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Commercial Division Analyzes Choice-of-Law on an Element-by-Element Basis in Upholding Claim for Aiding and Abetting Breach of Fiduciary Duty

In Wantickets RDM, LLC v. Eventbrite, Inc., No. 654277/2016, 2017 BL 261099 (Sup. Ct. Jul. 21, 2017), New York Commercial Division Justice Shirley Werner Kornreich denied defendant Eventbrite’s motion to dismiss plaintiff Wantickets’ claims for aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty, among other claims.  In doing so, she applied Delaware law to assess plaintiff’s allegations of an underlying breach of fiduciary duty and New York law to the remaining elements.[1]

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Commercial Division Declines to Use New York Debtor and Creditor Law to Enjoin a Defendant’s Asset Sale Without Evidence of Inadequate Consideration

In Del Forte USA, Inc. v. Blue Beverage Group, Inc. et al., No. 518454/2016, 2017 BL 253248 (Sup. Ct. Jul. 17, 2017), New York Commercial Division Justice Sylvia G. Ash denied plaintiff Del Forte’s preliminary injunction motion that sought, pursuant to N.Y. Debtor and Creditor Law (“DCL”) § 279, to enjoin defendant Blue Beverage from selling 60% of Blue Beverage’s shares to co-defendant Kuzari Group for $5 million unless $500,000 is placed in escrow and a receiver is appointed.  As an alternative form of relief, Del Forte sought, pursuant to CPLR § 6201, to attach at least $500,000 from the asset sale to satisfy a judgment that might be rendered in Del Forte’s favor.

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Unless the U.S. Supreme Court Rules Otherwise, Waivers of Collective Actions Are Not Enforceable in New York

On July 18, 2017, the First Department partially reversed the Commercial Division’s decision in Gold v. New York Life Insurance Company, No. 653923/12, 2017 BL 247192 (App. Div. 1st Dep’t July 18, 2017), a case that presented the issue of whether employees can be compelled to waive collective actions against their employers pursuant to an arbitration clause.  In 2015, Justice O. Peter Sherwood of the New York Commercial Division had granted a motion to compel a former insurance agent to arbitrate his wage dispute with New York Life Insurance Co. (“N.Y. Life”).  In a decision by Justice Karla Moskowitz (who was a member of the Commercial Division before being appointed to the Appellate Division), the First Department answered an open issue in New York, holding that employers cannot be required to arbitrate such disputes as it “would run afoul of the National Labor Relations Act.”

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Commercial Division Considers Creating Large Complex Case List

A specialized list for blockbuster commercial cases in New York’s Commercial Division is under consideration.  If designated as a Large Complex Case on the “Large Complex Case List,” the case will be subject to enhanced case management procedures designed to efficiently handle the matter.  The proposal is subject to public comment.  The Administrative Board of the Courts has requested that comments be submitted by Tuesday, July 25, 2017.  If the proposal is adopted, the Large Complex Case List will be piloted in New York County.

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Commercial Division Rules that U.S. Treasury Secretary’s Access to a Company’s Detailed Financial Information in His Role as a Board Member Is Insufficient to Establish Liability for Fraud

Members of a company’s board who are also investors in the company often have access to detailed information about the company’s finances and its lending facilities.  But what happens when an investor-board member could, through access to the company’s financial information, potentially determine that funds from a lending facility are not being used for the purpose that the company and its agents had previously represented that they would be used for?  Is the investor-board member potentially liable for fraud merely on the basis of his access to or awareness of financial information about the company?  Justice Charles E. Ramos’s recent decision in RKA Film Fin., LLC v. Kavanaugh, No. 652592/2015, 2017 BL 222658, 2017 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 2459, 2017 NY Slip Op 50846(U) (Sup. Ct. June 27, 2017), suggests that the answer may be no.  According to the Commercial Division, without personal involvement in the alleged fraud itself or a special duty to disclose to the plaintiff, an investor-board member is likely not liable for fraud to a plaintiff creditor.

