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Summaries and analysis of recent Delaware court decisions concerning business-related litigation.
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Showing 21 posts by Patricia A. Winston.
Chancery Appraisal Decision Illustrates the Importance of Reliable Expert Testimony and Witness Credibility to Fair Value Determinations
Even when its role is to determine the fair value of shares in an appraisal proceeding, credibility matters to the Court of Chancery. Following a three-party business combination, Petitioners (former minority stockholders) exercised appraisal rights under 8 Del. C. § 262. Petitioners and Respondent agreed to use a discounted cash flow analysis to determine the fair value because there was insufficient market-based evidence of fair market value. But the parties’ experts disagreed on the input values and results of the DCF analysis, leaving the Court to “grappl[e] with expert-generated valuation conclusions that [were] solar systems apart.” Mem. Op. 2.
After a lengthy comparison of the competing DCF analyses, the Court concluded that Petitioners’ calculation (with minor adjustments) represented fair value. By contrast, Respondent’s position suffered from significant credibility issues. One of the executives involved in the business combination transactions requested a backdated valuation, misrepresented the date of the valuation in discovery responses, and continued with its misrepresentation until the eve of trial. The Court also found Respondent’s expert was not credible because elements of his valuation approach were bespoke, were not used in the industry, and relied heavily on the ipse dixit of the expert. Complicating things further, Respondent disagreed with its own expert’s calculations and conclusions. These factors, combined with the superior DCF analysis by Petitioner’s expert, led the Court to accept Petitioner’s fair value calculation with only minor adjustments.
Parties who resolve a case through a mediation conducted under Court of Chancery Rule 174 should include all material provisions in any mediation term sheet. As the Order in Starkman demonstrates, Rule 174 provides no opportunity for a party to introduce mediation communications to assert that a signed mediation agreement does not accurately reflect the parties’ discussions. More ›
Chancery Declines to Apply Corwin Where a Stockholder-Plaintiff Adequately Alleged the Existence of a “Control Group”
Under Delaware law, when a controlling stockholder benefits personally from the transaction in a manner not shared by minority stockholders, a stockholder vote does not trigger Corwin and restore the protections of the business judgment rule. This decision considers whether a stockholder-plaintiff sufficiently alleged a “control group” to avoid Corwin deference. More ›
Chancery Modifies Advancement Award, Finds Amended Claim Challenging Only Post-Separation Conduct No Longer Triggered Advancement Obligations
Under Delaware law, an order requiring a company to advance attorneys’ fees and expenses may be modified if the claims that triggered the advancement obligation are amended to no longer do so. In this case, a company successfully amended its claims against a former director and officer to eliminate certain advancement obligations. More ›
Chancery Finds Proper Purpose in Books and Records Demand to Investigate Potential Wrongdoing in CBS-Viacom Merger, Orders Narrowed Inspection that Includes Electronic Documents
A stockholder seeking books and records in Delaware states a proper purpose for inspection by demonstrating a credible basis to suspect that fiduciaries engaged in wrongdoing. So long as the documents sought are necessary and essential to that purpose, the Court of Chancery will order inspection. The Court generally will not, however, require a broad production of electronic documents akin to plenary discovery. More ›
Chancery Rejects Claim that Books and Records Demand was “Pretextual,” Finds Sufficient Overlap Between Demand Letter and Plaintiff’s Purpose
A stockholder-plaintiff seeking a corporation’s books and records must have a genuine proper purpose, and cannot rely simply on a lawyer-crafted demand letter to justify her request. There must be alignment between a plaintiff’s books and records demand and her own stated interest in seeking books and records. In this recent decision, the Court of Chancery considers and rejects an attempt by a defendant-corporation to argue that a books and records demand was really driven by plaintiff’s counsel, and that the plaintiff lacked any genuine proper purpose. More ›
Court of Chancery Orders Advancement of Fees for Former Directors and Officers who Sold their Stock in a Private Transaction
