Tag: Breach of Fiduciary Duty

Court of Chancery Dismisses Derivative Suit for Failure to Demonstrate Demand Futility because Plaintiff Failed to Allege Particularized Facts

By: Charles Carter and Caitlin Velasco

In Steinberg on behalf of Hortonworks, Inc. v. Bearden, C.A. No. 2017-0286-AGB (Del. Ch. May 30, 2018), the Delaware Court of Chancery granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the stockholder plaintiff’s derivative claims for breach of fiduciary duties under Court of Chancery Rule 23.1, because the plaintiff failed to make a pre-suit demand or demonstrate that doing so would be futile. The Court found that the plaintiff failed to plead particularized facts sufficient to raise reasonable doubt that a majority of the directors on the Hortonworks, Inc. board could have exercised their independent and disinterested business judgment in responding to a pre-suit demand. Read More

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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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 HOLDS THERE MUST BE A GAP IN AGREEMENT FOR AN IMPLIED COVENANT OF GOOD FAITH AND FAIR DEALING

By: Scott E. Waxman and Douglas A. Logan

In Christopher Miller, et al., v. HCP & Company, et al., memorandum opinion 180201, the Court of Chancery granted a motion to dismiss because the underlying Limited Liability Company Agreement did not contain a “gap” for an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing to fill. Rather, the Court of Chancery held that the Limited Liability Company Agreement contained negotiated investor favorable provisions regarding good faith and fair dealing, thus undercutting any argument that the Court of Chancery should read an implied covenant into the operating agreement.

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Court of Chancery Holds That Corwin Defense Is Not Appropriate for the Limited Scope and Purpose of a Books and Records Action Under Section 220

By: David Forney and Tami Mack

In Lavin v. West Corporation, C.A. No. 2017-0547-JRS (Del. Ch. December 29, 2017), the Court of Chancery held that stockholder plaintiff Mark Lavin (“Lavin”) had adequately demonstrated a credible basis from which the Court could infer that wrongdoing had occurred regarding the merger of West Corporation (the “Company”) and Apollo Global Management (“Apollo”) in support of Lavin’s Section 220 demand for inspection, and that a Corwin defense (that the transaction at issue was approved by a majority of disinterested and informed stockholders) is not a bar to an otherwise properly supported Section 220 demand for inspection.

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Class Action Dismissed as Demand was Not Excused as Futile; Plaintiff Failed to Allege Facts Sufficient to Establish that a Majority of the Board Faced Substantial Likelihood of Liability for Non-Exculpated Claims

By: Annette Becker and Will Smith

In Lenois, et al. v. Lawal, et al., and Erin Energy Corporation, C.A. No. 11963-VCMR (Del. Ch. November 7, 2017), plaintiff Robert Lenois (“Plaintiff”) on behalf of himself and other stockholders brought a class action for breach of fiduciary duty against controllers and the board of directors of Erin Energy Corporation (“Erin”) for approving what was claimed to be an unfair transaction. The Delaware Court of Chancery dismissed the class action suit under Court of Chancery Rule 23.1, holding that the directors were protected by an exculpatory charter, and Plaintiff failed to meet the heightened pleading standard for demand futility set by the second prong of Aronson v. Lewis, 473 A.2d 805 (Del. 1984). Although Plaintiff pled with particularity that one director acted in bad faith, the complaint did not allege facts sufficient to establish that a majority of the board faced a substantial likelihood of liability for non-exculpated claims.

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Chancery Court Dismisses Claims Against Defendants and Holds that the Transactional Structure in M&F Worldwide Applies to Conflicted One Sided Controller Transactions

By: Annette Becker and Joshua Haft

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.

