Topic: Chancery Court Rule 12(b)(6)

Former Derivative Plaintiff Lacks Standing to Pursue Direct Claims Against General Partner

By: Scott Waxman and Zack Sager

In Morris v. Spectra Energy Partners (DE) GP, LP, the Court of Chancery held that the plaintiff, who previously lost standing to maintain a derivative action after it ceased to be a unit holder of a limited partnership, also lacked standing to directly challenge the fairness of the transaction that extinguished its right to pursue the derivative action.

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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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COURT OF CHANCERY FIND PROVISIONS OF MERGER AGREEMENT AMBIGUOUS AND DENIES TELECOMMUNICATIONS GIANT’S MOTION TO DISMISS

By: Scott E. Waxman and Rachel Cheasty Sanders

In Charles F. Dolan v. Altice USA, Inc. et al., Case No. 2018-0651-JRS (Del. Ch. June 27, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery address Defendants’ 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss filed in response to the Plaintiff’s complaint containing the following six causes of action: (i) breach of contract, (ii) breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, (iii) equitable fraud, (iv) promissory estoppel, (v) negligent misrepresentation, and (vi) declaratory relief. Defendants include telecommunications and media companies Altice USA, Inc. and Altice Europe N.V. (collectively, “Altice”). Additionally, Plaintiffs named as nominal defendants Cablevision Systems Corporation (“Cablevision”) and News 12 Networks, LLC (“News12”). Plaintiffs include members of the Dolan family, the controlling shareholders of Cablevision and News12 prior to the sale of those companies to Altice. The Court denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss on the Dolan family’s claims for breach of contract, promissory estoppel, and declaratory relief and granted the motion pertaining to the claims for breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, equitable fraud, and negligent misrepresentation. (1)

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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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Chancery Court Interprets the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act

By: Scott E. Waxman and Stephanie S. Liu

In AlixPartners, LLP v. Benichou, (C.A. No. 2018-0600-KSJM (Del. Ch. May 10, 2019)), the Court of Chancery decided, as a matter of first impression, that the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”) narrowly provides a cause of action in Delaware for unauthorized computer access or unauthorized access to information; it does not cover incidents involving misuse of information that was obtained through authorized access.

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Court of Chancery Finds that the Implied Contractual Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing Requires Delaware LLC to Exercise Discretion in Good Faith

By: Scott Waxman and Zack Sager

In Coca-Cola Beverages Florida Holdings, LLC v. Goins, the Court of Chancery granted in part and denied in part a motion to dismiss a claim for breach of the implied contractual covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and, in so doing, found that the discretion afforded to a Delaware limited liability company under an agreement was required to be exercised in good faith.  In addition, the Court analyzed a motion to dismiss claims for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, quantum meruit, and fraud.

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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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CONTRACTUAL AMBIGUITIES FAVOR THE NON-MOVING PARTY AT MOTION TO DISMISS STAGE

By: Scott Waxman and Rich Minice

In Coyne v. Fusion Healthworks, LLC Civil Action No. 2018-0011-MTZ (Del. Ch. April 30, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery denied a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim (the “Motion”) filed by Fusion Healthworks, LLC (the “LLC”), James Sheehan with his personal medical practice, and Andrew Lietzke, with his personal medical practice (collectively, the “Defendants”). In denying the Motion, the court reiterated the standing principal that, when presented with a contractual ambiguity, dismissal at the motion to dismiss stage is only appropriate “if the defendants’ interpretation [of the ambiguity] is the only reasonable construction as a matter of law.” Coyne highlights the critical nature of competent drafting of LLC Agreements.

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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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CHANCERY COURT GRANTS MOTION TO DISMISS SECTION 220 DEMAND MADE DURING A PENDING PLENARY CLAIM DUE TO LACK OF SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES

By: Remsen Kinne and Stephanie Winkler

In CHC Investments, LLC v. FirstSun Capital Bancorp, C.A. No. 2018-0610-KSLM (Del. Ch. January 24, 2019), the Court of Chancery (the “Court”), in a motion to dismiss, found that CHC Investments, LLC’s (“CHC” and “Plaintiff”) pending plenary claims rendered CHC’s purpose for demanding inspection corporate books and records pursuant to Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporate Law (“Section 220”) improper, and granted FirstSun Capital Bancorp’s (“FirstSun” and “Defendant”) motion to dismiss.

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