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  • Delaware Supreme Court Holds Proxy Disclosures Deficient In Failing To Disclose Advisors’ Conflicts Of Interests
    05/07/2024

    On May 1, 2024, the Delaware Supreme Court, sitting en banc, reversed the dismissal of breach of fiduciary claims against Inovalon Holdings, Inc. (the “Company”) and its CEO and directors in connection with the Company’s acquisition by a private equity firm (the “Acquiror”) and its co-investors (the “Transaction”). City of Sarasota Firefighters’ Pension Fund v. Inovalon Holdings, Inc., C.A. No. 2022-0698 (Del. May 1, 2024). The Court held that the trial court erred in finding that the MFW1 requirements were met because plaintiffs adequately alleged that the proxy statement seeking approval for the Transaction failed to adequately disclose information that was potentially material to investors. The Court did not address plaintiffs’ argument that MFW “cleansing” was also unavailable because the Company allegedly failed to condition the Transaction ab initio on special committee approval.

  • Delaware Supreme Court Holds MFW Is Applicable To Controlling Stockholder Transactions Even Outside Of Freeze-Out Context
    04/09/2024

    On April 4, 2024, in an opinion authored by Chief Justice Collins J. Seitz, Jr., the Supreme Court of Delaware sitting en banc held that the framework articulated in Kahn v. M&F Worldwide Corp., 88 A.3d 635 (Del. 2014) (“MFW”) applies to a controlling stockholder transaction, even if it does not involve a freeze-out merger. In re Match Group, Inc. Derivative Litigation, No. 368, 2022 (Del. Apr. 4, 2024). The Court reached this conclusion in considering the Delaware Court of Chancery’s dismissal of breach fiduciary duty claims asserted by pre-transaction minority stockholders relating to a reverse spin-off transaction. The Delaware Supreme Court clarified that “entire fairness” is the “presumptive standard of review” for a controlling stockholder transaction and that only compliance with the “procedural safeguards” of MFW changes it to “the more deferential business judgment standard.” The Court further held that the special committee required by MFW must be “wholly independent.” Because the complaint adequately pleaded that one of the special committee members was not independent of the controller, the Court reversed the dismissal.

  • Delaware Chancery Court Applies Entire Fairness To State Of Incorporation Conversions
    03/26/2024

    On February 20, 2024, Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster of the Delaware Court of Chancery denied in part and granted in part a motion to dismiss a stockholder action against TripAdvisor, Inc. and its parent (together, the “Company”), controlling stockholder and certain directors and officers challenging the conversion of the Company from a Delaware to a Nevada corporation. Palkon v. Maffei, No. 2023-0449-JTL (Del. Ch. Feb. 20, 2024). The Court held that the conversion was subject to entire fairness review because it conferred benefits to the controller—in the form of more limited fiduciary obligations—that minority stockholders did not receive and found the complaint adequately stated a claim for breach of fiduciary duty but stopped short of enjoining the conversion.

  • Court Of Chancery Rescinds CEO Compensation Package Under Entire Fairness Review
     
    02/13/2024

    In a January 30, 2024, post-trial ruling, Vice Chancellor Kathaleen St. J. McCormick of the Delaware Court of Chancery rescinded a compensation package valued at $55.8 billion awarded by Tesla, Inc. to its CEO, notwithstanding that stockholders had previously voted to approve the package.  Tornetta v. Musk, No. 2018-0408-KSJM, 2024 WL 343699 (Del. Ch. Jan. 30, 2024).  In so holding, the Court found that neither the value of the compensation nor the process by which it was achieved was entirely fair to stockholders.
  • Delaware Court Of Chancery Holds That Controlling Stockholder Conduct Did Not Breach Fiduciary Duties But Rendered Buyout Transaction Unfair
     
    02/13/2024

    On January 24, 2024, Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster of the Delaware Court of Chancery awarded a stockholder plaintiff class more than $18 million, finding that the acquisition of the “Hometown” division of Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores, Inc. (“SHOS”) by its controlling stockholder failed the entire fairness test.  In re Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores, Inc. Stockholder Litigation, C.A. No. 2019-0798-JTL (Del. Ch. Jan. 24, 2024).  The Court so ruled, even after finding, that the controlling stockholder’s conduct leading up to the transaction—including the ouster of two members of SHOS’s Special Committee and a bylaw amendment limiting the company’s alternatives—did not breach his fiduciary duties.
  • Applying Unocal, Delaware Court Of Chancery Upholds Board’s Denial Of Stockholder’s Director Nomination Notice Pursuant To Amended Bylaws
     
    02/13/2024

    On December 28, 2023, Vice Chancellor Lori W. Will of the Delaware Court of Chancery issued a post-trial ruling upholding the decision by the board of directors of AIM Immunotech Inc. to reject a director nomination notice submitted by plaintiff stockholder.  Kellner v. AIM Immunotech Inc., et al., C.A. No. 2023-0879-LWW (Del. Ch. Dec. 28, 2023).  The Board rejected the notice pursuant to recently amended bylaws (the “Amended Bylaws”) and, while the Court invalidated certain of the amendments, the Court ultimately concluded that the valid bylaws were equitably applied and plaintiff’s failure to comply with those bylaws was fatal to his nomination effort.
  • Delaware Court Of Chancery Rejects Stockholder’s Section 220 Books And Record Demand In Connection With Corporation’s Expression Of Opposition To Legislation
     
    07/06/2023

    On June 27, 2023, Vice Chancellor Lori W. Will of the Delaware Court of Chancery issued a judgment in favor of a “leading media and entertainment” company with a “substantial presence in Florida” (the “Corporation”), rejecting a demand for corporate books and records under Delaware General Corporation Law Section 220.  Simeone v. The Walt Disney Company, C.A. No. 2022-1120-LWW (Del. Ch. June 27, 2023).  As explained by the Court, the Corporation publicly expressed opposition to certain Florida state legislation “limit[ing] instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in Florida classrooms” (the “Legislation”).  Thereafter, Florida’s legislature voted to dissolve a special district that had benefitted the Corporation.  Plaintiff, a stockholder, sought the records purportedly to investigate potential breaches of fiduciary duties by the Corporation’s directors and officers in connection with the opposition to the Legislation.  The Court explained that “Delaware law vests directors with significant discretion to guide corporate strategy—including on social and political issues” and found that plaintiff “decidedly” had not “demonstrated a proper purpose” for the records request.
  • Delaware Supreme Court Affirms Decision Rejecting Fiduciary Duty Claims As To Allegedly Conflicted Acquisition Because It Satisfied Entire Fairness Review
     
    06/13/2023

    On June 6, 2023, in an opinion authored by Justice Karen L. Valihura, the Supreme Court of Delaware sitting en banc unanimously affirmed judgment in favor of defendant, the CEO/Founder and then-Chairman (the “Chairman”) of Tesla Motors, Inc. (the “Company”), on derivative claims for breach of fiduciary duty asserted by stockholders in connection with the Company’s acquisition of SolarCity Corporation (the “Target”).  In re Tesla Motors, Inc. Stockholder Litig., No. 181, 2022 (Del. June 6, 2023).  Plaintiffs alleged that the Chairman was the Company’s controlling stockholder and that he was conflicted because he also was the chairman of the board and largest stockholder of the Target.  As discussed in our prior post, following a trial, the Delaware Court of Chancery found that the transaction was “entirely fair” and rejected plaintiffs’ claims.  In re Tesla Motors, Inc. Stockholder Litig., C.A. No. 12711-VCS (Del. Ch. Apr. 27, 2022).  On appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court held that the record supported the trial court’s determinations that “despite certain process flaws, the [a]cquisition was the product of fair dealing” and “the price paid was a fair one.”
  • Delaware Court Of Chancery Concludes Founder And Largest Shareholder Was Not A Controller In Connection With Allegedly Conflicted Transaction
     