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Commercial Division Flags Novel Issue of Reasonable Reliance In LLC Member Battle

In PMC Aviation 2012-1 LLC et al. v. Jet Midwest Group, LLC et al., No. 654047/2015, BL221447 (Sup. Ct. Jun. 21, 2017), Commercial Division Justice Shirley Kornreich denied a motion to dismiss a fraudulent inducement claim by an LLC member against its business partner.  The court found that it could not find any “controlling, on-point authority” on the issue of reasonable reliance at issue in the case. The case relates to the scope of due-diligence obligations of LLC members when they rely upon the representations of business partners concerning the affairs of a jointly owned company.

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User’s Guide to Recent Revisions in the Commercial Division Rules

This guide contains a summary of important new rules and amendments to existing rules that have been enacted since our first and second User’s Guides were published:

Since its formation in 1995, the Commercial Division has seen an increase in the number and complexity of cases being filed. In response to this change, New York’s then Chief Judge created a Task Force on Commercial Litigation. In 2012, the Task Force issued a series of reform proposals aimed at better managing judicial resources, encouraging greater use of non-judicial personnel and alternative dispute resolution, and increasing engagement with the corporate and academic communities and the Bar. Thereafter, the Chief Judge formed a Commercial Division Advisory Council which has made various recommendations with respect to practice in the Commercial Division. From these recommendations, many new rules and amendments have been enacted.

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If You Don’t Hold the Bond, You Can’t Sue for Fraud

Commercial Division Justice Eileen Bransten recently concluded that plaintiff bondholders lacked standing to bring fraud claims against the bond obligor and trustee after having sold their interests in the bonds.  One William St. Capital Mgmt. L.P. v. U.S. Educ. Loan Tr. IV, LLC, No. 652274/2012, 2017 BL 1700030 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. Co. May 16, 2017), involved a group of investment firms that purchased $10 million in notes backed by government-guaranteed student loans from the U.S. Education Loan Trust IV (“ELT”).  The notes were part of a larger $30 million package.

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Commercial Division Partially Vacates ICC Arbitration Award in Artificial Sweetener Dispute

Justice Charles Ramos of the New York Commercial Division partially vacated an International Chamber of Commerce (“ICC”) arbitration award in a major legal battle between artificial sweetener giants NutraSweet and Daesang.  Daesang Corp. v. The NutraSweet Co., et al., No. 655019/2016, 2017 BL 164971 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. May 15, 2017).  The partial vacatur sends what was a $100,766,258 award in favor of Daesang back to the arbitral tribunal.

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The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act Will Need To Wait Another Day In The Commercial Division

Justice Shirley Kornreich recently issued one of the few New York state court decisions  that address the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”).  Spec Simple, Inc. v. Designer Pages Online LLC,  No. 651860/2015, 2017 BL 160865 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. May 10, 2017).  The CFAA criminalizes both accessing a computer without authorization and exceeding authorized access and thereby obtaining information from any protected computer.  Id. at *3 (citing 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(2)(C)). The CFAA also provides a civil cause of action to any person who suffers damage or loss because of a violation of the CFAA.  Id. at *4 (citing 18 U.S.C. § 1030(g)).  As discussed below, the decision provides a helpful look into the interpretation of CFAA claims in the future.

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When is a Working Capital Agreement a Loan? It Depends on Your Claim.

Suppose you’ve entered into a financial arrangement that resembles a lending agreement, but it is not formally designated as such, and you think you’re paying too much.  Do you (a) sue for misrepresentation, on the grounds that you thought you were entering into a lending agreement and not some other kind of an agreement, or (b) sue on the theory that the agreement is a lending agreement, but it is usurious and therefore unlawful?

