Archive: 2018

Chancery Court Awards Damages for Breach of Fiduciary Duty Stemming from Director’s Refusal to Sign Self-Help Documents

By: C.J. Voss and Rich Minice

In CertiSign Holding, Inc. v. Sergio Kulikovsky, C.A. No. 12055-VCS, the Court found that Sergio Kulikovsky (“Kulikovsky”), a former director of CertiSign Holding, Inc. (“CertiSign”), had breached his fiduciary duty of loyalty to CertiSign by actively sabotaging corporate self-help efforts in a bid to advance his own personal objectives. The Court also denied Kulikovsky’s counterclaims for judicial validation of certain stock option grants and the assumption by CertiSign of a debt owed to Kulikovsky, and awarded Certisign damages in the amount of $390,455.20 for the “legal fees and expenses incurred by CertiSign in connection with its efforts to remedy its defective capitalization and board issues.”

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Chancery Court Awards Fees in Corporate Benefit Doctrine Case

By: Annette Becker and Will Smith

In Full Value Partners, L.P. v. Swiss Helvetia Fund, Inc., et. al., C.A. No. 2017-0303-AGB (Del. Ch. June 7, 2018), the Delaware Court of Chancery granted the plaintiff stockholder’s motion for an award of attorney’s fees under the corporate benefit doctrine because the plaintiff’s claim in the underlying stockholder litigation was meritorious when filed and produced a benefit to the defendant corporation.

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Chancery Court Clarifies “Constituent Corporation”

By: Stephan H. Coonrod and Stephanie S. Liu

In City of North Miami Beach General Employees’ Retirement Plan, et al. v. Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Inc., et al., (C.A. No. 2018-0227-AGB (Del. Ch. June 1, 2018)), the Court of Chancery held that the term “constituent corporation” as used in Section 262 of the Delaware General Corporation Law means only an entity that actually is being merged or combined with another entity in a merger or consolidation and does not include a parent of such entities. Thus, the Court ruled that the Dr Pepper stockholder plaintiffs are not entitled to appraisal rights because Dr Pepper is not a constituent corporation, but rather the parent of one of two corporations to be merged in connection with the proposed transaction.

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CONSENT TO JURISDICTION DOES NOT EQUAL MANDATORY FORUM SELECTION

By Scott E. Waxman and Annamarie C. Larson

In In re Bay Hills Emerging Partners I, L.P., et al (C.A. No. 2018-0234-JRS), Vice Chancellor Slights denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss claims related to their “for cause” removal as general partners, instead staying the action pending resolution of the claims filed in a Kentucky court.  Regarding the forum selection issue, the Court of Chancery held that “the inclusion of the consent language and the lack of language indicating that Kentucky is the exclusive forum—such as by the use of the term ‘any’—[the LPA] does not contain clear language indicating that jurisdiction and venue must lie exclusively in Kentucky.”

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CHANCERY COURT SETS FAIR VALUE IN APPRAISAL ACTION BELOW THE VALUATIONS SUGGESTED BY THE PARTIES

By: Scott Waxman and Benjamin Kendall

In Verition Partners Master Fund Ltd. v. Aruba Networks, Inc., C.A. No. 11448-VCL (Del. Ch. May 21, 2018), the Delaware Court of Chancery denied a motion for reargument of its earlier decision setting the appraisal value of the shares of Aruba Networks, Inc. (“Aruba” or the “Company”) at the time of its acquisition by Hewlett-Packard Company (“HP”).  Although the merger agreement offered $24.67 per share of the Company, and the Company ultimately suggested that the fair value of the Company’s shares was $19.75, the Court of Chancery set the fair value of the Company’s shares at $17.13. In denying the motion for reargument, the Court of Chancery reiterated its position that the trial court must independently determine the fair value of the shares in an appraisal proceeding and that the market price of a publicly traded firm can itself be an accurate measurement of fair value.

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MOTION FOR A TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER OF CONTROLLING STOCKHOLDERS DENIED AS NO EXTRAORDINARY CIRCUMSTANCES FOUND

By Annette Becker and Caitlin Velasco

In CBS Corporation, et al. v. National Amusements, Inc., et al., Civil Action No. 2018-0342-AGB, the Court of Chancery denied a motion for temporary retraining order brought by CBS Corporation (“CBS”) and five independent directors of CBS (the “Plaintiffs”) to restrain controlling shareholders, Shari Redstone, her father Sumner Redstone, National Amusements, Inc. (“NAI”), NAI Entertainment Holdings LLC, and the Sumner M. Redstone National Amusements Trust (the “Defendants”) from taking certain actions that would interfere with the governance of CBS or other proposed actions of the board of directors of CBS.  The Court found that there was no precedent for the type of relief requested by Plaintiff and that no extraordinary circumstances existed to warrant the grant of such relief. Read More

