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Summaries and analysis of recent Delaware court decisions concerning business-related litigation.

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Showing 152 posts in Derivative Claims.

Court Of Chancery Holds Demand Is Not Excused When Only Best Practices Were Not Followed

Posted In Derivative Claims

Wilkin v. Narachi, C.A. 12412-VCMR (February 28, 2018)

Demand on directors is not required when it is alleged that they have violated a statute or rule. But when the claim is only that they violated the "best practices” suggested by an agency, that is not enough to excuse demand on the board.

Delaware Supreme Court Gives Preclusive Affect To Prior Dismissal In Wal-Mart Derivative Litigation

Posted In Derivative Claims

California State Teachers Retirement System v. Alvarez, No. 295, 2016 (Del. Jan. 25, 2018)

This is an important decision clarifying the rules regarding the preclusive effect a dismissal of a derivative suit may have on a similar suit pending or brought later in Delaware.  This litigation saga involving a bribery scandal at Wal-Mart took some interesting turns, ping-ponging between the Delaware Court of Chancery and the Delaware Supreme Court.  More ›

Delaware Supreme Court Explains When Derivative Case May Be Dismissed

Posted In Derivative Claims

City of Birmingham Retirement and Relief System v. Good, No. 16, 2017 (December 15, 2017)

This decision explains again that actual or constructive knowledge of persistent corporate wrongdoing is needed before there is a substantial likelihood the directors may be liable and thus demand is excused. The Chief Justice's modest dissent points out that the facts are not fully developed at the motion to dismiss stage and he thought the complaint was good enough to warrant further discovery. This points out a potential problem in Delaware law. It will be a rare case where the board of director minutes provide clear notice of bad corporate conduct without some sort of corrective measure also promised. How sincere those promises are is hard to gauge just based on the minutes. Hence, pleading a case good enough to survive a motion to dismiss is getting harder.

Court Of Chancery Explains Caremark Claims

Posted In Derivative Claims, Fiduciary Duty

Oklahoma Firefighters Pension & Retirement System v. Corbett, C.A. 12151-VCG (December 18, 2017)

This decision is an exhaustive review of what constitutes a Caremark claim. It makes it clear that merely because the directors were aware of red flags and the corporation later suffered harm that is not enough to support a Caremark case. Instead, the facts must show scienter deliberate violation of the law or a conscious indifference to wrongdoing. What this may mean in practice is that if the board minutes show some effort to correct corporate problems, that may negate a finding of the necessary scienter. More ›

Court Of Chancery Issues A Definitive Opinion on Aronson

Posted In Derivative Claims

Lenois v. Lawal, C.A. No. 11963-VCMR (Nov. 7, 2017)

This case illustrates the power of well-functioning special committee to diffuse the potentially corruptive influence of a self-interested controller on a transaction. The result of a well-functioning special committee in this case was that the derivative plaintiff was unable to get around the pre-suit demand on the board requirement.  Applying the second prong of the Aronson test for demand futility, the Court interpreted that portion of the test to require the plaintiff sufficiently allege that a majority of the board faces a substantial likelihood of liability for non-exculpated claims. In other words, that a non-exculpated claim may be brought against less than a majority of the board or some other individual at the company, or that the board committed exculpated duty of care violations, will not alone prove demand futility.  

Court Of Chancery Explains Demand Excusal Based On Knowing Violations Of Law

Posted In Derivative Claims

Kandell v. NIV, C.A. No. 11812-VCG (Sept. 29, 2017)

Derivative plaintiffs alleging that directors allowed the corporation they serve to violate the law typically face dismissal for failure to make pre-suit demand on the board unless they allege a bad faith breach of the fiduciary duty of loyalty. To survive dismissal, plaintiffs need to sufficiently allege the directors knowingly cause the violation or knowingly failed to act—a very high bar. This decision explains that a knowing violation may be found, as it was here (at the motion to dismiss stage), when the law in question is clear and the illegal corporate practice in question is well known to the board.

Court Of Chancery Upholds Duty Of Care and Loyalty Claims

Posted In Derivative Claims

H&N Management Group Inc. v Couch, C.A. No. 12847-VCMR (Del. Ch. Aug. 1, 2017)

This is a rare case involving apparent lack of care in approving a conflicted transaction and a failure to employ almost any safeguards to ensure fairness. It is worth reading just to see what not to do, particularly when dealing with a very significant business decision to the particular company.

Court of Chancery Advocates New Test Governing Preclusion in Derivative Litigation

Posted In Derivative Claims

In re Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Delaware Derivative Litig., C.A. No. 7455-CB (Del. Ch. July 25, 2017)

This is an important decision holding that just because one derivative litigation was dismissed for failure to overcome the requirement of pre-suit demand on the board, it does not mean a similar derivative suit must be dismissed on the same grounds. Instead, under the rule advocated for in this decision, an earlier dismissal only affects the second suit if the first suit was dismissed after the plaintiff survived a demand futility motion or the board conceded that demand is excused. It is at that point which the plaintiff in the first suit was acting on the company’s behalf and its actions may bind other plaintiffs. Originally stated as dicta in the EZCORP decision, this rule, among other things, prevents ill-prepared and typically rushed derivative complaints from cutting off better prepared complaints. Previously, before a remand in this action, the Court had applied a rule that examined the “adequacy of representation” provided by the plaintiffs in the first suit. This “grossly deficient” representation standard generally favored defendants and made dismissal likely in the second suit. It remains to be seen whether the Delaware Supreme Court will adopt the EZCORP rule as endorsed by Wal-Mart.

