Delaware Court Of Chancery Finds Allegations Of Personal And Professional Relationships Sufficient To Excuse Pre-Suit Demand
On September 30, 2019, Chancellor Andre G. Bouchard of the Delaware Court of Chancery denied defendants’ motion to dismiss a stockholder derivative action for breach of fiduciary duties in connection with BGC Partners, Inc.’s (“BGC”) acquisition of Berkeley Point Financial LLC. In re BGC Partners, Inc. Deriv. Litig., C.A. No. 2018-0722-AGB (Del. Ch. Sept. 30, 2019). Plaintiffs alleged that BGC’s CEO and Chairman was a controlling stockholder of both companies who purportedly disproportionately benefited from the transaction. The Court rejected plaintiffs’ argument that demand was “automatically” excused because the transaction was subject to entire fairness review as a result of the allegations regarding a purported controlling stockholder on both sides of the deal. Nevertheless, based on its “holistic” review of the complaint’s allegations of the CEO’s alleged unilateral ability to remove directors, as well as his alleged relationships with a majority of the other directors, the Court held that the complaint adequately pleaded demand futility because the allegations created a reasonable doubt as to the independence of those directors.
Delaware Court Of Chancery Denies Motion To Dismiss Merger Agreement Breach Claims Even Though Defendant Paid The Contractual Termination Fee
On September 9, 2019, Vice Chancellor Joseph R. Slights III of the Delaware Court of Chancery denied Essendant Inc.’s motion to dismiss an action for breach of a merger agreement brought by Genuine Parts Company (“GPC”). Genuine Parts Co. v. Essendant, Inc., C.A. No. 2018-0730-JRS (Del. Ch. Sept. 9, 2019). The claims arose after defendant terminated the two office supply companies’ merger agreement in favor of an acquisition of defendant by a private equity firm. The Court held that the complaint adequately pled that defendant had materially breached the merger agreement’s non-solicitation provision and the agreement did not unambiguously limit plaintiff’s possible recovery to the termination fee.
Delaware Court Of Chancery Grants Shareholder’s Post-Merger Books And Records Demand, Finding “Credible Basis” To Investigate Merger Process
On August 28, 2019, Vice Chancellor Kathaleen S. McCormick of the Delaware Court of Chancery granted a shareholder’s demand under 8 Del. C. § 220 to inspect the books and records of defendant GGP Inc. for the purpose of investigating potential mismanagement. Kosinski v. GGP Inc., C.A. No. 2018-0540 (Del. Ch. Aug. 28, 2019). Plaintiff’s demand stemmed from a merger in which defendant, a real estate company, was acquired by Brookfield Property Partners L.P., another real estate company that owned approximately one third of defendant’s common stock at the time. Plaintiff contended that the buyer had been defendant’s de facto controlling shareholder and 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”)—had not been implemented. Following trial, the Court granted plaintiff’s Section 220 demand, holding that where procedural protections are absent, “it is possible that the transaction was not at arm’s length,” and finding that plaintiff had demonstrated facts that established a “credible basis” to investigate potential breaches of fiduciary duty. But the Court noted that it was making an “exceptionally modest point” and not announcing a rule that noncompliance with MFW procedural protections “automatically supplies a credible basis.”
Delaware Court Of Chancery Denies Stay Sought By Special Litigation Committee Appointed By Conflicted General Partner
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 Finds Fair Value Equal To Deal Price Of Publicly Traded Company In Appraisal Action
On August 12, 2019, Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster of the Delaware Court of Chancery ruled in a post-trial opinion that the fair value of Columbia Pipeline Group, Inc. (“Columbia”) was equal to the deal price in an appraisal action arising from Columbia’s acquisition by TransCanada Corporation (“TransCanada”). In re Appraisal of Columbia Pipeline Group, Inc., Cons. C.A. No. 12736-VCL (Del. Ch. Aug. 12, 2019). Relying on the Delaware Supreme Court’s recent decisions in DFC, Dell, and Aruba, the Court found the deal price of $25.50 per share to be Columbia’s fair value as of the closing date.
Delaware Supreme Court Clarifies That Section 220 Books And Records Demands Are Not Subject To A Presumption Of Confidentiality
On August 7, 2019, in a decision authored by Justice Gary F. Traynor, the Delaware Supreme Court concluded that books and records produced to a stockholder under Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law are not subject to a presumption of confidentiality. Tiger v. Boast Apparel, Inc., C.A. No. 23, 2019 (Del. Aug. 7, 2019). In this case, the Delaware Court of Chancery referenced such a presumption when it issued an order requiring the stockholder to keep such records confidential indefinitely. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the indefinite confidentiality order as “within the range of reasonableness … given the facts and circumstances of this case.” But the Court expressly clarified that there is no such presumption of confidentiality and the Court of Chancery must instead “assess and compare benefits and harms when determining the initial degree and duration of confidentiality” in connection with a Section 220 demand.
Delaware Court Of Chancery Dismisses Caremark Claim, Finding Consumer Class Action Settlement Was Not A “Red Flag” For Consumer Protection Law Violations
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
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 Again Dismisses Aiding And Abetting Claims For Pleading Deficiencies
On July 15, 2019, Vice Chancellor Joseph R. Slights III of the Delaware Court of Chancery dismissed an aiding and abetting claim asserted against a private equity buyer and its principals in a stockholder class action involving breach of fiduciary duty claims against the former CEO of a technology company in connection with its take-private sale to the private equity buyer. In re Xura Inc. Stockholder Litigation, C.A. No. 12698-VCS (Del. Ch. July 12, 2019). As we discussed in a prior post, Vice Chancellor Slights declined to dismiss a different stockholder’s breach of fiduciary duty claims against the former CEO based on his allegedly self-interested participation in the merger, but the Court dismissed aiding and abetting claims asserted against the buyer and its principals. In re Xura, Inc. Stockholder Litigation, C.A. No. 12698-VCS (Del. Ch. Dec. 11, 2018). Ten days after this opinion was issued, a different stockholder filed a “nearly identical” complaint—this time asserting class action claims—raising “the same theories of aiding and abetting” that the Court had dismissed just days earlier. In a separate summary order, the Court denied the former CEO’s motion to dismiss this new complaint. In this decision, the Court dismissed the aiding and abetting claims for the same reason it did so in the prior suit—the complaint failed to include “well-pled allegations that [the buyer] ‘knowingly participated’ in the … alleged breaches of fiduciary duty.”
