Articles Posted in Business Law

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Metro, a managing clerk at a New York City law firm, engaged in a five-year scheme in which he disclosed material nonpublic information concerning corporate transactions to his friend Tamayo. Tamayo told his stockbroker, Eydelman, who made trades for Tamayo, himself, his family, his friends, and other clients. Metro did not hold the involved stocks himself and did not collect proceeds but relied on Tamayo to reinvest the proceeds from their unlawful trades in future insider trading. During the government’s investigation, Tamayo promptly admitted his role in the scheme and cooperated with the government. The insider trading based on Metro’s tips resulted in illicit gains of $5,673,682. The court attributed that entire sum to Metro in determining his 46-month sentence after Metro pled guilty to conspiracy to violate securities laws, 18 U.S.C. 371, and insider trading, 15 U.S.C. 78j(b) and 78ff. Metro denies being aware of Eydelman’s existence until one year after he relayed his last tip to Tamayo, and contends that he never intended any of the tips to be passed to a broker or any other third party. The Third Circuit vacated the sentence. The district court failed to make sufficient factual findings to support the attribution of the full $5.6 million to Metro and gave too broad a meaning to the phrase “acting in concert.” View "United States v. Metro" on Justia Law

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Purchasers of egg products accused suppliers of conspiring to reduce the supply of eggs and increase the price for egg products in violation of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1. Plaintiffs alleged that the producers conspired to reduce the population of egg-laying hens, resulting in a reduced supply of eggs and, given the inelasticity of demand, supra-competitive prices. A trade association coordinated a certification program under which participants had to increase their cage sizes and not replace hens that died. Plaintiffs alleged that the proffered animal welfare rationale was a pretext to reduce supply. The district court, citing a bar on indirect purchaser actions, concluded that the purchaser-plaintiffs lacked standing. The Third Circuit reversed. As a matter of first impression, a direct purchaser of a product that includes a price-fixed input has antitrust standing to pursue a claim against the party that sold the product to the purchaser, where the seller is a participant in the price-fixing conspiracy, but the product also includes some price-fixed input supplied by a third-party non-conspirator. The direct relationship between the purchasers and their suppliers and the fact that the suppliers are alleged price-fixing conspirators, not merely competitors of those conspirators, are key factors. Regardless of who collected the overcharge, the purchasers’ econometric analysis purports to show the “difference between the actual [supracompetitive] price and the presumed competitive price” of the egg products they purchased. This purported difference, and the purchasers’ resulting injury, was allegedly a direct and intended result of the suppliers’ conspiracy. View "In Re: Processed Egg Products Antitrust Litigation" on Justia Law

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Crystallex, a Canadian gold producer, owned the rights to Venezuela's Las Cristinas gold reserve. In 2011, Venezuela nationalized its gold mines and expropriated Crystallex’s rights. Crystallex initiated arbitration before the World Bank, claiming that Venezuela had violated a bilateral investment treaty with Canada. Venezuela was the sole defendant. The arbitrators found that Venezuela had breached the treaty and awarded Crystallex $1.202 billion. The district court confirmed the award (Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. 1). Venezuela owns 100% of Petróleos de Venezuela, (PDVSA). PDVSA is allegedly Venezuela’s alter ego, a “national oil company through which Venezuela implements government policies.” PDVSA owns 100% of PDVH, which owns 100% of CITGO Holding, which owns 100% of CITGO Petroleum (Delaware corporations). Crystallex sued PDVH in Delaware, alleging that PDVH had violated the Delaware Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act’s (DUFTA) prohibition against fraudulent transfers. The complaint alleged Venezuela orchestrated a series of debt offerings and asset transfers among PDVSA, PDVH, CITGO Holding, and CITGO Petroleum so that $2.8 billion in “dividends” ended up with PDVSA (Venezuela) outside the U.S. and could not be reached by Venezuela’s creditors. The court denied PDVH’s motion to dismiss, concluding that there had been a transfer “by a debtor.” The Third Circuit reversed, stating that it did not condone the debtor’s actions but that a transfer by a non-debtor (PDVH) cannot be a “fraudulent transfer” under DUFTA. View "Crystallex International Corp v. Petroleos de Venezuela SA" on Justia Law

