A recent Delaware Court of Chancery decision provides a timely reminder that a confidential document production may not always satisfy a Section 220 demand, and there are circumstances when a single stockholder’s request for books and records will require a company to disclose nonpublic books and records without any restriction on who may view them or how they may be used.
On April 20, 2022, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the Court of Chancery’s decision requiring production of certain informal records from NVIDIA’s officers and directors pursuant to a Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law (“Section 220”). NVIDIA Corp. v. City of Westand Police & Fire Retirement System, et al., 2022 WL 2812718 (Del. Apr. 20, 2022).
As stockholders continue to seek expansive books and records collections, and particularly as requests for materials outside “formal” board materials become routine, it is worth reflecting on areas in which Delaware courts have continued to uphold boundaries with respect to Section 220 obligations. In a recent decision announced from the bench, Vice Chancellor Joseph R. Slights III recently offered a reminder of one such area: the non-company email accounts of outside directors. (more…)
Delaware Section 220 corporate books and records inspection demands have long been a precursor to stockholder litigation. Companies often challenge the propriety and scope of inspection demands and, even when companies ultimately produce books and records for inspection, they routinely do so subject to a confidentiality agreement. However, a February 28, 2022 letter decision in In re Lordstown Motors Corp., Stockholder Litigation illustrates how confidentiality agreements may not fully protect the information in those books and records from public disclosure or use in other litigation.
As regular readers know, this blog sometimes takes a break from recent developments to reflect on bedrock decisions and key principles of which all practitioners should be aware. This post highlights decisions that have shaped legal practice concerning Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporate Law, which allows stockholders to inspect corporate books and records under certain circumstances. Counsel sending or receiving a Section 220 demand would be wise to review these seven decisions. (more…)
The Delaware Court of Chancery recently issued an opinion making a narrow but key distinction in appraisal proceedings: the petitioners’ underlying intent in filing a Section 262 action matters. The court held that petitioners should not be allowed to obtain full discovery where the sole purpose in bringing the appraisal proceeding is to investigate potential wrongdoing. In this case, such intent was determined from Petitioners’ de minimis financial stake in the company. (more…)
On December 3, 2021, the Delaware Court of Chancery dismissed an action for books and records under Delaware General Corporation Law Section 220, reiterating that when a plaintiff files such an action, they must currently be a stockholder of the company against whom the Section 220 action is filed.
Specifically, a plaintiff must file a books and records action before a merger agreement becomes effective under its own terms; after the merger becomes effective, a plaintiff typically ceases to be a stockholder in the target company, which also precludes their ability to pursue books and records of that company. Companies facing Section 220 demands in the face of a merger agreement should scrutinize the demanding party’s standing to pursue such records. (more…)
The Delaware Court of Chancery recently issued another decision regarding the statutory right to inspection of corporate books and records under Delaware General Corporation Law Section 220. In Melvin Gross v. Biogen Inc., the plaintiff-stockholder was permitted to obtain certain books and records, but the court limited inspection in key respects, and offered words of caution regarding confidentiality agreements. Companies facing Section 220 demands should review this decision and consider its lessons regarding the appropriate scope of inspection.
A recent decision in the federal securities class action regarding the take-private transaction of Pattern Energy lends further support to plaintiffs invoking an aggressive pre-litigation strategy to pursue discovery through a 220 demand. Plaintiffs in the federal case chose not to make a pre-suit 220 demand. Instead, faced with a motion to dismiss, they sought relief from the discovery stay of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (PSLRA) to obtain the same 220 demand discovery obtained by Chancery Court plaintiffs in parallel litigation. The discovery motion was denied, and the motion to dismiss was recently granted. Conversely, for the Chancery Court plaintiffs, the breadth of 220 discovery they were able to obtain became the basis for the Chancery Court’s appointment of a lead plaintiff. These divergent outcomes send a further message to plaintiffs that they face real danger if they fail to aggressively pursue pre-suit 220 discovery.
As recent decisions from the Delaware courts remind us (e.g., Murfey v. WHC Ventures, LLC), Delaware entities often have the ability to negotiate the scope of investors’ right to inspect company books and records—and perhaps even to eliminate those rights. But few corporations, partnerships, or LLCs appear to do so. With the proliferation of books-and-records litigation in recent years, however, more Delaware entities should consider whether opportunities may be available to limit the potential burden of such litigation and whether it would be prudent to explore those opportunities.