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Summaries and analysis of recent Delaware court decisions concerning business-related litigation.
Morris James Blogs
Derivative plaintiffs alleging that directors allowed the corporation they serve to violate the law typically face dismissal for failure to make pre-suit demand on the board unless they allege a bad faith breach of the fiduciary duty of loyalty. To survive dismissal, plaintiffs need to sufficiently allege the directors knowingly cause the violation or knowingly failed to act—a very high bar. This decision explains that a knowing violation may be found, as it was here (at the motion to dismiss stage), when the law in question is clear and the illegal corporate practice in question is well known to the board.
Delaware jurisprudence encourages decision-making by boards of independent and disinterested directors. If a transaction does not involve a controlling stockholder and is approved by a majority of disinterested and independent directors, then a plaintiff cannot attack the transaction and seek damages except upon pleading that a majority of the board acted in bad faith. More ›
This is an interesting decision because it applies a recent addition to the Delaware Rules of Evidence, Rule 510(f), which allows a court to enter an order preserving privilege despite disclosure in connection with the litigation before it. Here, the Court of Chancery entered such an order in connection with an in camera review by a special discovery master.
This is another decision explaining the narrow circumstances when the Court of Chancery will vacate an arbitration award. It is very hard to get that relief.
It is not easy to sufficiently plead a bad faith breach of fiduciary duty by a board in approving a merger when a majority of the directors were disinterested and independent. One basis for such a bad faith breach might be that the board approved a merger where management extracted side deals, such as employment arrangements with the post-merger entity or performance-based sale bonuses. As this decision explains after reviewing the precedent, an extreme set of facts is required to survive dismissal on this theory.
This decision is an excellent explanation of the “bootstrapping doctrine” that seems to often befuddle litigants. Briefly, a plaintiff cannot “bootstrap” a breach of contract claim into a fraud claim except in certain limited circumstances that this decision explains. For example, misrepresentations made to induce a contract may form the basis for a fraud calm.
When is a corporate employee responsible for tortious conduct in that capacity? This decision answers that question in a very helpful way. For example, mere nonfeasance is not enough to impose liability on a corporate actor.
As this decision explains, to state a claim attacking a merger on the basis that the Board acted in bad faith you need more than accusations that directors were motivated to avoid a proxy fight involving an activist investor. Informed stockholder approval, disinterested directors, careful consideration, a premium price, reasonable deal protection devices, and prominent advisors all work to negate inferences of bad faith.
Merely incorporating a business in Delaware does not automatically subject you to personal jurisdiction in the Delaware courts. But, when the act of incorporation is part of the events forming the basis for a claim, it may be enough. This decision explains the parameters of jurisdiction based on incorporating in Delaware.
Under M&F Worldwide, the business judgment rule standard of review applies to squeeze-out mergers with controlling stockholders if, from the outset of the negotiations, the controlling stockholder conditions the merger on both (i) negotiation and approval by a special committee of independent directors, free to select its advisors, empowered to say no, which fulfills its duty of care, and (ii) approval by an uncoerced, fully informed majority-of-the-minority vote. Compliance with M&F Worldwide limits plaintiffs to untenable waste claims. Significantly, this decision extends M&F Worldwide to circumstances where the controlling stockholder is a seller, rather than the buyer, and may have engaged in a conflicted transaction based on alleged side deals. The decision also holds that the dual protections of M&F Worldwide must apply from the start of the negotiations with the controller to be given effect.
In the recent decision in Salberg v. Genworth Financial,the Delaware Court of Chancery declined to compel the production of attorney-client privileged documents in a books-and-records action. In Salberg, Vice Chancellor Joseph R. Slights III was confronted with an unusual set of facts which culminated with a trial on the narrow issue of whether Genworth would be required to produce otherwise attorney-client privileged information under the Garner fiduciary exception. The court held that despite most of the factors in the Garner analysis being favorable to the plaintiffs' position, those factors were not all-inclusive nor dispositive in every case. Ultimately, the court held that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate the "good cause" necessary to satisfy the Garner test. More ›
Court Of Chancery Declines To Exercise Personal Jurisdiction Based On A Choice Of Law Provision In A Stockholders’ Agreement
This decision holds that owning shares in a closely-held Delaware corporation and entering into a stockholders’ agreement containing a Delaware choice of law provision is not a sufficient basis, standing alone, for a Delaware court to exercise personal jurisdiction over a non-resident under Delaware’s long-arm statute. While these circumstances may be factors in the long-arm and due process analysis, more is required to purposefully avail oneself of Delaware law and be subject to personal jurisdiction in its courts.
This decision explains what needs to be alleged to state a fraud claim. More particularly, it is not enough to just generally allege that a defendant must have had knowledge of someone else’s false statement.
This another, albeit rare, decision that demonstrates there is real risk in petitioning for appraisal. The Court found that the fair value was LESS than the merger price, in part due to the synergies the buyer expected to receive by the acquisition. Admittedly, this case presented a rare set of facts. However, in almost every appraisal case the defendant argues the merger price was inflated by synergies that must be backed out in determining fair value. A party considering asking for appraisal needs to be mindful of that risk.