Ravenswood Inv. Co., L.P. v. Winmill & Co. Inc., C.A. No. 7048-VCN (Del. Ch. May 30, 2014)

By David Bernstein and Elise Gabriel

In Ravenswood Investment Co., Vice Chancellor Noble of the Delaware Chancery Court considered the novel issue of whether, under Delaware law, a corporation may condition a stockholder’s right to inspect the corporation’s books and records on an agreement not to trade in the corporation’s stock for a period of time.  Here, the defendant Winmill & Co. Incorporated (“Winmill”), a Delaware holding company, had refused to allow plaintiff stockholder Ravenswood Investment Company, L.P. (“Ravenswood”) to inspect its nonpublic financial statements absent Ravenswood’s agreement not to trade in Winmill’s stock for up to a year.  Winmill was apparently concerned that Ravenswood would use the material, non-public information to trade in Winmill’s stock, thus threatening “tipper” liability under federal securities law. 

Vice Chancellor Noble concluded that a trading restriction imposed on a stockholder’s right to inspection under Delaware General Corporation Law § 220 is contrary to Delaware law.  He found that Ravenswood had requested inspection for the proper purpose of valuing its stock, and any purported secondary purpose or ulterior motive was irrelevant.  Vice Chancellor Noble was unwilling to incorporate an “inequitable” notion into Delaware’s § 220 jurisprudence that would frustrate a stockholder’s fundamental right to value its stock.  In a footnote, he further stated that the Court did not address whether the requested financial statements should be deemed confidential, but if the parties could not agree on a confidentiality agreement, the Court would be available to address that issue.  Vice Chancellor Noble refused, however, to require Winmill to pay Ravenswood’s attorneys’ fees, finding that Ravenswood had not produced requisite evidence of Winmill’s bad faith.

Ravenswood v. Winmill

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