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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.’” 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.
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.
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.
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., 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.
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.
A short new video, entitled A Forum for Business Disputes: The Commercial Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, has recently been released. The film was produced by the Court System’s Commercial Division Advisory Council.
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).
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?
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.
Commercial Division Refuses to Disturb Judgment Based On “Newly Discovered” Evidence That Was Available in Russian Public Records Prior to Trial
What is the ability of a litigant in the Commercial Division to use evidence located in the public records outside of the United States to re-open a New York court judgment?
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.
In GSMC II 2006-GC6 Bridgewater Hills Corporate Center, LLC v. Lexington Realty Trust, Case No. 653117/2015, 2016 BL 378261 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Nov. 2, 2016), Justice Jeffrey K. Oing of the Commercial Division denied a motion to dismiss an action to recover a loan guaranty on a defaulted loan of $14,805,000.
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.
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.
On October 27, 2016, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore delivered a much awaited opinion in Justinian Capital SPC v. WestLB. 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.” Under New York law, champerty is prohibited. 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.” 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.” Put simply, at least $500,000 of the transaction must not be contingent on the litigation in order to fall within the safe harbor.
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.
This week’s Latin lesson: in pari delicto potior est conditio defendentis means that if both parties are in the wrong, then the defendant’s position is stronger.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Fraud Pleading Standard: Specificity Not Required to Plead Scienter of Corporate Defendants in Alleged Corporate Fraud Conspiracy
What facts must a fraud plaintiff plead, pursuant to the heightened pleading standard under CPLR § 3016(b), to cognizably allege scienter among corporate entity defendants in the context of an alleged multi-corporation fraud conspiracy?
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.
Commercial Division Rejects Attempt to Dismiss Two Alleged Verbal Agreements Despite Written Agreement’s Requirement that Contract Cannot Be Changed Except Upon Written Agreement of Parties
On August 18, 2016, in Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics, Inc. v. Sephora USA, Inc., No. 652074/2015, 2016 BL 307244 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Aug. 18, 2016), Justice Ramos handed down an order that allowed a plaintiff to proceed with claims for breach of two verbal agreements that were purportedly made after the parties had executed a written agreement stating that the contract cannot be changed except by written agreement of both parties.
In Casey Capital, LLC v. Levy, the Commercial Division provides a cautionary tale for derivative shareholder plaintiffs alleging demand futility
Activist investors are an increasing presence on the stock ledgers and in the boardrooms of public companies. Since 2010, one in seven companies on the S&P 500 has faced an activist shareholder challenge. But activists can encounter pitfalls when they seek to challenge incumbents through derivative litigation, as illustrated by the recent Commercial Division decision in Casey Capital, LLC v. Levy, C.A. No. 652805/15, 2016 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 3107 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Aug. 19, 2016) (Scarpulla, J.).