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Summaries and analysis of recent Delaware court decisions concerning business-related litigation.
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Showing 248 posts by Albert J. Carroll.
This top ten list summarizes significant decisions of the Delaware Supreme Court and the Delaware Court of Chancery over the past calendar year 2018.
The cases selected either meaningfully changed Delaware law or provided clarity or guidance on issues relevant to corporate and commercial litigation in Delaware. More ›
Under Delaware law, stockholders who wish to pursue a derivative claim on the corporation’s behalf face an important decision—whether to make a pre-suit demand on the board to handle the suit itself, or bring the suit oneself and plead that the board cannot disinterestedly and independently consider a pre-suit demand under the circumstances. Neither path is easy. More ›
One proper purpose for a books and records inspection under Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law is to investigate potential plenary claims. But what happens when the stockholder seeks records under Section 220 after it already initiated its plenary claims on the same subject? Shouldn’t investigations, by their nature, precede a charge? And may Section 220 be used as an end-around discovery rules in the pending plenary action? This decision addresses these issues, discusses the relevant Delaware precedent, and explains that, “although there is no bright-line rule prohibiting stockholders from using Section 220 to investigate pending plenary claims, Delaware courts have enforced those inspection demands in special circumstances only.” Special circumstances may include where the plenary complaint was dismissed without prejudice, with leave to amend. No special circumstances were present in this books and records action, so the Court of Chancery dismissed it.
Chancery Addresses the Arbitration Versus “Expert” Determination Distinction in Acquisition Agreement
Purchase agreements in M&A transactions often include alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. It similarly is not uncommon for parties to debate whether their agreement contemplates arbitration or an “expert” determination. There is a distinction between the two under Delaware law, and it is important. In particular, it dictates what role a court can play, such as in determining the scope of the non-judicial adjudicator’s authority in the first instance. The Court of Chancery thoroughly addressed the issue last year in Penton Business Media Holdings, LLC v. Informa PLC, 2018 WL 3343495 (Del. Ch. July 9, 2018). This is another decision on that topic, one reading the parties’ contract as requiring arbitration, not an expert determination, citing the contract’s references to the process as “arbitration.”
Delaware Supreme Court Addresses Emails and Jurisdictional Use Conditions in Books and Records Actions
Two prevailing questions for books and records inspections under Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law are what records can I get, and what can I do with them? This decision from the Delaware Supreme Court addresses both issues. More ›
It is sometimes fair to characterize plaintiff-side representative litigation in the corporate context as lawyer-driven. This decision is notable because it addresses how that dynamic might affect a stockholder’s right to inspect corporate books and records under Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law. The right to access records is not a license to fish. A stockholder can get necessary records, for a proper purpose—one that is in fact the stockholder’s true and primary purpose. That is where a lawyer’s involvement might make a difference. The purposes stated by counsel might not align with the stockholder’s actual motivations. More ›
As a general matter, under Section 220 of the DGCL, directors of a Delaware corporation enjoy the right to virtually unfettered access to the corporation’s books and records so they can exercise their fiduciary duties. In this recent post-trial decision, the Court of Chancery addressed a request by Papa John’s founder and longtime spokesperson, John Schnatter, to inspect documents and communications leading up to the formation of a special committee that decided to terminate certain relationships with him following remarks construed as racial in nature. While the parties resolved most of their disputes consensually, the remaining issues turned largely upon the Court’s factual finding that Schnatter sincerely wished to investigate potential mismanagement in connection with the committee’s decision to distance the company from him. Particularly noteworthy, after considering recent precedents in this area, the Court ordered the production of communications relating to this issue that may be found in the other directors’ personal email accounts or on personal devices. Also notable, in light of all the circumstances, the Court declined to find a separate action for breach of fiduciary duty filed by Schnatter in his capacity as a stockholder was a basis for denying inspection in his capacity as a director.
