Justia Commercial Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Corporate Compliance
Zucker v. Andreessen
In a derivative action on behalf of Hewlett-Packard Company, plaintiff accused certain HP directors of committing waste and breaching the duty of care in connection with the August 2010 termination of then-CEO, Hurd. Plaintiff contends that Hurd was not entitled to, and did not deserve, any severance upon his termination but that the directors granted Hurd a severance package estimated to be worth $40 million or more. Plaintiff also challenged the lack of a long term CEO succession plan as a breach of the directors’ duty of care. The chancellor dismissed. Under Rule 23.1, a stockholder must either make a demand on the board to instigate the legal action that the stockholder seeks to bring on the corporation’s behalf or allege with particularity why such a demand is excused. Plaintiff did not to make a presuit demand and did not adequately allege a basis to excuse presuit demand.View "Zucker v. Andreessen" on Justia Law
On Command Video Corp. v. Roti
OCV supplies equipment and licenses software for in-room hotel entertainment and sought a judgment of $641,959.54 against Roti, the owner of companies (Markwell, now defunct) that owned hotels to which OCV provided services. The district judge granted summary judgment, piercing the corporate veil, but rejecting a fraud claim. The Seventh Circuit reversed. While the Markwell companies were under-funded, OCV failed to treat the companies as separate businesses and proceed accordingly in the bankruptcy proceedings of one of the companies and made no effort to determine the solvency of the companies. View "On Command Video Corp. v. Roti" on Justia Law
Petroleum Enhancer, L.L.C. v. Woodward
Polar Holding was sole shareholder of PMC, a company engaged in the petroleum-additive business. PMC was in default on a loan for which it had pledged valuable intellectual property as collateral, and Polar Holding was in the midst of an internal dispute between members of its board of directors regarding business strategy for PMC. One of the directors, Socia, formed a competing company, Petroleum, for the purpose of acquiring PMC’s promissory note and collateral from the holder of PMC’s loan. Petroleum brought suit against Woodward, an escrow agent in possession of PMC’s collateral, alleging that PMC was in default on the payment of its promissory note. Polar Holding and PMC intervened and filed counterclaims against Petroleum and a third-party complaint against additional parties, including Socia. Polar Holding and PMC allleged breach of fiduciary duty, civil conspiracy, and tortious interference. After PMC filed for bankruptcy, its claims became the property of the bankruptcy trustee. Polar Holding’s claims were later dismissed. The Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal of a tortious interference claim as addressed by the district court, but reversed dismissal of a breach-of-fiduciary-duty claim against Socia and a civil-conspiracy claim against individual third-party defendants. View "Petroleum Enhancer, L.L.C. v. Woodward" on Justia Law
Albert Trostel & Sons Co. v. Notz
Trostel was founded in 1858. By 2007 the founder's relations still owned about 11 percent of its stock. Smith, which owned the rest, decided to acquire remaining shares by freezeout merger. Trostel became Smith's wholly owned subsidiary. Notz, one of the Trostel great-grandchildren, who owned 5.5 percent of the stock, rejected proffered compensation of $11,900 per share (about $7.7 million). The rest of the outside investors accepted. In an appraisal action (Wis. Stat. 180.1330(1)), the district court denied Nost's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and concluded that fair value of the stock on the merger date was $11,900 per share. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Wisconsin's corporate is legislative, not contractual and does not block corporations from availing themselves of diversity jurisdiction. View "Albert Trostel & Sons Co. v. Notz" on Justia Law
OK Firefighters Pension v. Smith & Wesson Holding Corp.
