Topic: Business Judgment

Board’s Lack of Independence from Interested Director Excuses Stockholder Demand as Futile

By: Christopher B. Tillson and J. Tyler Moser

In Sciabacucchi v. Liberty Broadband Corp., et al., C.A. No. 11418-VCG (Del. Ch. July 26, 2018), the Delaware Court of Chancery denied in part a motion to dismiss brought by defendants Liberty Broadband Corporation (“Liberty”), Liberty’s largest stockholder, and the board of directors of Charter Communications, Inc. (“Charter,” and collectively “Defendants”), for failure to plead demand futility.  The Court ruled that the Plaintiff, a stockholder of Charter, pleaded sufficient facts to support a reasonable inference that the influence of Liberty’s largest stockholder would prevent the Charter board of directors from exercising independent and disinterested business judgment when considering a demand to bring a lawsuit on behalf of the corporation.

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CHANCERY COURT FINDS TRANSACTION STRUCTURE CAN TRIGGER PRESUMPTIONS OF BUSINESS JUDGMENT DEFERENCE AT PLEADING STAGE

Nicholas Oleinik…v. Frank A. Lodzinski, et al., and Earthstone Energy,…

By: Carty Bibee and Samantha Beatty

In Olenik v. Lodzinski, C.A. No. 2017-0414-JRS (Del. Ch. July 20, 2018), the Court of Chancery, in a motion to dismiss, found that Earthstone Energy, Inc.’s (“Earthstone”) decision to employ the framework laid out in Kahn v. M&F Worldwide, Corp., 88 A.3d 635 (Del. 2014) (“MFW”) in structuring a transaction secured the benefit of the business judgment rule for its fiduciaries, even at the pleadings stage.  The Court found that where the Plaintiff failed to plead waste, or facts which the Court could reasonably conceive as waste, the Plaintiff’s claim that officers and the controlling stockholder breached their fiduciary duties by approving an unfair transaction as interested parties, must be dismissed.

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Court of Chancery Dismisses Derivative Suit for Failure to Demonstrate Demand Futility because Plaintiff Failed to Allege Particularized Facts

By: Charles Carter and Caitlin Velasco

In Steinberg on behalf of Hortonworks, Inc. v. Bearden, C.A. No. 2017-0286-AGB (Del. Ch. May 30, 2018), the Delaware Court of Chancery granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the stockholder plaintiff’s derivative claims for breach of fiduciary duties under Court of Chancery Rule 23.1, because the plaintiff failed to make a pre-suit demand or demonstrate that doing so would be futile. The Court found that the plaintiff failed to plead particularized facts sufficient to raise reasonable doubt that a majority of the directors on the Hortonworks, Inc. board could have exercised their independent and disinterested business judgment in responding to a pre-suit demand. Read More

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

CONTROLLING STOCKHOLDER CANNOT ADVANCE ITS OWN SELF-INTEREST AT EXPENSE OF MINORITY STOCKHOLDERS

By: C. J. Voss and Rich Minice

In Carr v. New Enterprise Associates, Inc., C.A. No. 20170381-AGB (Del. Ch. Mar. 26, 2018), the Delaware Court of Chancery, in denying in part and granting in part a motion to dismiss, reaffirmed the principle that a controlling stockholder, when acting outside its capacity as a stockholder, cannot use the corporation to advance the controlling stockholder’s self-interest at the expense of minority stockholders.  In the context of defendants’ motion to dismiss, the court found that it was reasonably conceivable that the controlling stockholder of American Cardiac Therapeutics, Inc. (“ACT”) and its conflicted board of directors had breached their duty of loyalty to ACT’s minority stockholders by approving a sale of a warrant to a third party that included an option to acquire ACT, allegedly at an unfairly low price, in order to incentivize the third party to also acquire and invest in the controlling stockholder’s other portfolio companies.

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PLAINTIFFS WERE UNABLE TO ROUSE SUPPORT FOR THEIR POSITION THAT A MINORITY STOCKHOLDER WAS A CONTROLLER AND BREACHED FIDUCIARY DUTIES BECAUSE THEY DID NOT PLEAD SUFFICIENT FACTS

By: Annette Becker and Rich Minice

In In re Rouse Properties, Inc. Fiduciary Litigation, C.A. No. 12194-VCS, the George Leon Family Trust and Dr. Robert A Corwin (the “Plaintiffs”) sought to recover damages on behalf of Rouse Properties Inc. (“Rouse”) stockholders, for breach of fiduciary duties and aiding and abetting breaches of fiduciary duties against Brookfield Asset Management Inc. (“Brookfield”) and five Rouse directors individually arising out of a July 2016 merger between two mall real estate holding companies (the “Merger”). The court dismissed all claims finding that Brookfield was not a minority controlling stockholder of Rouse and did not wield undue influence over the board of directors of Rouse in general or during Merger discussions and that the Plaintiffs failed to well plead that the stockholder vote approving the Merger was uninformed or coerced.