Court Of Chancery Declines To Hold Unocal Claim Automatically Excuses Demand

Posted In Derivative Claims

Ryan v Armstrong, C.A. No. 12717-VCG (May 15, 2017)

A derivative plaintiff who fails to make a pre-suit demand on the board must show why demand is excused using particularized facts.  Here, the plaintiff argued that demand was automatically excused by sufficiently pleading a Unocal claim.  Some prior case law supports that argument, but the Court in this case rejected an automatic demand excused rule.  Instead, the Court used the more traditional analysis that required either allegations of self-interest or sufficiently egregious conduct that showed bad faith.  Allegations that the board was motivated by a desire to maintain their positions were not sufficient where the complaint lacked facts showing that keeping their jobs was material to each of them.  Similarly, a decision to adopt an entrenchment device is not alone bad faith.

Court Of Chancery Explains Limits Of The Dual Claims Rule

Posted In Derivative Claims

Dietrichson v. Knott, C.A. 11965-VCMR (April 19, 2017)

Under the well-known Brinckerhoff decision, a claim may be both a direct claim and a derivative claim. When that occurs the complaint need not comply with Rule 32.1 demand requirements. This decision points out that Brinckerhoff is very limited and only claims that involve a dilution of voting rights may be considered dual claims.

Court Of Chancery Rejects Vague Demand Excusal Allegations

Posted In Derivative Claims

LVI Group Investment LLC v. NCM Group Holdings LLC, C.A. 12067-VCG (March 29, 2017)

This is an interesting decision because it applies the rules for determining when a derivative plaintiff, in the LLC context, has sufficiently alleged that pre-suit demand on the board would have been futile.   More ›

Court Of Chancery Limits Cost Recovery Following Successful Appeal

Posted In Derivative Claims

In Re: El Paso Pipeline Derivative Litigation, C.A. 7141-VCL (February 16, 2017)

This decision explains what “costs” are recoverable under Court of Chancery Rule 54 following a successful appeal. While the amounts involved normally do not merit much discussion, the cost of bond for an appeal can be significant when the court below awards a large judgment, like in this case.  As this decision points out, the circumstances surrounding the posting of the bond may determine whether or not it was a “necessary” and therefore recoverable cost.

Delaware Supreme Court Signals Due Process Might Prevent Dismissal Based On Demand Futility Issue Preclusion

Posted In Derivative Claims

California State Teachers Retirement System v. Alvarez, No. 295, 2016 (January 18, 2017)

When a derivative suit is dismissed for the failure to plead demand futility, does that also mean that any other pending derivative suit based on the same facts must be dismissed because the shareholders are precluded from relitigating the issue of demand futility? This is a particularly important question because the Delaware Court of Chancery has held that that issue preclusion applies and dismissal is required. Hence, defense counsel may well seek to obtain a fast dismissal in a favorable jurisdiction when the plaintiffs’ bar rashly files suit outside of Delaware. This Order by the Delaware Supreme Court, which remands such a dismissal for consideration of a Due Process argument, signals that issue preclusion might be inappropriate at the motion to dismiss stage under the circumstances.

Court Of Chancery Explains Pleading Rules For A Caremark Claim

Posted In Derivative Claims

Horman v. Abney, C.A. 12290-VCS (January 19, 2017)

At first look, this decision seems to involve just another unsuccessful failure of oversight Caremark claim against directors. But it is worth reading because it outlines the various theories of a Caremark case and then explains when inferences of utterly ignoring one’s fiduciary duty may be inferred from otherwise neutral facts. The decision makes it clear that the Court will not infer the directors were told of wrongdoing just because wrongdoing occurred, and that once proper safeguards are put in place to avoid illegal actions, there is usually no duty to monitor the monitors without reason to suspect they are not working.

Court of Chancery Explains Role of Records Demand in Alleging Wrongful Pre-Suit Demand Refusal

Posted In Derivative Claims

Andersen v. Mattel, Inc., C.A. 11816-VCMR (January 19, 2017)

This decision examines when pre-suit demand may be excused because the board who refused the demand declines to disclose the report of its investigation when responding. In this case, the board’s unwillingness to disclose the report was not sufficient, standing alone, to show the necessary gross negligence or bad faith in the board’s demand refusal, particularly when the plaintiff has not made a formal request for the report using its books and records rights under Section 220.

The decision is also a good review of what circumstances otherwise might be sufficient to show a board’s demand refusal was in bad faith. In short, where the board’s justifications for refusing the demand falls within the bounds of reasonable judgment, the refusal is not in bad faith.