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Court of Chancery Expands Right To Bring Direct Claims

Rhodes v. Silkroad Equity LLC, C.A. No. 2133-VCN (July 7, 2007).

The line between what is a direct claim and a derivative claim is frequently critical. Derivative claims can only be brought by stockholders and have other procedural hurdles to jump to survive a motion to dismiss. In this decision, the Court permitted what appeared to be a derivative claim to go forward as a direct claim by a former stockholder. Thus, the Court has expanded the type of claim that may be brought as a direct claim. While the facts of this case may seem unusual, the claims made in this case have come up before and now will certainly take on new life.

Briefly, the plaintiff alleged that the majority stockholder had run down the business of the company to force out the plaintiffs as minority owners at a reduced price under a stockholders' agreement. The damage to the company from their actions would seem to be a classic derivative claim for it was the company that suffered the injury and to whom damages would seem to flow for such a claim. However, the Court held that this conduct also would support a direct claim because the conduct in effect permitted the majority to increase its interest in the company while diluting the interest of the minority stockholders. In that sense, the claim of the minority interest was also a direct claim suffered by them alone.



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