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Chancery Invalidates Provisions of Stockholder Agreement Under Section 141 of the DGCL, Finding Agreement Impermissibly Granted Board-Level Decision-Making to Founder

West Palm Beach Firefighters’ Pension Fund v. Moelis & Co., C.A. No. 2023-0309-JTL (Del. Ch. Feb. 23, 2024)
One day before a company’s shares began trading publicly, the founder and three affiliates entered into a stockholder agreement with the company. The agreement required the board to obtain pre-approval from the founder for eighteen categories of board action, to take various steps to ensure the founder could select a majority of the board even if he held less than a majority of the company’s outstanding voting power, and to form committees only if they contained designees of the founder proportionate to the number of his designees on the board. More ›

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Chancery Denies Motion to Dismiss Challenge to Microsoft-Activision Merger Where it Was Reasonably Conceivable that the Board Violated Section 251 of the DGCL


AP-Fonden v. Activision Blizzard Inc., C.A. No. 2022-1001-KSJM (Del. Ch. Feb. 29, 2024)
This case arose from a stockholder-plaintiff’s challenge to a merger whereby Microsoft acquired Activision Blizzard. Activision’s board met to approve the merger and approved a draft merger agreement. However, this draft agreement did not include (i) a disclosure letter, which was mentioned 45 times in the draft agreement; (ii) disclosure schedules, which were still being negotiated; (iii) the amount of consideration; or (iv) the surviving corporation’s certificate of incorporation. The agreement as-approved also did not address the issue of dividends that Activision would be permitted to pay while the deal was pending; when it approved the merger agreement, the board delegated the dividend issue to an ad hoc committee of the board. The full board did not review the merger agreement after this meeting, and the final version executed the next day included several changes from the draft agreement, including the dividend provision agreed to by Microsoft and the ad hoc committee. More ›

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Court of Chancery Dismisses Derivative Claims Under Rule 23.1 When Plaintiff Failed to Show that Board Members Faced a Substantial Risk of Liability in Failing to Prevent Personal Use of Company Property


Conte v. Greenberg, C.A. No. 2022-0633-MTZ (Del. Ch. Feb. 2, 2024)

In examining whether a pre-suit demand upon the board of directors would be futile, the Court will examine on a director-by-director basis (i) whether the director received a material personal benefit from the alleged misconduct that is the subject of the litigation demand, (ii) whether the director faces a substantial likelihood of liability on any of the claims that would be the subject of the litigation demand, and (iii) whether the director lacks independence from someone who received a material personal benefit from the alleged misconduct that is the subject of the litigation demand or faces a substantial likelihood of liability on any of the claims that would be the subject of the litigation demand. In this case, the plaintiff alleged that the board faced a substantial risk of liability for failing to impose meaningful restrictions on certain executives’ alleged personal use of corporate airplanes, and also for issuing misleading disclosures. The Court disagreed, however, reasoning that even if directors failed to prevent the personal use of the airplane, that alone did not amount to bad faith, because the risk was contained. The Court reasoned the plaintiff’s claim related solely to the “misuse of two corporate assets by discrete individuals, as compared to a widespread operational deficiency.” Furthermore, the Court held that the directors were not at a substantial risk of liability for disclosure claims, because the proxy statement disclosed that certain executives had used the plane for personal use, and the failure to include the several details or characterizations upon which the plaintiff insisted were not material omissions in the context of the proxy statement. The Court accordingly granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss for failure to plead demand futility. 

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Court of Chancery Addresses Interplay of Attorney-Defendants’ Confidentiality Obligations and Discovery Duties


In re Harris FRC Corp. Merger and Appraisal Litig., C.A. No. 2019-0736-JTL (Del. Ch. February 19, 2024)
Attorney rules for professional conduct across all jurisdictions include a general obligation of confidentiality regarding client information. But what happens when the duty of confidentiality runs into an attorney's duty, as a case party, to produce discovery? This decision from the Court of Chancery provides some insight. More ›

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Chancery Finds Egregious Conduct in Books and Records Action Justifying Fee-Shifting Against Corporation


