On August 22, 2014, Vice Chancellor Laster approved a fee award for counsel to certain plaintiff-stockholders related to a settlement of a class action claim alleging breaches of fiduciary duties related to a freeze-out merger. The settlement amounted to $10.725 million. In the same opinion, V.C. Laster denied a fee award due to lack of standing to counsel for other stockholders in the same freeze-out merger, who separately litigated an appraisal claim, and which was relied upon by the successful class action plaintiffs.
On August 25, 2014, Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster denied a stipulated dismissal order involving the payment of a “mootness fee” as part of the settlement of a disclosure claim because it did not comply with the requirements of In re Advanced Mammography Sys., Inc. S’holders Litig., 1996 WL 633409 (Del. Ch. Oct. 30, 1996).
Astex Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (“Astex”) and Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co, Ltd. (“Otsuka”) entered into an Agreement and Plan of Merger. Various stockholder plaintiffs filed lawsuits asserting claims against Astex, its Board of Directors, and Otsuka, and the court certified a class. One claim asserted that Astex’s stockholders lacked sufficient information to make an informed decision about tendering their shares or seeking appraisal. In response, Astex filed a supplemental Schedule 14D-9 containing additional disclosures on October 1, 2013. After the defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings, the named plaintiffs concluded that their remaining claims lacked merit. The parties then submitted a stipulated dismissal order, which included an agreement whereby defendants would pay a mootness fee relating to the disclosure claim. The court denied the proposed dismissal order pending further submission by the parties explaining how they complied, or proposed to comply, with Advanced Mammography.
Advanced Mammography provides that the board may exercise its business judgment to pay a mootness fee, but it is necessary to (i) notify the court and (ii) provide notice to the class and provide an opportunity for the class to be heard. In addition, “in the context of a claim that is acknowledged to be moot and in which no consideration has been paid to the class, it is not appropriate for the court to purport to release any claims of the class.” Id. at *1. Notice to the class allows the class to argue that the case is not moot, but rather that the mootness fee is in fact a buyout; and enables members of the class to object to such use of corporate funds. Id. In this case, the stipulated dismissal order did not provide notice to the class, and as a result, Vice Chancellor Laster denied the proposal and requested that the parties submit a revised order contemplating notice to the class.
This case involves the unfriendly winding up of a two-member Delaware limited liability company (the “LLC”). One of the issues raised in this case was whether “cause” existed for the Court of Chancery to intervene and wind up the LLC’s affairs and appoint a liquidating trustee under Section 18-803(a) of the Delaware Limited Liability Company Act (the “LLC Act”). One of the members of the LLC (“Global”) argued that the Court did not have cause because a deadlock did not exist among the parties entitled to wind up the LLC. Global argued that because it was the 51% owner of the LLC and had the right to make any decisions necessary to wind up the LLC, no deadlock existed.
In rejecting Global’s argument, the Court stated that nothing in the LLC Act “requires a finding of deadlock as a prerequisite to this Court assuming control of the wind up process of a Delaware LLC and/or appointing a liquidating trustee.” According to the Court, ample cause existed because Global was unwilling to wind up the LLC in an orderly and timely manner and took a confrontational approach that was contradictory to its obligation to wind up the LLC promptly so as to maximize the value of the property distributed to the members. Chancellor Bouchard noted that although the “contours of [default fiduciary duties] may be different after dissolution of an LLC during the wind up period, they continue to encompass, in my view, an obligation to distribute the assets of the company promptly consistent with maximizing their value.”
In Levey v. Brownstone Asset Mgmt., LP, et al., the plaintiff, Gordon Levey (“Levey”), and the three individual defendants worked together as principals in a financial services boutique, Brownstone Investment Group LLC. Operating out of the same office, Levey and the three defendants also ran a hedge fund. In this action, Levey, after resigning from the financial services boutique, sought a declaration that he continued to own equity in two of the entities through which the boutique operated: (1) Brownstone Investment Partners LLC, a Delaware limited liability company, which was the passive manager of the hedge fund (the “Passive Manager”); and (2) Brownstone Asset Management LP, a Delaware limited partnership, which was the active manager of the hedge fund (the “Active Manager”). Levey sought a declaration that he continued to hold a 5% interest in the Passive Manager and the Active Manager, and if he did remain an owner of those interests, he demanded his proportionate share of all past distributions made by those entities. He also sought an order requiring the defendants to identify any undisclosed profits (from which he would presumably also seek his share).