    06/01/2023

    On May 12, 2023, Vice Chancellor Sam Glasscock III of the Delaware Court of Chancery ruled in favor of defendant, the founder and largest shareholder (the “Founder”) of a technology company (the “Company”), on derivative breach of fiduciary duty claims in connection with the Company’s acquisition of a financial software company (the “Target”), for which he was also a co-founder and the largest shareholder.  In re Oracle Corporation Derivative Litigation, No. 2017-0337-SG (Del. Ch. May 12, 2023).  Defendant owned approximately 28% of the Company and 40% of the Target.  Plaintiff shareholders alleged that the Founder, who was also a director and Chief Technology Officer of the Company, “used his outsized influence” to cause it to overpay because he owned a larger percentage of the Target than of the Company.  After a ten-day trial, the Court determined that the Founder “was not in control of [the Company] generally” and, although he “could have influenced the directors’ decision” in connection with the transaction, “he did not.”  Accordingly, the Court concluded that the Founder was not a “controller” and, therefore, the transaction was entitled to deferential review under the business judgment rule.
  • Delaware Court Of Chancery Holds That Corwin Cleansing Does Not Apply To Claims For Injunctive Relief Related To Alleged Defensive Measures
     
    05/09/2023

    On May 1, 2023, Vice Chancellor Morgan T. Zurn of the Delaware Court of Chancery denied a motion to dismiss a putative stockholder class action asserting a breach of fiduciary duty claim against the directors of a telecommunications company (the “Corporation”) and seeking to enjoin alleged defensive measures.  In re Edgio, Inc. Stockholders Litigation, C.A. No. 2022-0624-MTZ (Del. Ch. May 1, 2023).  The action was brought after the Corporation acquired a portfolio company of an investor (the “Investor”) in exchange for a 35% stake in the post-merger entity and entry into a stockholders’ agreement that allegedly “restricted the [I]nvestor’s voting and transfer rights.”  The stockholders of the Corporation voted in favor of the transaction in advance.  Defendants argued that they were entitled to the “irrebuttable presumption of the business judgment rule” that applies “when a transaction is approved by a fully informed, uncoerced vote of the disinterested stockholders” under Corwin v. KKR Financial Holdings LLC, 125 A.3d 304 (Del. 2015).  The Court, however, found that the relevant provisions in the stockholders’ agreement were subject at the pleading stage to “enhanced scrutiny” as alleged “defensive measures . . . designed to entrench the board.”  The Court held that “Corwin cleansing” does not apply to a claim seeking to enjoin such alleged defensive measures.
  • Applying Entire Fairness, Delaware Court of Chancery Sustains Class Action Claims for Breaches of Fiduciary Duties Arising from Alleged Omissions in SPAC Merger Proxy
     
    03/24/2023

    On March 1, 2023, Vice Chancellor Lori Will of the Delaware Court of Chancery declined to dismiss a putative class action brought by stockholders of special purpose acquisition company (or “SPAC”) GigCapital2, Inc. (“Gig2”) against Gig2’s controlling stockholder and directors, asserting that they breached their fiduciary duties in connection with Gig2’s acquisition of UpHealth Holdings, Inc. and Cloudbreak Health, LLC in a so-called “de-SPAC” merger. Laidlaw v. Gigacquisitions2, LLC, et. al., C.A. No. 2021-0821-LWW (Del. Ct. Ch. Mar. 1, 2023) (“Gigacquisitions2”). Plaintiffs alleged that defendants issued a false and misleading merger proxy to obtain approval of a value-destructive de-SPAC transaction and thereby enrich themselves through their unique ownership interests. Defendants moved to dismiss, arguing that (i) plaintiffs’ claims were derivative (alleging harm to the company rather to individual stockholders) but plaintiffs failed to make a demand or plead demand futility, and (ii) the business judgment rule applied. The Court held that plaintiffs’ claims were direct, not derivative, and that entire fairness—Delaware law’s most stringent standard of review—applied because inherent conflicts of interest existed between defendants and Gig2’s public stockholders.
  • Delaware Court Of Chancery Dismisses Stockholder Challenge To Certificate Of Incorporation Amendment Prolonging Voting Control By CEO/Chairman
     
    08/16/2022

    On April 11, 2022, Vice Chancellor Paul A. Fiorvanti of the Delaware Court of Chancery dismissed a stockholder challenge to an amendment of the certificate of incorporation of The Trade Desk, Inc. (the “Company”).  According to the complaint, the amendment effectively extended the voting control of the Company’s co-founder, Chairman, and CEO (the “CEO”) by extending the duration of a dual-class stock structure.  Plaintiff asserted claims against the CEO and other directors for breach of fiduciary duties in approving the amendment.  The Court dismissed the complaint because it found that the transaction process complied with the procedural protections necessary for application of the deferential business judgment rule pursuant to Kahn v. M & F Worldwide Corp., 88 A.3d 635 (Del. 2014) (“MFW”).
  • Delaware Court Of Chancery Declines To Dismiss Claims Related To Direct Offering At The Outset Of The Pandemic
     
    07/06/2022

    On June 30, 2022, Chancellor Kathaleen St. J. McCormick of the Delaware Court of Chancery denied a motion to dismiss stockholder derivative claims for alleged breaches of fiduciary duty against the CEO/Chairman of an e-commerce car company (the “Company”).  In Re Carvana Co. Stockholders Litigation, C.A. No. 2020-0415-KSJM (Del. Ct. Ch, Jun. 30, 2022).  Plaintiffs alleged that the CEO/Chairman and his father controlled the Company and “orchestrated” a $600 million direct offering to selected investors in which they purchased $50 million of common stock in March 2020 when the Company’s stock price was depressed due to pandemic-related volatility.  The Court held that plaintiffs adequately pleaded that pre-suit demand was excused because two of the Company’s other directors lacked independence from the CEO/Chairman.  The Court further found that the transaction was subject to entire fairness—rather than deferential business judgment—review because it allegedly involved a non-ratable benefit not shared by the public stockholders and half the board lacked independence.  Finally, the Court held that the CEO/Chairman’s abstention from the board’s vote approving the offering was insufficient to warrant dismissal at the pleadings stage.
  • Delaware Court Of Chancery Issues Post-Trial Judgment In Favor Of Defendant, Rejecting Stockholder’s Section 220 Books And Records Demand
     
    06/14/2022

    On June 1, 2022, Vice Chancellor Lori W. Will of the Delaware Court of Chancery entered judgment in favor of defendant retail company (the “Corporation”), rejecting a demand for corporate books and records under Delaware General Corporation Law Section 220.  Plaintiff, a stockholder, sought the records purportedly to investigate possible mismanagement in connection with the Corporation’s compliance with certain antitrust and tax laws.  In response to the demand, the Corporation produced certain board-level materials but declined to comply with plaintiff’s request for a wide array of additional documents.  Following a trial on a paper record, the Court found that plaintiff failed to demonstrate the requisite “credible basis” to suspect wrongdoing, and in any event, the demand was “satisfied” because the Corporation “produced all necessary and essential documents related to the alleged wrongdoing discussed in the demand.”
  • Delaware Court Of Chancery Denies Motion To Dismiss Breach Of Fiduciary Duty And Unjust Enrichment Claims Related To Compensation Committee Awards
     
