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Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law, 8 Del. C. § 220 (“Section 220”), permits a stockholder of a Delaware corporation to inspect corporate books and records upon a showing of a proper purpose.  The Delaware courts have long urged stockholders to avail themselves of Section 220 — the “tools at hand” — to inspect relevant corporate documents before commencing plenary derivative litigation.  See, e.g., Grimes v. Donald, 673 A.2d 1207, 1216 & n.11 (Del. 1996).  Perhaps as a result of stockholders heeding this advice, recent years have seen an increase in litigation arising out of Section 220 demands, with corporations pursuing various objections and defenses to resist inspection.  In AmerisourceBergen Corp. v. Lebanon County Employees’ Retirement Fund, 2020 WL 7266362 (Del. Dec. 10, 2020), the Delaware Supreme Court (Traynor, J.) weighed in on and ultimately rejected two objections commonly proffered by corporations who seek to limit or resist Section 220 stockholder inspection demands.  The Court held that (i) it is not necessary for a stockholder to specify the “ultimate objectives” of the investigation in the stockholder’s Section 220 demand; and (ii) a stockholder is not required to establish that the alleged corporate wrongdoing would be judicially “actionable” in order to obtain corporate records under Section 220.  This decision of the Delaware Supreme Court provides essential guidance to Delaware corporations and practitioners on the full panoply of issues related to Section 220 demands.
Continue Reading Delaware Supreme Court Provides Important Guidance Regarding Section 220 Demands, Rejecting Several Limiting Principles Frequently Offered By Corporations Resisting Stockholder Inspection Demands

In In re WeWork Litigation, 2020 Del. Ch. LEXIS 270 (Del. Ch. Aug. 21, 2020) (Bouchard, C.), the Delaware Court of Chancery considered an issue of first impression:  Does the management of a Delaware corporation have the unilateral authority to preclude a director from obtaining the corporation’s privileged information?  The Court held it cannot.  The directors of Delaware corporations are entitled to share in legal advice the corporation receives and, subject to limited exceptions not at issue in WeWork, cannot be prevented from accessing the corporation’s privileged information.
Continue Reading Delaware Court of Chancery Clarifies that Management Cannot Unilaterally Curtail a Director’s Access to Corporation’s Privileged Information

In Juul Labs, Inc. v. Grove, 2020 Del. Ch. LEXIS 264 (Del. Ch. Aug. 13, 2020) (Laster, V.C.), the Delaware Court of Chancery held that the “internal affairs doctrine” bars a stockholder of a Delaware corporation headquartered in a foreign jurisdiction from seeking to inspect corporate books and records pursuant to the statutory law of that foreign jurisdiction.  The stockholder is limited instead to the inspection rights and remedies under Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law, 8 Del. C. § 220.  This decision has the potential to provide greater certainty to Delaware corporations headquartered in other states that Delaware law will govern all aspects of stockholders’ rights, although it remains to be seen whether the courts of those other states will enforce Delaware law in a similarly limiting fashion.
Continue Reading Delaware Court of Chancery Applies the Internal Affairs Doctrine to Deny Stockholder Inspection Rights Under a Foreign State’s Law

Merger agreements involving acquisitions of private companies often contain terms creating post-merger obligations or “earnouts” in favor of certain classes of selling stockholders.  To address potential claims that may arise from such post-merger arrangements, selling stockholders typically designate a “shareholder representative” to handle such claims on their behalf pursuant to specifically delineated rights and duties.  In Fortis Advisors, LLC v. Allergan W.C. Holding, Inc., 2020 Del. Ch. LEXIS 181 (Del. Ch. May 14, 2020) (Zurn, V.C.), the Delaware Court of Chancery addressed the scope of such rights and duties in the context of a discovery dispute.  The Court considered the shareholder representative to be distinct from the selling stockholders on whose behalf the representative is acting, such that the selling stockholders were not deemed to be “parties” to a claim pursued by the representative.  Thus, in a letter ruling, the Court held that the defendant could obtain discovery of the selling stockholders only through third-party discovery, not through party discovery directed to the shareholder representative.  The Court based its decision on a strict reading of the terms of the agreements establishing the shareholder representative and negotiated information rights contained therein.
Continue Reading Delaware Court of Chancery Strictly Construes Right to Discovery of Stockholders Represented By a Contractually Created “Shareholder Representative”

