In Wenske v. Blue Bell Creameries, Inc., C.A. No. 2017-0699-JRS (Del. Ch. August 28, 2019), the Court of Chancery held that Blue Bell Creameries, Inc., the sole general partner (the “General Partner”) of Blue Bell Creameries, LP (the “Partnership”), was not a disinterested entity such that it could delegate its otherwise valid power to manage derivative litigation. The Court also held that it was not appropriate to undertake a conflict analysis with respect to the individual members of the board of directors of the General Partner (the “GP Board”), because such analysis would disregard the established policy of respecting the legal fiction of the business entity.Read More
In McElrath v. Kalanick, C.A. No. 2017-0888-SG (Ch. Del. April 1, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery (the “Court”) dismissed a derivative suit brought by a stockholder of Uber Technologies, Inc. (“Uber”) for damages arising from its acquisition of Ottomotto, LLC (“Otto”), an autonomous vehicle technology company. Plaintiff did not make demand on the defendant board of directors of Uber (the “Board”) for action prior to pursuing litigation. The Court dismissed the derivative suit finding that a majority of the Board that would have evaluated a demand was disinterested and independent, and therefore, had plaintiff made demand of the Board, such a demand would not have been futile.Read More
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.Read More
In Sheldon v. Pinto Technology Ventures, C.A. No. 2017-0838-MTZ (Del. Ch. Jan. 25, 2019), the Delaware Court of Chancery in a Memorandum Opinion granted a motion to dismiss breach of fiduciary duty claims and other allegations brought by the founder and an early stockholder (“Plaintiffs”) of non-party IDEV Technologies, Inc., a Delaware corporation (“IDEV”). The Court found that Plaintiffs’ primary claims were derivative, rejecting Plaintiffs’ assertion that Defendants were judicially estopped by a Texas state court ruling from arguing for that characterization of the claims, and dismissed the complaint for failure to comply with Chancery Court Rule 23.1’s derivative claims demand or demand futility pleading requirements.Read More
By Joanna Diakos and Tom Sperber
In Kyle Ellis (AbbVie, Inc.) v. Richard A. Gonzalez, et al., the Delaware Chancery Court dismissed a derivative suit for failing to make a demand and to allege particularized facts demonstrating that demand would have been futile. Kyle Ellis (“Plaintiff”) alleged breaches of fiduciary duty by the CEO of AbbVie, Inc. (“AbbVie”), Richard A. Gonzalez (“Gonzalez”), and the individual members of AbbVie’s board of directors (“Director Defendants”) in connection with a proposed but ultimately abandoned corporate inversion between pharmaceutical giants AbbVie and Shire plc (“Shire”). The Court held that because AbbVie’s certificate of incorporation contained a Section 102(b)(7) exculpatory clause, Plaintiff had to allege that a majority of the board faced a substantial likelihood of liability for breaching the duty of loyalty in order for demand to be excused. Ultimately, Plaintiff failed to do that.
At all relevant times, Plaintiff was a minority stockholder of AbbVie, a Delaware corporation headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. Shire was an Island of Jersey biopharmaceutical company with its headquarters in Dublin, Ireland.
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
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.
In Salberg v. Genworth Financial, Inc., C.A. No. 2017-0018-JRS (Del. Ch. July 27, 2017), the Delaware Court of Chancery denied the demand by the plaintiff stockholders (the “Stockholders”) for books and records from defendant Genworth Financial, Inc. (“Genworth”) under Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law. Genworth asserted the attorney-client privilege and the Stockholders sought to invoke the “celebrated” Garner fiduciary exception. While the § 220 demand was made in the context of a pending merger, influential to the ruling was the fact that the requested books and records were relevant to a separate derivative action among the same parties. Although most of the Garner “good cause” factors weighed in favor of an exception to the privilege, the court held that the unique facts and circumstances surrounding the Stockholders’ demand barred them from accessing privileged information that was shielded from discovery in the derivative suit.
By Shoshannah Katz and Tom Sperber
In Francis M. Ford (VMware Inc.) v. VMware Inc. C.A. No. 11714-VCL (Del. Ch. May 2, 2017), the Delaware Court of Chancery granted defendants’ motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint in full for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Francis M. Ford (“Plaintiff”) alleged breaches of fiduciary duty against VMware Inc. (“VMware”), EMC Corp. (“EMC”), Denali Holding Co. (“Denali”), Dell Inc. (“Dell”), Universal Acquisition Co. (“Universal”), and several directors of these companies. Plaintiff was a minority stockholder of VMware prior to a merger between EMC, VMware’s controlling stockholder, and Denali that closed in September 2016. The Court held that Plaintiff failed to allege that the parties to the merger breached any fiduciary duties to the VMware stockholders or that the parties otherwise bound VMware to unfair terms. The Court also found that the restructuring of VMware prior to the merger was subject to the business judgment rule, and that Plaintiff failed to sufficiently plead that Denali’s issuance of a tracking stock reflecting the performance of VMware’s stock price was a misappropriation or a wrongful dilution.
In In re Qualcomm Inc. FCPA Stockholder Derivative Litigation, C.A. No. 11152-VCMR (Del. Ch. June 16, 2017), the Delaware Court of Chancery granted a motion to dismiss brought by defendants for failure to state a claim and for failure to make demand or to allege demand futility with sufficient facts, dismissing the plaintiff-stockholders’ derivative action on Court of Chancery Rule 23.1 grounds. The court held that the plaintiffs failed to support the inference that the board acted in bad faith pursuant to a Caremark claim for breach of fiduciary duties and found that the plaintiffs’ proffered documentary evidence suggested that the defendant-directors had yielded to—rather than charged after—red flags raised about the Qualcomm’s compliance with federal anti-bribery laws.
By Scott E. Waxman and Russell E. Deutsch
In In re Massey Energy Company Derivative And Class Action Litigation, C.A. No. 5430-CB (Del. Ch. May 4, 2017), the Chancery Court dismissed both the direct class action claim for “inseparable fraud” and the derivative claim brought by the former shareholders of Massey Energy (“Massey” or the “Corporation”) against the former directors and officers of Massey for breaching their fiduciary duties by causing Massey to operate in willful disregard of safety regulations. The court dismissed the derivative claim holding that the plaintiffs were not continuous shareholders, and therefore lacked standing to bring a derivative claim after Massey merged into Alpha Natural Resources, Inc. (Alpha) in June of 2011. The court dismissed the plaintiffs’ direct claim for “inseparable fraud” claim holding that, though pled as a direct claim, it was, in fact, also a derivative claim that the plaintiffs’ lacked the standing to maintain.
In Dietrichson v. Knott, C.A. No. 11965-VCMR (Del. Ch. Apr. 19, 2017), the Chancery Court dismissed the entire complaint brought by one member of a limited liability company against another member for paying himself an unauthorized salary and misappropriating the proceeds of a sale of the company’s assets, concluding that the claims made were derivative rather than direct stockholder claims. The Court also held that plaintiff’s claims were not “dual-natured” (i.e., having both direct and derivative aspects), because the plaintiff failed to plead that the transaction resulted in both an improper transfer of economic value and voting power from the minority equity holders to the controlling equity holder.