Chancery Court Allows Complaint Alleging Waste of Corporate Assets to Move Forward to Discovery as a Result of Extreme Facts

By Annette Becker and Rashida Stevens

In R.A. Feuer on behalf of CBS Corporation v. Sumner M. Redstone (C.A. No. 12575-CB (Del. Ch. April 19, 2018)), R. A. Feuer (“Plaintiff”), a stockholder of CBS Corporation (“CBS”) brought a derivative suit against the directors of CBS Corporation (“Board”) alleging corporate waste, bad faith, and unjust enrichment for compensation in excess of $13 million dollars paid to Sumner Redstone, the controlling stockholder, former executive chairman and chairman emeritus of CBS (“Redstone”).  The payments were made under an extreme set of circumstances that resulted in the claims partially surviving a Rule 23.1 motion to dismiss for failure to make a pre-suit demand on the board and a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Read More

CHANCERY COURT FINDS REQUEST FOR SPECIFIC ENFORCEMENT OF A PARTNERSHIP INTEREST CALL RIGHT IS PROVED BY CLEAR AND CONVINCING EVIDENCE

By Scott E. Waxman and Joseph Phelps

In Simon-Mills II, LLC v. Kan Am USA XVI Ltd. Partnership, No. 8520-VCG (Del. Ch. May 30, 2018), the plaintiffs, a number of entities organized under an umbrella real estate investment trust and referred to as “Simon,” sought specific performance of a call right applicable to partnership interests under a joint venture agreement (the “JVA”) with the defendant Kan Am, a group of Delaware limited partnerships.  In exchange for the called units, Simon proposed to issue to Kan Am units (the “Successor Units”) that it argued had “substantially the same” rights as the originally contemplated consideration units (the “Original Units”).  The Court of Chancery concluded that the Successor Units did indeed have “substantially the same” rights as the Original Units, within the meaning of the JVA, and that Simon proved by clear and convincing evidence that it was entitled to specific performance of the call right. Read More

Manager is Entitled to Books and Records in Capacity as Manager, and as a Member Under the LLC Agreement, Despite Assertion of Improper Purpose

By: Scott E. Waxman and Douglas A. Logan

In William T. Obeid v. Gemini Real Estate Advisors, LLC, et al., (C.A. No. 2017-0510-JTL (Del. Ch. June 5, 2018)) the Court ruled the manager of a limited liability company had an essentially unfettered right to access the books and records of the company.

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Misunderstanding Regarding Dates Does Not Provide Grounds to Reform Earn-Out Provision in Purchase Agreement, Rules Chancery Court

By Scott E. Waxman and H. Corinne Smith

In Glidepath Limited v. Beumer Corporation, the Delaware Court of Chancery ruled against the sellers of a limited liability company, holding that the purchase agreement should not be reformed to correct the dates comprising the earn-out period for the transaction. The Court reasoned that while the seller was in fact mistaken about the terms of the agreement, there was neither a mutual mistake nor a unilateral mistake with knowing silence; additionally, the Court was unable to reform the contract because the parties did not come to a specific prior understanding that differed from the written agreement.

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Chancery Court Denies In Part Motion to Dismiss Breach of Contract and Breach of Fiduciary Duties Claims

By Shoshannah Katz and Priya Chadha

In Feldman v. Soon-Shiong, et al. (C.A No. 2017-0487-AGB), the Delaware Court of Chancery denied in part and granted in part a motion to dismiss claims involving, among other things, breach of contract and breach of the fiduciary duty of loyalty, following a defendant’s withdrawal of $47 million from a company bank account.

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Chancery Court Finds That Interested Directors Breached Their Fiduciary Duties in Granting Themselves Stock Options But Awards Nominal Damages

By Lisa Stark and Mark Hammes

In Ravenswood Investment Company v. Winmill & Co. (C.A. No. 3730-VCS and 7048-VCS (Del Ch. March 21, 2018)), plaintiff Ravenswood Investment Company (“Ravenswood”), a stockholder of Winmill & Co. (the “Company”), brought a derivative suit against the directors of the Company, Bassett, Thomas and Mark Winmill (“Defendants”) alleging that Defendants breached their fiduciary duties in two respects. First, they granted overly generous stock options to themselves (as Company officers). Second, they caused the Company to forgo audits of the Company’s financials and to stop disseminating information to the Company’s stockholders in retaliation for Ravenswood’s assertion of inspection rights. Following a trial, the Delaware Chancery Court entered judgment for Ravenswood as to the first theory and for Defendants as to the second. After finding that there was insufficient evidence to support cancellation, rescission, rescissory damages or some other form of damages, the Court awarded nominal damages to the Company of $1 per Defendant.