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Commercial Division Rejects Third-Party Claim as Derivative in Trusts’ Suit Concerning Upper West Side Beaux-Arts Building

Asserting a claim on behalf of a trust in the Commercial Division can be risky, as the party asserting the claim must establish that the claimed injury is independent of any injury to the trust, and that they are therefore not simply bringing a derivative claim.  Recently, in 1993 Trust of Joan Cohen v. Baum, No. 150058/2015, 2017 NY Slip Op 30894(U), 2017 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1667 (May 2).  Justice Shirley Werner Kornreich dismissed as derivative a third-party claim brought by a former trustee of two trusts against an individual who allegedly provided deficient tax advice to the trusts.  The court ruled that the former trustee was owed no duty by the third-party defendant individually and could no longer prosecute claims that belonged to the trusts.  Justice Kornreich also rejected the former trustee’s contribution claim against the tax adviser and another entity, explaining that those entities’ alleged wrongdoing was unrelated to the former trustee’s alleged wrongdoing, and thus did not make them subject to liability to the plaintiff for damages for the same injury.[1]

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Two Commercial Division Rulings Put Payday Further Out of Reach for Russian Businessman

Justice Anil Singh of the New York Commercial Division recently issued two decisions related to the long-running litigation between Russian businessmen Alexander Gliklad and Michael Cherney.  Gliklad v. Deripaska, No. 652641/2015, 2017 BL 137121 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Apr. 25, 2017); Moquinon Ltd. v. Gliklad, No. 650366/2017, 2017 BL 137162 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Apr. 6, 2017).  Both decisions dealt setbacks to Gliklad’s ability to collect after winning a $385 million judgment.

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Agreeing to Agree: Commercial Division Rules Twice that Term Sheets Were Not Binding Agreements

In two recent decisions, Justices Charles E. Ramos and Saliann Scarpulla of the New York Commercial Division ruled that term sheets were not binding agreements. Keitel v. E*Trade Fin. Corp., No. 652220/2015, 2017 BL 131532 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Apr. 17, 2017); JTS Trading Ltd. v. Trinity White City Ventures Ltd., No. 651936/2015, 2017 BL 131820 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Apr. 17, 2017). These cases serve as reminders to contracting parties to use unequivocal terms to reflect the creation of binding obligations when memorializing their agreements.

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Claims Dismissed Against Successor Transfer Agent Where There Was No Showing Of A Duty Owed To The Investors

In Magna Equities II, LLC et al., v. Writ Media Group Inc., et al., No. 653808/2016, 2017 BL 115243 (N.Y. Sup. Ct March 30, 2017), Justice Peter Sherwood dismissed for lack of jurisdiction and failure to state a claim all claims brought by a group of investors against defendant Pacific Stock Transfer (“PST”).  The case serves as a reminder that plaintiffs must plead sufficient allegations in order to persuade the Commercial Division to exercise its jurisdiction over a non-domiciliary, non-signatory of the agreement at issue.

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Commercial Division Compels Arbitration of a Contract Claim Based on an Arbitration Clause in a Related Agreement

In Fidilio v. Hoosick Falls Productions, Inc., No. 654066/2016, 2017 BL 107640 (Sup. Ct. Mar. 22, 2017), Justice Eileen Bransten of the New York County Commercial Division granted a motion to compel arbitration of a dispute relating to a short-lived reality TV show, Scrappers.  Justice Bransten ruled that the arbitration clause in one agreement between Frank Fidilio, the show's creator, and Hoosick Falls Production, Inc. ("Hoosick"), the production company, required arbitration of Fidilio's claims against Hoosick brought under another agreement which was executed at the same time, by the same parties, governing the same subject matter.  Fidilio's remaining claims for breach of contract as a third-party beneficiary, unjust enrichment, and an accounting against Viacom International Inc. and the show's distributor, New 38th Floor Productions, Inc. ("New 38th"), were dismissed for failure to state a claim.  Fidilio provides important lessons for parties considering mandatory arbitration clauses in connection with transactions involving multiple agreements, as well as for litigants considering whether claims may be subject to mandatory arbitration under provisions of related agreements.

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Fraud and Fraudulent Conveyance Claims for $686 Million Allowed To Proceed Against Hedge Fund in Long-Running Dispute over Failed Securitization

On March 13, 2017, Justice Marcy Friedman of the New York Commercial Division denied a motion for summary judgment seeking to dismiss claims of fraud, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and fraudulent conveyance brought against a hedge fund, Highland Capital Management, and related entities.  The case, UBS Securities LLC v. Highland Capital Management, No. 6500097/09, 2017 BL 98450 (Sup. Ct. Mar. 13, 2017),[1] is a long running dispute arising from a failed securitization of collateralized loan obligations (CLOs) and credit default swaps (CDS) that dates to the early days of the Great Recession.  The denial of summary judgment means that the next step in this eight-year long saga will be a jury trial where $686 million in damages will be at stake.

