In Tilden v. Cunningham et. al., C.A. No. 2017-0837-JRS (Del. Ch. Oct. 26, 2018), the Delaware Court of Chancery granted the motion of directors of Delaware corporation Blucora, Inc. (“Blucora”) named as Defendants to dismiss a derivative action and dismissed Plaintiff’s complaint with prejudice, holding that the Plaintiff, a Blucora stockholder, failed to plead demand futility and failed to state viable claims under Rule 12(b)(6). This derivative action stems from three transactions Blucora entered into between 2013 and 2015: 1) an acquisition of Monoprice, Inc. (“Monoprice”), 2) the acquisition of HD Vest (“HD Vest”), and 3) several stock repurchases.
By: Scott E. Waxman and former Associate Rashida Stevens
The Delaware Court of Chancery (“Court”) applied contract principles in interpreting a limited liability company (“LLC”) agreement to determine the impact of a written consent attempting to terminate the founder’s position as President and CEO in Matthew Godden and Tobias Bachteler (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) v. Harley V. Franco (“Franco”) C.A. No. 2018-0504-VCL (Del. Ch. August 21, 2018). The Court declined to grant fully the Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment because it was not clear whether or not the provisions of the LLC agreement governing the termination were satisfied.
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.
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.
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
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.
By Scott E. Waxman and Russell E. Deutsch
In In re Massey Energy Company Derivative And Class Action Litigation, C.A. No. 5430-CB (Del. Ch. May 4, 2017), the Chancery Court dismissed both the direct class action claim for “inseparable fraud” and the derivative claim brought by the former shareholders of Massey Energy (“Massey” or the “Corporation”) against the former directors and officers of Massey for breaching their fiduciary duties by causing Massey to operate in willful disregard of safety regulations. The court dismissed the derivative claim holding that the plaintiffs were not continuous shareholders, and therefore lacked standing to bring a derivative claim after Massey merged into Alpha Natural Resources, Inc. (Alpha) in June of 2011. The court dismissed the plaintiffs’ direct claim for “inseparable fraud” claim holding that, though pled as a direct claim, it was, in fact, also a derivative claim that the plaintiffs’ lacked the standing to maintain.
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.
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.
In Brinckerhoff v. Enbridge Energy Co., Inc., et al., C.A. No. 11314-VCS (April 29, 2016), the Delaware Court of Chancery reiterated its adherence to the principle stated in the Delaware Revised Uniform Limited Partnership Act (“DRULPA”) of giving “maximum effect to the principle of freedom of contract and to the enforceability of partnership agreements” as well as to the ability under DRULPA of parties to a limited partnership agreement to define their respective standards of care and scope of duties and liabilities, including to eliminate default fiduciary duties, and dismissed the plaintiff’s claims.
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.
By letter-order dated January 14, 2016, Vice Chancellor John W. Noble found that a fiduciary’s self-dealing and personal benefit may preclude the approval of a settlement agreement. By this order, the court refused to approve the proposed settlement because of the equity buyback provision made available only to the plaintiff fiduciary.
In Smollar v. Potarazu, the plaintiff Marvin Smollar (“Smollar”) brought a derivative action on behalf of nominal defendant VitalSpring Technologies, Inc. (“VitalSpring”) against defendant Sreedhar Potarazu, VitalSpring’s Chief Executive Officer (“Potarazu”). Following litigation of the matter, a settlement agreement was agreed to between the parties and submitted to the court for approval (the “Settlement Agreement”). In addition to the relief sought on behalf of VitalSpring, the Settlement Agreement granted Smollar, but not other VitalSpring stockholders, the right to sell Smollar’s shares in VitalSpring back to VitalSpring for the same amount he had purchased it fifteen years ago (the “Buyback Provision”). Other VitalSpring stockholders accordingly objected to the Settlement Agreement and argued that Smollar engaged in a form of self-dealing while serving as a fiduciary.