Chancery Dismisses Derivative Claims That Private Equity Sponsors Comprised A Control Group
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.
The court found the allegations that they comprised a control group to be insufficient. While public disclosures indicated the corporation was a “controlled company” for purposes of New York Stock Exchange listing requirements, they did not concede the existence of a “control group” under Delaware law. Similarly, the stockholders’ voting agreement concerned the election of directors, not the transactions at issue. The court also reasoned that allegations concerning the funds’ cooperation in a prior investment did not reasonably support the existence of an agreement in fact here. At bottom, the court reasoned, the stockholder-plaintiff really contended that its allegations of unfair transactions supported that there must be an agreement in fact for a quid pro quo. The court regarded such allegations as conclusory and insufficient, however.
The court also reasoned that the plaintiff failed to allege sufficiently that a demand upon the board of directors would be futile under Rule 23.1. Even assuming arguendo that the plaintiff sufficiently alleged a control group, which it had not, that would not mean that the alleged controlling stockholders’ director-designees were per se disabled from considering a demand. And the plaintiff otherwise failed to show that a majority of the directors faced a substantial risk of personal liability in considering a demand.
The court accordingly granted the defendants’ motions to dismiss.Share