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.
In a June 26, 2015 Memorandum Opinion, Vice Chancellor Sam Glasscock III dismissed a derivative complaint filed by stockholders of General Motors (“GM”) relating to defective ignition switches that led to the recall of approximately 13 million GM vehicles beginning in February 2014. According to Vice Chancellor Glasscock, Plaintiffs failed to adequately plead bad faith on the part of the GM directors named as defendants in the lawsuit and, therefore, failed to show demand futility under Chancery Rule 23.1.
The general facts underlying this derivative lawsuit have been widely publicized and relate to GM’s recall of approximately 13 million vehicles for issues with the vehicles’ ignition switch, which caused a vehicle’s engine and electrical system to shut off, disabling power steering and power brakes and causing the vehicle’s airbags to not deploy in the event of a crash.
In Ironworkers v. Andreotti, Vice Chancellor Glasscock of the Delaware Chancery Court granted DuPont’s motion to dismiss for plaintiff’s failure to properly state a derivative action claim. In reaching its decision, the Court affirmed that the business judgment rule is the standard of review used in derivative actions where the plaintiff has made a demand of the board of directors and the board declined such demand.
Beginning in 2002 DuPont began to develop genetically modified corn and soybean seeds to compete with Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” seeds, which have the ability to survive application herbicides, including Monsanto’s own Roundup herbicide. DuPont referred to the product it was developing as “GAT”. During this same time period, DuPont was also licensing the Roundup Ready gene trait from Monsanto. DuPont encountered setbacks in field testing of GAT and as a result began experiments in combining GAT together with the Roundup Ready gene trait. The relationship between DuPont and Monsanto deteriorated as DuPont attempted to develop its GAT products, and in May 2009 Monsanto brought suit against DuPont for breaches of the license agreement for the Roundup Ready gene trait, patent infringement and other related claims. In July 2012 a jury found in favor of Monsanto and awarded it $1.2 billion in damages. DuPont began steps to appeal the decision and began negotiating a settlement with Monsanto. On March 25, 2013 DuPont and Monsanto entered into a settlement agreement that was structured as a new license agreement and included royalty payments to Monsanto of $1.75 billion over 10 years for the rights to use the patent for the Roundup Ready gene trait.
In Calma v. Templeton, C.A. No. 9579-CB (Del. Ch. April 30, 2015) (Bouchard, C.), the Delaware Chancery Court held that Citrix System, Inc’s (“Citrix”) payment of compensation to non-employee directors under a shareholder-approved compensation plan must be reviewed under the entire fairness standard because the shareholders’ omnibus approval of a plan covering several different types of beneficiaries did not constitute ratification of the amount of compensation to be paid to non-employee directors.
In 2005, Citrix shareholders approved an equity compensation plan (the “Plan”) for beneficiaries such as directors, officers, employees, consultants, and advisors. The plan did not specify the amount of compensation that non-employee directors could receive, instead only providing a limit of 1 million restricted stock units (“RSUs”) for any beneficiary’s annual compensation. Based on the company’s share price at the time the suit was filed, 1 million RSUs would be worth over $55 million.