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Summaries and analysis of recent Delaware court decisions concerning business-related litigation.
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Showing 1282 posts by Edward M. McNally.
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 ›
Alternative entity agreements may eliminate common law fiduciary duties and often do, supplanting them with contractual fiduciary duties. These frequently include an obligation to act “in good faith” or “in the best interests of the company,” broadly or in certain circumstances. Thus, even with fiduciary duty exculpation clauses in LLC agreements, managers may still find themselves exposed to a member’s allegations that they failed to satisfy their standard of conduct, as this decision illustrates. This decision also is interesting for its discussion of the potential impact of bankruptcy court sale orders on the Court of Chancery’s ability to enter equitable relief.
This is an important decision because it teaches two important lessons. First, when an asset sale agreement contains explicit requirements on how to give notice of a claim on an escrow account, those requirements must be followed or the claim will be waived. Second, absent fraud, a contractual provision will be enforced that provides that the exclusive remedy for a buyer is a claim on an escrow fund. Thus, for example, a separate breach of contract or negligent representation claim will be dismissed.
Under the LLC Act, as with the DGCL, an entity planning to dissolve and distribute its assets is required to set aside some reserve of assets to pay all known claims. Failure to set aside sufficient assets may result in revocation of the entity’s certificate of cancellation, thereby reviving the entity, as happened in this case. This decision explains when claims are “known” by the entity (i.e., the entity has actual knowledge of the claims) and how the entity may value those claims for purposes of retaining sufficient assets to potentially satisfy them. Importantly, the reserve need not match all potential damages dollar-for-dollar. The value of claims may be discounted based on their lack of merit, for example.
This decision clarifies that negligent representation claims can only be brought in the Delaware Court of Chancery. The opinion is also a useful review of the law on when opinions and projections may be used as the basis for a fraud claim. The short answer is that mere opinions and projections disclosed as just that are not generally sufficient to show fraud.
This decision holds that a case will not be dismissed on forum grounds just because it involves the interpretation of another state's law. Note that it is a different situation when the case involves the law of another country.
This decision holds that a contractual provision adopting Delaware law will generally be upheld. However, when applying Delaware law will violate the public policy of another state whose law would have applied but for the contractual choice of law, Delaware will not enforce that choice of law. This distinguishes the Ascension case that declined to apply Delaware law to a non-compete contract that violated California law.
This is an important decision because it points out that the breach of a contract does not always mean damages will be awarded. For example, an investor's right to consent to certain transactions or to receive a payment absent that consent does not mean that the failure to get his consent must entitle him to that payment. Rather if the contract does not provide for a measure of damages for its breach, the plaintiff must prove the breach harmed him. Here the transaction in question actually benefitted the plaintiff so that he would have consented to it had he been asked. While the no damages result may seem counterintuitive at first, the result makes sense.
This decision involves the rare case where a waste claim is well plead. As a result, the directors who gave away company money are sufficiently exposed to liability that demand upon them to bring the suit is excused.
This is an interesting decision for two reasons. First, it distinguishes between classic self-dealing claims and tag-along challenges to business decisions. Just because a plaintiff successfully pleads that a controller is looting a company in some respects, does not mean all allegedly-related challenges will survive dismissal. Second, it explores when an alternative theory of secondary liability or a claim for unjust enrichment may accompany a sufficiently plead breach of fiduciary duty.
Under Delaware law, a controlling stockholder need not be a majority stockholder. Rather, a controlling stockholder might be a group of aligned stockholders who together hold a majority. Or, as in this case, it might be a minority but substantial stockholder who practically has and exercises board-level control with respect to the challenged transaction. The presence of a controller is an important factor in litigation, including because, as here, it might prevent defendants from achieving a prompt dismissal of a post-closing fiduciary duty action based on stockholder approval under the well-known Corwin decision. In this case, the factors relevant to finding control by the roughly 22% minority stockholder (i.e., Elon Musk) at the motion to dismiss stage included: (1) the individual’s history of eliminating opposition; (2) the board’s lack of safeguards to prevent his control over the company’s consideration and negotiation of the self-interested transaction; (3) a board packed with members interested in the transaction or beholden to him; and (4) public disclosures portraying him as in control.
In Hazout v. Tsang Mun Ting, 134 A.3d 274 (Del. 2016), the Delaware Supreme Court expanded the basis for personal jurisdiction over nonresident directors and officers of Delaware corporations under 10 Del. C. § 3114, the so-called director consent statute. Hazout overruled long-standing Court of Chancery precedent that narrowly construed Section 3114’s “necessary or proper party” clause to actions alleging the director or officer had breached a fiduciary duty owed to the corporation. This decision is notable because it explains and applies Section 3114’s expanded scope.
Too frequently a plaintiff seeks to buttress its case by adding a fraud or tort claim to what is really just a breach of contract. But as this decision points out, just alleging the defendant did not intend to pay what was due when the contract was signed is not enough to support a fraud count. The decision is also very helpful in repeating the Delaware law on when a claim for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing may be filed.
This decision addresses a host of interesting topics. First, it declines to invoke the so-called step-transaction doctrine under which the Court treats the steps in a series of formally separate but substantially-linked transactions involving the transfer of property as a single transaction. Second, it declines to apply the mootness doctrine in a challenge to an unexercised warrant. Third, it wrestles with deciding whether challenges to a financing and a warrant issuance are direct or derivative claims. Fourth, it address the pre-suit demand on the board requirement. Fifth, it finds a sufficiently pled claim of aiding and abetting a breach of fiduciary duty. Sixth, it decides that intermediate scrutiny (i.e., Revlon) may apply when a party is granted an option to acquire a company under a warrant. Finally, it applies Cornerstone to dismiss exculpated directors from a money damages action where the complaint failed to adequately plead a duty of loyalty claim against them.
Delaware law requires a derivative plaintiff to make a pre-suit demand on the board unless excused as futile. Because some level of social and business ties are common among the director-class and because such ties to an interested party is one potential path to successfully alleging a director lacks independence to impartially consider a pre-suit demand, such relationships are an oft litigated topic in the demand context. Frequently, such connections even when considered collectively are found not to rise to a level negating a director’s ability to consider a demand. But, as this decision explains, sometimes they are. While each director-by-director assessment is a highly-factual question, this case is a worthwhile read to understand the type and magnitude of relationships that might call into doubt one’s independence.