Topic: Exculpatory Charter Provisions

CHANCERY COURT DISMISSES COMPLAINT, HOLDING THAT DIRECTORS WERE NOT CONFLICTED IN APPROVING A MERGER SIMPLY DUE TO THE THREAT OF A LOOMING PROXY CONTEST

By: Lisa Stark and Thomas Meyer

In Rudd v. Brown, et al, C.A. No. 2019-0775 MTZ (Del. Ch. Sept. 11, 2020), the Delaware Court of Chancery (the “Court”) dismissed the plaintiff’s claim that the board members and the chief financial officer of Outerwall, Inc. (the “Company”) disloyally pursued and disclosed a two-step merger, finding that the plaintiff failed to show that the defendants were conflicted, despite the potential that the director defendants would lose their seats in connection with a threatened proxy contest.

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DELAWARE COURT OF CHANCERY DENIES MOTIONS TO DISMISS CLAIMS ALLEGING BREACHES OF FIDUCIARY DUTY IN ALLEGED CONTROLLING STOCKHOLDER TENDER OFFER

By: David Forney and Caitlin Velasco

In In Re Coty Inc. Stockholder Litigation, C.A. No. 2019-0336-AGB (Del. Ch. Aug. 17, 2020), the Delaware Court of Chancery (the “Court”) denied a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss claims brought by stockholders (the “Plaintiffs”) of Coty Inc. (“Coty”) against its directors and de facto controlling stockholder, JAB Holding Company S.à.r.l. and its affiliates (“JAB”), over JAB’s 2019 partial tender offer, whereby it increased its ownership stake in Coty from 40% to 60%. The Plaintiffs alleged that JAB opportunistically timed and priced the tender offer so that it undervalued Coty and structured the tender offer in a coercive manner.

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Specific Language of Operating Agreements Key in Chancery Court Dismissal of “Laundry List” of Claims Against LLC Managers

By: Scott Waxman and Rich Minice

In 77 Charters, Inc. v. Gould et al.., C.A. No. 2019-0127-JRS (Del. Ch. May 18, 2020), 77 Charters, Inc. (“Plaintiff”) brought suit against defendants Jonathan Gould (“Gould”), Stonemar MM Cookeville, LLC (“Stonemar MM”), Cookeville Corridor, LLC (the “Preferred Purchaser”) and Eightfold Cookeville Investor, LLC (the “New Investor” and together with Gould, Stonemar MM and the Preferred Purchaser, the “Named Defendants”) for a series of alleged “wrongful acts” in connection with the management and sale of a shopping mall (the “Property”), which also implicated Stonemar Cookeville Partners, LLC (“Cookeville Partners”) and Cookeville Retail Holdings, LLC (“Cookeville Retail”). In delivering its opinion, which centered on the nature of Delaware limited liability companies as creatures of contract, and thus, the controlling nature of the applicable operating agreements and contracts into which the parties had entered, the Delaware Court of Chancery (the “Court”) ruled that only Plaintiff’s claims which could be connected to an alleged wrongful amendment of the operating agreement of Cookeville Retail could survive Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss (the “Motion”).

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Books and Records: Court Explains a Failure to Clear the Sometimes Deceptively Challenging Credible Basis Hurdle

By: David Forney and Rich Minice

In Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and Boston Retirement System v. Facebook, Inc., C.A. No. 2019-0228-JRS (Del. Ch. Oct. 29, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery reaffirmed its requirement that stockholders seeking records to investigate possible wrongdoing must have some credible basis from which the court can infer waste or mismanagement occurred. Here, following trial, the court granted judgment in favor of Facebook because the Plaintiffs (defined below) failed to make a credible showing, through documents, logic, testimony or otherwise, that there are or may be legitimate issues of wrongdoing which would warrant further investigation of the matter through grant of the books and records request.

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Delaware Court of Chancery Dismisses Derivative Claims in Reliance on Exculpatory Language in Limited Liability Company Agreement

By Scott E. Waxman and Frank J. Mazzucco

In MKE Holdings, Ltd. and David Bergevin v. Kevin Schwartz, et al. and Verdesian Life Sciences, LLC, C.A. No. 2018-0729-SG (Del. Ch. Sept. 26, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery relied on exculpatory language in a Limited Liability Company  Agreement to grant a defendant’s motion to dismiss a derivative claim alleging breach of duty by the company’s managers.

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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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Chancery Court Denies Dismissal of Breach of Fiduciary Duty Claims after Concluding that Stockholder Vote was Not Informed

By: David Forney and Rachel P. Worth

In In re Tangoe, Inc. Stockholders Litigation, C.A. No. 2017-0650-JRS (Del. Ch. Nov. 20, 2018), the Delaware Court of Chancery denied the director defendants’ motion to dismiss the stockholder plaintiffs’ claim for breach of fiduciary duties on the basis that the stockholder vote approving the transaction was not informed and the defendants were therefore not entitled to business judgment rule deference at the pleading stage. The Court also found that the plaintiffs had adequately pled a breach of the fiduciary duty of loyalty against each of the director defendants, which would not be covered by the exculpatory clause in the company’s certificate of incorporation.