A class representing purchasers of securities sued the company and two high-ranking officers, alleging that the company issued false or misleading public statements about demand for its products in violation of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. 78j(b), and related regulations. The district court granted summary judgment to the company. The First Circuit affirmed. Once a downward trend became clear, the company explicitly acknowledged that its forecasts had been undermined. Whether it was negligent to have remained too sanguine earlier, there was no evidence of anything close to fraud. View "OK Firefighters Pension v. Smith & Wesson Holding Corp." on Justia Law
Lawson v. FMR LLC
Plaintiffs brought separate suits alleging unlawful retaliation by their corporate employers, which are private companies that act as contract advisers to and managers of mutual funds organized under the Investment Company Act of 1940. The district court addressed both cases in a single order, holding that the whistleblower protection provision within the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, 18 U.S.C. 1514A extends beyond "employees" of "public" companies to encompass employees of private companies that are contractors or subcontractors to those public companies if the employees report violations "relating to fraud against shareholders." The First Circuit reversed, concluding that the protections are limited to employees of public companies, as defined by the statute. View "Lawson v. FMR LLC" on Justia Law
Indep. Trust Corp. v. Stewart Info. Serv. Corp.
The title company provided real estate closing services. From 1984 through 1995, it served as exclusive agent for defendant and managed an escrow account that defendant contractually agreed to insure. The title company was not profitable and its managers used escrow funds in a "Ponzi" scheme. In 1989, there was a $26 million shortfall. To fill the hole, the managers began looting another business, Intrust, to pay defendant's policyholders ($40.9 million) and to pay defendant directly ($27 million), so that defendant was a direct and indirect beneficiary of the title company's arrangement with Intrust. In 2000 the state agency learned that the funds were missing, took control of Intrust and placed it in receivership. In July 2010, the Receiver filed suit for money had and received, unjust enrichment, vicarious liability), aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty, and conspiracy. The district court dismissed based on the statute of limitations. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Illinois doctrine of adverse domination does not apply. That doctrine tolls the statute of limitations for a claim by a corporation against a nonboard-member co-conspirator of the wrongdoing board members. View "Indep. Trust Corp. v. Stewart Info. Serv. Corp." on Justia Law
Vogel v. Onyx Acceptance Corp.
The Wyoming Division of Banking performed a Wyoming Uniform Consumer Credit Code compliance examination of Onyx Acceptance Corporation and determined it was improperly charging its Wyoming customers fees for making payments by telephone or internet. The Division ordered Onyx to stop charging the fees and refund the fees collected. The Office of Administrative Hearings issued a recommended order granting summary judgment for the Division. Consistent with the recommended decision, the administrator of the Code issued an order finding that Onyx violated the Code when it charged the fees. The district court reversed, concluding that the fees were not covered by the Code and, therefore, Onyx did not violate the Code by charging them to customers who opted to pay by phone or internet. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Onyx did not violate the Code and summary judgment in its favor was appropriate. Remanded. View "Vogel v. Onyx Acceptance Corp." on Justia Law
Forte v. Brandt
Debtor, a limited liability company, was formed by five members, who made up a Board of Managers. Forte had a 12% interest. After his requests to inspect of business records were denied, Forte sued Lynch, the member with the highest percentage interest. In the six months before filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the company paid Forte $215,000 as part of the settlement. The bankruptcy court found that Forte qualified as an "insider" (11 U.S.C. 547(b)(4)(B)) and that the trustee could void and recover the transfers. The district court and Seventh Circuit affirmed. Insider status is not just a matter of title; Forte retained voting rights in the company, held a formal position on the Board, and did not resign until after he received the transferred funds.
Stokes v. Southern States Cooperative, Inc.
Plaintiff appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendant on his claim of malicious prosecution under Arkansas law. The district court held that plaintiff failed to present evidence sufficient to withstand summary judgment on two of the five elements necessary to sustain his claim. The court held that the district court erred in holding that the evidence was insufficient as a matter of law to sustain plaintiff's claim that defendant brought suit against him on the guaranty without probable cause. The court also held that a jury must decide what was defendant's motive or purpose in suing plaintiff if it in fact understood it had no reasonable chance of prevailing on the merits of its claim against plaintiff.