Delaware Court of Chancery Rejects Indemnification Sleight of Hand

In Branin v. Stein Roe Inv. Counsel, LLC, C.A. 8481-VCN, 2014 WL 2961084 (Del. Ch. June 30, 2014), the Delaware Court of Chancery held that a vested right to indemnification may not be rescinded by a subsequent amendment to the governing corporate document.

Francis S. Branin Jr. (“Branin”) owned and managed the investment management firm Brundage, Story & Rose, which was sold to Bessemer Trust, N.A. (“Bessemer”) in 2000. Nearly two years later, Branin left Bessemer and was hired by Stein Roe Investment Counsel LLC (“SRIC”), taking former clients with him.  Bessemer proceeded to sue Branin under New York’s Mohawk Doctrine, which refers to an implied covenant imposed on the seller of a business that prevents the seller from approaching former customers and attempting to regain their patronage after the seller has purported to transfer the sold business’ goodwill to the purchaser.  As a result of the legal claim by Bessemer, Branin sought indemnification under the directors and officers indemnification provisions of the operating agreement of SRIC (the “Operating Agreement”).

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Is Your Out-of-State LLC “Doing Business” in California?

Individuals and entities, including those from outside California, who invest in or do business through an out-of-state limited liability company (“LLC”) may be surprised to find out that they have filing obligations and tax liabilities in California as a result of California’s far-reaching rules and interpretations related to when an LLC is treated as “doing business” in California.

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Second Circuit Overturns District Court’s Rejection of SEC-Citigroup Fraud Settlement

In a closely-watched decision involving judicial review of agency settlements, the Unites States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated United States District Court Judge Jed Rakoff’s 2011 order rejecting a proposed $285 million settlement between the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and Citigroup Global Markets Inc., finding that the judge applied an incorrect legal standard in his review of the proposed accord.  S.E.C. v. Citigroup Global Mkts., Inc., No. 11-5227-CV L, 2014 WL 2486793 (2d Cir. June 4, 2014).  The Second Circuit held that, under the proper standard, the district court is required to determine whether the consent decree is fair and reasonable, and, if it includes injunctive relief, whether the public interest “would not be disserved.”  Absent a substantial basis in the record to the contrary, the appeals court held, the district court is required to enter the order.

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U.S. Supreme Court Decision Gives More Latitude to Defeat Securities Fraud Class Action Lawsuits Prior to Class Certification

In Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc., No. 13-317, __ S Ct. __, 2014 WL 2807181 (U.S. June 23, 2014), the United States Supreme Court refused to overturn the landmark decision Basic v. Levinson, but ruled that securities class action defendants may rebut the fraud-on-the-market presumption of investor reliance before the class certification stage by demonstrating lack of price impact.

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First Circuit Affirms District Court’s Exclusion of Event Study as Unreliable Under Daubert

In Bricklayers & Trowel Trades Int’l Pension Fund v. Credit Suisse Sec. (USA) LLC, No. 12-1750, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 8994 (1st Cir. May 14, 2014), the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed a district court’s exclusion of an event study as unreliable under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 597 (1993).  Plaintiffs, AOL shareholders, had offered the event study to show that alleged misstatements by defendant Credit Suisse First Boston (“CSFB”) ultimately caused declines in AOL’s stock price.  The First Circuit agreed that plaintiffs’ expert, Dr. Scott D. Hakala, in performing the event study, failed to examine relevant “event dates,” classified certain dates as relevant even though the disclosures on those dates largely repeated previously disclosed information, and failed to control for confounding factors.  As plaintiffs’ loss causation evidence consisted entirely of the event study, the First Circuit also affirmed summary judgment on behalf of CSFB.  Notwithstanding the common and widely accepted use of event studies in securities cases, Bricklayers reminds practitioners of the need to fully scrutinize event studies under Daubert admissibility rules.

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Does A Consumer’s Exercise of a Rescission Right Mean that the Loan Is Automatically Rescinded? Perhaps Not, According to One Federal Court, If the Consumer Does Not Also File a Lawsuit for Rescission

In Baker v. Bank of America, N.A., No. 5:13-CV-92-F, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9578 (E.D.N.C. Jan. 27, 2014), the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina held that even if a consumer timely exercises his or her right to rescind a loan transaction under the Truth in Lending Act (TILA), 15 U.S.C. § 1601, et. seq.i.e., during the three-day statutory “cooling-off” period — that exercise does not automatically cause the loan to be rescinded.  Rather, the court held, if a consumer’s notice of rescission is met with silence by the lender, the consumer must also file a lawsuit in order to complete the rescission before the statute of limitations expires (in this case, the statute of limitations was determined to be four years).   The Baker case provides a thorough interpretation of the effect of the statutory three-day “cooling-off” period, for which, it was noted in the decision, case law is “exceedingly sparse.”

