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Showing 33 posts in Controlling Stockholder.

Chancery Upholds Class Claims Alleging Breaches of Fiduciary Duty in Alleged Controlling Stockholder’s Tender Offer

Posted In Chancery, Class Actions, Controlling Stockholder, Fiduciary Duty

In re Coty Inc. Stockholder Litigation, C.A. No. 2019-0336-AGB (Del. Ch. Aug. 17, 2020)  

JAB Holding Company S.à.r.l. and its affiliates (together “JAB”) completed a partial tender offer (the “Tender Offer”) for shares of Coty Inc. (“Coty”) on April 25, 2019, increasing its ownership stake from 40% to 60% of the outstanding Coty shares. At the time of the Tender Offer, Coty had a nine-member board of directors – four directors affiliated with JAB (the “JAB Directors”) and five individual directors (the “Individual Directors”). Pierre Laubies, the CEO of Coty, was one of the Individual Directors. Although Laubies was the only Individual Director with a management position at Coty, he, like all of the Individual Directors, had professional ties to JAB and its officers, with Laubies having formerly served as CEO of a JAB affiliate.  More ›

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Entire Fairness Standard Applies Where Controller Has Substantive Discussions with Minority Stockholders before Agreeing to MFW Protections

Posted In Chancery, Controlling Stockholder, Fiduciary Duty, M&A

In re HomeFed Corporation Stockholder Litigation, C.A. 2019-0592-AGB (Del. Ch. July 13, 2020)
This case illustrates that the Court of Chancery will apply the entire fairness standard to review a squeeze-out merger by a controller, if the controller engages in substantive economic discussions before the company has enacted the procedural protections outlined in Kahn v. M & F Worldwide Corp, 88 A.3d 635 (Del. 2014) (“MFW”) that would permit business judgment review. In this case, Jefferies Financial Group Inc. (“Jefferies” or the “Controller”), which owned 70% of HomeFed Corporation (“HomeFed”), acquired the remaining shares of HomeFed in a share exchange in which each HomeFed minority shareholder received two Jefferies shares in exchange for one of its HomeFed shares (the “Transaction”). A HomeFed director originally proposed the 2:1 share exchange to Jefferies in September 2017, and Jefferies subsequently discussed the share exchange with HomeFed’s second largest shareholder Beck, Mack and Oliver, LLC (“BMO”). In December 2017, HomeFed’s board of directors (the “Board”) formed a special committee (the “Special Committee”) that had the exclusive power to evaluate and negotiate a potential transaction. When the parties were unable to agree to merger terms, the Special Committee “paused” its process in March 2018. Despite pausing the Special Committee, Jefferies continued to discuss a potential transaction with BMO for the next year.  More ›

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Chancery Dismisses Claims that Minority Stockholders who Rolled Over Equity in a Controlling Stockholder Merger Joined a “Control Group”

Posted In Controlling Stockholder, Fiduciary Duty, M&A

Gilbert v. Perlman, C.A. No. 2018-0453-SG (Del. Ch. Apr. 29, 2020)

Delaware law imposes fiduciary duties upon controlling stockholders who use their power to control the corporate machinery. For that reason, determining who comprises a control group affects who may owe fiduciary duties. In some circumstances, where minority stockholders pool their interests to gain majority control and then bind themselves to act together to effectuate a transaction, minority stockholders may take on the duties of a controlling stockholder as members of a control group. But where an already existing controlling stockholder effectuates a cash-out merger, minority stockholders who roll over their shares and enter into a voting agreement to support the transaction will not be deemed part of a control group unless a plaintiff can plead that “the minority-holder’s participation [was] material to the controller’s scheme to exercise control of the entity, leading to the controller ceding some of its control power to the minority-holders.” More ›

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Chemours v. DowDuPont: Chancery Requires Subsidiary to Arbitrate Separation Agreement Dispute with Parent Despite the Subsidiary’s Lack of “Real World” Consent to the Separation Agreement

Posted In Arbitration, Controlling Stockholder

The Chemours Co. v. DowDuPont Inc., et al., C.A. No. 2019-0351-SG (Del. Ch. Mar. 30, 2020).

