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

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Chancery Upholds Caremark Claim Based on Alleged Failure to Adequately Monitor Biopharmaceutical Company’s Clinical Trials

In Re Clovis Oncology, Inc. Derivative Litigation, C.A. No. 2017-0222-JRS (Del. Ch. Oct. 1, 2019).

The Delaware courts have observed that a Caremark claim for failure of oversight against a board is among the most difficult to sustain.  Nonetheless, a set of particularized allegations showing serious oversight shortcomings regarding a mission-critical topic will succeed, as illustrated by the Delaware Supreme Court’s recent decision in Marchand v. Barnhill, 212 A. 3d 805 (Del. 2019).  Clovis is the latest example. More ›

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

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 ›

Chancery Finds Prospective Purchaser May Pursue Breach Claims Against Target Despite Termination Fee Payment

Genuine Parts Company v. Essendant Inc., C.A. No. 2018-0730-JRS (Del. Ch. Sept. 9, 2019).

Termination fee provisions are commonplace buy-side protection in M&A transactions intended to recoup a failed prospective purchaser’s otherwise sunk costs.  They can also provide substantial sell-side protection when drafted as an exclusive remedy.  But, as this decision illustrates, the level of protection depends on each contract’s specific terms.        More ›

Chancery Court Offers Guidance on Arbitration Provision Carve-Outs

The Innovation Institute, LLC v. St. Joseph Health Source, Inc., C.A. No. 2019-0156 JRS (Del. Ch. Aug. 28, 2019).

Despite the plaintiff’s request for specific performance and an arbitration provision that carved-out equitable claims, the Court of Chancery stayed the action and deferred to the arbitrator the decision on arbitrability.  The limited liability company operating agreement at issue contained a mandatory arbitration provision that referred all disputes to arbitration “[e]xcept to the extent that a party is entitled to equitable relief…” and incorporated the AAA arbitration rules.  In reaching his decision, the Vice Chancellor evaluated the arbitration provision under the standard set forth in James & Jackson, LLC v. Willie Gary, LLC, and clarified in McLaughlin v. McCannWillie Gary set forth a two-part test to determine whether the parties agreed to submit the issue of arbitrability to an arbitrator:  the arbitration provision must (1) resolve all disputes; and (2) incorporate rules that permit an arbitrator to determine arbitrability.  McLaughlin later clarified Willie Gary by cautioning against an overly narrow reading of the first prong of Willie Gary, ruling that courts should only determine arbitrability when the carve-out is so “obviously broad and substantial” that it overcomes the presumption in favor of permitting the arbitrator to decide arbitrability.  The Vice Chancellor concluded that the scope of the equitable relief carve-out in the operating agreement was not “so obviously broad and substantial as to overcome the heavy presumption” that the parties intended to submit the issue of arbitrability to an arbitrator to decide whether their dispute is subject to arbitration under the arbitration provision. The Court therefore held the equitable carve-out did not apply to enable the Court to decide arbitrability.    

Chancery Court Confirms a Stockholder May Contractually Waive Appraisal Rights

Posted In Appraisal

Manti Holdings, LLC v. Authentix Acquisition Co., Inc., C.A. No. 2017-0887 SG (Del. Ch. Aug 14, 2019).

In Manti Holdings, LLC v. Authentix Acquisition Co., Inc., the Court of Chancery held that a contract provision limiting or waiving future appraisal rights may be enforceable as a matter of law.  The Court had previously ruled that the petitioner stockholders had waived their right to an appraisal in a stockholders agreement.  On re-argument, the Court was asked to determine whether the petitioners could, as a matter of law under the Delaware General Corporation Law (“DGCL”), waive their appraisal rights.  Because Section 262 of the DGCL confers a statutory right to appraisal upon shareholders, the petitioners argued that the provision of the stockholders agreement purporting to waive appraisal rights was not enforceable.  Relying upon its prior precedent concerning waiver of statutory rights, the Court explained that a contractual relinquishment of appraisal rights was permissible when the contract language is clear and unambiguous and the record reflects that the petitioners were sophisticated investors who were fully informed and represented by counsel when they signed the stockholders agreement.              

Court of Chancery Finds Agreements Unenforceable for Lack of Assent, Dismisses Remaining Claims for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction

Eagle Force Holdings, LLC v. Campbell, C.A. No. 10803-VCMR (Del. Ch. Aug. 29, 2019).

Parties to a contract must provide evidence of an overt manifestation of assent for a contract to be enforceable under Delaware law. Upon remand from the Delaware Supreme Court, the Court of Chancery found such assent to be lacking and dismissed the remaining claims for lack of personal jurisdiction. More ›

Delaware Supreme Court Clarifies: No Presumption of Confidentiality for Documents Produced Pursuant to a Books and Records Request

Tiger v. Boast Apparel, Inc., C.A. No. 23, 2019 (Del. Aug. 7, 2019).

The Delaware Supreme Court held that documents produced pursuant to a request for books and records under Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law are not subject to a presumption of confidentiality. More ›

Court of Chancery Dissolves Limited Partnership Upon Finding General Partner Unable To Achieve Its Business Purpose

GMF ELCM Fund L.P. v. ELCM HCRE GP LLC, C.A. No. 2018-0840-SG (Del. Ch. Aug. 7, 2019).

The equitable remedy of dissolution is extraordinary.  Given the extraordinary record before it, and the abundance of evidence that the general partner could not operate the business, the Court granted plaintiffs’ petition for dissolution. More ›

Chancery Again Defers to Deal Price in Appraisal

Posted In M&A

In re Appraisal of Columbia Pipeline Group, Inc., Cons. C.A. Nos. 12736-VCL (Del. Ch. Aug. 12, 2019).