PVH Polymath Venture Holdings Ltd. v. TAG Fintech Inc., C.A. No. 2023-0502-BWD (Del. Ch. Jan. 26, 2024)
Under the “bad faith” exception to the American Rule, Delaware courts will consider shifting fees when aggressive litigation strategies amount to “glaringly egregious” conduct. Here, the Court found the defendant-corporation’s extraordinary attempts to resist a stockholder’s books and records demand under 8 Del. C. § 220 (“Section 220”) warranted requiring the corporation to pay the stockholder-plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees and expenses.  More ›

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Failure to Preserve Mobile Data Leads to Multiple Sanctions in the Court of Chancery


Goldstein v. Denner, C.A. No. 2020-1061-JTL (Del. Ch. Jan. 26, 2024)
As more business is conducted via personal mobile devices, modern eDiscovery practice in Delaware generally involves the preservation of custodial mobile data. The failure to preserve relevant data while under a duty to do so may lead to the Court imposing sanctions. More ›

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Superior Court Dismisses Aiding and Abetting Claim Against Officers


RGIS International Transition Holdco LLC v. Retail Services WIS Corp., C.A. No. N21C-12-077 (Del. Super. February 13, 2024)
Under Delaware law, a corporation generally cannot conspire with its own officers, directors, or agents, nor can those individuals aid and abet a tort committed by the corporation. There is a “personal motivation exception” to this general rule, under which an agent can be liable for conspiring with or aiding and abetting the corporation when acting outside of that agent’s corporate role or pursuant to personal motivations.  More ›

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Chancery Dismisses Caremark Action Based on Insufficient Allegations of Bad Faith


Clem v. Skinner, et al., C.A. 2021-0240-LWW (Del. Ch. Feb. 19, 2024)
This Caremark decision involved the retail pharmacy company, Walgreens, and concerned billing practices for a particular insulin pen product that gave rise to unnecessary refill reminders and overbilling, which led to a government investigation and a whistleblower lawsuit. A stockholder plaintiff brought this related derivative action against Walgreens' directors and officers. The Court of Chancery easily disposed of the claims under Rule 23.1 for failure to allege demand futility. According to the Court, the plaintiff's allegations demonstrated that Walgreens' board fulfilled its oversight duty by enacting a board-level monitoring system and by responding to red flags. Indeed, soon after learning of the whistleblower action, the company considered and remedied the problem through software changes. And the plaintiff's contention that the board's actions “came too late and did too little” was “incompatible with bad faith—a necessary component of any Caremark claim.” Notably, the Court expressed some concern about the uptick of Caremark suits, cautioning that “more harm than good comes about if Caremark claims are reflexively filed” whenever an alleged defect is discovered or investigated.

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Delaware Supreme Court Affirms That the Right to Sue Corporate Officers is Not a “Power” Within the Meaning of DGCL Section 242(b)(2)


In re Fox Corporation/Snap Inc. Section 242 Litigation, C.A. 2023-1007-LWW (Del. Ch. January 17, 2024)
DGCL Section 242(b)(2) requires approval by each class of stock to amend a corporate charter, where the amendment alters or changes – adversely – the powers, preferences, or special rights of a class of stock. Here, the Delaware Supreme Court was asked to determine whether a charter amendment affecting the right to sue implicated "powers" of a certain class of stockholders, such that the amendment required approval by all classes of stock. Affirming the Court of Chancery below, the Delaware Supreme Court held that the right to sue is not a “power” within the meaning of Section 242(b)(2), and, thus, the charter amendment did not require approval by all classes of stock. More ›

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Chancery Denies Attorneys’ Fees for Appointment of New Directors Following Assertion of Derivative Claims


