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Indemnification Fee Advancement

Written by Susan Maslow Thursday, August 06 2015 20:54

No one (not even us legal corporate types) would ever suggest that bylaws are interesting. But recent Third Circuit and Delaware Court of Chancery decisions have highlighted the complexity of issues regarding a company’s fee advancement bylaws and policies. Some corporate indemnification provisions are mandated and other provisions are simply permitted under Delaware state law. In practice, adopted corporate bylaws refer to the right (or absence of a right) of officers and directors of a company to be reimbursed by the company for losses, including legal fees, incurred in legal proceedings that name individual officers or directors if those proceedings relate to their employment or activities on behalf of that company.   Mandated indemnification obligations under Delaware statutory requirements attach only to an “officer or director” but many companies nevertheless have bylaws and policies that permit indemnification to “any person” (including officers, directors, employees and agents) who act in good faith and in a manner they reasonably believed to not be opposed to the best interests of the entity. The Third Circuit, however, recently held that the definition of “officer” was ambiguous; an executive title like “Vice President” alone does not automatically prove eligibility for indemnification. And the Court of Chancery held that officers and directors need not prove that they will be indemnified to obtain fee advancement where bylaws tie fee advancement to indemnification. In other words, entitlement to advancement of fees under corporate bylaws is to be considered independently of indemnification entitlement. Examining the requirement that the conduct in question of any person seeking indemnification must be “by reason of the fact” of his or her officer/employment status, the same court determined that bylaws may not exclude entire categories of alleged wrongdoing for the purpose of fee advancement denial. If the alleged wrongdoing relates to an officer’s duties owed to the company (such as breaches of fiduciary duty), fee advancement may be required (even where the same bylaws require a clawback if the officer is ultimately found to have engaged in such wrongdoing).

 

By William T. MacMinn, Esquire Reprinted with permission from the July 27, 2015 issue of The Legal Intelligencer. (c) 2015 ALM Media Properties. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.

The Superior Court confirmed in the recent decision of Drake Manufacturing Company, Inc. v. Polyflow, Inc., 109 A.3d 250 (Pa. Super. 2015), that a foreign corporation doing business in Pennsylvania must be registered pursuant to 15 Pa.C.S.A. §4141(a) in order to maintain any litigation or recover any damages in the Commonwealth (15 Pa.C.S.A. §4141(a) is now enacted at 15 Pa.C.S.A. §411(a)).  The Drake case is an instructive and cautionary tale because the Defendant in that case admitted contractual liability for non-payment, but defended the case solely on the lack of capacity issue. There was no doubt that the Plaintiff was a foreign corporation doing business in Pennsylvania and had not registered as required by Pennsylvania’s Business Corporation Law.  Nevertheless, even after many years and several opportunities to obtain the Certificate of Registration, Plaintiff failed to do so until three weeks after winning a verdict in the case.

Defendant properly pled the lack of capacity defense in its Answer, renewed the argument in a motion for non-suit at the close of Plaintiff’s case, and filed post-trial motions requesting judgment n.o.v.  Three and a half years passed from the time of Plaintiff’s complaint until verdict, during which time Plaintiff did not make any effort to obtain the required Certificate.  Plaintiff presented no evidence on the capacity issue at trial, nor could it since it did not comply with the statute until three weeks later. Further, at the conclusion of the trial Plaintiff allowed the record to close instead of requesting that it be kept open to allow time to obtain and offer into evidence its Certificate of Registration.  Plaintiff only submitted its registration as a part of its rebuttal to Defendant’s Motion for Judgment N.O.V.   The trial court denied Defendant’s Motion finding that submitting the certificate during post-trial proceedings was permissible. It entered judgment against Defendant in the amount of nearly $300,000.00.

On appeal, the Superior Court reversed the lower court and remanded for entry of Judgment N.O.V. in favor of the Defendant. Holding that registration is an absolute pre-requisite for a foreign Plaintiff doing business in Pennsylvania to maintain a suit and recover damages, the Court further reasoned that the after-acquired certificate could not be accepted during post-trial proceedings, nor could the record be re-opened to accept it because it was evidence that could and should have been presented during trial.  The Court further noted that the issue of lack of capacity to sue may be raised either by Preliminary Objection or, as was done here, by Answer and New Matter and cautioned that failure to do either waives the defense. 

However, the question remains, is there an earlier time period at which waiver may attach? Notwithstanding Pa.R.C.P. 1028, there may be. In International Inventors Incorporated, East v. Berger, 363 A.2d 1262 (Pa. Super. 1976) the Plaintiff sought a preliminary injunction and damages. There the Defendant properly raised the issue of Plaintiff’s incapacity at the preliminary injunction hearing but the preliminary injunction was nevertheless granted.  On appeal, the Superior Court held this was error.  The Court explained that the trial court should have denied Plaintiff’s request for an injunction, but should also have stayed the proceedings to give Plaintiff an opportunity to register and thereby cure its lack of capacity.  Instead, the Court granted the injunction and is so doing decided “an issue” (i.e. injunctive relief) in the case and thereby allowed Plaintiff to “maintain a suit” in violation of the statute. The Court reversed the grant of the injunction.  Although Berger analyzed the issue of timeliness in the context of the Plaintiff’s compliance with registration requirements, the Court’s reasoning also supports the argument that a Defendant, who does not raise the capacity issue prior to preliminary injunctive relief being granted, similarly may have waived the issue for the life of the suit even though the time for responsive pleadings under the Rules of Civil Procedure had not expired. Thus, while the question of the Plaintiff’s capacity may not be at the forefront of case strategy analysis, Berger and Drake are a caution to counsel that the issue cannot be ignored.