    05/17/2022

    On April 27, 2022, Vice Chancellor Sam Glasscock III of the Delaware Court of Chancery denied, in part, a motion to dismiss a derivative complaint against directors for breaches of fiduciary duties brought by stockholders of Universal Health Services Inc. (the “Corporation”).  Knight v. Miller, C.A. No. 2021-0581-SG (Del. Ch. Apr. 27, 2022).  Plaintiff, a stockholder, alleged that the directors serving on the board’s compensation committee took advantage of an “obvious dip” in stock price in the wake of the emergence of COVID-19 in March 2020 to grant option awards, including to themselves.  Noting that “[s]elf-interested compensation decisions are subject to the entire fairness standard of review,” the Court found that plaintiff “cleared the low hurdle of pleading sufficient facts to make it plausible that the price and process of the option awards transaction were not entirely fair.”
  • Finding That Allegedly Conflicted Acquisition Satisfied Entire Fairness Review, Delaware Court Of Chancery Rejects Breach Of Fiduciary Duty Claims
     
    05/04/2022

    On April 27, 2022, Vice Chancellor Joseph R. Slights III of the Delaware Court of Chancery entered judgment in favor of defendant, the CEO/Founder and then-Chairman (the “Chairman”) of Tesla Motors, Inc. (the “Company”), following a trial on derivative claims for breach of fiduciary duty asserted by stockholders in connection with the Company’s acquisition of SolarCity Corporation (the “Target”).  In re Tesla Motors, Inc. S’holder Litig., C.A. No. 12711-VCS (Del. Ch. Apr. 27, 2022).  Plaintiffs alleged that at the time of the acquisition, the Chairman, who held approximately 22% of the Company’s stock, was its controlling stockholder.  He also was the chairman of the board and largest stockholder of the Target.  Plaintiffs asserted that the Chairman caused the Company’s allegedly conflicted Board to approve the deal—despite the Target’s alleged insolvency—at a purportedly “patently unfair price.”  Assuming without deciding that the Chairman was the Company’s controlling stockholder and that a majority of the Company’s Board was conflicted, the Court reviewed the claims under an “entire fairness” standard.  Noting that the process was “far from perfect” and that “defense verdicts after an entire fairness review” are “not commonplace,” the Court nevertheless found that the Company’s Board “meaningfully vetted” the acquisition and the price paid was “entirely fair in the truest sense of the word”—and rejected plaintiffs’ claims.
  • Delaware Court Of Chancery Holds That Company And Its Directors Did Not Breach Bylaws Or Fiduciary Duties In Rejecting Director Nomination Notice
     
    03/01/2022

    On February 14, 2022, Vice Chancellor Lori W. Will of the Delaware Court of Chancery entered judgment in favor of Lee Enterprises, Inc. (the “Company”) and its directors following an expedited trial on claims for breach of the Company’s bylaws and the directors’ fiduciary duties.  Strategic Investment Opportunities LLC v. Lee Enterprises, Inc., C.A. No. 2021-1089-LWW (Del. Ch. Feb. 14, 2022).  Plaintiff, a beneficial stockholder, sought declaratory and injunctive relief to allow its nomination of directors—attempted in conjunction with a takeover bid by plaintiff—to move forward.  The Court found that plaintiff did not comply with advance notice requirements for director nominations in the Company’s “clear and unambiguous” bylaws.  Applying “enhanced scrutiny,” the Court also concluded that the board did not breach fiduciary duties by rejecting plaintiff’s nomination based on “a validly adopted bylaw with a legitimate corporate purpose.”
  • Delaware Court Of Chancery Sustains Class Action Claims For Breaches Of Fiduciary Duties And Aiding And Abetting Arising From Alleged Omissions In SPAC Merger Proxy
     
    01/11/2022

    On January 3, 2022, Vice Chancellor Lori W. Will of the Delaware Court of Chancery largely denied a motion to dismiss a putative class action brought by the stockholders of Churchill Capital Corp. III, a special purpose acquisition company or “SPAC” (“Churchill”) alleging that the company’s controlling stockholder, officers, and directors (“the Company Defendants”) breached their fiduciary duties and the company’s financial advisor aided and abetted that breach in connection with the SPAC’s acquisition of MultiPlan, Inc. (“MultiPlan”).  In re MultiPlan Corp. Stockholders Litig., C.A. No. 2021-0300-LWW (Del. Ch. Jan. 3, 2022).  Plaintiffs alleged that defendants omitted to disclose that a large customer of MultiPlan would soon stop using MultiPlan’s services, allegedly causing stockholders to approve the merger based on faulty information.  Defendants argued that the claim was derivative in nature, rather than one that could be asserted directly, and moved to dismiss for failure to plead demand futility and on the grounds that the business judgment rule applied.  The Court held that plaintiffs’ claims were direct, rather than derivative, and that entire fairness applied because of what it found to be inherent conflicts of interest between defendants and the company’s public stockholders.
  • Delaware Court Of Chancery Rejects Challenge To Board’s Enforcement Of Advance Notice Bylaw
     
    10/26/2021

    On October 13, 2021, Vice Chancellor Joseph R. Slights of the Delaware Court of Chancery denied a request for injunctive relief in a stockholder action against the board of CytoDyn (the “Company”).  Rosenbaum v. Cyotodyn Inc., C.A. No. 2021-0728-JRS, 2021 WL 4775140 (Del. Ch. Oct. 13, 2021).  Plaintiffs attempted to nominate a dissident slate of director candidates.  They alleged that the board wrongfully rejected plaintiffs’ timely notice of their nominations.  After a trial on a “paper record,” the Court found that plaintiffs’ notice did not comply with the Company’s advance notice bylaw—because it omitted information that was required under the bylaw to have been disclosed—and the board was thus “justified in rejecting” the notice.
  • Delaware Supreme Court Adopts Refined Test For Demand Futility And Holds Exculpated Claims Do Not Excuse Demand
     
    10/06/2021

    On September 23, 2021, in a decision authored by Justice Tamika Montgomery-Reeves, the Delaware Supreme Court sitting en banc affirmed the dismissal of a derivative complaint filed by a stockholder of Facebook, Inc. (the “Company”) against the CEO, who is also the founder, controlling stockholder and chairman of the board, as well as certain other directors.  United Food and Commercial Workers Union and Participating Food Industry Employers Tri-State Pension Fund v. Zuckerberg, et al., No. 404, 2020 (Del. Sept. 23, 2021).  Plaintiff asserted that the directors breached their fiduciary duties by improperly approving a stock reclassification allegedly for the benefit of the CEO, which though ultimately abandoned resulted in litigation and settlement costs.  The Court concluded that the Delaware Court of Chancery properly dismissed plaintiff’s complaint for failing to make a pre-suit demand on the board.  In so holding, the Court adopted a refined test for demand futility and also determined that exculpated claims cannot excuse demand because they do not entail a substantial likelihood of liability.
  • Delaware Court Of Chancery Dismisses Post-Merger Claims For Alleged Violation Of DGCL § 203 And Breach Of Fiduciary Duty
     