Chancery Declines to Dismiss Claim that Acquirer Failed to Use “Commercially Reasonable Efforts” to Reach Earn-out Milestones
Parties in M&A transactions commonly include efforts clauses, like the obligation to use best efforts, commercially reasonable efforts, etc., to some end. Delaware law enforces such covenants and views them as creating affirmative duties. Exactly what duties an efforts clause creates is contextual, however, and courts sometimes wrestle with how to apply them. Parties on occasion try to bring clarity to their contract by defining what they intend their particular efforts clause to mean, like the parties attempted in this case. More ›
Court of Chancery Addresses the Scope of Summary Control Disputes and Effectiveness of Written Consents
Control disputes, like those under Section 225 of the DGCL, are summary, narrow proceedings limited to the issues regarding title to office. The Court of Chancery will not hear or decide “collateral” matters. Whether something is collateral turns on whether it is necessary to decide it to resolve the claim to office. That, in turn, depends on the particular facts and claims of the case. All this is due to the jurisdictional limitations of statutory control disputes as well as the policy of securing prompt resolutions. In this summary judgment ruling, the Court declines to deem certain defenses collateral that related to the validity of a stockholder consent under equitable principles. The ruling also addresses when a consent is treated as technically effective under Delaware law, i.e., usually upon delivery.
Delaware law permits a Delaware corporation to include a forum-selection provision in its certificate of incorporation governing all “internal affairs” claims by its stockholders. There is much national debate on the topic of forum-selection provisions in charters governing securities claims, such as whether a corporation can require arbitration. This decision wades into that debate by addressing a charter provision mandating a federal forum for securities claims. In it, the Court of Chancery holds that the Delaware General Corporation Law (the DGCL) does not authorize a Delaware corporation to include a forum-selection provision in its charter governing claims under the 1933 Act. The Court reasons that claims under the Act are external to the corporation—they do not “turn on the rights, powers, or preferences of the shares, language in the corporation’s charter or bylaws, a provision in the DGCL, or the equitable relationships that flow from the internal structure of the corporation.” Because the claim exists outside of the contract between the corporation and its stockholders and does not relate to the corporation’s internal affairs, it is beyond the power of state corporate law to regulate.
Under the Delaware Supreme Court’s Gentile decision, a claim may be dual-natured, meaning partially derivative on behalf of the corporation and partially direct on behalf of the stockholder. One allure for plaintiffs of successfully pleading a dual-natured claim is avoiding the pre-suit demand-on-the-board requirements for purely derivative claims. So it is not uncommon for plaintiffs to try to plead and argue into Gentile. But Gentile has been limited to claims involving deals with a controlling stockholder that unfairly dilute the other stockholders of both economic and voting rights. The Delaware Supreme Court recently clarified that in its El Paso decision. And Delaware courts have been cautious in applying Gentile of late. More ›
Delaware law recognizes a claim for breach of fiduciary duty based on insider trading under the Brophy decision. This is an important opinion because it recognizes an extension of potential liability under Brophy for trades made, not by the insider himself, but by an entity he or she controls. It is a natural extension that furthers the important policy of preventing insiders from profiting based on non-public information. The opinion also addresses demand futility principles under Braddock. That decision deals with how to conduct a demand futility analysis on an amended complaint after changes in the board’s composition.
Lately, the Delaware Supreme Court has given great weight to the deal price in appraisal cases. As a result, plaintiffs have put a greater focus on showing that the process leading to the merger makes that price unreliable, potentially because of breaches of fiduciary duty. One strategy for recovery is to file a breach of fiduciary case after obtaining valuable discovery in the appraisal case. This decision explains when such a fiduciary duty case can go forward notwithstanding the appraisal proceeding seeking to recover for the same loss. More ›
The Court of Chancery respects zealous advocacy, but demands professionalism and degrees of civility, among counsel and the parties. Every few years a non-Delaware attorney admitted pro hac vice goes too far in aggressively representing his or her client in a Delaware litigation. This decision discusses boundaries that should not be crossed, especially in a deposition. Name calling, sarcasm, aggressive behavior, and other forms of bullying are not permitted and may result in the loss of the right to practice before the Court.
This decision has two helpful analyses. First, it addresses the conspiracy theory of jurisdiction under the well-known Instituto Bancario decision, which permits a Delaware court to exercise jurisdiction over a defendant based on the Delaware acts of its co-conspirators. Notably, the plaintiff in this case was a Delaware entity with its principal place of business in the State, providing a jurisdictional hook for that theory. Second, it explains when a plaintiff is on inquiry notice so as to end any tolling period and start the statute of limitations clock.