Commercial lenders in Pennsylvania await action by the legislature to fix what appears to be an unintended byproduct of recent amendments to the Pennsylvania Probate, Estate and Fiduciaries (PEF) Code that went into effect earlier this year. You may be wondering what a statute that generally applies to trust and estate matters has to do with commercial lending transactions. The answer is that the recent changes applicable to powers of attorney generally could be interpreted to apply to powers of attorney granted in commercial loan documents, leases and other contracts (such as those granted in connection with confession of judgment clauses and certain other remedies). Historically, these statutory provisions did not apply to commercial agreements. It appears that the legislature was focusing on trust and estate documents when enacting this legislation and didn’t understand the impact of these amendments on commercial transactions.

These amendments are troubling from a lender’s perspective because they require that an agent must “act in accordance with the principal’s reasonable expectations to the extent actually known by the agent and, otherwise, in the principal’s best interest.” In a commercial loan transaction, the agent is the lender and the principal is the borrower, so the tension is obvious: a lender that is foreclosing on property, confessing judgment, collecting rents, or exercising Article 9 remedies  is not likely to be acting in the best interest of the borrower.

Pennsylvania House Bill #665 would amend the PEF Code to clarify that the power of attorney requirements do not apply to commercial transactions. This bill is presently in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Until this bill becomes law, lenders should consider making the following adjustments to commercial loan documents containing powers of attorney (typically these include documents with confessions of judgment, security agreements, assignments of rent, and mortgages):

• Include an acknowledgement by the borrower that its reasonable expectations include confession of judgment, foreclosure and other actions typically taken by a lender under the power of attorney;

• Include a waiver of the duties imposed by the PEF Code; and

• Add a notary page.

By Thomas P. Donnelly, Esquire Reprinted with permission from the May 29, 2015 issue of The Legal Intelligencer. (c) 2015 ALM Media Properties. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.

Confidentiality agreements have become commonplace in commercial litigation.  The purpose of a confidentiality agreement as the protection from disclosure of either private personal or sensitive business information which gives a party a competitive advantage is certainly a noble one and one which mandates an agreement against such disclosure in a wide variety of circumstances.  Often, the parties seek the imprimatur of the court by requesting the court adopt the agreement of the parties as an order thereby incorporating the court’s power to impose sanctions in the event of breach.  The entry of such an order, whether intentionally or as an unintended consequence,  may change the nature of a third party, foreign to the dispute with respect to which the confidentiality order was entered, to obtain information produced in the prior litigation.  

Federal law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) prohibits, among other matters, a covered employer, from discriminating against an employee because of such individual’s sex.  Generally, a private employer with 15 or more employees, engaging in interstate commerce, is covered by Title VII.  The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) passed in 1978, added discrimination based on “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions” to this prohibition.

The PDA also provides that employers are required to treat  “women affected by  pregnancy… the same for all employment-related  purposes … as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work” .

In the recent case of Young v. UPS, the Supreme Court, in interpreting the provision above, announced a new test for analyzing pregnancy discrimination claims. The relevant facts of the case are as follows:

Plaintiff Young worked as a part-time driver for defendant United Parcel Service (UPS). Her duties included pickup and delivery of packages. While employed by UPS she became pregnant and was told by her doctor that she should not lift more than 20 pounds during her first 20 weeks of pregnancy and no more than 10 pounds thereafter. Drivers in Young’s position were required to lift up to 70 pounds. UPS therefore advised Young that she could not work while under a lifting restriction. As a result Young remained home without pay during most of her pregnancy and ultimately lost her employee medical coverage.

By Patricia C. Collins, Esquire, Reprinted with permission from the March 23, 2015 issue of The Legal Intelligencer. (c) 2015 ALM Media Properties. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.

Recently, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, in Mathis v. Christian Heating and Air Conditioning, Inc., 13-3747 (March 12, 2015), examined the effect of factual findings in unemployment compensation proceedings in Pennsylvania on discrimination claims filed in federal court.  The conclusion?  The discrimination case is a “do over,” and nothing determined by the tribunal (including the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review and the Commonwealth Court) will collaterally estop either party, presumably, from taking a contrary position in the subsequent wrongful termination suit. 

 The facts are these:  Mr. Mathis was employed at Christian Heating and Air Conditioning (“Christian Heating”) for nearly two years.  During that time, Mr. Mathis had placed black tape over part of his identification badge.  The objectionable part of the card professed the company’s mission statement to, inter alia, run the business in a way that was “pleasing to the lord [sic]….”  Mr. Mathis’s supervisor and the owner of the business required him to remove the tape from the back of his badge.  Mr. Mathis refused to do so, and contended that he was terminated as a result. 

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