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The Delaware Companies challenged Delaware’s right to audit whether funds paid for stored-value gift cards issued by their Ohio-based subsidiaries are held by the Companies and subject to escheatment. Their argument relied on Supreme Court precedent establishing priority among states competing to escheat abandoned property, giving first place to the state where the property owner was last known to reside. If that residence cannot be identified or if that state has disclaimed its interest, second in line is the state where the holder of the abandoned property is incorporated; any other state is preempted from escheating the property. The Companies argued that money left unclaimed by owners of the stored-value cards is held by the Ohio Subsidiaries, so Delaware can have no legitimate escheatment claim and must be barred from auditing the Companies in connection with the gift cards. The Third Circuit held that private parties can invoke federal common law to challenge a state’s authority to escheat property but agreed that dismissal was proper. “The notion that the State cannot conduct any inquiry into abandoned property to verify a Delaware corporation’s representations regarding abandoned property lacks merit” and, to the extent the Companies challenged the scope or means of the audit, the claim is not ripe, since Delaware has taken no formal steps to compel an audit. View "Marathon Petroleum Corp v. Secretary of Finance for the State of Delaware" on Justia Law

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McGann, who is blind and deaf, requested from Cinemark an American Sign Language (ASL) tactile interpreter so that he could experience a movie in his local Cinemark theater during one of its regular showings. Cinemark denied his request. McGann filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12101 ADA. After a bench trial in which the parties stipulated to all relevant facts, the district court entered Judgment in favor of Cinemark. It reasoned that McGann’s requested tactile interpreter was not an auxiliary aid or service under the ADA and that the ADA did not require movie theaters to change the content of their services or offer “special” services for disabled patrons. The Third Circuit vacated. The tactile interpreter McGann requested is an “auxiliary aid or service.” A a public accommodation may avoid ADA liability for failure to provide an auxiliary aid or service only if it shows that the aid or service in question “fundamentally alter[s] the nature” of its goods or services, or “would result in an undue burden, i.e., significant difficulty or expense.” The court remanded for consideration of CInemark’s possible defense. View "McGann v. Cinemark USA Inc" on Justia Law

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Titanium dioxide is a commodity-like product with no substitutes, the market is dominated by a few firms, and there are substantial barriers to entry. Valspar, a large-scale titanium dioxide purchaser, alleges that suppliers conspired to increase prices, beginning when DuPont—the largest American supplier—joined the Titanium Dioxide Manufacturers Association (TDMA) in 2002. DuPont then announced a price increase. Within two weeks, DuPont’s price increase was matched by other suppliers. During the next 12 years, the alleged conspirators announced price increases 31 times. Because Valspar claims it was overcharged by $176 million. In 2010, a class of titanium dioxide purchasers filed a price-fixing action. Valspar opted out of that class action, which settled. Valspar then filed its own claim and settled except against DuPont. The Third Circuit affirmed the summary judgment in favor of DuPont. Valspar’s characterization of the suppliers’ price announcements “neglects the theory of conscious parallelism” and is contrary to the doctrine that in an oligopoly “any rational decision must take into account the anticipated reaction of the other . . . firms.” Price movement in an oligopoly is interdependent and frequently will lead to successive price increases, because oligopolists may “conclude that the industry as a whole would be better off by raising prices.” Valspar did not show that the suppliers’ parallel pricing went “beyond mere interdependence [and was] so unusual that in the absence of advance agreement, no reasonable firm would have engaged in it.” View "Valspar Corp v. E I Du Pont De Nemours & Co" on Justia Law

