In Sciabacucchi v. Liberty Broadband Corp., et al., C.A. No. 11418-VCG (Del. Ch. July 26, 2018), the Delaware Court of Chancery denied in part a motion to dismiss brought by defendants Liberty Broadband Corporation (“Liberty”), Liberty’s largest stockholder, and the board of directors of Charter Communications, Inc. (“Charter,” and collectively “Defendants”), for failure to plead demand futility. The Court ruled that the Plaintiff, a stockholder of Charter, pleaded sufficient facts to support a reasonable inference that the influence of Liberty’s largest stockholder would prevent the Charter board of directors from exercising independent and disinterested business judgment when considering a demand to bring a lawsuit on behalf of the corporation.
In Basho Technologies, Inc. v. Georgetown Basho Investors, LLC, C.A. No. 11802-VCL (Del. Ch. July 6, 2018), the Delaware Court of Chancery reaffirmed the principle that a stockholder with actual control of a corporation violates its fiduciary duties by advancing its own interests to the detriment of the corporation. Applying the entire fairness standard in its decision following trial, the court held that Georgetown Basho Investors, LLC (“Georgetown”), the controlling stockholder of Basho Technologies, Inc. (“Basho”), owed and breached fiduciary duties to Basho as a stockholder with actual-but not majority-control. The court ultimately awarded plaintiffs Earl Gallaher (“Gallaher”) and various investment funds under his control (the “Plaintiff(s)”) damages in the aggregate amount of $20,268,878.
In Feldman v. Soon-Shiong, et al. (C.A No. 2017-0487-AGB), the Delaware Court of Chancery denied in part and granted in part a motion to dismiss claims involving, among other things, breach of contract and breach of the fiduciary duty of loyalty, following a defendant’s withdrawal of $47 million from a company bank account.
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 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.
On a motion to “’confirm the trial schedule,’” Vice Chancellor Glasscock determined that actions brought by the limited partners of a partnership based upon the general partner’s alleged fraud, self interest and breach of the partnership agreement were direct claims and therefore not subject to a stay pursuant to the partnership’s bankruptcy proceeding. Sehoy Energy LP et al. v. Haven Real Estate Group, LLC et al., C.A. No. 12387-VCG (Del. Ch. April 17, 2017), addressed a situation in which the general partner of a limited partnership (and the person controlling the general partner) used funds of the limited partnership to make investments into the business of a personal friend which ultimately resulted in the bankruptcy of the partnership.
In LVI Group Investments, LLC v. NCM Group Holdings, LLC, the Court of Chancery of the State of Delaware looked to Delaware corporate law for demand futility pleading requirements in dismissing a derivative claim for breach of fiduciary duties against managers of a Delaware limited liability company (an “LLC”). In addition, the Court of Chancery analyzed the requirements for a member of an LLC sufficiently to plead a direct claim against managers of the LLC and analyzed the requirements for pleading a claim of fraud.
In In re Saba Software, Inc. Stockholder Litigation, C.A. No. 10697-VCS (Del. Ch. Mar. 31, 2017, revised Apr. 11, 2017), the Delaware Court of Chancery held that the board of Saba Software, Inc. could not invoke the business judgment rule under the Corwin doctrine in response to a fiduciary challenge arising from Saba’s acquisition by Vector Capital Management, L.P. According to the Court, plaintiff pled facts which supported a reasonable inference that the stockholder vote approving the acquisition was neither fully-informed nor uncoerced. The Court also denied defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claims that the Saba board breached its duty of loyalty and engaged in acts of bad faith by rushing the sales process, refusing to consider alternatives to the merger and granting itself substantial equity awards.
In Chester County Employees’ Retirement Fund v. New Residential Investment Corp., No. 11058-VCMR (Del. Ch. Oct. 7, 2016), the Court of Chancery granted the motion to dismiss brought by defendants (the members of the board of directors of New Residential Corp. (“New Residential”), its manager, the manager’s owner, and its controlling stockholder: (i) for an improperly pled derivative claim (with leave to replead) brought against the defendants for breach of fiduciary duty by the plaintiff, a stockholder of New Residential, (ii) for plaintiff’s failure to sufficiently plead futility in demanding that the board of New Residential bring the derivative suit, and (iii) as to declaratory judgments sought by plaintiff with respect to the Defendants’ liability under certain documents as not being ripe (with leave to replead).
By Holly Hatfield and James Parks
A stockholder’s claims regarding a $35 million stock issuance to Freeport-McMoran CEO Richard Adkerson were dismissed. Governance changes within Freeport that were thought to have triggered an option in Adkerson’s employment contract that would have permitted him to quit and receive a $46 million severance package allowed the board to preempt that eventuality by issuing him $35 million in stock.
In Shaev v. Adkerson, C.A. No. 10436-VCN (Del. Ch. Oct. 5, 2015), Vice Chancellor Noble, writing for the Delaware Court of Chancery, granted defendant Freeport-McMoran’s (“Freeport” or the “Company”) motion to dismiss plaintiff Victoria Shaev’s (“Shaev” or “Plaintiff”) direct and derivative claims under Court of Chancery Rules 12(b)(6) and 23.1.
In a July 8, 2015 letter opinion, Vice Chancellor John W. Noble granted in part and denied in part the motion of Capella Holdings, Inc. and Capella Healthcare, Inc. (“Capella” or the “Company”) and five Capella directors (the “Director Defendants”) (collectively, “Defendants”) to dismiss breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract claims asserted against them by James Thomas Anderson (“Anderson”), a founder and former director and officer of Capella, relating to a 2014 recapitalization of the Company.
Anderson’s counterclaims against Defendants all arise from a recapitalization of Capella which the Director Defendants approved in April 2014. Anderson voted against the recapitalization, which decreased Anderson’s ownership percentage in the Company, as well as that of the minority shareholders, and increased the ownership percentage of affiliates of GTCR Golder Rauner II LLC (“GTCR”), which, upon Capella’s formation, made an equity investment of approximately $206 million in the Company.