The Delaware Supreme Court recently held that the plain language of an employment agreement and an LLC agreement prevented an LLC from interjecting a fraudulent inducement defense into a summary proceeding for the advancement of litigation expenses under Section 18-108 of the Delaware LLC Act.
Trascent Mgmt. Consulting, LLC v. Bouri, No. 126, 2016 (Del. Nov. 28, 2016). In Trascent, an LLC brought claims against a terminated executive for breach of his employment agreement. The executive then counterclaimed for advancement of his litigation expenses under his employment agreement and the operating agreement of the LLC, both of which contained nearly identical language stating that, “[u]nless a determination has been made by final, nonappealable order of a court of competent jurisdiction that indemnification is not required, [the LLC] shall, upon the request of [the indemnitee], advance or promptly reimburse [the indemnitee’s] reasonable cost of investigation, litigation or appeal, including reasonable attorneys’ fees [subject to the condition that the indemnitee provide a written undertaking to repay advancements if a court of competent jurisdiction ultimately decided he was not entitled to indemnification].” Having agreed to this language, the LLC “knew it agreed to provide a right, subject to expedited specific enforcement, and it could not reasonably believe that it could deny that right simply by alleging that the contract was invalid.”
Under those circumstances, the Court explained, allowing the LLC to interpose a defense of fraudulent inducement would be inconsistent with the contractual language, would defeat the purpose of a statutory advancement proceeding by inserting a “plenary claim” into what the Court noted should be a summary proceeding, and would impair the public policy interests served by contractual advancement provisions. In dicta, the Court also noted that equity supported its ruling because the LLC had employed the executive for 16 months and then sued him under the same contract that it claimed was invalid.
Link to ruling: