Topic: Breach of Fiduciary Duty

Delaware Court of Chancery Holds That Third-Party Stockholder Has Standing to Enforce Anti-Takeover Protections

By Scott E. Waxman and Frank J. Mazzucco

In Arkansas Teacher Retirement System v. Alon USA Energy, Inc., et al., C.A. No. 2017-0453-KSJM (Del. Ch. Jun. 28, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery found that a plaintiff stockholder, in connection with a merger, had standing as a third-party beneficiary to bring claims for breach of fiduciary duty and breach of a stockholder agreement.

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Delaware Court of Chancery Allows Derivative Claim To Proceed Regarding Allegedly “Grossly Excessive” Non-Employee Director Compensation

By Remsen Kinne and Frank J. Mazzucco

In Stein v. Blankfein et al., C.A. No. 2017-0354-SG (Del. Ch. May 31, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery, in considering a motion to dismiss, allowed a stockholder’s derivative claim to proceed against an entity’s non-employee directors alleging that such director compensation was grossly excessive and thus represented a breach of the fiduciary duty of loyalty.

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Chancery Court Reaffirms Protection of Mandatory Advancement Rights

By: David Forney and Rich Minice

In Nielsen v. EBTH Inc., C.A. No. 2019-0164-MTZ (Del. Ch. Sep. 30, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery reaffirmed its standard favoring advancement of expenses to officers or directors of a company where the corporation provides mandatory advancement rights either by its certificate of incorporation (“Charter”) or separate indemnification agreements. The court granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs because they (i) either used their corporate powers or such powers were necessary for the commission of the alleged misconduct in the underlying action; or (ii) the alleged misconduct in the underlying action is inextricably intertwined with the actions taken in the plaintiffs’ former capacities as officers or directors, such that the plaintiffs would necessarily be required to disprove allegations that they acted improperly as such. Advancement is appropriate when either of the two prongs for this nexus test are met.

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CHANCERY COURT ALLOWS CLAIMS DUE TO MANAGER’S ALLEGIANCE TO PARTICULAR EQUITY HOLDERS OVER THE COMPANY

By: Scott E. Waxman and Douglas A. Logan

In Klein and Cambridge Therapeutic Technologies, LLC, v. Wasserman et al., C.A. No. 2017-0643-KSJM (May 29, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery addressed claims of breach of fiduciary duties, tortious interference, and civil conspiracy. Defendants’ motion to dismiss the claims was granted in part and denied in part.

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MAINTAINING GOOD CORPORATE GOVERNANCE: ENTIRE FAIRNESS CREEPING INTO ACTIONS BENEFITING A CONTROLLING STOCKHOLDER

By: Scott Waxman and Rich Minice

In Tornetta v. Musk, Civil Action No. 2018-0408-JRS (Del. Ch. Sep. 30, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery addressed the appropriate standard of review to apply when examining stockholder approval of a conflicted controller for the controller’s own executive incentive compensation package. In January 2018, Tesla, Inc.’s board of directors (the “Board”) approved a compensation package (the “Award”) for its CEO, Elon Musk. The Board then submitted the Award to Tesla’s stockholders for approval. The Award was overwhelmingly approved. Tornetta (“Plaintiff”), a Tesla stockholder, brought four direct and derivative claims against Musk and members of the Board (the “Defendants”) alleging the Award is a product of breaches of fiduciary duty, constitutes waste, and unjustly enriches Musk. The Defendants moved to dismiss all counts under Rule 12(b)(6) (the “Motion”).

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A SIGNATURE ALONE IS NOT DISPOSITIVE EVIDENCE OF AN INTENT TO BE BOUND IN AN AGREEMENT

By: Scott E. Waxman and Mehreen Ahmed

In Eagle Force Holdings, LLC, and EF Investments, LLC, v. Stanley V. Campbell, 2999991.08000 (Del. Ch. Aug. 29, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery (the “Court”) held that Stanley Campbell’s (“Campbell”) conduct and communications with the Plaintiff before and during the signing of the transaction documents did not constitute an overt manifestation of assent to be bound by the documents. Therefore, the breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty claims failed.