The subsidiary-plaintiff, created after the reorganization of the parent-defendant, brought an action against its parent and related entities challenging the enforceability of the Separation Agreement memorializing the terms of the subsidiary’s spin-off, including its arbitration clause. According to the subsidiary, certain liabilities assigned to the subsidiary in the spin-off were “vastly and wrongfully underestimated” by the parent, and the subsidiary brought suit to limit its obligations for those liabilities. The defendants moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because the Separation Agreement contained an arbitration clause.        More ›

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Surveying the Law, Chancery Declines to Dismiss a Claim that a 35% Holder was the Controlling Stockholder of the Acquirer (as Well as the Target)

Posted In Controlling Stockholder, Fiduciary Duty, M&A

Voigt v Metcalf, C.A. No. 2018-0828-JTL (Del. Ch. Feb. 10, 2020).

This decision contains an instructive review of the factors the Court of Chancery will examine to determine whether a minority stockholder may in fact be a controlling stockholder in the circumstances of a specific transaction – an area of the law that has assumed increased importance after Corwin. More ›

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Chancery Allows Fiduciary Duty Claims to Proceed against Minority Members Who Blocked Financings in Order to Bankrupt Company and Facilitate Unfair Asset Purchase

Posted In Controlling Stockholder, Fiduciary Duty, LLC Agreements

Skye Mineral Investors, LLC v. DXS Capital (U.S.) Ltd., C.A. No. 2018-0059-JRS (Del. Ch. Feb. 24, 2020) (Slights, V.C.).

Where parties to an LLC agreement do not unambiguously disclaim fiduciary duties, then Delaware law provides by default that managers owe traditional fiduciary duties to the entity and its members. The corporate law principles relating to fiduciary duties of controlling shareholders also apply, including that a minority member who exercises actual control may owe fiduciary duties. In this decision, the Court held that plaintiffs, the majority members of an LLC, adequately alleged that minority members exercised contractual blocking rights in a manner that gave them actual control over financing decisions and then used that control to implement in bad faith a scheme to enable the minority members to acquire the LLC’s assets on the cheap. With those allegations, the Court sustained a non-exculpated claim against the minority members for direct and derivative contract- and fiduciary-based claims. More ›

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Chancery Denies Motions for Summary Judgment in Tesla Litigation, Questions Remain as to Whether Musk is a Controlling Stockholder

Posted In Controlling Stockholder, Fiduciary Duty

In re Tesla Motors, Inc. S’holder Litig., C.A. No. 12711-VCS (Del. Ch. Feb. 4, 2020).

The Delaware Court of Chancery denied plaintiffs’ and defendants’ (including Elon Musk’s) motions for summary judgment on the grounds that genuine issues of material fact still remain to be determined at trial. The plaintiffs brought the action based on the allegation that Musk improperly influenced the Tesla board of directors to approve Tesla’s acquisition of SolarCity, another entity owned partially by Musk that was purportedly on the verge of insolvency.  More ›

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Chancery Rejects Challenge to Financing Made Open to All Investors, Reasons the LLC Operating Agreement Allows Self-Interested Conduct, so any Claims Must Assert Bad Faith

Posted In Controlling Stockholder, Fiduciary Duty, LLC Agreements

MKE Holdings Ltd. v. Schwartz, C.A. No. 2018-0729-SG (Del. Ch. Jan. 29, 2020).

Verdesian Life Sciences, LLC is an agricultural company focused upon rolling up various companies with proprietary plant health technologies. All members of the Board of Managers of Verdesian were appointed by Paine Schwartz Partners, LLC (“Paine”), a private equity firm that owned over seventy percent of the Class A Units of the company. Paine also benefited from a management agreement that entitled it to receive certain management fees tied to acquisitions. The LLC Operating Agreement required the Managers to perform their duties in good faith and in a manner they reasonably believed to be in or not opposed to the best interests of Verdesian. However, the Operating Agreement also allowed Managers and Members to “consider only such interests and factors as such Manager or Member desires, including its, his or her own interests” when facing discretionary decisions. The Court of Chancery concluded that the Operating Agreement “directs the Managers to operate in good faith and with ordinary care and effectively exculpates Managers for conflicted, negligent and other detrimental decisions … so long as taken in good faith.” More ›

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Chancery Declines to Apply Corwin Where a Stockholder-Plaintiff Adequately Alleged the Existence of a “Control Group”

Posted In Controlling Stockholder, Fiduciary Duty

Garfield v. BlackRock Mortgage Ventures, LLC, C.A. No. 2018-0917-KSJM (Del. Ch. Dec. 20, 2019).

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 ›

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Chancery Dismisses Stockholder Claims that a Minority Owner was a Controlling Stockholder or that a Majority of the Board was Beholden to the Minority Owner in Approving a Merger Transaction with the Minority Owner

Posted In Controlling Stockholder, Fiduciary Duty, M&A

In re: Essendant, Inc. Stockholder Litigation, C.A. No. 2018-0789-JRS (Del. Ch. Dec. 30, 2019).

