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 Court of Chancery recently held that a “new wave” stockholder agreement between Moelis & Company (the “Company”) and its founder, CEO, and board chairman, Ken Moelis was invalid under Section 141(a) of the Delaware General Corporation Law (the “DGCL”) because it contained  “pre-approval rights” over a number of corporate actions, required the board to recommend individuals designated by Moelis for a majority of directorships and fill committee positions and board vacancies with Moelis designees, impermissibly constraining the board’s ability to manage the business and affairs of the company—powers the statute does not allow the board to delegate via contract.[1]

Moelis is a strong reminder that the foundation of the corporate form in Delaware is the independent authority of a board of directors, elected by stockholders and entrusted to manage the business and affairs of the corporation as fiduciaries. Delaware will not permit this foundation to be eroded through contractual arrangements with stockholders.
Continue Reading Delaware Court of Chancery Rejects Validity of “New Wave” Stockholder Agreement Terms that Constrain Traditional Board Authority

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 September 1, 2022, new universal proxy rules adopted by the Securities and Exchange Commission (“the SEC”) formally went into effect. These rules mandatorily apply to public company director elections held after August 31, 2022. This post summarizes the key provisions of Rule 14a-19 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (“Rule 14a-19”), and provides recommendations for potential corporate bylaw amendments.
Continue Reading Bylaw Amendments to Address Universal Proxy Rules

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

On Monday, March 21, 2022, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) released its long-awaited proposed rules on climate-risk disclosures. The proposed rules would amend and build upon existing climate-change disclosure rules and guidance (collectively, the “Proposed Rules”). Under the Proposed Rules, publicly traded companies and other issuers of securities that are required to file a registration statement with the SEC (collectively referred to by the SEC as “Registrants”) would be required to make climate-related disclosures to investors in their registration statements (Forms S-1, S-3, F-1, and F-3) and periodic reports (Forms 10-K, 10-Q, and 20-F).

The Proposed Rules aim to enhance and standardize disclosures on climate-related risks that are likely to have a material impact on a company’s business and financial performance over the short-, medium-, and long-term. The release of the Proposed Rules has triggered impassioned debate, illustrating both strong support for, and fervent opposition to, the proposed climate-related disclosure framework. Thus, any final rules adopted following the comment period could vary significantly from the proposals by the SEC discussed herein.Continue Reading The SEC Proposes Enhanced Climate Disclosure Rules

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

At the beginning of the COVID outbreak in the US, The Williams Companies adopted an unusually protective poison pill to thwart any activist campaigns that might arise in the then existing market conditions. Vice Chancellor McCormick struck down the pill in a decision published February 26. The Vice Chancellor’s decision is important in at least two regards.
Continue Reading Chancery Court Strikes Down The Williams Companies “Activist Pill”

Any General Counsel who has been through a renewal of the company Directors and Officers Liability Insurance policy in the past couple of years has experienced a highly distressed market, with dramatic increases in prices, and challenges with respect to availability in many cases. I sat down (virtually) with Michael Welling, a partner at Meridian Risk Management to discuss the state of the market and strategies going forward.
Continue Reading D&O Insurance: State of the Market