Topic: Derivative Action

Former Derivative Plaintiff Lacks Standing to Pursue Direct Claims Against General Partner

By: Scott Waxman and Zack Sager

In Morris v. Spectra Energy Partners (DE) GP, LP, the Court of Chancery held that the plaintiff, who previously lost standing to maintain a derivative action after it ceased to be a unit holder of a limited partnership, also lacked standing to directly challenge the fairness of the transaction that extinguished its right to pursue the derivative action.

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Delaware Court of Chancery Allows Derivative Claim To Proceed Regarding Allegedly “Grossly Excessive” Non-Employee Director Compensation

By Remsen Kinne and Frank J. Mazzucco

In Stein v. Blankfein et al., C.A. No. 2017-0354-SG (Del. Ch. May 31, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery, in considering a motion to dismiss, allowed a stockholder’s derivative claim to proceed against an entity’s non-employee directors alleging that such director compensation was grossly excessive and thus represented a breach of the fiduciary duty of loyalty.

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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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IN REJECTING DEFENDANTS’ MOTION FOR DISMISSAL, CHANCERY COURT FINDS THAT INDIVIDUAL FIDUCIARY MAY BE HELD LIABLE FOR TRADES THAT AN ASSOCIATED ENTITY OR FUND MAKES

By: Scott E. Waxman and Adrienne Wimberly

In the consolidated stockholder derivative litigation, In re Fitbit, Inc., CA No. 2017-0402-JRS (Del. Ch. Dec. 14, 2018), the Delaware Court of Chancery denied the Defendants’ motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ insider trading and breach of fiduciary duty claims. The claims stem from alleged insider knowledge of members of Fitbit’s Board of Directors (the Board) and chief financial officer that Fitbit’s PurePulse™ technology was not as accurate as the company claimed. Plaintiffs alleged that members of the Board structured the company’s Initial Public Offering (IPO) and Secondary Offering (together, “the Offerings”) to benefit Fitbit insiders and voted to waive employee lock-up agreements, thereby allowing those insiders, to prematurely sell stock in the Secondary Offering. As a result of their sales, the alleged insiders sold about 6.2 million shares for over $115 million in the IPO and about 9.62 million shares for over $270 million in the Secondary Offering.

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Stockholder’s Suit for Directors’ Fiduciary Breach Related to Acquisitions and Stock Repurchases Dismissed With Prejudice for Failure to Plead Demand Futility and to State Viable Claims, Directors Found to be Disinterested Regardless of 10-Q Filing Stating Action Without Merit

By: Remsen Kinne and Adrienne Wimberly

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.

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Back to Basics: Delaware Court of Chancery Uses Contract Principles To Determine Dispute Involving Several Provisions of a LLC Agreement

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.

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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 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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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

Court of Chancery Holds That Structurally Coercive Stockholder Vote Does Not Ratify Fiduciary Actions Related To Shares Issuance and Proxy Grant To Stockholder

By: Remsen Kinne and Tami Mack

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.

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Chancery Court Dismisses Inseparable Fraud Claim Based on Derivative Claims That Former Shareholders Lacked Standing To Maintain

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.

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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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