Showing 23 posts in Demand Futility.
Following Flawed Business Acquisition, Chancery Dismisses Derivative Complaint for Failure to Plead Demand Futility
City of Coral Springs Police Officers' Pension Plan v. Dorsey, C.A. No. 2022-0091-KSJM (Del. Ch. May 9, 2023)
A terrible business decision does not ensure the Court of Chancery will sustain a derivative claim. A derivative plaintiff still must allege that a board of directors wrongfully refused a stockholder's demand to bring suit or that making a demand on the board would be futile because a majority of the board either was interested in the transaction or would face a substantial likelihood of liability for approving the transaction, or was dependent on someone who was interested or faced a substantial likelihood of liability. More ›
Board Lacks Standing to Bring Motion to Dismiss Because It Delegated That Authority to Special Litigation Committee
Rowan v. Infinity Q Capital Mgmt., LLC, C.A. No. 2022-0176-MTZ (Del. Ch. Sep. 12, 2022)
If a conflicted board delegates all authority over derivative claims to a special litigation committee (“SLC”), then the board may lack authority separately to assert procedural defenses, including a motion to dismiss under Court of Chancery Rule 23.1. But whether a board has given up this authority depends upon the sequence and terms of the SLC’s creation. More ›
Chancery Denies Bid to Dismiss Derivative Claims Amid Alleged “Gamesmanship” Regarding Composition of LLC’s Board of Managers
Schoenmann v. Irvin, C.A. 2021-0326-SG (Del. Ch. Jun. 2, 2022)
After the plaintiff filed his direct and derivative claims in April 2021, the defendants – the company and its controller – circulated in June 2021 a written consent purporting to change the composition of the company’s board of managers as of January 2021. The defendants then moved to dismiss the derivative claims on the grounds that the plaintiff did not plead demand futility with respect to the purported new board. Based on the plaintiff’s allegations, the Court agreed with the plaintiff that it was reasonably inferable that the consent was backdated. But the Court ultimately decided the matter on a different ground: even if the board composition validly changed in January 2021, equity would not reward the defendants’ gamesmanship in delaying notice of the change. Because it was reasonable to infer that the change was made in anticipation of the plaintiff’s derivative claims and to thwart them, and the plaintiff properly pleaded demand futility with respect to the board of which he had notice, the Court allowed those claims to proceed.
Chancery Dismisses Caremark Claim Against Energy Company Alleging Failure of Board Oversight Related to Fatal Pipeline Explosion
City of Detroit Police and Fire Retirement System v. Hamrock, C.A. No. 2021-0370-KSJM (Del. Ch. June 30, 2022)
Stockholder plaintiff filed a derivative suit on behalf of an energy company alleging that certain of the company’s former and current directors were liable for oversight failures leading to the fatal explosion of an over-pressurized gas pipeline. When the defendants moved to dismiss for failure to make a demand on the board, the plaintiff argued that demand was excused because a majority of the demand board faced a substantial likelihood of liability for oversight failures based on the following three theories of Caremark liability: (1) the board’s utter failure to implement a pipeline safety monitoring or reporting system; (2) the board’s failure to acknowledge “red flags” that put it on notice of the company’s numerous violations of pipeline safety laws; and (3) the board’s knowing encouragement of legal violations in the pursuit of corporate profit. The Court rejected all three of the plaintiff’s theories of Caremark liability and dismissed the action for failure to make a demand. The Court reasoned as follows: (1) according to the plaintiff’s own allegations, the company had set up a pipeline safety monitoring and reporting system which included a committee specifically tasked with pipeline safety that was active, therefore the plaintiff had not adequately pled “utter failure” to set up such a system; (2) any causal connection between the “red flags” identified by the plaintiff and the explosion were too tenuous to put the board on notice of the corporate trauma that occurred; and (3) plaintiff had not adequately pled that the board was “in the business” of encouraging violation of the law for profit because, according to plaintiff’s own allegations, the company actually discouraged legal violations through the formation of several committees tasked with regulatory compliance.
