Tagged: Chancery Practice

Delaware’s “Freedom of Contract” Approach to Non-Compete Agreements – Even Between Sophisticated Parties in the Sale-of-Business Context – Has Its Limits

Non-compete agreements have recently gained a new round of attention with the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) proposed rule that would effectively ban employers from imposing non-competes (albeit not in certain sale-of-business scenarios). While lawyers and businesses wait to see whether the FTC rule materializes, the nation’s most prominent business court – the Delaware Court of Chancery – recently issued two decisions demonstrating limits to its contractarian approach to restrictive covenants. Interestingly, both cases arose in the sale-of-business context, in which the court has traditionally enforced relatively broad restrictive covenants negotiated by sophisticated parties. In HighTower Holding, LLC v. Gibson (Vice Chancellor Will, Feb. 9, 2023), the court refused to enforce the parties’ Delaware governing-law provision and, instead, after performing a choice-of-law analysis, applied Alabama law to invalidate the non-compete. In Intertek Testing Services NA, Inc. v. Eastman (Vice Chancellor Will, Mar. 16, 2023), the court found a non-compete provision that prohibited the defendant from competing “anywhere in the world” to be unreasonably broad and, therefore, unenforceable. Delaware governing law provision rejected HighTower Holding, LLC v. Gibson. HighTower, a Delaware limited liability company, purchased a majority interest in an Alabama-based wealth advisory firm owned by Gibson, a licensed financial advisor, and other individuals. As part of the sale, Gibson and his former partners signed a protective agreement...

Third Circuit Permits Extra-Strong Restrictive Covenants for Extra-Good Employees

In a recent “precedential” opinion, the Third Circuit, applying New Jersey law, approved an employer’s use of an additional, extra-stringent restrictive covenant for its high-performing salespeople, subject to careful blue lining by the court to ensure that the covenant does not create an unreasonable burden for the employees. ADP, LLC, the well-known provider of payroll and other human resources services, required its new sales employees, as a condition of employment, to sign a Sales Representative Agreement and a Non-Disclosure Agreement. Together, the two agreements essentially prohibited the employee, for one year after the termination of employment, from soliciting ADP customers “with which the Employee was involved or exposed” while employed at ADP. Once employed, ADP’s sales staff could earn stock awards by meeting certain sales targets. But to receive an award, the employee had to sign a third agreement, a Restrictive Covenant Agreement, which imposed still more post-employment restrictions on the employee. Among other things, the Restrictive Covenant Agreement essentially prohibited the employee for two years after termination from soliciting all current and prospective ADP customers, whether or not the employee was “involved or exposed” to the customer while employed by ADP. The Restrictive Covenant Agreement also contained a geographic restriction, which essentially prohibited the employee from competing against ADP in the same geographic area...

Delaware Supreme Court Orders Production of Emails in Response to Section 220 Demand and Refuses to Restrict Knock-On Litigation to Delaware

In KT4 Partners LLC v. Palantir Technologies Inc., the Delaware Supreme Court required a corporation to produce emails in response to a “books and records” demand under 8 Del. C. §220; it also refused to limit any knock-on litigation on the merits to the Delaware Court of Chancery. KT4 is a stockholder in Palantir and received certain rights under a series of Investor Rights Agreements and a First Refusal and Co-Sale Agreement. After a falling out between KT4 and Palantir’s management, Palantir amended the Investor Rights Agreement in ways detrimental to KT4. KT4 responded with a request to inspect Palantir’s “books and records” pursuant to 8 Del. C. §220, which entitles a stockholder to inspect a corporation’s “books and records” if, and to the extent that, the requested inspection “is for a proper purpose.” Palantir refused to comply, and KT4 filed a §220 action in the Delaware Court of Chancery to compel production of the requested documents. The Court of Chancery ruled that KT4 had a statutory “proper purpose” of investigating three areas of potential corporate wrongdoing: 1) Palantir’s failure to hold stockholder meetings, 2) Palantir’s amendment of the Investor Rights Agreement, and 3) Palantir’s potential breach of the Investor Rights and Co-Sale Agreements. The Court of Chancery further held that KT4 was “entitled to...

New Jersey Chancery Division Adopts Watered-Down Trulia Standard and Approves Disclosure-Only Settlement of Merger Litigation

Nearly three years ago, the Delaware Court of Chancery issued its landmark opinion in In re Trulia, Inc. Stockholder Litigation, in which Chancellor Bouchard strongly criticized the use of disclosure-only settlements in class-action merger challenges and subjected such settlements to a heightened level of judicial review. In a disclosure-only settlement the merging parties agree to enhance their disclosures about the challenged merger in exchange for a broad release from a settlement class comprised of their shareholders. According to Chancellor Bouchard, all too often the enhanced disclosures in such settlements provide little, if any, value to the shareholders, while class counsel get large fee awards and the corporations get “deal insurance” because their shareholders have released them and their boards from liability arising from the transaction. Because disclosure-only settlements so rarely give meaningful relief to the shareholders, Chancellor Bouchard held that a court should approve them only if “the supplemental disclosures address a plainly material misrepresentation or omission[] and the subject matter of the proposed release is narrowly circumscribed.” In the first published New Jersey state court opinion addressing the Trulia standard, the Chancery Division in Strougo v. Ocean Shore Holding Co. followed Trulia in holding that disclosure-only settlements are to be subject to “more exacting scrutiny,” but it is doubtful that the Chancery Division scrutinized the...

