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 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.”
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 Ryan v. Armstrong, et al., C.A. No. 12717-VCG (Del. Ch. May 15, 2017), the Delaware Chancery Court dismissed the derivative action brought by a Plaintiff-shareholder (“Plaintiff”) against specified members of the board of directors (“Defendants”) of nominal defendant The Williams Companies (“Williams”). Plaintiff brought his claim against the Defendants without first demanding that the board pursue an action following Williams’ decision to allegedly undertake defensive measures against a takeover. The court granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss holding that Plaintiff failed to plead facts demonstrating that an exception to the demand requirement of Court of Chancery Rule 23.1 applied.
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.
On November 3, 2014, the Delaware Chancery Court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss derivative claims in Higher Education Management Group, Inc. v. Mathews, C.A. No. 911-VCP (Del. Ch. Nov. 3, 2014) (Parsons, V.C.), after finding, among other things, that plaintiffs failed to plead with particularity facts showing demand upon nominal defendant’s board would have been futile. In this case, defendant corporation’s subsidiary, Aspen University, paid out nearly $2.2 million in what were apparently expense reimbursements between 2003 and 2011. These outlays were never recorded in the firm’s accounts—a fact discovered by management through a November 2011 audit. Apparently, rather than recording the expense, which would have required Aspen to restate previous years’ financial statements, management chose to treat the $2.2 million as a secured loan receivable owed by Aspen University’s former CEO—plaintiff Patrick Spada—with the intention of taking a write-off in the future. Spada denied there ever was a loan and alleged that defendant officers and directors materially misrepresented the corporation’s finances by knowingly mischaracterizing the $2.2 million as a loan.
The court did not reach the merits of plaintiffs’ accusations, and it instead found that plaintiffs failed to either make a demand on the board or sufficiently plead that such a demand would be futile. Plaintiffs had argued that the director defendants had made knowing misrepresentations that exposed them to a “substantial likelihood” of liability, and therefore all the directors were “interested” for purposes of satisfying the demand futility test. However, Plaintiffs pled events that, if taken as true, showed only that two directors knew that there was no loan. With regard to all the other directors, plaintiffs alleged only general knowledge of the loan being fake, attributing identical actions to all of the directors as a group without making specific allegations with regard to individual directors. According to the court, “such broad and identical assertions . . . do not meet the requirements of pleading facts with particularity.” Having found that the facts pled by the plaintiffs were only sufficient to show that a minority of directors were “interested,” the court concluded that a demand had not been shown to be futile and dismissed the claim.