Topic: Fiduciary Duty

Chancery Court Awards Damages for Breach of Fiduciary Duty Stemming from Director’s Refusal to Sign Self-Help Documents

By: C.J. Voss and Rich Minice

In CertiSign Holding, Inc. v. Sergio Kulikovsky, C.A. No. 12055-VCS, the Court found that Sergio Kulikovsky (“Kulikovsky”), a former director of CertiSign Holding, Inc. (“CertiSign”), had breached his fiduciary duty of loyalty to CertiSign by actively sabotaging corporate self-help efforts in a bid to advance his own personal objectives. The Court also denied Kulikovsky’s counterclaims for judicial validation of certain stock option grants and the assumption by CertiSign of a debt owed to Kulikovsky, and awarded Certisign damages in the amount of $390,455.20 for the “legal fees and expenses incurred by CertiSign in connection with its efforts to remedy its defective capitalization and board issues.”

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Chancery Court Clarifies “Constituent Corporation”

By: Stephan H. Coonrod and Stephanie S. Liu

In City of North Miami Beach General Employees’ Retirement Plan, et al. v. Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Inc., et al., (C.A. No. 2018-0227-AGB (Del. Ch. June 1, 2018)), the Court of Chancery held that the term “constituent corporation” as used in Section 262 of the Delaware General Corporation Law means only an entity that actually is being merged or combined with another entity in a merger or consolidation and does not include a parent of such entities. Thus, the Court ruled that the Dr Pepper stockholder plaintiffs are not entitled to appraisal rights because Dr Pepper is not a constituent corporation, but rather the parent of one of two corporations to be merged in connection with the proposed transaction.

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MOTION FOR A TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER OF CONTROLLING STOCKHOLDERS DENIED AS NO EXTRAORDINARY CIRCUMSTANCES FOUND

By Annette Becker and Caitlin Velasco

In CBS Corporation, et al. v. National Amusements, Inc., et al., Civil Action No. 2018-0342-AGB, the Court of Chancery denied a motion for temporary retraining order brought by CBS Corporation (“CBS”) and five independent directors of CBS (the “Plaintiffs”) to restrain controlling shareholders, Shari Redstone, her father Sumner Redstone, National Amusements, Inc. (“NAI”), NAI Entertainment Holdings LLC, and the Sumner M. Redstone National Amusements Trust (the “Defendants”) from taking certain actions that would interfere with the governance of CBS or other proposed actions of the board of directors of CBS.  The Court found that there was no precedent for the type of relief requested by Plaintiff and that no extraordinary circumstances existed to warrant the grant of such relief. Read More

Court of Chancery Dismisses Breach of Fiduciary Duty Claim as Duplicative of Breach of Contract Claim

By: Scott Waxman and Zack Sager

In MHS Capital LLC v. Goggin, the Delaware Court of Chancery granted a motion to dismiss a breach of fiduciary duty claim against the manager of a Delaware limited liability company because all of the manager’s conduct that could have formed the basis of such claim was covered by the duties of the manager delineated in the limited liability company agreement.  The Court also analyzed and dismissed claims for, among other things, fraud, breach of the implied contractual covenant of good faith and fair dealing, unjust enrichment, and misappropriation of trade secrets.

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CONTROLLING STOCKHOLDER CANNOT ADVANCE ITS OWN SELF-INTEREST AT EXPENSE OF MINORITY STOCKHOLDERS

By: C. J. Voss and Rich Minice

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.

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Chancery Court Denies Motion to Dismiss Brought by Defendant Tesla Motors, Inc. After Concluding that Elon Musk is a Controlling Stockholder

By Holly Hatfield and Daisy Sexton

In In Re Tesla Motors, Inc. Stockholder Litigation, the Delaware Chancery Court denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss an action brought by plaintiffs (Tesla stockholders) against nominal Defendant Tesla Motors in connection with Tesla’s acquisition of SolarCity Corporation.  Plaintiffs alleged that Tesla’s board of directors breached their fiduciary duties by approving the acquisition of SolarCity, which benefitted SolarCity stakeholders but negatively affected Tesla stockholders.  SolarCity is a public Delaware corporation founded by Elon Musk and his cousins, Peter and Lyndon Rive.  Musk and his cousins sit on the SolarCity Board. Lyndon was SolarCity’s CEO and Peter was its CTO.

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Court of Chancery Holds That Plaintiff Failed to Meet Burden of Proof With Respect to Mistake-Based Reformation Claim

By: Scott Waxman and Tami Mack

In Richard B. Gamberg 2007 Family Trust v. United Restaurant Group, L.P., C.A. No. 10994-VCMR (Del. Ch. January 26, 2018), the Court of Chancery held that limited partner, Richard B. Gamberg 2007 Family Trust (the “Plaintiff”), failed to meet its burden of proof with respect to various claims against United Restaurant Group L.P. (the “Partnership”), Atlantic Coast Dining, Inc. (the “General Partner”), and the directors/shareholders of the General Partner (the “Shareholder Defendants”; together with the Partnership and the General Partner, the “Defendants”), which included a mistake-based reformation claim, among other breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty claims.

