy developer, was raising money for a Series B investment round, and Leaf Clean Energy Company (“Leaf Parent”), an investment fund, expressed interest. After extensive negotiations, Leaf Parent invested $30 million in Invenergy Series B notes through a vehicle called Leaf Invenergy Company (“Leaf”). The agreement governing the Series B notes gave noteholders such as Leaf the right to convert to equity and incorporated an LLC agreement that the noteholders and Invenergy would execute upon conversion. The Series B Note Agreement and the Series B LLCA also included provisions that prohibited Invenergy from conducting a “Material Partial Sale” without Leaf’s consent unless Invenergy paid Leaf a premium called a “Target Multiple.” Although the parties renegotiated several aspects of their agreements with one another over the next few years, the consent provisions persisted in substantially similar form into a Third Amended and Restated LLC Agreement, which was the operative agreement in this dispute. Leaf filed suit after Invenergy closed a $1.8 billion asset sale - a transaction that Invenergy conceded was a Material Partial Sale - without first obtaining Leaf’s consent or redeeming Leaf’s interest for the Target Multiple. After a trial, the Court of Chancery concluded that, although Invenergy had breached the Material Partial Sale consent provisions, Leaf was not entitled to the Target Multiple. The court then awarded only nominal damages because, according to the court, Invenergy had engaged in an “efficient breach.” The Court of Chancery directed the parties to complete a buyout of Leaf’s interests pursuant to another LLC Agreement provision that Invenergy had invoked after Leaf had filed suit. The Delaware Supreme Court disagreed with the Court of Chancery’s interpretation of the consent provision and its award of nominal damages and therefore reversed. Because Invenergy conducted a Material Partial Sale without Leaf’s consent and without paying Leaf the Target Multiple, Leaf was entitled to the Target Multiple as contractual damages. The Court awarded Leaf the Target Multiple in damages on condition that it surrenderd its membership interests in Invenergy. View "Leaf Invenergy Co. v. Invenergy Renewables LLC" on Justia Law

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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