Tagged: Delaware Law

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...

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...

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.”

Delaware Supreme Court Says that Minority Stockholder Which Manages Company’s Day-to-Day Affairs is not a “Controlling Stockholder” and Confirms that Mandatory Stockholder Approval of Merger Transaction Compels Application of Business Judgment Rule

The Delaware Supreme Court’s recent decision in Corwin v. KKR Financial Holdings LLC makes two important points about corporate governance litigation. First, the court rejected the novel argument that an owner of less than 1% of a company’s stock could be considered a “controlling stockholder” because it managed the company’s day-to-day affairs under a management agreement. Second, the court confirmed that when a transaction has been approved by a majority of the company’s disinterested stockholders, the highly deferential business judgment rule should govern any challenges to the transaction, even if the stockholder vote was statutorily required and not voluntary.

Board-Friendly Rales Test Determines Futility of Pre-Suit Demand When Challenged Decision Is Made by a Board Committee Comprised of a Minority of Board Members

Delaware courts have two tests for determining when it is futile for a plaintiff in a derivative action to make a pre-suit demand of the corporation’s board of directors under Court of Chancery Rule 23.1. The Aronson v. Lewis test applies when the board which would consider the demand made the business decision challenged in the derivative action. Under that test, demand is futile if (1) there is a reasonable doubt that the directors are disinterested and independent or (2) there is a reasonable doubt that the challenged transaction was otherwise the product of a valid exercise of business judgment.

Recent DGCL Sections Facilitate Ratification, Validation of Defective Corporate Acts; Minimal Reported Court Activity To Date But More Expected

It’s been more than a year since the Delaware General Corporation Law added sections 204 and 205, allowing boards of directors to ratify, or the Court of Chancery to validate, defective corporate acts, including the issuance of stock that did not fully comply with corporate formalities. The Delaware General Assembly’s unanimous adoption of sections 204 and 205 elevated substance over form by giving effect to corporate action that at all times was treated as validly authorized, even if the action was technically deficient.

Business Organizations Seeking Quick and Inexpensive Resolutions of Business Disputes Need to Know About Delaware’s Rapid Arbitration Act

Arbitration is supposed to achieve quick, fair, and inexpensive resolutions of business disputes. But, seemingly more often than not, arbitration fails to fulfill its promise due to expensive and time-consuming pre-hearing discovery, lengthy hearings, and spiraling judicial review of arbitral awards. The Delaware Rapid Arbitration Act, which became effective on May 4, 2015, is Delaware’s unique and cutting-edge effort to offer a new brand of arbitration designed to achieve the original promise of quick and efficient justice.

Third Circuit Holds Non-Signatories May Be Bound By Forum Selection Clause

In Carlyle Investment Management LLC v. Moonmouth Co., the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit concluded that a non-signatory to an agreement can be bound by a forum selection clause where the forum selection clause is valid, the non-signatory is a third-party beneficiary of the agreement or closely related to the agreement, and the claim arises from the non-signatory’s status related to the agreement.