In re Oracle Corp. Deriv. Litig., Consol. C.A. No. 2017-0337-SG (Del. Ch. Feb. 7, 2024)
Under the mootness rule, a stockholder plaintiff can be awarded attorneys’ fees when the plaintiff’s litigation efforts result in the defendants taking action that results in a corporate benefit. In this case, following the stockholder-plaintiffs’ assertion of derivative claims, new independent directors were appointed by the corporation to serve on a special litigation committee to investigate the merits of the litigation. Although the underlying derivative claims were rejected after trial, the plaintiffs argued that the appointment of new directors nonetheless created a corporate benefit and, in fact, resulted in Oracle’s board having at least as many independent directors as supposedly non-independent directors. The Court disagreed, however, and held that the plaintiffs were not entitled to a mootness fee. The Court reasoned that the appointment of the new directors was not a significant benefit because the board was determined to have acted properly in the transaction that gave rise to the underlying lawsuit. Furthermore, the stockholder-plaintiffs did not seek the appointment of independent directors as part of the lawsuit. Therefore, the Court denied the plaintiffs’ request for attorneys’ fees.

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Chancery Upholds Challenge to TripAdvisor’s Conversion from a Delaware Corporation into a Nevada Entity


Palkon v. Maffei, C.A. 2023-0449-JTL (Del. Ch. Feb. 20, 2024)
This decision arose out of TripAdivor’s conversion from a Delaware corporation into a Nevada corporation. The company’s CEO and Chair had voting control and approved the conversion. The board did not condition the transaction on special committee approval or a majority of the minority stockholder vote. The plaintiff challenged the conversion on the grounds that the CEO and the board approved it to secure litigation protections for themselves under Nevada law more favorable than under Delaware law. More ›

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Chancery Invokes the Implied Covenant to Invalidate Shareholder Rights Plan


Whitestone REIT Operating Partnership L.P. v. Pillarstone Capital REIT, C.A. No. 2022-0607-LWW (Del. Ch. Jan. 25, 2024)
In Delaware, the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing is inherent in all contracts and ensures that the “fruits of the bargain” are not frustrated by arbitrary or unreasonable action. More ›

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Delaware Supreme Court Upholds Forfeiture for Competition Provision in Partnership Agreement


Cantor Fitzgerald, L.P., v. Ainslie, No. 162, 2023 (Del. Jan. 29, 2024)
Here, a limited partnership agreement authorized the partnership to withhold distributions owed to a partner who withdraws from the partnership and engages in specified competitive activities. The partnership attempted to enforce the agreement and several former partners sued in Delaware. At the trial court level, the Court of Chancery scrutinized the provision using the standard for non-compete covenants and found the provision overbroad and unreasonable and thus invalid on policy grounds. On appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court reversed and remanded. The Supreme Court held that forfeiture for competition provisions in partnership agreements should not be reviewed for reasonableness. Rather, they should “enjoy … deference on equal footing with any other bargained-for-term in a limited partnership agreement.” The Supreme Court’s reasoning largely turned on the express policy of the Delaware limited partnership statute (DRULPA) to give maximum effect to the principle of freedom of contract and to the enforceability of partnership agreements.

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Chancery Excuses Condition in Stockholder Agreement When Company Caused its Non-Occurrence


Chordia v. Lee, C.A. No. 2023-0382-NAC (Del. Ch. Jan. 4, 2024)
In this case, as part of a sale of a majority interest, a stockholder agreement granted the founders the ability to designate members to the board of directors so long as at least one founder remained at the company as an officer or employee. The agreement also granted the board the ability to hire and fire executive employees, but did not allow the board to terminate non-executive employees. In addition, the stockholder’s agreement required that the company use reasonable efforts to ensure the rights in the agreement remained effective for the founders’ benefit. More ›

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Chancery Invalidates Elon Musk’s $55.8 Billion Pay Package


Tornetta v. Musk, et al., C.A. 2018-0408-KSJM (Del. Ch. Jan. 30, 2024)
Stockholders of Tesla, Inc. brought a derivative action against Elon Musk and six individual Tesla directors, alleging that the directors breached their fiduciary duties by awarding Musk performance-based stock options in January 2018 with a potential $55.8 billion maximum value and $2.6 billion grant date fair value. Following a trial, the Court of Chancery held that the defendants failed to meet their burden to prove the fairness of the compensation plan and granted the plaintiffs’ request to rescind the plan in its entirety. More ›

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