Topic: Breach of Fiduciary Duty

Court of Chancery Analyzes LLC Valuation Reports in Connection With Breach of Fiduciary Duty

By: Scott Waxman and Zack Sager

In Zachman v. Real Time Cloud Services, LLC, the Delaware Court of Chancery analyzed competing expert reports valuing a Delaware limited liability company in connection with a breach of fiduciary duty claim.  The Court also denied motions to exclude a valuation report and for sanctions relating to discovery abuses, and denied the Delaware limited liability company’s counterclaims for conversion and tortious interference with contract.

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ATTEMPT TO SEIZE CONTROL OF A BEVERAGE COMPANY? COURT OF CHANCERY FINDS INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE OF CIVIL CONSPIRACY

By: C. Cartwright Bibee and Claire Suni

In Todd O’Gara and Wanu Water, Inc. v. Sheldon Coleman, et al., C.A. No. 2018-0708-KSJM (Del. Ch. Feb. 14, 2020), the Delaware Court of Chancery (the “Court”) granted a motion to dismiss claims made in connection with an alleged conspiracy to seize control of a beverage company by certain former directors and current stockholders. The founder and the company itself filed the complaint asserting claims for breach of fiduciary duty, tortious interference with business relations and contract, civil conspiracy, and libel. The Court found that the complaint failed to plead facts satisfying the essential elements of each claim and, furthermore, did not establish personal jurisdiction over certain of the defendants.

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Derivative Suit Dismissed for Failing to Plead Demand Futility

By: Rem Kinne and Zack Sager

In Shabbouei v. Potdevin, C.A. No. 2018-0847-JRS (Del. Ch. Apr. 2, 2020), the Delaware Court of Chancery dismissed a derivative suit against the board of directors (the “Board”) of lululemon athletica inc. (the “Company”) by a Company stockholder (“Plaintiff”) for failing to plead demand futility.  The Court held that Plaintiff did not plead with the requisite particularity that the Board was self-interested in a Separation Agreement with the Company’s CEO Laurent Potdevin (“Potdevin”) negotiated by the Board and that the Board’s decision to settle with, instead of firing, Potdevin for cause was outside the bounds of proper business judgment.

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Delaware Court of Chancery Interprets “Sufficient Particularity” Pleading Standard Under Rule 23.1

By Annette E. Becker and Frank J. Mazzucco

In Robert Elburn v. Robert Albanese et al. and Investors Bancorp, Inc.,C.A. No. 2019-0774-JRS (Del. Ch. Apr. 21, 2020), defendants moved to dismiss a complaint under Court of Chancery Rules 12(b)(6) and 23.1 for failure to state viable claims and failure to plead demand futility.  The Delaware Court of Chancery (the “Court”) interpreted the “sufficient particularity” pleading standard under Rule 23.1, noting that demand futility was pled with sufficient particularity to raise doubt that the board of directors could act impartially in response to a litigation demand.

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WINDFALL OR FAIR? BREACH OF FIDUCIARY DUTY AND UNJUST ENRICHMENT CLAIM SURVIVES MOTION TO DISMISS

By Whitney J. Smith and Mehreen Ahmed

In Gary D.  Voigt v. James S. Metcalf et. al. and NCI Building Systems, Inc., C.A. No. 2018-0828-JTL (Del Ch. Feb. 10, 2020), the court denied defendants’ motion to dismiss, finding that the transaction at issue should be reviewed under the entire fairness standard and that the plaintiff, a stockholder of NCI Building Systems, Inc. (“NCI”), successfully stated claims for breach of fiduciary duty and unjust enrichment against private equity firm Clayton, Dubilier, & Rice (“CD&R”) and most of NCI’s directors in connection with a stock-for-stock merger between NCI and Ply Gem Parent, LLC (“Ply Gem”). The headline issue for the motion to dismiss was whether the plaintiff had pled facts that made it reasonably conceivable that CD&R controlled NCI despite owning less than a majority of NCI’s outstanding shares.

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Chancery Orders Accounting for Payments to Former Director and CEO Affiliate; Rejects Most Breach of Fiduciary Duty Claims

By: Remsen Kinne and Pouya Ahmadi

In Avande, Inc. v. Shawn Evans, C.A. No. 2018-0203-AGB (Del. Ch. Aug. 13, 2019), the Court of Chancery rejected most of the claims brought by Avande, Inc. (“Avande”) against Avande’s former director and chief executive officer (“CEO”) Shawn Evans (“Evans”) other than a claim for breach of fiduciary duty for engaging in self-interested transactions, authorizing improper expenditures and failure to maintain appropriate documentation of expenditures. The Court awarded Avande only $21,817.70 of the more than $5.3 million in damages sought to recover from Evans. The Court held that DC Risk Solutions, Inc. (“DC Risk”), an affiliate of Evans that provided Avande insurance broker services and bookkeeping services, would be liable as an aider and abettor for any damages that are assessed as a result of the accounting ordered by the Court as to payments made to DC Risk.