When as here a Delaware corporation’s charter contains an exculpation provision under Section 102(b)(7) of the Delaware General Corporation Law, stockholders who bring suit against directors who approve a merger transaction must allege violations of the duty of loyalty to state a non-exculpated claim. They may state such a claim if they adequately plead that a controlling stockholder breached duties for self-interested reasons, or that a majority of the board was self-interested or beholden to the buyer. They may also attempt to state a non-exculpated claim by claiming that a majority of the board acted in bad faith. To meet this bad faith standard, a plaintiff must plead facts showing that the decision to approve the transaction lacked any rationally conceivable basis associated with maximizing stockholder value. As the Court explained, allegations of mis- or non-disclosure will not suffice unless plaintiffs plead intentional misstatements or omissions based on a “factual narrative that would allow any inferential explanation of why these fiduciaries would so abandon their duties as to engage in bad faith." (emphasis in original). More ›

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Delaware Supreme Court Provides Additional Guidance on Pleading Direct Claims Against Controllers and Control Groups

Posted In Controlling Stockholder, Delaware Supreme Court, Derivative Claims

Sheldon v. Pinto Technology Ventures, L.P., No. 81, 2019 (Del. Oct. 4, 2019).

The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Chancery’s dismissal of an alleged direct claim for dilution of the voting and economic interests of plaintiff stockholders because they failed to adequately plead that several venture capital firms constituted a “control group.”  The Court began its analysis with a review of the standard for a controller or control group under Delaware law.  In Gentile v. Rossette, 906 A.2d 91 (Del. 2006), the Court ruled that multiple stockholders can constitute a control group if they are connected in some legally significant way, such as by contract or other agreement, or working together towards a shared goal.  The Court noted the guideposts that define a “control group” established by In re Hansen Medical, Inc. Stockholders Litigation, 2018 WL 3025525 (Del. Ch. June 18, 2018) and van der Fluit v. Yates, 2017 WL 5953514 (Del. Ch. Nov. 30, 2017). More ›

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Chancery Finds “Constellation” of Personal and Professional Relations Between Directors and Controlling Stockholder Excuses Demand

Posted In Chancery, Controlling Stockholder, Demand Futility

In re BGC Partners, Inc. Derivative Litig., Consol. C.A. No. 2018-0722-AGB (Del. Ch. Sept. 30, 2019).

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 ›

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Chancery Applies Entire Fairness Review to Executive Compensation Decision Benefiting Controller Despite Stockholder Approval, Declining to Dismiss Claims Involving Tesla’s Elon Musk

Posted In Controlling Stockholder, Fiduciary Duty

Tornetta v. Musk, C.A. No. 2018-0408-JRS (Del. Ch. Sept. 20, 2019).

Under Delaware law, executive compensation decisions by a corporation’s board of directors generally are entitled to deferential judicial review, and even more so when approved by the stockholders.  On the other hand, Delaware law generally imposes heightened scrutiny in the form of entire fairness review for transactions uniquely benefiting a corporation’s controlling stockholder, relying on the inherent coercion that accompanies control.  So what standard of review applies when an executive compensation decision benefits the company’s controlling stockholder and the stockholders approve it? More ›

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Court of Chancery Declines To Restrain Controller In Proposed Viacom-CBS Deal

Posted In Controlling Stockholder, Fiduciary Duty, TRO

CBS Corp., et al. v. National Amusements, Inc., et al., C.A. No. 2018-0342-AGB (Del. Ch. May 17, 2018) (Letter Op.)

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 ›

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Court of Chancery Addresses Application of Fee-Shifting Bylaw

Posted In Class Actions, Controlling Stockholder, Corporate Charters

The Rites of Spring are upon us: budding flowers, warmer temperatures, and a Delaware court issuing an important decision just before the annual Tulane Corporate Law Institute begins. This year the honor of issuing that decision fell to Chancellor Bouchard who issued his opinion in Strougo v. Hollander, C.A. No. 9770-CB (Del. Ch.) on March 16, 2015. The opinion addressed plaintiff’s motion for partial judgment on the pleadings that a fee-shifting bylaw adopted after the challenged transaction did not apply to him. The Court found that the fee-shifting bylaw did not apply to the plaintiff in this case, and in reaching this conclusion, made some interesting comments that will undoubtedly further the debate over the proposed legislation to eliminate fee-shifting bylaws and regulate forum selection bylaws. More ›

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