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Commercial Division Dismisses Claim Against Major Chinese Securities Firm Due to Lack of Personal Jurisdiction

In Lantau Holdings, Ltd. v. Orient Equal International Grp., No. 653920/2016, 2017 BL 77469 (Sup. Ct. Mar. 6, 2017), Judge Anil C. Singh of the New York County Commercial Division dismissed several claims by the plaintiff, Tarrytown-based lender Lantau Holdings, Ltd. (“Lantau”), against defendant Haitong International Securities Company Limited (“Haitong”), a member of the Haitong Group, one of China’s largest securities businesses. 

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Commercial Division Rejects Collateral Promise Argument as a Basis for a Fraudulent Inducement Claim

In a recent decision, Justice Anil Singh of the Commercial Division dismissed a counterclaim asserted by Visa against Wal-Mart for fraudulent inducement.  According to Justice Singh, Visa’s allegations failed to satisfy the collateral promise rule as its fraud claim did not concern misrepresentations of present material fact that were collateral to the contract.  Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Visa U.S.A. Inc., No. 652530/2016, 2017 BL 65006 (Sup. Ct. Feb. 27, 2017).

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Commercial Division allows fraudulent conveyance claims to proceed in two separate cases

In a pair of recent decisions, Justices Shirley W. Kornreich and Lawrence K. Marks of the Commercial Division ruled that creditors could proceed on their fraudulent conveyance claims seeking reversal of asset transfers made by debtors under New York’s Debtor and Creditor Law (“DCL”).  The decisions highlight two basic theories of fraudulent conveyance claims permitted by the DCL:  intentional fraud claims, which require a showing that the debtor made the transfer with the intent defrauding its creditor, and constructive fraud claims, which do not require a showing of fraudulent intent.

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Family Feud: Commercial Division Dissolves LLC Owned by Quarrelling Brothers

Justice Timothy J. Dufficy in the Queens County Commercial Division recently entered an order dissolving a limited liability company owned by two brothers whose disagreements regarding the management of the LLC culminated in a physical altercation.  Matter of Dissolution of 47th Road LLC, No. 705060/16, 2017 BL 49187 (Sup. Ct. Feb. 16, 2017).  The court applied an exception to the general rule that disputes between members are insufficient to warrant judicial dissolution, and found that the antagonism between the brothers made it impracticable for the business to carry on.

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First Department Allows $45 Million Fraud Claim to Proceed Against Patriarch Partners

In Norddeutsche Landesbank Girozentrale v. Tilton, No. 651695/15, 2017 BL 55790 (App Div, 1st Dep’t Feb. 23, 2017), a divided panel of the Appellate Division, First Department, affirmed a Commercial Division order that denied a motion to dismiss a $45 million fraud claim against Lynn Tilton, Patriarch Partners LLC (“Patriarch”), and two Patriarch affiliates, stemming from their management of two collateralized debt obligation (“CDO”) funds.  Justices Richard T. Andrias and David B. Saxe dissented in part, opining that the majority should have dismissed the fraud claim as time-barred because the plaintiffs-investors were on notice of the alleged fraud more than two years before they filed suit. 

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First Department Adds Two New Factors to New York’s Standard of Review for Non-Monetary Settlements of Shareholder Class Actions

On February 2, 2017, the Appellate Division, First Department issued a unanimous decision in Gordon v. Verizon Communications, Inc., No. 653084/13, 2017 BL 31251 (1st Dep’t Feb. 2, 2017) that may have significant consequences for non-monetary settlements of shareholder class actions in New York.[1] Justice Melvin L. Schweitzer, then of the Commercial Division, rejected the putative settlement due to concerns about whether shareholders could benefit from the additional disclosures that were to be made.  In an opinion by Justice Marcy L. Kahn, the First Department reversed and approved the proposed settlement.  Justice Kahn applied the five-factor test that the First Department adopted in Matter of Colt Indus. Shareholders Litig. (Woodrow v. Colt Indus, Inc.), 155 AD2d 154, 160 (1st Dep’t 1990), and added two new factors to that test.  However, the Court’s failure to clearly define which parties these two new factors are meant to protect—i.e., the shareholders or the corporation—may lead to confusion as future courts and parties seek to apply this revised standard.

