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 Swipe Acquisition Corp. v. Krauss, CA No. 2019-0509-PAF, 2021 WL 282642 (Del. Ch. Jan. 28, 2021), the Delaware Court of Chancery held that California public policy prohibited a purported waiver of a contractual party’s right to assert a claim under the California Securities Act by reason of a Delaware choice of law provision in the parties’ stock purchase agreement.  Delaware courts will not enforce a choice of law provision if it would be contrary to a fundamental policy of the state whose law would apply but for the choice of law provision (here, California).  California law prohibits contractual waivers of the California Securities Act unless the party seeking to enforce the waiver can show that it will not diminish the plaintiff’s statutory rights under California law.  The Court held that because the plaintiff could not assert a claim under the Delaware Securities Act (due to a lack of nexus with Delaware), and none of the plaintiff’s other claims would provide the same as or greater rights than its California Securities Act claim, enforcing the choice of law provision would be contrary to California’s public policy.  Swipe Acquisition thus further defines the contours of a party’s ability to waive its rights under the California Securities Act by way of a choice of law provision.
Continue Reading Delaware Court of Chancery Holds that a Contractual Delaware Choice of Law Provision Did Not Waive Plaintiff’s Claim Under the California Securities Act

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

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 Chufen Chen v. Dunkin’ Brands, Inc., No. 18-CV-3087, 2020 WL 1522826 (2d Cir. Mar. 31, 2020), the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that the act of registering as a foreign corporation under Section 1301 of the New York Business Corporation Law (“BCL”) does not constitute consent to general personal jurisdiction in the courts of the State.  In reaching its holding, the Court held that the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117 (2014), effectively overruled the New York courts’ long-held interpretation that registering under BCL § 1301(a) constituted consent to general personal jurisdiction.  This decision provides clarity to companies doing business in New York but headquartered and incorporated outside the State that they will not ordinarily be subject to personal jurisdiction in New York state and federal courts.
Continue Reading Second Circuit Holds that Registering to do Business in New York Under Section 1301 of the Business Corporation Law Does Not Constitute Consent to General Personal Jurisdiction in New York Courts

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 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

Sinatra may have found success in the city that never sleeps, but a California court has just made it more difficult for any party doing business with a California resident to do the same.  At least, when it comes to resolving disputes without a jury in a New York courtroom, or in the courtroom of any other jurisdiction that enforces pre-dispute jury trial waivers.  This case will be of major interest to commercial lenders, and other businesses, who prefer to use states like New York and Delaware as their jurisdiction of choice for governing law and adjudicating disputes.

While it is well-settled law in California that pre-dispute contractual jury waivers are unenforceable (see, e.g., Grafton Partners L.P. v. Superior Court (2005) 36 Cal. 4th 944 (“Grafton”)), in most instances forum selection and choice-of-law provisions have been respected by California courts. However, the Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District recently expanded upon Grafton in Handoush v. Lease Financing Group, LLC. The Court dealt a commercial equipment lessor a significant blow by holding that the equipment lessee who signed a lease agreement with the lessor that was governed by New York law, identified New York as the appropriate forum for resolving disputes and included a pre-dispute jury waiver (which is enforceable under New York law), was nevertheless entitled to a trial by jury in California.
Continue Reading Start Spreadin’ the News: California Court Says No to New York, New York; Rejects Forum Selection Clause

In the aftermath of Equifax’s data breach, a federal court recently found that allegations of poor cybersecurity coupled with misleading statements supported a proper cause of action. In its decision, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia allowed a securities fraud class action case to continue against Equifax. The lawsuit claims the company issued false or misleading statements regarding the strength and quality of its cybersecurity measures. In their amended complaint, the plaintiffs cite Equifax’s claims of “strong data security and confidentiality standards” and “a highly sophisticated data information network that includes advanced security, protections and redundancies,” when, according to the plaintiffs’ allegations, Equifax’s cybersecurity practices “were grossly deficient and outdated” and “failed to implement even the most basic security measures.” The court found that data security is a core aspect of Equifax’s business and that investors are likely to review representations on data security when making their investment decisions.
Continue Reading Court Finds Cybersecurity-Related Claims Sufficient in Securities Class Action