Activist Settlements and A Proposed Amendment to the DGCL 

Perhaps the most fundamental expectation of public company investors is the expectation of investing in a company run by a board of directors – a board elected by stockholders and charged with managing the corporation on behalf of all stockholders. Delaware seems primed to upset that expectation.
Continue Reading Contracting Out of Corporate Law: Should Public Company Boards Be Allowed to Delegate Governance to a Single Stockholder?

Summary

Founders and controlling stockholders often seek to retain control over their companies even after taking them public, typically via high-vote share classes or, as was at issue in this case, via stockholder agreements granting the pre-IPO owners broad governance rights.

In West Palm Beach Firefighters’ Pension Fund v. Moelis & Company, the Delaware

This is the price paid for allowing our hopes, rather than established law, to guide public merger agreement drafting for the last 18 years.  Con Edison v Northeast Utilities[1], a 2005 Second Circuit decision regarding a New York law governed merger agreement, found that, absent clear contractual language to the contrary, a target company could not collect lost shareholder premium as damages for the breach of a merger agreement. ConEd caused quite a stir in public M&A circles, with some asserting that it caused every public merger agreement to be converted into a mere option agreement, where, if the buyer did not wish to close, it had only to pay the target’s out-of-pocket costs. This may have been a bit extreme, but given how infrequently specific performance has been ordered to remedy a failure to close, it probably was not far off the mark.
Continue Reading ConEd Is Not Dead In Delaware

Alea iacta est

Boards often settle actual or threatened proxy fights by trading away board seats to activists. Delaware courts will analyze this trade as a defensive device, much like greenmail, where the board trades away something valuable to avoid a battle for corporate control.  It follows that, like greenmail or a poison pill, this defensive device would be subject to scrutiny under the Unocal standard[1].  Yet boards in general seem to be remarkably lax in analyzing whether they have fulfilled their fiduciary duties in making such a trade. Below are questions boards should be able to answer before awarding partial control of their company to an activist.
Continue Reading Activist Settlements: Fiduciary Questions for Boards

On May 12, 2023, the Delaware Court of Chancery reaffirmed a key principle for transactions involving interested directors: process is everything. Vice Chancellor Sam Glasscock III, in his opinion in In re Oracle Corporation Derivative Litigation, provides reassurance that the Court will not rush to second-guess board decisions involving conflicted transactions as long as adequate safeguards are present.Continue Reading Delaware Chancery Court Finds for Defendant Director, CTO and Founder of Oracle, Larry Ellison, in Derivative Suit Involving Conflicted Transaction

On March 28, 2023, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission reached a $55.9 million settlement with Vale S.A., a NYSE-traded mining company, to resolve allegations that Vale committed securities fraud by presenting intentionally misleading information in its annual Sustainability Reports and investor presentations. The SEC’s enforcement action against Vale was brought by the agency’s Climate and ESG Task Force, which was created to “proactively identify ESG-related misconduct consistent with increased investor reliance on climate and ESG-related disclosure and investment.”  For companies seeking to highlight ESG and sustainability goals and progress, this case serves as an important reminder of the need to ensure the accuracy of these public statements, lest they too end up in the crosshairs of government regulators. Continue Reading Misleading Public Company ESG Disclosure Results in SEC Enforcement Action – and $55.9 Million Settlement

For the past several years, boards of directors have increasingly faced claims that they have failed in their duty of oversight.  These so-called Caremark claims can arise in a number of contexts involving allegations of systemic failures or intentional wrongdoing.  Recently, the Delaware Court of Chancery held for the first time that officers owe the same duty of oversight as directors, an expansion of Caremark which had previously only been applied to directors.

In In re McDonald’s Corp. Stockholder Derivative Litigation,[1] the Delaware Court of Chancery denied a motion to dismiss a breach of fiduciary duty claim against the former Executive Vice President and Global Chief People Officer of McDonald’s Corporation (“McDonald’s” or the “Company”) relating to alleged sexual misconduct and inadequate oversight.Continue Reading Recent Delaware Chancery Court Decision Finds That Corporate Officers Owe the Same Caremark Oversight Duties as Directors

The Delaware General Assembly recently adopted amendments to the Delaware General Corporation Law (the “DGCL”), effective as of August 1, 2022.  Among other changes, the amended DGCL provides for exculpation of officers from liability for breaches of the duty of care and also expands the ability of boards to delegate authority to members of management in connection with the issuance of shares of common stock and options.  The change with the most potential for far-reaching impact is with respect to officer exculpation.  For existing corporations, a charter amendment is required to take advantage of the new officer exculpation, and it is an open question as to whether shareholders (and proxy advisory firms) will support extending exculpation to officers.
Continue Reading 2022 Amendments to the Delaware General Corporation Law

Aiding and abetting claims against a buyer for a target’s breach of fiduciary duties are meant to be rare, given the “long-standing rule that arm’s-length bargaining is privileged and does not, absent actual collusion and facilitation of fiduciary wrongdoing, constitute aiding and abetting . . .”[1] (emphasis added). Yet to survive a motion to dismiss, plaintiff must show only that it is “reasonably conceivable” that buyer “knowingly participated” in the breach of fiduciary duties.[2] This may explain why there were at least three cases last year in which aiding and abetting claims against buyer survived a motion to dismiss.[3]
Continue Reading Buyers Beware – Aiding and Abetting Claims Based on Target’s Proxy Disclosure