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First Department Affirms the Validity of an LLC Operating Agreement Adopted by Majority Members without Minority Consent: Takeaways for New York LLCs

In Shapiro v. Ettenson, No. 2849, 2017 BL 19404 (App. Div. 1st Dep’t Jan. 24, 2017), the Appellate Division, First Department recently affirmed a decision by Supreme Court Justice Kelly O’Neill Levy upholding an LLC operating agreement that was adopted by two of the LLC’s three co-equal members without the consent of the third member.  The Appellate Division rejected Shapiro’s argument that the operating agreement was unenforceable because it was not adopted unanimously.  The panel affirmed the lower court’s decision that LLC Law § 402(c) “provides that the operating agreement may be adopted by ‘the vote of a majority in interest of the members entitled to vote thereon.’”[1]  Because the First Department agreed that the operating agreement was enforceable, the court further affirmed the lower court’s ruling upholding the majority members’ reliance on a provision of the agreement to issue a capital call and reduce the voting interest of any member who fails to make the requested capital contribution.[2]

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First Department Confirms Hedge Funds Did Not Act in Bad Faith and Affirms Multi-Million Dollar Judgment Against CDS Counterpart

In Good Hill Master Fund L.P. v. Deutsche Bank AG, No. 600858/10-2188B, 2017 BL 19363 (App. Div. 1st Dep’t Jan. 24, 2017), the First Department unanimously affirmed a judgment entered in the Commercial Division of over $90 million, a large portion of which included prejudgment interest at 21%.  The judgment followed a nonjury trial before Justice O. Peter Sherwood of the New York County Commercial Division.  The case was brought by two hedge funds against Deutsche Bank in connection with Credit Default Swap (“CDS”) agreements.  The First Department rejected the bank’s arguments that the hedge funds acted in bad faith by renegotiating the terms of the underlying securitized notes to the detriment of their CDS counterparty, Deutsche Bank.

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Obtaining Jurisdiction in New York Courts through Repeated Use of Correspondent Bank Accounts

In the past, a foreign bank’s use of correspondent bank accounts in the United States to facilitate wire transfers has not necessarily given New York courts a sufficient basis for jurisdiction over the bank.  But a recent 4-3 Court of Appeals decision may change that.  In Rushaid, et al. v. Pictet & Cie, et al., No. 180, 2016 BL 387923 (N.Y. Nov. 22, 2016), Judge Rivera writing for the four person majority (and overturning decisions of both the First Department and the Commercial Division) ruled that a foreign bank’s “repeated, deliberate” use of correspondent bank accounts in the United States is enough to establish New York jurisdiction.

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Commercial Division Grants Preliminary Injunction in Shareholder Dispute

On January 6, 2017, Justice Charles E. Ramos of the Commercial Division issued an order enjoining two corporations from taking action in violation of a shareholders agreement of a third company.  The case, Ciment v. SpanTran, Inc.,[1] involves a contentious shareholder dispute in which it was alleged that the shareholders agreement of one company covered governance issues concerning two other companies.  Justice Ramos ruled that the third company’s shareholders agreement contemplated the acquisition of additional entities, and was thus likely to apply to the other two corporations—which had subsequently come under the ownership of the same shareholders.

