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
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.
In In Re Tesla Motors, Inc. Stockholder Litigation, the Delaware Chancery Court denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss an action brought by plaintiffs (Tesla stockholders) against nominal Defendant Tesla Motors in connection with Tesla’s acquisition of SolarCity Corporation. Plaintiffs alleged that Tesla’s board of directors breached their fiduciary duties by approving the acquisition of SolarCity, which benefitted SolarCity stakeholders but negatively affected Tesla stockholders. SolarCity is a public Delaware corporation founded by Elon Musk and his cousins, Peter and Lyndon Rive. Musk and his cousins sit on the SolarCity Board. Lyndon was SolarCity’s CEO and Peter was its CTO.
In Sciabacucchi v. Liberty Broadband Corporation, C.A. No. 11418-VCG (Del. Ch. May 31, 2017), the Court of Chancery ruled on a motion to dismiss by defendants Liberty Broadband Corporation (“Liberty”), a stockholder of Charter Communications, Inc. (“Charter”) and officers and directors of Charter. The Court held that facts alleged by plaintiff, a Charter stockholder, supported the inference that a vote by Charter stockholders approving a shares issuance to and voting proxy agreement with Liberty was structurally coercive. The Court determined that since the vote was coercive, it did not ratify actions by Liberty and Charter’s directors and officers claimed by plaintiff to have breached fiduciary duties of loyalty. As a result, the Court held, defendants were not entitled to dismissal of plaintiff’s claims solely on the basis that stockholder vote ratification operated to “cleanse” fiduciary duties breaches.
Delaware Court Of Chancery Ruling Provides a Cautionary Tale for Investment Fund Directors Seeking to Monetize Their Investment
In The Frederick Hsu Living Trust v. ODN Holding Corp., et al., one of the founders of ODN Holding Corporation (the “Company”) filed suit against the controlling stockholder, the board and certain officers of the Company for cash redemptions of preferred stock allegedly made in violation of statutory and common law instead of using the Company’s cash to maximize the value of the Company for the long term benefit of all stockholders. The Delaware Court of Chancery granted defendants’ motions to dismiss claims of waste and unlawful redemption. However, the Court of Chancery denied defendants’ motions to dismiss claims of breach of fiduciary duty, aiding and abetting a breach of fiduciary duty, and unjust enrichment finding that the allegations of the Plaintiff supported a reasonable inference that the entire fairness standard would apply and that individual defendants may have acted in bad faith.
In In re Books-A-Million, Inc. Stockholders Litigation, No. 11343-VCL (Del. Ch. Oct. 10, 2016), the plaintiffs, minority stockholders of Books-A-Million, Inc. (the “Company”), alleged that the Company’s directors, controlling stockholders and several of its officers breached their fiduciary duties in connection with a squeeze-out merger effected by the controlling stockholders in 2015 to take the Company private. The Court of Chancery held that the plaintiffs failed to plead facts to take the transaction outside the six-pronged framework approved by the Delaware Supreme Court in Kahn v. M&F Worldwide Corp., 88 A.3d 635 (2014) (“MFW”), and, consequently, the business judgment rule, rather than the entire fairness test, applied in reviewing the merger. Upon application of the business judgment rule, the Court dismissed the case.
In Calesa Associates, L.P, et. al v. American Capital, Ltd., et. al, C.A. No. 10557-VCG (Del. Ch. February 29, 2016) (Glascock, V.C.), the Delaware Court of Chancery denied (with one minor exception) a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim in a direct suit brought by stockholders of Halt Medical, Inc. (“Halt”) alleging breaches of fiduciary duties by an alleged controlling stockholder, American Capital, Ltd., a publicly traded private equity firm, and several of its affiliates (collectively, “American Capital”), and certain of Halt’s directors. The fiduciary duty claims relate to a recapitalization transaction (denominated by the Plaintiffs as a “squeeze-out merger”) that the plaintiffs claimed disproportionately benefitted American Capital and certain of Halt’s directors allegedly controlled by American Capital at the expense of Halt’s other stockholders. The Plaintiffs argued that, through a complex series of premeditated transactions and control of Halt’s Board, American Capital chocked off Halt’s capital needs and then restructured Halt pursuant to a transaction resulting in a “squeeze out” of the minority stockholders.
The Court found that the plaintiff stockholders alleged facts sufficient to support a reasonable inference that American Capital was Halt’s controlling stockholder because of its control over the Halt Board, despite its 26% equity ownership stake. In reaching the decision, the Court reaffirmed that majority equity ownership is not the sole test, and that “control” exercised by a significant minority stockholder, even when the stockholder is exercising contractual blocking rights negotiated in prior equity transactions, is enough to characterize the non-majority stockholder as a controller for purposes of determining that the “entire fairness” standard, and not the business judgment rule, governs the board’s fiduciary duties and the controller’s actions.