Delaware Court Of Chancery Approves $3 Million In Attorneys’ Fees For Successful Challenge To Forum-Selection Charter Provisions
On July 8, 2019, Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster of the Delaware Court of Chancery awarded $3 million to plaintiffs’ lawyers in Sciabacucchi v. Salzberg, C.A. No. 2017-0931-JTL (Del. Ch. July 8, 2019). As we discussed in a prior post, Vice Chancellor Laster had previously granted summary judgment to a shareholder challenging the validity of forum-selection charter provisions adopted by three corporations requiring shareholders to litigate claims under the Securities Act of 1933 in federal courts. Sciabacucchi v. Salzberg, C.A. No. 2017-0931-JTL (Del. Ch. Dec. 18, 2018). Even though the relief awarded—the invalidation of the provisions—was non-monetary and non-quantifiable, plaintiff’s counsel argued that $3 million in aggregate fees was warranted because of the significance of the result achieved. The Court agreed.
Reversing A Dismissal, The Delaware Supreme Court Finds The Absence Of Board-Level Monitoring Of "Central Compliance Risks" Sufficient To State A Caremark Claim
On June 18, 2019, in a decision authored by Chief Justice Leo E. Strine Jr., the Delaware Supreme Court en banc reversed the dismissal of a stockholder derivative suit against the directors and officers of Blue Bell Creameries USA, Inc. (the “Company”). Marchand v. Barnhill, No. 533, 2018, (Del. June 18, 2019). After a listeria outbreak at the ice cream manufacturer, the Company purportedly faced a liquidity crisis and accepted a dilutive private equity investment. Plaintiff alleged that the CEO and vice president of operations breached their fiduciary duties of care and loyalty by disregarding contamination risks and that the directors breached their duty of loyalty under In re Caremark International Inc. Derivative Litigation, 698 A.2d 959 (Del. Ch. 1996). As to the claims against the executives, the Court held that the complaint adequately pleaded demand futility because it alleged facts regarding the personal relationship of an additional director to the CEO sufficient to raise a reasonable doubt as to whether the director could impartially consider a demand. Reversing the dismissal of the Caremark claim, the Court found that “the complaint supports an inference that no system of board-level compliance monitoring and reporting existed at [the company].”
Delaware Court Of Chancery Denies Motion To Dismiss Fiduciary Duty Breach Claims Related To Repricing Of Stock Options
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 Court Of Chancery Grants Books And Records Request Arising From Caremark Claims Related To Facebook User Privacy
On May 30, 2019, Vice Chancellor Joseph R. Slights III of the Delaware Court of Chancery granted a stockholder demand to inspect Facebook’s books and records in connection with their Caremark claims arising from alleged data privacy breaches. In re Facebook, Inc. Section 220 Litig., C.A. No. 2018-0661-JRS (Del. Ch. May 30, 2019). The Court concluded that, as a matter of law, it would be improper to assess the merits of plaintiffs’ Caremark claims in the context of a books-and-records demand and ruled that plaintiffs met the minimum burden of proof under Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law (“Section 220”), noting that this standard was more easily met where, as here, the underlying claims allege the failure to prevent corporate violations of law, rather than challenging routine business operations.
Delaware Court Of Chancery Holds Merger Agreement Preserved Sellers’ Ability To Assert Privilege Over Pre-Merger Attorney-Client Communications, Notwithstanding The Transfer Of Those Communications To The Buyer
On May 29, 2019, Vice Chancellor Kathaleen S. McCormick of the Delaware Court of Chancery ruled that plaintiff Shareholder Representative Services LLC (“Shareholder Representative”) as the designated representative of Radixx Solutions International, Inc.’s (“Radixx”) selling stockholders, retained the ability to assert privilege over Radixx’s pre-merger attorney-client communications in a post-closing litigation against the acquiring company, RSI Holdco, LLC (“Holdco”). Shareholder Representative Services LLC v. RSI Holdco, LLC, C.A. No. 2018-0517-KSJM (Del. Ch. May 29, 2019). Specifically, the Court held that by its plain terms the merger agreement between the parties preserved the privilege, even though the communications were physically transferred to the buyer at closing. Therefore, the Court granted plaintiff’s request for a protective order and barred Holdco from using or relying on any of Radixx’s pre-merger attorney-client communications.
Delaware Supreme Court Affirms Judgment In Favor Of Defendant On The Basis Of Plaintiffs’ Failure To Prove Damages
On May 16, 2019, the Supreme Court of Delaware affirmed a judgment by Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster of the Delaware Court of Chancery in favor of Potomac Capital Partners II, LP on claims by shareholder plaintiffs that the activist investor aided and abetted breaches of fiduciary duty by the board of PLX Technology Inc. in connection with its acquisition by Avago Technologies Wireless (U.S.A.) Manufacturing Inc. In re PLX Technology Inc. S’holders Litig., C.A. No. 571, 2018 (Del. May 16, 2019). As discussed in our post regarding that decision, the Court of Chancery found in a post-trial opinion that defendant had aided and abetted breaches of fiduciary duty but also concluded that plaintiffs failed to prove damages because the deal price likely exceeded the standalone value and no higher bidders had emerged. On appeal, plaintiffs contended that the Court of Chancery erred in deciding the damages issue by importing principles from appraisal jurisprudence to give deference to the deal price. In a summary order, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Chancery’s “decision that the plaintiff-appellants did not prove that they suffered damages.” The Court expressly declined to reach defendant’s arguments on cross-appeal that it had not aided and abetted any breaches of fiduciary duty because its affirmance on the damages issue “suffices to affirm the judgment.”
