Last year, I replied to Professor J. Robert Brown’s list of the top 5 Delaware cases that, in his view, supported his negative perspective of Delaware law that remains the constant refrain on his blog called: The Race to the Bottom.
My introductory explanation from my rebuttal of last year was as follows:
… I realize that there are many more qualified experts who can rebut the professor’s arguments far more persuasively than I, and I am well aware that the Delaware bench certainly does not need my help to defend it. Nor have I been anointed by anyone to take on this role. Nonetheless, having just completed a review of key 2007 Delaware corporate decisions, I offer my own humble rebuttal and a "counter-list" of 5 cases in 2007 that demonstrate that the Delaware courts take shareholder rights and the duties of directors very seriously. If any readers can think of a better "top 5" list, than the one I compiled below, I welcome comments. Here is my top 5 "rebuttal list":
Well, I just finished my 4th annual overview of selected Delaware corporate and commercial cases for 2008, which will be published soon in The Delaware Law Weekly, at which time I will also post it on these pages. I also just saw Professor’s Brown list of 5 cases from 2008 that he uses to support his unabashedly unflattering views of Delaware law. Here is his list and here is his introductory post.
My cursory review of the cases I selected below (from the approximately 200 or so that I have summarized on this blog during 2008), is not as scholarly as the good professor’s treatment, and I do not have the time (thankfully, due to my busy practice) to engage in extended debate (at least for the next week or so), but until someone else picks up the baton, I offer the following cases to counterbalance the list offered by Professor Brown. I invite others to suggest other cases that they would rather see in my "top 5 list".
- In Cargill, Inc. v. JWH Special Circumstance, LLC, (Del. Ch., Nov. 7, 2008), read opinion here, the Delaware Chancery Court issued a 68-page decision involving a Delaware statutory trust (formerly referred to as a business trust), and found that common law fiduciary duties would apply to a trustee as a "default rule" in light of the agreement among the parties being silent on the issue. Here is a more complete summary.
- In Julian v. Eastern States Construction Service, Inc., 2008 WL 2673300 (Del. Ch., July 8, 2008), read opinion here, the Chancery Court required directors to disgorge a $1.3 million bonus they had given themselves in a self-interested manner, without any independent protections, and based on their failure to satisfy their burden to demonstrate the entire fairness of their decision. Here is a more complete summary.
- In Ryan v. Lyondell Chemical Company, (Del. Ch., July 29, 2008), read opinion here, the Delaware Chancery Court found that at the procedural stage of a summary judgment motion, it would allow to proceed to trial the issue of whether the independent directors should be exposed to personal liability for their role in the sale of the company–despite selling the company to the only known buyer for a substantial premium. A whole article could be written on this case alone, and substantial commentary has already been penned about it. An equally weighty later decision denying a motion for reargument was summarized here. The case is now on appeal with the Delaware Supreme Court.
In Steel Partners II, L.P. v. Point Blank Solutions, Inc., 2008 WL 3522431 (Aug. 12, 2008), the initial complaint was filed to force the holding of a shareholders meeting (which had not taken place since 2005), pursuant to DGCL Section 211. After a stipulation was entered into for a date to hold the meeting, the defendant moved for leave of court to postpone the date of the meeting by 90 days. The Chancery Court denied the request. The request was based on allegations that the plaintiff and its CEO together own about 40% of the stock and would attempt to install their own directors and then seek to buy the company at the lowest possible price for its own investors. In addition, the postponement was requested due to an alleged conflict that the plaintiff’s CEO had with the majority. The court reasoned that the best way to deal with the issues presented was to communicate them to the shareholders and let them decide, based on those facts, who they wanted as directors–instead of further delaying the exercise of the shareholder franchise, which under Delaware law is sacrosanct. The summary of the case on my blog is here.
London v. Tyrrell, 2008 WL 2505435 (Del. Ch., June 24, 2008), read opinion here. This Chancery Court decision explained in detail the reasons why it denied a motion to dismiss a derivative claim based on Chancery Court Rules 9(b), 12(b)(6) and 23.1. The derivative complaint alleged that the defendants caused the company to issue stock options in contravention of an equity incentive plan by setting the exercise price of the issued options at an unfairly low value.After a thorough factual background description, the court emphasized that: “the burden remains on the movant to demonstrate that the plaintiff has not met the requirements of Rules 9(b), 12(b)(6) and 23.1." (see footnote 12). Moreover, the court described in detail the demand futility analysis under the seminal case of Aronson v. Lewis, 473 A.2d 805 (Del. 1984) as well as Rales v. Blasband, 634 A.2d 927 (Del. 1993). The court explained the reasons why it concluded, as succinctly as I have seen it done, that both prongs of the Aronson case were satisfied. Specifically, the plaintiff demonstrated a reasonable doubt that: (1) the directors were interested and independent; or (2) the challenged transaction was otherwise the product of a valid exercise of business judgment.
The first prong was satisfied because the directors had a financial interest in the challenged stock option plan and also because they stood on both sides of the transaction that was challenged. Moreover, the second prong was satisfied because the allegations rebutted the business judgment rule to the extent that the allegations supported an inference that the directors intended to violate the terms of a stockholder approved option plan. The court also dismissed the arguments under Rule 9(b) that there was insufficient particularity regarding fraud allegations which apparently relied on Sections 152 and 157(b) of the DGCL.
UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal online highlighted this post here.
UPDATE II: The Harvard Law School Corporate Governance Blog published this post here.
UPDATE III: Forbes. com highlighted this post here.