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 Cumming v. Edens, et al., C.A. No. 13007-VCS (Del. Ch. Feb. 20, 2018), the Court of Chancery denied a motion to dismiss a derivative suit for breach of fiduciary duties brought by a stockholder of New Senior Investment Group, Inc. (“New Senior”) against New Senior’s board of directors (the “Board”) and related parties in connection with New Senior’s $640 million acquisition of Holiday Acquisition Holdings LLC (“Holiday”). The Court made clear that compliance with Section 144 does not necessarily provide a safe harbor against claims for breach of fiduciary duty and invoke business judgment review of an interested transaction. Because the complaint alleged with specificity “that the Board acted out of self-interest or with allegiance to interest other than the stockholders,” the court applied the entire fairness standard of review and concluded that the transaction was not fair to New Senior stockholders. Read More
In In re Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. Stockholder Litigation, Consolidated C.A. No. 11202-VC (Ch. Ct August 18, 2017) former stockholders of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. (“MSLO”) brought a consolidated class action suit against Martha Stewart (“Stewart”), the former controlling stockholder of MSLO, for breach of fiduciary duty and against Sequential Brands Group, Inc. (“Sequential”), the acquirer of MSLO by merger, for aiding and abetting that breach claiming that Stewart leveraged her position as a controller to obtain disparate consideration for herself as compared to the minority stockholders of MSLO in the acquisition of MSLO. Plaintiffs moved to dismiss, with the Court finding that the complaint failed to state a claim for breach of fiduciary duty against Stewart, and on that basis need not reach the question of whether the complaint adequately pleads the elements of aiding and abetting such a breach, and granted the plaintiffs’ motion to dismiss the complaint.
In Williams v. Ji, C.A. No. 12729-VCMR (Del. Ch. June 28, 2017), the Delaware Court of Chancery denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss, holding that the option and warrant grants and voting agreements in question were subject to entire fairness and that the Defendant directors had not carried their burden at that stage. The Defendants also moved to stay in favor of an earlier filed case in the Court, but the motion was denied as moot because the earlier filed case had settled.
Delaware Court Of Chancery Ruling Provides a Cautionary Tale for Investment Fund Directors Seeking to Monetize Their Investment
In The Frederick Hsu Living Trust v. ODN Holding Corp., et al., one of the founders of ODN Holding Corporation (the “Company”) filed suit against the controlling stockholder, the board and certain officers of the Company for cash redemptions of preferred stock allegedly made in violation of statutory and common law instead of using the Company’s cash to maximize the value of the Company for the long term benefit of all stockholders. The Delaware Court of Chancery granted defendants’ motions to dismiss claims of waste and unlawful redemption. However, the Court of Chancery denied defendants’ motions to dismiss claims of breach of fiduciary duty, aiding and abetting a breach of fiduciary duty, and unjust enrichment finding that the allegations of the Plaintiff supported a reasonable inference that the entire fairness standard would apply and that individual defendants may have acted in bad faith.
In In Re Riverstone National, Inc. Stockholder Litigation, C.A. No. 9796-VCG (July 28, 2016), the Delaware Court of Chancery held that a board’s approval of a merger agreement containing a release of claims against the directors and entered into while a potential derivative suit for usurpation of corporate opportunity was threatened against such directors warranted entire fairness review.
In Calesa Associates, L.P, et. al v. American Capital, Ltd., et. al, C.A. No. 10557-VCG (Del. Ch. February 29, 2016) (Glascock, V.C.), the Delaware Court of Chancery denied (with one minor exception) a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim in a direct suit brought by stockholders of Halt Medical, Inc. (“Halt”) alleging breaches of fiduciary duties by an alleged controlling stockholder, American Capital, Ltd., a publicly traded private equity firm, and several of its affiliates (collectively, “American Capital”), and certain of Halt’s directors. The fiduciary duty claims relate to a recapitalization transaction (denominated by the Plaintiffs as a “squeeze-out merger”) that the plaintiffs claimed disproportionately benefitted American Capital and certain of Halt’s directors allegedly controlled by American Capital at the expense of Halt’s other stockholders. The Plaintiffs argued that, through a complex series of premeditated transactions and control of Halt’s Board, American Capital chocked off Halt’s capital needs and then restructured Halt pursuant to a transaction resulting in a “squeeze out” of the minority stockholders.
The Court found that the plaintiff stockholders alleged facts sufficient to support a reasonable inference that American Capital was Halt’s controlling stockholder because of its control over the Halt Board, despite its 26% equity ownership stake. In reaching the decision, the Court reaffirmed that majority equity ownership is not the sole test, and that “control” exercised by a significant minority stockholder, even when the stockholder is exercising contractual blocking rights negotiated in prior equity transactions, is enough to characterize the non-majority stockholder as a controller for purposes of determining that the “entire fairness” standard, and not the business judgment rule, governs the board’s fiduciary duties and the controller’s actions.
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.
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.
In this memorandum opinion, the Delaware Court of Chancery found Sandra Manno (“Manno”), the manager of CanCan Development, LLC, a Delaware limited liability company (the “Company”), liable for breaching her fiduciary duty of loyalty to the Company by engaging in numerous self-interested transactions.
A manager of a Delaware limited liability company owes traditional fiduciary duties of care and loyalty unless the organizational documents of the limited liability company modify such duties. The Court, citing Feeley v. NHAOCG, LLC, 62 A.3d 649 (Del. Ch. 2012), implied that the organizational documents of the Company did not modify the traditional fiduciary duties.
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.
Chancery Court grants motion to dismiss against former limited partners seeking damages for a freeze-out merger they claimed was a self-dealing transaction by the general partner and its affiliates. The Court granted the motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction with regard to the general partner defendants based on a standard arbitration clause that referenced AAA Rules. The Court also granted the motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim with regard to the affiliated limited partner defendants because majority ownership of the merged entities, without more, did not create a fiduciary duty to the plaintiffs.
On February 10, 2015, Vice Chancellor Parsons issued a memorandum opinion in Lewis v. AimCo Properties, L.P., 2015 WL 557995, (Del. Ch. Feb. 10, 2015) granting Motions to Dismiss for each group of defendants in the case. The case was brought by several former holders of limited partnership units (“Plaintiffs”) in four Delaware limited partnerships (the “Partnerships”). Each of the Partnerships was managed by corporate entity general partners (“GP Defendants”) that were each indirectly owned by Apartment Investment and Management Company (“AimCo”). AimCo also indirectly held a majority of the limited partnership units of each Partnership through various affiliates (together with various officers, the “LP Defendants”).