    08/31/2021

    On August 16, 2021, Vice Chancellor Joseph R. Slights III of the Delaware Court of Chancery dismissed breach of fiduciary duty and other claims brought by a stockholder of Genomic Health, Inc. (the “Company”) in connection with its acquisition by Exact Sciences Corp.  Flannery v. Genomic Health Inc., et al., C.A. No. 2020-0492-JRS (Del. Ch. Aug. 16, 2021).  The Court held that the transaction did not violate Delaware General Corporation Law (“DGCL”) § 203, entire fairness did not apply because there was no conflicted controlling stockholder, and enhanced scrutiny under Revlon did not apply because the merger was not a change in control transaction.  Accordingly, the Court found that plaintiff failed to overcome the presumption of the business judgment rule.
  • Delaware Court Of Chancery Declines To Apply Business Judgment Deference To Take-Private Merger Because Of “Deficiencies” In MFW  Protections, Including That The Conditions Were Not Irrevocable
     
    08/19/2021

    On July 23, 2021, Chancellor Kathaleen St. J. McCormick of the Delaware Court of Chancery denied defendants’ motion to dismiss breach of fiduciary duty claims brought by a putative class of minority stockholders of Empire Resorts, Inc. (the “Company”) challenging the Company’s take-private acquisition by the Company’s majority shareholder.  The MH Haberkorn 2006 Trust v. Empire Resorts, Inc., C.A. No. 2020-0619 (Del. Ch. Jul. 23, 2021) (Transcript).  Plaintiffs alleged that a special committee approved the deal even though it undervalued the Company and asserted claims against officers, directors, the controlling shareholder and certain of their affiliates.  Defendants argued that the transaction complied with the procedural protections necessary for deferential review—under the business judgment standard—of a merger process involving a controller pursuant to Kahn v. M & F Worldwide Corp., 88 A.3d 635 (Del. 2014) (“MFW ”).  But the Court found the complaint adequately pleaded “deficiencies” in the MFW conditions, including that they were not “irrevocable.”  Therefore, the Court applied the entire fairness standard and found that defendants did not show “conclusively” at the pleading stage that the transaction was entirely fair.
  • Delaware Supreme Court Requires Board To Demonstrate “Compelling Justification” For Stock Sale Primarily Intended To Interfere With Stockholder Voting Rights
     
    07/13/2021

    On June 28, 2021, in an en banc opinion authored by Chief Justice Collins J. Seitz, Jr., the Delaware Supreme Court reversed a decision by the Delaware Court of Chancery, which had upheld a contested stock sale by the board of UIP Companies, Inc. (the “Company”).  Coster v. UIP Cos., Inc., No. 49, 2020 (Del. June 28, 2021).  Plaintiff was one of the Company’s two equal stockholders.  Plaintiff alleged that defendant, the other stockholder, who was also the board chairman, and the two other directors voted to issue stock to one of them in order to dilute plaintiff’s ownership interest.  The Court of Chancery found that the board approved the stock sale at a fair price and through a fair process.  Reversing and remanding, the Delaware Supreme Court held that—although the sale may have satisfied its entire fairness review—“inequitable action does not become permissible simply because it is legally possible.”  The Delaware Supreme Court further held that, if the board acted for the “primary purpose of thwarting” the stockholder’s vote or reducing her leverage as an equal stockholder—even in good faith—the board must demonstrate a “compelling justification.”
  • Delaware Court Of Chancery Dismisses Claims Challenging Squeeze-Out Merger Because Special Committee Was Not “Interested” And Stockholder Vote Was Uncoerced
     
    05/18/2021

    On May 10, 2021, Chancellor Kathaleen St. J. McCormick of the Delaware Court of Chancery granted a motion to dismiss claims for breach of fiduciary duty and unjust enrichment brought by former stockholders of Voltari Corporation, challenging the take-private buyout of the company by its controlling stockholder.  Franchi, et al. v. Firestone, et al., C.A. No. 2020-0503-KSJM (Del. Ch. May 10, 2021).  In an effort to comply with the procedural protections necessary for deferential review of a merger process involving a controller—under Kahn v. M & F Worldwide Corp., 88 A.3d 635 (Del. 2014) (“MFW”)—the buyout offer was conditioned on approval by an independent special committee and a fully informed majority of the company’s minority stockholders.  Nevertheless, plaintiffs claimed that the purchase price did not account for the value of the company’s net operating loss carryforwards and therefore the controller and the company’s directors breached their fiduciary duties.  The Court, however, held that defendants were entitled to the benefit of the business judgment rule under MFW because plaintiffs did not adequately plead (i) a lack of independence as to the members of the special committee; (ii) that the committee acted with gross negligence in approving the merger; or (iii) that the proxy in connection with the stockholder vote failed to disclose material facts.
  • Delaware Court of Chancery Holds That Merger Was Fair And Reasonable Despite Mishandled Conflict Committee Appointment
     
    03/02/2021

    On February 15, 2021, Chancellor Andre G.  Bouchard of the Delaware Court of Chancery entered post-trial judgment in favor of the defendant-general partner of Regency Energy Partners LP (“Regency”) in a class action brought by Regency’s limited partners alleging breach of the partnership agreement (“Partnership Agreement”) and of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.  Dieckman v.  Regency GP LP & Regency GP LLC, No.  CV 11130-CB, 2021 WL 537325, (Del. Ch. Feb. 15, 2021).  The Court held that, notwithstanding inaccurate proxy disclosures about the independence of the conflicts committee, Regency’s merger with Energy Transfer Partners (“ETP”) did not violate the Partnership Agreement’s requirement that the deal be fair and reasonable to the partnership, and that plaintiffs failed to establish bad faith, willful misconduct, or damages.
     
  • Delaware Supreme Court Affirms The Partial Denial Of Books And Records Demand
     
    02/18/2021

    On January 26, 2021, the Supreme Court of Delaware affirmed a decision by the Delaware Court of Chancery rejecting in part the request by a member of a limited liability company (LLC) for the production of certain books and records for inspection pursuant to Section 18-305 of the Delaware Limited Liability Company Act (the analog to a Section 220 inspection demand for Delaware corporations).  Durham v. Grapetree, LLC, No. 343, 2019 (Del. Jan. 26, 2021).  The Delaware Supreme Court clarified that plaintiff was entitled pursuant to the requests approved by the trial court to informal records, such as emails, text messages, and phone records, to the extent the company conducted its business without documenting its actions in minutes, board resolutions, or by other formal means.  But the Delaware Supreme Court held that the Court of Chancery did not abuse its discretion in denying requests it found overbroad, unrelated to a proper purpose for inspection, or that required the company to create new records.
     
