Archive: December 3, 2014

I​​​​n re Zhongpin Inc. Stockholders Litig., C.A. No. 7393-VCN (November 26, 2014) (V.C. Noble)

By Elise Gabriel and David Bernstein

In In re Zhongpin, shareholders of Zhongpin Inc. (“Zhongpin” or the “Company”) brought a class action complaint for breach of fiduciary duty against Xianfu Zhu (“Zhu”), Zhongpin’s CEO and chairman of the board, and Zhongpin’s board of directors (the “Board”) in relation to a merger through which Zhu – who owned 17.3% of Zhongpin’s common stock – would acquire the remainder of the Company’s outstanding shares for $13.50 per share in cash. The transaction was approved by an independent committee of Zhongpin’s Board and the Merger Agreement required approval by a majority of the unrelated stockholders, although this requirement had not appeared in Zhu’s original proposal to Zhongpin’s Board.

On the defendants’ motion to dismiss, the Court held that the plaintiffs had stated a claim for breach of fiduciary duty against Zhu and the individual defendants. The Court stated that plaintiffs had adequately alleged that Zhu was a controlling stockholder even though he owned only 17.3% of Zhongpin’s stock by pointing to a statement in Zhongpin’s Form 10-K that referred to Zhu as “our controlling stockholder” and that said that as a result of the stock ownership “our controlling stockholder” was able to exercise significant influence over a variety of matters, including election of directors, the amount of dividends, if any, new securities issuances and mergers and acquisitions. The Court further held that the transaction was subject to review under the entire fairness standard rather than the business judgment rule because, even though the Merger Agreement required approval by a majority of the unrelated stockholders (and that approval was obtained), Zhu’s original proposal had not included a majority of the minority requirement at the outset. Finally, the Court was unwilling to dismiss the claims against the directors even though Zhongpin’s certificate of incorporation contained a provision under DGCL Section 102(b)(7) protecting directors against monetary liability, because, in a case subject to the entire fairness standard, a claim against directors cannot be dismissed until there is a determination as to entire fairness.

In re Zhongpin

In re Sanchez Energy Derivative Litig., C.A. No. 9132-VCG (November 25, 2014) (Glasscock, V.C.)

By Priya Chadha and David Bernstein

In In re Sanchez Energy, Vice Chancellor Glasscock granted a motion to dismiss in a shareholder derivative action because the plaintiffs had failed to make a demand on the Board, holding that the plaintiffs failed to meet Rule 23.1’s particularized pleading standards for demand futility.  The case centered around a transaction in which Sanchez Energy Corporation (“Sanchez Energy”), a publicly held corporation, purchased property at $2500/acre from Sanchez Resources, LLC (“Sanchez Resources”), a privately held, company, which Sanchez Resources had purchased for  $184/acre.  Two members of the Sanchez family—A.R. Sanchez Jr. and A.R. Sanchez III—owned a combined 21.5% of the shares of Sanchez Energy and served on its board of directors, which had three other members.  Those three members comprised Sanchez Energy’s audit committee, which approved the transaction.

The court rejected the plaintiff’s claim that demand would have been futile because the three members of the Audit Committee were not independent.  The Vice Chancellor said the plaintiffs had failed to show the audit committee members’ social and business relationships with the Sanchezes were such that “the non-interested director would be more willing to risk his or her reputation than risk the relationship with the interested director.”  He also rejected Plaintiffs’ arguments that the Sanchezes should be treated as controlling shareholders because they failed to show that the Sanchezes controlled the board or the negotiation process for the transaction.  Vice Chancellor Glasscock pointed to the fact that transaction was approved by the Audit Committee and that the Sanchezes owned at most a combined 21.5% stake in Sanchez Energy as evidence that the Sanchezes were not controlling shareholders.  Lastly, VC Glasscock rejected the idea that because of  the huge disparity between what Sanchez Resources paid to acquire the property and what Sanchez Energy paid to acquire the property from Sanchez Resources, the transaction was so facially unfair that it could not have been the product of valid business judgment, noting, among other things, that between Sanchez Resources’ initial purchase and its sale to Sanchez Energy, half of the property had been developed and found to contain proven oil reserves.

Thus, because the Complaint failed to specifically please facts excusing demand, the Court dismissed the Complaint.

In Re Sanchez

In Re Comverge, Inc. Shareholders Litigation

By Sherwin Salar and Whitney Smith

In Re Comverge, Inc. Shareholders Litigation involves a stockholder challenge to a merger between Comverge, Inc. and H.I.G Capital, L.L.C.  The plaintiff stockholders of Comverge contend that the Comverge board of directors (the “Board”) breached their fiduciary duties by: (1) conducting a flawed sales process and not suing HIG for an alleged breach of a non-disclosure agreement between the parties (the “NDA”); and (2) agreeing to deal protection measures that precluded the possibility of a topping bid.  On November 25, 2014, Vice Chancellor Parsons granted HIG’s motion to dismiss with respect to the first claim, but denied the motion on the second claim.  Furthermore, Vice Chancellor Parsons dismissed Plaintiffs’ claim that HIG aided and abetted the Board’s breaches of fiduciary duties, stating that even if there was a predicate breach of fiduciary duties by the Board, the Plaintiffs only allege conclusory facts that do not support a claim that HIG participated in those breaches.

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