Plaintiffs Argue District Court Lacked Authority to Set Aside Their Mootness Fee Settlement

As I have detailed in prior posts, in the latest variant in the merger objection litigation game, the plaintiffs agree to dismiss their lawsuit after the defendant companies make additional disclosures and agree to pay the plaintiffs’ counsel a “mootness fee.” The absence of any court involvement in the case resolution makes this an attractive alternative for the plaintiffs’ lawyers. However, at least one court recently intervened in order to upset this cozy game.

 

As discussed here, in a blistering June 2019 opinion, Northern District of Illinois Judge Thomas Durkin, exercising what he called his “inherent authority,” acted to “abrogate” the parties’ settlement in the litigation arising out of the acquisition of Akorn , Inc. by Frensenius Kabi AG, and ordered the plaintiffs’ lawyers to return to Akorn their $322,000 mootness fee, ruling that the additional disclosures to which the company agreed were “worthless to shareholders” and that the underlying lawsuits should have been “dismissed out of hand.”

 

Now, in the brief to the Seventh Circuit filed on their appeal of Judge Durkin’s order, the plaintiffs argue that Judge Durkin’s order was “void” because Judge Durkin lacked jurisdiction, had “no authority to continue” after the parties’ settlement, and that he “drastically overstepped the bounds of [the court’s] inherent authority.”  The plaintiffs brief sets the stage for what may prove to be a very interesting appellate decision. Continue Reading

Third Circuit Finds Major Shareholder Exclusion Ambiguous

D&O insurance policies sometimes contain Major Shareholder Exclusions, precluding coverage for claims brought by shareholders’ with ownership percentages above a certain specified ownership threshold. But when is the shareholder’s ownership percentage to be determined – at the time of policy inception or at the time of the claim? This issue was among the D&O insurance coverage question presented in a recent case before the Third Circuit. The appellate court, applying Delaware law, found that the exclusionary language involved was ambiguous, and therefore resolved the issue in the policyholder’s assignee’s favor. As discussed below, the appellate court’s ruling is interesting in a number of different respects.

 

The Third Circuit’s opinion in the case can be found here. The Wiley Rein law firm’s October 19, 2019 post about the decision on its Executive Summary Blog can be found here. Continue Reading

 Book Review: “Crisis of Conscience: Whistleblowing in the Age of Fraud”

Whistleblowing has a long and respected tradition in the United States. In more recent times, whistleblowing and its protections have been part of several legislative schemes, including, for example, the creation in the Dodd-Frank Act of the SEC Whistleblower Program. The recent whistleblower complaint about President Trump’s July 2019 phone call with Volodymyr Zelensky, the President of Ukraine, underscores the continued important role of whistleblowing in the our political and business culture. As the events surrounding the recent whistleblowing complaint also show, whistleblowing is often regarded as a provocative act, and that, at a minimum, whistleblowing can be highly divisive.

 

A recently published book, “Crisis of Conscience: Whistleblowing in the Age of Fraud,”  written by journalist Tom Mueller, takes a detailed look at the role of whistleblowing in our culture, and the ways in which, despite all of the surrounding controversy, whistleblowing remains an indispensable part of maintaining order and enforcing our values and expectations. Continue Reading

Securities Suits Filed Against Companies Involved in E-Cigarette Business

Just about everyone who has been active in the D&O insurance arena for a while knows that every now and then one industrial segment or another will suddenly find itself in the midst of  a securities litigation blitz. Years ago after the Internet bubble burst, it was the dot com companies. Further back than that, as at least some of us can remember, there were all of the failed banks in the S&L Crisis (and, again, in the wake of the global financial crisis). More recently, companies in the opioid pharmaceuticals space have drawn the unwanted attention of the plaintiffs’ securities lawyers. Often these kinds of securities suits and other D&O claims follow after some industry-wide event or sector slide.