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COURT OF CHANCERY DISMISSES DERIVATIVE BREACH OF FIDUCIARY DUTY CLAIMS FOR FAILURE TO MAKE A PRE-SUIT DEMAND OR DEMONSTRATE DEMAND FUTILITY

By: Annette Becker and Caitlin Velasco

In Chester Cty. Emp. Ret. Fund v. New Residential Inv. Corp., C.A. No. 11058-VCMR (Del. Ch. Oct. 6, 2017), the Delaware Court of Chancery granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the stockholder plaintiff’s direct and derivative claims for breach of fiduciary duties under the Court of Chancery Rules 23.1 and 12(b)(6), because the plaintiff failed to make a pre-suit demand or demonstrate that doing so would be futile.  The Court found that although the facts alleged gave rise to a derivative claim, the plaintiff failed to make a pre-suit demand or plead particularized facts sufficient to raise a reasonable doubt that a majority of the directors on the New Residential Corp. (“New Residential”) board could have exercised their independent and disinterested business judgment in responding to a demand.

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CHANCERY COURT DISMISSES BREACH OF FIDUCIARY CLAIMS FOLLOWING THE CLOSING OF A MERGER INVOLVING INSIDER SIDE DEALS

By Joanna Diakos and Dean Brazier

In Alan Kahn v. Michael D. Stern, et al., C.A. No. 12498-VCG (Del. Ch. Aug. 28, 2017), the Delaware Chancery Court granted a motion to dismiss the stockholder plaintiff’s claims that the director defendants breached their fiduciary duties when they approved a merger that included side deals.  The Court noted that the plaintiff had the burden of proving either that the board was not disinterested or that the board acted in bad faith with respect to the disclosures in the information statement released to stockholders.  The Court concluded that the plaintiff failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

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CHANCERY COURT DECLINES TO DISMISS FIDUCIARY CLAIMS ARISING FROM A SELF-TENDER OFFER

By Lisa Stark and Dean Brazier

In Buttonwood Tree Value Partners L.P., et al. v. R.L. Polk & Co., Inc., et al., C.A. No. 9250-VCG (Del. Ch. July 24, 2017), the Delaware Chancery Court denied, in part, a motion to dismiss claims for breach of the fiduciary duty of loyalty brought by minority stockholders in R. L. Polk and Co., Inc. (“Polk”) against the directors of Polk and members of the Polk family, who controlled Polk, in connection with a self-tender offer.  In this case, the Court held that it was reasonably conceivable that the Polk directors who were affiliated with the Polk family deliberately caused Polk to conduct a self-tender offer at a low price to enable Polk family insiders to maximize their proceeds from a future sale of Polk.

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Even Languorous Litigation Must Abide Rule 12(b)(6), Chancery Court Holds

By: Scott E. Waxman and Will Smith

In Beach to Bay Real Estate Center LLC et al. v. Beach to Bay Realtors Inc. et al., Civil Action No. 10007-VCG (Del. Ch. July 10, 2017), the Delaware Court of Chancery granted in part the defendants’ motion to dismiss because the plaintiffs’ alleged only conclusory facts in support of their claims for breach of fiduciary duty and constructive trust. The court also dismissed the plaintiffs’ claim for breach of implied contract based on an oral LLC operating agreement, a theory of recovery that was in tension with the sole written document proffered by the plaintiffs and the plaintiffs’ own allegations about the parties’ obligations to the LLC.

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Court of Chancery Holds That Structurally Coercive Stockholder Vote Does Not Ratify Fiduciary Actions Related To Shares Issuance and Proxy Grant To Stockholder

By: Remsen Kinne and Tami Mack

In Sciabacucchi v. Liberty Broadband Corporation, C.A. No. 11418-VCG (Del. Ch. May 31, 2017), the Court of Chancery ruled on a motion to dismiss by defendants Liberty Broadband Corporation (“Liberty”), a stockholder of Charter Communications, Inc. (“Charter”) and officers and directors of Charter.  The Court held that facts alleged by plaintiff, a Charter stockholder, supported the inference that a vote by Charter stockholders approving a shares issuance to and voting proxy agreement with Liberty was structurally coercive.  The Court determined that since the vote was coercive, it did not ratify actions by Liberty and Charter’s directors and officers claimed by plaintiff to have breached fiduciary duties of loyalty.  As a result, the Court held, defendants were not entitled to dismissal of plaintiff’s claims solely on the basis that stockholder vote ratification operated to “cleanse” fiduciary duties breaches.

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