The court first addressed the critical factual issue of whether Levey withdrew from the Passive Manager and the Active Manager on January 26, 2006. Levey argued that he may have tried to withdraw but failed in the attempt, while the defendants argued that he could and did withdraw. The court found that an objective viewer would regard Levey as withdrawing, listing actions that support this conclusion – he turned in his keys, he cut up his corporate charge card and building identification card, and the other principals and employees of the firm gathered together and said goodbye to him. He also withdrew his personal funds that were invested in the hedge fund. Levey argued that he intended to resign as an employee and to withdraw from the financial services boutique, but not to withdraw from the Passive Manager and the Active Manager. However, based on the dislike Levey had expressed for his partners, the court did not find it credible that he wanted to maintain his relationship with his partners through the Passive Manager and the Active Manager. Therefore, the court found that Levey withdrew from the Passive Manager and the Active Manager on January 26, 2006.
On July 31, 2014, the Delaware Chancery Court issued its decision in Zutrau v. Jansing, C.A. No. 7457-VCP (Del. Ch. July 31, 2014) (Parsons, V.C.), requiring the parties to recalculate the payment to which the plaintiff was entitled because her 22% minority interest in a Delaware corporation was squeezed out through a reverse split that reduced her holding to less than one full share. The plaintiff in this case, a former employee of Ice Systems, Inc., brought a derivative suit in which she challenged numerous business decisions made by Ice Systems after her employment terminated and challenged compensation and expense reimbursement payments made to the CEO, who was also the 78% stockholder and the sole director. The plaintiff also (a) asked the Court to set aside the reverse split on the ground that it was made for the improper purpose of depriving her of the ability to bring a derivative suit, or alternatively (b) to increase the sum to which she was entitled as a result of the cancellation of her 22% interest through the reverse split.
The Court did not decide whether the plaintiff no longer had standing to sue derivatively because she was no longer a stockholder when she commenced the suit, because the defendant acknowledged that if Ice Systems would have been entitled to recover sums if the plaintiff had been able to sue derivatively, the corporation’s right to recover those sums would increase the amount to which the plaintiff is entitled because of the cancellation of her stock interest, and therefore, the outcome of her suit would be the same whether or not she was permitted to sue derivatively.
In In re Jenzabar, Inc. Derivative Litig., Vice Chancellor Sam Glasscock III held that a terminated trust that has not yet distributed to its beneficiaries shares of a corporation, cannot bring a derivative suit on behalf of the corporation. It “can take only those actions related to preserving its assets for purposes of distribution and wind-up, together with those actions for which the trust instrument specifies.”
The Gregory M. Raiff 2000 Trust (the “Trust”) was established in 2000. The terms of the Trust Instrument held that it was to terminate in 2002 and distribute all of its assets to another trust. However, the Trust assets, which included shares of Jenzabar, were never actually distributed after the Trust terminated in 2002. After the trustee filed this derivative action on behalf of the Trust in 2013, Jenzabar filed a motion to dismiss the derivative suit, arguing that the Trust lacked the capacity to sue because it had terminated. The Plaintiff countered that because the Trust had never distributed its assets, it still had the capacity to bring a derivative suit due to the fact that it still held Jenzabar stock.
Vice Chancellor Glasscock rejected this argument. He said that Massachusetts law, which governed the Trust, restricted the powers of a trustee of a terminated trust to what’s necessary to “preserve the trust property while winding up the trust and delivering any trust property to the beneficiary.” He said that post termination, the only litigation in which the Trust could engage was defensive action necessary to preserve its assets, pursuing litigation was not encompassed within the Trust’s limited powers and thus, it lacked the capacity to pursue the derivative action.