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When Eclipse, a jet aircraft manufacturer, declared bankruptcy in November 2008, it reached an agreement to sell the company to its largest shareholder, ETIRC, which would have allowed Eclipse to continue its operations. The sale required significant funding from VEB, a state-owned Russian Bank. The funding never materialized. For a month, Eclipse waited for the deal to go through with almost daily assurances that the funding was imminent. Delays were attributed to Prime Minister Putin needing “to think about it.” Eventually, Eclipse was forced to cease operations and notify its workers that a prior furlough had been converted into a layoff. Eclipse’s employees filed a class action complaint as an adversary proceeding in the Bankruptcy Court alleging that Eclipse’s failure to give them 60 days’ notice before the layoff violated the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, 29 U.S.C. 2101-2109, and asserting that Eclipse could invoke neither the Act’s “faltering company” exception nor its “unforeseeable business circumstances” exception. The Bankruptcy Court rejected the employees’ claims on summary judgment, holding that the “unforeseeable business circumstances” exception barred WARN Act liability. The district court and Third Circuit affirmed. Eclipse demonstrated that its closing was not probable until the day that it occurred. View "In re: AE Liquidation, Inc." on Justia Law

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SemGroup purchased oil from producers and resold it to downstream purchasers. It also traded financial options contracts for the right to buy or sell oil at a fixed price on a future date. At the end of the fiscal year preceding bankruptcy, SemGroup’s revenues were $13.2 billion. SemGroup’s operating companies purchased oil from thousands of wells in several states and from thousands of oil producers, including from Appellants, producers in Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma. The producers took no actions to protect themselves in case 11 of SemGroup’s insolvency. The downstream purchasers did; in the case of default, they could set off the amount they owed SemGroup for oil by the amount SemGroup would owe them for the value of the outstanding futures trades. When SemGroup filed for bankruptcy, the downstream purchasers were paid in full while the oil producers were paid only in part. The producers argued that local laws gave them automatically perfected security interests or trust rights in the oil that ended up in the hands of the downstream purchasers. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the downstream purchasers; parties who took precautions against insolvency do not act as insurers to those who took none. View "In re: SemCrude LP" on Justia Law

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The creditors shipped goods via common carrier from China to World Imports in the U.S. “free on board” at the port of origin. One shipment left Shanghai on May 26, 2013; World took physical possession of the goods in the U.S. on June 21. Other goods were shipped from Xiamen on May 17, May 31, and June 7, 2013, and were accepted in the U.S. within 20 days of the day on which World filed its Chapter 11 petition. The creditors filed Allowance and Payment of Administrative Expense Claims, 11 U.S.C. 503(b)(9), allowable if: the vendor sold ‘goods’ to the debtor; the goods were "received" by the debtor within 20 days before the bankruptcy filing; and the goods were sold in the ordinary course of business. Section 503(b)(9) does not define "received." The Bankruptcy Court rejected an argument that the UCC should govern and looked to the Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (CISG). The CISG does not define “received,” so the court looked to international commercial terms (Incoterms) incorporated into the CISG. Although no Incoterm defines “received,” the incoterm governing FOB contracts indicates that the risk transfers to the buyer when the seller delivers the goods to the common carrier. The Bankruptcy Court and the district court found that the goods were “constructively received” when shipped and denied the creditors’ motions. The Third Circuit reversed; the word “received” in 11 U.S.C. 503(b)(9) requires physical possession. View "In re: World Imports Ltd" on Justia Law

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Norman and Elkin were the only shareholders of USM, a company that acquired and sold rights to radio frequencies. Norman held a minority interest and sought legal relief after he discovered that Elkin had transferred to another company the ownership of several frequencies purchased by USM, that Elkin had treated capital contributions as loans, and that Elkin had paid himself from USM funds without giving Norman any return on his minority investment. Despite two juries agreeing with Norman, verdicts in his favor were overturned. Most of his claims were held to be time-barred after the district court rejected his argument that a state court case he had brought to inspect USM’s books and records under the Delaware Code tolled the statute of limitations. Other claims were eliminated for insufficient evidence. The Third Circuit vacated in part. The district court erred in concluding that tolling of the statute of limitations is categorically inappropriate when a plaintiff has inquiry notice before initiating a books and records action in the Delaware courts and erred in vacating the jury’s award of nominal damages for one of Norman’s breach of contract claims. Norman’s fraud claim was not supported by sufficient proof of damages. View "Norman v. Elkin" on Justia Law