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Delaware Court of Chancery Underscores Heightened Pleading Standard Necessary to Support a Claim for Breach of Fiduciary Duty In Connection With a Merger

In Houseman v. Sagerman, C.A. No. 8898-VCG, 2014 WL 1478511 (Del. Ch. Apr. 16, 2014), the Delaware Court of Chancery (Glasscock, V.C.) granted, in part, a motion to dismiss filed by certain directors and the financial advisor of Universata, Inc. (“Universata” or the “Company”) arising out of the Company’s merger with HealthPort Technologies, LLC (“HealthPort”).  The Court’s analysis serves as a reminder that a stockholder plaintiff must plead an “extreme set of facts” to support a claim for breach of fiduciary duty against a corporation’s directors arising out of allegations that the directors breached their duty of loyalty as a result of the process used to approve a strategic transaction.  Although the allegations suggested that Universata’s board of directors (the “Board”) did not conduct a “perfect” process, plaintiffs did not plead facts sufficient to show that the Board “utterly failed to undertake any action to obtain the best price for stockholders.”  As a result, the Court dismissed plaintiffs’ claim for breach of fiduciary duty.

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Second Circuit Applies Morrison v. National Australia Bank to Allow Certain Extraterritorial Application of RICO

In European Community v. RJR Nabisco, Inc., Case No. 11-CV-2475 (2d Cir. Apr. 23, 2014), the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (“RICO”) statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1961, et seq., could apply to conduct outside the territory of the United States.  In doing so, the Second Circuit addressed the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Morrison v. National Australia Bank Ltd., 130 S. Ct. 2869 (2010) [blog article here], which held that United States statutes are presumed not apply to extraterritorial conduct, unless Congress has clearly indicated its intent that the statute have extraterritorial application.  Applying Morrison, the Second Circuit determined that RICO could apply to extraterritorial conduct, because a number of the statutes listed as predicate acts for RICO liability clearly apply extraterritorially.  The Second Circuit ultimately concluded “that RICO applies extraterritorially if, and only if, liability or guilt could attach to extraterritorial conduct under the relevant RICO predicate.”  Thus, even after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Morrison, RICO liability can still attach to foreign conduct where the underlying predicate statute applies to extraterritorial conduct.

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Fourth Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Securities Fraud Complaint Where Inference of Scienter Was Not Sufficiently Strong

In Yates v. Municipal Mortgage & Equity, LLC, No. 12-2496 (4th Cir. Mar. 7, 2014), the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a securities fraud claim under Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”), 15 U.S.C. § 78(b), against defendant Municipal Mortgage & Equity (“MuniMae”) and its individual officer and director defendants.  The Court held that plaintiffs failed to plead facts sufficient to give rise to a strong inference of defendants’ scienter under the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“PSLRA”), 15 U.S.C. § 78u-4, et seq.  The Court declined to accept that the inference of scienter offered by plaintiffs — supported by statements from confidential witnesses, presence of red flags, allegations of insider trading and general business incentives — was at least as compelling as the opposing inference of mere negligence that could be drawn from the amended complaint.  Yates is one of the few reported decisions from the Fourth Circuit applying the PSRLA, and it solidly reaffirms the PSLRA’s requirement that a plaintiff plead more than just allegations based upon conjecture and happenstance to satisfy heightened pleading requirements.

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Dry Times: How to Deal with the Impact of California’s Drought on Critical Commercial Agreements

On January 17, 2014, California Governor Jerry Brown declared a “State of Emergency” in California due to the severity of drought conditions across the State.  Since then, the California drought continues to be severe and unprecedented in recent years, and is taking a pervasive toll on California residents, businesses, farm land, foliage and wildlife.  Despite recent rainfall, local water districts and the State have called for voluntary, and in some locales, mandatory reduction in consumption of water.  After considering the severe human toll, anyone doing business with an entity located in California (or other western states experiencing similar drought conditions) that requires water for any business purpose, particularly farmers in Northern and Central California where there are fewer alternative sources of water, must be concerned about inventory and the impact of the drought on its supply chain.  Can my California contract counterparty fulfill its obligations to produce sufficient quantities of produce, dairy products, steel, flowers, honey, etc., to meet my contract needs?  Waiting for a delivery that never arrives, is delayed or arrives in lower quantity or, worse yet, quality, is not a viable option.  The key is to be prepared to find an alternative supplier so that production goals can be timely met.  Successful navigation of these issues requires careful contract drafting and contemplation in advance of new agreements, and critical analysis of existing contracts.  This article highlights the pertinent legal mechanisms at work and options for your business.

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