The Delaware Court of Chancery recently published a post-trial decision involving the officer of a company who breached his fiduciary duties by, among other things, competing against the company for which he served as president. Metro Stores International LLC v. Harron, C.A. No. 2018-0937-JTL (Del. Ch. May 4, 2022), is a 128-page opinion that warrants a plenary review, but for purposes of this short blog post I am only highlighting a few gems of Delaware corporate and commercial law that every Delaware litigator should know.
The first 34 pages or so of the opinion describe in extensive detail the factual background. A basic outline of the facts includes an existing U.S. company that was a large player in the self-storage facility business. They brought on a person who was assigned the job of growing the business in Brazil. The court’s decision goes into great detail about how this person, in his capacity as president of the LLC that was responsible for the business in Brazil, in violation of his contractual and fiduciary duties, competed against the company and took confidential information from the company when he left.
Selected Key Principles of Delaware Law
- The Court reviewed the elements that must be established in order to successfully pursue a breach of fiduciary duty claim, with a special emphasis on such a claim against the officer of a company, as compared to a director. Slip op. at 36-39.
- The opinion describes the three potential levels of review that the court uses to determine if a fiduciary duty was breached. In this case, the court determined that the “entire fairness standard” applied.
- The court explained that the state of the law in Delaware regarding the analysis of the duty of care of an officer applies the “Director Model”. Slip at 40–47.
- The court highlighted the important difference between the provisions in an LLC Agreement that:
(i) waive or limit the scope of fiduciary duties – – as compared with;
(ii) an exculpation cause which merely limits liability for certain actions. Slip op. at 47–48.
- Notably, a clause limiting liability for certain actions does not limit fiduciary duties–and would merely bar money damages but not other potential remedies.
- In an extensive footnote, the court explains that an officer is an agent of the company, and like all agents is a fiduciary–but not all fiduciaries are agents. See footnote 18.
- The court expounded on the duty of loyalty and its various nuances. Slip op. at 40.
- The court also described in great detail the duty of disclosure that an agent has. Slip op. at 55–57.
- The court explained the very useful distinction between behavior that could be either a breach of contract and/or a breach of fiduciary duty – – and when both claims may proceed in the same case to the extent that they are not overlapping.
- The court found that the unauthorized access to the former employer’s computer system, without authority, was not only a breach of confidentiality obligations but also a breach of a federal statute called the Stored Communications Act. Slip op. at 120–122.
- In particular, the court found that the federal statute involved, the Stored Communications Act, was violated because the former officer accessed an electronic communication while it was being stored, by either intentionally accessing the computer system without authorization or exceeding his authorization. See 18 U. S. C. §2701.