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Director Independence and Demand Futility: A Holistic Inquiry of the Pleading

By: Josh Gaul and Rich Minice

In In re BGC Partners, Inc. Derivative Litigation, Civil Action No. 2018-0722-AGB (Del. Ch. Sep. 30, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery denied motions to dismiss for (i) failure to establish demand futility and (ii) failure to state a claim for relief (the “Motions”) filed by nominal defendant BGC Partners, Inc. (“BGC”), its affiliates CF Group Management, Inc. (“CF”) and Cantor Fitzgerald L.P. (“Cantor”), Howard Lutnick, the CEO, Chairman of the Board, and controlling stockholder of BGC (“Lutnick”), and four “independent” members of the Board of Directors of BGC (the “Special Committee Defendants” and all of which, together, are the “Defendants”). In denying the Motions in this stockholder derivative litigation, the court primarily discussed and applied recent guidance from the Delaware Supreme Court on the Aronson test for demand futility. In re BGC Partners, Inc. puts controlling stockholders on notice that their professional and personal ties to board members may undermine the purported independence of those board members.

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Delaware Court of Chancery Allows Stockholder’s Derivative Claim to Proceed Against Alleged Controlling Stockholder Under Entire Fairness Standard of Review

By Scott E. Waxman and Frank Mazzucco

In Reith v. Lichtenstein et al., C.A. No. 2018-0277-MTZ (Del. Ch. Jun. 28, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery, in considering a motion to dismiss, allowed a stockholder’s derivative complaint to proceed against a minority stockholder under the entire fairness standard of review, because the complaint had sufficiently alleged that such minority stockholder, by exercising “actual control” as part of transactions being challenged, was effectively a controlling shareholder and thus owed fiduciary duties.

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LIMITED PARTNERSHIP IS DISSOLVED BECAUSE IT CANNOT FULFILL ITS PURPOSE

By Scott E. Waxman and Annamarie C. Larson

In GMF ELCM Fund L.P. et al v. ELCM HCRE GP LLC et al, C.A. No. 2018-0840-SG (Del. Ch. August 7, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery granted a petition for dissolution of a Delaware limited partnership, ELCM Healthcare Real Estate Fund LP (the “Fund”), because the principal of the general partner, Andrew White, was unwilling or unable to conduct the business of the Fund to fulfill the purpose set forth in its limited partnership agreement.

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Delaware Court of Chancery Applies Entire Fairness Review in Finding That Controlling Stockholders and Special Committee Members Breached Fiduciary Duties to Target Stockholders

By Lisa Stark and Frank Mazzucco

In FrontFour Capital Group LLC v. Taube, C.A. No. 2019-0100-KSJM (Del. Ch. Mar. 11, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery found that, due to their conduct in connection with two mergers of affiliated entities, controlling stockholders and special committee members breached their fiduciary duties to target stockholders under the entire fairness standard of review and failed to provide certain material disclosures to stockholders.

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In a Reckless Re-price, Results are not Realized

By David L. Forney and Tom Sperber

In Howland v. Kumar, C.A. no. 2018-0804-KSJM, the Delaware Chancery Court issued a Memorandum Opinion under Chancery Rule 12(b)(6) denying a motion to dismiss claims of breach of fiduciary duty and unjust enrichment on the basis that the defendants repriced stock options that they held immediately prior to making a public announcement that was sure to increase the stock price.  The Court also ruled under Chancery Rule 23.1 that the plaintiff adequately plead demand excusal. Thomas S. Howland, Jr. (“Plaintiff”), a stockholder of Anixa Biosciences, Inc. (“Anixa”), brought two derivative claims against Anixa and its directors and officers. The Anixa board of directors consisted of Chairman, President, and CEO Amit Kumar (“Kumar”), Lewis H. Titterton, Jr. (“Titterton”), Arnold M. Baskies (“Baskies”), John Monahan (“Monahan”), and David Cavalier (“Cavalier”). The officers included Kumar, John A. Roop (“Roop”), Michael J. Catelani (“Catelani”) and Anthony Campisi (“Campisi”, collectively, “Individual Defendants,” and, collectively with Anixa, “Defendants”).

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PLAINTIFF ALLEGED FACTS SUFFICIENT TO SUPPORT CLAIMS AGAINST DEFENDANTS TO SURVIVE A MOTION TO DISMISS

By Annette E. Becker and Annamarie C. Larson

In Chester County Employees’ Retirement Fund v. KCG Holdings, Inc. et al, C.A. No. 2017-0421-KSJM (Del. Ch. June 21, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss claims of breach of fiduciary duty, aiding and abetting, and civil conspiracy brought against the largest stockholder of KCG Holdings, Inc. (“KCG”), its directors, and its long time financial advisor for failure to maximize value for KCG stockholders when negotiating the merger transaction due to certain actions taken by influencers during the sale process.  The Court held that the plaintiff stockholders adequately pled their claims against the defendants to avoid dismissal of claims. 

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