  • Delaware Court Of Chancery Sustains Breach Of Fiduciary Duty Claims Against Target’s CEO And Aiding And Abetting Claims Against Target’s Financial Advisor And Buyer
     
    02/11/2021

    On January 29, 2021, Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster of the Delaware Court of Chancery denied in part a motion to dismiss class action claims for breach of fiduciary duty against the CEO and Chairman of Presidio, Inc. (“Presidio”), its directors, and its controlling stockholder, as well as aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty against its financial advisor and BC Partners Advisors LP (“BCP”).  The suit was brought by a former Presidio stockholder in connection with BCP’s 2019 acquisition of Presidio.  Firefighters’ Pension Sys. of the City of Kansas City, Missouri Trust v. Presidio, Inc., C.A. No. 2019-0839-JTL, 2021 WL 298141 (Del. Ch. Jan. 29, 2021).  The Court found that plaintiff adequately alleged that Presidio’s financial advisor and CEO “steered the sale process” toward a bidder who made an inferior offer, but that related claims against the board and controlling stockholder must be dismissed for failure to plead non-exculpated and money damages claims.
  • Delaware Court Of Chancery Applies Zapata  To Assess New Board Committee’s Motion To Dismiss Claims Being Pursued By A Previously Established Special Committee
     
    12/22/2020

    On December 14, 2020, Chancellor Andre G. Bouchard denied a motion to dismiss a lawsuit by a special committee of the board of The We Company (the “Company”) against the Company’s new controlling stockholder and its affiliates (collectively, the “New Controller”).  In Re WeWork Litigation, C.A. No. 2020-0258-AGB (Del. Ch. Dec. 14, 2020).  After the New Controller acquired control in a multi-step transaction, the Company’s board established a new committee, which determined that the special committee lacked authority to continue the suit and directed management to move to dismiss.  The Court noted that this presented an issue of first impression.  The Court determined to engage in an analysis akin to that developed for assessing special committee motions to dismiss derivative claims under Zapata Corp. v. Maldonado, 430 A.2d 779 (Del. 1981).  Zapata entails a two-part assessment (i) testing the independence, good faith and reasonableness of the investigation, and (ii) applying the court’s own independent business judgment as to whether the motion should be granted.  The Court denied the motion because it found (i) the new committee did not establish the reasonableness of its investigation and conclusions, and (ii) the special committee was authorized to pursue the litigation and it would be “fundamentally unfair” to dismiss the claims.
     
  • Delaware Court Of Chancery Dismisses Derivative Claims For Failure To Plead Demand Futility Notwithstanding Unocal Enhanced Scrutiny
     
    12/01/2020

    On November 20, 2020, Vice Chancellor Morgan T. Zurn of the Delaware Court of Chancery dismissed stockholder derivative claims against the directors of Christopher & Banks Corporation.  Gottlieb v. Duskin, C.A. No. 2019-0639-MTZ (Del. Ch. Nov. 20, 2020).  Plaintiffs alleged that the directors breached their fiduciary duties by wrongfully enacting defensive measures to rebuff an unsolicited acquisition offer at a substantial premium to the company’s stock price even though the company was in “dire financial condition.”  The Court determined that the complaint pled facts sufficient to trigger enhanced scrutiny of the directors’ conduct under Unocal Corp. v. Mesa Petroleum Co., 493 A.2d 946 (Del. 1985), rather than the deferential business judgment rule.  Nevertheless, the Court held that the complaint did not sufficiently plead that the “directors face a substantial likelihood of bad-faith liability.”  Therefore, the Court granted the motion to dismiss for failure to plead that pre-suit demand on the directors was excused, as required for a derivative action under Delaware Court of Chancery Rule 23.1.
     
  • Delaware Supreme Court Reverses Dismissal Of Merger-Related Breach Of Fiduciary Duty Claims Regarding Allegedly Undisclosed Conflict Of Interest
     
    07/07/2020

    On June 30, 2020, in an en banc opinion authored by Justice Karen L. Valihura, the Supreme Court of Delaware reversed the Delaware Court of Chancery’s dismissal of a stockholder lawsuit arising out of the merger between Towers Watson & Co. (“Towers”) and Willis Group Holdings Public Limited Company (“Willis”).  City of Fort Myers Gen. Emps.’ Pension Fund v. Haley, C.A. 2018-0132-KSJM (Del. June 30, 2020).  As we discussed in our prior post, plaintiffs, who had been stockholders of Towers, alleged that the CEO of Towers breached his fiduciary duty of loyalty by negotiating the merger without adequately disclosing to the rest of the Towers board a compensation proposal he had received from Willis’s second-largest stockholder, whose co-founder and Chief Investment Officer served on the Willis board.  Reversing, the Delaware Supreme Court found that plaintiffs adequately pleaded facts sufficient to rebut the business judgment rule.
     
  • Delaware Court Of Chancery Finds Controlling Investor’s Cash-Accumulation Strategy In Advance Of Preferred Stock Redemption Payments Satisfied Entire Fairness
     
    05/12/2020

    On May 4, 2020, Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster of the Delaware Court of Chancery ruled in a post-trial opinion that a controlling investor’s efforts to accumulate cash in anticipation of its preferred stock redemptions were entirely fair.  Frederick Hsu Living Trust v. ODN Holding Corp., No. 12108-VCL (Del. Ch. May 4, 2020).  Plaintiff, a common stockholder of ODN Holding Corporation, alleged that the private equity firm that held a controlling interest—including a majority of the common stock and a series of preferred stock—along with the company’s directors and officers, breached their fiduciary duties by engaging in a cash accumulation strategy, rather than seeking to enhance the company’s long-term growth.  Having previously sustained plaintiff’s claims at the pleadings stage, the Court held that defendants proved at trial that their conduct was entirely fair and entered judgment in favor of defendants.
     
  • Delaware Court Of Chancery Holds That A Special Committee Must Be Constituted Ab Initio In Order To Cleanse A Transaction Involving A Conflicted Board Majority
     
    03/17/2020

    On February 27, 2020, Vice Chancellor Sam Glasscock III denied a motion to dismiss breach of fiduciary duty claims brought by a former stockholder of Intersections, Inc. (the “Company”), challenging the take-private acquisition of the Company.  Salladay v. Lev, C.A. No. 2019-0048-SG (Del. Ch. Feb. 27, 2020).  The complaint alleged that the Company was sold at an unfairly depressed price and that insiders influenced the transaction to divert consideration to themselves.   Moreover, plaintiff asserted that the transaction was subject to entire fairness review because at least half the directors were conflicted by virtue of having rolled over substantial portions of their equity into the merger.  Although defendants did not contest that a majority of the board was conflicted, they argued that the claims should be dismissed under the business judgment rule because the deal was negotiated and approved by a special committee of unconflicted directors.  The Court, however, held that “to effectively cleanse a transaction . . . the special committee must be constituted ab initio . . . prior to substantive economic negotiations.”  The Court denied the motion to dismiss because it found that the complaint adequately pleaded the existence of substantive economic negotiations before the special committee was empowered. 
     
  • Delaware Court Of Chancery Denies Motion To Dismiss Claims Regarding Squeeze-Out Merger Because Special Committee Members Were Allegedly “Interested”
     
    03/03/2020

    On February 26, 2020, Chancellor Andre G. Bouchard of the Delaware Court of Chancery denied a motion to dismiss breach of fiduciary duty claims brought by former shareholders of AmTrust, Inc., challenging the take-private buyout of the company by its controlling stockholders and a private equity firm.  In re AmTrust Financial Services, Inc. Stockholder Litigation, C.A. No. 2018-0396-AGB (Del. Ch. Feb. 26, 2020).  In an effort to comply with the procedural protections necessary for deferential review of a merger process involving a controller—under Kahn v. M & F Worldwide Corp., 88 A.3d 635 (Del. 2014) (“MFW”)—the buyout group conditioned its offer on approval by an independent special committee and a fully informed majority of the company’s minority stockholders.  Plaintiffs challenged the independence of three of four members of the special committee because the buyout allegedly was expected to extinguish their potential liability in a pre-existing derivative action.  The Court held that the MFW requirement of “independent” special committee approval “was intended to ensure not only that members of a special committee must be independent in the sense of not being beholden to a controlling stockholder, but also that the committee members must have no disabling personal interest in the transaction at issue.”  Therefore, the Court found the transaction subject to entire fairness rather than business judgment review and denied the motion to dismiss as to the controlling stockholders and their affiliated directors.
     
