Companies that have endured a corporate trauma are often faced with a two-headed monster of litigation: first, a federal securities class action, typically alleging that misstatements or omissions inflated the company’s stock price because the company failed adequately to predict, or disclose the likelihood of, the trauma; and, second, stockholder litigation claiming that the company’s directors (and sometimes officers) breached their state-law fiduciary duties in subjecting the company to the costs of defending or settling the securities litigation. In order to avoid (or at least defer unless and until necessary) the expense and distraction of litigating identical or overlapping issues in two or more fora, defendants often have sought a stay, by agreement or motion, of the fiduciary duty litigation, pending at least resolution of a threshold motion to dismiss in federal court. This approach has proven beneficial for all involved because it allows the parties to concentrate their resources in the federal proceeding that will determine whether viable disclosure claims have been alleged; if those claims fail, then there may no longer be any basis to pursue the state-law fiduciary duty claim and all can save the resources of litigating those claims in the meantime. (more…)
The Seventh Circuit recently issued an important decision holding that an exclusive forum provision in a company’s bylaws requiring that all derivative actions be brought in Delaware Chancery Court is unenforceable as applied to derivative cases brought under the federal proxy laws. On its face, Seafarers Pension Plan v. Bradway seems to foreclose the use of exclusive forum provisions for claims for which there is exclusive federal jurisdiction. As the Seventh Circuit notes, that would seem to be consistent with both federal proxy fraud law, which forbids contractual waivers of compliance with the law, as well as Delaware state law. But as discussed below, there is reason to believe that the decision may not be the last word on the topic, and, indeed, that it could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court. (more…)
Perhaps because it addresses the usually unexciting topic of forum non conveniens, a recent decision by Vice Chancellor Laster has flown largely under the radar. In Focus Financial Partners, LLC v. Holsopple, C.A. No. 2020-0188-JTL (Nov. 2, 2020), the Court issued a characteristically in-depth analysis of that sleepy doctrine in a case involving claims relating to the enforcement of a noncompete.
The Superior Court of California, County of San Mateo, recently enforced a Delaware corporation’s charter provision mandating that claims brought under the Securities Act of 1933 be filed in a federal court. This marked the first decision outside of Delaware to enforce an exclusive federal forum provision since the Delaware Supreme Court decided in March 2020 that such provisions are valid under Delaware law.
On March 18, 2020, the Supreme Court, in Salzberg v. Sciabacucchi, upheld the validity under Delaware law of “federal-forum provisions,” in which Delaware corporations mandate that claims brought under the Securities Act of 1933 be filed in a federal court.
The highly anticipated opinion, reversing a Chancery Court decision, underscores Delaware’s preference for private ordering and confirms that corporate managers and stockholders have significant latitude in choosing the fora for certain types of litigation. While the decision confirms the facial validity of this particular type of forum provision, other ramifications of this decision remain unclear, and this topic will undoubtedly be the subject of further litigation or possibly legislative action.