Rule 23.1 of the Delaware Court of Chancery Rules requires a plaintiff asserting a shareholder derivative action to plead “with particularity the efforts, if any, made by the plaintiff to obtain the action the plaintiff desires from the directors or comparable authority and the reasons for the plaintiff’s failure to obtain the action or for not making the effort” (emphasis added).  In Elburn v. Albanese, 2020 Del. Ch. LEXIS 156 (Del. Ch. Apr. 21, 2020), the Delaware Court of Chancery (Slights, V.C.), addressed the “fundamental,” but rarely asked, “question of what is required to plead a fact ‘with particularity’ under Rule 23.1.”  In addressing this question, the Court applied authority interpreting the particularity requirement set forth in Rule 9(b) of the Court of Chancery Rules holding that the standard is met so long as the plaintiff pleads particularized facts sufficient to apprise the defendants of the basis for the claim.  The Court declined to require the pleading of “so-called ‘newspaper facts’—who, what, when, where and how” —in all cases under Rule 23.1, holding that even under Rule 9(b) such details are not required in all cases.  The Court’s analysis in Elburn recognizes that a shareholder plaintiff’s burden to plead specific facts varies depending on the plaintiff’s reasonable access to the facts underlying his or her theory of demand futility.
Continue Reading Delaware Court of Chancery Addresses Pleading ‘With Particularity’ Under Rule 23.1

In Flood v. Synutra Int’l, Inc., No. 101, 2018, 2018 Del. LEXIS 460 (Del. Oct. 9, 2018), the Delaware Supreme Court (Strine, C.J.) held that a controlling stockholder who pursues a merger with the controlled company will have the benefit of business judgment review pursuant to Kahn v. M&F Worldwide Corp., 88 A.3d 635 (Del. 2014) (“MFW”), as long as the requisite procedural protections under MFW are put in place prior to the commencement of economic negotiations. In MFW, the Delaware Supreme Court created a framework through which a controlling stockholder could enter into a strategic transaction with the controlled company and still avail itself of the deferential business judgment standard of review. To have the business judgment standard apply, the transaction must be conditioned “ab initio” upon both (1) the approval of an independent, adequately-empowered Special Committee of the board of directors that fulfills its duty of care, and (2) the uncoerced, informed vote of a majority of the minority stockholders (the “MFW Procedural Protections”). Synutra arose from an issue left open in MFW regarding when the MFW Procedural Protections will be deemed to have been in place “ab initio.
Continue Reading Getting to Business Judgment in an Interested Transaction: Controlling Stockholder Must Put Procedural Protections in Place Prior to the Commencement of Economic Negotiations

In Parametric Sound Corp. v. The Eighth Judicial District Court of the State of Nevada, ___ P.3d ___, 2017 WL 4078845 (Nev. Sept. 14, 2017), the Nevada Supreme Court addressed the circumstances under which breach of fiduciary duty claims asserted in connection with a strategic transaction may be brought by shareholders directly (including in a class action) or must be bought derivatively, on behalf of the corporation. In reaching its decision, the Supreme Court expressly adopted the test articulated by the Delaware Supreme Court in Tooley v. Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, Inc., 845 A.2d 1031 (Del. 2004), and clarified prior ambiguities in Cohen v. Mirage Resorts, Inc., 119 Nev. 1, 62 P.3d 720 (2003). The Nevada Supreme Court thus held that whether a claim is direct or derivative turns on the following two questions: (1) who suffered the alleged harm (the corporation or the suing stockholders, individually); and (2) who would receive the benefit of any recovery or other remedy (the corporation or the stockholders, individually). Applying this test, the Court granted defendants’ petition for writ of mandate and directed the district court to dismiss the shareholder plaintiff’s direct, class claims for breach of fiduciary duty arising from the approval by the board of directors of Parametric Sound Corporation (“Parametric”) of a reverse triangular merger between a subsidiary of Parametric and VTB Holdings, Inc. (“Turtle Beach”). This decision provides much needed legal certainty in a jurisdiction seeking to expand its incorporations.
Continue Reading Nevada Supreme Court Adopts Delaware’s Tooley Test to Determine Whether Shareholder Claims are Direct or Derivative

