On August 6, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) approved Nasdaq’s Board Diversity Rule (Nasdaq Stock Market LLC Rules 5605(f) and 5606), which requires listed companies to have at least two diverse board members or to explain their failure to meet the requirement, with some exceptions.  The Board Diversity Rule also requires companies to publish statistics on the diversity of their board members.  The rule is intended to increase transparency into the diversity of corporate boards, giving investors more information to consider when deciding which companies are worthy of investment.  As investors have increasingly voiced concern over enhanced diversity in corporate leadership, the Board Diversity Rule may not only increase board transparency, but also cause Nasdaq-listed companies to increase board diversity.

Continue Reading SEC Approves Nasdaq Diversity Rule

In Coster v. UIP Companies, Inc., No. 49-2020, 2021 WL 2644094 (Del. June 28, 2021), the Delaware Supreme Court reversed a Court of Chancery ruling, No. 2018-0440-KSJM, 2020 WL 429906 (Del. Ch. Jan. 28, 2020) (McCormick, V.C.), that members of a board of directors did not breach their fiduciary duties when they approved a transaction with an “inequitable purpose” because the process and substance of the transaction were “entirely fair” to the aggrieved stockholder.  The Court held that even though the board’s action passed Delaware’s rigorous “entire fairness” review, the Court of Chancery should have further considered whether the board acted for inequitable reasons or for the primary purpose of interfering with the stockholder’s statutory or voting rights.  As the Supreme Court explained, “inequitable action does not become permissible simply because it is legally possible.”  Coster provides an important reminder to board members that ensuring a transaction is “entirely fair” does not necessarily shield directors from liability if the directors acted in bad faith or for the “primary purpose of thwarting” a stockholder’s franchise rights.

Continue Reading Delaware Supreme Court Holds That Surviving “Entire Fairness” Review is Not Conclusive of a Breach of Fiduciary Duty Claim Where Directors Acted Inequitably

In Ocegueda v. Zuckerberg, No. 20-CV-04444, 2021 WL 1056611 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 19, 2021), the United States District Court for the Northern District of California became the first court
Continue Reading Facebook Defeats Shareholder Suit Challenging Alleged Failures In Its Diversity and Inclusion Practices

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 RE DELL TECHNOLOGIES INC. CLASS V STOCKHOLDERS LITIGATION

There has been a growing deference in Delaware courts for transactions approved by independent special committees and minority stockholders. In the context of a company with a controlling stockholder, the Delaware Supreme Court has provided guidance in Kahn v. M&F Worldwide Corp.[1] (“MFW”) on how boards can structure special committees and minority stockholder votes to have board decisions adjudicated under the highly deferential protection of the business judgment rule.[2] However, the Delaware Court of Chancery recently found in In re Dell Technologies Inc. Class V Stockholders Litigation[3] (“Dell”) that it was reasonably conceivable that the conditions established in MFW had not been satisfied in the transaction under review resulting in the application of the more onerous entire fairness standard of review.[4] The opinion in Dell provides helpful insight for boards as they navigate transactions involving controlling stockholders.[5]
Continue Reading Board Guidance: Getting To Business Judgment Rule Deference When You Have A Controlling Stockholder

The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has impacted publicly traded companies that provide information to trading markets, shareholders and to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Companies need to be mindful with respect to disclosures in annual and quarterly reports, earnings releases, current reports, and public and private securities offering documents.
Continue Reading Coronavirus and Guidance on SEC Disclosures

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 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