Delaware Chancery Court Rejects Appraisal Rights for Stockholders Who Relinquish Control of their Corporation Through Merger Involving a Special Merger Subsidiary

Delaware law generally grants appraisal rights to shareholders of corporations involved in statutory mergers or consolidations. But, what are the rights of shareholders when control of their corporation is relinquished through a merger between a specially-created merger subsidiary and another corporation? According to Chancellor Bouchard’s recent opinion, the shareholders have no appraisal rights because they do not own shares in a “constituent corporation in the merger.” Chancellor Bouchard also found that the shareholders are not entitled to appraisal rights because they will retain their shares in the parent corporation in the contemplated transaction. Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, Inc., a publicly-traded corporation, and Keurig Green Mountain, Inc., a privately-held corporation, wanted to combine their businesses. They therefore agreed to a so-called reverse triangular merger, pursuant to which (1) Dr. Pepper will create a new subsidiary, (2) that subsidiary will be merged into Keurig’s owner, Maple Parent Holdings Corp., and (3) Maple Parent will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Dr. Pepper. In addition, Maple Parent will pay a $9 billion dividend to Dr. Pepper and receive enough shares in Dr. Pepper to give it a controlling 87% share of Dr. Pepper’s common stock. Maple Parent’s $9 billion payment to Dr. Pepper will then be used to help finance special cash dividends of $103.75 per share to Dr....

Delaware Supreme Court Gives Preclusive Effect to Federal Court Dismissal of Derivative Suit for Failure to Show Demand Futility

In its highly anticipated opinion in California State Teachers’ Retirement System v. Alvarez, the Delaware Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the dismissal of a group of Delaware shareholders’ derivative actions, holding that a previous dismissal by a federal court for failure to plead demand futility precluded other shareholders from pursuing additional derivative actions so long as the other shareholders were adequately represented in the earlier suit. Following the New York Times 2012 exposure of Wal-Mart executives’ alleged mishandling of bribery allegations, Wal-Mart shareholders brought derivative suits in the Western District of Arkansas and the Delaware Court of Chancery. In May 2015, the Arkansas court dismissed the case before it, because the shareholders had failed to adequately plead demand futility. Prompted by the Arkansas dismissal, the Delaware Court of Chancery initially dismissed the Delaware action, but, after some ping-ponging back and forth between the Court of Chancery and the Delaware Supreme Court, the Court of Chancery issued a supplemental opinion, recommending that the Supreme Court adopt a rule proposed in EZCORP Inc. Consulting Agreement Deriv. Litig., which held that constitutional Due Process permits a derivative suit to have a preclusive effect on a subsequent derivative suit only if the plaintiff in the first suit has been authorized by the corporation to pursue the litigation, either by express authorization...

Delaware Supreme Court Clarifies Reach of Personal Jurisdiction Over Nonresident Directors and Officers of Delaware Corporations Under 10 Del. C. § 3114

The Delaware Supreme Court, in Marc Hazout v. Tsang Mun Ting, No. 353, 2015 (Feb. 26, 2016) (Strine, C.J.), held that the reach of personal jurisdiction under 10 Del. C. § 3114 over nonresident officers and directors of Delaware corporations, contrary to Court of Chancery precedent, is not limited to claims by stockholders against such officers and directors for breach of fiduciary duty. Rather, under the plain language of the statute, a nonresident officer or director of a Delaware corporation, by virtue of accepting and holding office, has consented to personal jurisdiction in Delaware, subject to the requirements of due process, in two classes of cases: (i) “all civil actions or proceedings brought in this State, by or on behalf of, or against such corporation, in which such officer [or director] is a necessary or proper party”; or (ii) “any action or proceeding against such officer [or director] in violation of a duty in such capacity.”

What is the Status Quo? How Waste Management Changed the Game in Obtaining Injunctive Relief

On December 16, 2013, in a published decision, the New Jersey Appellate Division in Waste Management of New Jersey, Inc. v. Morris County Municipal Utilities Authority clarified the standard governing interlocutory injunctions in New Jersey state courts. The court held that a trial judge’s denial of an interlocutory injunction based solely on the determination that the plaintiffs were not likely to succeed on the merits constituted reversible error because “the judge mistakenly overlooked his authority to impose interlocutory relief to preserve the parties’ positions and subject matter of the suit[.]” Stated otherwise, Waste Management holds that one can obtain an injunction preserving the status quo even where he or she cannot show a likelihood of success on the merits.

Delaware Court of Chancery Announces Rule Amendments and New “Must Read” E-Discovery Guidelines

Effective January 1, 2013, the Delaware Court of Chancery Rules 26 (General provisions concerning discovery), 30 (Depositions upon oral examination), 34 (Production of documents) and 45 (Subpoenas) were amended, consistent with similar amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, to refer to discovery of “electronically stored information” (“ESI”) in addition to “documents” and “tangible things” and explain how parties are to respond to requests for ESI.

New Jersey Chancery Division Determines Insurance Agents are Not Franchises for Purposes of the New Jersey Franchise Practices Act

New Jersey insurers and insurance agents must be aware that agents are not entitled to the broad protections of the New Jersey Franchise Practices Act (“NJFPA”) pursuant to a recent Chancery Division decision in DeLuca v. Allstate Insurance Co., in which the Court held that insurance agents do not meet the definition of a “franchise.” The Court thus concluded that Allstate Insurance Company was free to terminate its agents pursuant to the terms of their respective agency agreements, which permitted termination with or without cause.