In a shareholder derivative action, to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to plead facts showing demand futility, a derivative plaintiff must plead particularized facts showing either actual involvement by a majority of the board in illegal conduct or conduct amount to an intentional dereliction of duty. Illegal conduct at a company, untethered to board participation, is not enough. To the contrary, a board’s consideration of and remedial response to alleged illegal conduct inoculates the board from derivative liability even where a stockholder plaintiff alleges, with the benefit of hindsight, that a different course of action would have been more favorable for the company. In In re Qualcomm Inc. FCPA Stockholder Derivative Litig., No. CV 11152-VCMR, 2017 WL 2608723 (Del. Ch. June 16, 2017), the Delaware Court of Chancery rejected several conclusory arguments that illicit behavior by the company automatically supports an inference of director knowledge or involvement. The Qualcomm decision underscores that company directors should freely exercise their discretion when implementing remedial measures in response to company legal violations without fear that an enterprising set of plaintiff’s attorneys will use those remedial measures to bootstrap derivative liability on the directors.
Continue Reading Under Delaware Law, the Occurrence of Alleged Illegal Conduct at a Company Is Not Enough to Plead Demand Futility Sufficient to Give Stockholders Standing to Sue Derivatively

In Retail Wholesale & Department Store Union Local 338 Retirement Fund v. Hewlett-Packard Co., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 955 (9th Cir. Jan. 19, 2017), the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit addressed for the first time whether an undisclosed violation of a company’s code of ethics can support a claim of securities fraud.  The Ninth Circuit held that general pronouncements that a company seeks to adhere to high ethical standards, despite the later revelation that the company’s chief executive officer failed to meet those standards, cannot support a claim.  The Court observed that in order to support a claim for securities fraud, a statement must be capable of being shown to be “objectively false,” and noted that general, aspirational statements about adhering to corporate ethical standards are akin to immaterial puffery.  A contrary result, the Court explained, would turn every instance of wrongdoing by corporate employees into a securities case.  This decision reconfirms the Ninth Circuit’s strict application of the heightened pleading standards applicable in securities cases.
Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Holds that Alleged Violations of Aspirational Corporate Conduct Standards Are Insufficient to State a Claim for Securities Fraud

Stockholder claims alleging wrongful dilution are typically considered to be derivative in nature.  Several decisions out of Delaware, however, have created exceptions to this general rule allowing stockholders to sue directly (rather than derivatively on behalf of the corporation) where, for example, a controlling stockholder authorizes a “disloyal expropriation” which reduces the economic value and voting power of the non-conflicted stockholders.  See, e.g., Gentile v. Rossette, 906 A.2d 91, 100 (Del. 2006); Gatz v. Ponsoldt, 925 A.2d 1265 (Del. 2007); Feldman v. Cutaia, 951 A.2d. 727 (Del. 2008).  In El Paso Pipeline GP Company, L.L.C. v. Brinckerhoff, No. 103, 2016, 2016 Del. LEXIS 653 (Del. Dec. 20, 2016), the Delaware Supreme Court declined to add to these exceptions and reaffirmed the general rule that dilution claims must be brought derivatively.  As a result, a derivative plaintiff losses his or her standing to pursue a dilution claim if the entity is acquired through a merger.
Continue Reading Delaware Supreme Court Confirms that Dilution Claims Typically Are Derivative and Are Extinguished After a Merger