Delaware Chancery Court Finds Limited Liability Companies Can Be Liable For Advancement To Members, Even Under Delaware Corporate Law
On April 30, 2019, Vice Chancellor Tamika Montgomery-Reeves of the Delaware Court of Chancery held that plaintiff Freeman Family LLC (“Freeman”), a member of Park Avenue Landing LLC (the “Company”), is entitled to advancement pursuant to Delaware corporate case law. Freeman Family LLC v. Park Avenue Landing LLC, No. C.A. 2018-0683 (Del. Ch. April 30, 2019). In January 2017, plaintiff was sued by the Company’s managing member in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey (the “New Jersey action”). Thereafter, plaintiff argued the Company must provide advancement of legal fees arising from the New Jersey action because its operating agreement provides that all members shall receive advancement if they are made party to an action as a result of their status as a member. In granting plaintiff’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, the Court first found that Delaware corporate case law applied “by analogy” because the advancement provision in the Company’s operating agreement incorporated language from the Delaware General Corporation Law, 8 Del. C. § 145. However, the Court found that plaintiff was nevertheless entitled to advancement because a “causal relationship” existed between the New Jersey action and plaintiff’s official capacity as manager.
Delaware Supreme Court Finds Deal Price Minus Synergies As Fair Value In Aruba Networks Appraisal Appeal, Rather Than Average Preannouncement Stock Price
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
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
04/09/2019On 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 Derivative Suit Alleging Tech Company Exposed Itself To Unnecessary Litigation Risk With Acquisition
On April 1, 2019, Vice Chancellor Sam Glasscock III of the Delaware Court of Chancery dismissed for lack of demand a stockholder derivative suit against directors of Uber Technologies, Inc. (“Uber”) that asserted breach of fiduciary duty claims in connection with Uber’s acquisition of self-driving car startup Ottomotto, LLC (“Otto”). McElrath v. Kalanick, et al., C.A. No. 2017-0888-SG (Del. Ch. April 1, 2019). After Uber acquired Otto, which was founded by a former Google employee, Google sued for infringement and Uber paid $245 million to resolve the claims. Plaintiff in McElrath claimed that the Uber board violated its duties by failing to adequately investigate the Otto transaction.
Delaware Court Of Chancery Enjoins Stockholder Vote For Inadequate Disclosures
On March 11, 2019, Vice Chancellor Kathaleen S. McCormick enjoined a stockholder vote to approve the proposed combination of Medley Management, Inc. (“Medley Management”) with two affiliates it advised, Medley Capital Corporation (“Medley Capital”) and Sierra Income Corporation (“Sierra”). Medley Capital stockholders FrontFour Capital Group LLC and FrontFour Master Fund, Ltd. (together, “FrontFour”) sued to suspend the vote until competing offers were solicited and additional proxy disclosures were made. Plaintiffs alleged that the merger was not entirely fair because the two controlling stockholders of Medley Management controlled the deal process, and the process and the terms were unfair to Medley Capital, and further claimed that the proxy made inadequate disclosures; plaintiffs also asserted an aiding and abetting claim against Sierra. After expedited litigation and trial, the Court enjoined the vote, ruling that corrective disclosures were necessary but that a go-shop period could not be required because Sierra’s rights under the transaction agreements would be negatively impacted.
Delaware Court Of Chancery Finds Implicit Consent To Jurisdiction By A Foreign Controlling Stockholder In Connection With The Adoption Of A Delaware Forum-Selection Bylaw At The Time Of An Interested Transaction
On March 15, 2019, Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster of the Delaware Court of Chancery declined to dismiss a derivative suit brought by minority stockholders of Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation (the “Company”) against the Company’s controlling stockholder, JBS S.A. (“Parent”), and five of the Company’s directors affiliated with Parent. In re Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. Deriv. Litig., No. C.A. 2018-0058 (Del. Ch. Mar. 15, 2019). Plaintiffs challenged the Company’s $1.3 billion acquisition of one of Parent’s other subsidiaries in a deal that Parent solicited, alleging that the Company did not engage in “true arm’s-length bargaining” and that it paid a price unsupported by the Company’s internal analyses. Parent, an entity organized under Brazilian law, moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The Court held that Parent “consented implicitly” to personal jurisdiction in Delaware “when its representatives on the Board participated in the vote to adopt [a Delaware] Forum-Selection Bylaw.” The Court also found allegations of participation in the deal sufficient at the pleading stage to preclude dismissal of the claims against each of the Parent-affiliated directors, even though the board had delegated exclusive negotiation and approval authority to a special committee of independent directors.
Delaware Court Of Chancery Holds Merger Termination Valid After Plaintiffs “Forgot” To Provide A Notice To Extend, But Reserves Decision On Reverse Termination Fee
On March 14, 2019, after a two-day trial, Vice Chancellor Sam Glasscock III of the Delaware Court of Chancery rejected requests by plaintiff Vintage Capital Management, LLC and its affiliates for a declaration that defendant Rent-A-Center, Inc.’s termination of the parties’ merger was ineffective and an order that the parties must proceed with the deal. Vintage Rodeo Parent, LLC v. Rent-A-Center, Inc., C.A. No. 2018-0927-SG (Del. Ch. Mar. 14, 2019). Pursuant to the merger agreement, both parties had a right to provide a notice of extension by the contractual “End Date.” If neither party elected to extend, then either could terminate the agreement thereafter. Plaintiffs argued that both parties had been working toward closing the deal and had expressly recognized that the closing could not occur until after the End Date. On this basis plaintiffs contended that the contractual notice of extension had been effectively provided or waived. But the Court held that defendant’s termination of the merger agreement after plaintiffs apparently “forgot” to provide a notice of extension by the End Date was valid. However, the Court reserved judgment on defendant’s counterclaim for a reverse termination fee pending supplemental briefing, noting that it was “dubious whether the parties meant for a reverse breakup fee to apply in this situation.”