Delaware law permits advancement of fees and expenses for officers or directors who have such rights under certificates of incorporation, bylaws, or indemnification agreements. Depending on the factual allegations of the underlying action, advancement rights can apply even for former officers and directors of a company who sold their stock in a private transaction to which the company was not a party. More ›
Chancery Finds “Constellation” of Personal and Professional Relations Between Directors and Controlling Stockholder Excuses Demand
A stockholder plaintiff seeking to bring a derivative claim on behalf of a corporation must first demand authorization from the board of directors or allege why making such a demand would be futile due to the board’s assumed partiality under the alleged facts and circumstances. One way of establishing demand futility is alleging with particularity significant personal or professional ties to an interested party, like a conflicted controlling stockholder. BGC Partners illustrates the type and degree of relationships that may excuse the pre-suit demand requirement and overcome a motion to dismiss under Court of Chancery Rule 23.1. This is a developing area of Delaware law, arguably involving a heightened sensitivity to the significance of personal relationships. As BGC Partners observes, the Delaware Supreme Court has reversed Court of Chancery findings of director independence in the demand futility context three times in the past four years. More ›
Court of Chancery Finds Agreements Unenforceable for Lack of Assent, Dismisses Remaining Claims for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction
Parties to a contract must provide evidence of an overt manifestation of assent for a contract to be enforceable under Delaware law. Upon remand from the Delaware Supreme Court, the Court of Chancery found such assent to be lacking and dismissed the remaining claims for lack of personal jurisdiction. More ›
Delaware Supreme Court Clarifies: No Presumption of Confidentiality for Documents Produced Pursuant to a Books and Records Request
The Delaware Supreme Court held that documents produced pursuant to a request for books and records under Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law are not subject to a presumption of confidentiality. More ›
Court of Chancery Dissolves Limited Partnership Upon Finding General Partner Unable To Achieve Its Business Purpose
The equitable remedy of dissolution is extraordinary. Given the extraordinary record before it, and the abundance of evidence that the general partner could not operate the business, the Court granted plaintiffs’ petition for dissolution. More ›
Chancery Determines Appraisal “Fair Value” Below Merger Consideration, Questions Judicial Notice of Valuation Scholarship
This decision presents another cautionary tale for stockholders of a target public company who consider seeking statutory appraisal instead of accepting the merger consideration. More ›
Chancery Awards $3 Million in Attorneys’ Fees Following Invalidation of Charters’ Forum-Selection Provisions for Securities Act Claims
In December 2018, the Court of Chancery held that forum-selection provisions in three corporate charters were ineffective. The provisions had required any claim under the Securities Act of 1933 to be filed in federal court (“Federal Forum Provisions”). The Court held them to be invalid, because federal securities claims were not “internal affairs” claims for which a Delaware corporation’s charter may choose a forum. Seven months later, the Court granted an application for an all-in award of attorneys’ fees and expenses in the amount of $3 million under the corporate benefit doctrine. Defendants had argued that the award should not exceed $364,723 plus expenses. Reasoning that “the plaintiff achieved a significant and substantive result by successfully invalidating the Federal Forum Provisions,” the Court turned to Delaware precedent to determine an appropriate fee for this kind of non-monetary relief. More ›
Delaware Court of Chancery Orders Full Public Access to Confidential Filings Months After Settlement
Universal public access to court filings is the default and confidentiality is the exception. Rule 5.1 of the Court of Chancery provides for the filing of confidential information by litigants. In this decision, the Court makes clear that a violation of Rule 5.1 may result in the loss of confidential treatment. More ›
As Reith explains, directors may lose the protections of the business judgment rule and expose themselves to liability if they knowingly or deliberately fail to adhere to the terms of a stock incentive plan, such as by violating a clear and unambiguous provision. And, as Reith illustrates, Delaware courts may consider a company’s prior public disclosures about a plan’s terms in addressing that issue. More ›