Simons v. Brookfield Asset Mgmt., Inc., C.A. No. 2020-0841-KSJM (Del. Ch. Jan. 21, 2022)
If a derivative plaintiff does not make a pre-suit demand on the board, then under Court of Chancery Rule 23.1, the plaintiff must allege particularized facts demonstrating that demand would have been futile because a majority of the board was incapable of impartially considering a litigation demand. More ›
Chancery Dismisses Derivative Action Arising from $1.2 Billion Stock Sale Based on Plaintiffs’ Failure to Plead Demand Futility
In re Kraft Heinz Co. Deriv. Litig., Cons. C.A. No. 2019-0587-LWW (Del. Ch. Dec. 15, 2021)
The Court of Chancery dismissed an insider-trading action on the grounds that plaintiffs failed to plead that a majority of a company’s board was not disinterested or independent. By way of background, an investment firm held 24 percent of a publicly-traded Delaware company and rights to three seats on an eleven-member board. At an August 2018 meeting, the board received information that the company likely would miss annual financial targets. Four days later, the investment firm sold nearly a third of its stake, for more than $1.2 billion. The stock sale occurred after the investment firm provided the company with a statement that the firm was not in possession of any material, nonpublic information, and after the company’s board approved lifting insider restrictions that permitted the firm to sell the shares. Three months later, the company disclosed disappointing financial results, and the stock price dropped significantly. More ›
In Recent Facebook Decisions, Chancery Permits Demand-Futility Plaintiffs to Proceed Before Demand-Refused Plaintiff
Feuer v. Zuckerberg, C.A. No. 2019-0324-JRS & In re Facebook, Inc. Deriv. Litig., Consol. C.A. 2018-0307 (Del. Ch. Oct. 5, 2021), rearg. denied (Del. Ch. Nov. 8, 2021).
Recent decisions in the Facebook derivative litigation addressed issues of case management where competing groups of derivative plaintiffs disagree about whether making a pre-litigation demand upon the board was futile, and where disputes are raised about whether the suits should be consolidated, and which theories should proceed first. More ›
Previously published on Business Law Today
Fire Ret. Sys. of St. Louis v. Sorenson, et al., 2021 WL 4593777 (Del. Ch. Oct. 5, 2021).
The Delaware Court of Chancery dismissed pursuant to Rule 23.1 derivative claims arising from the hack of roughly 500 million users’ personal data following Marriott’s 2016 acquisition of Starwood Hotels and Resorts – one of the largest hacks ever, an event that spawned lawsuits and governmental investigations. Among other things, the stockholder-plaintiff failed to allege with particularity facts showing that a majority of the board of directors consciously disregarded “red flags” showing alleged non-compliance data privacy norms. While “[w]ith hindsight knowledge of the extent of the data breach,” the board’s remediation plan was implemented “probably too slow.” Id. at *16. But, the court reasoned, “the difference between a flawed effort and a deliberate failure to act is one of extent and intent. A Caremark violation requires the plaintiff to demonstrate the latter.” Id. at *19. Accordingly, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint.