Delaware Court Of Chancery Finds A Circumstantial Connection To Negative Corporate Developments Insufficient To Trigger Inspection Rights Under Section 220
On February 12, 2019, Vice Chancellor Joseph R. Slights III of the Delaware Court of Chancery denied a books and records demand of a mattress company’s (the “Company”) stockholder in connection with the termination of the Company’s contract with its largest customer and related litigation. Hoeller v. Tempur Sealy Int’l Inc., C.A. No. 2018-0336-JRS (Del. Ch. Feb. 12, 2019). Plaintiff sought the records pursuant to Delaware General Corporation Law Section 220, 8 Del. C. § 220, purportedly to investigate breaches of fiduciary duty by the board. Attempting to articulate his justification, plaintiff relied on what the Court referred to as a “where there’s smoke there’s fire syllogism” in plaintiff’s contention that such a significant customer does not “just leave” in the absence of board culpability. Rejecting the request, the Court held that a “smoke then fire circumstantial connection” does not provide the “credible basis” to suspect wrongdoing that is required to entitle a stockholder to inspect a corporation’s books and records.
Delaware Supreme Court Affirms Dismissal Of Misappropriation Claims Against Private Equity Investor That Invested In A Competitor
On February 7, 2019, the Delaware Supreme Court issued an order affirming the dismissal of misappropriation claims by Alarm.com Holdings, Inc. against ABS Capital Partners Inc. (and its affiliates), a private equity firm that had a controlling interest in plaintiff and whose partners served on plaintiff’s board, with one as chairman. Alarm.com Holdings, Inc. v. ABS Capital Partners Inc., No. 360, 2018 (Del. Feb. 7, 2019). After its subsequent initial public offering, plaintiff alleged that defendant misappropriated its confidential information by investing in a competitor and asserted claims for violation of the Delaware Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“DUTSA”) and common law misappropriation. The Delaware Court of Chancery found that multiple agreements between defendant and plaintiff made it clear that defendant could invest in competitors and this fact was also evident in plaintiff’s charter of corporation, which included a provision under Delaware General Corporation Law (“DGCL”) Section 122(17) to exempt stockholders and certain directors from any duty not to pursue corporate opportunities that otherwise might arguably belong to plaintiff. In addition, in the complaint, plaintiff “relies only on [defendant’s] investment in [a competitor],” which was made approximately a year after defendant’s representative left the board, and does not allege specific facts demonstrating the misuse of plaintiff’s confidential information. Therefore, the Court of Chancery held that the facts “do not support a reasonably conceivable inference of misappropriation.” In a summary order, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed on the same basis.CATEGORY: Charters & Bylaws
Delaware Supreme Court Grants Stockholder’s Section 220 Demand As To Certain Email, And Grants Requested Exceptions To Jurisdictional Use Restriction
On January 29, 2019, in a decision authored by Chief Justice Leo E. Strine Jr., the Supreme Court of Delaware unanimously granted a stockholder petitioner’s demand under Delaware General Corporation Law Section 220, 8 Del. C. § 220, to inspect the books and records of respondent Palantir Technologies Inc. for the purpose of investigating potential mismanagement and breaches of fiduciary duty. KT4 Partners LLC v. Palantir Techs. Inc., C.A. No. 281-2018 (Del. Jan. 29, 2019). Previously, the Delaware Court of Chancery had issued a post-trial opinion partially granting petitioner’s demand for books and records, but denying access to email and ruling that information secured in the action could not be used in litigation outside of the Delaware Court of Chancery. Reversing in part on appeal, the Supreme Court held that respondent—which allegedly conducted board-level business electronically and did not maintain traditional board records—was required to produce certain email and granted petitioner’s request for certain exceptions to the jurisdictional use restriction.
Delaware Court of Chancery Grants Section 220 Demand By Director And Former CEO For Documents Related To His Ouster From The Company
On January 15, 2019, Chancellor Andre G. Bouchard of the Delaware Court of Chancery granted a former director’s petition under 8 Del. C. § 220, demanding that Papa John’s International Inc. (the “Company”) hand over various documents, including text messages and personal emails among board members, pertaining to plaintiff’s removal as a director and ouster as CEO of the Company. Schnatter v. Papa John’s Int’l Inc., C.A. No. 2018-0542 (Del. Ch. Jan. 15, 2019). Following allegedly racially tinged commentary on an earning’s call, plaintiff was asked to step down as CEO and later resigned as chairman of the board and was terminated as spokesman. In granting the 220 demand, the Court rejected the Company’s arguments that the demand was personally motivated and was not reasonably related to plaintiff’s position as a director of the Company.
Delaware Court Of Chancery Finds That Equitable Defenses To Board Composition Can Be Litigated In A Section 225 Action And Rules Actions By Majority Stockholder Written Consent Effective Even Without Notice To Minority Stockholders
On December 21, 2018, Vice Chancellor Morgan T. Zurn of the Delaware Court of Chancery denied plaintiff stockholder’s motion for summary judgment in an action to determine the board composition of SPAR Group, Inc. (“SGRP”) under 8 Del. C. § 255. Brown v. Kellar, et al., C.A. No. 2018-0687-MTZ (Del. Ch. Dec. 21, 2018). Plaintiff claimed that written consents delivered to the SGRP board by plaintiff and a fellow majority stockholder removed and replaced an incumbent director. The defendant directors asserted that the consents were ineffective for two reasons: (i) the majority stockholders were engaged in an inequitable scheme to divert corporate opportunities and entrench themselves as directors, and (ii) the company had not given notice of the written consents to minority stockholders. The Court rejected plaintiff’s assertion that Delaware law prohibited the Court from considering the alleged inequitable conduct because it fell outside the proper scope of a § 225 action. The Court also found, however, that the consents were effective upon delivery (unless inequitable conduct precluded replacement of the director) and ordered that trial proceed with respect to the equitable defenses raised by defendants.
