Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
An excess insurer under a directors’ and officers’ liability insurance policy sought a declaration from the superior court that coverage under the policy was not available to fund the settlement of two lawsuits: a breach of fiduciary duty action in the Court of Chancery, and a federal securities action in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware. In a series of decisions, the superior court rejected the insurer’s claims and entered judgment in favor of the insureds. Aggrieved, the insurer contended the superior court committed several errors: whether the insurance policy, which insured a Delaware corporation and its directors and officers but which was negotiated and issued in California, should have been interpreted under Delaware law; whether the policy, to the extent that it appeared to cover losses occasioned by one of the insureds’ fraud, was unenforceable as contrary to the public policy of Delaware; whether a policy provision that excluded coverage for fraudulent actions defeats coverage; and whether the superior court properly applied the policy’s allocation provision. Finding no reversible error, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the superior court. View "RSUI Indemnity Co. v. Murdock, et al." on Justia Law

by
Glaxo Group Limited and Human Genome Sciences, Inc. (collectively, “GSK”) owned patents covering Benlysta, a lupus treatment drug. GSK filed a patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”) claiming a method for treating lupus. Biogen Idec MA Inc. (“Biogen”) held an issued patent covering a similar method for treating lupus. When parties dispute who was first to discover an invention, the PTO declares an interference. Rather than suffer the delay and uncertainty of an interference proceeding, the parties agreed to settle their differences through a patent license and settlement agreement (“Agreement”). GSK ended up with its issued patent. The PTO cancelled Biogen’s patent, and Biogen received upfront and milestone payments and ongoing royalties for Benlysta sales. Under the Agreement GSK agreed to make royalty payments to Biogen until the expiration of the last “Valid Claim” of certain patents, including the lupus treatment patent. The Agreement defined a Valid Claim as an unexpired patent claim that has not, among other things, been “disclaimed” by GSK. GSK paid Biogen royalties on Benlysta sales. After Biogen assigned the Agreement to DRIT LP - an entity that purchased intellectual property royalty streams - GSK filed a statutory disclaimer that disclaimed the patent and all its claims. GSK notified DRIT that there were no longer any Valid Claims under the Agreement and stopped paying royalties on Benlysta sales. DRIT sued GSK in the Superior Court for breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing for failing to pay royalties under the Agreement. The court dismissed DRIT’s breach of contract claim but allowed the implied covenant claim to go to a jury trial. The jury found for DRIT, and the court awarded damages. On appeal, GSK argued the superior court should have granted it judgment as a matter of law on the implied covenant claim. On cross-appeal, DRIT claimed that, if the Court reversed the jury verdict on the implied covenant claim, it should reverse the superior court’s ruling dismissing the breach of contract claim. The Delaware Supreme Court found the superior court properly dismissed DRIT’s breach of contract claim, but should have granted GSK judgment as a matter of law on the implied covenant claim. Thus, the superior court's judgment was reversed. View "Glaxo Group Limited, et al. v. DRIT LP" on Justia Law

by
United BioSource LLC (“UBC”), a subsidiary of Express Scripts, Inc. (“ESI”) agreed to sell three of UBC’s pharmaceutical research and development businesses to Bracket Holding Corp. (“Bracket”), a holding company formed by Parthenon Capital Partners, LP (“Parthenon”). In August 2013, Bracket and UBC signed a $187 million securities purchase agreement (“SPA”). Except for claims involving deliberate fraud and certain fundamental representations, Bracket agreed to limit its remedy for breach of the SPA’s representations and warranties to an insurance policy (the “R&W Policy”) purchased to cover these claims. After closing, Bracket claimed that ESI and UBC engaged in fraud by inflating the revenue and working capital of one of the divisions of the acquired companies. In an arbitration proceeding Bracket recovered $13 million under the R&W Policy for breach of the SPA’s representations and warranties. Bracket then sued ESI and UBC for fraud in Delaware superior court. A jury awarded Bracket over $82 million. The parties appealed the jury verdict and judgment. After review, the Delaware Supreme Court found one issue dispositive: the SPA provided unambiguously that, except in the case of deliberate fraud and certain fundamental representations, Bracket could only recover up to the R&W Policy’s limits for breaches of the representations and warranties. Over ESI’s objection, however, the superior court instructed the jury that it could find for Bracket not only for deliberate fraud, but also for recklessness. "A deliberate state of mind is a different kettle of fish than a reckless one." The Supreme Court determined the superior court’s erroneous jury instruction was not harmless: it violated a key provision of the SPA and how the parties allocated risk in the transaction. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the superior court’s judgment and remanded for a new trial. View "Express Scripts, Inc. v. Bracket Holdings Corp" on Justia Law