  • Delaware Court Of Chancery Finds Certain Safe Harbor Protections Inapplicable To Approval Of Merger With General Partner’s Affiliate
     
    11/12/2019

    On October 29, 2019, Chancellor Andre G. Bouchard of the Delaware Court of Chancery granted partial summary judgment to a common unitholder of Regency Energy Partners LP (“Regency”) challenging a merger with an affiliate of Regency’s general partner.  Dieckman v. Regency GP LP, C.A. No. 11130-CB (Del. Ch. Oct. 29, 2019).  Plaintiff alleged that defendants (Regency’s general partner and its affiliates) breached the limited partnership agreement by approving the merger even though they “did not believe that the [m]erger was in the best interests of Regency.”  Defendants argued that their approval was protected under three “safe harbors” in the agreement:  (i) reasonable reliance upon the opinion of an investment banker; (ii) “special approval” by an independent conflicts committee; and (iii) a majority vote of the common unitholders unaffiliated with the general partner.  Finding a genuine issue of fact as to whether the general partner’s board actually relied on the opinion of the investment banker, the Court denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment.  The Court, however, determined plaintiff demonstrated that one of the members of the conflicts committee was not independent.  Accordingly, the Court found the “special approval” safe harbor unavailable and granted partial summary judgment to plaintiff on that point.  Because the proxy provided to common unitholders stated that the conflicts committee was independent, the Court found it misleading and granted partial summary judgment to plaintiff on the unavailability of the unitholder vote safe harbor.
     
  • Delaware Court Of Chancery Applies Entire Fairness Standard To Breach Of Fiduciary Duty Claim Arising From Asset Sale That Benefited Senior Preferred Unitholder
     
    10/22/2019

    On October 11, 2019, Vice Chancellor Kathaleen S. McCormick of the Delaware Court of Chancery dismissed all but one claim arising out of an asset sale by Pro Performance Sports, LLC (“Pro Performance”) to private equity firm Implus Footcare LLC (“Implus”) in which the senior unitholder, venture capital fund Steelpoint Capital Partners, LP (“Steelpoint”), received all of the sale consideration.  JJS Ltd. et al., v. Steelpoint CP Holdings LLC et al., C.A. No. 2019-0072-KSJM (Del. Ch. Oct. 11, 2019).  The common unitholders challenged the sale, asserting that the LLC managers breached their fiduciary duties by structuring and approving the transaction and violated the terms of the LLC Agreement because the common unitholders were not permitted to vote as a separate class on approval of the sale.  The Court dismissed the claims based on the LLC Agreement, but sustained the fiduciary duty claim.
     
  • Delaware Court Of Chancery Denies Stay Sought By Special Litigation Committee Appointed By Conflicted General Partner
     
    09/04/2019

    On August 28, 2019, Vice Chancellor Joseph R. Slights III of the Delaware Court of Chancery denied a motion to stay filed by the special litigation committee formed by defendant Blue Bell Creameries, Inc. (“BBGP”) in connection with a derivative action by limited partners of Blue Bell Creameries, LLP (“Blue Bell” or the “Partnership”) against BBGP, which is the sole general partner of Blue Bell, and others.  Wenske v. Blue Bell Creameries, Inc., C.A. No. 2017-0699 (Del. Ch. Aug. 28, 2019).  The Court previously denied a motion to dismiss the derivative action because it determined that BBGP had “a disabling interest for pre-suit demand purposes.”  BBGP then appointed two new directors to its board, who established a special litigation committee consisting of three non-director members empowered to determine the interests of the Partnership in the derivative litigation.  The special litigation committee promptly moved to stay the derivative action to permit its investigation and make a determination.  But the Court denied the motion.  It explained that “[a]ny conflict that disables the principal disables the agent” and “[b]ecause BBGP, as principal, is not fit to decide how to manage the Partnership’s claims against the Defendants (including the claims against BBGP itself), its purported special litigation committee, as agent, is likewise disabled.”
  • Delaware Court Of Chancery Dismisses Caremark Claim, Finding Consumer Class Action Settlement Was Not A “Red Flag” For Consumer Protection Law Violations
     
    08/06/2019

    On July 29, 2019, Chancellor Andre G. Bouchard of the Delaware Court of Chancery dismissed a stockholder derivative action asserting breaches of fiduciary duty claims against the directors of J.C. Penney Company, Inc. for failure to make a pre-suit demand on the board.  Rojas v. Ellison, C.A. No. 2018-0755-AGB (Del. Ch. July 29, 2019).  After the Los Angeles City Attorney initiated litigation against the company asserting violations of California’s consumer protection laws, plaintiff filed this derivative action alleging that the company’s directors consciously disregarded their responsibility to oversee the company’s compliance with laws governing price-comparison advertising.  Repeating past statements of the Court about the difficulty of proving director liability for a failure to monitor corporate affairs—known as a Caremark claim—Chancellor Bouchard determined that the complaint failed to plead facts demonstrating that the directors would face a substantial likelihood of personal liability.  In particular, the Court found that a settlement of a consumer class action suit without any admission of liability was not a “red flag” with respect to any ongoing violations of law.  Therefore, the Court concluded that pre-suit demand on the board was not excused. 
  • Delaware Court Of Chancery Dismisses Stockholder Challenge To Merger For Failure To Rebut Business Judgment Rule
     
    08/06/2019

    On July 25, 2019, Vice Chancellor Kathaleen S. McCormick of the Delaware Court of Chancery dismissed a stockholder suit challenging the $18 billion merger of equals between Towers Watson & Co. and Willis Group Holdings plc, finding that plaintiffs failed to plead facts sufficient to rebut the presumption of the business judgment rule.  In Re Towers Watson & Co. Stockholders Litigation, C.A. No. 2018-0132-KSJM (Del. Ch. July 25, 2019).  Asserting claims for breaches of fiduciary duty, plaintiffs, who had been Towers Watson stockholders, argued that the company’s CEO did not properly disclose to the board a compensation proposal he had received from Willis’s second largest stockholder while the CEO was negotiating the merger.  But the Court found that the compensation proposal was ultimately immaterial and that the otherwise independent board members were well aware that the merger would likely lead to increased compensation for the CEO.  Noting that because the transaction was primarily a stock-for-stock merger, the Court explained that there was no dispute that the “business judgment rule presumptively applies,” and concluded that plaintiffs had failed to rebut that presumption. 
  • Delaware Court Of Chancery Denies Motion To Dismiss Fiduciary Duty Breach Claims Related To Repricing Of Stock Options
     
    06/18/2019

    On June 13, 2019, Vice Chancellor Kathaleen S. McCormick of the Delaware Court of Chancery largely denied a motion to dismiss a derivative action for breach of fiduciary duty and unjust enrichment against directors and officers of a biosciences company (the “Company”) in connection with the alleged repricing of stock options shortly before the company announced the issuance of a “key” patent to its subsidiary.  Howland  v. Kumar, C.A. No. 2018-0804-KSJM (Del. Ch. June 13, 2019).  Plaintiff, a stockholder in the Company, alleged that the directors and officers were aware of the patent issuance yet delayed the public announcement until after the board’s compensation committee approved the reduction in the strike price of more than 2 million stock options primarily held by defendants.  The Court held that pre-suit demand on the board was excused, because a majority of the board was “interested by virtue of having received the repriced options.”  Applying an “entire fairness” standard of review, the Court found that it was reasonably conceivable from the pleadings that the process and price were unfair and, therefore, denied the motion to dismiss.  
  • Delaware Supreme Court Finds Deal Price Minus Synergies As Fair Value In Aruba Networks Appraisal Appeal, Rather Than Average Preannouncement Stock Price
     