Genworth Fin., Inc. Consol. Deriv. Litig., C.A. No. 11901-VCS (Del. Ch. Sept. 29, 2021)
In a demand futility analysis, Delaware courts have traditionally applied the Rales and Aronson decisions. However, the Delaware Supreme Court recently adopted the Zuckerberg test. Under this new three-part test, Delaware courts ask: (1) whether the director received a material personal benefit from the alleged misconduct of the litigation demand; (2) whether the director would face a substantial likelihood of liability on any of the claims that are the subject of the litigation demand; and (3) whether the director lacks independence from someone who received a material benefit from the alleged misconduct that is the subject of the litigation demand or who would face a substantial likelihood of liability on any of the claims that are subject to the litigation demand. More ›
Patel v. Duncan, C.A. No. 2020-0418-MTZ (Del. Ch. Sept. 30, 2021)
For stockholders to comprise a control group, the alleged group members must be connected in some “legally significant way – such as by contract, common ownership, agreement or another arrangement – to work together toward a shared goal.” Sheldon v. Pinto Tech. Ventures, L.P., 220 A.3d 245, 251-52 (Del. 2019). There must be “an indication of an actual agreement, although it need not be formal or written.” Id. Here, the court dismissed a claim alleging that two private equity funds comprised a control group that agreed to cause the corporation to engage in two unfair, self-interested transactions as a quid pro quo arrangement between them. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged they agreed to cause the corporation to overpay in two successive transactions in which the counterparties who benefitted unfairly were affiliates of the respective private equity funds. More ›
In Re BGC Partners, Inc. Derivative Litigation, Consol. C.A. No. 2018-0722-LWW (Del. Ch. Sep. 20, 2021)
A director protected by an exculpatory provision is entitled to dismissal in a breach of fiduciary duty action unless the plaintiff advances a non-exculpated claim. Under In re Cornerstone Therapeutics Inc. Shareholder Litigation, 115 A.3d 1173 (Del. 2015), to establish a non-exculpated claim plaintiff must show that a director: (1) “harbored self-interest adverse to the stockholders’ interests”; (2) “acted to advance the self-interest of an interested party from whom they could not be presumed to act independently”; or (3) “acted in bad faith.” This decision explains Cornerstone’s second prong. More ›
Chancery Dismisses Derivative Claims Alleging Insider Trading and Misleading Disclosures for Failure to Plead Demand Futility
In re Zimmer Biomet Hldgs., Inc. Deriv. Litig., C.A. No. 2019-0455-LWW (Del. Ch. Aug. 25, 2021)
Under Court of Chancery Rule 23.1, a stockholder-plaintiff may only bring a derivative suit on behalf of a company if the plaintiff (i) first makes a demand on the board to bring suit and is wrongfully refused, or (ii) adequately pleads that a demand would have been futile because the directors were incapable of impartially considering it. Here, the court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, because the stockholder-plaintiff failed to allege facts that a majority of the board of directors – who concededly were otherwise disinterested and independent – faced a substantial risk of personal liability. More ›
Chancery Reasons That Board’s Decision To Address Alleged “Red Flags” Related To Pending Litigation, After Litigation Is Resolved, Is Not Bad Faith For Caremark Purposes
Pettry v. Smith et al., C.A. No. 2019-0796-JRS (Del. Ch. June 28, 2021)
As discussed in Caremark and its progeny, fiduciary duties require directors to monitor the business and affairs of a corporation. Here, the Court of Chancery addressed the issue of oversight liability in the context of a Board’s decision, despite “red flags,” to delay certain additional remedial actions pending resolution of directly related litigation. More ›
The Raj & Sonal Abhyanker Fam. Tr. v. Blake, C.A. No. 2020-0521-KSJM (June 17, 2021)
Court of Chancery Rule 23.1 presents a would-be derivative plaintiff with two exclusive options: make a pre-suit demand on the board to bring the claims at issue, or bring the claims and plead demand futility. A stockholder who elects to make a demand on the board may challenge whether the board wrongly refused the demand, but the stockholder cannot later bring suit and allege demand futility. And, as this case shows, the Court of Chancery will scrutinize a stockholder’s attempt to circumvent this restriction. More ›
Fisher v. Sanborn, C.A. No. 2019-0631-AGB (Del. Ch. Mar. 30, 2021)
Under Court of Chancery Rule 23.1, a plaintiff attempting to bring a derivative action on behalf of a corporation faces a heightened “particularized” pleading standard. This pleading challenge is compounded when a plaintiff attempts to bring a Caremark failure of oversight claim – “possibly the most difficult theory in corporate law.” Similarly, a plaintiff alleging false or misleading disclosures not made in connection with soliciting shareholder action faces the additional pleading challenge of demonstrating that those disclosures were knowing or deliberate. More ›