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.


Voting Commitments Matter and Will Be Enforced: Delaware Supreme Court Affirms Chancery Decision Holding Activist Stockholders to Their Bargain

When companies settle proxy contests with activist stockholders, the activists generally give up stockholder-level influence in exchange for board-level influence.  In a typical agreement in this setting, activists gain board seats in exchange for a commitment to vote their shares with the board’s recommendation on proposals put to stockholders.  Activists also agree to standstill periods in which they refrain from taking actions opposed to the board, and from increasing their holdings above a specified cap.


On the Efficacy of Litigating Post-Employment Disputes in Delaware (Reciprocity Is a Two-Way Street)

Last November, Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster issued an Opinion in Sunder Energy, LLC v. Jackson denying a company’s application for a preliminary injunction against a former employee based on restrictive covenants embedded in that employee’s Incentive Units. The Court held that the company could not enforce the covenants because the company’s Managers breached their fiduciary duties in the creation of those covenants, and because the covenants themselves are “overly broad” and “unreasonable.” The Court noted, for example, that covenants in this residential solar panel sales company’s Incentive Units could theoretically have indefinitely prevented the former employee’s daughter from door-to-door sales of Girl Scout cookies. (more…)

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.


Protecting Its “Unwaivable Right to a Jury Trial,” California Waves Goodbye to a Delaware Forum Selection Clause

I. Overview of Enforceability of Forum Selection Clauses

The Delaware Court of Chancery has promoted the use of forum selection clauses in corporate charters since its 2010 opinion In re Revlon Inc. Shareholders Litigation. Three years later, in Boilermakers v. Chevron, the Delaware Court of Chancery ruled that forum selection clauses in corporate bylaws are facially valid for types of shareholder litigation, including derivative claims, fiduciary claims, statutory claims under the Delaware General Corporation Law, and claims regarding internal affairs. In light of these decisions, Delaware forum selection clauses contained in corporate charters or bylaws of the type found facially valid in Boilermakers have been enforced by state courts in many states. But a recent decision from a California appellate court suggests that some California courts may be resistant to such provisions based on California public policy in favor of the right to a jury trial.


Con Ed Uncertainty: Court of Chancery Questions Enforceability of Merger Agreement Provisions Allowing Target to Seek Lost Merger Premium

In an October 31, 2023 decision sure to spook practitioners, the Court of Chancery called into doubt the enforceability of “Con Ed provisions.”  Con Ed provisions, so-named for the 2005 Second Circuit decision prohibiting stockholders from pursuing a $1.2 billion merger premium damages claim, create a path for the target’s recovery of lost merger premium if the buyer breaches and a deal fails.


The First Test Passed: Corporations Are Free To Use Identity-Based Voting, For Now…

In a recent ruling on summary judgment, the court found that Bumble, Inc.’s “identity-based voting” does not violate Sections 212(a) or 151(a) of the Delaware General Corporation Law (the “DGCL”). Colon v. Bumble, Inc., et al., C.A. No. 2022-0824-JTL. However, the court left open for another day the question of whether such a governance structure is equitable.


Delaware Reminds LLCs: Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

In In re: Dissolution of Doehler Dry Ingredient Solutions, LLC (Sept. 15, 2022), the Delaware Court of Chancery recently restated the high bar for a claim for judicial dissolution to succeed. Following his removal by written consent, a minority member and former manager of a Delaware limited liability company brought a claim for judicial dissolution of the entity. The former manager alleged that judicial dissolution was warranted due to alleged breaches of the company’s operating agreement, a potential voting deadlock on important matters, and alleged breaches of fiduciary duties.


Bylaw Amendments, Shareholder Activism, and Flying Close to the Sun

A case presently before the Delaware Court of Chancery challenging a corporation’s advance notice bylaw amendments, initiated by activist investor Politan Capital Management LP in October 2022,[2] brings to mind the storied Icarus. In the legend, a master craftsman creates wings of feathers and wax for himself and his son to escape danger. He cautions his son Icarus not to fly too close to the sun, lest the wings melt. Icarus, carried away with this device figuratively and literally, flies too high and tumbles into the sea.


The Era of Section 11 Litigation in State Courts Appears To Be Ending

On April 28, 2022, a state appellate court for the first time addressed provisions in a public company’s certification of incorporation that designate federal court as the sole forum for the litigation of Section 11 claims.  Wong v. Restoration Robotics, Inc.,  – Cal. Rptr. 3d –, 2022 WL 1261423.  Section 11 of the Securities Act of 1933 gives stock purchasers a claim against stock issuers and a broad range of other defendants for materially false or misleading statements in registration statements.  (more…)