Delaware Court Of Chancery Rejects Forum-Selection Charter Provision For Federal Securities Law Claims
On December 19, 2018, Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster of the Delaware Court of Chancery granted summary judgment to a shareholder challenging the validity of forum-selection charter provisions requiring shareholders to litigate claims under the Securities Act of 1933 (the “Securities Act”) in federal courts. Sciabacucchi v. Salzberg, C.A. No. 2017-0931-JTL (Del. Ch. Dec. 18, 2018). The case involved three corporations that adopted federal forum-selection provisions for Securities Act claims in their respective certificates of incorporation prior to their initial public offerings. Plaintiff had purchased shares of common stock in the initial public offerings (or shortly thereafter), and therefore, according to the Court, “could sue under Section 11 of the [Securities] Act to address any material misstatements or omissions in the registration statements.” Without actually asserting claims for violations of the Securities Act, however, plaintiff challenged the forum-selection provisions in a declaratory judgment suit. Reasoning that “[t]he constitutive documents of a Delaware corporation cannot bind a plaintiff to a particular forum when the claim does not involve rights or relationships that were established by or under Delaware’s corporate law,” the Court held that the federal forum-selection provisions are “ineffective and invalid.”CATEGORY: Charters & Bylaws
Delaware Court Of Chancery Denies Motion To Dismiss Breach Of Contract Claim For Failure To Use “Commercially Reasonable Efforts” To Obtain Regulatory Approval For Pharmaceuticals
On December 28, 2018, Vice Chancellor Sam Glasscock III of the Delaware Court of Chancery declined to dismiss a breach of contract claim brought by former stockholders of Ception Therapeutics, Inc. (“Ception”) against pharmaceutical company Cephalon, Inc. (“Cephalon”), which acquired Ception, alleging violations of an earn-out provision in their merger agreement. Himawan v. Cephalon, Inc., C.A. No. 2018-0075-SG (Del. Ch. Dec. 28, 2018). Ception claimed that Cephalon failed to use “commercially reasonable efforts,” as defined in the merger agreement, to obtain FDA approval for an antibody as treatment for a specific medical condition. The Court found that because the agreement defined the standard for “commercially reasonable efforts” objectively, with reference to the effort that would have been expended by other companies similarly situated, the question of what constituted “commercially reasonable efforts” could not be decided on the pleadings. The Court also dismissed an implied covenant claim against Cephalon and tortious interference claims against Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. and its affiliates (together, “Teva”), which acquired Cephalon after the Cephalon-Ception merger.
Delaware Court Of Chancery Holds That Concurrent Appraisal Action Does Not Preclude Post-Closing Fiduciary Duty Breach Claims
On December 11, 2018, Vice Chancellor Joseph R. Slights III of the Delaware Court of Chancery denied a motion to dismiss breach of fiduciary duty claims against the former CEO of a technology company (the “Company”) in connection with its take-private sale to a private equity firm. In re Xura, Inc. Stockholder Litigation, C.A. No. 12698-VCS (Del. Ch. Dec. 11, 2018). Plaintiff alleged that the CEO was conflicted by self-interest while he steered the Company into the transaction. As a stockholder at the time of the transaction, plaintiff simultaneously pursued appraisal of its shares of the Company. Defendant argued that plaintiff lacked standing to pursue breach of fiduciary duty claims in light of the pending appraisal petition and, in any event, the approval by the majority of the stockholders cleansed the transaction under Corwin v. KKR Fin. Hldgs. LLC, 125 A.3d 304 (Del. 2015). The Court, however, held that a plaintiff seeking appraisal can nevertheless maintain breach of fiduciary duty claims related to the same transaction and that the alleged omission from the proxy of various information material to the stockholder vote precluded the application of the Corwin doctrine at the pleading stage.
Delaware Court Of Chancery Dismisses Demand-Refused Derivative Litigation, Notwithstanding Allegations Of Board Misrepresentations In Advance Of Demand
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 Affirms Landmark Decision That Found MAE Justified Termination Of Deal
On December 7, 2018, the Supreme Court of Delaware affirmed the Delaware Court of Chancery’s landmark ruling that Fresenius SE & Co. KGaA (“Fresenius”) properly terminated its $4.3 billion agreement to acquire Akorn, Inc. (“Akorn”). Akorn, Inc. v. Fresenius Kabi AG, C.A. No. 2018–0300–JTL (Del. Dec. 7, 2018). As discussed in our post on the Court of Chancery’s decision, Akorn sued for specific performance after Fresenius walked away from the deal citing the discovery of various regulatory compliance problems, which Fresenius asserted amounted to a material adverse effect (“MAE”). The Court of Chancery concluded that Akorn violated not only multiple representations and covenants in the merger agreement but also the general MAE provision, ruling that an MAE had occurred and termination of the deal was justified. Concluding that the factual record adequately supported the determination that Akorn’s breach of its regulatory representations and warranties gave rise to an MAE and that Akorn had suffered a general MAE, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of Akorn’s claims.