In Fotta v. Morgan, C.A. No. 8230-VCG (Feb. 29, 2016), Vice Chancellor Glasscock denied cross motions for summary judgment and granted a motion to dismiss for failure to comply with Rule 23.1. After determining that factual issues remained as to causes of action brought by certain stockholders of First Orion Corp. for waste, breach of fiduciary duty, and statutory claims, the Court of Chancery was unable to determine whether a significant creditor to nominal defendant First Orion Corp. used its control over the board of directors to divert equity to itself in breach of duties owed to the common stockholders.
In In Re EZCorp Inc. Consulting Agreement Derivative Litigation, C.A. No. 9962-VCL (Del. Ch. January 25, 2016) (Laster, V.C.) the Delaware Court of Chancery granted in part and denied in part a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, but at its heart the ruling addressed the proper standard of review in a case alleging self-dealing by a controlling stockholder for “tunneling” cash flow and receiving non-ratable benefits from related-party services agreements. After a detailed and extensive analysis, the court held that the entire fairness standard of review, and not the business judgment standard of review, applied to non-merger business transactions where controlling stockholders can exact non-ratable benefits from the company, regardless of the type of transaction or method of extraction.
In Kurt Fox v. CDX Holdings, Inc. (f/k/a Caris Life Sciences, Inc.), C.A. No. 8031-VCL (Del. Ch. July 28, 2015), the Delaware Court of Chancery confirmed that Delaware’s merger statutes do not effect a statutory conversion of options at the effective time of a merger. Rather, the treatment of stock options in a merger is governed by the underlying stock option plan, which must be amended in connection with a merger if the treatment of options in the merger differs from the treatment contemplated by the plan. The Court also confirmed that a standard qualification in stock option plans, requiring a corporation’s board of directors to determine the fair market value of the option for purposes of cashing out the options, could not be satisfied by informal board action or a delegation to management or a third party.
This class action arose from a 2011 spin-off/merger transaction pursuant to which Miraca Holdings, Inc. (“Miraca”) acquired CDX Holdings, Inc. (formerly known as Caris Life Sciences, Inc.) (“Caris”) for $725 million (the “Merger”). Immediately prior to the Merger, Caris spun off two of its three subsidiaries to its stockholders (the “Spin-Off”). In the Merger, each share of Caris stock was converted into the right to receive $4.46 in cash. Each option was terminated with the right to receive the difference between $5.07 per share and the exercise price of the option, minus 8% of the total option proceeds, which were held back to fund an escrow account from which Miraca could satisfy indemnification claims brought post-closing.
In Gorman, IV v. Salamone, Halder and Westech Capital Corp. (“Westech”), the Delaware Chancery Court, in ruling on a motion to dismiss, issued another status quo order to temporarily fix the composition of the board of Westech while the ongoing dispute over control of Westech played out.
Plaintiff John Gorman (“Gorman”) a Westech stockholder and board member brought the Section 225 action based on two developments while a prior Section 225 temporarily designating three directors and keeping the CEO was on appeal before the Delaware Supreme Court.
In Teamsters Union 25 Health Services & Insurance Plan v. Baiera, et al, a stockholder of Orbitz Worldwide, Inc. challenged the fairness of the terms of a five-year services agreement that Orbitz entered into with a group of entities affiliated with Travelport Limited, a controlling shareholder of Orbitz when the agreement was negotiated and signed. The plaintiff asserted four derivative claims challenging the services agreement and a separate putative class claim for breach of fiduciary duty against Orbitz’s directors for allegedly violating the rules of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Defendants moved to dismiss plaintiff’s claims under Court of Chancery Rule 23.1 for failure to make a demand or to adequately plead demand is excused and under Court of Chancery Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. The Delaware Court of Chancery concluded that demand was not excused as to any of plaintiff’s derivative claims and that it was not reasonably conceivable that the plaintiff could establish that Orbitz’s directors caused Orbitz to violate the NYSE Rules. Thus, the Court granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss the derivative claims under Rule 23.1 and the NYSE-related claim under Rule 12(b)(6).
Plaintiff Teamsters Union 25 Health Services & Insurance Plan (“Plaintiff”) has been a stockholder of Orbitz Worldwide, Inc. (“Orbitz”), an online travel company, at all relevant times with respect to its claims. Nominal Defendant. The Travelport Defendants (“Travelport”), which were majority owned by Defendant Blackstone Group LP (“Blackstone”), are group of entities affiliated with Travelport Limited, which provides transaction processing services to travel companies. The other defendants included Orbitz’s board of directors when the company entered into the New Agreement (the “Agreement Board”), Orbtiz’s board of directors when Plaintiff initiated this action (the “Demand Board”), and Orbitz’s current board of directors (“Current Board”).