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