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Court of Chancery Holds That A Credible Basis to Infer Wrongdoing by One Director is Sufficient to Satisfy Burden of Proof Under Section 220

By: Remsen Kinne and Tami Mack

In Rodgers v. Cypress Semiconductor Corporation, C.A. No. 2017-0070-AGB (Del. Ch. April 17, 2017), the Court of Chancery held that shareholder plaintiff T.J. Rodgers (“Rodgers”) had established several proper purposes for his demand to inspect certain books and records of Cypress Semiconductor Corporation (the “Company”), along with a credible basis to infer wrongdoing by at least one of the Company’s directors.  The Court granted Rodgers’ Section 220 action and directed the parties to meet and submit an order for production of all responsive documents.

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CHANCERY COURT DISMISSES POST-CLOSING DISCLOSURE CLAIMS AGAINST DIRECTORS OF MILLENNIAL MEDIA, INC.

By Merrick Hatcher and Andrew Lloyd

In An Nguyen v. Michael G. Barrett, et al., C.A. No. 11511-VCG (Del. Ch. Sept. 28, 2016), Vice Chancellor Glasscock granted defendants’ motion to dismiss claims brought by a stockholder against members of the board of directors of Millennial Media, Inc., a Delaware corporation (“Millennial”), finding that plaintiff’s allegations failed to state a non-exculpated claim of breach of fiduciary duty with respect to alleged disclosure violations in connection with Millennial Media’s acquisition by AOL, Inc. (“AOL”). Read More

Chancery Court Allows Breach of Fiduciary Duty Claims to Proceed Against Board of Directors of Windstream Holdings, Inc.

By:  Eric Freedman and Makda Goitom

In Doppelt v. Windstream Holdings, Inc., No. 10629-VCN (Del. Ch. Feb. 5, 2016), the Delaware Court of Chancery denied a motion to dismiss claims brought by plaintiff stockholders against a Windstream Holdings Inc.’s board of directors for breach of fiduciary duty, finding that the plaintiffs’ allegations were reasonably conceivable and that the director liability exculpation provision in the corporation’s certificate of incorporation would not clearly preclude liability on the part of the board of directors. The Chancery Court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss as to plaintiffs’ claim for rescission and claim against the corporation for breach of fiduciary duty.

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Chancery Court Holds That a Proper Purpose with a Credible Basis to Investigate is Required to Grant a Section 220 Action in Pursuit of a Future Derivative Litigation

By Meghan Wotherspoon and Calvin Kennedy

The Chancery Court held that a stockholder must show that there is a proper purpose with a credible basis in order to succeed in a Section 220 action to inspect the books and records of a corporation.

In Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority v. AbbVie Inc. and James Rizzolo v. AbbVie Inc., the plaintiffs, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (“SEPTA”) and James Rizzolo (“Rizzolo”), as shareholders of defendant AbbVie Inc. (“AbbVie”), made individual written demands on AbbVie for inspection of certain books and records pursuant to Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law (“DGCL”). The plaintiffs sought to obtain records to demonstrate that AbbVie’s directors breached their fiduciary duties. AbbVie rejected the demands for failure to state a proper purpose and each plaintiff then filed a Section 220 Complaint. As the actions stemmed from the same event, the Court utilized a single Memorandum Opinion to deliver its decisions.

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I​​​​n re Zhongpin Inc. Stockholders Litig., C.A. No. 7393-VCN (November 26, 2014) (V.C. Noble)

By Elise Gabriel and David Bernstein

In In re Zhongpin, shareholders of Zhongpin Inc. (“Zhongpin” or the “Company”) brought a class action complaint for breach of fiduciary duty against Xianfu Zhu (“Zhu”), Zhongpin’s CEO and chairman of the board, and Zhongpin’s board of directors (the “Board”) in relation to a merger through which Zhu – who owned 17.3% of Zhongpin’s common stock – would acquire the remainder of the Company’s outstanding shares for $13.50 per share in cash. The transaction was approved by an independent committee of Zhongpin’s Board and the Merger Agreement required approval by a majority of the unrelated stockholders, although this requirement had not appeared in Zhu’s original proposal to Zhongpin’s Board.

On the defendants’ motion to dismiss, the Court held that the plaintiffs had stated a claim for breach of fiduciary duty against Zhu and the individual defendants. The Court stated that plaintiffs had adequately alleged that Zhu was a controlling stockholder even though he owned only 17.3% of Zhongpin’s stock by pointing to a statement in Zhongpin’s Form 10-K that referred to Zhu as “our controlling stockholder” and that said that as a result of the stock ownership “our controlling stockholder” was able to exercise significant influence over a variety of matters, including election of directors, the amount of dividends, if any, new securities issuances and mergers and acquisitions. The Court further held that the transaction was subject to review under the entire fairness standard rather than the business judgment rule because, even though the Merger Agreement required approval by a majority of the unrelated stockholders (and that approval was obtained), Zhu’s original proposal had not included a majority of the minority requirement at the outset. Finally, the Court was unwilling to dismiss the claims against the directors even though Zhongpin’s certificate of incorporation contained a provision under DGCL Section 102(b)(7) protecting directors against monetary liability, because, in a case subject to the entire fairness standard, a claim against directors cannot be dismissed until there is a determination as to entire fairness.

In re Zhongpin

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