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PLAINTIFFS WERE UNABLE TO ROUSE SUPPORT FOR THEIR POSITION THAT A MINORITY STOCKHOLDER WAS A CONTROLLER AND BREACHED FIDUCIARY DUTIES BECAUSE THEY DID NOT PLEAD SUFFICIENT FACTS

By: Annette Becker and Rich Minice

In In re Rouse Properties, Inc. Fiduciary Litigation, C.A. No. 12194-VCS, the George Leon Family Trust and Dr. Robert A Corwin (the “Plaintiffs”) sought to recover damages on behalf of Rouse Properties Inc. (“Rouse”) stockholders, for breach of fiduciary duties and aiding and abetting breaches of fiduciary duties against Brookfield Asset Management Inc. (“Brookfield”) and five Rouse directors individually arising out of a July 2016 merger between two mall real estate holding companies (the “Merger”). The court dismissed all claims finding that Brookfield was not a minority controlling stockholder of Rouse and did not wield undue influence over the board of directors of Rouse in general or during Merger discussions and that the Plaintiffs failed to well plead that the stockholder vote approving the Merger was uninformed or coerced.

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MULTI-BILLION DOLLAR INVESTMENT MANAGER AND DIRECTORS REMAIN AT RISK

By: Kevin Stichter and Samira Torshizi

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

Court of Chancery Applies Corwin Ratification to Merger Involving Private Equity Firm Favored by Company’s Founder

By: Nicholas I. Froio and Taylor B. Bartholomew

In Morrison v. Berry, C.A. No. 12808-VCG (Del. Ch. Sept. 28, 2017), the Delaware Court of Chancery held on a motion to dismiss that plaintiff failed to plead facts from which it was reasonably conceivable that a tender of nearly eighty percent of the shares of The Fresh Market (the “Company”) was uninformed or coerced for purposes of surviving ratification under applicable caselaw in connection with the Company’s acquisition by private equity firm Apollo Management, L.P. (“Apollo”).

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CHANCERY COURT DISMISSES STOCKHOLDERS’ BREACH OF FIDUCIARY DUTY AND AIDING AND ABETTING CLAIMS RELATING TO STOCK-FOR-STOCK MERGER

By Remsen Kinne and Calvin Kennedy

In In re MeadWestvaco Stockholders Litigation, the defendants moved to dismiss class action claims brought by stockholders of MeadWestvaco Corporation (the “Company”) for breach of fiduciary duty and aiding and abetting claims relating to the Company’s board of director’s approval of a strategic stock-for-stock merger of equals entered into between the Company and Rock-Tenn Company that closed in 2015.  The court held that the complaint did not contain factual allegations sufficient to state a claim against the directors for bad faith in connection with the approval of the merger.

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Unclean Hands and Unreasonable Demands — Chancery Court Holds That Plaintiff’s Fiduciary Duty Claims Fail Due to Doctrine of Unclean Hands

By Scott Waxman and Jonathan Miner

In Thomas McKenna, et al., v. David Singer, et al., C.A. No. 11371-VCMR (Del. Ch. July 31, 2017), the Delaware Court of Chancery relied on the doctrine of unclean hands to rule against the McKennas, a father and son team of would-be energy conversion financiers, who brought a claim for breach of fiduciary duties against their business partners, Daniel and David Singer, for alleged misappropriation of a corporate opportunity. The Singers were brothers and co-owned of an energy distribution business conducted through their companies, Singer Energy Group, LLC (“SEG”) and Robison Energy, LLC (“Robison Energy”). The Singers and McKennas formed two entities together, Robison Energy Fund, LLC (“REF”) and Green Energy Companies, LLC (“GEC”), with the intent of using REF and GEC to create a new financing business that would assist in capitalizing the Singers’ existing businesses and would act as an underwriting arm for loans to customers that wanted to finance energy conversion projects performed by Robison Energy.  These business and financing plans failed and the Singers turned instead to Westport Capital Partners (“Westport”) for a financing deal in which the McKennas, REF and GEC were ultimately not involved. The McKennas then sued the Singers on the theory that the Singers misappropriated an opportunity that belonged to REF and GEC. The Court found that the McKennas had misrepresented their previous financing work, and such misrepresentations had been integral in inducing the Singers to enter into a business relationship with the McKennas. As such, the McKennas could not now “seek to enforce the fiduciary duties that attached in part because of their misrepresentations.” The Court also considered on the merits the McKennas’ misappropriation claim and determined that it also failed because the opportunity with Westport never belonged to REF and GEC and was an opportunity solely for Robison Energy.

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