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Summaries and analysis of recent Delaware court decisions concerning business-related litigation.
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Showing 204 posts by Albert J. Carroll.
This notable decision issued by the Court of Chancery holds an investment fund and its manager liable for over $20 million essentially for destroying a Delaware entity’s value. The litigation arises out of a once promising technology company’s downfall into liquidation. The facts involved an investor that leveraged a series of preferred investments into negative control and used that control to secure a self-dealing financing unfavorable to the company, while simultaneously turning away much needed financing opportunities threatening its control. The investor hoped to position the company for a prompt sale in which it would reap the benefits, but that did not pan out, and the company went under. More ›
The pre-suit demand on the board requirement for derivative litigation usually is not excused solely by a sufficiently pled disclosure violation. Rather, as held in this decision and recently in Steinberg v. Bearden, 2018 WL 2434558 (Del. Ch. May 30, 2018), to excuse demand on an independent, disinterested, and duty-of-care-exculpated board on the basis that the directors face a substantial risk of liability for a disclosure violation, the complaint must sufficiently plead the disclosure violation was the product of bad faith. Absent sufficient non-conclusory facts on this point, the complaint will be dismissed.
Corwin holds that approval of a transaction by a fully-informed, uncoerced majority of the disinterested stockholders invokes the deferential business judgment standard of review for a post-closing damages action, making the transaction almost certainly immune from further judicial scrutiny. This is an important decision for its discussion of the “informed” approval prerequisite to a Corwin defense. This aspect of Corwin turns on thoroughly-developed standards under Delaware law regarding what is or is not material to the stockholders' decision-making. In that way, the decision is not novel. Yet, because a disclosure violation may prevent what would otherwise be an early dismissal of a breach of fiduciary duty action against directors for damages, the issue is of heightened importance post-Corwin. In the Court’s own words, this case “offers a cautionary reminder to directors and the attorneys who help them craft their disclosures: ‘partial and elliptical disclosures’ cannot facilitate the protection of the business judgment rule under the Corwin doctrine.” Here, the material undisclosed facts concerned a founder’s early dealings with the private equity buyer, pressure on the board, and the degree that this influence may have impacted the sale process structure. The stockholder plaintiffs’ arguments were aided substantially by documents obtained in connection with a pre-suit books and records demand. That is another area of increased importance post-Corwin, given the unavailability of a Corwin defense in that setting and the ability to obtain documents that might help one plead around a later Corwin defense.
When a merger closes, stockholders of the acquired company generally lose standing to pursue claims, other than direct claims attacking the validity or fairness of the merger itself. Derivative claims, as chose in actions, pass to the purchaser. This is an important decision because it reconciles prior case law regarding when a claim is direct and not derivative and thus survives a merger. More ›
Court of Chancery Finds Breach of Fiduciary Duty By Director Selfishly Opposing Cure of Defective Corporate Acts
When a corporation accidentally issues defective stock or takes some other defective corporate act, Delaware law offers avenues to cure under the right set of circumstances. See 8 Del. C. §§ 204, 205. As this decision shows, a director who self-interestedly stands in the way of that cure by attempting to impose selfish conditions breaches his fiduciary duty of loyalty and may be liable for damages. Even if the director later comes around, extra costs incurred from his obstinacy may be charged to him.
Court of Chancery Awards Fees Under the Corporate Benefit Doctrine in Director Qualifications Bylaw Dispute
A representative plaintiff who confers a non-monetary benefit on the represented class will be entitled to an award of attorneys’ fees and expenses under the right set of circumstances. Delaware does not follow the frequently-adopted lodestar method. Rather, it employs a more flexible approach known as the Sugarland factors, which may or may not result in a market hourly-rate. In this decision, the plaintiff conferred such a benefit and earned a handsome reward under the circumstances. Where the company allegedly was selectively enforcing its director qualifications bylaw, the plaintiff was able to seat a director that the board originally opposed and effectively prevented the company from using the bylaw improperly going forward in one respect. For this preservation of shareholder voting rights, the Court entered a fee award of $300,000, equating to a roughly $1,500 hourly-rate.
To facilitate the proper exercise of one’s fiduciary duties, the right of directors to inspect a corporation’s books and records is broad, often referred to as unfettered. The right of managers to inspect an LLC’s books and records generally is equivalent, subject to modification in the LLC agreement. A significant showing is required to avoid a fiduciary’s inspection on the basis that is not for a proper purpose, i.e., any purpose reasonably related to the inspector’s fiduciary status. The company must put forward concrete evidence that the fiduciary will violate duties and use the information to harm it. Without such a showing, the Court generally does not assume the role of questioning the fiduciary’s business judgment about the records he needs to do his job. This decision is an example of the LLC failing to prove the manager lacked a proper purpose for his inspection, with the backdrop of much friction and other litigation among the LLC’s several managers.