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MULTI-BILLION DOLLAR INVESTMENT MANAGER AND DIRECTORS REMAIN AT RISK

By: Kevin Stichter and Samira Torshizi

In Cumming v. Edens, et al., C.A. No. 13007-VCS (Del. Ch. Feb. 20, 2018), the Court of Chancery denied a motion to dismiss a derivative suit for breach of fiduciary duties brought by a stockholder of New Senior Investment Group, Inc. (“New Senior”) against New Senior’s board of directors (the “Board”) and related parties in connection with New Senior’s $640 million acquisition of Holiday Acquisition Holdings LLC (“Holiday”). The Court made clear that compliance with Section 144 does not necessarily provide a safe harbor against claims for breach of fiduciary duty and invoke business judgment review of an interested transaction. Because the complaint alleged with specificity “that the Board acted out of self-interest or with allegiance to interest other than the stockholders,” the court applied the entire fairness standard of review and concluded that the transaction was not fair to New Senior stockholders. Read More

Board’s Failure to Adhere to Best Practices in Drug Clinical Trial Does Not Excuse Stockholder Demand as Futile

By:  Remsen Kinne and J. Tyler Moser

In Wilkin v. Narachi, et al., and Orexigen Therapeutics, Inc., Civil Action No. 12412-VCMR (Del. Ch. February 28, 2018), the Delaware Court of Chancery granted a motion to dismiss brought by defendants (“Defendants”), directors and officers of biopharmaceutical company Orexigen Therapeutics, Inc. (“Orexigen”), for failure to plead demand futility under Court of Chancery Rule 23.1.  The Court ruled that the plaintiff, a stockholder of Orexigen (“Plaintiff”), did not plead sufficient facts to show that a substantial likelihood of liability prevented the directors from exercising independent and disinterested business judgment when considering a demand to bring a lawsuit on behalf of the corporation.

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Chancery Court Grants in Part and Denies in Part Motion to Dismiss Brought by Defendant FXCM, Inc. in Derivative Suit Alleging That FXCM Knowingly Violated Regulation 5.16

By: Scott E. Waxman and Daisy Sexton

In Brett Kandell v. Dror Niv et al., the Delaware Chancery Court denied in part and granted in part a motion to dismiss a derivative action brought by a stockholder (“Plaintiff”) against nominal defendant FXCM, Inc. (“FXCM” or “the Company”), a foreign exchange (“FX”) broker.  The claim was brought against FXCM directors (“Defendants”) for losses associated with the “Flash Crash” in the value of the euro relative to the Swiss franc, which happened when the Swiss decoupled the two currencies.  As a result of these huge losses, FXCM had to obtain a loan under onerous conditions.  Two main causes of action were asserted: (1) that the directors’ ability to exercise business judgment with respect to the Flash Crash was impaired, and (2) that the directors knowingly violated 17 C.F.R. § 5.16 (“Regulation 5.16”) which prohibits foreign exchange traders from representing that they will limit clients’ trading losses.  Plaintiff did not make a demand on the company prior to bringing suit.

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Chancery Court Dismisses Claims Against Defendants and Holds that the Transactional Structure in M&F Worldwide Applies to Conflicted One Sided Controller Transactions

By: Annette Becker and Joshua Haft

In In re Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. Stockholder Litigation, Consolidated C.A. No. 11202-VC (Ch. Ct  August 18, 2017) former stockholders of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. (“MSLO”) brought a consolidated class action suit against Martha Stewart (“Stewart”), the former controlling stockholder of MSLO, for breach of fiduciary duty and against Sequential Brands Group, Inc. (“Sequential”), the acquirer of MSLO by merger, for aiding and abetting that breach claiming that Stewart leveraged her position as a controller to obtain disparate consideration for herself as compared to the minority stockholders of MSLO in the acquisition of MSLO.  Plaintiffs moved to dismiss, with the Court finding that the complaint failed to state a claim for breach of fiduciary duty against Stewart, and on that basis need not reach the question of whether the complaint adequately pleads the elements of aiding and abetting such a breach, and granted the plaintiffs’ motion to dismiss the complaint.

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Court of Chancery Applies Corwin Ratification to Merger Involving Private Equity Firm Favored by Company’s Founder

By: Nicholas I. Froio and Taylor B. Bartholomew

In Morrison v. Berry, C.A. No. 12808-VCG (Del. Ch. Sept. 28, 2017), the Delaware Court of Chancery held on a motion to dismiss that plaintiff failed to plead facts from which it was reasonably conceivable that a tender of nearly eighty percent of the shares of The Fresh Market (the “Company”) was uninformed or coerced for purposes of surviving ratification under applicable caselaw in connection with the Company’s acquisition by private equity firm Apollo Management, L.P. (“Apollo”).

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CHANCERY COURT DENIES MOTION TO DISMISS AND ALLOWS DERIVATIVE SUIT AGAINST BOARD MEMBERS TO CONTINUE

By: Whitney J. Smith and Michael Bill

In H&N Management Group, Inc. & Aff Cos Frozen Money Purchase Plan v. Robert M. Couch et al., No. 12847-VCMR (Del. Ch. Ct. August 1, 2017), the Court of Chancery denied defendants’ motion to dismiss and held that plaintiffs sufficiently alleged a reason to doubt that the board of AGNC Investment Corp (the “Company”) was adequately informed when approving (i) subsequent renewals of a management agreement between the Company and American Capital Mortgage Management, LLC (the “Manager”) as well as (ii) the acquisition of the Manager for a price of $562 million.

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