You May Think You Are a Partner, But… Chancery Opinion Reaffirms That Any Agreement, Written or Oral, Must Include All Material Terms

In a recent decision by Vice Chancellor Glasscock of the Delaware Court of Chancery, Handler v. Centerview Partners Holdings, L.P., the Vice Chancellor considered whether a partnership agreement existed based on a purported oral agreement. The Court of Chancery’s decision provides useful guidance to practitioners and reaffirms that, while Delaware law permits oral agreements, including partnership agreements, that agreement must include all material, essential terms – an agreement to agree is insufficient.

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The Powers That Be: Supreme Court Holds That Non-Voting Stockholder Classes Cannot Invoke the “Powers, Preferences or Special Rights” Exception in Section 242, to Vote on Charter Amendments to Exculpate Officers From Duty of Care Breaches

Following amendments in August 2022 to Section 102(b)(7) of the Delaware General Corporate Law (“DGCL”) to allow corporations to include provisions in their respective charters exculpating officers for breaches of the duty of care, a number of corporations naturally took steps to add such provisions.  Stockholder challenges followed in In re Fox Corp./Snap Section 242 Litigation, No. 120, 2023, 2024 WL 176575 (Del. Jan. 17, 2024), as revised (Jan. 25, 2024), which involved parallel lawsuits contesting the manner in which two separate corporations with multi-class capital structures adopted amendments providing for officer exculpation.  The Delaware Supreme Court ultimately affirmed a lower court decision in favor of the corporations, holding that, consistent with their respective charters, the corporations validly obtained approval from stockholder classes permitted to vote and validly excluded from the vote non-voting stockholder classes.

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A Reminder of Board Primacy: Delaware Court of Chancery Invalidates Stockholder Agreement Provisions Encroaching on Board-Level Decisions

On February 23, 2024, the Delaware Court of Chancery issued an opinion in West Palm Beach Firefighters’ Pension Fund v. Moelis & Co. invalidating certain stockholder agreement provisions that gave a significant stockholder broad pre-approval rights over corporate actions. The opinion serves as a reminder of the contours of board authority under DGCL Section 141(a) and how contractual agreements may “improperly constrain a board’s authority.” It remains to be seen if the decision will be appealed, but at present, it should be evaluated by parties considering contractual provisions that may directly or indirectly limit director decision-making.

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Don’t Go It Alone? Or Do. Delaware Chancery Court Rules That A Single-Member Special Litigation Committee’s Recommendation Passes Muster

Last month, Vice Chancellor Glasscock dismissed shareholder claims in Teamsters Local 443 Health Services & Insurance Plan v. John C. Chou (Del. Ch. Nov. 17, 2023) (“Teamsters II”) after finding that a single-member special litigation committee (“SLC”) had sufficiently investigated the stockholder’s allegations before recommending dismissal. Vice Chancellor Glasscock’s decision is not the first time that the Court of Chancery approved a single-member SLC’s motion to dismiss a derivative suit. For example, in April 2023, Vice Chancellor Lori W. Will granted a single-member SLC’s motion to terminate a shareholder action In re Baker Hughes Derivative Litig., 2023 WL 2967780 (Del. Ch. Apr. 17, 2023).

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Action Items for U.S. Public Companies to Consider for 2024

Rapid rulemaking and aggressive enforcement by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), combined with legislative, judicial, and regulatory developments, have created new requirements and expectations for U.S. public companies. As we approach year end, such companies might consider taking the following actions in 2024: (more…)

What’s in a Name, Part II

Naming a registered investment company will become more challenging now that the Securities and Exchange Commission has significantly broadened the scope of the rule governing fund names. Moreover, the SEC estimates that when the Names Rule goes into effect, three out of four registered funds will be subject to the new requirements.

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“Simplify, simplify, simplify”: Delaware Chancery Declines to Dismiss Claims Regarding a Gordian Knot of Private Equity-Related Contracts

Vice Chancellor Sam Glasscock III recently declined to grant a motion to dismiss in Paul Capital Advisors, L.L.C. et al. v. Holland, 2023 WL 5551017, C.A. No. 2022-0167-SG (Del. Aug. 29, 2023) (“Paul Capital”), which involved claims arising out of an intricate set of transactions intended to monetize certain illiquid assets. In sustaining the claims, the Court of Chancery colorfully outlined the challenges of deciphering a highly complex, “monkey’s fist of contracts” without accompanying provisions describing the purpose for such complexity in the first place, and encouraged practitioners to instead choose the path of simplicity.

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Two Cautionary Tales: Fee Shifting Imposed for Litigating Books-and-Records Inspection Demands

While there are limits to a stockholder’s right to inspect books and records under Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law or other sections allowing inspection—and corporations can negotiate the scope of inspection—there are also limits to how vigorously a corporation can resist a stockholder’s inspection demand, particularly when it does not present novel legal issues. Two recent fee-shifting decisions issued by Vice Chancellor Zurn provide a cautionary reminder of those limits, which were previously set out by the Court of Chancery in opinions such as Pettry v. Gilead Scis. Inc. (2020), Marilyn Abrams Living Trust v. Pope Invs. Inc. (2017), and McGowan v. Empress Entm’t (2000). The unmistakable message: if the right to inspection is clear, a defendant should think twice about a blanket opposition, unless the defendant does not mind paying the plaintiff’s legal fees in the end.

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Don’t Become Complacent About Confidentiality

The filing of any action, even one that is quickly settled or dismissed, nevertheless poses a risk of exposing a party’s nonpublic information to public view. Many are familiar with efforts to maintain confidentiality at the outset of a litigation, including through a well-crafted confidentiality order. But a recent Delaware Court of Chancery decision reminds us that parties must reinforce those efforts after final disposition of the case or risk the exposure of previously sealed material.

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SEC’s Cybersecurity Disclosure Rules Are Here. Is Your Company Ready to Comply?

Companies are facing more attacks on their information systems. And, as their cyber risk skyrockets, the SEC has stepped in with new regulations, telling businesses what to disclose about these incidents — and requiring detailed disclosures on cyber risk management more broadly. With the deadline for compliance fast approaching, businesses are scrambling to mitigate their legal risk and comply with regulations that some say may be an overreach.

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