Topic: Chancery Court Rule 23.1

Chancery Court Dismisses Derivative Suit Against Blue Bell Officers and Directors

By: Scott E. Waxman and Stephanie S. Liu

In Jack L. Marchand II v. John W. Barnhill, Jr., et al, the Delaware Chancery Court dismissed Plaintiff’s complaint under Court of Chancery Rule 23.1, finding that Plaintiff failed to plead particularized facts that an appeal for board action on the complaint would have been futile or that a majority of the company’s board lacked the independence needed to respond.

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Chancery Court Finds No Breach of Duty in Failed Corporate Inversion

By Joanna Diakos and Tom Sperber

In Kyle Ellis (AbbVie, Inc.) v. Richard A. Gonzalez, et al., the Delaware Chancery Court dismissed a derivative suit for failing to make a demand and to allege particularized facts demonstrating that demand would have been futile. Kyle Ellis (“Plaintiff”) alleged breaches of fiduciary duty by the CEO of AbbVie, Inc. (“AbbVie”), Richard A. Gonzalez (“Gonzalez”), and the individual members of AbbVie’s board of directors (“Director Defendants”) in connection with a proposed but ultimately abandoned corporate inversion between pharmaceutical giants AbbVie and Shire plc (“Shire”). The Court held that because AbbVie’s certificate of incorporation contained a Section 102(b)(7) exculpatory clause, Plaintiff had to allege that a majority of the board faced a substantial likelihood of liability for breaching the duty of loyalty in order for demand to be excused. Ultimately, Plaintiff failed to do that.

At all relevant times, Plaintiff was a minority stockholder of AbbVie, a Delaware corporation headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. Shire was an Island of Jersey biopharmaceutical company with its headquarters in Dublin, Ireland.

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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 Denies Motion to Dismiss a Breach of Contract Claim Based on Language in Limited Partnership Agreement

By: Scott E. Waxman and Stephanie S. Liu

In Ms. Mary Giddings Wenske, et al. v. Blue Bell Creameries, Inc., et al., the Delaware Chancery Court denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss a breach of contract claim, finding that Plaintiffs had pled a set of facts that allow a reasonable inference that Defendants breached the standards set forth in its partnership agreement.

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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

Chancery Court Allows Complaint Alleging Waste of Corporate Assets to Move Forward to Discovery as a Result of Extreme Facts

By Annette Becker and Rashida Stevens

In R.A. Feuer on behalf of CBS Corporation v. Sumner M. Redstone (C.A. No. 12575-CB (Del. Ch. April 19, 2018)), R. A. Feuer (“Plaintiff”), a stockholder of CBS Corporation (“CBS”) brought a derivative suit against the directors of CBS Corporation (“Board”) alleging corporate waste, bad faith, and unjust enrichment for compensation in excess of $13 million dollars paid to Sumner Redstone, the controlling stockholder, former executive chairman and chairman emeritus of CBS (“Redstone”).  The payments were made under an extreme set of circumstances that resulted in the claims partially surviving a Rule 23.1 motion to dismiss for failure to make a pre-suit demand on the board and a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Read More

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 Dismisses Derivative Claim Over Board’s Defensive Measures Against a Takeover as Stockholder Failed to Plead Specific Facts

By Rem Kinne and Peter Soskin

In Ryan v. Armstrong, et al., C.A. No. 12717-VCG (Del. Ch. May 15, 2017), the Delaware Chancery Court dismissed the derivative action brought by a Plaintiff-shareholder (“Plaintiff”) against specified members of the board of directors (“Defendants”) of nominal defendant The Williams Companies (“Williams”).  Plaintiff brought his claim against the Defendants without first demanding that the board pursue an action following Williams’ decision to allegedly undertake defensive measures against a takeover.  The court granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss holding that Plaintiff failed to plead facts demonstrating that an exception to the demand requirement of Court of Chancery Rule 23.1 applied.

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Court of Chancery Dismisses Derivative Action Against Board of Directors of UPS for Failure to Monitor

By: Michelle McCreery Repp and Joshua Haft

The Court of Chancery granted a motion to dismiss a shareholder derivative action brought against the board of directors of UPS for breach of their fiduciary duty of loyalty in which it was alleged that the board failed to monitor UPS’s compliance with laws governing the transportation and delivery of cigarettes, resulting in the government seeking approximately $180 million in a pending enforcement action against UPS. In ruling on the motion, the Court held that the plaintiffs did not adequately plead facts to support their contention that making a demand on the board of directors to take corrective action or pursue the claim would be futile, which is a prerequisite to a shareholder derivative action.

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Derivative Claims of Improper Demand Refusal for Grossly Negligent Investigations and Bad Faith Must Be Adequately Pled

By: Megan Wotherspoon and Calvin Kennedy

The court found that a board of directors’ decision to refuse demand in connection with a stockholder derivative claim satisfies the business judgment rule if the board’s investigation is reasonable and the board acts in good faith.  By this opinion, the court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss under Court of Chancery Rule 23.1 in light of plaintiff’s failure to adequately plead improper demand refusal.

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Chancery Court Dismisses Derivative Breach of Fiduciary Duty Claims as Improperly Pled and the Requests for Declaratory Judgment as Not Ripe

By: Annette Becker and Makda Goitom

In Chester County Employees’ Retirement Fund v. New Residential Investment Corp., No. 11058-VCMR (Del. Ch. Oct. 7, 2016), the Court of Chancery granted the motion to dismiss brought by defendants (the members of the board of directors of New Residential Corp. (“New Residential”), its manager, the manager’s owner, and its controlling stockholder: (i) for an improperly pled derivative claim (with leave to replead) brought against the defendants for breach of fiduciary duty by the plaintiff, a stockholder of New Residential, (ii) for plaintiff’s failure to sufficiently plead futility in demanding that the board of New Residential bring the derivative suit, and (iii) as to declaratory judgments sought by plaintiff with respect to the Defendants’ liability under certain documents as not being ripe (with leave to replead).

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