The Delaware Supreme Court recently reversed Chancellor Kathaleen S. McCormick’s post-trial decision upholding a disputed stock sale after concluding that the sale satisfied the entire fairness standard of review. Although the Court affirmed the trial court’s entire fairness finding — Delaware’s most rigorous standard of review under which a defendant must establish that a transaction was the product of both fair dealing and fair price — it nevertheless reversed because the Court of Chancery concluded that entire fairness was the “end of the road” for judicial review and declined to consider the board’s motivations for the transaction. Invoking the principle expressed in the seminal Delaware opinion in Schnell v. Chris-Craft that “inequitable action does not become permissible merely because it is legally possible,” the Supreme Court remanded the case for further consideration of the motivation for and purpose of the subject stock sale.
Last month Vice Chancellor Zurn issued a significant, 200+ page decision on a motion to dismiss filed by defendants in the ongoing Pattern Energy transaction litigation, captioned In re Pattern Energy Group Inc. Stockholders Litigation, C.A. No. 2020-0357-MTZ. As we previously reported, class actions had been filed in Chancery Court and Delaware Federal District Court following the $6.1 billion going-private sale of Pattern Energy Group, Inc. to Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (“Canada Pension”). Both cases present overlapping breach of fiduciary duty claims. The Chancery Court case has moved forward faster, with that Court now issuing a decision denying defendants’ motion to dismiss. The decision is a reminder to directors and their advisers that without careful adherence to an independent sales process and transaction structure, directors risk losing the liability protections that Delaware law otherwise provides.
One focus of this blog has been identifying trends in other state’s corporate law that compares or contrasts with Delaware’s. Nevada in particular has long been in competition with Delaware as a potential place of incorporation. A new decision by the Nevada Supreme Court may further cement Nevada’s status as a potential competitor to Delaware for certain corporations by demonstrating the difficulty of rebutting the business judgment rule.
Last week, newly sworn-in Chancellor McCormick issued her first decision in her new role, Franchi v. Firestone, granting a motion to dismiss a shareholder complaint regarding a going-private transaction with a controlled shareholder. In doing so, the new Chancellor affirmed that the MFW roadmap continues to provide robust protection to such transactions, so long as they meet the formal requirements set out in MFW. (more…)
On December 29, 2020, in a 76-page memorandum opinion, the Court of Chancery denied a motion to dismiss breach of fiduciary duty claims against National Amusements, Inc. (NAI), Viacom Inc.’s controlling stockholder; Shari Redstone, the director, president, and controlling stockholder of NAI; and four individual NAI directors. All were sued for their roles in the Viacom/CBS Corp. merger in a decision that is important for mergers in which a controlling party stands on both sides of a transaction and receives nonratable benefits that are measured in terms of control, rather than based on merger consideration.
Just before year-end, the Delaware Court of Chancery issued a notable decision regarding disclosures around equity incentive plans. On December 16, 2020, the Chancery Court dismissed a stockholder’s direct claim that members of the board of Columbia Financial Inc. (“Columbia” or the “Company”) breached fiduciary duties for failing to disclose purportedly material information regarding equity awards provided to directors. The decision provides guidance on standards for adequate disclosures and affirms the Chancery Court’s willingness to decide questions of materiality at the pleading stage.
The Court of Chancery recently rejected a special committee’s motion to dismiss a case that had been commenced on the company’s behalf by a prior special committee. The decision clarifies the standard applicable to the unusual dueling-committee circumstances and offers several reminders of the rigorous assessment applicable to a board committee’s request to terminate litigation filed on the company’s behalf. (more…)
The Court of Chancery recently allowed to proceed post-closing claims that a merger was completed at an inadequate price, premised largely on allegations that the Company’s CEO and chairman was conflicted and tilted the process in favor of the buyer. This decision serves as a reminder for fiduciaries considering end stage transactions — including the Court’s reminder that “the sins of just one fiduciary can support a viable Revlon claim.”
The Delaware Chancery Court recently found that directors serving on a special committee were entitled to privileged communications between management and company counsel because there was no formal board process to wall off those directors or other actions at the board level demonstrating “manifest adversity” between the company and those directors.