Topic: Demand Futility

Chancery Court Declines to Dismiss Derivative Claims for Audit Committee Oversight Failure and Unjust Enrichment

By: Remsen Kinne and Michael C. Payant

In William Hughes, Jr. v. Xiaoming Hu, et al., C.A. No. 2019-0112-JTL (Del. Ch. April 27, 2020), the Delaware Court of Chancery (the “Court”) held that stockholder plaintiff’s failure to make a demand on the board of directors (the “Board”) was excused and therefore denied defendants’ motions to dismiss under Court of Chancery Rules 23.1 and 12(b)(6) derivative claims brought by plaintiff on behalf of Kandi Technologies Group, Inc., a public Delaware corporation based in China (the “Company”).  The derivative claims alleged that the Board, acting through its Audit Committee (the “Committee”), breached fiduciary duties by failing to implement effective oversight of the Company’s disclosure and financial information reporting controls and procedures and that as a result Company officers were unjustly enriched.

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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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Delaware Court of Chancery Interprets “Sufficient Particularity” Pleading Standard Under Rule 23.1

By Annette E. Becker and Frank J. Mazzucco

In Robert Elburn v. Robert Albanese et al. and Investors Bancorp, Inc.,C.A. No. 2019-0774-JRS (Del. Ch. Apr. 21, 2020), defendants moved to dismiss a complaint under Court of Chancery Rules 12(b)(6) and 23.1 for failure to state viable claims and failure to plead demand futility.  The Delaware Court of Chancery (the “Court”) interpreted the “sufficient particularity” pleading standard under Rule 23.1, noting that demand futility was pled with sufficient particularity to raise doubt that the board of directors could act impartially in response to a litigation demand.

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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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Court of Chancery Holds That Sole, Conflicted General Partner Cannot, By Reason of its Conflict, Delegate its Otherwise Valid Power to Manage Derivative Litigation

By: Scott Waxman and Tami Mack

In Wenske v. Blue Bell Creameries, Inc., C.A. No. 2017-0699-JRS (Del. Ch. August 28, 2019), the Court of Chancery held that Blue Bell Creameries, Inc., the sole general partner (the “General Partner”) of Blue Bell Creameries, LP (the “Partnership”), was not a disinterested entity such that it could delegate its otherwise valid power to manage derivative litigation. The Court also held that it was not appropriate to undertake a conflict analysis with respect to the individual members of the board of directors of the General Partner (the “GP Board”), because such analysis would disregard the established policy of respecting the legal fiction of the business entity.

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Stockholder Letter Requesting Remedial Action Deemed a Pre-Suit Demand

By: Joanna Diakos Kordalis and Zack Sager

In Solak v. Welch, the Court of Chancery found that a letter from a stockholder to the board of directors, which requested remedial action to address allegedly excessive non-employee director compensation, was a pre-suit demand and dismissed the stockholder’s complaint for failing to allege wrongful demand refusal.

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Chancery Court Dismisses Uber Derivative Suit for Failure to Make Demand or Plead Demand Futility

By Annette Becker and Will Smith

In McElrath v. Kalanick, C.A. No. 2017-0888-SG (Ch. Del. April 1, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery (the “Court”) dismissed a derivative suit brought by a stockholder of Uber Technologies, Inc. (“Uber”) for damages arising from its acquisition of Ottomotto, LLC (“Otto”), an autonomous vehicle technology company. Plaintiff did not make demand on the defendant board of directors of Uber (the “Board”) for action prior to pursuing litigation. The Court dismissed the derivative suit finding that a majority of the Board that would have evaluated a demand was disinterested and independent, and therefore, had plaintiff made demand of the Board, such a demand would not have been futile.

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Failure to Make Demand on Board Prior to Commencing Derivative Action Not Excused When Plaintiff Did Not Demonstrate that Demand Would Have Been Futile Because Directors Acted in Bad Faith by Knowingly Breaching their Oversight Responsibilities

By: Eric E. Freedman and Serena M. Hamann

In Juan C. Rojas derivatively and on behalf of J.C. Penney Company, Inc. v. Marvin R. Ellison, et al, C.A. No. 2018-0755-AGB (Del. Ch. July 29, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery dismissed with prejudice a derivative claim brought against J.C. Penney Company, Inc. (“J.C. Penney,” or the “Company”) and current and former members of the Company’s board of directors (the “Board”), on the grounds that the failure of plaintiff Juan Rojas (“Rojas”) to make a demand on the Board prior to filing suit did not satisfy the requirements of Delaware law for excuse from the requirement to make such a demand. The Court held that Rojas had failed to allege facts from which the Court could reasonably infer that any of the Board members had acted in bad faith by knowingly failing to exercise their oversight responsibilities, and that Rojas therefore had not demonstrated that a demand on the Board would have been futile.

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Director Independence and Demand Futility: A Holistic Inquiry of the Pleading

By: Josh Gaul and Rich Minice

In In re BGC Partners, Inc. Derivative Litigation, Civil Action No. 2018-0722-AGB (Del. Ch. Sep. 30, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery denied motions to dismiss for (i) failure to establish demand futility and (ii) failure to state a claim for relief (the “Motions”) filed by nominal defendant BGC Partners, Inc. (“BGC”), its affiliates CF Group Management, Inc. (“CF”) and Cantor Fitzgerald L.P. (“Cantor”), Howard Lutnick, the CEO, Chairman of the Board, and controlling stockholder of BGC (“Lutnick”), and four “independent” members of the Board of Directors of BGC (the “Special Committee Defendants” and all of which, together, are the “Defendants”). In denying the Motions in this stockholder derivative litigation, the court primarily discussed and applied recent guidance from the Delaware Supreme Court on the Aronson test for demand futility. In re BGC Partners, Inc. puts controlling stockholders on notice that their professional and personal ties to board members may undermine the purported independence of those board members.

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Delaware Court of Chancery Allows Stockholder’s Derivative Claim to Proceed Against Alleged Controlling Stockholder Under Entire Fairness Standard of Review

By Scott E. Waxman and Frank Mazzucco

In Reith v. Lichtenstein et al., C.A. No. 2018-0277-MTZ (Del. Ch. Jun. 28, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery, in considering a motion to dismiss, allowed a stockholder’s derivative complaint to proceed against a minority stockholder under the entire fairness standard of review, because the complaint had sufficiently alleged that such minority stockholder, by exercising “actual control” as part of transactions being challenged, was effectively a controlling shareholder and thus owed fiduciary duties.

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Russian Interference and Data Privacy: Facebook Stockholders Demand Section 220 Inspection to Investigate Wrongdoing of Board and Senior Management

By: Scott Waxman and Adrienne Wimberly

In In re Facebook, Inc., C.A. No. 2018-0661-JRS (Del Ch. May 30, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery granted a Section 220 demand for inspection of Facebook’s books and records, (the “Demand”) for the purpose of investigating potential wrongdoing on the part of the company’s Board of Directors (the “Board”). The consolidated action comes on the heels of news that the data of over 50 million Facebook users were poached by British political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica and used to influence the 2016 Presidential Election. In April 2018, Plaintiff, Construction and General Building Laborers’ Local No. 79 General Fund (“Local No. 79”), a Facebook stockholder since 2015, served its initial Section 220 Demand. After receiving about 1,700 pages of significantly redacted books and records, Local No. 79 filed the present action to compel production which was consolidated with two similar Section 220 demands. After holding a paper record trial in March 2019, the Court ruled in favor of the Plaintiffs with some limitations on the scope of the demand.

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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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