Delaware Court Of Chancery Declines To Dismiss Fiduciary Duty Breach Claims In Connection With Take-Private Acquisition Of Recently Delisted Company
On November 20, 2018, Vice Chancellor Joseph R. Slights III of the Delaware Court of Chancery denied a motion to dismiss a putative class action asserting claims for breach of fiduciary duty brought by former stockholders of Tangoe, Inc. (the “Company”) against former members of its board of directors in connection with the take-private acquisition of the Company by a private equity buyer group in June 2017. In Re Tangoe, Inc. Stockholders Litigation, C.A. No. 2017-0650-JRS (Del Ch. Nov. 20, 2018). Plaintiffs alleged that defendants recommended an ill-advised and self-interested sale while a restatement of audited financials was pending and following the NASDAQ delisting of the Company. Defendants contended that they were entitled to business judgment rule deference under Corwin v. KKR Financial Holdings LLC, 125 A.3d 304 (Del. 2015)—because a majority of stockholders tendered their shares—and that dismissal was also required because of an exculpatory charter provision pursuant to 8 Del. C. § 102(b)(7). But the Court concluded that the alleged failures to provide adequate company financial information and to disclose the status of the restatement efforts precluded dismissal under Corwin. The Court also found that plaintiffs adequately pled a non-exculpated claim for breach of the duty of loyalty, given the timing and structure of certain director compensation adjustments, which allegedly incentivized a change in control and supported an inference that defendants acted out of material self-interest.
New York Appellate Court Reverses Dismissal Of Derivative Claims Involving U.K. Company
On November 14, 2018, the New York State Appellate Division Second Judicial Department reversed the dismissal of a shareholder derivative suit against directors and officers of a U.K. company and certain of its affiliates asserting claims for breaches of fiduciary duties in connection with the companies’ conduct underlying penalties and settlement agreements related to alleged sanctions violations. Michael Mason-Mahon v. Douglas J. Flint, 602052/14 (N.Y. App. Div. Nov. 14, 2018).
Delaware Court Of Chancery Holds Alleged Breaches Of Representations Do Not Excuse Buyers’ Noncompliance With Post-Closing Obligations Where Buyers Seek To Enforce Claims For Indemnification
On October 29, 2018, Chancellor Andre G. Bouchard of the Delaware Court of Chancery entered final judgment on counterclaims seeking to enforce covenants in a stock purchase agreement requiring the buyers to remit certain tax refunds and insurance proceeds. Post Holdings, Inc. and Michael Foods of Delaware, Inc. v. NPE Seller Rep LLC, C.A. No. 2017-0772 AGB (Del. Ch. Oct. 29, 2018). National Pasteurized Eggs, Inc. (“NPE”) was sold pursuant to a stock purchase agreement. Thereafter, the buyers initiated an action asserting claims for fraud and breaches of representations and warranties, seeking indemnification under the agreement. The sellers filed counterclaims to enforce covenants in the agreement requiring the buyers to remit certain tax refunds and insurance proceeds. The buyers argued that their obligation to remit such proceeds “should be excused” because of the sellers’ alleged prior material breach. Granting judgment on the pleadings to the buyers, the Court held that “buyers cannot continue to accept the benefits of the contract—as they seek to do in this action through their claim for indemnification—while disclaiming their contractual obligation to remit the tax refunds and insurance proceeds to the sellers promptly after they were received.”
Finding Insufficient Proof Of Damages, Delaware Court Of Chancery Enters Judgment In Favor Of Defendant Despite Finding Fiduciary Duty Breaches
On October 16, 2018, Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster of the Delaware Court of Chancery found in a post-trial opinion that Potomac Capital Partners II, LP (“Potomac”), an activist investor, aided and abetted breaches of fiduciary duty by the board of PLX Technology Inc. (“PLX”) in connection with its acquisition by Avago Technologies Wireless (U.S.A.) Manufacturing Inc. (“Avago”), but entered judgment in favor of Potomac because plaintiffs failed to show causally related damages. In re PLX Technology Inc. S’holders Litig., C.A. No. 9880-VCL (Del. Ch. Oct. 16, 2018). After the deal closed, plaintiffs alleged that the sale process was unreasonably influenced by Potomac’s managing member, who became a director of PLX and chaired the special committee charged with exploring strategic alternatives for the company. As discussed in our prior post, see Shearman & Sterling LLP, Declining To Find Enhanced Scrutiny Inapplicable To Post-Closing Damages Actions, Delaware Court Of Chancery Denies Motion For Summary Judgment, Need-to-Know Litigation Weekly, Feb. 21, 2018, https://www.lit-ma.shearman.com/declining-to-find-enhanced-scrutiny-inapplicable-, the Court previously denied a summary judgment motion filed by Potomac, finding that the PLX board’s actions in connection with the sale were subject to enhanced scrutiny and disputes of material fact existed as to whether the sale process was reasonable. Following trial, the Court concluded that although Potomac aided and abetted breaches of fiduciary duty by PLX’s board, plaintiffs had failed to prove damages because the deal price likely exceeded the standalone value and no higher bidders had emerged.
Delaware Supreme Court Holds That Business Judgment Rule Applies To Controller Transactions As Long As MFW Conditions Are In Place Prior To Economic Negotiation
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 Rules For The First Time That MAE Justifies Termination Of Deal
In a first-of-its-kind ruling, Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster of the Delaware Court of Chancery ruled post-trial that Fresenius SE & Co. KGaA (“Fresenius”) properly terminated its $4.3 billion agreement to acquire Akorn, Inc. (“Akorn”). Akorn, Inc. v. Fresenius Kabi AG, Quercus Acquisition, Inc., and Fresenius SE & Co. KGaA, C.A. No. 2018–0300–JTL (Del. Ch. Oct. 1, 2018). Fresenius walked away from the deal after discovering various data integrity and regulatory compliance problems, asserting that the issues were so serious that they amounted to a material adverse effect (“MAE”). Akorn sued for specific performance, alleging that Fresenius was merely suffering from buyer’s remorse. Vice Chancellor Laster concluded that Akorn violated not only multiple representations and covenants in the merger agreement but also the general MAE provision, ruling that an MAE had occurred.