 

Now, it appears, another sector is drawing heat. The e-cigarette business has found itself in the headlines recently as health-related issues have been raised about the product. These health questions have been followed, almost inevitably as things go in this country, by lawsuits. As discussed below, these lawsuits now include, in at least some instances, securities class action lawsuits. Continue Reading

IvI Exclusion’s Carve-Back Preserves Coverage for Entire Claim

The insured vs. insured exclusion is a standard exclusion in most management liability insurance policies. The exclusion precludes coverage for claims brought by one insured against another. The IvI exclusions in most management liability insurance policies typically include a number of exceptions to the exclusion preserving coverage for claims that otherwise would be excluded. In a recent decision, a Texas intermediate appellate court found that the IvI exclusion in an investment management firm’s policy did not preclude coverage for an arbitration award because the underlying dispute arose out of an employment practices claim and therefore the dispute – including even the derivative claims the claimant asserted in the arbitration – came within the exclusion’s coverage carve-back for wrongful employment practices claims. As discussed below, the court’s opinion has a number of interesting features. Continue Reading

Environmental Liability-Related Securities Suit Filed against DuPont Spin-off Chemours

As I have previously noted on this blog, one recurring source of securities class action litigation exposure for publicly traded companies is the companies’ underlying environmental liabilities. In the latest example of this type of litigation, a plaintiff shareholder has now filed a securities suit against The Chemours Company, a chemical company that spun out of E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company (“DuPont”) in July 2015. One of the extraordinary things about the new securities suit is that it draws heavily on allegations Chemours itself raised in a 2019 Delaware Chancery Court lawsuit it filed against DuPont, in which, among other things, Chemours alleges that when DuPont spun out the company, its environmental liabilities reserves were “spectacularly” inadequate. A copy of the on October 8, 2019 securities class action complaint filed in the District of Delaware against Chemours, its CEO, and its CFO can be found here. Continue Reading

Guest Post: India: The Consumer Protection Act, 2019 – Exposures & Liability Insurance Protection

Umesh Pratapa

In the following guest post, Umesh Pratapa takes a look at the new Indian Consumer Protection Act, 2019. As Umesh discusses below, the Act not only has important implications for the rights of consumers, but it also has important liability insurance, product liability insurance, and professional liability insurance implications in Indian as well. Umesh’s article was originally published in BimaQuest September 2019 issue.  Reproduced with kind permission of the Publisher, National Insurance Academy, Pune, India. I would like to thank Umesh for his willingness to allow me to publish his article as a guest post on this site. I welcome guest post submissions from responsible authors on topics of interest to this blog’s readers. Please contact me directly if you would like to submit a guest post. Here is Umesh’s article. Continue Reading

News Flash: Insurer That Paid Full Policy Limits Did not Breach the Policy or Act in Bad Faith

D&O insurance policyholders sometimes bridle when the insurers take steps to try to rein in burgeoning defense expense. In that situation, the D&O insurers will often try to remind the policyholder that because defense expense erodes the limit of liability, it is in everyone’s interest for defense expense to be monitored closely. An unusual coverage action in the Western District of New York reversed the usual concerns about insurer defense cost control. The policyholder sued its D&O insurer for breach of contract, bad faith, and intentional infliction of emotional distress not for failing to pay defense costs or full defense costs, but rather for allowing the policyholder’s defense expenses incurred in an underlying criminal action to exhaust the applicable limit of liability. While it is hardly a surprise that a court concluded that an insurer that paid out its full limits cannot be held liable for breach of contract – much less bad faith or infliction of emotional distress –there are still a number of interesting aspects to this dispute and to the court’s ruling.   Continue Reading

Caremark Duties Include Duty Not Only to Establish Oversight Processes but Also to Monitor Them

Earlier this year, in Marchand v. Barnhill, the Delaware Supreme Court underscored that boards that fail to establish oversight procedures for their company’s mission critical functions can be held liable for breach of their Caremark duties. In an October 1, 2019 decision in the Clovis Oncology Derivative Litigation, the Delaware Chancery Court provided further perspective on directors’ potential liability for breaches of the duty of oversight. The Chancery court held, citing Marchand,  that boards not only must be able to show that they have made good faith efforts to implement an oversight system, but that also that they monitor the system – particularly when a company operates in a highly regulated industry.  The Chancery Court’s October 1, 2019 decision in the Clovis Oncology Derivative Litigation can be found here. Continue Reading

Plaintiffs’ Lawyers, Merger Objection Litigation, and Mootness Fees

In a prior post, I noted recent academic research detailing the rise of mootness fee dismissals in federal court merger objection litigation. In these merger-related lawsuits, the plaintiffs agree to dismiss their suit based on the defendants’ agreement to make changes to the merger documents – thus, making the merger suit moot – and to pay the plaintiffs’ attorneys a mootness fee. An October 4, 2019 Law 360 article entitled “Plaintiffs Firms Follow Easy Merger Money to Federal Court” (here, subscription required) takes a look at the small group of plaintiffs’ law firms that the most active in filings these kinds of cases and obtaining mootness fees, in a process that at least one federal district judge has characterized as no better than a “racket.” Continue Reading

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