The resolution of corporate law disputes has a significant impact on the stockholders, directors, officers, and employees of companies around the world. With more than 60% of the Fortune 500 incorporated in Delaware, decisions of the state’s courts have a direct impact on leading companies worldwide and greatly influence the law of other jurisdictions. The Enhanced Scrutiny blog provides timely updates and thoughtful analysis on M&A and corporate governance matters from the Delaware courts and, on occasion, from other jurisdictions.

Caremark Claims: Not Mission Impossible, but Still Risky Business for Plaintiffs

The Court of Chancery provided its latest guidance on so-called Caremark claims in a New Year’s Eve opinion issued by Vice Chancellor Glasscock in Richardson v. Clark, an action brought derivatively by a stockholder of Moneygram International, Inc. The opinion dismissing the claims, in which the Court had some fun with film titles from Tom Cruise’s career, provides an important level-setting because some have questioned whether Delaware’s courts are lowering the bar for claims alleging that a board of directors failed in its oversight duties. Richardson should provide some comfort to directors that the standards have not changed: absent particularized allegations of bad-faith action (or inaction) by a board, such claims should not survive a motion to dismiss.

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Court of Chancery Allows Breach of Fiduciary Duty Claims Stemming from CBS-Viacom Merger to Proceed

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.

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Chancery Court Tosses Claim Regarding Disclosures Around Equity Incentive Plans

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.

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SPACs Are Booming — So What Does the Future Hold?

In 2020, a new acronym burst into the mainstream business lexicon: SPACs, or special purpose acquisition companies.

In the simplest sense, SPACs offer a faster, cheaper way of taking a company public. By sidestepping the expensive underwriting fees, arduous road shows, and unpredictable market pricing associated with initial public offerings (IPOs), SPACs have emerged as an attractive alternative strategy for investors and business owners alike.

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“New” Special Committee May Not Dismiss Case Brought by “Old” Special Committee

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.

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Sharpening The “Tools At Hand”: Delaware Supreme Court Holds Stockholders May Access Books And Records Without Proof Of An Actionable Future Claim

The Delaware Supreme Court recently affirmed Vice Chancellor Laster’s decision requiring the production of corporate books and records in an action some have characterized as expanding the scope of Section 220 actions.  These decisions, however, largely affirm the long-standing statutory mandate that a requesting stockholder must state a “proper purpose” for inspection (not what the stockholder intends to do with the resulting records) and confirm that a stockholder investigating potential wrongdoing need not prove it has actionable claims in order to proceed.

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Finally, Some COVID-19-Related M&A Guidance: Court of Chancery Issues Decision Analyzing MAE and Ordinary Course Provisions During COVID-19

The Court of Chancery recently allowed a buyer to walk away from an acquisition due to, among other things, the seller’s failure to satisfy the ordinary course covenant because of changes made to the operating business in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The opinion, penned by Vice Chancellor Laster, is the first decision offering post-trial guidance as to the application of material adverse effect (MAE) and ordinary course provisions during the pandemic. Its guidance on the application of these provisions should be of interest for all negotiating M&A deals and other commercial agreements generally, and during the COVID-19 pandemic in particular.

In AB Stable VIII LLC v. Maps Hotels and Resorts One LLC, plaintiff sought to sell a subsidiary that owned an approximately US$5.8 billion portfolio of luxury hotels. The deal was signed in September 2019, and was slated to close in April 2020. Due to COVID-19, shortly before the planned closing, the seller made material changes to its business. These included closing two hotels entirely, gutting operations at 13 others, terminating or furloughing staff, and cutting spending on marketing and capital expenditures. The seller filed a complaint seeking specific performance to force a closing; the buyer responded with counterclaims contending, among other things, that it had no obligation to close because an MAE occurred, and the seller breached the ordinary course provision. The Court’s rulings on both of these points are highly instructive.

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