Topic: Business Judgment

Delaware Court of Chancery Rejects Business Judgment Rule Protection for Stockholder-Negotiated Redemption

By: Joanna A. Diakos Kordalis and Monica Romero

In In re Dell Tech. Inc. Class V. Stockholders Litig., Consol. C.A. No. 2018-0816-JTL (Del. Ch. Jun. 11, 2020), the Delaware Court of Chancery denied defendants’ motion to dismiss the breach of fiduciary duty claim asserted against them finding that the complaint alleged facts that made it “reasonably conceivable” that the safe harbor established by Kahn v. M & F Worldwide Corp., 88 A.3d 635 (Del. 2014), would not apply and defendants would not get the benefit of the business judgment rule.

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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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COURT OF CHANCERY DISMISSES EXCESSIVE PAY CLAIMS

By: Scott Waxman and Claire Suni

In Dahle et al. v. Pope et al., C.A. No. 2019-0136-SG (Del. Ch. 2020), the Delaware Court of Chancery (the “Court”) dismissed a derivative suit by stockholders of R.R. Donnelly & Sons Company (the “Company”) under Delaware Chancery Rule 23.1 (“Rule 23.1”) alleging excessive pay of the Company’s board of directors (the “Board’).  The Court found that a letter from the stockholders (the “Letter”) to the Board constituted a pre-suit litigation demand that had been rejected by the Board, and as a result, Plaintiffs’ claim was not entitled to proceed derivatively under Delaware law. {Hard Return}

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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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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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Undisclosed Post-Merger Compensation Plan for CEO Also Serving as Lead Merger Negotiator Found Insufficient to Rebut Business Judgment Rule and Insufficient to Show Board Acted in Bad Faith

By: Scott E. Waxman and Serena M. Hamann

In the class action, In re Towers Watson & Co. Stockholders Litigation, C.A. no. 2018-0132-KSJM (Del. Ch. July 25, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery dismissed the complaint in its entirety under Rule 12(b)(6) because the Plaintiffs failed to plead facts sufficient to rebut the application of the business judgment rule and failed to show the Towers Board acted in bad faith.

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Books and Records: Court Explains a Failure to Clear the Sometimes Deceptively Challenging Credible Basis Hurdle

By: David Forney and Rich Minice

In Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and Boston Retirement System v. Facebook, Inc., C.A. No. 2019-0228-JRS (Del. Ch. Oct. 29, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery reaffirmed its requirement that stockholders seeking records to investigate possible wrongdoing must have some credible basis from which the court can infer waste or mismanagement occurred. Here, following trial, the court granted judgment in favor of Facebook because the Plaintiffs (defined below) failed to make a credible showing, through documents, logic, testimony or otherwise, that there are or may be legitimate issues of wrongdoing which would warrant further investigation of the matter through grant of the books and records request.

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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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CHANCERY COURT DISMISSES COMPLAINT FOR FAILURE TO STATE A CLAIM, HOLDING THAT REVIEW OF SALE UNDER ENTIRE FAIRNESS IS NOT WARRANTED

By: Joanna Diakos and Adam Heyd

In Aron English and Richard Peppe v. Charles K. Narang, et al., C.A. No. 2018-0221-AGB (Del. Ch. March 20, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery (the “Court”) dismissed a stockholder suit against the board members of NCI, Inc., a publicly-traded company (the “Company”), for failure to state a claims for relief in connection with allegations of breach of fiduciary duty, and against H.I.G. Capital, LLC (“HIG”) for aiding and abetting such breach during a sale of the Company to HIG.  The Court held that the controlling stockholder’s alleged need for liquidity was not sufficient to compel review of the Company sale under an “entire fairness” standard, and that the vote of stockholders approving the sale was fully informed.

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Delaware Court of Chancery Dismisses Derivative Suit in Limited Partnership Context for Failing to Make Demand or Show Demand Futility

By: Scott Waxman and Zack Sager

In Inter-Marketing Group USA, Inc. v. Armstrong, the Delaware Court of Chancery dismissed a derivative suit brought on behalf of a Delaware limited partnership because the plaintiff failed to make demand or show that demand was futile.

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IN REJECTING DEFENDANTS’ MOTION FOR DISMISSAL, CHANCERY COURT FINDS THAT INDIVIDUAL FIDUCIARY MAY BE HELD LIABLE FOR TRADES THAT AN ASSOCIATED ENTITY OR FUND MAKES

By: Scott E. Waxman and Adrienne Wimberly

In the consolidated stockholder derivative litigation, In re Fitbit, Inc., CA No. 2017-0402-JRS (Del. Ch. Dec. 14, 2018), the Delaware Court of Chancery denied the Defendants’ motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ insider trading and breach of fiduciary duty claims. The claims stem from alleged insider knowledge of members of Fitbit’s Board of Directors (the Board) and chief financial officer that Fitbit’s PurePulse™ technology was not as accurate as the company claimed. Plaintiffs alleged that members of the Board structured the company’s Initial Public Offering (IPO) and Secondary Offering (together, “the Offerings”) to benefit Fitbit insiders and voted to waive employee lock-up agreements, thereby allowing those insiders, to prematurely sell stock in the Secondary Offering. As a result of their sales, the alleged insiders sold about 6.2 million shares for over $115 million in the IPO and about 9.62 million shares for over $270 million in the Secondary Offering.

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Fiduciary Duty Claim Against Selling Company CEO Survives Motion to Dismiss with Aiding and Abetting Claim Missing the Mark

By: Annette Becker and Michael Payant

In In re Xura, Inc. Stockholder Litigation (C.A. No. 12698-VCS), the Delaware Court of Chancery (the “Court”) denied a motion to dismiss brought by defendants Phillippe Tartavull (“Tartavull”) and Siris Capital Group (“Siris”, and collectively with Tartavull, the “Defendants”) in a case filed by Obsidian Management LLC (“Obsidian” or “Plaintiff”) for breach of fiduciary duty in connection with the sale of Xura, Inc. (“Xura”) to a Siris affiliate. The Court held that Plaintiff pled a viable breach of fiduciary duty claim against Tartavull as CEO of Xura. The Court granted a motion to dismiss as to an aiding and abetting claim brought against Siris holding that Plaintiff failed to plead a viable claim.

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