    04/23/2019

    On April 16, 2019, the Delaware Supreme Court, in a per curiam decision, held that Aruba Networks, Inc.’s (“Aruba”) fair value in an appraisal action was $19.10 per share, reversing the Court of Chancery’s valuation of $17.13 per share.  Verition Partners Master Fund Ltd. v. Aruba Networks, Inc., C.A. No. 11448-VCL (Del. Apr. 16, 2019).  As we discussed in a prior post, the Court of Chancery ruled that the thirty-day average unaffected market price was the best evidence of the fair value of Aruba in connection with its acquisition by Hewlett-Packard Company (“HP”).  In his opinion, Vice Chancellor Laster concluded that he was compelled by recent decisions of the Delaware Supreme Court to disregard other metrics, but expressed reservations about doing so.  Moreover, while the Court of Chancery viewed the deal price minus synergies as compelling evidence of fair value, it indicated that it could not estimate agency cost reductions to exclude from that calculation.
  • Delaware Supreme Court Revives Stockholder Claims, Finding MFW Protections Were Not In Place Prior To Economic Negotiations
     
    04/16/2019

    On April 5, 2019, the Delaware Supreme Court reversed in part and affirmed in part a decision of the Delaware Court of Chancery that had dismissed a stockholder challenge to an all-stock business combination between Earthstone Energy, Inc. (“Earthstone”) and Bold Energy III LLC (“Bold”).  Olenik v. Lodzinski et al., No. 392, 2018 (Del. April 5, 2019).  Plaintiffs claimed that Earthstone’s directors, officers, and Earthstone’s alleged controlling stockholder, Oak Valley Resources, LLC (“Oak Valley”), breached their fiduciary duties by entering into an unfair transaction that benefited Oak Valley and EnCap Investments, L.P. (“EnCap”), a private equity firm with majority stakes in both Bold and Oak Valley, at the expense of Earthstone and its minority stockholders.  As discussed in our prior post on the case, the Court of Chancery dismissed the case after concluding that the transaction was properly structured under Kahn v. M&F Worldwide, 88 A.2d 635 (Del. 2014) (“MFW”), and the business judgment rule applied.  On appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court reversed, finding that Earthstone initiated economic negotiations before the requisite MFW protections were put in place.  Accordingly, the Court reinstated the breach of fiduciary claim as to the terms of the transaction; the Court sustained dismissal of the disclosure-based claim.
  • Delaware Court Of Chancery Applies Corwin To Dismiss Breach Of Fiduciary Duty Claims, Finding Allegations Of A Controlling Stockholder Conflict Inadequately Pleaded
     
    04/09/2019
    On March 20, 2019, Chancellor Andre G. Bouchard of the Delaware Court of Chancery dismissed class action claims asserted by former shareholders of NCI, Inc. against its former directors for breach of fiduciary duty in connection with the company’s acquisition by affiliates of H.I.G. Capital, LLC in a tender offer followed by a merger.  
    English v. Narang, C.A. No. 2018-0221-AGB (Del. Ch. Mar. 20, 2019).  Plaintiffs alleged that the company’s founder, who held approximately 34% of the shares and controlled about 83.5% of the voting power, orchestrated a sale of the company at a discounted price to address a personal need for liquidity prompted by his retirement as the company’s CEO at age 73.  But the Court found that the complaint “contained no concrete facts from which it reasonably can be inferred that [the founder] had an exigent or immediate need for liquidity.”  Therefore, the Court applied Corwin v. KKR Financial Holdings LLC, 125 A.3d 304 (Del. 2015), and dismissed the claims because a majority of NCI’s disinterested stockholders tendered their shares in an uncoerced and fully-informed tender offer.
  • Delaware Court Of Chancery Dismisses Demand-Refused Derivative Litigation, Notwithstanding Allegations Of Board Misrepresentations In Advance Of Demand
     
    12/11/2018

    On November 14, 2018, Chancellor Andre G. Bouchard of the Delaware Court of Chancery granted a motion to dismiss a stockholder derivative suit asserting breach of fiduciary duty claims against certain directors of Richardson Electronics (the “Company”).  Busch v. Richardson Electronics, Ltd., C.A. No. 2017-0868-AGB (Del. Ch. Nov. 14, 2018).  The claims were based on allegations that the board improperly refused plaintiff’s demand to take action to unwind certain allegedly improper related-party transactions.  Plaintiff also asserted he was misled by the board about its involvement in the underlying transactions before he issued the litigation demand.  Therefore, according to plaintiff, the motion to dismiss should have been evaluated under the test applicable when demand is excused, as articulated in Zapata Corp. v. Maldonado, 430 A.2d 779 (Del. 1981), which does not entail the same broad deference to a board’s decision whether to bring claims as the standard typically applicable in demand-refused cases under Spiegel v. Buntrock, 571 A.2d 767 (Del. 1990).  The Court rejected the argument that the Zapata standard applied but concluded that under either test plaintiff’s claims were subject to dismissal. 
  • Delaware Supreme Court Holds That Business Judgment Rule Applies To Controller Transactions As Long As MFW Conditions Are In Place Prior To Economic Negotiation
     
    10/16/2018

    On October 9, 2018, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed a decision of the Delaware Court of Chancery dismissing a lawsuit brought by stockholders of Synutra International Inc. (the “Company”) challenging a controlling stockholder’s takeover of the Company.  Flood v. Synutra Int’l, Inc., No. 101, 2018 (Del. Oct. 9, 2018).  Plaintiffs asserted breach of fiduciary duty claims and argued that the transaction did not meet the requirements of Kahn v. M&F Worldwide Corp., 88 A.3d 635 (Del. 2014) (“MFW”) for business judgment review because the controller group’s initial proposal did not contain the MFW conditions—recommendation by a special committee and approval by a majority of the disinterested stockholders—although they were added later.  As discussed in our prior post on this case, the Court of Chancery applied business judgment review (rather than entire fairness review) and dismissed the complaint because the controller announced the conditions before any negotiations took place.  Affirming, the Delaware Supreme Court confirmed that MFW does not require that the conditions be included in the controller’s first offer, but instead that the controller condition its offer on the two key procedural protections “early in the process—i.e., before any substantive economic negotiations begin.”  The Court also clarified that the sufficiency of the price is not subject to evaluation under the business judgment standard and affirmed the Court of Chancery’s finding that plaintiffs failed to allege that the Company’s special committee acted with gross negligence with respect to the negotiations.
  • Delaware Court Of Chancery Applies MFW  To Stockholder Challenge To An All-Stock Transaction With Allegedly Controlling Stockholder
     