Merger IconIn Columbia Pipeline Group, the Court of Chancery applied the appraisal precepts established by the recent appellate precedent in DFC, Dell and Aruba to conclude that the deal price was a persuasive indicator of fair value.  After framing the current state of appraisal law and thoroughly examining the sales process, the Court found that the merger was the result of an arms-length transaction with a third party, and contained sufficient indicia of a fair process to conclude that the deal price was a reliable indicator of fair value.  In support of its finding that the sales process was fair, the Court also pointed to the lack of conflicts at the board level, the acquiring company’s due diligence, and that the target company contacted other potential buyers that all failed to pursue a merger. Additionally, the Court found that the target company extracted multiple price increases during the deal-negotiation process, and that no other bidders emerged during the post-signing phase, which is a factor that the Supreme Court emphasized in analyzing the fairness of the deal process in Aruba.   More ›

Chancery Addresses the Implied Covenant in an At-Will Employment Relationship and Delaware’s Statutory Restriction on Physicians’ Non-Competes

Dunn v. Fastmed Urgent Care, C. A. No. 2018-0934 MTZ (Del. Ch. Aug. 30, 2019).

This case arises out of a physician’s sale of his limited liability company interest, and his subsequent attempts to enforce oral promises outside of – and sometimes in conflict with – written agreements governed by Delaware law.  In granting the defendants’ motions to dismiss for failure to satisfy pleading standards, the Court addressed two potentially noteworthy issues.  More ›

'Scott v. DST Systems': Court Rejects Mootness Fee for Target’s Supplemental Disclosures Explaining Valuation Analyses

Disclosure-only settlements of M&A class actions have received increased scrutiny since decisions like the Delaware Court of Chancery’s 2016 Trulia opinion and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit’s Walgreens decision from later that year. Those decisions critiqued the then-prevalent practice of stockholder-plaintiffs bringing M&A strike suits and then quickly exchanging broad, classwide releases for supplemental disclosures of questionable value and fee awards to plaintiffs counsel under the “corporate benefit” doctrine. As a result, the path to quickly resolving M&A class actions has shifted toward individual plaintiffs agreeing to dismiss their claims without prejudice to other class members in exchange for supplemental disclosures and mootness fees under the “corporate benefit” doctrine. The U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware’s recent decision in Scott v. DST Systems, (D. Del. Aug. 23, 2019), should be of great interest to parties facing such issues, particularly defendants who wish to moot a disclosure-based lawsuit without paying fees to plaintiffs counsel. More ›

Blue Bell Creameries: Chancery Finds Zapata Committee to Address Derivative Claims is not Available to Conflicted General Partner

Wenske v. Blue Bell Creameries, Inc., C. A. No. 2017-0699-JRS (Del. Ch. Aug. 28, 2019).

In Zapata v. Maldonado, 430 A.2d 779 (Del. 1981), the Delaware Supreme Court established that, even where a derivative plaintiff adequately pleads demand futility, a corporation may retain control over derivative claims by delegating authority to a committee of independent directors.  In this recent decision, the Court of Chancery applied principles of agency law to hold that, at least without prior authorization in a limited partnership agreement, a conflicted corporate general partner generally may not make a similar delegation, because the general partner is a “principal” who inherently retains control over its committee, the “agent.” More ›

Lewis H. Lazarus to Participate in Panel Discussion Commemorating the Landmark Case Paramount Communications, Inc. v. Time Inc.

Posted In News

Lazarus PictureMorris James partner Lewis H. Lazarus will participate in a DSBA CLE titled “The Test of Time: A 30-Year Lookback at Paramount Communications, Inc. v. Time Inc. on its 30thAnniversary.” The CLE will take place live on Thursday, September 26, 2019 at the Delaware State Bar Association.  Webcasts will be available in Kent County at the office of Morris James LLP in Dover and in Sussex County at the office of Tunnell & Raysor in Georgetown.  More ›

Chancery Finds Plaintiffs Lost Direct and Derivative Standing After Sale of Shares

Urdan v. WR Capital Partners, LLC, C.A. No. 2018-0343-JTL (Del. Ch. Aug. 19, 2019).

It is well-settled Delaware law that the right to bring a derivative claim in the corporation’s name or a direct claim in the individual stockholder’s name is a property right associated with the ownership of shares and that those rights normally pass from a selling stockholder to the buyer.  Relatedly, Delaware law imposes two conditions for derivative standing: first, a contemporaneous ownership requirement, meaning the plaintiff must have been a stockholder at the time of the complained of wrong; and, second, a continuous ownership requirement, meaning the plaintiff must continue to be a stockholder to pursue its claims.  The rules are slightly different in the direct standing context.  In contrast to the continuous ownership requirement for derivative claims, a selling stockholder may retain the right to bring a direct claim by contract.  This decision explains and applies these concepts, finding certain stockholders lost both forms of standing when reaching a settlement, despite an apparent attempt to avoid that result in the relevant contracts. More ›

Chancery Explains When Deal Price is a Persuasive Indicator of Fair Value in an Appraisal Proceeding

Posted In Appraisal

In re Appraisal of Stillwater Mining Co., Consol. C.A. No. 2017-0385-JTL (Del. Ch. Aug. 21, 2019).

Recent Delaware Supreme Court decisions on appraisal proceedings have stressed the pivotal importance of the deal price in establishing fair value.  In this case, the Court of Chancery faced an appraisal for a transaction in which the company’s General Counsel expressed ongoing concerns about the CEO’s potential conflict in spearheading the sale process.  That gave rise to the question:  In measuring fair value, what weight should be accorded to the deal price when there is some “hint of self-interest” that may have compromised the market check?  More ›