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.Read More
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 Dietrichson v. Knott, C.A. No. 11965-VCMR (Del. Ch. Apr. 19, 2017), the Chancery Court dismissed the entire complaint brought by one member of a limited liability company against another member for paying himself an unauthorized salary and misappropriating the proceeds of a sale of the company’s assets, concluding that the claims made were derivative rather than direct stockholder claims. The Court also held that plaintiff’s claims were not “dual-natured” (i.e., having both direct and derivative aspects), because the plaintiff failed to plead that the transaction resulted in both an improper transfer of economic value and voting power from the minority equity holders to the controlling equity holder.
In CMS Investment Holdings, LLC v. Castle, the Delaware Court of Chancery declined to dismiss claims for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duties, aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duties, and civil conspiracy, among others.
In Castle, the Plaintiff, CMS Investment Holdings, LLC, was a member of, and holder of Class A units in, RP Holdings Group, LLC, a Delaware limited liability company (the “Company”). The business of the Company (i.e., providing non-legal administrative services in connection with mortgage foreclosures) was created by the principal Defendants (i.e., five individuals who practiced law in Colorado and Arkansas). The Defendants held Class B and C units in the Company and ran the business in their various capacities as employees, officers, and managers of the Company. The Plaintiff’s complaint alleged that the Defendants, along with several of their affiliated entities, intentionally failed to make distributions to the Plaintiff, as a Class A unitholder, in favor of the Defendants in violation of the Company’s limited liability company agreement (the “LLC Agreement”). The Plaintiff also alleged that the Defendants purposefully took actions to block the Company from receiving much-needed debt refinancing, facilitated the Company‘s decline into insolvency, secretly negotiated with its creditors, and then, through their affiliated entities, purchased on favorable terms a major part of the Company’s business back from the Company in receivership.
The Plaintiff brought direct claims against the Defendants alleging (1) breach of the LLC Agreement and the implied contractual covenant of good faith and fair dealing, (2) breach of fiduciary duties, (3) aiding and abetting breaches of fiduciary duties, (4) civil conspiracy, and (5) violation of the Delaware Uniform Fraudulent Transfers Act. The Defendants filed a motion to dismiss for failing to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.