by
In 2010, Appellants Meso Scale Diagnostics, LLC and Meso Scale Technologies, LLC (collectively “Meso”) filed suit in Delaware against Appellee entities Roche Diagnostics GmbH, Roche Diagnostics Corp., Roche Holding Ltd., IGEN LS LLC, Lilli Acquisition Corp., IGEN International, Inc., and Bioveris Corp. (collectively “Roche”), all of which were affiliates or subsidiaries of the F. Hoffmann -- La Roche, Ltd. family of pharmaceutical and diagnostics companies. Meso alleged two counts of breach of contract. Roche prevailed at trial, and the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the judgment in 2014. Then in 2019, Meso brought a new action asking the court to reopen the case, vacate the judgment entered after trial, and order a new trial. Meso alleged that the Vice Chancellor who decided its case four years earlier had an undisclosed disabling conflict, namely, that Roche’s counsel had been simultaneously representing him in an unrelated federal suit challenging the constitutionality of Delaware’s law providing for confidential business arbitration in the Court of Chancery (“Section 349”). In that federal litigation, which ended in 2014, the Chancellor and Vice Chancellors of the Court of Chancery, as the parties responsible for implementing the challenged statute, were nominal defendants. The Court of Chancery denied relief and dismissed the action. Meso appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed dismissal. View "Meso Scale Diagnostics, LLC v. Roche Diagnostics GMBH" on Justia Law

by
The issue this case presented was a legal negligence case arising from the preparation of a premarital agreement. Plaintiff-Appellant Dean Sherman, appealed the Superior Court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendant-Appellee Stephen P. Ellis, Esquire. The appeal presented two issues: (1) whether the traditional “but for” test for proximate cause applied in a “transactional” legal negligence case, or whether it is sufficient that the alleged negligence creates an increased risk of future damages; and (2) whether the evidence satisfied the summary judgment requirement that there be no genuine issue as to any material fact. As to the first issue, the Delaware Supreme Court concluded the traditional “but for” test, not a risk of future damages test, was the appropriate test for determining proximate cause. As to the second issue, the Court concluded the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to Mr. Sherman, raised a genuine issue of material fact and that summary judgment should have been denied. In light of the Court's second conclusion, the Superior Court's judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Sherman v. Ellis" on Justia Law

by
In 2010, Appellants Meso Scale Diagnostics, LLC and Meso Scale Technologies, LLC (collectively “Meso”) filed suit in the Delaware Court of Chancery against Appellee entities Roche Diagnostics GmbH, Roche Diagnostics Corp., Roche Holding Ltd., IGEN LS LLC, Lilli Acquisition Corp., IGEN International, Inc., and Bioveris Corp. (collectively “Roche”), all of which were affiliates or subsidiaries of the F. Hoffmann -- La Roche, Ltd. family of pharmaceutical and diagnostics companies. Meso alleged two counts of breach of contract. Roche prevailed at trial, and the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the judgment in 2014. In 2019, Meso brought a new action asking the court to reopen the case, vacate the judgment entered after trial, and order a new trial. Meso alleged that the Vice Chancellor who decided its case four years earlier had an undisclosed disabling conflict, namely, that Roche’s counsel had been simultaneously representing him in an unrelated federal suit challenging the constitutionality of Delaware’s law providing for confidential business arbitration in the Court of Chancery, 10 Del. C. 349. In that federal litigation, which ended in 2014, the Chancellor and Vice Chancellors of the Court of Chancery, as the parties responsible for implementing the challenged statute, were nominal defendants (hereinafter, the “Judicial Officers”). The Court of Chancery denied relief and dismissed the action. Meso appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Chancery. View "Meso Scale Diagnostics, LLC v. Roche Diagnostics GMBH" on Justia Law