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Court of Appeals Grants Leave to Appeal in Partnership Dissolution Case

On January 10, 2016, the New York Court of Appeals decided to hear a case that has significant consequence in the field of partnership dissolution.  The case, Congel v. Malfitano, concerns the allegedly wrongful dissolution of a shopping mall partnership under Partnership Law § 69.  In 2016, Justice Thomas A. Dickerson, writing for a unanimous Second Department panel, held that a former partner’s unilateral notice of dissolution was wrongful because under Partnership Law § 69(2)(1)(b) the partnership was not “at-will” given that the written agreement contained a “definite term.”  The Second Department also ruled that it is appropriate to apply minority and goodwill discounts in determining the value of a defendant’s interest in a partnership.  Finally, the Second Department concluded that an award of attorney’s fees was proper because the expenditures are only incurred because of the former partner’s wrongful conduct.   

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Commercial Division Disqualifies Attorney Acting in a Dual Role Pursuant to Advocate-Witness Rule

In a recent decision, Justice Lawrence S. Knipel in the Commercial Division ordered an attorney to comply with a non-party subpoena and disqualified the same attorney from representing her client in the action pursuant to the Advocate-Witness Rule of the New York Rules of Professional Conduct due to the fact that the lawyer was likely to be a witness on a significant issue of fact in the case.  Vanderbilt Brookland LLC v. Vanderbilt Myrtle Inc., No. 500522/2014, 2016 BL 433294 (Sup. Ct. Dec. 23 2016).   

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Commercial Division Trial to Address Collateral Call and Dispute Resolution Provisions of ISDA Agreements

In a case with potentially broad implications for participants in the leveraged loan and derivatives markets, Justice Eileen Bransten will conduct a bench trial starting next week in the long-running dispute between a prominent Greenwich-based hedge fund, BDC Finance L.L.C. (“BDC”) and Barclays Bank PLC.  The case, BDC Finance LLC v. Barclays Bank PLC, Index No. 650375/2008, involves a derivatives transaction that—like more than 90% of derivative transactions around the world—is governed by the industry standard forms promulgated by the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (“ISDA”).  Following years of litigation and a trip to the New York Court of Appeals, the trial will focus, in large measure, on a relatively narrow question of contractual interpretation:  are parties to an ISDA agreement held to its literal terms?

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Investor’s Relocation to New York after Structuring a Financing Deal in Hong Kong Does Not Provide a Basis for Suit Against Swiss Bank UBS in New York, Holds Commercial Division

In Ace Decade Holdings Ltd. v. UBS AG, No. 653316/2015, 2016 BL 413780 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Dec. 7, 2016), Justice Eileen Bransten of the Commercial Division dismissed a $500 million fraud suit brought by an investment holding company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, Ace Decade Holdings Ltd. (“Ace Decade”), against the Swiss Bank UBS AG for lack of personal jurisdiction and inconvenient forum.  Justice Bransten found no basis to exercise jurisdiction over UBS for alleged fraud in connection with a financing deal negotiated in Hong Kong to purchase shares of a firm listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.  Justice Bransten further held that, even if the court could exercise jurisdiction over UBS, the causes of action lack a substantial nexus with New York and, thus, dismissal is also warranted based upon the doctrine of forum non conveniens.

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Commercial Division Rejects Employers’ Plea For Trade Secret and Trademark Protection

When employees resign, the scope of the trade secret doctrine often defines the relationship between former employers and their employees.  Trade secret misappropriation claims frequently overlap with other claims arising out of the employment relationship, such as for breach of contract, unfair competition and breach of confidentiality obligations, and also with other doctrines that protect intangible information, such as trademark and copyright law.  In S.A.S.C.O. Trading, Inc. v. Pamnani, Case No. 655441/2016, 2016 BL 375946 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Nov. 1, 2016), Justice O. Peter Sherwood of the Commercial Division analyzed whether a clothing company’s customer lists, manufacturer and supplier lists, and clothing designs were subject to trade secret protection and in the case of the clothing designs, also copyright or trademark protection.

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LLC Operating Agreement Does Not Prevent Freeze-Out Merger

On October 24, 2016, Justice Charles E. Ramos of the New York Commercial Division denied a motion by minority members of a limited liability company (“LLC”) to enjoin a freeze-out merger that would cash out the minority members’ interests.  Huang v. N. Star Mgmt. LLC, 652357/2016, 2016 NY Slip Op 32194(U), at *4 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Oct. 24, 2016).  The court rejected the minority members’ argument that the majority members had violated the LLC’s operating agreement by transferring their membership interests to another LLC to effect the merger.