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Chancery Court Calls Plaintiffs’ Bet by Granting in Part and Denying in Part Partial Motion to Dismiss Breach of Fiduciary Duty Claims in Case Alleging Failure to Disclose Material Facts and Structuring a Transaction for Defendants’ Personal Financial Benefit

By Joanna Diakos and Alidad Vakili

The Delaware Court of Chancery granted in part and denied in part Plaintiff’s partial motion to dismiss, finding that the standard for breach of fiduciary duty was not met as against certain directors and officers of the Company based on allegations they failed to disclose facts relating to a tender offer, but was met as against the directors and one of the officers on allegations that they approved a tender offer where they were expected to receive a personal financial benefit.

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Court Reviews Fiduciary Disclosure Obligations in Connection with Seeking Investments

By Annette E. Becker and Samira F. Torshizi

In Clark v. Davenport, C.A. No. 2017-0839-JTL (Del. Ch. July 18, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery ruled on a motion to dismiss claims brought by Plaintiff Kenneth Clark (“Clark” or “Plaintiff”) against former officers, directors, and controlling stockholders of a now-defunct Basho Technologies Inc. (“Basho”) by an investor, who accused defendants of violating their fiduciary duties and committing fraud by inducing plaintiff to invest millions in what defendants knew was a failing enterprise.  The motions to dismiss were granted in part and denied in part dependent on the involvement of the particular defendant in the scheme. 

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Delaware Court of Chancery Finds That “Blocking Rights” Exercised By Minority Investors May Amount to an “Actual Control” Position

By Scott E. Waxman and Frank J. Mazzucco

In Skye Mineral Investors, LLC and Clarity Copper, LLC v. DXS Capital (U.S.) Limited et al., C.A. No. 2018-0059-JRS (Del. Ch. Feb. 24, 2020), the Delaware Court of Chancery allowed claims to survive a motion to dismiss when such claims sufficiently pled that, by exercising certain “blocking rights,” minority members of an LLC achieved an actual control position over the LLC and, in bankrupting the LLC’s subsidiary in order to purchase its assets at a reduced price, breached their related fiduciary duties.

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Transactions Involving Controlling Stockholder as a Result of Actual or Inherent Coercion are Subject to Entire Fairness Standard of Review

By: Annette Becker and Rich Minice

In In re Tesla Motors, Inc. Stockholder Litigation, C.A. No. 12711-VC (Del. Ch. Feb. 4, 2020), the Delaware Court of Chancery rejected the defendants’ (Elon Musk and the Tesla, Inc. (“Tesla”) board of directors (“Defendants”)) novel position that “inherent coercion” doctrine–as it relates to a controlling stockholder–evaporates when a case for breach of fiduciary duty moves beyond the pleading stage and stockholder ratification exists, and re-affirmed the Delaware principle that entire fairness is the appropriate standard of review.  The Court rejected motions for summary judgment by both parties finding that there remained issues of material fact to be determined as to whether stockholder ratification was fully informed and uncoerced, and whether a majority of the Tesla board of directors approving the merger was independent.

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Directors Breach Fiduciary Duties in Coercive Self-Tender

By: Annette Becker and Serena Hamann

In Robert A. Davidow v. LRN Corporation, et al., C.A. No. 2019-0150-MTZ (Del. Ch. Feb. 25, 2020), the Delaware Court of Chancery denied a motion to dismiss breach of fiduciary duty claims brought against the founder and two directors (the “Individual Defendants”) of LRN Corporation, a corporation that advises on ethics and compliance (“LRN”) because the plaintiff (on behalf of the former stockholders who tendered shares in the tender offer) (“Plaintiff”) adequately pled facts sufficient to state a claim that the Individual Defendants breached their fiduciary duties by launching a coercive self-tender at an unfair price, providing inadequate disclosure, and authorizing the self-tender notwithstanding the Individual Directors’ interestedness.

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Out of the money: breach of fiduciary duty claim survives motion to dismiss when the board approved an asset sale that left no consideration for the common unitholders

By: Scott E. Waxman and Chris Fry

In JJS, Ltd., et al., v. Steelpoint CP Holdings, LLC, et al., No. 2019-0072-KSJM (Del. Ch. 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery (the “Court”) held that John Sarkisian, individually and on behalf of JJS, Ltd. and PPS Investors Ltd., L.P. (together, the “Plaintiffs”) successfully stated a claim for breach of fiduciary duty against a venture capital fund and its appointed board members in approving a transaction for the asset sale of Pro Performance Sports, LLC (the “Company”) where the common unitholders receive no compensation, the board members are under common ownership or employment with the venture capital fund, and one board member received an extraordinary severance package. The Court dismissed the Plaintiffs’ remaining claims, which turned on the interpretation of the voting rights provision of the limited liability company (“LLC”) agreement of the Company, finding that the operative language was not ambiguous and that a careful reading of the agreement would have given Plaintiffs notice of the voting rights mechanics. 

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