On October 29, 2021, the Delaware Court of Chancery issued a rare opinion holding that plaintiffs had succeeded in pleading that a board of directors wrongfully had refused their demand to pursue certain claims. Following short on its heels on November 8, 2021 was another decision illustrating why such opinions are so rare, and the high burden plaintiffs must meet in order adequately plead wrongful refusal. (more…)
In re the Chemours Company Derivative Litigation, Vice Chancellor Glasscock recently wrestled with an apparent conflict between two provisions of the Delaware General Corporation Law (DGCL)—and chose the path that protects directors. Vice Chancellor Glasscock refused to hold directors strictly liable for negligent stock repurchases or dividends—which would be inconsistent with Delaware’s general limitation on director liability solely to damages for gross negligence (unless exculpated) or loyalty breaches—and instead enforced an “incongruent” provision that accords directors protection where they rely on corporate records, officers, or experts with respect to corporate surplus available to repurchase shares or issue dividends. (more…)
Two years ago the Delaware Supreme Court, in Marchand v. Barnhill, allowed Caremark claims to proceed against a group of directors in connection with a listeria outbreak at their company’s ice cream manufacturing plants. Applying Caremark — often quoted as “possibly the most difficult theory in corporat[e] law” — the court determined the board failed to implement reasonable oversight and monitoring on “mission critical issues.” There, food safety was “mission critical.” Since Marchand¸ courts have applied these principles to, among other cases, a biopharmaceutical company’s failure to comply with FDA regulations and an auto parts company’s failure to properly monitor its financial reporting. Now, the Delaware Chancery Court has provided another guidepost, this time in the aerospace industry, finding that certain of Boeing’s stockholders adequately pled Caremark claims against Boeing’s Board. (more…)
On Sept. 7, the Delaware Chancery Court allowed In re: The Boeing Co. Derivative Litigation to proceed, surviving a motion to dismiss.
The action alleges that directors breached their fiduciary duties with respect to their oversight of safety issues and arises out of two crashes of the company’s 737 MAX aircraft. (more…)
A pair of opinions released by the Delaware Supreme Court in a single week have revisited longstanding precedent governing shareholder suits that claim corporate wrongdoing. As discussed in a companion post on this blog, the first of those opinions, Brookfield Asset Management Inc. v. Rosson, restricted the ability of shareholders to bring direct claims under certain circumstances, instead forcing them to pursue more procedurally challenging derivative suits. In the second case, United Food & Commercial Workers Union & Participating Food Industry Employers Tri-State Pension Fund v. Zuckerberg, the Delaware Supreme Court adopted a new three-part demand-futility test that clarifies the standard shareholders must meet to file such derivative suits, without first taking their complaints to the company’s board of directors. (more…)
Every once in a while, a court admits it made a mistake. And, in even rarer circumstances, that admission comes from a court as prominent as the Supreme Court of Delaware. But that’s exactly what happened last week in Brookfield Asset Management, Inc. v. Rosson, in which Delaware’s highest court overruled its own 2006 holding in Gentile v. Rosette that certain claims of corporate dilution are “dual-natured” and may be pursued both as derivative claims and as direct claims by stockholders. The Court’s decision to revisit a much-criticized decision is likely to restore some predictability and analytic consistency to the resolution of an important and threshold question frequently presented in stockholder litigation: whether a claim is properly characterized as direct (on behalf of one or a class of a company’s stockholders) or derivative (on behalf of the company itself). (more…)
As regular readers know, this blog typically covers the latest developments and trends emerging from the Delaware Court of Chancery. For this post, however, we revisit first principles and remind our readers of the bedrock decisions of modern Delaware M&A practice, and highlight 11 key decisions with which every practitioner should be familiar. (more…)
Last week, Vice Chancellor Joseph R. Slights III issued a ruling in Tornetta v. Musk that serves as a reminder that the corporate attorney-client privilege is not absolute. Deciding a discovery motion in a stockholder derivative suit challenging the 2018 compensation deal for Tesla CEO Elon Musk, the Court ordered the defendants to produce a limited set of documents that reflected communications between Musk and in-house counsel, though it rejected the plaintiff’s request for additional communications between in-house counsel, the Board’s Compensation Committee, and outside advisors. The decision serves as a reminder to company counsel, both internal and external, that their communications may not always be protected from stockholder plaintiffs in shareholder derivative actions.
Starting last summer, a series of derivative cases were filed against boards of a number of public companies alleging that the boards failed to create meaningful diversity in their board rooms and amongst the ranks of senior management. These cases, filed mostly by one law firm and primarily in the Northern District of California, had the markings of becoming a new genre of claim. Two of these cases have now proceeded through their first motion hearing and neither survived intact. Ocegueda v. Zuckerberg et al., No. 20-cv-04444 (the Facebook case) and Lee v. Fisher et al., No. 20-cv-06163 (the Gap case). Although other cases remain pending and perhaps these two will be refiled, judicial reaction so far suggests that other methods to promote diversity may have greater impact.
Securities class actions against life sciences companies are almost always second-order problems. The first-order problem is a business or regulatory setback that, when disclosed by the company or a third party, triggers a stock price decline. Following the decline, plaintiffs’ class-action attorneys will search the company’s previous public statements and seek to identify inconsistencies between past positive comments and the current negative development. In most cases, plaintiffs’ attorneys will seek to show that any arguable inconsistency amounts to fraud — that is, they will claim that the earlier statement was knowingly or recklessly false or misleading. Where a company makes the challenged statement in a public offering document — a registration statement or prospectus — plaintiffs need only show that the statement was materially false or misleading, not that it was made with scienter.