Delaware Court Of Chancery Denies Motion To Exclude Post-Signing Evidence
On September 7, 2018, Vice Chancellor Joseph R. Slights III of the Delaware Court of Chancery denied a motion to exclude certain documents relating to Jarden Corporation’s (“Jarden”) post-signing financial performance offered as evidence during a statutory appraisal trial. In re Appraisal of Jarden Corporation, C.A. No. 12456-VCS (Del. Ch. Sep. 7, 2018). Newell Rubbermaid, Inc. (“Newell”) acquired Jarden pursuant to a merger agreement executed on December 13, 2015, in a deal that closed on April 15, 2016. Petitioners filed for appraisal on June 14, 2016. At trial, petitioners objected to the admission of certain documents relating to Jarden’s post-signing financial performance. Rejecting petitioners’ relevancy objection, the Court determined that “[t]he post-signing financial documents address the condition of Jarden during a timeframe relevant to the ‘fair value’ determination.” In making the relevancy determination, the Court relied on prior cases indicating that a change in value between signing and closing should be addressed in an appraisal analysis because “fair value” must be measured by the “operative reality” of the corporation at the effective time of the merger. However, the Court highlighted that it had not yet determined “[w]hat weight, if any, the evidence will be given in the Court’s deliberations.”
Finding That The Implied Covenant Of Good Faith And Fair Dealing Could Not Import Revlon-Type Duties, Delaware Supreme Court Affirms Dismissal Of Breach Claim
On September 20, 2018, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of claims for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing brought against the controlling unitholder and its affiliates on the board of a company that provides services to children with disabilities in connection with the sale of that company. Miller v. HCP Trumpet Investments, LLC, No. 107, 2018 (Del. Sept. 20, 2018). Pursuant to a waterfall set forth in the company’s operating agreement (the “OA”), the controlling investor was entitled to nearly all of the first $30 million in proceeds in the event of a sale. The OA, which included an explicit waiver of fiduciary duties, provided that the board could approve a sale of the company to an independent third party and “determine in its sole discretion the manner in which [such sale] shall occur, whether as a sale of assets, merger, transfer of [m]embership [i]nterests or otherwise.” After the company was sold for $43 million, minority members sued for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, arguing that it imposed an obligation to conduct an “open-market” sale process to ensure maximum value for all members. Although the Delaware Supreme Court disagreed with the Delaware Court of Chancery’s holding that the implied covenant did not apply to the sale, the Court affirmed the dismissal on the basis that the implied covenant did not imply Revlon-type sale requirements.
District Of Delaware Finds Successful Section 220 Action Tolled Claims For Alleged Mismanagement
On September 4, 2018, Judge Leonard P. Stark of the United States District Court for District of Delaware ruled that a shareholder’s separate Section 220 action for books and records tolled claims against the managing shareholder. Norman v. Elkin, C.A. No. 06-005-LPS (D. Del. Sept. 4, 2018). Plaintiff, the only minority shareholder of U.S. Mobilecomm, Inc. (“USM”), brought various contract, fraud, and breach of fiduciary duty claims against USM’s majority shareholder—who managed the affairs of the company—in connection with the sale of company assets and the subsequent distributions of the proceeds. Explaining that there is “no hard and fast rule” under Delaware law for determining whether a Section 220 action tolls a statute of limitations, the Court considered various factors and held that plaintiff met its burden to demonstrate that tolling should apply. In particular, the Court highlighted that the Section 220 action sought to investigate possible mismanagement related to the asset sales and distributions of proceeds and the claims subsequently advanced “were related to that information.”
Delaware Court Of Chancery Denies Motion To Dismiss LPA Breach Claims, Including Aiding And Abetting Claim Against Financial Advisor
On August 29, 2018, Vice Chancellor Joseph R. Slights III of the Delaware Court of Chancery denied defendants’ motions to dismiss an amended complaint in a long-running lawsuit arising from a sale of an interest in a pipeline by a general partner to a master limited partnership in which it held a controlling interest. Mesirov v. Enbridge Energy Co. Inc., C.A. No. 11314 (Del. Ch. Aug. 29, 2018). Plaintiff, a common unitholder of a Delaware master limited partnership (the “MLP”), brought claims for breach of the MLP’s Limited Partnership Agreement (“LPA”) against the general partner (the “GP”), its parent, and other affiliates. Plaintiff alleged that the GP acted in bad faith by purportedly selling the interest for $1 billion even though it had previously acquired the same interest from the MLP five years earlier for $800 million and earnings metrics had declined over the period by 20%. As discussed in our previous post, Vice Chancellor Slights originally dismissed this suit in April 2016, but the Delaware Supreme Court reversed and remanded in March 2017, holding that bad faith was sufficiently pleaded. Here, Vice Chancellor Slights denied the GP’s motion to dismiss claims for breach of the LPA, finding them to be duplicative of the claims in the motion rejected by the Delaware Supreme Court in 2017. Vice Chancellor Slights also declined to dismiss new claims for aiding and abetting against the GP’s financial advisor, which had delivered a fairness opinion regarding the transaction.
Delaware Court Of Chancery Validates Ratification Of Defective Corporate Acts Impacting Merger And Declines To Expand Universe Of Claims Classified As Both Direct And Derivative
On August 17, 2018, Chancellor Andre G. Bouchard of the Delaware Court of Chancery denied all of plaintiffs’ claims challenging a series of transactions culminating in the acquisition of defendant Design Within Reach, Inc. (“DWR”) by Herman Miller, Inc. (“HM”) in July 2014. Charles Almond as Trustee for the Almond Family 2001 Trust v. Glenhill Advisors LLC, C.A. No. 10477-CB (Del. Ch. Aug. 17, 2018). The claims related in large part to the documentation of a reverse stock split by DWR in 2010 that had the unintended effect of diluting the number of shares of common stock into which preferred stock could be converted by a factor of 50. As this went unnoticed until after the merger, the preferred stock was converted into common stock as if there had been no error. Plaintiffs, who were pre-merger minority stockholders of DWR, asserted various claims that defendants, including DWR’s controlling stockholder, thus improperly benefited from a greater percentage of equity and merger consideration than that to which they were legally entitled. HM ratified the correction of the conversion factor (pursuant to 8 Del. C. § 204) and asserted a counterclaim for judicial validation of the defective corporate acts (under 8 Del. C. § 205). Finding all relevant factors weighed “overwhelmingly in favor of judicial validation” the Court granted defendants’ request to validate the defective corporate acts and rejected plaintiffs’ claims. Separately, the Court rejected breach of fiduciary duty claims unrelated to the merger.