Court of Chancery Explains Contract, Fraud, and Fiduciary Duty Standards in Contingent Deal Price Dispute
It is common for parties to an acquisition to structure some portion of the purchase price as contingent on the acquired company’s post-close performance. With some frequency, a party dissatisfied with the resulting payment sues for breach of contract and may point the finger at those in charge during the relevant period for measurement. Out of this particular example comes reminders on well-settled standards for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, fraudulent inducement, and breach of fiduciary duty. For instance, the implied covenant may be deployed as a defense to a breach of contract claim based on one party preventing the other’s performance, but it may not be used as an affirmative claim to override a contract’s express terms. Further, Delaware law does not permit bootstrapping fraudulent inducement claims onto contract claims by alleging that a party never intended to perform its obligations. Additionally, predictions about future performance generally cannot be the basis for fraud. Finally, Delaware courts will dismiss a breach of fiduciary duty claim that is entirely duplicative of a breach of contract claim.
This decision addresses two contracting parties’ divergent expectations relating to whether a delayed closing affected the agreement’s earn-out period. The parties failed to alter the contract to adjust the earn-out period after a delayed closing had the effect of starting the period prior to closing. The negatively-affected party argued in favor of reforming the earn-out period to take into account the delayed closing. As the Court explains, however, reformation under Delaware law requires clear and convincing proof of a mutual mistake in drafting a document or unilateral mistake that is known to the other party who remains silent. Both circumstances were absent here.
Court Of Chancery Holds That Dr. Pepper And Keurig Reverse Triangular Merger Does Not Trigger Appraisal Rights
In a reverse triangular merger, a parent company uses a subsidiary to acquire a target, with that subsidiary then being absorbed by the target. That is how the Dr. Pepper and Keurig companies structured their deal. Dr. Pepper would be the resulting parent company, with Dr. Pepper’s stockholders gaining cash but retaining their stock, and with Keurig’s stockholders gaining a controlling interest in Dr. Pepper. Certain Dr. Pepper stockholders sued claiming that they had appraisal rights to a judicially-determined fair value in connection with the transaction under Section 262 of the DGCL, which were being violated. More ›
This is an interesting decision for its discussion of when pre-suit demand on the board is not excused for a derivative complaint alleging the directors made improper disclosures to stockholders. Applying the well-known Rales test for demand futility, the Court’s focus here was on the absence of particularized allegations from which it was reasonable to infer that a majority of the directors deliberately caused the corporation to issue certain allegedly misleading statements. When that is the case in a suit relying on a bad faith claim, the board doesn’t face a substantial threat of personal liability capable of excusing demand.
When a party wins an attorneys’ fee award under the bad faith exception to the American Rule, and the final award is affirmed on appeal, may it also seek fees for successfully defending the appeal back in the trial court? May the same party seek to increase the original award back in the trial court when it inadvertently omitted some trial-court fees the first time around? More ›
Court Of Chancery Stresses Proper Procedure When Relying On A Contractual Safe Harbor In The MLP Context
Conflicted transactions are commonplace in the master limited partnership (MLP) context. The entity’s operating agreement usually authorizes conflicted transactions that are “fair and reasonable” to the entity, or some similar phrase. The same agreements often provide one or more safe harbors capable of creating a presumption of fairness and reasonableness, such as using a conflicts committee process. This decision teaches, among other things, that if managers want to take advantage of such a safe harbor, proper process matters. If, for example, a conflicts committee is not properly formed, its approval will not insulate the transaction from judicial review nor avoid potential liability for the conflicted managers. Technicalities matter and it is best to start all over again if a flaw is identified rather than trying to rewrite history.
This opinion arises out of the appraisal proceeding relating to Hewlett-Packard’s purchase of Aruba Networks. The case led to two notable opinions, so far. More ›
Arising out of the highly-publicized dispute over the proposed transaction involving CBS and Viacom, each controlled by the Redstones, this decision is both front-page newsworthy and legally significant. CBS and Viacom used to be one entity but split. The Redstones retained voting control in each through a dual-class voting structure. Later, the Redstones began pushing to merge the entities once again and both entities formed special committees to consider the proposal. More ›