Plaintiffs’ bid for a US$5 million mootness fee in In re Oracle Corp. Derivative Litigation, C.A. No. 2017-0337-SG was denied by Vice Chancellor Glasscock, who noted that “not even great counsel can wring significant stockholder value from litigation over an essentially loyal and careful sales process.”
The Delaware Supreme Court recently held in In re Tesla Motors Stockholders’ Litigation, ___ A.3d ___, 2023 WL 3854008 (Del. Jun. 6, 2023) (“Tesla”), that an entire fairness analysis does not require perfection, so long as the acquisition itself was the result of fair dealing and fair price. Practitioners and boards engaging with a potentially conflicted transaction would be well served to study this opinion with care, particularly where the potential acquiror cannot (or chooses not to) employ a special committee of independent directors to handle negotiations.
Earlier this month, Vice Chancellor Morgan T. Zurn of the Delaware Court of Chancery issued a decision regarding an unsettled question of Delaware corporate law: whether an uncoerced and fully informed vote of disinterested stockholders may ratify and defeat a post-close claim seeking to enjoin certain governance measures and alleged entrenchment devices negotiated by a company’s board as part of a transaction. The court concluded that such a vote, known commonly as “Corwin cleansing,” does not apply to post-close claims for injunctive relief under Unocal Corp. v. Mesa Petroleum Co. The court’s decision, at least for now, will have immediate significance for company boards and their advisors when negotiating transactions or stockholder agreements that include measures that may be characterized as defensive or entrenching existing management or directors.
In a May 12, 2023 opinion following trial and post-trial argument, the Delaware Court of Chancery found for defendants Oracle founder Larry Ellison and CEO Safra Catz in In re Oracle Derivative Litigation, 2017-0337-SG, a shareholder derivative litigation case arising out of Oracle’s US$9.3 billion acquisition of NetSuite. The 10-day bench trial took place in July and August 2022 before Vice Chancellor Glasscock, and included two days of testimony by Catz and one day of testimony by Ellison, among other witnesses. The Court’s decision comes several months after plaintiffs’ voluntary dismissal, following the post-trial argument, of then-defendant Renée James, the Chair of a Special Committee of the Oracle Board overseeing the acquisition.
The boardroom frequently presents attorney-client privilege and work product protection issues. The Delaware Court of Chancery’s recent decision in Hyde Park Venture Partners Fund III, LP v. FairXchange, LLC, C.A. No. 2022-0344-JTL (Del. Ch. March 9, 2023), provides a reminder of the importance of vigilance in considering when and how to limit a director’s access to privileged materials in circumstances where directors’ interests may diverge – particularly where directors manage, or are affiliated with, investment funds owning stock of the Company.
The recent Court of Chancery decision in Delman v. GigAcquisitions3 offers some interesting insights into the circumstances in which “entire fairness” review applies, and where “Corwin cleansing” can be used to achieve a lesser review standard.
On December 27, 2022, after a 10-day bench trial in July and August 2022 and post-trial argument, the Court granted Plaintiffs’ stipulation to voluntarily dismiss Renée James, the Chair of a Special Committee of the Oracle Board in In re Oracle Derivative Litigation, 2017-0337-SG, a shareholder derivative litigation case arising out of Oracle’s US$9.3 billion acquisition of NetSuite. This case is one of the rare post-Cornerstone director independence cases to proceed to trial, following an investigation and decision by a special litigation committee to return the case to the shareholder Plaintiffs to pursue. The case was also procedurally unique as Plaintiffs opted to dismiss James following the 10-day trial and post-trial argument, rather than wait for an opinion from the Court.
In October 2021, in United Food v. Zuckerberg, the Delaware Supreme Court adopted a new three-part test for evaluating whether demand is futile in derivative suits. Prior to Zuckerberg, demand futility was long governed by Aronson v. Lewis (1984) and Rales v. Blasband (1993). The Aronson test excuses demand as futile if the allegations raise a reasonable doubt that “the directors are disinterested and independent” or that “the challenged transaction was otherwise the product of a valid business judgment.” The Rales test excuses demand if the allegations create a reasonable doubt that a majority of the board in place at the time of the demand “could have properly exercised its independent and disinterested business judgment in responding to a demand.” Without expressly overruling Aronson and Rales, the Delaware Supreme Court in Zuckerberg adopted a new three-part test, applied on a director-by-director basis, that excuses demand as futile if any of the three parts is true for at least a majority of the members of the board. The Delaware Supreme Court’s affirmance of the Court of Chancery’s holding in In re Camping World that the plaintiffs did not properly plead that demand was futile further cements the utilization of the Zuckerberg standard as the governing law in demand futility analysis.
Recently, the Delaware Court of Chancery issued another ruling regarding the sale of Authentix Acquisition Company, Inc. (“Authentix”) to Blue Water Energy LLP (“Blue Water”), which was approved in 2017 by Authentix’s Board of Directors (the “Board”) and its controlling stockholders. The June 3, 2022 decision (Manti Holdings, LLC v. Carlyle Group Inc., C.A. No. 2020-0657-SG, 2022 WL 1815759 (Del. Ch. June 3, 2022)) denied in part a motion to dismiss and held that the gravamen of the plaintiffs’ post-closing money damages complaint—allegations that the defendants breached fiduciary duties regarding the sale—sufficiently stated claims upon which relief could be granted. The ruling underscores the need for heightened care by target companies and their equity sponsors when contemplating a transaction supported by an equity sponsor, including in their communications (or lack of communications) with management and other shareholders.
The Delaware Court of Chancery’s recent decision in City Pension Fund for Firefighters and Police Officers in the City of Miami v. The Trade Desk, Inc. et al., which granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, demonstrates how protective the MFW process of both an independent special committee of the board and a majority of the minority stockholder vote can be in a transaction with a controlling stockholder. This post provides a reminder concerning the MFW process and highlights two key learnings from the Trade Desk decision, one concerning independence and the second concerning the minority vote.