647 F.3d 291 (6th Cir. 2011), 09-6385, Ventas, Inc. v. HCP, Inc.

Docket Nº:09-6385, 09-6413.
Citation:647 F.3d 291
Opinion Judge:CLAY, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:VENTAS, INC., Plaintiff-Appellee/Cross-Appellant, v. HCP, INC., fka Health Care Property Investors, Inc., Defendant-Appellant/Cross-Appellee.
Attorney:Jeffrey A. Lamken, Mololamken LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellant. David J. Bradford, Jenner & Block LLP, Chicago, Illinois, for Appellee. Jeffrey A. Lamken, Mololamken LLP, Washington, D.C., Sheryl G. Snyder, Frost Brown Todd LLC, Louisville, Kentucky, Matthew C. Blickensderfer, Frost Brown Tod...
Judge Panel:Before: MERRITT, CLAY, and GRIFFIN, Circuit Judges. CLAY, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which GRIFFIN, J., joined. MERRITT, J. (p. 329-30), delivered a separate opinion concurring in the result and much of the reasoning of the majority opinion. MERRITT, Circuit Judge, concurring.
Case Date:May 17, 2011
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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647 F.3d 291 (6th Cir. 2011)

VENTAS, INC., Plaintiff-Appellee/Cross-Appellant,

v.

HCP, INC., fka Health Care Property Investors, Inc., Defendant-Appellant/Cross-Appellee.

Nos. 09-6385, 09-6413.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

May 17, 2011

Argued: March 10, 2011.

Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc Denied June 27, 2011.[*]

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ARGUED:

Jeffrey A. Lamken, Mololamken LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellant.

David J. Bradford, Jenner & Block LLP, Chicago, Illinois, for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

Jeffrey A. Lamken, Mololamken LLP, Washington, D.C., Sheryl G. Snyder, Frost Brown Todd LLC, Louisville, Kentucky, Matthew C. Blickensderfer, Frost Brown Todd LLC, Cincinnati, Ohio, Mark C. Hansen, Aaron M. Panner, Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel, PLLC, Washington, D.C., for Appellant.

David J. Bradford, Terri L. Mascherin, Daniel J. Weiss, Jenner & Block LLP, Chicago, Illinois, Paul M. Smith, Jenner & Block LLP, Washington, D.C., Eric L. Ison, Holland N. McTyeire V, Greenebaum Doll & McDonald PLLC, Louisville, Kentucky, for Appellee.

Before: MERRITT, CLAY, and GRIFFIN, Circuit Judges.

CLAY, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which GRIFFIN, J., joined. MERRITT, J. (p. 329-30), delivered a separate opinion concurring in the result and much of the reasoning of the majority opinion.

OPINION

CLAY, Circuit Judge.

In this diversity action, Defendant HCP, Inc. appeals a $101,672,807.00 judgment entered by the district court for Plaintiff Ventas, Inc. following a jury trial on Ventas' claim of tortious interference with a prospective advantage, and Ventas cross-appeals. HCP attacks the judgment on the basis of res judicata; the sufficiency of the evidence; and the jury instructions. Ventas seeks to augment the judgment with punitive damages, additional compensatory damages, and prejudgment interest.

For the reasons discussed below, the judgment of the district court is AFFIRMED, but the district court's decision to preclude Ventas from seeking punitive damages is REVERSED, and the case is REMANDED with instructions that the matter proceed to trial on the single issue of punitive damages. The judgment as previously entered by the district court shall stand as a partial final judgment

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pursuant to Rule 54(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

BACKGROUND

In late 2006, Sunrise Senior Living Real Estate Trust (" Sunrise" ), a Canadian real estate investment trust, conducted a confidential auction of its assets. The parties to this appeal, Plaintiff Ventas, Inc. (" Ventas" ) and Defendant HCP, Inc. (" HCP" ), both large American real estate investment trusts specializing in healthcare-related properties, participated in the auction. The auction was to proceed in two rounds. During the first round, several prospective buyers, including Ventas and HCP, would be invited to submit non-binding bids to acquire Sunrise. From these initial bids, Sunrise would select a smaller group of prospective buyers to participate in the second round, in which each remaining participant could submit a final bid. Sunrise would enter into a purchase agreement with the winning bidder, subject to approval by two thirds of Sunrise's voting unitholders.1

The auction procedures required each participant to sign a confidentiality agreement, which included a standstill provision (" Standstill Agreement" ) that would, among other things, prohibit the participant from making or announcing any bid outside of the auction process for a period of 18 months following the conclusion of the auction. The Standstill Agreement also proscribed any actions that would require Sunrise to publicly announce a bid outside of the auction process.

As invitees to the preliminary stages of the auction, both Ventas and HCP independently negotiated and entered into Standstill Agreements with Sunrise. Neither was a party to the other's Standstill Agreement. HCP's Standstill Agreement permitted HCP to make only one final bid, but Ventas' Standstill Agreement permitted Ventas to make a second final bid if Sunrise accepted a competing offer after Ventas made its initial final bid.