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Impeding the Counterparty’s Ability to Satisfy a Condition Precedent Could Result in Liability

Justice Jeffrey K. Oing in the Commercial Division handed down a decision recently that discusses frustration of the occurrence of a condition precedent by parties to commercial contracts.  Nesconset ZJ 1 v. Nesconset Acquisition, LLC, No. 652719/2015, 2016 BL 339908 (Sup. Ct. Oct. 4. 2016).  The dispute in Nesconset involved agreements between buyers and sellers of nursing homes and related health care facilities.  The main issue in the case was whether the buyers could seek specific performance of the sales contract when the sellers’ conduct allegedly frustrated the satisfaction of condition precedents to the contract.  Justice Oing held that a seller who frustrates the buyer’s ability to satisfy a condition precedent will be unable to rely on the failure to satisfy that condition as justification to avoid the contract and will be subject to a claim for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

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User’s Guide to Recent Revisions in the Commercial Division Rules

This User’s Guide contains a summary of new rules and amendments to existing rules that have been enacted since the original publication of this User’s Guide in January of 2015.  For a complete list of the rules of the Commercial Division of the Supreme Court, please follow the link found here.

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New York Court of Appeals Clarifies Champerty Safe Harbor Provision

On October 27, 2016, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore delivered a much awaited opinion in Justinian Capital SPC v. WestLB.[1]  Judge Leslie Stein wrote a dissenting opinion, which was joined by Judge Eugene Pigott, Jr.  Justinian involves the issue of champerty, which, as the Court describes, is “the purchase of notes, securities, or other instruments or claims with the intent and for the primary purpose of bringing a lawsuit.”[2]  Under New York law, champerty is prohibited.[3]  However, the New York champerty statute provides for a safe-harbor when the purchased asset has an “aggregate purchase price of at least five hundred thousand dollars.”[4]  Justinian clarifies that this safe harbor only applies when either the party pays “the purchase price or [has] a binding and bona fide obligation to pay the purchase price.”[5]  Put simply, at least $500,000 of the transaction must not be contingent on the litigation in order to fall within the safe harbor.

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A Party Can Be Compelled to Arbitrate a Dispute Pursuant to an Agreement It Did Not Sign

A recent decision from the New York Commercial Division decided whether arbitration could be avoided in an investment firm-employee dispute.  In CF Notes, LLC v. Weinstein, No. 652206/2015, 2016 BL 352970 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Oct. 13, 2016), Justice Saliann Scarpulla, of the Commercial Division, compelled a nonsignatory to arbitrate pursuant to a FINRA arbitration agreement.  The decision relates to how financial securities firms structure bonuses to employees and to how nonsignatories may be compelled to arbitrate pursuant to arbitration agreements signed by their affiliates.

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Court-Ordered Dissolution Remains “Last Resort”

On October 11, 2016, in Matter of Skoler, 2016 BL 348290 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. Cnty.), Justice Lawrence K. Marks of the Commercial Division issued a decision regarding the strictures of judicial dissolution pursuant to Section 1104(a) of the New York Business Corporation Law (“BCL”).  Petitioners sought judicial dissolution of County Group Inc. (“County Group”), a small, closely held New York domestic corporation.  Petitioners hold 50% of the issued stock in County Group, and the “Responding Shareholders,” who opposed judicial dissolution, hold the remaining 50%.  The Responding Shareholders cross-moved to dismiss the petition.

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Commercial Division Finds Restrictive Covenant Acceptable and Rejects Unpled Partnership Theory

On October 4, 2016, Justice Singh issued an order denying a defendant’s motion to dismiss a claim for breach of a restrictive covenant, finding that the covenant serves an acceptable purpose.  See Tarro v. McOsker, No. 653880/15, slip. op. (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Oct. 4, 2016).   The court also ruled that while it could not resolve a breach of fiduciary duty claim on a motion to dismiss, it would not entertain a new theory of duty that a plaintiff did not plead in his complaint.

