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Category: Choice of Law

Commercial Division Finds Jurisdiction over Foreign Defendant on an Alter Ego Theory in Estate’s Action to Recover Painting Plundered in Nazi-Occupied France

In a decision issued last month in Gowen v. Helly Nahmad Gallery, Inc., No. 650646/2014, 2018 NY Slip Op 28142, 2018 BL 164601, Commercial Division Justice Eileen Bransten found personal jurisdiction over foreign defendants in an action brought by the estate of a Jewish art dealer to recover a valuable painting plundered by the Nazis in occupied Paris.  Justice Bransten further held that New York’s substantive law applies to the dispute over the painting’s ownership, proclaiming that “New York markets are not now, and shall not become, a safe harbor for the fruits of property pillaged during the course of the Nazi genocide.”  Beyond its compelling subject matter, the opinion provides useful guidance for plaintiffs considering pleading jurisdiction over non-domiciliary defendants on an alter ego theory.

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Patterson Belknap Hosts Conversation about Litigation Practice in New York Courts with Court of Appeals Judge Michael Garcia and New York Practice author Professor Patrick M. Connors

On Wednesday, June 20, 2018, Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP welcomed Associate Judge Michael Garcia of the New York Court of Appeals, and Professor Patrick M. Connors, author of the New York Practice treatise, for a continuing legal education program on litigation practice in New York courts. Patterson Belknap partners Stephen P. Younger and Muhammad U. Faridi, authors of the New York Commercial Division Practice Guide, also participated with Mr. Younger moderating a discussion of New York practice issues and Mr. Faridi serving as a panelist.

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The Commercial Division Reaffirms that Permissive Forum Selection Clauses Do Not Preclude Litigating in a Different Court

Attorneys drafting forum selection clauses were reminded of the distinction between permissive and mandatory forum language in Justice Andrea Masley’s recent decision, Duncan-Watt et al. v. Rockefeller et al., No. 655538/2016, 2018 BL 138448 (Sup. Ct., N.Y. Cty. Apr. 13, 2018). In Duncan-Watt, the Commercial Division ruled on Defendants’ motion to dismiss by holding that the dispute resolution clause in the parties’ licensing agreement failed to select Australian courts as the exclusive forum in which to litigate any disputes.  As a result, the Court concluded that the contractual language at issue only reflected the parties’ consent to jurisdiction in Australia—not that the dispute had to be litigated there.[1]

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Commercial Division Rejects Disclosure-Only Settlement

On February 8, 2018, Justice Shirley Werner Kornreich of the Commercial Division rejected a disclosure-only class action settlement in City Trading Fund v. Nye, 2018 BL 44689 (Sup. Ct. Feb. 08, 2018).  The settlement provided for additional disclosures to shareholders in a proxy statement plus $500,000 in attorneys’ fees and expenses for plaintiffs’ counsel.  As discussed below, the Commercial Division’s rejection of this disclosure-only settlement is one of the first applications of the First Department’s new standard for reviewing such settlements of merger challenge litigations. 

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How “Similar” is Similar Enough for New York Law to Trump a Choice-of-Law Provision?

In WL Ross & Co. v. Storper, a recent Commercial Division decision involving the private equity firm founded by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, Justice Andrea Masley suggested that New York courts can disregard choice-of-law provisions if the law of the state specified by the choice-of-law provision is “substantively similar” to that of New York on the topic at issue.  Attorneys who routinely draft agreements that contain choice-of-law provisions would do well to take note of this decision, as it may imply that more careful attention should be paid to such provisions when New York law is best avoided for strategic reasons.

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Preliminary Hurdle for Cayman Derivative Claims Does Not Bar Suit in New York

A shareholder bringing a contested derivative claim in the Cayman Islands must seek leave from the court before proceeding.  This litigation prerequisite -- imposed by Rule 12A of the Rules of the Grand Court of the Cayman Islands (“Rule 12A”) -- requires a prima facie factual showing, with the aim of protecting corporations from “vexatious or unfounded litigation.”  But when a Cayman Islands-related derivative claim is brought in New York’s Commercial Division, does the same rule apply?  The New York Court of Appeals recently answered “No,” holding in Davis v. Scottish Re Group Ltd. that Rule 12A is a procedural rule that does not apply to matters litigated in New York courts.

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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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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.[1]  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.).

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