Ventas and HCP each made a preliminary bid for Sunrise. HCP offered $16.25 per unit, and Ventas offered $13.25 per unit.2 Each bid was expressly conditioned upon the bidding party reaching an agreement with Sunrise Senior Living, Inc. (" SSL" ), a third party that managed Sunrise's properties under long-term management contracts. Following a review of the preliminary bids, Sunrise invited Ventas and HCP to proceed to the second round. Ventas and HCP were the only participants in the second round.

During this round, Sunrise required each party to submit a final, binding bid by January 14, 2007. The requirement of a binding bid had the practical effect of forcing a bidding party to first reach an independent agreement with SSL. As the district court explained, " [g]iven the complex agreements that provide SSL with rights that encumber, restrain, and burden Sunrise [ ] and the Sunrise [ ] properties, it is easy to see why Sunrise [ ] would desire to have its buyer establish the feasibility of taking ownership of Sunrise [ ] prior to submitting a final bid, rather than later citing inability to work with SSL as a reason for backing out of the sale." (R. 34 at 2 n. 2.)

Ventas reached an agreement with SSL, but HCP failed to do so. Although HCP and SSL engaged in negotiations, the negotiations " blew up" just prior to the final bid deadline. (Tr.4B at 69.) It appears

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that negotiations collapsed when issues relating to another real estate portfolio became intertwined in the Sunrise negotiations. This other portfolio, referred to as the " CNL Properties," was a multi-billion dollar property portfolio purchased by HCP in 2006 and managed by SSL. (Tr.2B at 23.) During the negotiations, HCP " had an existing signed agreement with [SSL] on [the] CNL portfolio but that was under negotiation to be revised." (Tr.4B at 70.) In its negotiations regarding the CNL Properties, HCP sought to " get the cost structure of [SSL] consistent with the cost structure of other senior housing operators." (Tr.5A at 77.)

The parties dispute the source of the breakdown in negotiations between HCP and SSL. Each assigns fault to the other. According to HCP, it had " reached an agreement" with SSL as to the Sunrise properties " early the week of January 8th" (Tr.4B at 69), but SSL, at the eleventh hour, demanded " concessions in separate negotiations concerning other properties." (HCP Br. at 6 (citing Tr.4B at 69; Tr.5B at 42).) This, HCP contends, doomed the negotiations because the cost of the concessions " approached $200 million." (Tr.4B at 129.)

According to Ventas, it was HCP, not SSL, that derailed the negotiations. HCP Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (" CEO" ) Jay Flaherty admitted that he was playing " hardball" with SSL during the negotiations by, for instance, sending numerous notices to SSL that terminated, or purported to terminate, management contracts with SSL relating to other properties owned by HCP. (Tr.5A at 75-82.) The night before the final bid deadline, at 8:00 p.m. on January 13, 2007, HCP sent SSL a counter-proposal that included substantially different terms than the parties had previously discussed. (R. 481 at 267-78.)

A senior vice president at SSL, Christopher Feeney, recalled that HCP's last-minute proposal included a 30-year right of first offer on development properties. ( Id. at 268-75.) Feeney explained that the proposed terms were unacceptable— " actually worse" than HCP's prior proposal— and remarked, referring to HCP: " I had never had seen a party engage in a series of negotiations and then introduce something that is completely out of left field with the hope of signing it in a day." ( Id. ) Feeney concluded that HCP was not " acting in good faith." ( Id. at 277.) SSL informed HCP via email that it would not agree to the proposed terms; HCP did not respond. ( Id. at 277-78.) At the time of trial, HCP was embroiled in litigation against SSL to terminate certain management contracts. (Tr.5A at 107.)

HCP withdrew from the auction process after it was unable to reach an agreement with SSL. Although Sunrise offered to " provide some additional time" for HCP to attempt to reach an agreement with SSL, HCP CEO Flaherty " indicated that, no, that they were moving on to other things." (Tr.2A at 39.) At that time, Andrew Phillips, a financial advisor to Sunrise, asked Flaherty " if there was a different price, that is, a lower price, at which he would be prepared to offer that would somehow offset any risk that HCP might be taking by going into a transaction" without having reached a deal with SSL. ( Id. ) Flaherty responded, " no, that ... his board ... had indicated that th[e] agreement had to be completed." ( Id. )

On January 14, 2007, having reached an agreement with SSL, Ventas submitted an unconditional bid to acquire Sunrise at $15.00 per unit, for a total purchase price of $1,137,712,410.00. Ventas' offer of $15.00 per unit was approved by the Sunrise Board of Trustees that same day, and Ventas and Sunrise entered into a binding

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agreement (the " Purchase Agreement" ), in which Ventas agreed to purchase Sunrise for $15.00 per unit, subject to approval by two-thirds of Sunrise's voting unitholders. Section 4.1 of the Purchase Agreement required Sunrise to use best efforts to secure unitholder approval of the Purchase Agreement. Although Sunrise remained free to respond to unsolicited offers...

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