In Ravenswood, the Company provided investment management services and its shares were traded on NASDAQ until it was delisted in 2004, and then over-the-counter on the Pink Sheets. During all relevant time periods, Defendants comprised the entirety of the board of directors of the Company. They were also founders, stockholders, and officers of the Company. When the Company’s 1995 stock option plan expired in 2005, Defendants, in their capacity as directors, adopted a new performance equity plan (the “PEP”). Each Defendant, in his capacity as an officer of the Company, received options to purchase 100,000 shares of stock at $2.948 per share under the PEP. At the time, approximately 1.5 million shares were outstanding and the Company’s stock traded at $2.68 per share. The Defendants chose not to hire a compensation consultant, instead relying on their own ad-hoc analysis of comparable companies, many of which were much larger than the Company.

Approximately 18 months later, each of the Defendants exercised options to purchase 66,666 shares. Each Defendant paid $1,532.39 in cash and gave a $195,000 promissory note to the Company for the remainder of the purchase price. Following the exercise, each of the Defendants paid interest on the notes, but a little over a year later, in April 2008, in their capacity as board members, they forgave Thomas’ note entirely and forgave Mark’s note in three tranches over three years. Although Bassett’s note was not forgiven, later he became unable to pay the note when due and entered into a replacement note with a longer maturity. Years later, following his death, his estate finally paid off the note.

In addition, following the Company’s delisting, it continued to prepare audited financial statements until 2011, when, for cost reasons, the Defendants decided not to engage in further audits and ceased distributing financial information to stockholders.

Plaintiffs brought suit on a number of theories, which by the time of the trial, had been reduced to two theories for violation of the Defendants’ fiduciary duty of loyalty: first, that the stock options were improperly authorized and granted, and second, that the Defendants’ decision to cease distributing financial information was an improper decision in retaliation against Plaintiff, who had previously brought an action against Defendants.

After a two-day trial, the Court entered judgment for the Plaintiff on the first theory and for Defendants on the second. As to the first claim, the Court first held that the entire fairness standard applied to the PEP adoption and stock option grants as “[d]irectors who stand on both sides of a transaction have the burden of establishing its entire fairness.” The Court explained that entire fairness requires a showing that directors acted with utmost good faith and the most scrupulous inherent fairness of the bargain. This requires a showing of both fair dealing and fair price.

In analyzing fair dealing, the Court described the Defendants’ process as “neither well-documented nor well-substantiated” and in fact stated that “the term ‘process’ does not really fit here; the evidence reveals that there really was no process.” There were no contemporaneous records and no indication that the board sought the advice of any outside advisor or consulted any literature or other sources. Defendants’ only decision-making tool appeared to be comparing the PEP and proposed options to compensation plans of alleged peer companies, but the Court described this tool as “severely flawed” due to labelling companies as peers in a way that was “simply not credible” because nearly all of them were much larger than the Company. Thus the Court concluded that the stock option grants were not the result of fair dealing.

The Court next analyzed the fairness of the pricing of the options. The Court held that the initial price was fair, but the Company’s actions in forgiving notes resulted in a total payment for the options that was not fair. The Court explained that these decisions may have made perfect sense if this family business were really a family business where the Defendants were the only stakeholders, but in a public company setting these decisions resulted in an unfair price and thus a breach of the Defendants’ fiduciary duties.

The Court denied the Plaintiff’s second theory, explaining that Delaware law presumes that the directors of a Delaware corporation make business decisions on an informed basis and in the honest belief that their decision is in the corporation’s best interests. To overcome that presumption, plaintiffs must show that directors “appeared on both sides of the transaction or derived a personal benefit from a transaction in the sense of self-dealing.” The Court held that since Plaintiff had presented no evidence that the Directors ceased distributing financial information due to an improper motive rather than their claimed rationale of lowering costs and reducing the risk of disclosure-related litigation, Defendants were entitled to the protection of the business judgment rule and did not breach their fiduciary duty with respect to the second theory.

Finally, the Court discussed potential remedies. Plaintiff sough compensatory damages, but the Court held that it failed to present any evidence upon which the Court could award compensatory damages to the Company. Plaintiff also sought cancellation of the shares or rescission, but the Court explained that cancellation and rescission would not be appropriate without returning the parties to the status quo ante, which would require returning to Defendants what money they had paid for the shares. Since the Company lacked the funds to do so, these remedies were not appropriate. Finally, the Court held that Plaintiff had also failed to present evidence on which the Court could award rescissory damages. Thus, with no other measure of damages available, the Court awarded nominal damages to the Company in the amount of $1 per Defendant.

Ravenswood Investment Company v. Winmill & Co., Inc.

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