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John Stigi is a partner in the Business Trial Practice Group, leader of the firm's Securities Enforcement and Litigation Team, and Office Managing Partner of the firm's Century City office.

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 Sciabacucchi v. Salzberg, No. 346, 2019, 2020 WL 1280785 (Del. Mar. 18, 2020), the Delaware Supreme Court reversed a Delaware Court of Chancery (Laster, V.C.) decision declaring invalid a federal forum selection provision in a Delaware corporation’s charter or bylaws.  The federal forum selection provision was intended to require claims by investors under the Securities Act of 1933 (“1933 Act”) to be brought solely in federal court, thereby avoiding the likelihood of defending duplicate, concurrent state and federal court 1933 Act claims.  The Delaware Supreme Court’s decision provides clear guidance to companies preparing for securities offerings for implementing a tool to limit the cost of defending duplicative 1933 Act litigation.
Continue Reading Delaware Supreme Court Confirms That Federal Forum Provision Is Facially Valid, Reversing Court of Chancery

In Jensen v. iShares Trust, 2020 Cal. App. LEXIS 61 (Cal. App. Jan. 23, 2020), a rare state court decision addressing claims under the Securities Act of 1933 (“1933 Act”), the California Court of Appeal rejected plaintiffs-appellants’ attempt to evade the “tracing” requirement under Section 11, 15. U.S.C. § 77k, which provides standing only to those plaintiffs who can trace their shares purchased in a secondary market transaction to an initial offering made under a misleading registration statement.  Appellants argued that they were not subject to the tracing requirement because the respondent, an open-end management investment company, also was governed under the Investment Company Act of 1940 (“ICA”), 15 U.S.C § 80a, et. seq., which appellants argued extends standing to purchasers no matter how or from whom their shares were purchased.  The Court rejected the argument, unequivocally reaffirming that the 1933 Act is focused only on initial public offerings and other primary market transactions, and so any claims brought thereunder must satisfy its strict standing (i.e., tracing) requirements.
Continue Reading California State Court Declines to Expand Standing for Claims Under 1933 Act

In High River Limited Partnership v. Occidental Petroleum Corp., C.A. No. 2019-0403-JRS, 2019 WL 6040285 (Del. Ch. Nov. 14, 2019) (Slights, V.C.), the Delaware Court of Chancery held that a stockholder’s mere disagreement with a business decision of a board of directors and intent to pursue a bone fide proxy contest is not a “proper purpose” to support a demand to inspect the corporation’s books and records under Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law, 8 Del. C. § 220. By declining the stockholder’s invitation to adopt a “new rule entitling stockholders to inspection documents under Section 220 if they can show a credible basis that the information sought would be material in the prosecution of a proxy contest,” this decision clarifies what had been a “murky” legal landscape under Section 220.
Continue Reading Delaware Court of Chancery Holds that a Stockholder’s Disagreement with a Board’s Business Judgment and Intent to Pursue a Proxy Contest is Not a “Proper Purpose” for a Section 220 Demand

*October 16, 2019: Update On Caremark Claims Following the Delaware Supreme Court’s Decision in Marchand v. Barnhill

In In re Clovis Oncology, Inc., C.A. No. 2017-0222-JRS, 2019 Del. Ch. LEXIS 1293 (Del. Ch. Oct. 1, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery applied Marchand on a motion to dismiss and determined that the complaint adequately pled a Caremark claim against a biopharmaceutical company’s board of directors. The board allegedly ignored red flags indicating the company was not adhering to FDA-required protocols in its clinical trials for the only promising drug of three drugs it then had under development, causing the FDA to withhold approval. The resulting corporate “trauma” included a 70% market capitalization loss. Like the ice cream manufacturer in Marchand, the Chancery Court characterized the company as a “monoline company operat[ing] in a highly regulated industry,” where compliance with FDA-required protocols constitute an “intrinsically critical” business operation involving a “mission critical product.” Although it acknowledged that Caremark claims remain “among the hardest to plead and prove,” it noted that Caremark liability is more likely to attach when the alleged oversight failure concerns “compliance with positive law” as opposed to the “manag[ing] of business risk.” It portrayed Marchand as further “underscor[ing] the importance of the board’s oversight function when [a] company is operating in the midst of ‘mission critical’ regulatory compliance risk.” According to the Chancery Court, Marchand “makes clear” that, in such instances, “the board’s oversight function must be more rigorously exercised.”

