The Delaware Supreme Court has announced a revised standard for an important aspect of corporate litigation: the analysis of pre-suit demand futility for purposes of pursuing a derivative stockholder claim, in United Food and Commercial Workers Union and Participating Food Industry Employers Tri-State Pension Fund. v. Zuckerberg, No. 404, 2020 (Del. Sept. 23, 2021).

Before

This post was prepared by Frank Reynolds, who has been following Delaware corporate law, and writing about it for various legal publications, for over 30 years.

The Delaware Court of Chancery recently dismissed a shareholder’s derivative suit because he could not prove lululemon Athletica, Inc.’s directors breached their duty of loyalty by giving ex-CEO Laurent

The Delaware Court of Chancery addressed a bevy of basic corporate litigation principles in the context of claims challenging the actions of directors, and determining which standards of review apply, and which procedural prerequisites need to be satisfied. In Carr v. New Enterprise Associates, Inc., C.A. No. 2017-0381-AGB (Del. Ch. Mar. 26, 2018), claims

Protas v. Cavanagh, C.A. No. 6555-VCG (Del. Ch. May 4, 20120).

Issue Addressed

Whether the plaintiff satisfied the pre-suit demand requirements in her derivative claims against the trustees of the trust.

Short Answer

No, and therefore her complaint was dismissed.

Background

This case involved claims by a common stockholder of a Delaware statutory trust

In Re The Dow Chemical Company Derivative Litigation, Cons. No. 4339, (Del. Ch., Jan. 11, 2010), read opinion here.

Kevin Brady and Ryan Newell of the Connolly Bove firm prepared this synopsis.

On January 11, 2010, a year after a major corporate battle between the Dow Chemical Company (“Dow”) and Rohm & Haas

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

In Re Lear Corp. Shareholder Litigation, 2008 WL 4053221 (Del. Ch., Sept. 2, 2008), read opinion here.

This is the third Chancery Court decision in about as many (business) days that addresses the issue of whether: claims against a board of directors will be dismissed based on the exculpation clause in a corporate charter as authorized by DGCL Section 102(b)(7). The results (if we were to use an analogy from sports) are: 2 to 1. That is, 2 cases involving such claims have been dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6) and 1 decision denied a motion for summary judgment filed by the board.

Two of the 3 cases I am referring to include: (i) the instant Lear case;  and (ii) the McPadden case of Aug. 29 summarized here. The other case I refer to  is the Ryan II decision also of Aug. 29 and summarized here.

A prior decision in this case, partially granting a motion for preliminary injunction, is summarized here. See In Re Lear Corp S’hlder Litig., 926 A.2d 92 (Del. Ch. 2007).

In some ways, this opinion is akin to a scholarly law review article with practical application that also includes a court decision (after a full recitation of the particlular facts of this case.)

There is so much that can be written about this case, but let’s start with a few basics. The primary complaint was that the board agreed to a termination fee of $25 million (less than 1% of the transaction price) in exchange for an increase in the purchase price by the winning bidder for the sale of the company. The plaintiffs claimed that the board knew that the shareholders would most likely not approve the merger and, therefore, by agreeing to pay a termination fee simply upon a "no vote" by the shareholders,  they breached their fiduciary duties.

The court summarized its reasoning thusly:

"Directors are entitled to make  good faith business decisions even if the stockholders might disagree wth them. Where, as here, the complaint itself indicates that an independent board majority used an adequate process, employed reputable financial, legal and proxy solicitation experts, and had a substantial basis to conclude a merger was financially fair, the directors cannot be faulted for being disloyal simply because the stockholders ultimately did not agree with the recommendation. In particular, where, as here, the directors are protected by an exculpatory charter provision, it is critical that the complaint plead facts suggesting a fair inference that the directors breached their duty of loyalty by making a bad faith decision to approve the merger for reasons inimical to the interests of the corporation and its stockholders. Where a complaint, as here, does not even create an inference of mere negligence or gross negligence, it certainly does not satisfy the far more difficult task of stating a non-exculpated duty of loyalty claim."

Although this case started out asserting Revlon claims and proxy disclosure frailties, after the merger was voted down, those claims were dismissed as moot. (Curiously, with Lear’s stock now trading at about $13, the shareholders now wish they would have had voted for the offer at $37.25 per share.)

Aronson and Section 102(b)(7)

The plaintiffs skipped any attempt to satisfy the first prong of the Aronson test, and instead attempted to satisfy the second prong of Aronson by attempting to state particularized facts to establish a non-exculpated breach of fidcuicary duty by the Lear board.

Because the Lear charter contains an exculpatory provision under DGCL Section 102(b)(7), the plaintiffs cannot sustain their complaint even by pleading facts supporting an inference of gross negligence.     (continued below)


Continue Reading Chancery Court Dismisses Claims Against Board of Lear Corp. for Payment of Termination Fee to Bidder Led by Carl Icahn