Finding Merger Agreement Provisions Regarding Milestone Payments Ambiguous, Delaware Court Of Chancery Denies Dismissal Of Post-Merger Breach Claims
On August 10, 2018, Vice Chancellor Joseph R. Slights III of the Delaware Court of Chancery denied a motion to dismiss breach of contract claims stemming from a merger agreement pursuant to which defendant, Stora Enso AB, acquired non-party, Virdia, Inc. Fortis Advisors LLC v. Stora Enso Ab, C.A. No. 12291-VCS (Del. Ch. Aug. 10, 2018). Plaintiff, Fortis Advisors LLC, as shareholder representative of Virdia’s pre-merger equity holders, asserted that Stora Enso breached the merger agreement in connection with its failure to achieve certain post-closing milestones obligating it to make certain contingent milestone payments. Finding competing interpretations of the merger agreement both reasonable, the Court declined to dismiss the breach claims.
Southern District Of New York Denies Claims For Investment Banking Fees, Holding That The Engagement Terminated And The “Agreement To Agree” Was Unenforceable
On August 10, 2018, Judge Jesse Furman of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York denied claims for advisory fees brought by investment bank Stone Key Partners LLC (together with Stone Key Securities LLC, “Stone Key”) against its former client, Monster Worldwide, Inc. (“Monster”). Stone Key Partners LLC v. Monster Worldwide, Inc., Case No. 1:17-cv-3851-JMF (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 10, 2018). Monster engaged Stone Key in April 2012 to assist in a “review of strategic alternatives,” including a possible sale, and agreed to compensate Stone Key if it entered into certain transactions within 12 months of any termination of the engagement; Monster engaged another financial institution as a co-advisor. The engagement letter with Stone Key did not clearly require written notice of termination and provided that Stone Key would be paid 55% of a fee that “shall be mutually acceptable . . . and consistent with compensation agreements customarily agreed to by” investment banks for similar transactions in connection with any “partial sale” transaction within the tail period. The Court found that the engagement ended in August 2013, when it was clear (in the eyes of the Court) that the sale exploration process was over, and thus denied claims for transactions completed in 2015 and 2016. The Court also rejected as unenforceable the partial sale fee provision, finding it to be an unenforceable agreement to agree.
Applying Dell and DFC, Delaware Court Of Chancery Finds “Fair Value” Is Deal Price Less Synergies In Appraisal Action
On July 30, 2018, Chancellor Andre Bouchard of the Delaware Court of Chancery determined that the deal price minus synergies was the best evidence of the fair value of Solera Holdings, Inc. (“Solera”) in an appraisal action arising from the acquisition of Solera by Vista Equity Partners. In re Solera Holdings Stockholder Litigation, C.A. No. 12080-CB (Del Ch. July 30, 2018). Applying recent guidance from the Delaware Supreme Court, the Court found that the deal price should be afforded “dispositive” weight because the transaction process was characterized by “objective indicia of reliability,” including a robust sales process directed by an independent special committee and an efficient market for Solera shares. Accordingly, the Court found petitioners were entitled to $53.95 per share, consisting of the deal price ($55.85 per share) less the value of merger synergies ($1.90 per share).
Delaware Court Of Chancery Grants Minority Stockholder’s Section 220 Demand As To Emails But Denies Access To Merger-Related Drafts
On July 30, 2018, Vice Chancellor Tamika Montgomery-Reeves of the Delaware Court of Chancery partially granted a Section 220 demand for the books and records of Globalstar, Inc. brought by the company’s largest minority stockholder, Mudrick Capital Management, L.P. Mudrick Cap. Mgmt, L.P. v. Globalstar, Inc., C.A. No. 2018-0351-TMR (Del. Ch. July 30, 2018). The demand arose in the context of a pending merger between Globalstar and Thermo Acquisitions, Inc., an entity controlled by Globalstar’s CEO and controlling stockholder. The parties did not dispute that Mudrick Capital’s demand was based on several proper purposes in connection with evaluating certain aspects of the merger and Globalstar agreed to produce various categories of documents. Resolving remaining disputes about the scope of the production, however, the Court held that emails were subject to production, but denied the demand for draft board minutes and other draft materials.
Delaware Court Of Chancery Applies MFW To Stockholder Challenge To An All-Stock Transaction With Allegedly Controlling Stockholder
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.
Finding Disclosures Inadequate To Merit Application Of Corwin, Delaware Supreme Court Reverses Court of Chancery Dismissal Of Post-Closing Breach Of Fiduciary Duty Claims
On July 9, 2018, the Delaware Supreme Court reversed and remanded a decision by the Delaware Court of Chancery to dismiss stockholder class claims for breach of fiduciary duty brought against the former directors of The Fresh Market (TFM) after its acquisition in a two-step take-private merger by affiliates of Apollo Global Management, LLC (“Apollo”). Morrison v. Berry, No. 445, 2017 (Del. July 9, 2018). As discussed in our prior post on this case, the Court of Chancery dismissed claims that the sale process undertaken by TFM was a “sham” designed by TFM’s founder to deliver the company into the hands of a favored suitor. Specifically, the Court of Chancery concluded that the facts regarding the involvement of TFM’s founder with Apollo were adequately disclosed in connection with the tender offer—in which 68.2% of shares were tendered—and the deal was therefore subject to the deferential business judgment rule under Corwin v. KKR Financial Holdings LLC, 125 A.3d 304 (Del. 2015). Finding that the complaint adequately alleged several “materially incomplete and misleading” disclosures, the Delaware Supreme Court reversed.