Clovis provides a first glimpse at the Delaware Chancery Court’s reaction to the Delaware Supreme Court’s Marchand decision. Clovis confirms that, in complying with public health and safety regulations (including those governing clinical trials), a heightened level of oversight is expected, particularly when the oversight failure may result in trauma that is significant relative to the company’s overall operations.
Continue Reading Delaware Supreme Court Allows Caremark Claim to Proceed Against Directors of Ice Cream Manufacturer Following Listeria Outbreak

In Shareholder Representative Services LLC v. RSI Holdco, LLC, No. 2018-0517-KSJM, 2019 WL 2290916 (Del. Ch. May 29, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery reaffirmed that a target company may protect its pre-merger privileged communications in a post-closing dispute with the acquirer by including clear and unambiguous language in the merger agreement that seeks to protect the privilege. This decision provides additional guidance to sellers intent upon protecting their rights in potential post-closing litigation with buyers.
Continue Reading Delaware Chancery Court Provides Useful Guidance for Protecting Pre-Merger Privileges in Post-Closing Litigation Between Buyers and Sellers

In Lorenzo v. Securities & Exchange Comm., No. 17-1077, 2019 WL 1369839 (U.S. Mar. 27, 2019), the Supreme Court of the United States (Breyer, J.) held that an individual who did not “make” a false or misleading statement within the meaning of Janus Capital Group, Inc. v. First Derivative Traders, 564 U.S. 135 (2011) (blog article here), but instead disseminated it to potential investors with intent to defraud, can be held to have employed a scheme to defraud and/or engaged in an act, practice or course of business to defraud in violation of subsections (a) and (c) of Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) Rule 10b-5, 17 C.F.R. § 240.10b-5. This decision broadens the scope of primary liability under Rule 10b-5 beyond those who make false and misleading statements to include those who knowingly “disseminate” (i.e., communicate to potential investors) such false or misleading statements. Although this decision involved an SEC enforcement action, it is likely to be invoked by plaintiffs in private securities litigation to expand the scope of named defendants beyond the issuer and individuals directly responsible for making public statements on the issuer’s behalf.
Continue Reading United States Supreme Court Holds That Knowing Dissemination of False Statements Made by Others Can Constitute Primary “Scheme Liability” In Violation of Rule 10b-5(a) and (c)

In Singh v. Cigna Corp., No. 17-3484-cv, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 6637 (2d Cir. Mar. 5, 2019), the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a class action complaint that purported to base a securities fraud claim upon alleged statements made by defendant Cigna Corporation (“Cigna” or the “Company”) about its efforts to comply with Medicare regulations. According to the complaint, the statements materially misled investors and, when news of regulatory non-compliance surfaced, the Company’s stock price declined. The Second Circuit held the statements to be only “generic” descriptions of the Company’s compliance efforts. The Court held that no reasonable investor would rely upon them as “representations of [the Company’s] satisfactory compliance,” and so they did not constitute material misstatements sufficient to support a securities claim.
Continue Reading Second Circuit Holds That Issuer’s Alleged Statements Concerning Its Regulatory Compliance Efforts Do Not Constitute Material Misstatements

In Wadler v. Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc., No. 17-16193, 2019 WL 924827 (9th Cir. Feb. 26, 2019), the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that statutes, including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”), do not constitute “rule[s] or regulation[s] of the Securities and Exchange Commission” (“SEC”) for purposes of determining whether an employee engaged in protected activity in a whistleblower claim under Section 806 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (“SOX”).  This decision clarifies the proper application of the express statutory language of Section 806.
Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Holds That Statutes Do Not Constitute “Rules or Regulations of the SEC” for Purposes of Sarbanes-Oxley Act Whistleblower Claims

Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law, 8 Del. C. § 220, provides that any stockholder of a Delaware corporation “shall, upon written demand under oath stating the purpose thereof, have the right during the usual hours for business to inspect for any proper purpose, and to make copies and extracts from . . . the corporation’s stock ledger, a list of its stockholders, and its other books and records.”  Whether emails and other electronically stored information (“ESI”) created and maintained by the corporation constitute “other books and records” within the meaning of Section 220 has been a matter of some uncertainty.  Recent decisions from the Delaware Courts provide useful guidance to practitioners on this question.
Continue Reading Delaware Courts Address Production of Emails and Other Electronically Stored Information In Response to Section 220 Demands