Key Delaware Corporate and Commercial Decisions in 2012

This is the eighth year that we have provided an annual review of key Delaware corporate and commercial decisions. During 2012, we reviewed and summarized over 200 decisions from Delaware’s Supreme Court and Court of Chancery on corporate and commercial issues on the Delaware Corporate and Commercial Litigation Blog. (We also provided partial lists of key cases throughout 2012.) Among the decisions with the most far-reaching application and importance during 2012 include those that we are highlighting in this short overview. We are providing links below to the more complete blog summaries, and the actual court rulings, for each of the cases that we highlight below. Prior annual summaries can be found here. We welcome comments if readers think we missed a decision that should be included.

Top 5 Decisions of 2012

We begin with our selection of the Top Five Cases from 2012. In no particular order, we chose the following decisions as especially noteworthy:

Gatz Properties LLC v. Auriga Capital Corp., No. 148, 2012 (Del. Supr. Nov. 7, 2012) (Per Curiam). Issue Addressed: Delaware’s High Court held that the manager of an LLC violated a contracted-for fiduciary duty that adopted the equitable standard of entire fairness in a conflict of interest transaction between the LLC and its manager. The Supreme Court also declared as dicta, any statements by the trial court that Delaware law imposed default fiduciary duties in the LLC context. Summary available here.

In Americas Mining Corp. v. Theriault, No. 29, 2012 (Del. Aug. 27, 2012), in a 110-page opinion, the Delaware Supreme Court upheld the Court of Chancery’s 100-plus page decision awarding over $2 billion in damages based on a breach of fiduciary duty claim in connection with the sale of a company. Delaware’s High Court also upheld an award of attorneys’ fees in the amount of $300 million. Highlights available here. The trial court decision, styled as In re Southern Peru Copper Corporation Shareholder Derivative Litigation, C.A. No. 961-CS (Del. Ch. Oct. 14, 2011), was highlighted on these pages here and here.

South v. Baker, C.A. No. 7294-VCL (Del. Ch. Sept. 25, 2012). Issues Addressed: This decision is a candidate for inclusion in the pantheon of iconic Delaware Court of Chancery opinions addressing the following issues: (1) When derivative plaintiffs and their counsel will be presumptively found to provide inadequate representation resulting in the complaint’s dismissal with prejudice; (2) When dismissal of one derivative suit will not bar another derivative suit involving the same corporation; (3) When a Caremark claim will be dismissed with prejudice if Section 220 is not used beforehand; and (4) How to successfully allege pre-suit demand futility in connection with making a Caremark claim. Summary available here.

In Re: Encore Energy Partners LP Unitholder Litigation, Cons., C.A. No. 6347-VCP (Del. Ch. Aug. 31, 2012). Issue Presented: Whether the terms of an LP Agreement protected the general partner from claims regarding what would otherwise be a self-interested transaction, without breaching any duty owed to its limited partners? Short Answer: Yes. Summary available here.

Soterion Corp. v. Soteria Mezzanine Corp., C.A. No. 6158-VCN (Del. Ch. Oct. 31, 2012). Why This Case is Noteworthy: This decision addresses for the first time in Delaware the applicable standard to determine when the threat of a lawsuit can be tortious interference with prospective business relationships. This opinion also features the rare instance when attorneys’ fees are assessed based on an exception to the American Rule (as compared with Rule 37 for motions to compel). Summary available here.

Honorable Mention goes to the new Practice Guidelines, discussed below, which the Court of Chancery adopted and which provide comprehensive tips and instructions for both procedural matters and substantive discovery obligations that practitioners must follow if they hope to avoid the wrath of the bench.

For additional cases from 2012 that deserve special attention, see our full post here.