    07/31/2018

    On July 20, 2018, Vice Chancellor Joseph R. Slights of the Delaware Court of Chancery dismissed a stockholder challenge to an all-stock business combination between Earthstone Energy, Inc. (“Earthstone”) and Bold Energy III LLC (“Bold”).  Olenik v. Lodzinski, et al., C.A. No. 2017-0414 (Del. Ch. July 20, 2018).  Plaintiffs claimed that Earthstone’s directors, officers, and an allegedly controlling stockholder, Oak Valley Resources, LLC (“Oak Valley”), breached their fiduciary duties by entering into an unfair transaction that benefited Oak Valley and EnCap Investments, L.P. (“EnCap”), a private equity firm with majority stakes in both Bold and Oak Valley, at the expense of Earthstone and its minority stockholders.  Plaintiffs argued that, because EnCap was a majority stockholder in Oak Valley, and thus also a beneficial controlling stockholder in Earthstone, as well as a majority stockholder in Bold, Oak Valley and EnCap stood on both sides of the transaction, making it unfair.  The Court dismissed plaintiffs’ claims, concluding that, because Earthstone structured the transaction in the manner prescribed by Kahn v. M&F Worldwide, 88 A.3d 635 (Del. 2014) (“MFW”), the business judgment rule standard of review applied.
  • Delaware Court Of Chancery Finds Allegations Of A Controlling Stockholder Group Sufficient To Preclude Dismissal Of Merger-Related Fiduciary Duty Breach Claims
    06/26/2018
    On June 18, 2018, Vice Chancellor Tamika Montgomery-Reeves of the Delaware Court of Chancery denied a motion to dismiss claims of breach of fiduciary duty brought by a putative class of minority stockholders of Hansen Medical Inc. (“Hansen”) against an alleged group of controlling stockholders, in connection with the squeeze-out merger of Hansen into Auris Surgical Robotics, Inc. (“Auris”). In re Hansen Medical, Inc. Stockholder Litigation, C.A. No. 12316-VCMR (Del. Ch. June 18, 2018).
  • Delaware Supreme Court Affirms Court Of Chancery Appraisal Determination At Nearly 60% Discount To Deal Price
     
    05/01/2018

    On April 23, 2018, the Supreme Court of Delaware affirmed a decision by Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster of the Delaware Court of Chancery appraising the shares of Clearwire Corporation at $2.13 per share, notwithstanding that Clearwire was acquired for $5.00 per share.  ACP Master, Ltd., et al. v. Sprint Corporation, et al. & ACP Master, Ltd., et al. v. Clearwire Corporation, C.A. No. 8508-VCL, C.A. No. 9042-VCL (Del. Apr. 23, 2018).  As discussed in our post regarding that decision, stockholder petitioners had challenged the merger of Clearwire with Sprint Nextel Corporation, alleging that Sprint had been a controlling shareholder of Clearwire prior to the transaction and had breached its fiduciary duties during merger negotiations.  Petitioners also sought appraisal, asserting that the $5.00 deal price substantially undervalued their shares.  As we highlighted previously, the Court of Chancery found no breach of fiduciary duties even under an entire fairness standard and determined that fair value of the shares amounted to $2.13, even though that price reflected nearly a 60% discount to the deal price.  With regard to the breach claims, the Court of Chancery concluded that instances of unfair dealing in an early phase of the process were “render[ed] immaterial” in light of subsequent arm’s-length negotiations and “overwhelming evidence” that the final deal price was fair.   As to the appraisal finding, the Court of Chancery explained that the appraisal statute requires the exclusion of “any synergies present in the deal price” and was persuaded by the discounted cash flow analysis offered by defendants’ expert.  The Delaware Supreme Court, sitting en banc, affirmed without issuing an opinion.

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  • Delaware Court Of Chancery Denies Corwin Motion To Dismiss, Finding Allegations Of Control Adequately Pleaded As To 22% Stockholder
     
    04/03/2018

    On March 28, 2018, Vice Chancellor Joseph R. Slights III of the Delaware Court of Chancery denied a motion to dismiss several derivative and class action claims brought by stockholders of Tesla, Inc. (“Tesla”) asserting that its directors breached their fiduciary duties in connection with its acquisition of SolarCity.  In re Tesla Motors, Inc. Stockholder Litigation, C.A. No. 12711-VCS (Del. Ch. Mar. 28, 2018).  Plaintiffs claimed the acquisition was an effort to rescue a distressed SolarCity to the detriment of Tesla stockholders, allegedly at the direction of Elon Musk, Tesla’s Chairman and CEO, who held 22.1% of Tesla’s common stock and was also SolarCity’s Chairman and largest stockholder.  Defendants contended that the claims were subject to dismissal pursuant to Corwin v. KKR Financial Holdings LLC, 125 A.3d 304 (Del. 2015), in light of the approval of the deal by a majority of Tesla’s disinterested stockholders.  Plaintiffs argued that Corwin was inapplicable because the acquisition allegedly involved a conflicted controlling stockholder.  Declining to dismiss the claims, the Court explained that, notwithstanding his minority stake, the allegations demonstrated “extraordinary influence” and the complaint adequately pleaded that Musk “exercised his influence as a controlling stockholder with respect to the [a]cquisition.” 

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  • Delaware Supreme Court Affirms Delaware Court Of Chancery’s Dismissal Of Fiduciary Duty Breach Claims, Finding Non-Exculpated Claim Inadequately Pled 
     
    03/20/2018

    On March 15, 2018, the Supreme Court of Delaware affirmed the Delaware Court of Chancery’s dismissal of a putative stockholder class action asserting claims for breach of fiduciary duty and quasi-appraisal against the directors of Kreisler Manufacturing Corporation (“Kreisler”) in connection with Kreisler’s sale to Arlington Capital Partners (“Arlington”). Kahn v. Stern, No. 393, 2017 (Del. March 15, 2018). As discussed in our post regarding that decision, plaintiffs argued that merger consideration was improperly diverted into payments for two management directors. In a short order, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal on the basis that the pled facts did not support a rational inference that these payments were improperly diverted. Kahn v. Stern, C.A. No. 12498-VCG (Del. Ch. Aug. 28, 2017). However, the Supreme Court expressed its disagreement with the Court of Chancery’s opinion “to the extent” that it “suggests that it is an invariable requirement that a plaintiff plead facts suggesting that a majority of the board committed a non-exculpated breach of its fiduciary duties in cases where Revlon duties are applicable, but the transaction has closed and the plaintiff seeks post-closing damages.” The Court noted that Revlon duties remain applicable notwithstanding an exculpatory charter provision even though directors may only be held liable for a non-exculpated breach of those duties.

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  • Reinstating A Post-Closing Merger Challenge, Delaware Supreme Court Holds Views Expressed By Directors In Connection With A Transaction Vote Are Not Per Se Immaterial 
     
    02/27/2018

    On February 20, 2018, the Delaware Supreme Court, in an opinion by Chief Justice Leo E. Strine, Jr., reversed the dismissal of a suit brought by former stockholders of Diamond Resorts International (“Diamond”) challenging the company’s two-step cash-out merger.  Appel v. Berkman, No. 316, 2017 (Del. Feb. 20, 2018).  As discussed in our prior post on this case, the Delaware Court of Chancery dismissed plaintiffs’ breach of fiduciary duty claims because the disinterested stockholders of Diamond, who were “fully informed,” overwhelmingly accepted the tender offer.  In reaching that decision, the Court of Chancery found it immaterial that the proxy did not disclose that Diamond’s chairman—who abstained from the board vote on the deal—had expressed disappointment with the price and indicated that “it was not the right time to sell.”  Reversing and remanding, the Delaware Supreme Court held that when a board discloses its reasons for recommending a transaction, “the contrary view of an individual board member may be material.”  In this case, the Delaware Supreme Court concluded, the chairman’s expressed views regarding the wisdom of the sale were material and the omission rendered the proxy misleadingly incomplete.

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