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Commercial Division Reaffirms Distinction Between Direct Versus Derivative Claims Under Delaware Law

When can a shareholder bring a direct claim in the Commercial Division against a corporate officer under Delaware law?  On September 29, 2016, in Southern Advanced Materials LLC v. Abrams, No. 650773/2015, 2016 BL 331371 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. Cnty.), Justice Saliann Scarpulla of the Commercial Division ruled on a corporate officer’s motion to dismiss breach of contract and fraudulent inducement claims brought by a plaintiff shareholder.  In his ruling, Justice Scarpulla articulated the distinction between direct and derivative claims under Delaware law, and applied that law to four contract and fraud claims brought by a shareholder against corporate officer.  Justice Scarpulla’s opinion provides guidance to litigants addressing shareholder claims against corporate officers in the Commercial Division.

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    Rival Talent Managers’ Dispute Over American Idol Winner Phillip Phillips Stays “Home” at the California Labor Commission, Holds Commercial Division in Stay Decision

    When the winner of the 11th season of American Idol, Phillip Phillips, sang “I’m going to make this place your home” on his 2012 breakout single, “Home,” he may have been predicting the petition that he would later file with the California Labor Commission (“CLC”).  In that petition, Phillips sought to void the talent management agreement that he was required to sign with 19 Entertainment, Inc. – one of the now-bankrupt companies behind production of American Idol – in order to participate as a semifinalist on the show.  Following a September 23, 2016 decision by Commercial Division Justice Salinan Scarpulla staying 19 Entertainment’s suit against Phillips’ new talent manager pending resolution of the California proceeding, the CLC may be “home” for 19 Entertainment’s fight over Phillips for the foreseeable future.

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    Vacatur of an Arbitration Award: Petitioner Bears Significant Burden Under FAA and CPLR

    On September 23, 2016, in Pershing LLC v. Rochdale Securities, LLC, No. 651604, 2016 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 3448 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. Cnty.), Justice Saliann Scarpulla of the Commercial Division issued a decision that reinforces the very significant burden a petitioner faces in order to successfully vacate an arbitration award under CPLR Article 75 and section 10 of the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq.

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    Commercial Division Dismisses Antitrust Defenses to Breach of Contract Claim

    Although defenses based on antitrust law are usually disfavored in breach of contract actions, they are permitted when an agreement on its face would require actions violating antitrust law.  On September 20, 2016, in Time Warner Cable Enters. LLC v. Universal Communications Network, Inc., 652407/2015, 2016 BL 316191 before Justice Oing the Commercial Division found that cable distribution agreements requiring a company to pay to have its channel carried in additional markets are not invalid on their face.

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    Talking Shop in the Courtroom: Courts Set a High Bar for Using Industry Custom to Interpret Contracts

    Industry jargon becomes second nature to those in the industry.  Wall Street knows “poison pills” and Silicon Valley knows “burn rates.”  But what is second nature to industry insiders may be entirely foreign to others, and courts have set a high bar for allowing industry custom to color their interpretation of contracts.  Two recent decisions of the New York Commercial Division underscore the danger of relying on custom and usage to supply meaning to contract terms.  See Lehman Bros. Holdings Inc. v. IVC WH HG II, LLC, No. 652178/2012, 2016 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 3215 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Aug. 31, 2016) and IFC v. Carrera Holdings Inc., No. 601705/2007, 2016 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 2640 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. June 29, 2016).

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    Costly Server Sale: Servers Erased In Asset Sale Lead To Adverse Inference for Spoilation

    On August 23, 2016, Justice Eileen Bransten of the New York Commercial Division issued a decision granting a motion for spoliation sanctions in a six-year-old dispute involving Covista Communications, Inc. and Oorah, Inc., two telecommunications companies.  Oorah, Inc. v Covista Communications, Inc., 2016 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 3104 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Aug. 23, 2016).   Justice Bransten’s opinion serves as an important reminder that parties must institute a litigation hold and exercise care when erasing documents, even as part of an unrelated transaction, when they are in litigation or reasonably anticipate litigation.

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